Meaty, Beaty, Big And Bouncy

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On a weekend when I’m not working, I love to spend time in the kitchen coming up with a slow-cooked stew or casserole. Something with a bit of improv behind it. Jazz cooking. If it uses up some bits and bobs that are looking a bit sad in the fridge, then so much the better. Yesterday’s pot of love was a fine example of the form, so I thought I should share.

Start off with some chunked-up chorizo and lamb mince in a hot pan. I always use my deep saute pan for this sort of thing. It’s got a lid, and the all-metal build means it’ll happily go in the oven. We bought it with some of our wedding money, and it shows no signs of tiredness. Unlike it’s owner. I digress.

The chorizo and lamb will exude their own oil, so once they’re hot and sizzling, decant them to a warm bowl and use that paprika-spiked bounty to cook the veg. In this case, the cajun trinity of onion, celery and green pepper. I usually add some carrots to this as well. Give it five minutes. If you don’t have a beer or a glass of wine in hand by now, go pour yourself one. You’ve done some chopping. You deserve it.

Once the veg have softened a bit and taken on some colour, throw the meat back in, along with a couple of cloves of garlic and the slightly over-done sausage that was left over from breakfast. Let everything get acquainted. Now add a can of mixed beans (usually called three-bean salad or something like that) that’s been drained. After that, tomatoes. A good and lazy tip is to use a posh tomatoey pasta sauce instead. Most of the TV chefs do them, and they’re a good storecupboard standby. The supermarket/ Finest/Best/Taste The Difference ranges are all worth exploring too. I used one with cherry tomatoes and a hint of chilli. It was a very subtle hint. Too subtle for my liking, so I threw in a couple of my dried chilis, pierced but otherwise left whole so I could fish them out when everything was singing from the same hymn sheet.

The mix is smelling great, but it’s pretty dry, so I let it down with some chicken stock. I make my own, but a stock cube is fine. Just watch the salt. About half a pint, I reckon. Hard to tell. It was in a ziploc bag. Enough to cover the meat and veg, anyway.

Let that bubble gently for half an hour with the lid on, then half an hour with the lid off until the stew has thickened to your liking. Taste a few times along the way, and season as you feel the need. Keep an eye on those chilis. Crank up the music. Have another glass. If the weather’s anything like it was yesterday, watch the rain hammering the roof of the conservatory, and listen to the thunder.

When your stew is thick and glossy and delicious looking, fish out the chilis and serve over rice, and a freezer-burned peshwari naan if one happens to be kicking around. TLC thinks they’d be nice with some fruit and yoghurt, and who am I to argue with a girl that’s officially twice as smart as I am? I should have garnished it with some lovage from the herb patch, but buggered if I was going out in that weather.

If you’re lucky, clever and not too greedy, there’s enough stew left over for your dinner tomorrow too. Sometimes, improv is the way to go.

The soundtrack for the meal should really be the OST to season one of Treme. Lots of groovy N’Awlins jazziness. Perfect when you’re cooking up a storm. Or in a storm.

The Green Stuff

Many people extol the virtues of red sauce. Others prefer their sauces brown. I’ve always been partial to a spot of green.

This is the stuff that you can’t get in bottles. The best name for it is the Spanish shorthand – salsa verde. Unlike your red or brown condiments, this sauce doesn’t have a secret recipe handed down from father to son, locked in a safe somewhere. It’s an open source, open to interpretation kind of a deal. It also doesn’t last that long – certainly never long enough to form a crust round the top of the bottle. But as it takes so little time to whip up, that’s not such a big deal.

In basic terms, salsa verde is a herb and oil suspension, livened up with lemon juice and salt. You need a blender or mixer with a bit of grunt to it, unless you’re feeling prehistoric and prefer pounding your food into submission in a mortar and pestle. Which’ll work fine, but you know, 21st century and all that, the machines are our friends.

Green, leafy herbs are the order of the day. My preference is for lots of parsley, mint, basil and fennel or dill. My salsas are heavy on the fennel nowadays as I have a monster of a plant in the herb patch and I have to tame the bugger somehow.

