Wednesday 30 May 2012

Black bean and mango salad with bulgur wheat and quinoa

London's hot, so I'm all about salads right now
This is one I found through Pinterest, on sweet sugarbean, and been meaning to make for a while now. Have you discovered Pinterest yet by the way? It's a virtual scrapbook - very cool
But of course, I ended up changing it. I seem to have an aversion to keeping to a recipe. I've always been this way, even when I couldn't cook, so you can imagine how many disasters I had before I realized that you can only freestyle once you've mastered the basics. I think that applies to most arts, not just cooking. I kept the quinoa, black beans, mango, coriander and red pepper. I took away the curry powder, red onion and cucumber, and I added a more south-east Asian flavour with fresh chillies and fish sauce (mixed with the lime juice). The fish sauce is salty so no extra salt. A fantastic salad for the sort of weather we've been having, though I wish my mango had been firmer, it was a bit mushy. I know how it feels, but still, pull yourself together mango

Sunday 27 May 2012

A couple of great bruschetta ideas and some stuffed tomatoes

Some of the best moments in my life so far have been spent cooking with people I love. Whenever I look back on any special occasion from my childhood, it was the moments spent in the kitchen beforehand that were often more fun than the occasion itself. Perhaps it's because I couldn't drink vodka at that age and invariably the party ended with yours truly cornered by a drunken distant relative who felt compelled to tell me the story of their life. But I digress
When one of my closest friends, Anna, asked me to help her cook for her husband and his friends as a birthday treat, I jumped at the chance. I've known James for ages and it was a great opportunity to do something nice for a friend, but really I wanted to do it for the entirely selfish reason of spending some quality time in the kitchen with the lovely VP. As she had a beautiful baby boy just a few months ago, the chance to have her to myself was not one I was going to miss out on. Anna had everything planned out, so it was really a matter of just learning a few new recipes and their execution. Most the stuff was from the River Cafe Cook Book, one which I don't have at home and I enjoyed exploring - a lot of great, simple, rustic Italian recipes in there
To start, it was bruschetta with a couple of different toppings. We grilled the bread with some olive oil drizzled over it on both sides, and I vigorously (someone may have used the word "manically") rubbed garlic on each piece. I ended up smelling like a garlic clove myself by then end of the night but the result was well worth the effort. The first topping was broad beans and peas with mint, lemon juice and parmesan and chickpeas with roasted cherry tomatoes and rosemary was the other. You cook the broad beans and peas in boiling, salted water until tender (about 15min), cool, then add shaved parmesan and chopped mint. Finally, squeeze a couple of lemons in there, season, drizzle with olive oil and serve. The cherry tomatoes I roasted with garlic and rosemary at 200 degrees C for about 15min. I added them to the drained and rinsed chickpeas, with chopped fresh chilli, olive oil and sea salt. Allow to cool before serving
For main course there was quail with sage, some pilaf, green beans in tomato sauce and stuffed tomatoes. Normally I don't enjoy stuffing things too much. It's a lot of work and I'm a lazy cook who likes to keep things simple in life. But these ones, from the Plenty book up there, were well worth it. You fry some chopped red onion and garlic in plenty of olive oil for a few minutes before adding chopped and pitted black olives, capers, herbs and bread crumbs. We used oregano, chives and parsley but you can mix and match - whatever you fancy. The tomatoes are hollowed out and dried inside with a paper towel. Once stuffed, you stick them on a baking tray lined with parchment paper or foil and cook for 30-40min at about 180 degrees C. They are perfect party food, because if you're going to go to all the trouble of stuffing vegetables, you may as well makes loads of them. Anna's friend, Abbie, made the most amazing chocolate cake with hazelnuts for desert. The weather is stunning in London right now, so we ate outside, drinking calprinas and wine, chatting until the sky turned a beautiful, bright royal blue, then black. Dinner parties are a massive effort if it's just one person cooking, but when there are a few people involved the whole process becomes something quite special, and it's even more fun than just turning up and eating. There's more of a connection or something

Saturday 19 May 2012

Garlicky red amaranth with fermented bean curd

Today was the day for my monthly Vietnamese shop experiment. Red amaranth I discovered last time. Although this time it was a lot more red when cooked with the same sauce as before, perhaps because I stir-fried it for longer... the colour was fantastic
I fried some garlic first in sesame oil, then added a cube of fermented bean curd and finally the red amaranth. I added the Sukiyaki sauce near the end of the cooking time. I also cooked the brown rice with garlic and then mashed the soft cloves into the stir fry
It's difficult to definite what the white fermented bean curd actually brought to the party, but the end dish was incredibly flavoursome. Perhaps it was that subtle dash of umami that brought it all together, balanced it out and made it just that little bit better than before...

