04/07/2015

Getting sticky with Paul Hollywood

Yes, that Paul Hollywood. The Silver Fox himself.

I am aware that many people aren’t enamoured of him, but I’ve been watching him on TV for a lot of years, and he won me at ‘Cyprus’. He may be a rotter, or he may not, I have no idea, and am not bothered about his private life because it’s, you know, PRIVATE, but he talks with such affection about his time in Cyprus (6 years living there) and about baking that I just like him. It also helps that I find him very easy on the eye. (Bike! Bike!)

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Plus he’s friends with my lovely Tonia Buxton, and that counts for a lot.

I’ve recently been reading some of his books. It started with my watching his series about baking and bread again, and realising that I now have a Kindle. This makes things a lot easier when cooking in a kitchen with very little work surface.

How to Bake and Bread were soon purchased. So was a lot of flour.

I often say that I don’t eat a lot of bread, but when I do, I want that bread to be tasty, and as good as it possibly can be. Baking good bread myself has eluded me over the years, except for my Turkish acma, which is gorgeous every time, but not the bread I wanted to bake.

Tex loves bread with a crisp crust, and I could never seem to get it right.

Until Mr Hollywood’s books came along.

‘Bread’ was the first book I read, and I decided to try the bloomer, because Tex likes those. I know a lot of people say to use the methods where you don’t knead as much, but I wanted to do it the hard way, from the start, to prove [ha ha ha] that I could. Also, I am not an accomplished baker, so it makes sense to get used to the feel of dough, and to stop being scared of it.

I have found Paul’s recipes to be very well written, nicely clear, and confidence building. They make me feel that every recipe is within my grasp. I don’t have a mixer with a dough hook, so it’s all got to be done by hand anyway. Using a food processor with a dough hook was a NO, and we won’t talk of it again. Well, maybe a bit.

I followed the directions to the letter. I know I am usually one for tweaks, but when it comes to the mystery that is bread I’m not going to mess with it. Not yet, anyway, but…well…I didn’t have enough strong bread flour, so I had to make up the shortfall with plain. I panicked a little, but then got on with it.

I’m going to put the whole recipe here, with my adjustments, because it just worked, and his way of writing is, to me, perfect.

BLOOMER

If you’re new to bread-making this is a good recipe to start with, as it shows you the key techniques you need to master. It’s vital to knead the dough vigorously to develop the gluten and give the dough stretchiness, and to knock back and shape the loaf well. All this strengthens the structure so the dough can rise upwards without a tin. The loaf gets its name from the way it rises and ‘blooms’ like a flower in the oven. The term also describes the lustre you get with a well baked loaf that has a crisp crust.

MAKES 1 LOAF

500g strong white bread flour, plus extra for dusting (I had to use 300g strong, 200g plain)

10g salt (It seems a lot. It’s not. It works.)

7g fast-action dried yeast

40ml olive oil, plus extra for oiling

320ml cool water – (Yes, COOL water. A revelation.)

Tip the flour into a large mixing bowl and add the salt to one side of the bowl and the yeast to the other. Pour in the oil and 240ml of the water and use the fingers of one hand to mix the ingredients together. Use a clawing action to stir the water into the dry ingredients, so you gather in all the flour.

Once you’ve got going, add the remaining water a little at a time until you have a soft, sticky (but not soggy) dough and you’ve picked up all the flour from the sides of the bowl. You may not need to add all of the water; it will depend on the absorbency of the flour you’re using. (Bear in mind that the dough will become less sticky as you knead.) 

Pour a little oil onto a work surface. I use oil rather than flour to stop the dough sticking to the surface as it keeps the dough soft and does not alter the balance of flour to water. A wetter dough is harder to handle at first, but produces better bread.

Knead the dough for 5– 10 minutes (or longer if you’re a beginner). It will become less sticky and eventually turn into a smooth ball with an elastic texture.

(I re-oiled my hands when it got a bit too sticky, and boom! It worked! I could feel the dough change texture under my fingers and become much more elastic. )

The time this takes depends on how vigorous you are with the dough. It is ready when it is really stretchy: if you pull a piece of the dough between your fingers you should be able to stretch it to at least 20cm. (I never quite got it to that stage.)