Get yourself a decent handful of fennel and flat-leaf parsley, and about half as much basil and mint. Blitz, along with a few cloves of garlic, then pour in olive oil until you have something with a decently sloppy but spoonable consistency. Add the juice of a lemon, and some salt. You’ll probably need more than you think of each. I’ve taken to throwing in a couple of preserved lemons instead, which do the job in one hit. Taste, and taste again. You want something loud, tart and green, sharp and bright and grassy as the first sip of a gin and tonic on a hot summer day.

Fish and chicken are perfect for this stuff, although I’ve dolloped it on a burger with good effect. In fact, most barbecued meats will snuggle up happily to the salsa. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days, although it will thicken up. Once it’s at that stage, stir it into mayo, yoghurt or sour cream to keep the salsa useful as a chippy dip, or a creamy side for lamb chops. In short, this is my go-to accompaniment for the warm months, and one of my principal reasons for growing herbs. A spoonful of summer.

The Friday Fotos: What’s your pleasure?

This board is by the bar of the Eagle and Child in Oxford. There are better pubs in the town, but few with such impeccable geek credentials. Snag one of the snugs at the front, and you’ll be sorted.


This is the display over the bar at The Harp near Charing Cross, which recently won the coveted Camra Best Pub award. Their selection is always impeccably chosen, and swiftly served. But boy, does it get busy on a Friday night. I recommend Dark Star’s Hophead for these warm summer evenings, and they do a great pint (or two) of it at the Harp.


And this is the ceiling of the Hobgoblin in Reading. This is a gem, with a tiny bar that opens out into a labyrinth of woody snugs, scarred with decades of graffiti, love poetry and dirty jokes. Some of the best beer in the Ding can be found right here.




The Food Feeds You Should Be Watching On Youtube

The Internet is an unending fount of goodness for the curious chef. Although I have certain favourite cookery books I go back to again and again, I will often dive onto the web if I simply need a recipe for blueberry muffins or a decent quick flatbread. My netback has become as essential as good knives and pans in my kitchen.

On my travels I’ve found several YouTube feeds that balance instructability and deliciousosity in a most entertainifying fashion. I would like to share those feeds with you.

First up, Epic Meal Time. The brainchild of a group of extremely hungry Canadians, the aim of the site is to create the most calorific food on the planet, and then eat it so we don’t have to. Bacon features heavily. Very heavily.

For something a little lighter, perhaps you should try My Drunk Kitchen. Hannah Hart teaches you the basics of late night cookery while blasted on red wine. This is an essential for those of you, like me, who were heavily influenced by Keith Floyd at a formative stage of their kitchen lives.

A new addition to the oeuvre, and the prizewinner for doing exactly what you’d expect in a four word title, is Vegan Black Metal Chef. His detail-oriented approach, coupled with a crushing riff and death grunt or two make the show the ideal place to help you polish your vegan pad Thai-fu. Just the one ep so far, but I’m eager for more.

You can see how healthy the internet cooking scene is. Any favourites I should know about, Readership?

A Flavour Of Spring

As the weather becomes kinder, I’m finding more excuses to get out into the garden. An unfocused potter, pulling weeds, listening to birdsong, can be useful to clear the head. And, more importantly, to stimulate thoughts of dinner.
The new early spuds are sprouting nicely, which should start to reward us in a month or so. The cauliflower I planted has succumbed to the evil that slugs do, but some of the Italian lettuce I sowed in its stead is ready for picking and eating. Garlic and shallots are waving their flags bravely.
Our herb patch looks magnificent. I mean look at it.


The furry stuff is fennel. We’re both big fans of the sweet aniseed flavour. I love the purple of the seed heads on the chives. Underneath, a lowgrowing oregano, which looked very sickly last winter, has carpeted the ground keeping those darn weeds at bay.

There seem to be a lot of bees around this spring too. Next door have a nest in their roofspace, and every so often they’ll spill out of an air brick and swarm. They sound like a B52 going overhead. That’s a bit unnerving, but in small doses the little fellers are charming. They’re welcome in our herb patch any time.


Five Signs That You Cook Like A Grown-Up

You’re going to disagree with some of these. That’s fine. The joy of cooking is that you do things differently to the way I’d do them, and the results will be equally delicious. I might think that the way you throw spaghetti at the wall to see if it’s done is a bit silly, but hey, if your spaghetti is al dente, then I won’t complain.

Continue reading Five Signs That You Cook Like A Grown-Up

Fodderblog – a fresh sauce for spring

This is kind of a sauce, kind of a condiment, kind of an accompiment. But it’s all great.

Mix half a cup of creme fraiche with half a cup of yoghurt. Then add a big handful of finely-chopped chives, and about three-quarters of that amount of either fennel tops or dill. A pinch of salt. That’s it.

I’m trying to keep the measurements a bit vague so you can scale it up and down to meet your own needs. The amounts above will give you enough for two, with enough for leftovers afterwards. As long as you keep to half and half yog and creme for a spoonably thick texture, and enough greenery to make it interesting, you could make enough to feed an army.

Tweak it if you like. Don’t got fennel or dill? Maybe some parsley or chervil. Perhaps a little cucumber might be nice to make it more of a salsa.

Goes great with chicken, grilled fish, on a burger or steak, hell, I dunno. It’s your dinner. I’m just trying to help you out a little here.

The Sunday Lao Tzu: Sowing The Seeds

He who obtains has little. He who scatters has much.

It’s a day for planting. The early garlic and shallots that I put into the ground last month will be joined in my little plot today by potatoes, cauliflower and salad crops. I am no gardener. But I enjoy the idea of a deal where a tiny amount of work can be rewarded with fresh food. Esoteric salad leaves in particular are cheap in seed form, easy to grow and infinitely preferable to supermarket pillow packs. A herb patch will give and keep on giving.

A little love now will mean I can harvest great rewards in a couple of months. And planting is a calm and meditative way to spend a Sunday morning. I wonder if Master Lao was a gardener. I like to think that he was.


Fodderblog: A New Way With Salmon And Broccoli

It’s one of those classic combinations. I love salmon and broccoli in fishcakes and as part of a quiche filling. But sometimes it’s nice to separate the ingredients out, and give them a chance to compliment each other in a different way.

I’ll admit, this is a slightly odd mix, with Italian playing against Chinese flavours. But it works well, and it’s a lively and springtimey meal.

Start off with a couple of decent-sized salmon fillets. Coat them in a goodly dollop of pesto, and then roll each fillet in breadcrumbs. (There is no reason not to have breadcrumbs in the freezer. It’s the best way of using up stale bread. Blitz or grate the end bits that would just go in the bin otherwise, and bag ’em up. Easys.) You won’t get an even coating, but you need enough to give a light crunch. Alternatively, splodge pesto on top and press on a palmful of crumbs for a denser, more crispy finish.

Pop the fillets onto a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper, and into a hot oven (200C, Gas 6) for 20 mins.

While they’re doing, steam some purple sprouting or tenderstem broccoli, for about ten minutes. The greens should take the point of a knife without any resistance, but should still be, you know, green. Once done, let the broccoli cool slightly, before mixing it with something salady – pea tops would be ideal, or some young watercress. The salad will soften slightly in the heat from the broccoli. That’s the plan, and why you need a robust salad leaf.

Then dress the greenery. Make up a basic vinegrette (three parts oil, one part vinegar. I used cider vinegar, because it was to hand. Lemon juice would be nice, I think). Then a little soy sauce for salty umaminess, which you might need to balance with a bit more acid. Taste, and taste again until you’ve got a flavour that works. This goes over the broccoli and salad, enough to add a shine. Don’t go nuts.

Pile the greens onto two plates, and top with the sizzling fish from the oven. Any spare dressing can go on the side.

It’s light, but fresh-tasting and full of flavour. You can bulk it out if you like with some new potatoes or rice, but I think it’s perfect as is. Save room for some cake afterwards, instead.