Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Can you keep a secret? The Boy's Chilli Con Carne

Everyone needs a secret ingredient, a recipe passed down from great great grandmothers or at least something that when cooked and friends 'ooh' and 'ahh' over it and ask what it is that makes it so goooooood you just smile sagely, rub your chin (a beard would help at this moment) and say 'ah that'd be my secret ingredient'.

Everyone has one: Coca Cola, Irn Bru, erm, other people who aren't soft drink companies. I've read many a chef admit their secret ingredient is often ketchup (a damn fine addition to any curry). So if you don't have one, get one. Or at least add a quick dash of something to pretend you do.

The Boy likes to thing his chilli has many, it definitely has many ingredients, often ever evolving, and it does taste damn good. But I've always been rubbish at keeping a secret. So here goes...

Chilli al Pedros
1 packet of mince
1 can canned tomatoes
1 onion
1 cinnamon stick
Pinch coriander seeds
Pinch cumin seeds
Crushed dried chilli
2 cloved of garlic
Grating of nutmeg
About 1 tbsp tomato puree
1 chopped fresh chilli
1 red pepper
Handful of mushrooms
1 beef stock cube
1 can kidney beans
Grating of dark chocolate

So ok, it's not just one secret ingredient but an ever evolving motley crew of them: the spice belnd, the dark chocolate, the beer, the cinnamon and nutmeg... you never know what he's going to add next. But come or go, whatever it includes it tastes good, and hot.

Kick it off in classic style by frying up the beef mince and garlic. Once it's cooked, put aside and add some tomato puree and mix it up.

Now fry up the onion, red pepper and mushrooms.

Add back the browned mince and the chopped fresh chilli and crack on with the sauce. Bash up the fresh spices with a pestle and mortar or handy Jamie Oliver Flavour Shaker (I admit I'm usually the first person to be skeptical about celebrity chef endorsed kitchen gadgets but this one is a winner, so much easier than grinding away with that pestle). Add the can of chopped tomatoes, beef stock (to reduce simmering time just make it up with enough water to dissolve it) and a good few manly glugs of beer. Turn the heat down to a simmer stir in your spices and add the cinnamon stick.

Simmer for as long as you need to get the right consistency, but at least 15 minutes. Once it is almost there add the drained kidney beans. Right before you serve grate in some dark chocolate and whole nutmeg and serve.

Rice, nachos, sour cream, some great homemade guacamole or salsa. However you do it, just remember, never reveal your secret...

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Ice Ice Baby: Freggo-go-go (home delivery ice cream!)

Sometimes (well to be honest a lot of the time), I just love my job. And especially when we get delivered tasty treats by PRs (hint, hint). Today, appropriately enough as the sun came out and I stepped out to get my lunch for the first time sans jacket, it was ice cream.

Spoons at the ready we opened the box.

Now it was a little bit confusing as although we had the whole menu, what we didn't have was what was actually in our box. So it was a bit of matching guesswork. The first curious spoon headed straight for the mystery purply one (bottom right).

'It looks like beetroot'

'You can't get beetroot ice cream'

'I had avocado ice cream once. Not good.'

'It definitely tastes like beetroot.'

'But beetroot isn't on the menu.'

'Hmm maybe it could be Malbec and berries.'

'Yes! It tastes like red wine.'

'It tastes like beetroot.'

'It tastes like a hangover.'

The others we worked out were: (top left across) strawberry sobert, dulce de leche, passionfruit sorbet, (bottom left) chocolate and almond and some sort of fruit and cream ice cream.

And the verdict:

A box like this is a hefty £10.95 delivered in London (free delivery in Zone 1 mind) using the Freggo-go-go scooter until 10pm. The original Freggo ice cream 'bar' (they are very insistant that they are not an ice cream palour) is open to a very clubbing-friendly 2am on Fridays and Saturdays. Fancy a Malbec ice cream instead of your usual glass of red come Friday night? I wonder if they can serve it in a wine glass...

27-29 Swallow Street

Magical Mystery Tour: Pork steaks and sour cream mustard sauce

I love how making up recipes is like a mystery. Or more accurately like piecing together the evidence on a crime scene investigation. That crime scene being my fridge come midweek.

