Wednesday 28 November 2012

Where my cookbooks live

Today was a MOST traumatic day which I'd been dreading for weeks: it was finally time to choose another unfortunate cookbook from the "A-Team" (the prime-time three-shelf location in the kitchen) to be relegated to the "Second Division" (the poor cousin's inferior bookshelves upstairs). It really upsets me to have to "make the cut" once in a while as I feel I'm saying a tearful good-bye to a treasured long-time companion, but I couldn't put it off any longer - the A-Teamers were simply bursting at their seams and threatening to take the whole structure down (wine rack and all...). So, with regret, this time it was Angela Hartnett's "A Taste of Home" which was fired (nice-enough but ultimately boring). But to make the shameful transition less painful, I've placed her between fellow Great British Chef contestant Shaun Hill's "The Merchant House" (wonderful but simply too cheffy for the pole position) and fellow Italian Valentina Harris' "Recipes from an Italian Terrace" (again, too boring). (Unfortunately, though, Angela now finds herself on the shelf above the collected works of her former mentor Gordon Ramsay (terrific, but not for day-to-day use) which are still kicking up a vicious rant each and every day for being "dissed" - they're "F****ING FURIOUS MATE!")

There are some books, however, that I could NEVER banish from the top spot - carrying them upstairs would be the equivalent of carrying a most-loved, respected and revered grandparent to a remote mountain and leaving them there to die... so - these are the works of:

Nigel Slater - his greedy passion for food - and his "passionate" writing style - are simply second to none: he's been one of my (and fellow foodies') biggest kitchen heroes for 20 years. (I remember a Brussels dinner party in the mid-90s were everyone was cooing: "Oh, is this one of Nigel's?" "Aah - Nigel's come up trumps again!" "Yes, you just can't beat Nigel!" to which the (visiting) brother of the hostess inquired brightly: "So who is this Nigel friend of yours then - does he live in Brussels too?" Cue sheepish muttering...) 

Jamie Oliver - do I need to say ANYTHING?

Bill Granger - this Australian chef is another food hero of mine. His cooking is simply wonderful: inspired, innovative and experimental - but above all uncomplicated and simple.

Peter Gordon I so adore this New Zealand chef (and founder of London's legendary "The Sugar Club" and “The Providores” restaurants): He is the king of vibrant Pacific Rim flavours which are easily accessible to the home cook.

So, that's it for me today - I just looked in on Angela and she's settling in ok. (She IS giving me the dirty eye though...) But which cookbooks have prime position on your bookshelves – and why? I'd love to hear from you! 

Saturday 24 November 2012

Char siu pork...

... and Szechuan pepper salad

For yesterday's dinner I made one of my all-time favourite easy and quick meals which I've been dishing up for years - and which never fails to delight in all its Chinese(y) glory: aromatic and sticky-sweet pork accompanied by a sour-spicy salad... heaven on a plate!

500g pork loin
a thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
1 large garlic clove, crushed
2 tbs Hoisin sauce
2 tbs dark soy sauce
2 tbs honey
1 tsp five-spice powder
2 tsp light soft brown sugar

1 cucumber
1 bunch of spring onions
1 handful of chopped coriander (leaves and stems)
1 handful of chopped mint leaves
juice of 1 lime
1 tbs fish sauce 
1 tsp crushed Szechuan peppercorns
1 scant ts sesame oil

Preheat the oven to 200°.
Whisk the marinade ingredients together.
Put the pork in a ziplock bag and pour the marinade over.
Close and massage the mixture into the meat. (Ideally, leave to marinade for at least 2 hours or overnight - but it is still absolutely delicious if used straight away.)
Put a large piece of tin foil into a suitably-sized roasting dish. Add the meat and the marinade and then fold/scrunch up the tin foil to make a parcel/pouch.
Cook for ca 30 mins - it's done when a metal skewer inserted into the thickest part comes out hot to the touch.
When done, rest the covered meat while you reduce the cooking juices in a pan until they're thickened.

For the salad, simply peel and deseed the cucumber and cut into thin half moon slices.
Cut the spring onions into rings. Add the herbs.
Whisk all the remaining ingredients together and mix with the salad.

This dish is supposed to feed 4 - but in our house (even with added rice) there's only ever just enough for two adults and one child!
I buy all my Chinese spices from Kam Yuen Supermarket off Bvd Ansbach/opposite the Bourse - it's also brilliant for Indian spices.

Saturday 17 November 2012

Bargain Hunter's Game Delight - at Lidl

My first post-holiday trip to Lidl has left me with a bulging bag of goodies - all in "the name of  the game"! I am most excited about the two 500g packs of wild boar stewing meat - fantastic value at €6.99 per half kilo. (During the holidays they were even on offer for €5.99!) Next new and impressive item was a 600g bag of frozen wild mushrooms - for €3.69! (They also do 300g bags of ceps or chanterelles for the same price.) I wouldn't dream of buying frozen white mushrooms, but these were amazing: heady with their musky, woody aroma, meaty - and they retained their shape and texture brilliantly after being sweated off.

I also couldn't resist 250g of wild boar pate with cognac - an absolute steal at €1.99. And just to push the boat out, I bought a 150g jar of red fruit confit for €1.59 as well - and a big round (360g) of lovely fromage de brebis coated in thyme and rosemary (€ 5.99). With these items I could easily serve a four-course "game meal" (pate, mushrooms, wild boar stew, cheese) for six for under €5 per head (that sum would include a bit of salad, bread + potatoes)!

After looking through loads of lovely wild boar casserole recipes I came up with this Belgian beer version (to serve 6) which is absolutely stunning. And as wild boar is obviously not that easy to come by and usually much more expensive (but please DO check your local (British/French/German) Lidl branches for offers!) this would work nicely with venison - and beef or lamb:

1 kg of cubed wild boar (quite big pieces ie 5 cm)
2 tbs of seasoned flour
3 medium onions, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
300g of wild mushrooms, chopped/sliced roughly*
2 cloves
2 bay leaves
1 tsp of thyme (dried)
250 ml of dark beer/ale/biere brun
400 ml of beef stock (from a cube)
4 tbs of vegetable oil

3 tbs each of:
creme fraiche
red fruit jam/jelly (not strawberry or raspberry though)

Preheat the oven to °160.
Put the meat in a large ziplock bag with seasoning and mix well to coat.
Heat 1 tbs of oil and sweat off the onions and garlic. Transfer to a large casserole dish.
Heat another tbs of oil and sweat off the mushrooms (if using frozen ones, there will be a bit more liquid - but it all evaporates in a few minutes). Add to the onion mix.
Heat the rest of the oil and brown the meat. Deglaze the pan with the stock, stirring to loosen all the lovely "brown  bits". Add to the casserole together with the stock, beer and herbs/spices and seasoning.
Bring to the boil, cover with the lid and transfer to the oven.
Cook for 2 hours. Check the meat - it should be tender. If not, cook for another 30 mins.
Add the jam, creme fraiche and cognac and stir to combine. Check seasoning.

Serve with mashed potatoes.

* You can, of course, use normal mushrooms - but ideally jazzed up with a few (soaked) dried mushrooms for extra flavour (use the soaking liquid for the stock!) Aldi do a great value 100g of mixed wild ones for under 4 Euro.

Yesterday I added a leftover large parsnip and a chunk of celeriac (boiled together) to the potatoes - lovely!

Saturday 10 November 2012

A kinda Mexican supper

I've always been obsessed with Mexican food - mainly because, until recently, I've never had "the real thing": in my years in the UK there were only horrid Tex-Mex chain restaurants - a travesty of chicken goop and nachos smothered with fluorescent yellow cheese - only "helped down" by copious jugs of margaritas... There was a welcome respite though during a trip to California: we had the most gorgeous, fresh burritos in a student café in Height-Ashbury/San Francisco and in a surfers' shack outside San Diego.  But we were very disappointed when we ventured south to Ensenada - although that was our fault as you really can't expect genuine Mexican food in this touristy border town... And I haven't been very lucky in Brussels either - there is a take-away that American friends swear by (but you have to order a week in advance and so far I've always chosen "unwisely"....). But while in London two weeks ago we went to a branch of Thomasina Miers' wonderful Wahaca restaurants which has restored my faith in this brilliant cuisine: spicy slow-cooked pork tostadas, velvety vegetarian tortillas, crispy chicken taquitos - YUMMEE!

