Sunday, 2 April 2017

Newbie cooking

When I began to blog, I also started photographing simpler dishes, for friends who weren't taught to cook at home and didn't spend swathes of their childhood sitting on the kitchen counter chatting to Mum and co-incidentally witnessing dozens of techniques and orders-of-cooking.  "It's like computers," I explained to one friend, who was frustrated by his own ignorance. "If you just grow up doing it, like we did, then it's simple and easy, but actually there are all these little things you learnt along the way. And if you didn't, it feels like there's so much to learn, and you're just expected to know, and no-one's teaching you." No-one should be left out. Cooking is a joy.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Spontaneous pasta

This one's a total winner because it's ridiculously fast, hugely variable, pretty damn easy, and relies mostly on store-cupboard ingredients.  I invented it when I was about 27 and living in Hythe Bridge Street, and me, Will, and my housemates got home at about 2 am, all thoroughly trashed, and everyone said they were hungry. And looked at me. Expectantly.

We decided the challenge should be to make the pasta sauce while the pasta was boiling (no extra time) and hence Spontaneous Pasta was born. I pretty much always have tinned tomatoes about, and pasta, and a few jars of olives (the cheap ones in brine, already depipped), that's the store cupboard stuff.  And then there are usually some herbs laying about the place and a chilli or two. And garlic. Always garlic. And really it mostly just gets blitzed up and thrown over the pasta to heat.

I sometimes forget about this for years and then sneer at the notion of it, and then make it again and realise OH HELL THIS IS HELLA TASTY. You don't actually have to make it at lightning speed while the pasta boils, but anything that can be made in ten minutes flat while drunk is fairly easy. And it tastes equally amazing sober.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Vegetarian chilli

A spicy tangy chilli is the basis for tortilla and nachos. My meat chilli takes forever, slowly evolving from a magnificent bolognese through chilli con carne and re-emerging to appear in tortillas and nachos - the veggie one is a lot quicker! Prep time is about 5-10 minutes, cooking time is 40-50 minutes.

A good panful will still give you plenty to freeze, unless you're feeding a very large group - each tortilla only needs about 2 heaped tablespoons of chilli (about 50ml); for nachos, you need about 250ml of chilli per person. This recipe makes about 1.5 litres of chilli - that's about 30 tortillas, or nachos for 6. Or, nachos for 4 and then 10 tortillas, which would feed 4 nicely if 2 of them are very hungry, or feed 10 if they're all me and only want one tortilla each. You get the idea - whichever which way, you probably have enough to freeze some as well, and chilli freezes very happily and is even nicer the next time.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Spicy tomato sauce

A very simple spicy tomato sauce which I use to top mushroom and lentil bake, but which you could use for anything. Very few ingredients and super-easy, all this baby really wants is time. So get it going first and let it simmer in the background.

Mushroom and lentil bake

For a writer, I'm pretty rubbish at naming things. My twelve-week writing course was called, for the first four years, "the twelve-week course", before in a fit of uncharacteristic brilliance and after four years of writing emails in which I explained that it covered the key elements of stories, I renamed it "Story Elements". The follow-up course I created at my students' request is now in its fifth year of being known as "the follow-up course". Occasionally, this troubles me.

I called this dish "lentil bake" for years before I had the epiphany to make it sound at least a tiny bit nicer by mentioning another of its key ingredients, so now it's "mushroom and lentil bake". But in my defence, most dishes are named after their ingredients, it just sounds fancier when you're naming them in French or Italian or Hindi or Urdu. So feel free to rename it champignons et lentilles cuits, funghi e lenticchie al forno, masharoom aur masoor kee daal bekd (shoot Google translate, not me), or indeed مشروم اور دال پکایا. (The original recipe is from Rose Elliot's Bean Book, but I can't remember what she called it.)

It's much tastier than its name suggests and it's also a good one for the leftovers list because you could substitute whatever leftover veg you like, in the place of the mushrooms, and it's an absolute winner for using up old bits of hard cheese and even edible rind.

Saturday, 2 January 2016

The Eating List

As I said on the liver paté post, both Mum and I felt uneasy about the huge amounts of food and food-wastefulness around Christmas. And my take on it is, "As long as we don't throw anything away." Put stuff in tupperwares, freeze stuff, cook stuff as needed, pay attention to leftovers, make an "eating" list the way you'd usually make a "shopping" list - putting on a feast and having leftovers really doesn't have to be wasteful. And if you're exhausted, just get everything you can into the freezer, in small containers, and you'll have lots of easy meals to come. I've already frozen everything that could be frozen (here's the freezing & food-hygiene post) so now we're down to non-freezables and mustn't-refreezes.

