August 12, 2008

Filed under: Northwest European, Reared red meat — ros @ 12:20 pm

Just before I wrote my last little whinge about renting in London, I had just spent a day flathunting in Putney. I saw some painfully dire places. costing around £1,000 per month for really horrible dingy studios. Around two days later, when I was about to give up, we finally found a decent place, costing just short of £800. So I put down the holding deposit. Three weeks later the estate agents phoned. The Landlady had cancelled the deal. Apparently she’d decided to move back to London and wanted the flat back. B*tch. A week earlier and things would have been so much easier

So there I was, £500 poorer, until the agents returned my deposit, looking for a place to live in the most heavy season for letting. Further flat hunting in that area proved futile because I needed a place for the 20th of August and it was already the 7th: far too late to be looking, apparently.  I seriously considered going down to Putney in person to give my former landlady a big slap.

Turning my hunt to Hammersmith, I was given more promising news. In a fairly well known agency I was told “We’ve got two places. A studio with separate kitchen for £960 per month and a one bed flat for £1040.” I squirmed at hearing the prices but in spite of my better judgement, agreed to have a look.

The studio turned out to be very small and poky and situated in a basement. It was the kind of place I would end up sharing with a family of mice. ”No way,” I thought ”not for almost a grand.”  

The one bed flat looked much more promising. It was still being done up but it had a nice big bedroom and certainly had a decent view over some greenery. There was just one thing that confused me.

“So where’s the kitchen?” The agent shuffled uncomfortably. It appeared that he wasn’t expecting me to ask this. “I DID only ask for self contained properties with seperate kitchens” I reminded him.
“This does have a seperate kitchen” I looked around. 
“Where?”

He pointed to the back corner of the room where two flimsy partitions had been put up. “Just there.”
“THAT’S A KITCHEN?!” He nodded. I scratched my head in disbelief. “I thought it was a toilet cubicle! Or a boiler cupboard!” I opened the door. “WHAT’S THIS? IT’S TWO FOOT SQUARE!  In front of me was a tiny cubicle, not even the size of my arm span containing a two ring electric hob and a sink.  “This is NOT a kitchen! There’s nowhere to store any food.”
“Well, technically its separated from the rest of the flat and contains a hob and a sink. That makes it a separate kitchen.”
“Separated from the flat? It’s separated from the rest of the flat by TWO PIECES OF CARDBOARD!”
“It’s enough, I’m afraid” “I poked and prodded the walls. Nope, no cupboards hidden here.”What the hell do people DO with places like this?!” “Well, there’s enough space to heat up a tin of something” he suggested helpfully.
I gawped for a few seconds then came to my senses. “Right, well….thanksverymuchI’llbegoingnow!”

I left very, very quickly.

Now this was by no means the worst flat I saw, although it possibly was the worst value for money. Apparantly, if you live in London and want to live in a single person’s/couple’s accomodation, you DO NOT COOK.

That is unless, like me, you are very persistant. After much searching I did find a reasonable studio with a big kitchen and a gas hob that cost considerably less then the two places I mentioned in this post. Apparantly I was lucky. It had been on the market for around 6 hours. It took me roughly 5 minutes to put down a holding deposit.

Of course, agents’ flat descriptions never give you a true indication of what a place is going to be like so, if any of you find yourself in my position, I have written a brief guide to finding a decent one person flat in London.

First Some Vocabulary

  • Studio Flat: A single room with a sofa bed/pull down bed. 
  • Small studio: Really, you’re just going to have the bed.
  • Spacious studio: You can possibly fit in a T.V and sofa.
  • Self contained: you get a shower, toilet and ‘cooking’ facilities to yourself, you lucky devil!
  • Open plan kitchen: One wall of the studio has had a sink and a hob fitted with a couple of cupboards and a mini-fridge. 
  • Kitchenette: You have a two ring electric hob and a sink. No kitchen cupboards or washing machine.
  • Seperate Kitchenette. One of the corners of the room jutted out, so the landlord has put up a partition and shoved the hob and sink in there.
  • Close to all local amenities: There’s a small convenience store/Costcutter withing 10 minutes walk.
  • Good transport links: You are guaranteed that at least one bus stops less than 5 minutes away.
  • Close to tube: Your location has increased your rent by approximately £200 per month.

And some tips…

  1. Start approximately 4 weeks before your proposed move in date. Any earlier and your offers are likely to be rejected because you can’t move in soon enough. Any later and all the places have gone.
  2. Don’t bother looking online. The market moves so fast that the listings are constantly out of date. Get down to where you want to move and talk to the agents in person.
  3. Well known and respected estate agents rarely give you any bullsh*t. The little independant ones are a lottery. 
  4. If a place seems inexpensive but is near a tube station, be prepared for it to be rubbish.
  5. If the place has just been put up for rent by someone who used to live there, don’t be too suprised if they decide to move back in or sell it instead. Things are far more stable if the property has been let before.

