Sunday, 29 August 2010

PISTACHIO CAKE


I am very proud of this cake, an adaption of Greek Karythopitta or walnut cake. I made it with pistachios because I used the walnuts to make cranberry and walnut bread, and I couldn't be bothered to traipse round to Tesco on a Friday afternoon to buy more walnuts. I added some rosewater to give it a more perfumed Middle Eastern flavour. The resulting cake was delicious, its innards a beautiful green colour from the nuts and its flavour very subtly, though most definitely pistachio!

This recipe is adapted from one which appears in Claudia Roden's 'Mediterranean Cookery', one of my most favourite, much-thumbed and very stained cookbooks. It would also work with almonds, pecans or hazelnuts, or a mixture.

Serves 6, generously

50g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
scant pinch of salt
175g pistachios, finely chopped in food processor
3 eggs, separated
175g caster sugar
1 tsp rose water

For the syrup
250g sugar
1/2 pint water
splash of rosewater

Oven 180C. Prepare a cake tin by lining it with tinfoil or baking parchment.

Mix the dry ingredients together. Beat the egg yolks with about 50g of the sugar until thick and creamy, then stir in the nut mixture. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, then add the rest of the caster sugar gradually, as if for meringues, until the mixture is shiny. Carefully fold into the nut mixture (it will seem stiff at first, but the egg whites will loosen it). Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and crisp to the touch.

While the cake is baking, make the syrup by boiling the caster sugar, rosewater and water together and reducing it to form a light syrup. When the cake is ready, prick the surface of it with a skewer and pour the syrup over it. Leave to cool before turning out of the tin. I like to give the cake a thick dusting of icing sugar. Serve with creme fraiche or Greek yoghurt.

If using walnuts, substitute vanilla essence for rosewater for the cake mixture, and add a tsp of cinnamon to the syrup and omit the rosewater. If using almonds, orange zest adds a nice flavour. Or enhance the almond flavour with a drop of almond essence.

TUNNOCKS TEACAKES


I make no secret of my love of Tunnocks Teacakes. A disc of crisp biscuit, a snowy mound of marshmallow, all covered in, let's face it, rather cheap milk chocolate. They remind me of my childhood, when they were one of the few "bought cakes" my mother would allow in the house (she was, and still is, an excellent cake and biscuit maker).

I love their retro packaging, clearly largely unchanged since the day they were first launched, and they have a distinctly satisfying "mouth feel", being at once soft and crunchy, with melt-in-the mouth milk chocolate. It's a mark of their lasting appeal that there are now cotton tote bags, mugs, cycling jerseys and crash helmets, all with the Teacakes logo.

As a child, I probably had contests with my friends to see who could fit a whole one in their mouth in one go (I probably won); I now eat them in a somewhat more elegant fashion. A staple of lunchboxes and children's parties, their have rather downmarket cousins in the Tunnocks Caramel Wafer (also enrobed with the same slightly waxy milk chocolate). Recently, Tunnocks launched a dark chocolate Teacake, but I am not a fan of dark chocolate, so I doubt very much I'll be cramming one into my mouth in the foreseeable future.

Monday, 23 August 2010

THE CHEEK OF IT!

Good old Waitrose, tapping into the zeitgeist (I've always wanted to write that!), and in our recession-hit times offering "forgotten cuts" on the butcher's counter of their stores.

Of course, "forgotten cuts" are not really forgotten. I ate ham hocks and pigs trotters when I was a child, cooked slowly so that the fat becomes sweet and gooey, and the meat melts away from the bone. My mother also served stuffed hearts, as well as more familiar offal such as liver and kidneys. I am not squeamish about these parts of the animal (I have eaten both brains and sweetbreads, and horse meat in France, and saw whole suckling pigs at the central market in Barcelona without fainting) because I was brought up eating them.

Chef Fergus Henderson has been promoting 'nose-to-tail' eating for a long time, and his restaurant, St John, is a pean to enjoying the whole animal. And the Sainted Delia made lamb shanks fashionable. For a while, it was all rather trendy to eat these lesser-known cuts, until people went back to believing that fine expensive cuts equalled fine (expensive) food. But I would far rather eat belly of pork, or shoulder of lamb, than an costly fillet steak.

