Saturday, 4 July 2015

Red amaranth, enoki mushrooms, cashewnuts and black quinoa on a hot hotday

London is sizzling. No, I don't mean 23 degrees C going down to 10 at night, I mean a proper heatwave. Though they do say we'll be going back down to our usual, civilized 23-with-showers in the coming week. Thank god. That's not an ironic "thank god" either - the pregnancy means I'm really sensitive to everything and massively overheating. It took three tries to get into my lido. I'd trundle up there like a man in a desert only to find my cool oasis swarming with hipsters, forming an unmanageable queue. I finally managed to get in yesterday after getting up early, but it was still much busier than usual, even at 9.15am, a lot of idiots, a lot of road rage. Not your usual, calming "isn't this nice?" atmosphere at all. Luckily, in this weather I am not craving sausage sandwiches but things like this...
This was a particularly attractive and successful version of the kind of dish I usually throw together; a combination of whatever I have lying about my kitchen cupboards and whatever I pick on my way home. I stopped off at my favourite Vietnamese supermarket on this occasion and bought fresh red amaranth and enoki mushrooms. I cooked the black quinoa separately and used a wok to toast the cashewnuts slightly before adding the amaranth, enoki mushrooms, light soya sauce, a little bit of oyster sauce and Ghanian shito paste (basically a chilli oil).
After all my moaning about the heat, I leave you with what I love about London in the summertime. The luscious, wild nature all around. Now, if I could just get wild flowers to grow in my garden...

Thursday, 25 June 2015

Hackney Mess - the coolest summer dessert

I have spent the last two months playing with my food and writing. I've been taking forgotten Polish recipes and reworking them into a modern context; researching the origins of dishes that I've known since childhood but never thought twice about; and tweaking old family recipes. It's a dream come to true to be able to do this, and yet even living my dream has its difficult moments. This is absolutely OK,  because even though somehow society conditions us to think there will be a happy-ever-after, this is not life. Life is supposed to be challenging and as long as each difficult moment is taken as an opportunity to learn something then we're in a good place. Some days the writing doesn't flow for me and if I force it I risk putting myself off for the next day, so I'm learning to treat myself gently. Guilt trips do not work, what I need to do in this situation is find my inspiration. Other days, I've found it hard to cook, because I can't find ingredients I thought would be easy to come by or I don't feel like eating what I've planned to cook - through this, I'm learning to be flexible and adaptable. I have the added complication of having fallen pregnant at exactly the same time as my book deal happened. This was not ideal timing, but I definitely want this baby, so my partner and I are working it out. Through this added complication (blessing though it is) I'm learning to be more open minded. Perhaps I do not want to shoe-horn myself into someone else's home that isn't suited to me or have someone squeeze themselves in on top of me in order to have the traditional set up in time for the baby... I'm also learning that sometimes the best action is no action at all. Every day I am grateful for my beautiful, cosy flat, which gives me a feeling of much-needed security; the amazing opportunity to write the book of my dreams; my supportive family; a partner that is prepared to work on our relationship and wants this baby as much as I do; the little string bean that is growing into a human being inside me; and a host of other things. I'm also enjoying eating whatever I want: some of it is healthy and some of it, not so much. For the first time since childhood, it really doesn't matter. I am allowed to get fat. How liberating. I've been meaning to make this Hackney Mess for a long time -  a dessert idea that's been floating about my head, based on the traditional Eton Mess but a more colourful and flavour packed version.
The meringue is chocolate - whip up some egg whites with a pinch of salt. When they have formed peaks, start adding the sugar until the mixture thickens, finally add the cacao powder. Bake in a pre-heated over at 200 degrees C for 10min, then turn the oven off and leave them in there to cool. The fruit I used were juicy cherries - so of course you need to take the stones out first. Whip the whipping cream until fluffy then add the icing sugar and matcha powder, bit by bit, until you achieve the desired, light green colour and sweet flavour. You put the three components together in layers. And yes, Hackney Mess must be served in a jar.