And, yes of course I do have some food for you… comfort food of the highest order from my point of view. I was still budgeting when I took this flat, but after having such a grueling day, Dad, who’d been looking at flats with me gave me £10 to treat myself and Goon. He’s very sweet like that. So I popped down to Borough the next day to try out a recipe I’d had in mind for ages.

Sirloin Steak with Sauteed Girolles and Watercress Pureé (outline recipe, adapted from Ramsay’s ‘A Chef for All Seasons’)

a psychadelic puree with steak

  • 1 sirloin steak
  • 100g watercress
  • 25g spinach leaves
  • 15ml double cream 
  • 100g girolles mushrooms, halved if large
  • handful flatleaf parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 fat clove of garlic, minced
  • olive oil

Make the puree by boiling the watercress in well salted water for about 5 minutes. Add the spinach leaves and wait until they have wilted completely. Drain and squeeze as much water out as possible. Process the leaves with the cream until you have a very smooth paste. You can add more cream if you like to make it into a sauce.

Brush the steak with olive oil on all sides, season and cook to your liking. 

Sautee the girolles with the garlic in olive oil until soft, stir in the parsley, cook for about another minute.

Serve the steak with the mushrooms and watercress puree. We had some steamed broccolli as a side dish.

***********************

As you might tell from the ridiculous close up of this dish, I found this ridiculously hard to present well. Why? Because the sauce was GREEN. I don’t mean the nice dark forest green that Mr Ramsay somehow managed to produce for his book but bright, bright green. When Goon decided he wanted to have his sauce as a pouring sauce and I added more cream, it was positively luminous.  

Despite being a little ‘colourful’ this was a nice relatively simple way to serve steak. The sauteéd girolles were gorgeous and the pureé was good, full of flavour from the peppery watercress but with the  the spinach coming through with almost equal strength. Providing you process it for long enough, the pureé will have the perfect texture:absolutely silky smooth.

So in short, I certainly recommend this in terms of flavour but it possibly isn’t one to try for a dinner party.

These steaks are from Farmer Sharpe’s in Borough Market. They turned out to be a bit less expensive than those from my usual butcher and had a noticeably different flavour and texture. These Galloway cattle give a very ‘beefy’ steak (if that makes any sense) with a strong flavour that reminded me a little of buffalo. I recommend trying them out if you get a chance. 

July 31, 2008

Filed under: Far East, Chinese, Oily fish — ros @ 6:41 pm

We are now on a tighter budget than ever before. In a couple of weeks I will be putting down a deposit for a rented flat. I suspect that many of you are lucky enough to not have to deal with the London rental market at the moment. To give you an idea of what it’s like, a small studio flat suitable for one person, that is not near any tube station requires an up front payment of just over £2,100. The ones near tube stations were approximately 30% more expensive.

This is why Goon and I will not be living together next year. He is still looking for a job and there is no way I can afford a flat to fit two people, especially not after I’ve supported both of us through the first year of my career.

Needless to say, I’ve spent most of this week with my head buried in various bargain bins around Hackney and Islington. Apologies to the peaople that I’ve hissed and/or snarled at for getting to the best deal before I could fight my way forward. Hunting for cheap food brings out the killer instinct in me. To make things even more exciting, as soon as the hot weather started, our ancient freezer let out a final wheeze, fell over and died. No more hoarding bargains for me- everything is now bought on the day. Of course, we’ve been having a lot of vegetarian food (more on that when camera is fully fixed) and eating meat only when it’s on offer.

Last Sunday, I was doing my usual rounds when I found a pack of two decent sized salmon fillets for just over £2. It was carried to the tills in a vice like grip. Salmon cheap! Salmon mine! Since it was the end of the week, I had spent all but £1 of our budget and so the salmon would have to be paired solely with things I had in the house already or could be bought at practically no cost. 

I carried out a cupboard and fridge audit and discovered that I have a lot of very useless stuff: little that could help me with the salmon. However, with a quick trip to the Turkish Grocers across the road, my remaining £1 bought me some coriander, three chillies and a red pepper, which combined with storecupboard stuff, made this.

crunchy sesame salmon

I’ve heard it said that, in order to enjoy salmon, you don’t need to do much to it at all. Just grill it until the skin is crisp and the fillet is slightly pink in the middle before serving with a wedge of lime and some buttered new potatoes. Not this salmon. This salmon was from a farmed fish, a touch fatty and just about to go out of date. Simplicity would merely accent it’s lack of freshness. But this is what strong marinades were made for. The fish was subjected to a burst of honey, soy, garlic and ginger, coated in sesame and fried untll golden. Then i contrasted the sweet saltiness with some earthy, spicy noodles. 

Crunchy Marinated Salmon with Hot Coriander and Peanut Noodles 

For the marinade… 

  • 1-2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 level tablespoon light soy
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh root ginger
  • 1 teaspoon five spice
  • a touch of dry sherry or rice wine- enough to make this into a thin paste

and the rest….