Once, the so-called 'forgotten' cuts were actually very hard to find, necessitating a trip to the local organic butcher (also expensive) or a special order. Osso bucco, the shin of the calf or pig, and the key ingredient of the eponymous Italian dish, used to be difficult to track down: not any more - my local Waitrose now keeps both the veal and pork varieties. I always buy pork osso bucco, mainly because it is a quarter of the price of the veal, also because some people are sensitive about eating veal (needless to say, I am not!). Not long ago, I purchased a ham hock, cooked it slowly with leeks, onions, garlic and white beans, and produced a veritable cheap feast. Shoulder of pork and lamb have always been favourites in my kitchen and on my dinner table. The bone in the joint ensures the meat stays moist, even during slow cooking, and lamb shoulder cooked in a tagine for about four hours comes out succulent and full of flavour, the meat literally falling off the bone, leaving very little for my cats to enjoy afterwards! Both pork and lamb shoulder lend themselves to slow cooking and are far more useful, and delicious, in meals cooked in this way than the grander leg joint.

My latest "forgotten cut" is pig's cheek. And by the way, these cuts are actually marketed in Waitrose as "forgotten cuts". I had read about pig's cheeks and fancied cooking them, but until they appeared in Waitrose (incidentally, they are very, very cheap), I had no idea where to buy them, unless I schlepped up to Smithfield meat market, where I'm sure one could find all sorts of wonderful cuts, forgotten and well-known.

I bought osso bucco at the same time, because there were eight lovely, knobbly joints just waiting for me (they went in the freezer when I got home - for a meal in the near future), and enjoyed a cheery conversation with the butcher about forgotten cuts and how to cook them. When he started raving about his penchant for "fore meat rather than hind meat", I thought the conversation might be taking a more unusual course, and, thanking him for his help, scooted off to the cheese counter.

I cooked the pig's cheeks in the same way as I cook osso bucco: a light tomato sauce laced with fresh oregano, garlic, white wine and stock, and finished off with a dollop of piquant gremolata. The accompaniment was plain boiled new potatoes, but I could quite easily imagine eating it with a plain Milanese risotto or fluffy polenta or mashed potato. The meat was meltingly tender. I should add that the pig's cheeks were not very big raw, about the size of my hand, and shrunk when cooked, but the meat was so delicious, soft and succulent, that it really didn't matter. I cooked them in the tagine, assembling all the ingredients together and then bunging it in the oven for three hours. Another simple and delicious supper! (see previous post on osso bucco for recipe).

Thursday, 19 August 2010

SEABASS AND POTATOES

Here's another of those simple-yet-delicious dishes that relies on good ingredients and only a small amount of preparation. I adapted it from a recipe in one of the River Cafe cookbooks. I have never eaten at the eponymous restaurant, though I have always fancied it. People who have been tell me it is very, very good, but oh so expensive - and the Methodist in me worries about spending so much money on a meal I could probably cook myself at home.

Until the 'River Cafe Easy' books came out, I was rather put off the main cookbook because of the bossy instructions to "only use the finest Calabrian anchovies" or "first cold pressing of olive oil from a hilltop farm in Emiglia-Romana". And where was I supposed to buy Cavolo Nero? (A friend of mine grows it on her allotment now, handily). I do not have a problem about using good ingredients, but I prefer to shop at Waitrose or the Whole Food Market in Kensington, or the local fruit and veg market, rather than have to trek over to Italy every time I need some olive oil or Parmesan cheese. Incidentally, a friend brought me a massive hunk of Parmesan from Bologna the other year: it was fantastic.

The one ingredient that is important for this recipe is the right kind of potato. I use Charlotte potatoes, which are sometimes marketed as "Mediterranean". They have the requisite slightly waxy flesh which holds it shape well, and a delicate buttery, earthy flavour. This dish requires nothing more than a green salad, or a handful of rocket or lambs lettuce. A slick of salsa verde is good too. And by the way, the potatoes are delicious fried with an egg for breakfast if there are any left over!

Serves 4
4 seabass fillets
200g waxy potatoes
10 black olives, pitted and chopped or roughly crumbled
A handful of caper (optional)
Olive oil
Sea salt
1 tsp fresh thyme
approx 1 small glass of white wine

Oven 200C

Line a shallow dish with baking parchment and oil lightly.

Cook the potatoes in salted water until just done. Drain and allow to cool, then slice or roughly crush them and arrange in the dish. Scatter with olives, capers and fresh thyme. Season with sea salt and pour over a good slug of olive oil. Bake in the oven until the potatoes are just beginning to crisp and are golden brown. Place the seabass fillets on top of the potaoes, skin side up, and pour some white wine over to prevent the potatoes drying out. Cook for another 10 mins or so until the fish skin is crisp. Serve with green salad, or any other green vegetable.