Put the dough in a lightly oiled large bowl. Cover with cling film or a tea towel and leave to rise until tripled in size – at least 1 ½ hours, but it can take up to 3 hours depending on the temperature. A slow rise develops a better flavour, so don’t put it in a warm spot. (Yes, I know, goes against the grain doesn’t it?)

The ambient temperature in most kitchens is between 18 ° C and 24 ° C, which is perfectly adequate.

Place the risen dough on a lightly floured surface. You now need to ‘knock back’ the dough by folding it in on itself several times and pushing out the air with your knuckles and the heels of your hands. Do this until all the air is knocked out and the dough is smooth.

To shape the dough into a bloomer, first flatten it into a rectangle, with a long side facing you. Fold the long side furthest from you into the middle of the rectangle. Then fold the long side closest to you into the middle, on top of the other fold. Turn the loaf over, so you have a smooth top with a seam along the base. Tuck the ends of the loaf under to make a rough oval shape. Rock the loaf gently so you form the loaf into its bloomer shape. The bread is now ready to prove.

This second rise of the shaped loaf is one of the secrets of great bread, enabling the dough to develop even more flavour as the yeast ferments and giving it a lighter texture.

Put the loaf on a baking tray (lined with baking parchment or silicone paper if it isn’t non-stick). Put the whole tray inside a large, clean plastic bag, making sure there is plenty of space above the surface of the dough so it won’t touch the plastic when it rises. Leave the loaf to prove, or rise again, until doubled in size; this will take about 1 hour.

To check when the bread is ready for the oven, gently press it with your finger: the dough should spring back. While the bread is proving, heat your oven to 220 ° C and put a deep roasting tray on the bottom shelf to heat up.

Lightly spray or sprinkle the bread with water. Dust with a handful of flour, smoothing it all over the top of your loaf with the palm of your hand. Be gentle – you don’t want to knock any air out of the loaf.

Using a very sharp knife, make 4 diagonal slashes across the top of the loaf, 2– 3cm deep and at a 45 ° angle. This gives your loaf the classic bloomer finish: on baking the loaf expands, so the slashes open up. If you do not slash the top, as the bread continues to expand once the crust has formed, cracks will form around the bottom of the crust. (My loaf was a bit misshapen, and possibly the slashes were too deep and straight but hey ho.)

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Just before you put the loaf in the oven, pour about 1 litre water into the roasting tray. This will create steam when the loaf is baking and give it a crisp crust and a slight sheen. (This is a lot of water, and I wasn’t sure about it, but it definitely works!)

Place the loaf on the middle oven shelf and bake for 25 minutes at 200 ° C.

Then lower the oven setting to 200 ° C and bake for a further 10– 15 minutes, until the crust has a good colour.

Hold the loaf in a tea towel and tap the bottom. If the loaf sounds hollow, then it is ready. Put the loaf on a wire rack and leave it to cool completely.

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I MADE THIS! I MADE THIS!

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Hollywood, Paul (2014-09-11). Paul Hollywood's Bread (Kindle Locations 320-332). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Apart from the flour, I followed this to the letter. And I am really glad I did!

Basking in the glow of this success, I tried mini baguettes. I did have a bit of an equipment fail, with the Food Processor Incident of which we are sort of not speaking. [sigh] Yes, the dough was very wet, so it essentially snaked up the internal column of the processor, over the top and down again on the inside of the internal column. [sighs again] I managed to clean it all off, and just finished the kneading off by hand in a very sticky fashion.

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BUT I persevered, with very, very sticky dough, and this happened.

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And then this!

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I cannot tell you how pleased I was to present Tex with a light, crackling crust bread, as the poor chap worked on the weekend.

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I’d obviously gotten carried away with all this baking.

It’s true what the man says “Be warned: many people find that baking is addictive. Once you get into it, you just want to bake more and more. It’s not just about wanting to get better. There’s also something magical about the transformative nature of baking. You start off with a slop in a bowl and end up with something crisp, warm and full of flavour that goes with anything.”

I just wanted to bake. Cursed with a Waking Up Very Early few weeks, bread happened again.

This is a Cob Loaf.

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I think I might try baguettes again soon. Without the food processor…

13/06/2015

Smoooooth….

