Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Chicken and chorizo bake

Most people have a word or words they can't remember. My Dad can't remember the name of the computer operating system "Linux". My friend Dee couldn't for years tell the difference between "Accessorize" and "Claire's Accessories", calling them, always, "Accessories" and "Claire's Accessorize". It drove me fucking nuts.

When I first met my husband, I casually pronounced "chorizo" "chorit-zo". He quickly told me that that was for idiots who said "haitch" instead "aitch" and called "Ibiza" "Ibit-za".

"Either chorrrr-eeee-tho," he said, glaring at me, "or chorrr-eeee-zzzoh. Just not 'choritzo'. Please."

But from that moment on I was so stressed about not getting it wrong, that I got it wrong. It got to a point where when I wanted to say the word in front of my husband I would start and say "chorrrrr-iiiii-eeeee" hedging my bets a bit, looking at him from under my eyelashes, willing him to help me out.

"eeee-zoh?" He would finish off.

He was always pretty patient about it, given that my husband is at times such a lazy thinker that he'll say sentences like "If you ask me, if you buy a roof over a restaurant you've got to expect noise from the pub" and consistently presses "reply" on emails when he wanted to press "forward" (if you think about it, this has the most potential for disaster of any mis-type on an email).

Anyway, I've nailed it now. So much so that I have CHOR-EEEEE-ZOH in my fridge almost at all times. Yesterday, I baked it in a pan with chicken thighs, mushrooms and sour cream, which worked really well, with the added bonus that it was damned easy.

For 2

4 chicken thighs
2 in of CHOR-EEEEE-ZOH, diced into 2cm ish cubes
a large handful of button mushrooms, if you've got some
four large tablespoons of sour cream
salt and pepper

1 Brown the thighs really well in some groundnut oil. If you get the skin quite brown and crispy at this stage, it will go crunchy and lovely in the oven
2 Place in an oven dish, scatter over the CHOR-EEEE-ZOH and then mushrooms and then dollop the sour cream around the chicken, not on top
3 Season the thighs well with salt and pepper
4 Shove in the oven at 180 for 1 hr

Monday, 12 July 2010

Chilli tacos

The internet is a funny place for an old print hack like me. I don't really understand the concept of "networking" with other blogs in order to increase my "traffic", although other people seem to, because I get an awful lot of comments these days that leave a random compliment, followed by the address of their own blog.

I mean, don't get me wrong - I'm not annoyed by it or anything, but is this what we're all doing now? And why? So that Highland Spring will email us offering to advertise on our sites? Is that the dream?

It's not like that in newspapers. In newspapers you only have to please one person: your commissioning editor. I have four commissioning editors at the moment: Hannah, Amy, Nicola and Vanessa, (I do not believe in working for men), which is a 400% increase on the number of commissioning editors I had this time last year. They are to me what volcanoes are to small, sun-worshipping island communities in the South Pacific, in that if they asked me to toss a virgin into a furnace, I would.

Here, the reader is everything. I can measure my popularity (or at least, how often I post) by a weekly mail-out, which tells me how many visits I've had, from where and how long they stayed, and by the quantity and enthusiasm of my comments. And I do it all for free.

But in newspapers no-one cares about the readers. The readers don't matter and they never really have. Anyone who writes to or emails a newspaper, even someone with a legitimate point, is a "green inker", most probably an escapee from a mental asylum, and readers never, ever know best. They are like naughty schoolchildren who need to be told what they like - Summer Reads AGAIN, some feature on how to get a good night's sleep (my God insomniacs must gnash their teeth at those) and 10,000 items a week on working mothers.

It never helps my attitude towards newspaper readers that they're always mean about whatever I've written in those "Have your say" boxes at the end, whereas on blogs, everyone is nice. And anyway, the reader has probably bought the paper to read someone else anyway, and stumbled across my piece on horseshoe making in southern Ukraine (p.56) quite by accident.

So all that considered the reader can get stuffed, as long as my comm ed likes it. Because if they like it, there's a chance they'll remember to put through my 15p per word payment to finance department, so that an undercover Russian spy, who doesn't want to give herself away by ever speaking intelligible English, (in an elaborate double-bluff), can lose my payslip, delete my account and then deny all knowledge of the piece when I ring her in six months' time to complain.

