Tuesday 28th March
Full of the joys of spring here as my EBBP parcel has arrived - from
Sweden, where the days are long, the liquorice salty and the middle of
Lent marked by a national day of waffle eating. I love it already. My
parcel is from Anne of Anne's
Food - who heroically put together a package of delicious things
despite not feeling 100%. And look at the treats she sent! Lavender
nougat. Chilli chocolate balls - to be melted for the ultimate warming hot
chocolate. Green Iranian raisins, which are unlike any raisins I've ever
tasted - less sweet and hence very moreish. Vanilla beans (so that's what
smelt so good!) Raw brown sugar. And of course, the sweet that separates
the men from the boys and the Northern Europeans (certainly the Swedish, I
think also the Dutch?) from erm, everyone else on earth... salt liquorice.
A lovely bonus is Anne's gorgeous stationery, the card and stickers with
her blog's banner and URL on. Admit it, most of our blogs don't have
enough accessories... Thank you Anne, thank you Andrew for organising! As
usual the roundup at Spittoon
Extra is full of good ideas for next time...
Saturday 25th March
This month Too Many Chefs has
set a very interesting challenge for Is My Blog Burning? #24.
Thirty minutes from ingredients to table: a full meal in half an hour with
as little recourse as possible to pre-prepared ingredients. As TMC say, in
the real world it's really useful to know that sometimes you can come
through the door after a long day's work (or a horrid commute) and still
have dinner on the table at a reasonable hour - and the subtext is that
it's really pleasing to know that sometimes you can do that without
compromising your foodie principles - that is, your preference for cooking
decent food from fresh ingredients. Apart from anything else, it's good
for you... the further away your meal seems at that tired&hungry moment,
the more likely you are to resort to the biscuit tin.
Personally, cooking this fast isn't something I do very often - I'm lucky
enough to get home most days in time to spend a bit longer on dinner, and
I enjoy the process sufficiently to potter around for forty-five to sixty
minutes most days. And of course I rarely make three courses for two of
us! If I'm cooking for guests I definitely make sure I have longer... But
yes, I found it was possible. It certainly took a bit of forethought, and
one of the thoughts I kept coming back to was that this was a particularly
hard time of year to manage it (it's still fairly cold here in London).
The fresher, riper and more varied the seasonal produce, the less you need
to do to them. Anyone can get three courses on the table in thirty minutes
if two of them are salad and one strawberries and cream. In winter we eat
more carbohydrates, more meat, more root veg, and we want to cook them for
longer, for comforting tenderness and subtle depth of flavour.
Anyway, this is what I made, and this is how it's done.
Harissa-glazed carrots with feta
Lamb with pine nuts and hummous
Shopping/store cupboard list:
Baby carrots (punnet); vegetable stock powder/cube; cumin; harissa; feta
cheese (100g); flat-leaf parsley; pitta bread; pine nuts; minced lamb;
smoked paprika; cinnamon; hummous (two small tubs); garlic; bananas;
double cream; mascarpone; one egg; dark brown sugar.
- Put the kettle on.
- Trim carrots and halve lengthways (baby carrots are specified so
that this is all the preparation needed - larger ones would need
peeling and more chopping).
- Heat olive oil in large pan; add carrots in one layer.
- Add cumin to carrots.
- Use boiling water to make up vegetable stock; add to carrots.
- Add teaspoon of harissa to carrots (or as much/little as you
like); turn heat down and cover.
- In a frying pan, toast a good handful of pine nuts.
- Simultaneously, but being sure to take the nuts off the heat before
they burn, slice a banana or two into two glasses.
- Nuts still going? Whip a small carton of double cream until it
stands in soft peaks.
- Nuts are surely done by now. Gently beat one egg yolk and a tub
of mascarpone into the whipped cream.
- Turn the nuts out onto a plate and add lamb to frying pan. Break
up and fry until no pink remains.
- Simultaneously - the lamb certainly won't burn - spoon the
cream/cheese mixture over the sliced banana(s).
- Sprinkle a teaspoon of brown sugar over the cream/cheese in each
glass and put them in the fridge. The sugar will melt into a rich caramel
topping. They'll be best if you leave them a little longer than until
the end of the thirty minutes; but as you have two other courses
which conventionally you'd eat first, I don't think that's cheating
- Add a generous amount of cinnamon and paprika to the lamb. A
small handful of currants would also be an acceptable addition here.
- Remove lid from carrots and turn up heat to reduce liquid to
- Toast a few pitta bread (in the toaster).
- Chop a large bunch of parsley.
- Pop! Crumble feta over carrots and plate up.
- Sprinkle no more than half the parsley over the carrots and serve
with pitta bread.
- Turn heat right down under lamb; add pine nuts and cover. Your thirty
minutes are up.
- Eat starter.
- Spoon hummous onto plates, spread out and pile lamb on top. Sprinkle
rest of parsley over and serve.
- Eat main with any remaining pitta bread.
- Eat dessert. Ginger biscuits would also be good here. Relax.
Tagged with: IMBB24 + 30Minutes
Tuesday 21st March
Everybody needs a recipe for emergency baking. Something you can throw
together no matter how bare the cupboard is, without any preparation,
planning or (especially) shopping. It's an impossible dream, really,
because if the person exists who's organised enough that they never, ever,
use the last of the flour and sugar before getting round to buying a new
bag, I certainly haven't met them. But my vegan biscuit recipe - which I
blog about approximately once a year, I know - comes close. For me, you
see, the most common obstacle to Sunday afternoon baking is lack of eggs.