And at home, my version of chicken burritos is unashamedly "non-authentic" in every shape or form - but it is extremely delicious and the whole family adores it (it's evolved/adapted from a recipe by the great Australian chef Bill Granger):

a large bunch of coriander (leaves and stems)
2 tsps paprika (I use the sweet smoked variety)
1 tsp cumin
zest of a lime
3 tbs olive oil
black pepper and salt
red chili, seeded and chopped (to your taste)
750g chicken (breast or thigh), chopped into bite-sized chunks

With a food processor whizz up all the ingredients except the chicken into a rough paste. Mix thoroughly with the meat and leave to marinate (up to a few hours).

Heat a non-stick frying pan over high heat and fry off the chicken pieces (you might have to do them in batches).

Serves four.

Tomato salsa:
5 - 6 tomatoes, deseeded and cut into small dice
1/2 cucumber, deseeded and cut into small dice
a small red onion, cut into small dice
juice of 1/2 lemon

Combine all ingredients.

Black bean salsa (based on a Thomasina Miers recipe):
100g dried black beans (or 1 400g tin)
a small tin (140g) of sweetcorn, drained
a bunch of spring onions, finely sliced

1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
juice of 1/2 a lime
a generous pinch of cumin
2 tbs olive oil

Soak the black beans overnight in water. Drain and add an onion, a few cloves of garlic and a few bay leaves. Cover with  at least 10cm of water and bring to the boil. Simmer for at least 2 1/2 hours until just soft, topping up with water if needed - then drain.

Mix with the rest of the ingredients, whizz up the dressing and stir into the salsa.

To assemble:
8 tortillas, heated in a non-stick frying pan for ca 15 secs on each side
8 taco shells, heated as per instructions (I use the microwave...)
a cup of thick plain yogurt or soured cream
a small handful of chopped coriander (stems and leaves)

You can also use white fish (cut into strips) instead of chicken.

I hadn't found tinned black beans in Belgium yet - but have just been told by a friend that Pueblo Latino in 1030 Brussels (St.Gilles) sell them! And all the Turkish and Morocccan supermarket/grocers sell dried ones.

If you forget to soak your dried beans overnight, you can boil them in the water vigorously for 10 mins, then leave to soak for a few hours. Then boil until just soft (which will be ca 30 mins longer with this process).

Monday 5 November 2012

An ode to Lakeland Plastics

Before regular cooking commences tomorrow, I HAVE to let you know that, last week in the UK, I was finally able - after a far too long exile - to pray at the altar of Lakeland Plastics again!! For the uninitiated, Lakeland ( is "the home of creative kitchenware" where one can find the latest and most useful utensils, gadgets and appliances: stepping into one of their stores is like entering an Aladdin's Cave of "shiny things" that one didn't even know existed - but simply has to have NOW! So here's my haul:

  • 3 clip-shut storage boxes (buy 2 get 1 free)
  • 25 sealing clips (I use those for EVERYTHING)
  • oven gloves made from Kevlar (SO brilliant - my old ones lasted 10 years)
  • miniature whisk (free with the 3 storage boxes)
  • 15cm paring knife (can't have too many knives!)
  • OXO 500ml angled measuring jug (I also have the small 60ml one)
  • fizz keeper for "pop bottles" (this one is really for me - not the kids)
  • julienne peeler (perfect for my Japanese/Asian salads and/or decorations - AND only £2.99)
  • stopper for champagne/Sekt/sparkly (REALLY works - even for a few days)
  • fruit&veg fridge cushion - no more "moulding" (fingers crossed on that one...)
  • microwave saucepan - WITH integrated strainer!
  • OXO flexible omelette/pancake turner - perfect action
  • 10 4cm high stackable boxes (simply the best - I "lost" my last one recently)

What I forgot to buy:

  • non-slip silicone pastry mat (62x42cm) - perfect for kneading and rolling dough/pastry (I inherited my old one from my mother, but after 40 years of use it is sadly no longer in top condition)

But here are some items that I DIDN'T buy:

  • The "Bag Master": a contraption for "filling freezer bags easily" £6.99 (I'll just pop them in a high jug as before...)
  • The "Banana Guard: no more bruising!" £5.49 (I thought they already came in a "peely guard"??)
  • Electric Plate Warmer £34.99 (my husbands covets this one, I don't - sorry!)