THE SPECIAL STUFF

There are two small jars of paste in the door of my fridge, which look like pesto. One has a red top, the other is green. They do not contain pesto.

Zhoug is a traditional Yemeni recipe for a hot and spicy chilli-spiked paste. It can be used in a similar way to Harissa (both as a condiment and as a spicy addition to various dishes) though be careful - it is very fiery! It is refreshingly different from harissa because it is made with fresh coriander and cardamom. Yemenis believe that daily consumption of Zhoug keeps away illness and strengthens the heart. It is a classic accompaniment to Israeli dishes, such as falafel, and a little added to Greek yoghurt makes a delicious dip.

It is known in my house as "the special stuff", which is a nod to the mysterious product Mr Briss the Butcher kept out the back of his shop in the dark comedy series 'The League of Gentleman', and the two jars in my fridge were a gift from Carlo, a fellow foodie and demon cook. It usually comes out to accompany Turkish or Middle Eastern meals, and I always warn guests to try a tiny amount at first. Some people find its chilli intensity too much; personally, I love it.

I first tried Zhoug at Moro, the Spanish-Moorish restaurant in trendy Hoxton owned by Sam and Sam Clarke. As I recall, it was served with griddled squid, a slick of bright green sauce on the side of the plate. Its taste was as fresh as its colour. I made it myself a couple of times, and then forgot about it - until Carlo came for dinner.

Like pesto, it starts out as a blend of herbs and spices; wet ingredients are added to create a sauce which will keep in the fridge for about a month in a sealed jar. It is easy to make in a blender or food processor, though it is traditionally made with a pestle and mortar. Try it as an accompaniment to barbecued meats, fish or seafood, as a topping for stews and tagines, or in the classic Yemeni way: smeared on flat bread.

A greater intensity of spiciness is achieved if you grind the spices yourself, rather than using ready ground spice.

250g long green chillies
1/2 tsp green cardamom seeds, husks removed, finely ground
1/2 tsp ground coriander seeds
4 tbsp roughly chopped fresh coriander
1 1/2 garlic cloves, peeled
juice of 1/4 lemon
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
sea salt and black pepper

Wear rubber gloves when preparing chillies. Top the chillies, split in half and scrape out the seeds and discard. Roughly chop the chillies and place in a food processor. Blend with the spices, coriander and garlic until the mixture is as smooth as possible. Transfer to a mixing bowl and add the lemon juice and olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, 16 August 2010

ROQUAMOLE


This scrummy dip combines two of my favourite foods: avocadoes and blue cheese. It's a variant on the classic Mexican guacamole, and is delicious served with corn chips or toasted pitta slices as a tapa or starter.

I can't understand why people are always going on about how bad avocadoes are for you. In fact, they are very good for you, and eating one a day gives many important vitamins, "healthy fat", and minerals. I love their clayey flesh, and often have an avocado simply dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and a grind of black pepper for my lunch. They are also surprisingly good cooked, and go well with things like prawns and crab.

This recipe is Nigella Lawson's. Easy to make and utterly delicious.

125g Roquefort or St Agur
60ml sour cream or creme fraiche
2 ripe avocados
35g sliced pickled green jalapeƱo chilli peppers from a jar
2 spring onions, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 packet blue corn tortilla chips

Serves 4–6

Mix the cheese with the sour cream. Add the avocado - it should be ripe enough to simply mash with a fork. Roughly chop the sliced jalepenos and add to the avocado mixture, along with the spring onions and paprika. Arrange in a dish and dust with paprika.

GIRLFRIENDS' LEMON LINGUINE


So called because I always seem to cook this for my best girlfriends. It's at once simple and sophisticated: like the best dishes, it uses few ingredients, but the combination, clinging to the strands of pasta, is utterly delicious. It's also dead easy to make and can be knocked up very quickly for a mid-week supper. It would also make a great starter.

I first came across this pasta dish in 1990 when I worked for an eccentric and very bossy art and antiquarian bookseller who claimed to be related to the Viscount de Lisle. She had rather suspect people-skills and thought that giving her staff a slap-up supper once a month would keep us loyal: she was wrong. I lasted 14 months in that job (I got tired of her swearing at me and expecting me to organise her childcare), but she did introduce me to my next boss, for whom I worked very happily for seven years. One of the staff had spent some time in Italy, and lemon linguine was her "signature dish". It was so delicious that we all asked her for the recipe, but she very meanly refused to share it, and I wasted a lot of time, effort and ingredients trying to recreate it. I eventually found a recipe in Nigella Lawson's fantastic book How To Eat. It is made in a similar way to Spaghetti Carbonara, in that the sauce is cooked by the heat of the pasta.

