Dukka: party food par excellence

The weather is changing, my heart is lifting with it and my thoughts are turning to entertaining. Well, actually, they’ve already turned that way since I had my London Loop companions round last night and some of my Antic Disposition chums round two weeks ago. I suppose what I mean is that I’ve started thinking more about things to nibble with drinks on a terrace in the sunshine…and dukka (sometimes spelt dukkah) is one of the simplest yet most satisfying. It will transport you to another country even when you are still in N7. Continue reading

Posted in Food for friends, One pot, Party recipes, RIver Cottage Everyday, Salsa and sauce recipes, Vegetarian recipes, Wheat-free | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Smitten Kitchen’s lemon bars

Do you remember school dinners? Do you remember your favourites? Or, perhaps, like me, your least favourites were more memorable?

I, for one, have never been able to eat jam, or most gelatinous things like honey or jelly, after being force-fed it in my first week of infants school. For a whole hour I inched my way through a bowl of custard with jam, banned from leaving the table to go out into the playground by two monsters who said I had to finish it despite hating the stuff. The monsters were, of course, 7-year-old dinner monitors. It is one of my earliest memories and not one I cherish.

I also have a bit of an aversion to lemon meringue pie which most of my schoolmates loved. That combination of claggy meringue and over-sweet lemonyness has never won me over, yet I love lemon. So when I saw what sounded like a perfect lemon shortbread bar in Deb Perelman’s The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook I was won over by the simplicity of the recipe but wary of the result. It sounded a bit too close to lemon meringue pie, but with shortbread. And inverted. Okay, not that close but you know what I mean. However, the recipe was incredibly simple and I had a surfeit of lemons so, in the interests of research and wanting something to cheer me up everyday around 4pm, I went for it. Worse case scenario I could take them to the office and give them away. Continue reading

Posted in Biscuits and small cakes, Lemon recipes, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Polpetto’s kale with almonds and shallots

If there is such a thing as the restaurant or restaurateur of the ‘moment’ in London then Polpo, and particularly Russell Norman, must be it. Right now, not only are they opening new branches and a new pub but Mr Norman himself is proving (or so I’m told; haven’t got past downloading it…) that food television doesn’t have to be all shouty-shouty, testosterone meanness, but can be considered, calm and constructive. Continue reading

Posted in Vegetarian recipes, Wheat-free, Winter vegetables | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

An early spring clean and an old favourite…chicken

Spring cleaning comes early in my home. By the time February is on us, I have usually been through my clothes and books and am itching to find something else to chuck out and/or re-organise. This year, it was the cookery books in the kitchen.

I had become a little tired of my old favourites, the ones that had been staring at me above the cooker for the last year or two. Nigel, Nigella, Bill and Delia were looking pretty tired too and, so, after I’d packaged up an amp and DVD player that were occupying valuable cookery book space in the living room, I took everything off the kitchen shelves and started again. Within an hour I’d cleared all three and rearranged them. Smug? I was the queen of smug, full of new ideas about what I’d be cooking once I’d finished cleaning.

Oh smug, how I regretted you later. What was the next task on my spring-cleaning list? Giving the kitchen sink a blast of caustic soda, as recommended to me by my usually brilliant DIY shop round the corner, to remove whatever was making it run slow. (The plumber, you see, had been unavoidably held up by an armed robbery…) Down it went, down went heaps of boiling water, up came a sinkful of truly disgusting brown water. Which then proceeded to sit very, very still. Continue reading

Posted in Appetite, Chicken recipes, One pot, Wheat-free | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Thomasina Miers’s chorizo, potato and thyme quesadillas

It took me a long time to get into Mexican food. As a student my distinct memory was of acres of chilli con carne and dried-up refried beans; not the most appetising combination. Then in the States, home to some of the best Mexican food outside Mexico, I spent more time drooling over the local crab cakes in Maryland and discovering how gorgeous and affordable sushi could be; in fact, I don’t remember ever eating Mexican food, though I’m sure I must have done. And, here, in London though I have had many a drunken night in La Perla, the thing I recall most (or don’t…) is the margaritas.

So, when a friend suggested eating at Wahaca over a year ago, I wasn’t enthralled at the prospect. But, knowing that she was both fussy and knowledgeable, I went with her recommendation. We went to the Southbank branch, a conglomeration of shipping containers, which, though irritatingly hard to get into (I tried on a wet February Wednesday last week; the wait was 90 minutes…), is, I discovered, bloody marvellous and relatively reasonably priced too. Continue reading

Posted in Mexican Food Made Simple, Pork recipes, Thomasina Miers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fuchsia Dunlop’s red-braised pork recipe

Possibly one of the most embarrassing conversations I ever had was about Chinese food at a Society of Authors‘ ‘young’ (i.e. under 40…) drinks party.

I was talking to someone I had just met and bitching about how Time Out‘s Chinese restaurant reviewer kept encouraging readers to ask for the non-English menu, for the one in, er, I think she said Mandarin, in London’s Chinese restaurants. ‘I mean,’ I said, (me, not knowing anything about it…), ‘how many people, apart from the reviewer, can really order from a menu in Chinese?’ ‘Ah,’ she said, nodding and smiling, ‘I wrote that.’ It was, of course, Fuchsia Dunlop. Reader, the place was packed (all those authors still inspired by ‘youth’ who had not yet given up…) so there was nowhere to run and hide my embarrassment.

We became friends afterwards, for a while, before losing touch, but I still remember her absolute non-phased candour and politeness at my downright dismissiveness. She was totally focused on why she’d written it: to encourage a nation brought up on sticky sweet pork and overcooked Peking duck to branch out and try a cuisine that, for the most part, was barely known in its authentic form in the UK.

Since that meeting which was, I think, in 2005, Fuchsia has published several books, acted as a consultant to the marvellous Bar Shu, won awards and appeared on TV, amongst many other brilliant things. It’s doubtful you’d find her in the pages of Time Out anymore.

But, as far as I am concerned, she is still doing exactly what she did that night: educating and inspiring the dunces like me about Chinese food in a completely open and non-patronising way. I recently bought Every Grain of Rice, her most accessible cookery book, and, if you like Chinese food, really really good Chinese food, I can’t recommend it to you highly enough. Continue reading

Posted in Every Grain of Rice, One pot, Pork recipes | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Winter tabbouleh recipe, via Moro and me

Living in N7 can be a mixed blessing. You can, for example, buy the above haul of vegetables for less than £9. However, you may have to dodge the people shopping in wet pink slippers to do so.

But I love that pomegranates (2 for £1), white curly kale (£1.49) and Savoy cabbage (65p) are available for everyone, not just the likes of me. Vegetables here are cheap, whether British, Turkish or Cypriot, and it makes cooking and recipe planning a real delight. There are very few things I can’t buy within a five-minute walk.

Having said that, there is nothing I like less than a recipe that has heaps of impossible-to-find or essential ingredients. First, I can’t blog about something that requires jaguars’ earlobes since no one else will be able to buy them; second, I want the recipe to be forgiving enough not to be useless without something or other. Okay, that last bit within reason, obviously, but I still think it’s much more important to be able to get the gist of a flavour and technique rather than the exact effect. For a start you’re less hung up on getting it right.

So, for example, although I started craving this Moro winter tabbouleh last week, I wasn’t stupid enough to think I would be able to recreate it exactly. I just wanted that raw cauliflower (bear with me…), pomegranate and herb combination, a sense that winter isn’t all greens and potatoes. Or doesn’t have to be. And once I decided to make it, there it was, one Google search later. God I love the internet.

Continue reading

Posted in One pot, Vegetarian recipes, Wheat-free, Winter vegetables | Tagged , , | Leave a comment