It’s been a bit of a week. Monday 8th, I had a wisdom tooth out. Not such a big thing you may say. Take a fear of dentists, an utterly hair trigger gag reflex (yes, even the simple act of brushing my teeth makes me almost Be Unwell) and you have a person who is most definitely not going to have a wisdom tooth out with just a local. Add in the fact that it was an impacted tooth growing the wrong way…and you get the picture.

My instruction to my lovely dentist was “Knock me the hell out, and I’m all up for the op.”

She agreed.

Huzzah!

Monday came, they did indeed knock me the hell out, rough me up, stitch me back together and send me home.

Monday = no food, but mostly sleep. I think a chicken cup a soup happened, and I put in some trahanas to soak for soup in case I felt up to it.

Tuesday = OW OW OMG pills pills pills. Once they’d kicked in, I set about making smoothies. I’d stocked up on lovely Turkish yoghurt, nice and tangy, and lots of fruit. I’d also made up a big batch of almond butter. (3 cups roasted skin on almonds, drizzle of olive oil, sea salt, whirr in the food processor for longer than you think.)

Thinned down trahanas for dinner.

Tuesday Smoothie

1 punnet of strawberries, about 1 cup almond milk, 1 tbs honey and 2 scoops whey protein powder. Absolutely what I needed. Light, easy to drink, and extremely fresh and tasty. Believe me, you want something fresh tasting when you can still taste the stitches. This made a fabulous breakfast and lunch.

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Wednesday = more improvement, still woozy as anything.

Wednesday Smoothie

It needed to be a bit more substantial this time as I felt a bit  better and was hungry.

10 fresh apricots, 2 white doughnut peaches, 2 tbs almond butter, 5 heaped tbs yoghurt, almond milk again to thin it a bit and 2 scoops protein powder to make it more filling. I added in rose and vanilla extracts and honey.

This one blew me away with how good it was.  It had an almost mousse like texture, which was very satisfying. The rose lifted it into a heavenly realm for me.

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Thursday Smoothie

By the Thursday I was back at work, as the last of the sedative had more or less left my system. I bought a smoothie for lunch but it couldn’t match up to my own ones.

My one was 5 white doughnut peaches, 1 banana, yoghurt and almond butter with added honey, plus vanilla and almond extracts.

No photo, I drank it far too quickly, and it looked  just like Wednesday Smoothie , to be honest.

Friday night I managed a small dinner of *woohoo* solid food, and even though I’m not back to 100% normal yet (it’s Saturday today) I can eat most things, so long as the pieces aren’t too big., as I still can’t fully open my mouth.

I realised though that I really missed my smoothie today, so I’ve made another one for breakfast. It’s in the fridge now. I feel ridiculously organised.

My Not Out of Necessity Smoothie

2 bananas, 1/4 cup oats, 2 tbs almond/peanut butter, 1 scoop protein powder, almond milk, honey. I want to drink it all now.

Next up, I think, will be trying out almond milk with dates, cinnamon and orange flower water.

I also want to do a lighter one with watermelon, strawberries and rose.

Bananas and coconut milk with maybe some lime zest will also happen.

This is turning into a huge amount of fun. And no, there will NOT be one with kale in. Or beetroot.

16/05/2015

Chop Bloc, Chelmsford

I heard about Chop Bloc via Gary on Twitter. I’m not sure how a new steak place opening up not that far from us managed to pass me by, but it had. We’ve eaten at Miller & Carter in Chelmsford quite a few times, and have always found them to be of excellent quality, and good value, so we decided to check out Chop Bloc to see what they were like too. And, you know, because Steak.

Their location is a little tricksy, as they are in the town centre, so the SatNav got confused, then so did we. (I called them. Park in the carpark by Mothercare, head over the bridge, and they are just beyond Giraffe)

They’re in a corner with a few other chain restaurants, but they are built into an 18th Century grain house, so they look sufficiently different.

It has a dark feel, lots of exposed brick and wood floors, but it feels comfortable. I do love a good bit of brick.

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We were shown straight to our table (they have a staircase, but they also have a lift. Yay Accessibility!) We sat for a bit, breathing in the smoky scent from the Josper charcoal grills/ovens.There’s a lovely roasting beef scent to the place, as you would expect. And they really know their beef.