This is my recipe, adapted from Nigella's, and serves two comfortably. It doubles up easily. The trick is not to use too much cream as this makes the sauce too slurpy.

150-200g linguine, dried or fresh (or use spaghetti)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Zest & juice of 1 lemon
1 tbsp creme fraiche
Approx 1 tbsp grated fresh parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling.
A handful of fresh rocket per person (optional)
Freshly ground pepper

Mix the cream, lemon zest and juice, and parmesan with the egg. Meanwhile, cook the pasta according to the manufacturer's instructions. Drain, and immediately stir in the eggy lemony mixture until all the strands are coated with sauce. Serve, add more freshly grated parmesan and a generous handful of fresh rocket, if liked, and plenty of black pepper.

Sometimes I add jumbo prawns or strips of smoked salmon.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A FOODIE QUESTIONNAIRE

Apologies to Demon Cook followers and fans for the paucity of posts in recent weeks. I have been busy in my other life as a piano teacher, and have also been away on holiday.

Since August is the "silly season", here's a light-heated questionnaire which perhaps says something about my "food personality":

First food memory
Eating a pound of peeled prawns aged about 5 in the garden in front of my friend Estelle. Apparently, I said "I love prawns!" and proceeded to eat the whole bowl before being violently sick.

Memorable meals
Eating fresh crab sandwiches on the quay at Lyme Regis
Fresh samosas cooked before me in Old Delhi
'English' afternoon tea on a houseboat in Kashmir
Lunch at a waterfront restaurant in the Guidecca district of Venice, April 1990
Lunch under the tree ferns at Petersham Nursery

Marmite. Love it or loathe it?
Love it, especially on hot buttered white toast or sourdough

Peanut butter. Ditto.
As above. I also adore Reese's Peanut Butter Cups (chocolate AND peanut butter)

Foods I adore
Cheese, chocolate, creme brulee, calves liver & mash, scallops, avocadoes, carpaccio of beef, prawns, mussels and other seafood

Foods I loathe
Oysters, celery, raisins & their near cousins, any dried fruits

Dream menu
Scallops with chorizo and/or black pudding
Calves liver with onion & bacon gravy and mashed potatoes
Creme brulee

Favourite drinks
Marlborough Montana Sauvignon Blanc, Prosecco, Campari & Orange, Caipirinha cocktail, Badoit sparkling water

Tea or coffee?
Tea is my favourite and I need at least one large mug of Redbush to get me out of bed in the morning. My other favourite tea is Lapsang Souchong, which is smoke-dried over pinewood fires. I don't like fruit or herbal teas. A good coffee is hard to beat - and hard to find! The best espressos have been drunk in Italy.

Sweet or Sour?
Tricky one: I like both. Oh, all right, sweet

Comfort food
A bar of Green & Blacks white chocolate, a mug of Lapsang Souchong tea and the afternoon play on Radio 4

Favourite cake

My mum's "coffee kisses" (coffee shortbreads sandwiched with coffee buttercream - she brought me a box when I was in hospital the day after my son was born).

Favourite fruits
Strawberries, melon, cherries, nectarines, mangoes, rhubarb

Favourite veg
I love all veg, but my favourites are aubergines (ok, purists, they are fruit!), courgettes (ditto!), squash, new potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli, fresh peas eaten straight from the pod

Favourite herbs
Garlic, coriander, basil, rosemary, tarragon, rocket

Secret ingredients
Belazu Rose Harissa - not as fiery as more traditional harissa. Zhoug paste - Carlo brought it back from Israel for me (now that's what I call FIERY!). Homemade preserved lemons.

Naughty but Nice
Bendincks Bittermints, Thornton's Viennese Truffles, a good ripe Camembert, Manchego with membrillo, chorizo, deep-fried calamari

Nice and healthy
Sushi - I love it!

Favourite food writers
Claudia Roden, Nigel Slater, Nigella Lawson

Favourite TV chefs
Usually I avoid these at all costs, but I do have a soft spot for Jamie

Favourite foodie film
Tampopo (check out the raw egg scene!)