Making a mental note (actimel, fat free yogurts, one egg, the old remains of some pâté, some fast wilting thyme and chives, and three quarters of pot of sour cream) I headed to the Sainsbury's at Clapham Junction in hope. You need a lot of hope when you enter the Sainsbury's at Clapham Junction. As with most train station food shops the amount of raw ingredients is minimal (apparently commuters don't cook), so you can never go in with any preconceived ideas of what you are going to make, as odds on they will only have one of the ingredients. It's the magical mystery tour of dinner making. Cut that with that a queue that snakes down almost every spare inch of space in the shop so you cn't actually get to anything, creating your gourmet midweek meal is facing a big challenge.

First stop: do they have any fresh meat left? Fish: hmm it looks a bit dodgy. Chicken: I'm not inspired. Pork! Pork steaks! Only £3! Ok, pork steaks plus fridge contents equals.... Pork with sour cream white wine mustard sauce. Plus classic side: broccoli and new potato crush. Yum.

So with the pork steaks (you could use chops) and about 3/4 small pot sour cream I add:
Handful of new potatoes
Small bunch of thyme
Small head of broccoli
Wholegrain mustard
White wine
5 or 6 shallots

Pop the potatoes on to boil for 20mins while you chop the shallots. Five or six minutes in put on the pork chops and shallots in a frying pan, slosh over some white wine and add some garlic.

The pork steaks need to cook for about 12 or so minutes (turning ever so often), so after about eight add the sour cream, about 1tbsp of wholegrain mustard and some more white wine. Stick on the broccoli now too.

Mix well and let the sauce simmer away while you add some chopped thyme (the best way, I find, to just get the leaves is to hold the sprig of thyme by the chopped off end (bottom) and run your fingers down it to pull off the leaves).

While the sauce is simmering a little bit, prepare the crush (or get a handy sous-chef, the Boy, to do it for you). Drain potatoes and broccoli and put them in the same pan. Add a dollop (about 1/2tbsp aka one dessert spoon) of wholegrain mustard (can't get enough of the stuff tonight - we used Fortnum and Mason's chilli mustard for a bit of an extra kick), salt and pepper and then crush with a fork or masher. Don't go crazy with the masher mind, this is a crush not a mash. Don't pulp your broccoli. Then serve!

PS. For the pun-lovers (and Peter Andre lovers) out there I wanted to call this post 'Mysterious Grill' but sadly I pan-fried the pork...) And... groan.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Just another manic Monday: Morcilla Spanish Omelette

Monday is a bit of a cooking void in our house. Another week of work, sigh. Detoxing after a weekend of (probably excessive) alcohol, sigh. And over-eating, sigh. Empty fridge and supermarket fatigue, sigh. It doesn't sound promising.

Everyone needs a cupboard meal. You know the one that is on standby if some shows up, cancels on you or it's just Monday again. To emphasis how much I hate Mondays I have two: risotto and frittata/Spanish omelette. Both fufil the three essential criteria of the cupboard meal:
1. ingredients that are always knocking around the cupboards/ fridge
2. easy adaptation for a multitude of finishing ingredients
3. a high tastiness-of-result to effort-put-in ratio (just in case it's that 'someone has turned up' option)

Risotto: onion, white wine, risotto rice and you're go with whatever veg/ dried mushrooms/ meat you have left over.
Fritatta: potato (of any kind altough I have found new potatoes work best - little so manoeuvrable in the pan plus don't go all fluffy and fall apart when you're cooking), eggs, onion are you're all set with some veg/ham etc

So with some leftover Morcilla from a recent trip to Spain it was Frittatatatatata Monday. To the basics I added:
3 Peppadew peppers (fantastic little fridge friends - spice up all sorts of salads, couscous etc)
1/2 red pepper
small bunch chives
1/2 pack pancetta
2 crushed dried chillis
some cream cheese mixed in the egg mix
sprinkle of smoked paprika

Pre-heat the grill. Mix up 4 eggs, cream cheese and chives and season while you par-boil the potatoes. Fry up the onion, some garlic, slices of potato and add the paprika.

Then add red pepper, morcilla, pancetta and sliced Peppadews. Pour over the egg mix and allow edges to set. The only difficult bit is making sure there is an even distribution of good stuff. No one wants a frittata full of veg while the watch the other person chow down all the meaty goodness...

Then whack under the grill until it rises and turns golden brown.

Voila! Other classic variations include: ham/chorizo plus courgette and a dash of wholegrain mustard in the mix; smoked salmon and spring onion; serano ham, asparagus and feta - the options for leftover goodness are endless.