And that, ladies and gents, is why newspapers are going to die.

I made chilli tacos last night for my husband, because he was watching the World Cup final and I thought that chilli tacos and beer were suitable football food.

I've never managed to make chilli really taste like chilli, only like extra tangy bolognese, so I consulted a Tomasina Miers recipe and ripped it off. It went something like this.

500g ground beef
2 small onions
3 garlic cloves
1 red chilli SEEDS IN - don't be such a wuss for god's sake
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp allspice
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ketchup
1 tsp soft dark brown sugar
1 tbsp cider vinegar
25g chorizo, chopped
2 bay leaves - don't panic if you haven't got these
2 cans of plum tomatoes

1 Brown the meat and the chorizo in a pan and then set aside

2 Put the onions, garlic and chilli in a blender and whizz until chopped. I've never done this before, always instead painstakingly chopping everything up. I am never chopping onions again - it's going to be blended garlic and onion for everything from now on

3 Cook the blended onion mixture in a frying pan for about 10 minutes over a very low flame with the cumin, bay leaves and spices. Season with a pinch of salt and a few turns of pepper.

4 Add the plum tomatoes, the ketchup, vinegar and sugar. Mess this around for a bit and then pile the meat back in. Cook this up for about 5 minutes and then taste. If you want more or less of anything chuck it in now. You'll probably find you need more salt. If you want this really fucking spicy, wham in some tabasco.

5 Cook all this for about 40 minutes over a low heat.

6 Serve with tortilla wraps (Waitrose), guacamole (mash up some avocado and add lemon and salt - you don't need to add any chilli because the chilli ought to be hot enough as it is), shredded lettuce and sour cream. Sprinkle over jalapeno peppers - if you're a glutton for punishment - while pondering whether or not the paywall is going to work.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Anchovy straws

I like to think I have an complicated relationship with anchovies but I think that it's probably the same relationship that most other people have with them, i.e. they are disgusting, but at times you crave them nonetheless.

I found myself in Chichester on Friday. There was a spooky moment where I wondered why I recognised it, just this particular stretch of street here, with that shop on the corner and the cathedral just there. Then my husband reminded me that this was where, two years ago, he broke the land speed record and collected 3 points for his licence while driving me to a GP, because I was struck down en route to our weekend away, with an acutely painful and unpleasant ladies' problem, which requires antibiotics.

But I try not to let the trauma of pissing blood colour my judgment of a provincial town and I can say with confidence that Chichester is really quite lovely in the sunshine. We went to Field and Fork, which is a restaurant within an art gallery to have dinner, just before we missed the last train back to London and had to get a cab all the way home. It was £120 and as nice as Chichester is, it was worth every penny.

Anyway at Field and Fork we were brought some anchovy straws as a sort of amuse bouche. And it was one of those days when I thought "Yes. I really, really, really want some anchovy."

So here we go. This is a mash-up of a cheese biscuit recipe I found on a Hugh FW cutting out of the Guardian and a recipe from The New Penguin Cookery Book. If you are doing these for a party rather than tout seul or a deux scoffing, you would, of course, make some plain cheese straws, or some other kind of canape, too, because not everyone wants salty mushy fish specks just before dinner.

Me? I want the same as any woman; I want to be Shakira.

Anchovy straws
makes about 20

125g butter, diced
150g plain flour
0.5 tsp bicarbonate of soda
2 tbsp plain yoghurt
black pepper
125g grated cheddar
approx 3 tablespoons grated pecorino or parmesan, or any other hard cheese you want
1 tin anchovy fillets

1 Pulverise everything except the anchovies in a blender until it forms a rough dough. Turn it out onto a floured surface and bash it around for a bit, then bring it together into a ball and put in the fridge for half an hour.

2 Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a thickness of about 0.5cm and cut into shapes. I've done these as straws but you could do them as little biscuits, or squares or stars or anything you like really. Chop or snip up the anchovy fillets into little scrapings and then press them with the point of a knife into the pastry in a gracious or amusing pattern. For anchovy-phobes, leave the cheesy pastry plain, or you could substitute the anchovy for rosemary, mint or anything else that takes your fancy.