  • 2 skinned salmon fillets (around 175g each)
  • sesame seeds- around 100g
  • 2 portions egg noodles, cooked.
  • half of a large bunch of coriander
  • 1 large green chilli 
  • 1 tablespoon peanut butter
  • 1 red pepper, cored and sliced
  • 100ml sesame oil
  1. Mix together the ingredients for the marinade
  2. Cut the salmon into bite sized pieces. Toss in the marinate and refridgerate for at least an hour.
  3. Scatter the sesame seeds into a thick layer over a small plate. Keep another small plate at its side.
  4. Take a piece of salmon, shake off the marinade, then roll it into the sesame seeds, pressing down firmly, until it is well coated., Put it on the spare plate and repeat with the rest of the salmon.
  5. Heat a little vegetable oil in a frying pan. Fry the salmon pieces over a medium heat, turning every 30s or so, until they are golden brown. You may need to do these in batches, so keep a side plate handy.
  6. Put the salmon pieces on a plate, cover with kitchen foil and keep warm.
  7. Put the corianderand chilli into a food processor and blitz until smooth. Adding a little oil, at a time, continue to pulse until you have a medium thick paste. stir in the peanut butter and mix until smooth. This will prbably thicken the mixture, so you may want to blend in some more oil.
  8. Quickly stir fry the noodles woth the paste until heated through and well coated. Keep warm while you finish up.
  9. Sautee the red peppers in a little vegetable oil until they have softened slightly.
  10. Pour over the excess marinade from the salmon and let it bubble down to a glaze.
  11. Serve the crunchy salmon on the noodles with the peppers, pour over the reduced marinade and garnish with coriander leaves.

 

July 28, 2008

Filed under: Vietnamese/Cambodian, Reared red meat — ros @ 12:41 pm

This post is really testing my memory. I was just going through my food photos from this year and foud a picture of a curry that I really wanted to post but never had time.

Cambodian Pork Curry

A whole 18 weeks ago, just before the end of the Easter holidays, I was contemplating what my final term at Highgate would bring. Late nights I suspected and bad moods at arriving home hungry and exhausted at 9:30pm. I had been ill prepared for these in the previous two terms. People kept telling me it would get easier and I’d cope better as I went along. It was true to some extent, but if I was to keep preparing a full worksheet for every lesson, leaving school before 7:30 wouldn’t be an option.

We decided that, in order to fend off the near psychotic rages that had ensued when Goon had promised to cook dinner but forgotten, it would be a good idea to stock up the freezer with home made ready meals. Goon exercised his training from the previous year and made a vat of bolognese which divided into 10 portions. I went down to Sainsbury’s and discovered that they had free range pork and stewing beef on offer. The beef became 6 frozen portions of beef in Guinness. The pork became the slightly psychadelic curry pictured above.

This is a Cambodian Style pork and butternut squash curry. The intense yellow flavour comes from the use of turmeric and a herbal paste called Kroeung, which is made from blending lemongrass, turmeric, ginger or galangal, onion, lime leaf and garlic.

Kroeung

The paste here is a lot wetter than normal, because I only have a crappy stick blender and so needed a bit of water to process the spices.

Kroeung is a classic flavouring in Khmer cooking and quite distinctive, being earthy and yet fresh and citrusy at the same time. It provides the principal flavouring to many curries, soups, stir fries and marinades. It certainly dominated this curry, providing a nice balance to the creaminess of the coconut milk.

I’m afraid I can’t remember exact quantities for this curry but the method went something like this…

Cambodian Pork and Butternut Curry (Adapted from The Complete Vietnamese Cookbook by Ghillie Basan)

Approximate method for making 8-10 Portions

For the Kroeung Paste, process

  • 3 chopped lemon grass stalks, trimmed with the tough outer leaves removed
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 8 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 fresh kaffir lime leaves
  • a large piece of ginger (25g)
  • 25g fresh turmeric (I had to substitute around 4 teaspoons ground)

with a little water if necessary to bind. This paste will keep for up to a week in the fridge.

Now for the curry…

The recipe suggests using pork loin but we had a 1.6kg boneless leg. This was cut into bite size pices and browned in batches over a high heat.

Stir fry a large knob (4-5 inches) of finely chopped ginger, 8 chopped green chillies and 2-3 very finely diced onions in some vegetable oil until the onion is soft. Add 6 tablespoons of the kroeung paste and stir fry for a couple of minutes. Throw in a 3 or 4 teaspoons of ground turmeric and a couple of teaspoons each of fenugreek and sugar and stir fry for a minute or so. Now add the pork loin and stir to coat. Add a couple of tablespoons of fish sauce, two tins (approx 1 litre) of coconut milk and bring to a gentle bubble. After 5 minutes or so add the diced flesh of 2 small butternut squash and 5 or 6 lime leaves. Allow to bubble until the squash is almost cooked. Adjust spicing at this stage if necessary. Continue to cook until the pork and squash are cooked through.

The portions we ate that night were garnished liberally with chopped coriander and mint and served on plain boiled rice. The other six portions went in the freezer and were almost equally good when reheated, although the squash disintegrated a bit.