Mom thought the Eating List was worth blogging, so if she thought so, with her amazing cooking know-how and years of experience, I figured I'd share it! It's like a shopping list, except you're shopping in your own fridge, so it's a bit quicker than going to the shops and also it's free. TL;DR: list everything in the fridge, note its use-by dates and put it on a traffic-light system, plan meals accordingly.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

What to do with leftover cream

My friend texted me this morning demanding recipes for leftover cream, so I leapt to it (and out of bed) to gather up a range of options, which also reminded me we have 220ml leftover from yesterday's liver paté. She has 450ml left over and it's hard to find a recipe that uses more than 100ml, though soured cream will do the trick, so here are the options - the coffees, the desserts, the savouries, and the soured cream! Each batch of ideas is arranged easiest to most cookish. Plus it also leads to ideas for how to use leftover clementines, vegetables, and meat!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Liver paté

If you're Doing Things With Giblets, this is part two and you already have your chicken / turkey / capon livers, otherwise fowl livers are ever so cheap to come by, especially if you buy them frozen. This is my mum's gorgeous recipe (as you'll see by the fine lettering, though she will probably decry it as Early Work) and makes a silky-smooth rich flavoursome paté.

What to do with giblets

Anyone who roasted a fowl yesterday probably got an alarming little bag of Bits with it - The Giblets - alarmingly close in name to gibbets, and a kind of "finishing present". (A Finishing Present entered family folklore some years back. In the late 80s / early 90s, making pompoms was all the rage. They're surprisingly work-intensive. One of my small cousins started a massively over-ambitious pompom, with a huge disc, for a birthday present for me. She wound the wool around it until it had reached about a centimetre thick around the disc. The rest of the wool-winding would have taken about three years and resulted in a pompom the size of my head. Nevertheless, she gamely gave me the unfinished pompom, and said it was "a finishing present".) So your purveyor of meats has given you a finishing present. Wtf do you do with it, besides put it in the fridge for a decent interval before chucking it? Or give it to your daughter, alongside a carcass with rich pickings, for her to do magic with? TL;DR: pull out the liver for liver paté, turn the rest into a fabulously rich stock.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to make yogurt

I recently read an article which suggested, to my absolute horror, that my friends in the States don't have proper access to real yogurt, only the kind to which sugar and syrups and suchlike have beeen added, an idea I find so upsetting that I have to put it right immediately by teaching you how to make it.

Baked Camembert supper

Baked camembert is ususally touted as a starter, which is odd, because it's everything a starter shouldn't be: very filling, rich, and satisfying. It doesn't work so well at the end of a meal, either: it's hard to make a main course light enough that people will welcome quantities of gloopy, melty cheese after it, instead of groaning inside at the prospect, trying to swallow enough to be assuage their host's feelings, and then feeling a food coma setting in so fast that they must either take their leave or nod off at the table.

What it does make, however, is an absolutely brilliant romantic supper for two! Or for one, if you're very very hungry, or for more, if you are more, and add additional camemberts. Bizarrely, it's also incredibly healthy - because once you have your splendid Baked Camembert centrepiece, you surround it with fresh raw foods that want to be delved into melty hot cheese, and end up eating more raw vegetables than any usual supper might feature. Plus once the oven's hot, it only takes 15 minutes.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Aubergine sausage and olive stew

I threw this together as one of those random oh-and-we-have-that-too stews and was so astonishingly impressed with it, I immediately scrawled all the ingredients down in the Little Living-room Book of Thoughts. (It's important to have spangly wee notebooks stashed about the house generally, but in the living room especially, because you never know when Doctor Who or Farscape will trigger a major ephiphany, or you'll be struck with a thought about right-angles, or need to jot down a poem or plot line, or, indeed, a recipe.) The main point of amazement, though, was OLIVES! IN A STEW! IN STEW! OLIVES! You can put olives in stew. PUT OLIVES IN STEW.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to make (chicken) stock

Very short summary: after a roast, throw the carcass, some onion, any veg peelings, and maybe bay leaves and peppercorn into a large pot, cover with water, and simmer gently until you go to bed. The next day, drain it, simmer some more to reduce it if you want, done.

