Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Stuffed pancakes

I haven't dared get excited about the sunshine for fear of jinxing it - so I'm sort of ignoring it, pretending it's not there. ("Oh I see, a really sunny day again. Whatever.") I've never been that bothered about sunshine - it's nice but really any old weather will do. But with a toddler - even one refusing to toddle, such as Kitty - life is 100% easier if you can doss about all day on a patch of grass somewhere poking at beetles, rather than sweatily pulling on three layers of fleece and puffa and marching grimly down the road to stare gloomily at some goats at the City Farm.

And the good thing about my parents' house, despite it being 800 miles from the nearest shop, pub or tube station, is that is has a massive garden - beetles galore to poke at. And a slide! We may never leave.

Especially not as my mother stuffs us all full of food, all day long. I don't really eat lunch these days, I can't be bothered. But my mother will not take no for an answer and follows me around with halves of sandwiches and peeled segments of apple. And every night she puts dinner on the table for no fewer than five people. Pow, pow, pow, night after night. She's never in a piss about it - like I always am - never in a screeching fury about the relentless grind of it. She just does it. I know that's what most people's mums do, what most of you do, it's just impressive to see it close up.

A recent hit was stuffed pancakes. A lot of you have probably had enough of these after Shrove Tuesday, but if you never got round to it, they are absolutely delicious. Kitty scoffed the leftovers the next day. Kitty is, by the way, roundly humiliating me by eating things out of my mother's hand that she won't touch from me.

Anyway these pancakes are just an assembly job, really. One for a Sunday night, when you've got a weeny bit more time maybe. Make the crepes with a normal pancake batter, sautee ham, mushrooms and whatever else you want, stuff and roll the pancakes and arrange in a line on a baking tray then pour over a cheese sauce (white sauce plus cheese) and cover with grated gruyere, emmenthal, parmesan or any other rubbery/hard cheese you've got knocking about. Stick in the oven for 15 mins at 180C.

No if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and have minor surgery; I'm not allowed to eat anything after 11am today so I've got an hour to raid the fridge. It's nothing serious so don't get all excited that I might finally drop dead. But feel free to be sympathetic all the same.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Spicy poussin with tabula kisir

Another knockout post from @EmFrid - and just in the nick of time.

There are certain days when I like to lock myself away in the kitchen and do some therapy cooking in order to keep a tenuous grip on my sanity. Therapy cooking, while not necessarily technically challenging, involves a lot of chopping and mixing. While I do all of this I hold quiet but heated arguments in my head with people that have in some minor or major way slighted me (and I’ve got a long memory for slights, so there’s plenty of material to choose from).

Arguments I win by being terribly clever and witty and scathing. So nothing like in real life, in other words. Or I have day dreams involving massive lottery wins and/or Michael Fassbender/Benedict Cumberbatch/Ryan Gosling. Normally there would be a bottle of wine involved as well, getting me quietly sloshed as  I cook, but at the moment, as I'm pregnant, I’m forced to sip on a bottle of alcohol-free Becks while thinking hopeful thoughts about placebo effects (yeah, I know,  I know. I’ll just wait here while you all run and fetch your violins).

Yesterday was such a day. Goblin – who have taken to the terrible twos with flamboyant gusto – spent all day perfecting her Horrible Little Shit act, and I swear Troll the Foetus somehow contrived to wedge himself in between my second and third rib where he sat bouncing all day. At the end of it I felt positively homicidal. So I scratched around the cupboards a bit and decided to cook some spicy poussin. To go with the birds I made a tabula kisir (a sort of more piquant, Turkish version of tabbouleh), the recipe to which I gotfrom Hugh F-W’s excellent book River Cottage Every Day. As I said, no ttechnically challenging, but it does involve quite a lot of ingredients and chopping, marinades, spices etc. It was all totally worth it though, because it came out bloody delicious.

I used one poussin per person, but that’s pretty much because I’m a ravenous third trimester beast right now. The more sensible among you might want to use just half a bird per person, depending on how hungry you are.Also, the quantities given for the tabula kisir will yield quite a lot, about six decent servings. Though it keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days,and makes for a lovely, healthy lunch stuffed into pita breads or similar.

Spicy Poussin withTabula Kisir

For the spicy poussin you’ll need:

Poussins (or chicken legs/thighs)
A head of garlic
1 red chilli, seeds in or out – up to you
100ml red wine vinegar
100ml lemon juice – roughly 4 lemons (reserve some of thelemon peel)
180ml olive oil or rapeseed oil
1.5tsp sea salt
2tsp Arabic Seven Spice, plus extra for sprinkling – Arabic SevenSpice might well be readily available in London/the rest of the country, butindeed not in Letchworth, so I made my own by mixing together 2tsbp groundblack pepper, 2tsbp ground paprika, 2tbsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp ground coriander,1/2tbsp ground cloves, 1tsp ground nutmeg, 1tsp ground cinnamon and ½tsp groundcardamom. This will keep well in an airtight container.