********************

 

This was the first time I’d encountered this herbal paste, so it seems like a good idea to enter this post to Kalyn’s long standing event, Weekend Herb Blogging.  It must have been a year since I last took part but hopefully I can make more entries soon.  The host this week is Kelly from Sounding my Barbaric Gulp. Visit her site on Monday for a round up of educational and entertaining posts.

 

 

 

Apparently the paste I used is just one of a several different types of Kroeung. Variations include adding red chilli pulp, making the paste red or rhizome, making it a light green. Most pastes include lemongrass, galangal and turmeric or kaffir lime leaves, giving Khmer cooking its distinctive flavour.  

More detail is here at the Wikipedia page on Kroeung.

July 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 9:17 pm

Please note: for a sensible post about food, skip to the next post. It has calamari. 

My dear father and I are different in many ways. If there weren’t so many physical resemblances between us, you would swear we weren’t related.

For example:

  • He’s a wide eyed hopeful religious type with faith in God and human nature. I’m a hard, cold skeptical….. well, I’m a mathematician. Nuff said.
  • He’s a Liberal Democrat, I’m a Conservative (shock, horror). 
  • His idea of a healthy diet is eating Benecol instead of butter and buying ‘healthy eating’ everything but eating several packs of peanuts everynight. I get larded up on whatever the hell I want, be that sausages and mash or fish and quinoa salad, depending on my mood and then exercise (mosly walking) for at least 2 hours a day.
  • He’d rather eat vegetarian food every day and live to 120, I know I’d be suicidal by next month if I didn’t my meat fix.  
  • He thinks two glasses of wine is a heavy night’s drinking.  I better not say what I consider a binge.
  • And the greatest divide of all….he thinks canned tuna tasted better than a juicy rare tuna steak……. URGH!!!!! 

Normally we agree to disagree (or I argue until he gives up) but there is one disagreement we can’t settle. 

Yes, I agree this is very silly but this will settle a long standing argument. I would like your opinions on a certain type of wine, namely, the 80’s classic Liebfraumilch. So, I’d like your verdict on this sweet white if you wouldn’t mind, in the comments box, whether you love it, hate it or are totally indifferent. How much would you/have you payed for a bottle? Comments on brands are fine, just don’t be too rude.  I’ll save the opinions of myself and my father for later (although you can probably guess what they are).

July 16, 2008

Filed under: Reared Poultry, Mexican — ros @ 4:38 pm

Typical! I finally get some time to blog and my stupid camera goes psycho on me! I had a post for last Friday but I’ll have to publish its follow up first, while I battle with the useless customer helpline for my camera.

Over the last academic year, my cookbooks have become full of little yellow post-it notes, urging me to try various things when I had a free moment. A recipe from one of my bargain books was top of my list: drunken chicken with Tequila and plaintains.

As much as I moan about Dalston with it’s horribly busy high street, drunken,noisy nightlife and the general lack of most useful things to buy, it is very good for finding cheap fruit and veg. There have been occasions, while heading home along the walkway that runs along our block, when I’ve turned to look at the Kingsland Road and noticed how much it reminds me of a city street in Sri Lanka. The shops include small eateries and little local barber shops where everyone knows each other. There’s also a feel of it being run down with several buildings that are graffitied and seem to have their shutters down permanently, but most stores here are grocery shops with vast arrays of fruit and veg on display, including some of the greenest potatoes I’ve ever seen and also the most wrinkly peppers. If it weren’t for the slightly out of place gastropub on the corner, I might forget that I were in England.

As well as general fruit and veg, Dalston is particularly good for Carribean ingredients. The liittle market stalls on Ridley Road offer a range of interesting produce that I intend to explore more thoroughly over the weeks before I move. This was useful when I suddenly decided that tequila chicken was on the menu for that evening and I needed a plaintain in a hurry. However, I suggest that, unlike me, you don’t wait until 7pm before you go shopping there. With most of the little stalls shut, the deserted market had a dilapidated and slightly sinister feel to it. I was glad that I’d decided to do this in the summer months while it was still light in the evening.

Only one tiny little stall was open. They had plenty of ripe plaintains, just what I was looking for, and a fair few other things I was curious about, including a box full of some kind of shelled creature that I was too cautious to invesigate. The guy running the stall was rather bemused when I just tried to order one plaintain though, and kept filling up the bag with more fruit. Ah, well, it cost 50p, and I suppose I can make myself eat sweet fried plaintain if really necessary. ;)

Other than the plaintain, the ingredients for this meal are easy to find and the chicken is relatively simple to prepare. The accompaniment of green rice was a tad more time consuming than I imagined, but well worth it in the end.

If you’re going to make this, please note the rice is HOT! Goon didn’t know this, despite watching me puree the green chilli before adding it to the rice. His natural instinct when confronted with a hot dish is to cool his palate with starch. Sadly for him, this time it was the chicken that was sweet and soothing while the rice was fotified with jalapeno. It took him five quickly scoffed mouthfulls before he realised what was going on. :roll:  

The only real problem with this meal is that it included Tequila. I wasn’t expecting it but, through cooking this, I’ve discovered that I like this strange Mexican spirit. A lot. Possibly more than gin which is really saying something. I have consumed almost a bottle fairly quickly in the form of frozen margaritas and now I’ve nearly run out :(

More importantly, I couldn’t get that irritating song by Terrorvision out of my head while I was cooking.

Hmm…. I may need an excuse to buy another bottle… I’m thinking salmon cured in tequila with lime and coriander? Perhaps next week….. 

 

***********************

Sweet-Sour Tequila Chicken with Green Rice (adapted from Mexican Cooking by Jane Milton, feeds two big eaters generously)

tequi;a chicken

For the chicken….

  • small handful dried raisins
  • around 100ml dry sherry 
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • Meat from 6 boneless chicken thighs ( I left these as 6 separate chunks)
  • plain flour, seasoned with salt and pepper- enough to lightly coat the chicken thighs
  • 1 small onion, finely sliced into half rings
  • 2 fat cloves garlic, minced 
  • 1 ripe plaintain
  • A handful of slivered almonds
  • 2 small granny smith apples
  • 200ml chicken stock
  • 200-250ml tequila
  1. Put the raisins in a mug and pour over the sherry. Leave to soak for around 20 minutes.
  2. In the mean time, coat the chicken in the seasoned flour and brown over a high heat. Drain and set aside.
  3. Sweat the onions and garlic together in some vegetable oil until soft.
  4. While the onion is sweating, peel and core the apples. Chop the apples into small cubes.
  5. Add the apples and plaintain to the pan.
  6. Stir and cook for a few minutes.
  7. Add the raisins, sherry, chicken stock and tequila. Bring to a gentle bubble.
  8. When the mixture has reduced by around 40%, add the browned chicken thighs. Cover and allow to cook until the chicken thighs are fully cooked.
  9. Stir in the almonds.
  10. Adjust seasoning and serve with the green rice.

For the Green Rice……

  • 4 handfuls rice
  • 1 big handful coriander
  • 1 big handful parsley
  • 1 big green chilli (jalapeno was recommended)
  • 1 green pepper
  • 1 small onion/ half a medium onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 200 ml chicken stock
  1. Cut the pepper and chilli in half and remove the seeds. Place under a medium grill, skin side up, until the skins are blistered and charred. Remove from the heat.
  2. Cover the rice with boiling water. Leave to stand for around 20 minutes.
  3. When the pepper and chilli are cool, peel the skin from them and roughly chop the flesh.
  4. Process the pepper and chilli with the garlic. Then add the herb leaves and process until you have a smooth paste, adding a little chicken stock if necessary.
  5. Drain the rice.
  6. Fry the (now almost cooked) rice and onion together until the rice is golden brown. Add the herb paste and fry for around 5 minutes, allowing the rice to absorb the moisture in the paste.
  7.  Add the chicken stock a little at a tiime (risotto style) and allow it to be absorbed until the rice is cooked.

Serve the chicken garnished with chopped herbs with the green rice and sauce and maybe a green salad if you want to be healthy.

*********************** 

Recipe notes 

This dish had a real kick to it, which mostly came from the sherry soaked raisins. The tequila imparted an interesting, deep earthiness alongside the sweet-tart flavour of the apples. I was pleased with the flavours in the dish, although I think it definitely needs something texture wise. The sauce is thick and the plaintain soft, giving it a bit of a gloopy feel at times. The firm chicken meat made up for this a little but something with some more bite would have turned this meal from good to fantastic. Any suggestions would be most welcome!

My favourite bit of this meal was the rice. It was flavoursome and had a good chilli kick. I think I may have used a bit too much herb paste though- I think it turned out greener and more moist than it should have. About 25g of each herb woul;d have been sufficient. 1 chilli was certainly sufficient although the recipe suggested 2.

July 9, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 12:37 pm

Well, hopefully, it is. Poor neglected blog. I even forgot its birthday, being somewhere in between marking mocks and keeping a lid on hyperactive lower school sets.

If any of my past readers haven’t given me up for dead and stopped checking this site, I am about to anounce yet another change. I have decided to leave my job at Highgate and move back to West London altough I am still staying in teaching.

Actually, I decided to leave my job in Highgate in February. It has been a long, tedious, drawn out goodbye made even more tedious by the fact I had to keep t under wraps for a long, long time.  

You might put my choice down to either 

  1. A food snobbery that rendered me incapable of living in the badlands of Dalston.
  2. The realisation that teaching is a lot harder than it sounds.

While (2) is true to some extent, it wasn’t enough to put me off my chosen career path. However, given the mistakes I’ve made in the classroom this year, a clean break might be advantageous, especially if I can move to an area in which I know exactly where and when I can get the ingredients for a very good meal. It does, however, mean I have to start my search for a decent kitchen again. Rats! 

I am seriously hoping that my new position will allow me to update this site much more frequently than I had been. My commute will be far shorter and with any luck I won’t have to spend quite so much time creating my own resources next year. Fingers crossed. At any rate, the next eight weeks should include some fairly frequent posting. In the mean time, here is a recipe that I made a few weeks ago and started to blog before passing out at the keyboard.  