To quote Gary;

“Sourced from an supplier of Hereford cattle, they take the unusual (for the UK) move of dry aging the meat onsite. There’s storage for over three tons of beef in the building, which gives the chef great flexibility to portion the meat when it’s at its finest.”

THREE TONS. Sounds like a beautiful thing to me.

Now, when steak is sold by the gram, I get confused, and preoccupied with working out how much it is in ounces, and then thinking “Would I really pay that much for a steak?!” quite a lot. It takes a while to get over that.

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It would be very, very easy to spend well over a ton here, without really noticing, in the first five minutes.

However. We eventually settled on the ribeye, as that’s our benchmark steak. Medium well for Tex, medium rare for me.

I love that each steak has a stick in it so you know which is which.

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I am not sure a starter would be wise, even though they all sounded very tempting, especially the Panko Pork Belly.

Tex got chipotle fries with his steak, and a side salad. I had poutine, because I’ve never had it, and plain corn.

The Ribeye

I was very, very happy with my steak. Very.

The corn was very nice. A smoked taste to it, which can get a bit samey if everything has it, but then I love smoke, so I didn't mind at all. The small pieces of spring onion give it a nice tang.

WARNING KLAXON: The Poutine is huge. It really is a dish to share. Honestly. We did point out that perhaps a warning should be put next to it on the menu.

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That’s fries, with cheese curds, drenched in an amazing gravy. It’s rich, very dark, and made from all the bones, including veal bones.

The Gravy

That’s not simply the bottom of the pot in there, that’s beef jus. If they sold just a cup of that with some bread, I’d buy it. One of their sides is mash and gravy. I am so having that next time.

I do think that a side of a simple salad would be useful. Lettuce, tomato, cucumber. Just that. Tex’s salad had lots of things in it, half of which he picked out. (Green pepper shouldn’t be thing.) Miller & Carter do an Iceberg wedge, with a choice of dressings, and that’s perfect. Good and crunchy to cut through the richness of the steak.

Have another corn photo. Yes, I liked it that much. It didn’t need butter, it was tasty enough on its own.

Barbecue Corn

The only drawback was the noise level. The room that we were in seemed to be exceptionally echoey, not helped by a table of shouty men by us. The lack of anything, acoustic-wise, to absorb the sound, was extremely noticeable and, to be honest, it hurt my ears. Everything seemed to be amplified. It needs some nice carpet! (I know it doesn’t go with the look. But it does. Or at the very least some acoustic dampers like wall hangings.)

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All in all, it was a very nice dinner. I think, for me, it would be a destination more for a special occasion, as yes, it is a bit expensive, but this is very, very good meat, and worth paying for.

15/05/2015

Mabel’s. Maiden Lane, Covent Garden

I can’t remember now how I heard about Mabel’s. I think it might have been on Facebook, but I am ever so glad I did hear about it.

I signed up to their site, and got given a 50% off voucher for my first visit. We booked it up for the 14th of May, there and then.

It’s walking distance from work for me, which is a bonus, so I wandered along, went in and fell in love with the way they have decorated the place.  I very much mourn the demise of the Covent Garden Bar and Grill (sister restaurant to Porters, also sadly gone) on Henrietta Street, because I felt so comfortable there, but I think Mabel’s might replace it in my affections.

Maiden Lane needed some new blood. There’s the English plushness of Rules, which must never, ever change. A very good Thai restaurant called Thai Pin, and the Italianate hipness of Polpo, with its sharing plates, tattooed staff and scrubbed wooden floors.

Now there’s the Big Easy, looking like a be-neoned club, pumping smoke and grilled seafood scents into the street.

I think there’s still a GBK in the middle, and at the other end we have The Porterhouse which is a quite nice pub but very busy, and the inauthentic but still tasty La Tasca. La Perla do Mexican style food, and Fire & Stone are also along there. I admit their pizzas are very good. I’m just not a huge pizza fan. I might eat it once a year.

Mabel’s has taken over what used to be a cocktail bar, I think. They’ve done the place out in a very nice fashion, with lots of old pictures, mirrors

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and a terribly overblown chandelier.

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It all sounds a bit twee, but it really works. Not every chair is the same, but they blend in.

Now.

THEY USE PLATES. This is very important. If the food comes on a board or a tray for serving, as our first course did, they also give you a small plate.