Ingredients

2-3 egg whites
150g sugar
2 tablespoon raw cacao powder

150ml whipping cream
50g sugar
1 teaspoon matcha powder

Lots of cherries

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Spelt pancakes with stewed vanilla strawberries

I love Ridley road market with it's African fabrics, cheap food stalls and fishmongers. Even the sheeps' heads add a little "je ne sais quoi" to the atmosphere. This is where you come to get cheap fruit and veg in east London. Unfortunately, it's not always the best quality. Yersterday, I was walking through Ridley Road when a torrential downpour started. This wasn't your usual London drizzle, it was like  monsoon had hit us. Fortunately, it was still warm and somehow all the people caught in it - like yours truly - were in good spirits. The market stall holders were trying to get rid of all their produce as quickly as possible and pack up, so I got 2 big bowls - one of cherries, one of strawberries -for £1.50. The cherries were delicious, but the strawberries were a bit squashed by the time I got them home. I ate the solid strawberries whilst contemplating what I could do with all the squashed ones. Half of the squashed ones went into a healthy shake with yoghurt, almond milk, maple syrup and maca root. The other half were made into strawberry and vanilla sauce that went on top of spelt pancakes this Sunday morning, for brunch.
I won't lie to you, it was divine. I simply  simmered the strawberries with a teaspoon of good quality vanilla essence, a tablespoon of brown sugar and 3 tablespoons of water. I won't patronise you with a detailed description of how to make pancakes because I'm sure you know. I just whizzed all the ingredients down there together and fried each ladlefull in little knobs of butter. I also added a dollop of mascapone and a drizzle of maple syrup for that American brunch feel. This will make 2 pancakes.

Ingredients

50g spelt flour
1 egg
150ml almond milk (aprox)
15g butter

Large handful strawberries, chopped in half
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Dollop mascapone
Maple syrup to drizzle

Monday, 15 June 2015

Leftovers kulebiak recipe

Life has taken a strange turn for me, and I'm in a situation that I've never been in before, trying to feel my way through it... I can't quite describe it to you as it's still in the process of changing and fluctuating and I'm not really sure what is happening or even what I want to happen. I'm finding comfort in Eastbourne.
Our house here stands on a hill next to the Downs national park with a view to the sea in the distance. I always find that nature both soothes and teaches me. One day the sun's so warm and strong that the wild flowers on the downs give off a heady smell that I can't get enough of and reminds me of Greece; the very next day could look the same, but as soon as you step outside you realize that it's fresh, cool and windy. One day the sea is dark and serious, on another it's so soft that appears to not even be there, melting into the sky. So I ask myself, why would we expect anything else from life? All we can do is be authentic, speak our truth and accept the current situation. Accepting is the hard part, I find. Cooking always helps to take me away from the past and into the present moment, especially cooking leftovers, which is, of course, the art of improvisation. We stuffed this "kulebiak" pie with mushrooms, onions, kale and a yellow pepper, all fried on olive oil with soya sauce and little bit of white wine, then cooled and finally mixed with grated cheddar cheese and an egg, to stick it all together.
 You can stuff "kulebiak" with any leftovers you like. We've used onion, mushrooms, spinach and soft cheese with garlic and herbs before and this worked out beautifully too. The general idea is to fry the onion first (or garlic if you have no onion), then add any other leftover ingredients and flavours - soya sauce, wine, cream, chilli sauce, anything you like really. Remember to season, the allow to cool before mixing with hard or soft cheese and an egg, or even just some egg white. The important constant is the dough, which is very easy to make. Simply combine all the ingredients down there with your hands until they form a soft ball. Split it into two balls and put it in the fridge for 1 hour, before rolling them both out. Cut out two equal rectangles and save the remaining dough for decoration. I made odd looking flowers and leaves to go on top, but it really didn't matter: anything looks good on top of a "kulebiak". Put your stuffing on one sheet of dough and the other sheet on top, pressing the edges down firmly with a fork. Use a little egg and cream to stick your decorations on and pain the entire kulebiak before putting it in the oven for 40min at 200 degrees C. Enjoy while it's still warm, washed down with borsht.

Ingredients:

400g flour
150g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Teaspoon of salt
180ml water from the fridge

1 egg and 1 teaspoon of cream for glazing

Filling:

Whatever you like