Filed under: Uncategorized, North African, Game, Couscous, Slow cooked — ros @ 12:18 pm

What a backlash I got from that last post on braised rabbit! Luckily for me, the criticism wasn’t internet based but from people I could quite happily argue with face to face, namely my father and one of my students. It appears that the problem is not that I cooked a rabbit but that I used a picture of a bunny that was cute.

That’s it. If I’d used a picture of an ugly rabbit, no one would have cared. So, I did a long and tedious internet search to find a picture of a rabbit that wasn’t cute and fluffy to appease my father, but all I could find were these.

rabbit1

See my problem? Rabbits are naturally adorable despite being pests. After a lot of searching I did however manage to find a picture of the rabbit that is the one exception to this rule.

giant rabbit

Hmm…somehow I’m not entirely convinced that this rabbit really exists. 

Cuteness aside, there are a lot of good reasons for cooking up wild rabbits (I specify wild for a reason, see this post for more detail). If you avoid butchers and go for farmers’ markets, you’ll often find rabbits for around £4 each. That’s enough to feed at least two people, possibly three (or twenty if the rabbit is anything like the one in the last picture). The meat may take a while to cook but after a good long braise it will fall off the bone and it has a strong earthy taste that isn’t overpoweringly gamey. It’s versatile too. It works with light lemony flavours over pasta, in a cream sauce with paprika, in a curry (I’ve yet to try this but I believe it will work) or, as below, in a stew with aromatic North African flavours. 

I got the idea for this recipe on one of my many long walks through Islington. Once I mustered up enough cash to afford a trip to a restaurant (more on that later), I decided on the place I should visit by reading a lot of menus and deciding which one had the most dishes I couldn’t attempt myself. A Moroccan restaurant on Upper Street had an intriguing idea for a tagine of rabbit with pears and currants which I promptly stole before deciding to visiti the Latin American restaurant on the next street.

Rabbit ‘Tagine’ with Pears and Sultanas

 

fruity rabbit tagine

 

Ingredients

  •  wild rabbit, cleaned and jointed
  • 1 pinch saffron
  • 1 small/medium onion, finely diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 level teaspoon freshly ground cumin
  • 1 level teaspoon freshly ground coriander seed
  • 3 level teaspoons freshly ground cinnamon
  • 2 cubic inches ginger root, grated coarsley
  • enough chicken stock to cover the rabbit in a large saucepan (400ml or thereabouts)
  • handful of chopped coriander leaves
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • half a handful sultanas
  • 2 pears, cored and cut into 6 or 8 slices, depending on size
  • couscous to serve

Method

  1. Wash the rabbit joints and pat dry
  2. Get a large saucepan really hot and then use it to brown the rabbit joints one, or two, at a time. Set the rabbit aside
  3. Turn the heat on the pan to very low. Add a splash of olive oil and the onions, garlic, ginger and spices.
  4. Allow to sweat gently for 5-10 minutes until the onion is soft.
  5. Add the stock, honey, saffron, sultanas and coriander leaf. Stir well, turn up the heat slightly and allow the mixture to bubble gently for a couple of minutes.
  6. Taste the sauce and adjust spicing.
  7. Add the rabbit to the saucepan and arrange to the rabbit is covered (or as close as you can manage) completely by the sauce. Bring this mixture to a simmer.
  8. Simmer for 2-3 hours, until the rabbit is tender.
  9. Strain the liquid off into another saucepan. Boil vigourously (well, as vigorously as you can without it spitting) until reduced by half. Add the pears and the remaining sultanas and boil gently until the pears are soft.
  10. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  11. Serve the rabbit joints with the sauce, pears and some couscous with almonds and/or vegetables.

May 30, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized, Light, soup — ros @ 5:37 pm

There’s been a lot of it in this flat recently. Supporting two people (well, one person and a giant with the appetite of a starved woolly mammoth) on a teacher’s salary requires tight budgeting. We’ve had a lot of chicken liver dinners over the last term and I am always looking to find good deals.

I seem to have inherited my father’s love of food bargain hunting and, now that we have reasonable food storage space, I seem to have picked up his tendency for hoarding too. Before the pheasant season finished, we had two whole birds and four packs of breast meat in the freezer. We also had four ducks and 2 kilos of pork leg. Damn Sainsbury’s and their half price temptations!

Goon is not so good at budget shopping. He rarely checks the pricing on fruit and veg so he doesn’t even notice if what he’s picking up is organic or conventional and he never thinks to seek out the bargain bin. I suppose I can’t blame him really. During the time in between leaving his home in Leeds and acquiring me as his personal chef, he lived solely on tinned tuna with rice and, on special occasions, minced beef with rice. However, I have been trying to train him to shop more frugally and he does seem to be learning*.

One day, Goon noticed that the strings of garlic at our corner store were considerably better value than the individual bulbs** so he picked one up. Of course, Goon didn’t think to check on the quality of the garlic and, when he got home, I wasn’t too amused at being presented with a string of 10, slightly sprouted garlic bulbs. A week later i still had six of these on my hands.