1. Score the poussins a few times with a sharp knife, thenplace in a large bowl/container
2. Put the garlic, lemon juice, chilli, vinegar, salt andArabic spice into a blender and whizz. Add the oil and whizz a bit more, then pourover the fowl. Add some of the reserved lemon peel, cover with cling film thenmarinate for as long as you can, turning occasionally.
3. When ready to cook preheat your oven to 180c, sprinklethe birds with a bit of the Arabic spice then cook until done, about 45 minutesto an hour for poussins. Brush with the left-over marinade a few times duringcooking, to keep the meat moist and add flavour.

For the Tabula Kisir you’ll need (note: this isn’t Hugh’s exact recipe – for the real deal checkout River Cottage Every Day):

200g bulghur wheat
About 6 ripe tomatoes
3 spring onions
1 red and 1 green pepper
1 pomegranate
1 big bunch each of mint, coriander and flat leaf parsley

For the dressing:

4tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1tsp each of ground cumin, ground paprika, sea salt andground black pepper.
5tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

1. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over approx 200ml boiling water, stir and then cover for about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the lemon juice, tomato puree andthe spices, then whisk in the oil. Pour over the warm bulghur and stir. Leave to cool.
3. Chop the tomatoes and pepper into small dice, finelyslice the spring onions and chop the herbs finely. Mix it all into the cool bulghur along with the seeds from the pomegranate. Season. Let stand for an hour or so to let the flavours mingle together nicely, then serve with the poussin.

We had all this with pita bread and some half-arsed home-made tzatziki. It was really, really lovely, and made me feel decidedly less homicidal.And what with the weather getting warmer and warmer, I would imagine that this would make for a lovely BBQ meal out in the garden too

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Haddock chowder

We have moved out of our house and are living with my parents, in order to allow our builders to build a kitchen extension in peace, without Giles tearing down the stairs every few minutes telling them they're doing it all wrong.

I sort of hate myself for having the extension done. It's so predictable. But we did such an awful, half-arsed job of dragging the house into the 21st Century during the last round of building works that this is sort of essential. Didn't Simone de Beauvoir say something about those being confined to the domestic sphere contrive to make it complicated or something...? Well I am confined to the domestic sphere and I contrive to make it flipping complicated.

So we're living in my parents' giant house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, back in my old room, Kitty banged up downstairs in a room that has only ever, I think, been a spare room.

My overwhelming emotion being here is one of penance. I wasn't a particularly horrible child or teenager, I don't think, but I was very untidy. My room, really one of the nicest in the house, was always strewn with clothes and general crap and I would leave dirty mugs and plates lying around everywhere.

Now I'm back, I am hellbent on being fastidiously tidy. I want to let my mother know, without actually saying anything, that I am sorry for not understanding when I was a teenager what a fucking pain in the arse keeping a house tidy is and how depressing it is walking into someone else's incredibly disgustingly messy room is.

Over the last few weeks, in my new mania for trying to keep my own house tidy, I have learnt this: if you tidy something away, or fold something up, or wipe down a surface, you instantly forget about it. And when you return, it is AS NICE as if SOMEONE ELSE has done it for you.

Of course a major benefit of living with one's parents is 1) free evening babysitting and 2) someone else making dinner.

Last night we had haddock chowder and it was just sublime. This is technically cullen skink, but I didn't want to call it that because every time I have come across a recipe for cullen skink I have skipped past it, assuming that it is some monstrously fishy yukky horror using a mackerel-like thing called a skink - and I can only assume that you are as thick as me.

My quantities here are not exact, but it's not an exact thing.
Haddock chowder (or cullen skink)
1/2 fillet haddock per person
bunch parsely
medium onion, chopped
two sticks celery, chopped
2 rashers bacon, CHOPPED
salt and pepper
1 potato per person, diced
1 litre fish stock, made with any old fish stock cube
300ml single or whipping cream

1 Sweat the onions and celery with a generous knob of butter - about 50g - for at least 15 mins. If you want to be really classy, lay a sheet of greaseproof paper between your pan and your lid. It is very important to cook the onions through because otherwise the cream will curdle later - I don't know why.

2 Add the bacon and turn in the pan for a few minutes, then add the potato. Add the fish and then pour over the fish stock until everything is covered. Simmer all this for about 10 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Finish with the cream and some chopped parsley. Season. We ate this with sheets of cheddar laid across the top, which was terrific. Kitty ate the leftovers the next day.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Spring green noodles

This is a really marvellous thing to do if you feel like you ought to be eating leafy greens, but you'd rather have a plate of pasta instead. Particularly relevant to me because my diet is so awful at the moment. What I ate today:

- half a bagel with jam
- chocolate croissant
- 1/4 of a large pork pie
- I am about to eat some chocolate cake

Anyway, we had this the other night with baked gurnard (don't ask) and it was absolutely terrific and made me feel better about the straight white carbs and e-numbers of the day.