Friday, 12 March 2010

For the love of Green Tabasco

There are some things in life that just make everything better. Waking up and seeing it is sunny, finding that fiver in the pocket of your coat when you put it on for the first time in ages, when the train draws in just as you make it to the platform. And green Tabasco.

I'm a relatively new convert. Its out-there red big brother has been a staple in scrambled eggs for, oh, as long as I've been eating scrambled eggs. When I started going out with The Boy he introduced me to the smoky brown daddy of Tabasco that we hunted out in Selfridges (though I've now discovered that they sell in Waitrose) which gives bacon and chilli a deep down and dirty southern drawl. But green? Green was too wishy-washy and girly for The Boy. Mild? He doesn't do mild (I blame teenage years of smoking for the spice obsession). But I was intrigued. It looked so pretty and green. I started with adding a kick to tuna salads. Nice. On grilled salmon. Goooood. Scrambled eggs. Hmm, good, red is better. But this week, I made my greatest green discovery: broccoli. I never thought to put it on green food! It was a revelation. Steamed tenderstem broccoli, good shake of green Tabasco, grind of pepper. It's all you need. Simple pleasures.

With this awakening I thought about all the other delicious green Tabasco adventures this little bottle might be able to take me on and discovered that those nice people at Tabasco have dedicated a whole webpage to recipes. Top of the list: Toasted Coconut Cake, Double-spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake, Hearty Pork and Parsnip Stew, Cajun Fish Stew and Caribbean Crab Cakes with Pineapple Salsa. I better stock up.

Friday, 5 March 2010

The travelling foodie

I'm very lucky that my job takes me to some far-off lands, where usually there is some far-off food to try. Half the joy of travelling for me is the food and wine. The restaurants, the wine tours, the markets, even the supermarkets have new and interesting things to seek out. The food is always greener on the other side.

My most recent trip was to review a hotel in the Costa Blanca. Not exactly a gastronome's heaven you might think but you'd be suprised what you can find. The hotel itself (Barcelo Asia Gardens - all endless infinity pool and lush gardens) was a slightly unbelievable mix of Thailand overlooking Benidorm but with that you got to eat in Spain by lunch and Asia (complete with Indonesian chef) come evening. Plus wine, which if you ever have been to Thailand, you'll know is usually prohibatively expensive what with their luxury tax. The first day we were told by the PR manager to try one of their 'rices' - paella - a local speciality. Unfortunately I was with my mother who is not a seafood kind of woman - the complete opposite of me - but I placated her with the chicken and rabbit 'Valencia' style paella. Goo-y, saffron-y goodness...

Washed down with a bottle of cava, well, we were on holiday.
The Thai, I have to admit, I was skeptical about. Thai food on the Costa Blanca?! But it came up trumps, and was almost as good as I had in Thailand, if a lot less spicy - they went sauce crazy but even the 'spicy' ones (furthest away) barely made my eyes water.


Beef and mixed mushrooms was a success.

But my favourite thing about the trip... a trip to Carrefour! Man the Europeans know how to do supermarkets. Goodbye aisles and aisle of ready meals and Pot Noodles, hello fresh hams, whole aisles of olives, cheeses - heaven. Why can't we go beyond the fish counter tucked away at the back of the Sainsbury's? Sigh. I came away with some chorizo, some whole morcilla, some sliced morcilla, olive tapernade, duck paté and two bottles of Rioja... and still managed to stay within Easyjet's luggage allowance.

Some other gastro-travels:
Gorgeous baby-boutique hotel in the South of France - take a trip on Saturday to nearby Pézanas for the Saturday food market, and relaxed chic-eat L'Entre Pots (8, avenue Louis Montagne and olive oil factory L'Oulibo.

Mushrooms at the market

Fresh fish and local speciality - mussel (tomato-y) tarts


At L'Oulibo - amazing oils, olives and tapenades

Michelin-starred family-owned spa hotel - who just happen to also own sparkling wine vineyard Bellavista. Visit local restaurant Dispensa Pani e Vini for modern Italian cuisine (I had the most amazing vivid green soup of basil cream and mozzerella juice with cuttlefish ink rice island topped with raw fish. Bizarre but amazing) or classic La Mongolfiera dei Sodi set in a farmhouse (the Boy had what he described as the most incredible veal fillet he ever tasted there. It was just veal, pan fried. That simply good.) Wash down with plenty, plenty Bellavista (my favourite is the Saten made with 100% Chardonnay)

Bellevista vineyard and wine

Vineyards and bottles outside Dispensa

V (day) tasty...