3 Lay out your straws or biscuits onto a baking tray either greased or lined with baking parchement and cook at 190 for 10 minutes, or in a fan oven, 180 for 9 minutes. If you have gone for a straw-shape, be extra careful when moving these about when cooked as they snap pretty easily. If in doubt, wait for them to cool completely and pick them up by their middles.

Like anything made out of mostly cheese and butter, these will freeze well.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Guest post: spinach gnocchi

I'd like to introduce you to my friend, who goes by the extremely cool name of AC. At least, she did ten years ago when we met in Mexico and she casually kicked my ass for two straight weeks at that most levelling of card games, Shithead, without ever having to remove her sunglasses or put down her cigarette.

(N.B. I doubt she smokes anymore, but we all did then because we were on holiday.)

We've been back in touch because she's a friendly sort, is AC. And she really, really knows how to cook. I've never eaten anything she's made but I can tell she knows what she's talking about because when I mentioned that I was going to attempt gazpacho for the first time she rattled off, off the top of her head, about eighteen different cold soups she's made, which is best, which is worst - this one's nice with Cloudy Bay - that kind of thing.

And I'm like, what the fuck have I been doing with my time? I have never even made one cold soup, let alone enough to have a conversation about them.

So my point is, she's a cooking machine and she's got a proper job and everything, at a company so serious that you're not allowed to send swear words over email, so my emails to her are about 50% shorter than they are to everyone else.

Today she suggested a great spinach gnocchi, which I was going to make but frankly, I trust AC, who says that usually she's not crazy about gnocchi but these are "very light and fragrant and summery". Apologies for no picture with this but I can only imagine that, like everything AC does, they are kick-ass.

So here we go: Spinach gnocchi sourced from Ginger Jar Food

Serves 3 to 4 with crusty bread


For the gnocchi

500g floury potatoes - cooked in salted water and well drained

110g OO flour (or you can use plain flour)

200g spinach - de-stalked, cooked, squeezed dry with your hands then blotted some more on kitchen paper, and finally, finely chopped!

1 egg - lightly beaten

For the tomato sauce

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1 can of good chopped tomatoes

A handful of basil leaves, chopped

Chilli flavoured olive oil - or normal if you don't like heat

Salt & pepper

To finish

Grated parmesan

A ball of good buffalo mozzarella


1. First make the gnocchi. Take your cooked potato and load it into a potato ricer. Hold the potato ricer high above a clean work surface and squeeze the potato through, allowing it to fall in a light pile.

2. In between your batches of potato, sieve a layer of flour and add a sprinkle of the chopped spinach, then another squeeze of potato until it's all done.

3. Now make a well in the centre of your spinachy, floury, potato-y pile, and pour in your beaten egg. Flick some of the dry ingredients over the egg and start to work the dough together until all the ingredients are evenly incorporated. If the dough feels too wet and is really sticking to your hands, add a little more flour.

4. Divide the dough into four and roll each one out into a long sausage about 3 cm thick. Cut the sausage into gnocchi-sized pieces (like a small pebble) and roll each one in your hand to make a small oval shape. For authenticity more than anything you can then roll each gnocchi down the tines of a fork to create the classic ridges.

5. Set the gnocchi to one side on a floured baking tray (so they don't stick together) until ready to cook them. Resting them before cooking will also help the gluten relax a little, making them less heavy.

6. To make the sauce, cook your garlic briefly in a little chilli oil (or standard oil), then add your chopped tomatoes, basil and salt, and pepper and allow to simmer away for around 20 mins until slightly reduced and thickened. Check the seasoning.

7. To cook the gnocchi, place them in a large pan of heavily salted water. They tend to tell you when they are ready by floating to the surface, but give them a stir to make sure they aren't stuck to the bottom (or each other) and drain after a couple of minutes. They should expand slightly when cooked and become really soft and pillowy.

8. Drain well and toss in your tomato sauce. Divide between your serving bowls and tear off pieces of the buffalo mozzarella to dot around the dish. Sprinkle some parmesan over the top, add a few more basil leaves to garnish, and then serve immediately!