There are no jam jars with handles to drink out of. Thank goodness.

When you first walk in, you enter a bar area, with high tables and stools. I thought someone was sitting in there working during their lunch, so didn’t pay proper attention, but it turned out to be a staff member trying to get my attention. Oops.

She was lovely, and was quite happy to seat me at a different table on their mezzanine floor, so that I wasn’t sitting with my back nearly up against a fire extinguisher, and almost in the doorway.

There’s a bar on this floor too, and the coffee machine is also there, which leads to an awful lot of banging when they thwack the coffee ground holder very hard to empty it. [narrows eyes] Yes, I jumped every time they did it as by Jove it echoes in there.

All very minor blips though.

There’s yet another seating area beyond the bar, so I might go in there next time!

Full marks ahoy for the food which, let’s face it, is what we were there for.

There’s a decent amount of choice on the menu, without being overwhelming. We had quite a hard time choosing, everything sounded so nice.

These are just the sandwiches. I wanted them all. I also want a cheese called Ogleshield. Because Ogleshield.

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I want to go back and try the salads.

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Finally we made a decision.

Duck Egg and Chive Mayo with Asparagus and walnut bread to share, then I chose Half a Smashed Chicken, and K had Battered Whale Haddock and chips.

Lovely, lovely, lovely.

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The egg mayonnaise is rich, but not cloying. The chives lift it, and the eggs are very tasty. The Lincolnshire Poacher cheese is a perfect addition, and the asparagus was very nicely cooked. Tender, not soggy at all.

There was a lot of the mayo, so I am glad we shared, because oh my there was a lot of the main dishes.

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Salt baked potatoes are a thing of wonder. They retain all of their goodness, and the skin is soft, but beautifully flavourful. Not overly salty at all. The chicken was very tender, with properly crisp skin, and a hint of smoke to it. It was also very nicely chicken-y. Not bland in any way.

The apple and fennel coleslaw needed to not have large chunks of spring onion, but for a fennel hater, the rest of this was a revelation. Fresh and light, with hardly any anise flavour at all but with a gorgeous crunch. I loved it. Once I’d pulled out the onion pieces.

We were a bit taken aback by the fish. Cor, mate.

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Yes, that batter is as crisp a shell as it looks. It was light, not greasy, and the fish inside was perfect.

Now I know everywhere does chips, but these were lovely. They tasted properly home cooked, very, as Kath said, Chip-y. Nicely done all round.

Dessert wasn’t going to happen. So we’ll have to go back.

My only complain, if you can call it that, is that the drinks options for non-alcohol people are a bit limited. They have an extensive cocktail list, and wine/beer/champagne list, but no non-alcoholic ones at all.

Tea, coffee, Fentimans juices, which I find way too sweet, or water, really. You do get tap water without asking, which is good.

 

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I would have loved to see a small list of pretty mocktails, like Hush has, but they aren’t on there yet. Ok, ok I am being picky, I expect but not everyone drinks.

We were told that of an evening you can ask the bartender and they'll make you something.

I love this list at Hush. It’s seasonal too, I believe.

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Overall, it’s a 9.5/10 for Mabel’s. I honestly can’t wait to go back and try more things from the menu. I very much enjoyed the experience there, it’s a very nice place to sit and chat, and eat lovely food, so thank you Mabel’s!

12/05/2015

Southern Fried Chicken

A few weeks ago, Alicia posted this.

It stuck in my brain, because it seems a far less messy way of cooking something that I love. Obviously my brain decided it want something else after a while, because it sort of slipped away. My brain is always filling up with recipes and ideas of what to cook, so something’s bound to fall out somewhere along the way.

Today I am home alone. Husband doesn’t really like chicken on the bone, and I love it, so on the way home from work I found some juicy looking chicken thighs in the trust Co-op, and decided there and then that I wanted Fried Chicken for dinner. The drawback being that I hadn’t had time to marinate it in buttermilk, but I figured it would work out okay in the end. I did my usual make it up as you go along.

I also read this article to get the method, and off we went.

It did indeed work out okay in the end.

3 large chicken thighs, skin on.