Stock cubes are to homemade stock what packet soup is to homemade soup. I hate foodie snobbery so if you don't have homemade stock and some recipe's insisting on it, whatever, use a stock cube - but that is the difference. A considerable one. (Whereas the difference between fresh tomatoes or tinned is generally very minor. Provided you're making a sauce, not salad.) Some recipes are very insistent on homemade stock - the recipes that really need it are the ones that rely heavily on the flavour of the liquid, eg risotto, a broth, French  onion soup, without much else (as opposed to bolognese, which has tons else). But sometimes the recipe writer is just demanding, so if they're also insisting that something has to be pancetta and bacon won't do, or that you must specifically use gorgonzola and no other blue cheese, then take their advice with a pinch of salt. They are living in their own, rainbow-filled unicorn-populated magical ideal world. Bless.

ALL THAT SAID - stock is very, very easy to make, especially if you don't forget about it and nearly burn the house down. Three times, people. Three times.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Garlic pickle elixir of life

There is nothing* better than friends who like the same sort of food that you do, but have different recipe books. We invited said friends (not knowing this about them yet) for dinner. Did they like curry? Yes, they said. And if it was quite hot, chilli-hot? Um... some of it really quite hot? Yes, they said. But we were nervous. It used to be, English people would say they liked really hot food, and then you served them really hot food, and then they died, and it was your fault they were dead, but you'd asked and they said yes. (If you're not born and bred here, it's very hard to know when English people don't like things. Because asking doesn't work, and there are no visible signs, but apparently there are minute signals with which they communicate with each other. I've done my best to go native since I started living here, but some of the finer details still elude me, to my frustration. At times I've suspected some of the information is passed on chemically, as plants do. Anyway.) So we prepared a wide range of curries, a veritable feast, all the way from the mildest up to a Balti phal, and I added fine green beans to the Balti phal, and thus by accident camouflaged the whole green chillis, which added an unexpected Russian-roulette dimension to that part of the dinner. They seemed very happy, though I always wonder if I'm missing chemical signals, even with people I know well.

THEN: they invited us around to theirs for dinner, on their boat. And prepared us a veritable curry feast! Of splendidly hot rich and various curries, a marvel of food joy, and totally different recipes to the ones we know! And they fed us garlic pickle. And only courtesy stopped me eating the entire lot out the jar with a teaspoon.

Green tapenade

I was going to share garlic pickle next, with a bit of story-time, but let's complete the dips triumvirate first, of black-olive tapenade, hummus, and green-olive tapenade. Some people might put taramasalata into the mix, but in case you haven't noticed, I don't much like fish. (I deeply regret this and am trying to work on it, slowly; so far I can actively enjoy mussels, oysters, shrimps, and salmon, and can eat other kinds of shellfish, but no actual fish besides salmon, and I will swill my mouth with sour milk to get rid of the taste of anchovies.) So, green-olive tapenade it is!

Hummus: it's not middle-class, it's chickpeas.

I get alternately baffled and a bit harrumphy when perfectly innocent food-stuffs get designated as being a particular class. Lentils as middle-class bewilders me especially - lentils? Seriously? The incredibly cheap, nutritious staple eaten by most of the subcontinent? Likewise hummus. It's not middle-class, it's chickpeas. With some other stuff. You could call it Greek fairly accurately, if you wanted, but not middle-class. And yet despite its now being very widespread and familiar, the 'orrible little label persists. So: sod that. It's not middle-class, it's chickpeas.

Nachos to share

A great big bowlful of nachos, dumped squarely between you, eaten with your fingers, oh joy joy joy! Memories of Panchos in Obs, sharing a towering mound of nachos with Nikka, while the Gipsy Kings played... I used to make this loads, then forgot about it for years, and it's burst back onto the menu recently. This is part of the vat of bolognese meal cascade, so if you haven't made a vat of bolognese, you should start here.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Socca pizza: prepare to be AMAZED!

When I'm not eating wheat for whatever reason, the thing I miss most is pizza. Even pizza restaurants can't seem to manage a wheat-free pizza, it's always something a bit soggy and disappointing. My current food hero is Jack Monroe, so when she posted a recipe for socca pizza, made with gram flour (chickpea flour) I leapt to it. It was brilliant! ...ish. Almost there. Not quite... crispy. So I started experimenting. And refining. And tweaking. And obsessively measuring every detail. Happily, Will's fallen in love with it too, so me repeatedly making us pizzas with tiny variations on a theme (science tip: you can't change two variables at once), is fine. And when I burn my hand again, he's very happy to take over, while I sing Aranjuez with my hand under the tap. So: after extensive, tasty research, here's how to make perfect, crispy gluten-free pizza. After the recipe I'll go into all the ins and outs, because not everything has to be perfect all the time, but it can be if you want it to be, and then toppings ideas.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Printable shopping lists & menu plan blanks

Who wants a visit from the organisation fairy?!