Spring green noodles
for 2

2 nests medium egg noodles (I like Blue Dragon but any old thing will do)
about 4 shakes of light soy sauce
3 splats of oyster sauce
two big handfuls of spring greens

1 Boil and drain the noodles. Drizzle over a bit of olive oil to stop them sticking

2 Roughly cop or scissor your spring greens. And I mean roughly - they will wilt down a lot on cooking

3 Cook down your spring greens in a frying pan with a sprinkling of water and some veg oil. When they look quite collapsed toss in the noodles, soy and oyster sauce. If you wanted to add anything else like chilli or spring onion, I'm sure that would be delicious.

Friday, 2 March 2012

Cinnamon buns for the weekend

Another absolutely terrific recipe from my editor-at-large, Emfrid... take it away you hot crazy Scandi mutha:

A warm cinnamon bun is my favourite sweet thing to eat, and it’s an EXCELLENT choice for comfort food. Trust me. They’re pretty much a staple throughout Sweden – you’ll find them in every bakery, cafĂ© and shop across the land. Subsequently there are approximately 3745 different recipe versions for these bad boys. The one I use is a bastardisation of the recipe my mum always made and my own modifications. I do use a lot of cinnamon –if you think it might be a bit too strong for you reduce the quantity. But it is MEANTto taste strongly of cinnamon is all I’m saying.

It may seem a little faffy to make these but it’s really not that hard and anyway, the end result is well worth it. I like to swing the dough together in the morning, leave it to rise for a good while and then put Goblin down for a nap, pour a glass of wine, plug the iPod in (I’d recommend the soundtrack to ‘Drive’ for this) at a tinnitus-inducing volume and proceed to knead the SHIT out of that dough. It’s therapeutic. Yes.

I prefer to use fresh yeast if possible, because that’s what my mum – and the rest of Sweden - use. You can get fresh yeast from certain supermarkets (Morrisons in Letchworth stocks it, which is the only positive thing I have to say about THAT place), health shops, or, if you’re in London, Scandi shops such as Scandi Kitchen or Totally Swedish. If there’s no fresh yeast readily available fret not – you can use dry yeast instead, added to the dry ingredients rather than the wet.

This will yield about 40-45 buns which may seem a lot, butit’s not really. They will go. Fast. I once ate 11 of these suckers in one sitting, and I DIDN’T EVEN FEEL SICK. However, if you do possess willpower they will freeze very well.

For the dough you’ll need:
50g fresh yeast (or 2 x 7g sachets dry yeast)
150g butter
500ml whole milk
1000g strong bread flour
100g caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp salt
1tsp ground cardamom – optional, but as far as I’m concerned it really makes the bun. I’ve never been able to find ready ground cardamom inthe UK, and if you can’t either it’s time to get cosy with your mortar and pestle. You’ll need the seeds from about 20 cardamom pods.

For the filling:
150-200 g softened butter, cubed (yes, this might seem likea mighty shitload, but remember it’s divided up between 40 or so buns. At least that's what I tell myself)
3-4 tbsp ground cinnamon
100g sugar - I like to use brown, but white will work just aswell.


1 egg for brushing
Pearl sugar – very optional indeed, because it’s a bitch toget hold of. If you can’t find, leave it. I often do.

1. Crumble the fresh yeast into a big bowl. Melt the butter then add the milk and warm the mixture until it is finger warm (bodytemperature - about 37c). Pour the milk and butter mixture over the yeast and stir until all the yeast dissolves.

2. Add the sugar, salt, cardamom, egg and, gradually, most of the flour (you’ll want to hold some flour back for kneading). If you use dry yeast, add it with the flour here. Work the dough together until it’s shiny and no longer sticks to the bowl. Sprinkle over a little flour, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a dry, warm place for at least 30 minutes, by which time it will have roughly doubled in size.
3. While the dough is rising mix together the softened butter, sugar and cinnamon. Cover with cling film and leave in room temperature until you need it. You want it so soft as to be spreadable, so chilling it inthe fridge might leave it too hard and cold.
4. When the dough is done rising tip it out onto a floured surface and knead, working through the rest of the flour if needed. You want it pliable and airy, not too dry.

5. Divide the dough up in four equal parts. Roll out each part into a vaguely rectangular shape (mine normally look more amoeba than rectangle, so don’t worry too much about it), approx 3-5mm thick. Using abutter knife or similar, spread on a generous amount of the filling. Roll it up lengthways, into a kinda Swiss roll looking thing. Then cut it into pieces of equal size, approx 2-3 centimetres thick.

6. Place your buns cut side up onto greased baking plates,or into big muffin forms. Leave plenty of space between your buns – they will double in size. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise again for 30 mins.

7. While the buns are rising preheat the oven to 220C for a fan oven – adjust the temp according to what type of oven you own. I like to place my buns on the stove top so the heat helps them rise even more.

8. When doubled in size, beat up an egg and brush the bunswith the egg wash. Sprinkle over the pearl sugar if using – I tend to do halfwith the sugar, half without. Then bake in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. Do keep an eye on them – ovens, as we know, are notoriously fickle bastards. Then let cool for bit under a tea towel, before gleefully stuffing your face.

These are best eaten warm and oven fresh, but as I said, they freeze well. Just defrost them and heat through in the oven at about 150C for about five minutes. You could also nuke them in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so but they won’t be quite as nice.