1 tbs Old Bay Seasoning (This is a wonderful spice mix, and integral to my cupboard)

1 tsp celery salt

4 cloves garlic, whole

3 tbs wholemeal flour

1 tsp fine polenta

Light olive oil (NOT extra virgin)

Pour 1.5 cm of oil into a high sided pan, with a lid. I used my mock Le Creuset casserole dish. Good and heavy.

Heat the oil with the garlic cloves in it, until it slowly comes to a heat, and the garlic cloves turn golden brown.

Remove the cloves, and turn the heat up.

Mix the spices, flour and polenta together in a bowl, then smoosh the chicken into it to coat it all over. (A low carb way with coating is to use dried parmesan, not flour. Omit the celery salt though or it will be too salty.)

When the oil is hot enough to brown a cube of bread quickly, put the chicken in.

Put the lid on, turn the heat down and simmer for 6 minutes. (A timer is your friend.)

Turn the chicken over, and simmer, covered, for another 6 minutes.

Take the lid off, turn the heat right up, and fry the chicken until properly dark golden on all sides, uncovered.

Remove from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on a rack. 

Fried Chicken.

The high sides of the pan reduce splatter to almost nothing. I felt quite safe cooking this way! I had put newspaper down on the floor just in case, but it wasn’t needed at all.

Ok, I will admit that the skin on the thighs curled up on two of them but OMG CRUNCHY SALTED CHICKEN SKIN.

I dusted some green beans in the spice mix too, and chucked them into the hot oil once the chicken was out. Nice and juicy, with crispy bits!

Southern Fried Green Beans

06/05/2015

Sunday 3rd May

My chap isn’t feeling too well tonight so, as we’re staying in his Bexhill flat, and thus have more room, he’s tucked up on the sofa in the living room, and I’m sat at the kitchen table – OH the joy of that – reading cookery books and listening to the sound of the sea.

 View from the living room windowBexhill at night

There are a lot of books here, more than our last visit, and I have spied the one for me. Nigel Slater’s Real Food.

Real Food 1

The glory of his writing never fails to capture my cooking heart. There’s a simplicity in his words but also a certain gloriousness to be found, too.

I do feel like I’m having an illicit liaison, sitting in a darkened kitchen, only the cooker hood light on, ‘listening’ to his voice reading aloud from the pages. This is the marvellous part of having television cooks. Now when I read their works, I can hear the words in their own voices.

Waxing lyrical about the sinful luxury of velvety pork fat, or the joy of a chip butty after the pub – bought chips, thickly buttered white bread – with the salaciousness of licking “salty, buttery fingers” when a bit drunk. “especially someone else’s”, he suggests. I believe I am blushing while I read that, even though I’m alone!

Sitting here, with this lovely book, I realise that it’s to Nigel’s books, and shows, that I turn when I need to slow down and take stock. I can switch off, and focus only on the sensuality and enjoyment of the food for a while.

Hiding away in my room on certain nights, it’s a very good way to not feel alone, and to lose myself in the sheer pleasure that cooking can bring to me, and to others.

I admit, it’s a little like having a secret boyfriend. One that I can summon forth from the television with only a flick of the remote control. Finding moments to read his words on the journey in to work, on the journey home, on the bus, at night whilst waiting for my husband to come home, or watching on catch-up TV when nobody else is home.

There he is, cooking all of the things that I like, and also challenging me to try the ones that I think I don’t.

I thought I was the only one who had to deeply inhale the aroma of her food before  she ate it, until I saw Nigel interview Richard E Grant, and realised that I was in very fine company. I will no longer be embarrassed about it.

There is a slightly shy, but mischievous smile underlying his writing, and a definite cheeky twinkle, combined with a real love for what he does. You do get the distinct feeling that he knows exactly what he’s doing when he references certain things.

Real Food

Not for me the raw, cheek-boned Marco Pierre of the White Heat era. No, this tousle-haired man with his gentle eyes and undeniably flirty personality, so often sharing the beauty and wonder with his army of adoring fans when on his travels – that right there, that caught me. There is a kindness, and a sincerity. A feeling he truly cares for the hundreds out there in the internet world who interact with him. 

The ease with which he took to Twitter like a natural medium of communication and became, almost overnight, like an old friend whose life you were peering into and catching up with.

Nigels wineberries

Wine berries in Nigel’s garden, digitally rendered by moi.