Everyone who has ever started a new relationship knows you don’t want to reveal your hand to early on. The Boy and I went on our first date a week before Valentine’s Day and, well, we all know that ol’ V-day kind of forces the issue. Do you feign notcalance and not risk a date that night? Or go forth early on into the arena of competitive coupledom with restaurants set solely with tables for two, sloppy PDAs and opportunistic street vendors offering (will he or won’t he buy one?) single red roses. It’s a minefield – too romantic and it’s too much too soon, too little and does he give a shit?

So the Boy's tactic was to try and cram as many dates as possible between 6th and 14th February to see if I was worth a V-day date. Evidently I was as he invited me round to his for dinner. I took this as a good sign: a) he cooked and b) he cared enough to cook for me. The rest, as they say, is history – oh, and he cooked salmon, potatoes dauphanoise and tiramisu, I brought love hearts, and we even managed to finish the lot before his banished flatmates returned.

Since then Valentine’s Day for us have always revolved around cooking. And the Boy cooking. So this year in the spirit of equality we decided to split it. The Boy: brunch and starter. Moi: main and dessert. I even decided to throw in some canapés for good measure. I. Could. Not. Wait. Especially when the boy announced he was off to Borough Market on Saturday....

Brunch was Polenta and Wild Boar Prosciutto baked eggs, quite appropriately from Borough Market cookbook. Plus champagne. Of course.

1 tsp unsalted butter
4 slices of thin wild boar prosciutto (can use parma ham)
2 eggs
25g Gruyere
1 tbsp double cream
1 sprig tarragon
2tbsp polenta
1 spring onion
25g Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 170. Grease two ramekins with butter and line with prosciutto – make sure it complete covers the ramekin and make a wee lip over the edge. Crack an egg in each, sprinkle with grated Gruyere and drizzle with double cream. Scatter over tarragon leaves and season. Transfer to roasting tin and fill it with enough hot water to come up to halfway up the side of the ramekins. Bake until the egg whites are set – about 15min. While the eggs are baking, pour 90ml of water in a small saucepan, season and bring to the boil. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce to simmer until thick and creamy, stirring occasionally – about 5-6min. Once at right consistency stir in butter, Parmesan and chopped spring onion (greens and whites). When eggs are set, remove from oven (carefully!) and divide polenta between two plates. Run sharp knife round edge of ramekin and slide out prosciutto wrapped eggs onto the polenta. Delicious. Of course even more so when you’re not cooking and reclining in bed sipping champagne...

Come afternoon and a trip to Sainsbury’s and Waitrose later, canapés are served. Always love a canap me. Blini’s with homemade guacamole and smoked salmon or crème fraiche and salmon caviar. Pretentious, moi?

The Boy’s work was done with escabèche of red mullet (courtesy of Gordon Ramsay's Passion for Seafood) washed down with a very easy-going Alsace Riesling.

Having agonised all Friday (good ol’ four day week) about what to cook, I finally settled on Cod, wrapped in thin slices of crispy potato, crab mash and lobster bisque sauce, served with sapphire, which in all the excitement I forgot to dish up. Ooops.

The cod was wrapped earlier on – potato slices (done with a veg peeler) were pan fried to just short of crisping then wrapped, a few to each fillet, around the fish before heading back into the fridge. The mash simply was fished up with a dressed crab, some cream and lemon juice. The lobster sauce was actually a bit of a cheat – a can of lobster bisque soup pouring in over a sautéd chopped onion and chilli, good slug of brandy, tbsp tomato puree simmered then add couple of diced tomatoes and some chive. Pan fried the potato wrapped cod and serve.

Dessert has never been my fortay so I went for presentation over expertise – Tia Maria and chocolate creams served in cocktail glasses. Which are pretty much just chocolate and cream, oh, and of course Tia Maria.

50g dark chocolate
150ml double cream (plus some more for whipping)
2 tbsp Tia Maria
Cocoa powder (I went for Green & Blacks all round on the chocolate)

Mix cream and Tia Maria in saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from heat and pour over chocolate (broken in a bowl)

Stir until chocolate melts

Divide between the glasses and cool slightly

Mix some more cream with Tia Maria until slightly thickened and spoon over chocolate mix. Put in the fridge to set (while you cook the main...)

To serve, appropriately, cut a heart in a card and dust with cocoa. Mine was more of a dollop than a dust. According to the boy I should have used a sieve...

Serve with amoretti biscuits... I should have made my own, oh well, maybe next year.