Thursday 17 May 2012

Nutty grain and vegetable salad from M&S

As a rule, I prefer to make my food from scratch. If I didn't, then I probably wouldn't be here (writing my blog, I mean, not as in I wouldn't exist). However, rules always have an exception, right? So after a long day, 3 cakes and lots of stuff still do, I sometimes like to buy myself a salad from Marks&Sparks. It used to be the Super-grain salad in a handy pot - it was fruity, had about 10 different grains in it and perked me up in many a situation. But I think they may have discontinued it, as I haven't seen it for a long time now. I find it extremely annoying when supermarkets discontinue my favourite things, so I haven't been back there for a few months, but today I forgave M&S, and was rewarded in return...
...with the Nutty Grain and Vegetable Salad with a soy and vinegar dressing. Beautiful. Thank you M&S

Sunday 13 May 2012

Spicy lentil salad at a long awaited bluebell BBQ

The bluebells have been out in my garden for about a month now. Every weekend, I've been staring at them longingly through the rain on my window, hoping for a few hours of sunshine, so I can get my BBQ out. Today, finally, it happened. Actually, the bluebells are past their prime now, but I was prepared to overlook that minor detail to realize my dream. You have to do that sometimes it seems
It ended up being one of those lovely days, when despite drinking quite a lot, you end up feeling  refreshed and positive about life. The whole weekend's been kind of like that - a proper welcoming of Spring. I really hope now Spring decides to stay. We ate marinated chicken and vegetable skewers, sausages and a couple of salads. The fruity couscous one will be on my YouTube channel shortly. But it was the spicy lentil one that was the real star of the show. Actually, I liked both of them, but the others voted the lentil a firm favourite. It was incredibly flavoursome, a combination of sweet and spicy, and the poles love that 
I soaked the lentils overnight a couple of days before. The next day, I fried a finely chopped carrot, celery stick and small onion in olive oil, added the lentils and covered them in water. Once nearly cooked I added some cumin, salt and pepper, and allowed to cool. The next day I brought it back to the boil and  squeezed in tomato puree until the mixture started to look all pretty and rosey. Then I added some chopped sundried tomatoes, worcestershire sauce and tabasco. I allowed it to cool once more before serving as a cold salad today


Dried green lentils
Celery stick
Tomato puree
Jar of sundried tomatoes in oil
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper

Sunday 6 May 2012

Toasted corn tortillas with British asparagus, tabasco butter and goat's cheese

It's British asparagus season so it annoys me to see asparagus flown in from Peru still on the shelf at Tesco's. Why why why. Anyway, if you want to read my opinions on these matters, then read this (there's a few extra exclamation marks than I would like to see, but apart from that it's mine), otherwise let's talk about lunch instead. I made corn tortillas, but in my own way. I did a bit of internet research, but there was talk of griddle pans and special types of cornmeal, so I just ignored it all and went with my instincts and my intuition. This is what this year is about for me after all - that was one of my personal resolutions and one which recently I've had to remind myself of. It's only too easy to get lost in a world of other peoples' expectations, but I've done too much soul searching to go down that route now. And besides, I had a special type of toasted cornmeal from Lanzarote that I wanted to use - that's why the tortillas are brown in case you're wondering, I hadn't burnt them. After some experimenting, what I came up with was a cross between pancakes and socca, but since they are made from cornmeal, I've called them tortillas
I tried to make them without eggs first, but this made them too crumbly and fragile, so an egg is definitely needed. Apart from that I used 1 cup flour to 1 cup water, and a pinch of salt. As with the socca I didn't turn them over, I simply fried on a low heat, in the tabasco butter (that's butter mashed with tabasco), until the edges began to raise slightly, then layered some blanched asparagus and goat's cheese on top. I added more tabasco butter once it was plated up, because you can't have too much of that stuff
 And now you've probably guessed why I bought the toasted cornmeal. Isn't that just the best packaging? They had different colours too, for  different levels of toastiness, but the others were big, heavy bags and I didn't really want to overload myself with many bags of flour in my hand luggage
This one was very, very toasty and it tasted pretty amazing. It's kind of obscure and I don't expect I'll be able to find it in the UK, so in the future I will try these with another type of cornmeal and see how it goes... a bit of experimentation is always a good thing I reckon