I revelled in his recent trip to Japan. Each Tweeted photo was a vignette of calm and beauty, a window into the obvious happiness that he was generously sharing with us all.

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Celebrity can mean a loss of privacy, but I think he has managed to retain his. I do hope so, as anyone encroaching on beloved Nigel, to me, would be beyond contempt. Both he and Nigella share a lot of themselves, and to try and take more than they offer is very unfair.

I remember watching him years ago, talking about eating a whole tub of ice cream in bed, back when he had short cropped hair and Nigella wore dungarees-style dresses. My kind of man, there, waxing lyrical about that chip butty after the pub.

Friendly, approachable, with a childlike joy on occasion but also, you feel, a man who knows exactly what to do with a bit of asparagus and a lot of butter. And yes, he’d infer a lot into that sentence too.

When I read Toast, drawn deep into the history of this TV cook that I’d watched for years, my heart broke for that small boy, and then rejoiced for the young man who finally found his passions, in all things, and pursued them.

I am well aware that TV personas can be totally misleading, but I am pretty sure that is not the case here.

Twitter has allowed me to get ‘close’ with cooks that once I could only watch on the television. None of the satisfaction of interaction there.

Gizzi, liking my food photos on Instagram, Nigel replying to me on Twitter like an actual friend, not just a fan, and then getting to meet some of my food idols too?

Carluccio is still, and will remain, my food hero, rogue that he is, but Nigel is my not-so-secret crush.

There’s a new show, and a book too. That will be going on the Kindle asap. Kitchen Diaries I bought hardcover, then also put it on the Kindle so that I could carry it more easily on the train.

My commute is a happier place with him along for the ride.

So. To you, Nigel.

Love,

Posset.

Posset, douglas fir, almond, apple

Edited 20.06.15

The new show, Eating Together, is absolutely lovely. All colours, creeds and peoples, sharing what makes them happy, and at home. In some cases, sharing personal memories that clearly move them, and which moved me to tears more than once.

To quote a Tweet from Nigel today “They were peaceful, gentle and benign. We need more of them and their sort in today's world.”

We were actually talking about the return of The Clangers, (do go and check it out, they are adorable) but it just struck me that this applies to the Eating Together contributors and the show, too. Well done all.

03/04/2015

Pork belly and chick pea casserole

I’d hesitate to call this a recipe. It’s more like a memory from childhood in a pot, to be honest. A chuck it all in dish, if you will. We call a stew a yahni (γιαχνί) and that covers a lot of dishes! Many cultures have their own versions.

I think Mum used to make this with white beans, but she could also have used chick peas too. Use what you have.

I had dried chick peas in the cupboard, and no tins, which is why I used the dried ones, but the tinned ones are equally as good, if not better, and they cut out the soaking and boiling time.

You can jazz this up as much as you want, add in onions if you like, chillies, more garlic, or use a different cut of meat, it’s up to you. It’s your dinner, after all.

Pork and chick pea yahni

1 cup dried chick peas, soaked overnight, drained then simmered in unsalted water until tender.

3 large pork belly slices, the tough skin removed, and cut into chunks

2 tins plum tomatoes and their juice

3 cloves garlic

olive oil

honey

salt

Brown the pork belly chunks off in some oil. I had some bacon fat left over so used that.

Crush the plum tomatoes with your hands*, and add them to the pot.

Add in the drained chick peas.

Pop in 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 tbs honey, 2-3 tbs olive oil and a sprinkle of salt.

Mix well, pop a lid on, and cook in the oven on around 170FC for an hour then down to 150C for least 3 hours.

Take the lid off at the end to thicken up the sauce a bit and add some caramelisation.

This is my idea of a comforting dinner, just pootling away in the oven, teasing you with the odd wisp of garlicky scent.

If it’s still a bit acidic when you taste it, add in a pinch of sugar, a little more olive oil and bake for 10 minutes more. Some tinned tomatoes can be very acidic!

You might want some bread to soak up the juices.

Serve with olives, and maybe some sharp cheese.

Ingredients

Chuck it all in Finished pot

*tomato seeds are bitter, so if you chop things in a food processor, or with a knife, that can release some of the bitterness.