 

sprouted garlic

Sorry about the blurring. The garlic was by then very much alive and trying to escape.*** I’m told that garlic in this form is just about useable if you pull out the shoots, but it wouldn’t be long before I had to bin the remainder of the heads. So what could I do in this situation? I had no time to make chicken with 40 cloves of garlic. There was only one thing for it: soup.

garlic soup

Lots and lots and lots of garlic soup. It’s very nice, although possibly not what you want on a first date and it would seem it develops in strength the longer you leave it. Still, it’s been doing a very good job of keeping the vampires away. I haven’t seen a single one since I made this****.

Garlic Soup (makes around 10 portions)

Ingredients 

  • two pinches saffron threads
  • 175g butter
  • 6 heads garlic, peeled, shoots pulled out, chopped
  • 4 small/medium onions, finely diced
  • 4 sticks celery, chopped up finely
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • generous splash dry sherry
  • 2 1/2  litres chicken stock
  • handful long grain rice
  • 250 mls double cream
  • croutons, parsley and freshly grated Parmesan cheese to serve

Method

  1. Leave the saffron tosoak in a little hot water. 
  2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and add the garlic, onion, celery and bay leaf. Stir. put a lid on the saucepan and allow these to sweat until soft. 
  3. Add the sherry, stock and the saffron and its soaking water. Bring to the boil
  4. Add the rice and boil until the rice is cooked. Taste and add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Take out the bay leaf, add the cream and liquidise the soup.
  6. When ready to serve, reheat and top with some croutons, freshly grated parmesan and parsley.

 

* The learning is well motivated. The last time he turned up with a £2 aubergine, half the kitchen crockery was projected towards his head.

** The fact that going to Sainsbury’s and picking up a three pack of bulbs would have been even better value is beside the point. To do that, Goon would have had to walk for a whole 8 minutes which is, of course, unthinkable UNLESS I have given him some money to pick up some fried chicken on his way back.

***Or perhaps it had been so long since I’d taken a photo in daylight I’d forgotten how to operate the camera without flash.

****(geekery) My hobby: pointing out the flaws in the assumption that correlation implies causality.(\end geekery) 

May 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 4:46 pm

blueberry lamb rack 

Almost five weeks later, I’ve decided to emerge again. This really is a strange job. In the week before the A-level and GCSE exams began we were running around like headless chickens, photocopying papers, running late evening revision sessions and marking like there was no tomorrow. Now the exam students have gone and I literally have nothing to do, hence I am writing a blog post during school hours.*

Oh, the joy of having three year 12 sets and a year 12 tutor group. They’re all really keen and really nice students and, in the middle of May, they all bugger off on exam study leave for the best part of a month, leaving me with a grand total of 4 lessons to teach this week. The down side of this is that the absence of 6th formers means teaching lessons is thoroughly exhausting. This is because three out of my four lessons  involve battling with a bunch of hyperactive fourteen year olds many of whom, since the warm weather began, seem incapable of staying quiet for five minutes, let alone revising through an entire 50 minute lesson. However, when your job only takes up 20% of your day, finding it tiresome isn’t too much of a problem.

The change in pace did leave me rather shellshocked last Friday when I arrived home to a flat which would be empty for the entire weekend with nothing to do. It had been weeks since I’d done anything but work, eat and sleep and I literally had no idea of how to occupy myself. Could it be that I’d forgotten how to have fun?

Well, yes, actually it did seem that way, especially since the vast majority of my friends live 15 miles away on the other side of London. It reminded me of the time when I was at school in Kingston Upon Thames and at the weekends my friends, who were considerably richer than me, would be going horse riding in Banstead, leaving me sitting in my room with my computer for company**. At that age, I entertained myself with computer games, mostly the now forgotten graphic adventure genre. These were games which I convinced myself were for those of a high intellectual calibre, i.e. they involved a lot of logic based puzzles and very little violence. This is almost certainly why they died out by 1999.

So, fortunately for the food blog, the lack of games to play, and hence potential for nostalgic time wasting, meant that I was forced to occupy myself by buying myself something fun and exciting to cook.

I admit I’m rubbish at keeping up with what is in season but, given all the major supermarkets have blueberries on special offer, I assumed it MUST be the right time of year for them. In any case, it turnes out they work rather well as an accompaniment to a delicious, tender lamb rack.

Lavender and Rosemary Crusted Lamb Rack with Blueberry Sauce (serves 1)

  • 1 small lamb rack (about 350g-400g)
  • 1 level tablespoon ground lavender
  • crumbs from 1-2 slices of bread- enough to coat the rack
  • leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, very finely chopped
  • some more rosemary- perhaps another large sprig torn into little bits
  • 50g blueberries
  • 50ml ruby port
  • sugar to sweeten the sauce- around half a tablespoon but best done to taste.
  • roasted new potatoes and a green vegetable or salad to serve
  1. Preheat your oven to gas mark 7. 
  2. Mix the breadcrumbs with the lavender and chopped rosemary.
  3. Make deep slits between each rib bone in the rack. Push a piece of torn rosemary into each slit.
  4. Coat the meat in the breadcrumb mixture.
  5. Roast the meat to required doneness, then cover with foil and leave to rest for 15 minutes. As a rough guide, my 500g rack took 18 minutes to be roasted rare.
  6. Place the berries in a blender. Add the port and blitz until smooth.
  7. Strain the blueberry/port mixture into a small saucepan.
  8. Bring the blueberry sauce to a gentle bubble. Allow to reduce until thick and syrupy.
  9. Add sugar to taste. The sauce should have a slight tang to it but shouldn’t be very acidic. Adding extra port may help if your blueberries were very tangy.
  10. Cut the rack into cutlets and serve with the sauce on roasted baby new potatoes and steamed asparagus.

*** 

Lavender and blueberries…. now why didn’t I think of that before! It seems a natural pairing in hindsight. I liked this idea a lot, so much so that I made Goon try it after he returned from his sojourn in Newcastle. Blueberries give a slight tang to the dish while the floral overtones of the lavender complement the unique fruity flavour of the berries. A fair bit of sugar is needed to mediate the acidity of the fruit. Too much acid just tastes odd with the slight bitterness of the rosemary and lavender. 

Now I should perhaps go and tidy up those posts i wrote during Easter with the intention of publishing one every few days this term. Then again, maybe it is too late to be posting about winter food, although looking at the rain outside, maybe it is wotrth reserving judgement for a couple of days. 

* No, really, I WROTE the post in school hours, then had to wait four days to sort out the photos.

**I blame my excessively geeky interests on this time. Few of the friends I made after leaving school are aware of just how nerdy I can be. However, the year 9s now have a pretty good idea of how bad it gets since I spent most of an evening (post 6th form departure) writing them a very authentic Star Wars based exercise sheet on standard form. My boss and I thought it was really cool. Only one of the year 9s agreed.

April 16, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 9:25 pm

Well, I’m back at school now and it seems that the first day of the summer term has been a lot easier than the previous two terms. The kids are mostly revising now, meaning that there’s a lot less lesson prep to do and, to my astonishment, I left work today at 5pm! Previously I would have rarely left by 7:30.

I’m taking full advantage of these easy days before revision clinics take off and I’m thrown back into the crazy-busy schedue I had before. There has only been one problem with work these last two days. Apparently someone in the finance department decided it was a good idea to turn the heating off in the maths block and boy, is it cold!

I feel the cold badly anyway. You know the type of girl who insists the flat is kept permanatly at 25 degrees, doesn’t care about the heating bill and then still sits right next to the radiator all the time? That’s me. Any degree of cold makes me lose concentration remarkably quickly, and on these sunny but chilly spring days it is marginally warmer outside in the quad than it is at my desk.

After about half an hour of pacing up and down the office during my first free period and grumbling to anyone who’d listen, I decided I couldn’t take it any more and went and took refuge in the photocopying room. I didn’t need to photocopy at that point, but those printers don’t half keep the place warm!

Even my colleague Luke admits its freezing and he’s Northern! In fact, he  was the man who said last term that I was a weed for adding extra layers to go outside in February and that I should be made to live in a freezer for a week to make me understand the true nature of cold.

So for these last two days, I’ve been craving really warming food and, for a change I have had the time to make exactly what I wanted for dinner. After our initial training  day, when I spend all day sitting in the office with my coat and scarf on, I felt what I needed was this.

Marinated, Griddled Squid on Pepper, Tomato and Chickpea Stew with Smoked Paparika, Bacon and Chorizo

squid with chickpea chorizo tomato stew

  • About 200g baby squid, cleaned with hoods and tentacles seperated and heads discarded
  • The juice of half an orange 
  • 1 cubic inch ginger, crushed 
  • a small onion, minced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 yellow pepper cored, deseeded and chopped, roughly into 1 inch squares
  • 300g drained tinned chickpeas
  • 3 tsp smoked paprika
  • 2 tsp cayenne
  • 300g chopped tomatoes
  • 200ml fresh vegetable stock 
  • 3 links spicy raw chorizo, chopped into small chunks
  • 4 rashers smoky bacon, chopped 
  • large handful of coriander, roughly chopped
  1. Make a slit down the side of each squid hood and open it out, score in a cris-cros pattern over the outer side.
  2. Mix the orange and crushed ginger. Toss the squid hoods in the mixture and leave to marinate while you prepare the stew
  3. Sweat the onions and garlic gently until the onion is beginning to soften. Add the cayenne and paprika, stir well, cover and leave to cook for another few minutes.
  4. Add the bacon. pepper and chorizo, stir and allow to cook for a further 3-4 minutes turning the heat up to just below medium.
  5. Add the tomatoes, stock and chickpeas, stir well and bring to a gentle bubble. Leave uncovered to bubble down to a thick stew consistency.
  6. Taste, adjust seasoning and when ready to serve, stir in the coriander.
  7. Griddle the baby squid over a high heat for about 90s per side or until just cooked through. Serve the squid on the chickpea stew. I accompanied this with roast cherry tomatoes, wilted green spinach and a glass of rioja.
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