(This is usually due to my greedy and short-sighted insistence on
omelettes for lunch.) So a recipe which enables me to knock out a tray of
biscuits - even if they are never quite crunchy enough - is a godsend. The
original recipe (from the Aldeburgh Cookery School) flavours them with
spices, and my usual habit is to use Chinese five-spice. But of course you
can add anything; a recent success was to add cocoa powder and cocoa
100ml olive oil
100ml sweet white wine (one marked suitable for vegans, of course)
75g caster sugar
150g plain flour
1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
up to 3 tsp spice, cocoa powder etc
up to 3 tbs cocoa nibs, chocolate chips, fennel seeds, chopped nuts etc
Mix oil, wine, and sugar; fold in dry ingredients. Place teaspoons of the
mixture onto a baking tray, spaced well apart. Bake for twenty to
Monday 20th March
This is a nice easy soup with the virtue of flexibility. Leave it chunky
and it's a filling lunch; blend a bit longer, strain and garnish it and
it's good enough to serve to anyone. It's two tins of chickpeas with
pepper (1), tomatoes (half a punnet) and onion (1) - the veg roasted for
thirty minutes to get lovely caramelised edges. That's really it. I used a
little vegetable stock for liquid and about quarter of a teaspoon of
smoked paprika. For lunch I'd blend this roughly, maybe add the second tin
of chickpeas afterwards so they stay whole. For dinner, blend more
thoroughly (maybe in a stand-up whizzer rather than with the trusty
hand-held vibrator) and pass through a medium sieve so it's completely
smooth. Goat's cheese is always a good combination with peppers and
tomatoes, and I liked the concentric circles look of floating a slice from
a small buche de chèvre in the centre.
Wednesday 15th March
Apparently yesterday (3.14 in the American parlance) was the annual
international Π Day, when mathemeticians around the world, bless 'em,
celebrate the magic number that anyone who ever tried to reduce a cake
recipe because their tin was too small knows well: 3.14159265... etc.
That seemed as good a reason as any to excavate from the freezer a pie I
bought at a food fair around Christmas. I assume I was feeling Christmassy
when I decided I needed a game with red wine pie on hand 'just in
case' of unexpected visitors, sudden starvation, and the like. Lime Tree Pantry make
very traditional pies with British ingredients and hand-rolled pastry -
very good pastry, in fact, fantastically short and crumbly. It's made with
vegetable fats so it's more texture than flavour, which I readily forgive
in a savoury pie at least: the filling is rich and delicious, so if
whatever kind of fat they're substituting for lard works better for the
production, storage, freezing, transporting process, fair enough. It also
means they can market their vegetable and fruit pies as vegetarian. I
haven't tried the fruit so I'm not going to comment on the lack of
butter... The filling was 38% game - venison, pheasant, partridge, rabbit,
and hare - you know, I obviously didn't read the ingredients that closely
before I bought it. 38% doesn't seem very much on the face of it (though I
didn't notice any stinginess of filling at all on the plate) and wild hare
wouldn't be my first choice of dinner as they're in decline... But what
can you do, I supported a small business making delicious, locally-sourced
food: not every meal can tick every box, I guess. And it really was tasty.
Friday 10th March
Thank goodness for Sugar High Friday, shaking me into actually
thinking about what I cook on a Friday night. And this might just be the
most locally-hosted round yet: Andrew of Spittoon Extra (and Original, of course) is, in blogging
terms at least, practically next door. He it was who chose the excellent
dairy theme for SHF: simple, broad, slightly subversive (lotta pancakes
got eaten last week... no-one actually cutting out butter and cream,
though, hmmm?) but showing a sound recognition that for goodness' sake,
what else are you going to make dessert from in March?
My take on it is rice pudding. Not my favourite, I admit, but arguably
more comforting on a rainy night than the smooth cold creamy desserts that
I'd normally pass it up for. I find it carries other flavours well, and
have also had some success with a mango and cardamom version, served cold
after an Indian meal. I like to add some textural contrast, for instance
with slivered pistachios, toasted almonds, or as here, cocoa nibs. The
dark, dark, chocolate gives three contrasts for the price of one: crunch
against softness... bitterness against earthy sugar-hit... thoroughly
grown-up finish to nursery classic.
Chestnut rice pudding with cocoa nibs
1/2 cup arborio rice
250ml creamy milk (or milk and single cream)
half tin sweetened chestnut purée
tbs cocoa nibs
Melt butter and toast rice; add brandy and cook off. Add milk/cream and
reduce heat. Simmer for half an hour, stirring frequently, until rice is
completely soft (well the other side of al dente). Remove from heat and
stir in chestnut purée. Garnish with cocoa nibs before serving.
Thursday 2nd March
The Chocolate Menier Factory is a theatre on Southwark Street,
SE1, with a cute little bistro-style restaurant attached. The theatre is
cosy and quirky, with an interesting programme and banquette seating -
good for getting to know your companion well, or a complete stranger for
that matter... the show we saw (Sunday in the Park with George) was sold
out and as members of the audience continued to arrive right up to the
last minute a nice lady from New Zealand came out and told us politely but
firmly to squeeze up. The restaurant is intimate in a more subtle way,
through the use of candlelight, film stills and chatty staff rather than
enforced proximity. Before shows a short set menu is all that's available,
at a lower price for ticket holders; this is vaguely themed towards that
night's production, so we benefitted from classic french bistro fare:
paté de campagne with prunes; onion soup; coq au vin; crème
caramel. These were good, especially the casserole, served with garlicky
mashed potato. For my money the standard menu is less interesting - a
pasta, a salad, a steak, a fish, lots of 'up-market' burgers, frankly a
menu you could find anywhere in London - but I imagine the execution is
equally good, so I'd give it a chance. After all, it's not every day you
get to sit in a candlelit chocolate factory.