21/02/2015

Plain houmous using dried chick peas

I bought a bag of dried chick peas ages ago, meaning to use them for something, and promptly forgot about them once I’d put them in the cupboard. That happens a lot in my house. Out of sight, out of mind and all that.

I found them yesterday, so decided to actually remember to soak some overnight, and give houmous a try using them. Just to see what difference it makes to the texture and the taste.

Now, I know you can buy this anywhere, but shop bought houmous has become a disappointment to me, if I’m honest. It’s now too pungent, and I find that I cannot get the taste to go away for ages. The only brand that doesn’t do that to me is Sabra, usually to be found in the Kosher section. That is consistently lovely.

The rest of them taste quite artificial to me, so when I found that my carrot houmous lasted nearly a week without spoiling, I thought I’d make more. Not quite such a volume of it this time though. Even I can get tired of houmous.

The joy of this is that you can adjust everything to the way you like it. Leave out the salt (though I’m not sure I would like it that way), add more tahini, more lemon, whatever you think makes it taste how you want it.

200g (pre-soaked weight) dried chick peas

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2-4 tbs tahini

juice of 1 – 2 lemons

1/2 - 1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp garlic salt (you can use fresh if you want, but this makes it more work lunch friendly)

Cover the chick peas with water in a large pan. Leave overnight.

Soaking chickpeas

The next day, once you have drained the chickpeas, put them back into the pan and cover with cold water to at least double their depth. DO NOT ADD SALT.

Add the 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda into the water and stir.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for 1 hour. You might get some foam on the top, I just skimmed that off. It’s nothing to worry about. Top up with boiling water if the water looks to be too low.

Test one to see if it’s soft.

If they are tender, then drain them, saving the simmering liquid, and leave them to cool. I found that the cooking liquid started to gel, which took me by surprise.

Soaked and simmered chickpeas

Put the peas into a food processor. Add in 2 tbs tahini and the juice of half a lemon to start, plus 1/2 tsp garlic salt, and 1/2 tsp salt.

Give it a whizz, and add some of the cooking liquid if it’s too thick.

Taste, adjust the tahini/lemon/salt/garlic salt.

I ended up with 4 tbs tahini, the juice of 1 1/2 lemons and 1 tsp salt. I could probably have added more lemon.

Tub full

Served with extra virgin olive oil, and topped with an Essex olive from my own tree!

Served with an olive

It has a much creamier flavour than using tinned chick peas. I think that if I’d kept on blending and added more tahini, it would have gone to an even more silky paste, but I like it with a little bit of bite.

It might last until Monday. If I run out of breadsticks. (It should keep in the fridge for 5-7 days.)

13/02/2015

Roasted Carrot and Sesame Houmous

I found myself with yet another glut of carrots. That always seems to happen, and then they go from firm things to rubbery and damp almost overnight. I know that I have said before that I think carrots are the pear of the vegetable world.

So. This glut. What to do with them. I cooked some cut into rounds, simmered until just cooked, then glazed with brown sugar and cinnamon.

I still had loads.

Of course. Houmous! Roasting the carrots is actually a very nice way of using up veggies that are past their best. It brings out the sweetness that may have faded while they were being ignored at the bottom of the fridge.

Here we go.

I made a version of this a couple of years ago, and wanted to tweak it, plus I like playing with my new food processor and had just read the Hummus Brothers cookbook. This makes about 3 cups of houmous.

1 pound carrots, chopped into 1-inch chunks

2 tbs sesame seeds

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided (I used orange flavoured, but any olive oil will do.)

1 400g tin cooked chickpeas, drained but liquid reserved

1/4 cup tahini

Juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 tsp garlic salt (I didn’t have any fresh in)

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

Coat the carrots with 2 tbs of the olive oil, and toss with sesame seeds.

Roast in a hot oven (170C fan) for a good half hour, 45 minutes, until soft.

When cooled, place into the bowl of a food processor.

Add everything else, and blitz.

Taste, then adjust all the seasonings and flavours. Mine needed more salt, and more lemon, as the carrots were very sweet. And I added more tahini because I love it. Adjust it to how you like it. It’s your dinner.

Perfect for lunch with some crackers. It should keep in the fridge for about 5 –7 days. 

Peeled carrots

Carrots with orange oil and sesame

Carrots with tahini, chick peas and sea salt

Finished dish