The golden rule of organisation: organisation should be less work than sorting out the chaos would be. If it takes you more time / money / effort than living with the muddle, that's not organisation, that's bureaucracy! So these are to make life easier and simpler, so you don't run out of things like tinfoil or toilet paper, or stand staring despairingly into the fridge, asking that age-old question, what the hell to make for supper. I made these shopping-list and menu-plan templates for myself, and then for my cousin, and there's different versions depending on how much planning you want / like to do. Also each set comes in two fonts.

Click on the image to preview, click on the link underneath to download it. How to use them is further down.

Option 1: Combined shopping-list + flexible menu plan

Choose one, in the font you like, and print out a batch.

Option 2: Shopping list + detailed menu plans

1. Choose one shopping list, in whichever font you prefer, print out a batch, and chop in half.

 2. Choose your meal-plan style (lunch + dinner only or breakfast, lunch, and dinner) in whichever font you prefer, and print out a batch. All versions have a "do in advance" column.

Matchbook font menu plans


Lobster font menu plans


 How to use...


 The shopping lists

Print a batch of shopping lists and put them up somewhere in the kitchen. (Mine are the combined version, so they're folded in half.) If you don't have a pinboard, some combination of crocodile clip / paperclip / string / blutack should do the trick. Maybe on the inside of a cupboard, but I like to keep mine visible, so I remember to add stuff.

Any time something's running low - tinfoil, loo paper, salt, the random things that are easy to forget - add it to the list. (When I had a utility room, I always had a backup of stuff like that, and replaced the back up, but this kitchen has less space.)

I have pens cached everywhere, all over the house, so that's not a problem, but you could attach a pen, except in a pen-short house, someone would steal it. So instead you could empty a cheap pack of ballpoints into the cutlery drawer. (One of my many pen caches.)

The combined shopping list / meal plan

Before we go shopping, or while we're wandering around the shops, we jot on the meal-list side what we're planning to make, in no particular order, and add the ingredients to the things already on the list. There's only the two of us, so no need for military menu planning and it all stays quite flexible, but I do allocate specific easy & quick dishes for teaching nights when I finish at about 10. That meal list then stays pinned up on the pinboard while we cook our way throught it; meanwhile, a new shopping list is gathering up anything we're now running out of.

The detailed menu plan

I made this at my cousin's request, as she needs to do more planning - she has two kids, and does complicated things involving pre-soaking all the ingredients, hence the "do in advance" column which is also handy for remembering to defrost stuff. I only menu-plan with that kind of detail when I'm cooking or planning for someone else.

The meals list

Old menu plans don't get chucked away - they go in the magic meals list envelope. I've had that envelope since about 2008, at least, so some lists must've strayed, but it's still bulging. It's been pinned on the pinboard, blu-tacked on a cupboard inside, magnetted to the fridge and the side of the boiler... Whenever we can't think of anything to cook for the coming weeks, we rifle through the assorted scraps.

The meals list is especially useful when the season changes, and our heads are still full of stews & soups and we can't even remember what we eat in summertime. (That's why I added "season" to the detailed menu plan.) Occasionally I think about writing or typing up a masterlist, but I like seeing the constellations of dishes, and find that useful, and also like the fragments of memory and other houses.

Enjoy! (Also, if you want other versions and want me to make them with those lovely fonts and with the organisation fairy, let me know.)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sag paneer

Sag aloo (aloo = potato, remember) is one of my always-orders for Indian food (and if you're in Oxford, you should be going to the Standard Tandoori, which is a marvellous story that shall be told another time, but trust me, ignore the name, and just go) and another one I figured was unreplicable at home... nope, not at all. Quite easy to make. But as I usually have the aloo served up in aloo gajjar, and paneer is basically cheese (cheese... CHEESE... CHEESE...!) , sag paneer is now one of my always-makes for curries. Or just sag, if we don't have paneer. (Paneer, I should add, is cheese, quite mild-tasting, white, often comes already cubed, and I buy it from the Indian grocers aka the spice shop. You can also make it but I haven't learnt how yet.)

Sag actually just means "greens", which could be spinach or not; palak means spinach specifically. So most of the year round I'm making palak paneer, but occasionally, when the season and the stars are right, it's most definitely sag paneer, because I'm using this: