Friday, 25 May 2012

Chilli con Carne

Despite popular belief, chilli con carne with kidney beans is a British concoction, not American . In the States they do make chilli, and take the whole business very seriously, but the beans are served alongside. Rice as a side dish is also a British thing, saltine crackers seem to be the typical accompaniment in the US.

Bad chilli con carne seems to be almost expected- it's student food, or greasy pub food, but there's no reason for this to be the case. Well made, it's delicious, warming and comforting. I use Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's recipe with little variation. It's never failed me. In his recipe, he suggests making a rich tomato sauce by reducing some tinned tomatoes with garlic until pulpy. I used to do that, but now I just add the tinned tomatoes straight from the can, and cook the chilli for longer, on the lowest possible heat. Both methods work, I just prefer to avoid the extra washing up.

Chilli with sour cream and cornbread

Olive oil, for frying
 1kg minced beef
750g pork shoulder or similar cut, cut into 2cm cubes
500g chorizo, cut into 1 cm cubes
2 400g tins of kidney beans, drained, or 200g dried kidney beans, soaked overnight
2 onions, peeled and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
800g tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 tsp cumin
chilli powder, to taste. Start with about a tbsp, and increase accordingly
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
1 tsp good quality cocoa
pinch brown sugar
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
750 ml pork or beef stock, or kidney bean cooking water

If you are using dried beans, drain them from the soaking liquid, and put in a saucepan. Cover with fresh water- about twice the volume of the beans. Bring to the boil, and boil hard for at least 10 minutes. Boiling kills the toxins in the beans, so don't miss this stage out. Turn the heat down to low and cook until the beans are soft, and not at all chalky. Retain the cooking water if you don't have any stock.

Heat a tablespooon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Brown the meats in batches, over a high heat. You will probably need to add more oil to the frying pan. Once a frying panful is done, transfer the contents to a casserole or heavy bottomed saucepan, something that is large enough to hold everything. Cook the onions and garlic in the same frying pan as the meat, over a lower heat, until softened. Add these to the casserole.

Add the remaining ingredients to the casserole, giving it a good stir. Put the pot on over a low heat, partially covered. Cook for at least two hours. Season-salt, pepper, and possibly Tabasco.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Jungle Curry Paste

 The hottest of all Thai curries. Recipe for jungle curry to follow.

10-15 dried thai chillies
6 cloves of garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1 shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tsp shrimp paste
2 tsp chopped lemongrass
4 kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp freshly ground black pepper
flavourless oil, such as vegetable or sunflower

Put all the ingredients in a food processor, except for the oil. Slowly add the oil to the mix while the processor is running, enough to bring the rest of the ingredients together to a smooth paste.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Halloumi and Spicy Sausage Flatbread

Easier to make then pizza and just as tasty. Good for something to nibble on while watching a film or with drinks. Next day leftovers reheat well with one minute in the microwave.

Makes 2 Flatbreads
For the base

500g strong white bread flour
1 tsp salt
1 sachet yeast (3 tsp)
4 tbsp Greek yogurt
2 tbsp olive oil
approx 350ml lukewarm water
For the topping
1 egg, beaten with a tsp of yogurt and a tsp cold water
handful of chopped thyme leaves
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
half a packet of halloumi, thinly sliced
150g spicy salami/ sausage/ chorizo, diced

Mix together the flour, salt and yeast. Beat together the yogurt, oil and water- it will separate, but just mix it up to get rid of the lumps of yogurt. Pour into the dry ingredients, and mix to a dough. Knead, adding more flour or water as required to make a smooth, soft dough. Keep kneading until the dough feels elastic. Form into a ball, and cover with a tea towel. Leave for about an hour, until it has doubled in size.

After the first prove, punc. h the dough down to remove the air (very satisfying). Let it sit for 10 minutes. In the meantime, line 2 baking sheets with some baking paper, or flour generously. Preheat the oven to 200COn a floured surface, roll out half the dough in a rough oval shape (my aesthetic preference) about 5mm thick. Transfer this to a prepared baking sheet, and repeat with the second half of the dough. Brush the egg-yogurt mix over both the bread bases, sprinkle over the thyme. Evenly distribute the toppings over the two unbaked flatbreads, then place in the oven and bake for 10-15 minutes until they are golden and puffy.

Monday, 14 May 2012

Tomato and Basil Sauce

Tomato and basil sauce for pasta is about as far as you can get from ground breaking but my aim is to build up a comprehensive collection of recipes on my blog which are accessible, rather than a Blumenthal-esque towers-of-soup-recipe blog. I sometimes find myself trying a bit too hard to innovate,. and it's times like these I need something classic to remind myself that simple does not have to mean boring.

A decent tomato sauce is not at all difficult, and very useful. You can use it as the base for other dishes- pizza sauce, the lubrication for meatballs and pasta. It's cheap to make and is pretty non-threatening to children who are fussy eaters (though the basil might be a bit too green).

1 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
800g tinned tomatoes
Good lump of unsalted butter
pinch sugar (if needed)
Basil leaves, a good handful.

In a heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the onion until softened in the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute. Once the garlic has release its scent, add the tin of tomatoes. Turn up the heat to medium high, and let it bubble away until thick and pulpy.Stir from time to time, otherwise the bottom will burn. Season with salt and pepper, and some sugar if you think it needs it (I often do). You can add the pepper before this stage, but not the sugar or salt- after reducing it down the flavour will taste too concentrated, so wait until you reach the consistency you like. Stir in a big lump of butter, letting it melt in the residual heat. Just before serving, stir in the basil leaves, torn up roughly with your hands.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Nigella's Cornbread

175g cornmeal
125g plain flour 
45 g sugar 
1 fat pinch of salt
 1 tbsp baking powder
 1 egg 
45 g melted butter  
250 ml full fat milk 

Preheat the oven to 200C, grease a square tin, or other suitable receptacle. I used a 20cm cake tin for the cornbread in the picture. Beat the egg into the melted butter along with the milk. Stir in the dry ingredients, just enough to combine. Don't worry if it is a bit lumpy. Scrape into the tin and bake for about 20 minutes, until it is a deeper golden shade and pulling away from the sides slightly.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Xiangqi Birthday Cake

Jane Asher cake decoration isn't my thing- I can't draw in pen, let alone in icing. Sometimes I forget this on the run up to birthdays and attempt to make cakes that look like something that isn't a cake, and it ends badly. Last week I had the idea of making a board game themed cake for a friend who collects board games.  As is usual, I thought of all sorts of impossible (for me) ideas. Once the mini-madness passed, I settled on decorating a cake like the red general piece from xiangqi- Chinese chess, using chocolate drops instead of icing. Much more do-able, and it made me feel ever so competent.
The cake recipe I used was this one. This is THE chocolate cake, I rarely make any other. I upped the coffee very slightly to suit the birthday girl's tastes a little more- she's a more sophisticated person than myself.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Albalu Polo- Iranian Lamb and Sour Cherry Pilau

I love reading about and cooking Middle Eastern food, in particular Iranian. My recipe book collection has a high proportion of books about food from this part of the world. Unfortunately I am about as far as I could be from my books, but I do have a mental catalogue of the dishes I want to cook. This sour cherry dish is one of them.

I've never seen fresh sour cherries on sale- not only are they not commonly grown, they have a limited season. However, I've used bottled sour or Morello cherries with good results. With regard to the lamb, I’ve used both shoulder and leg in this type of dish, and I definitely prefer shoulder. The quantity of meat is pretty frugal for Western diets, if it bothers you, increase the quantity of lamb.

Now for the most important element- the rice. Cooking rice is a serious business in Iran, alongside bread it is their staple food. The Iranians don't export their superior rice varieties, but keep it in the country. Rice dishes from Iran can be grouped into three types, characterised by the cooking method:

Kateh- simply cooked in salted water with butter

Damy- Similar to the above, but other ingredients are stirred into the rice before cooking, such as lentils

Polo-This is the method used in the recipe below, and the tastiest. You soak the rice for at least an hour, and then par-boil it. You return it to the saucepan, and steam it over a low heat for 40 minutes or so. By the end of cooking time, you are left with very light, fluffy rice and a golden brown crust on the bottom- the tah-deeg. Crispy rice shouldn’t be so tasty, but it is. You break it into pieces and divide it as fairly as you can.


450g basmati rice
One large onion, peeled and chopped medium fine
Olive oil
Pinch saffron strands, ground
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
4oog lamb shoulder, cut into small pieces
1 jar morello/sour cherries, about 500g
1-2 tbsp light honey or sugar
unsalted butter

Soak the rice in twice its volume of cold, salted water. Leave while you get on with the lamb. Fry the onion in a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole. Once it has softened, stir in the lamb and spices, plus salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add enough water to cover- about 500ml. You don’t need to brown the lamb like you would for an English stew. Half cover with a lid, and cook over a low heat for 1hr-1hr and a half until the lamb is tender and the liquid is reduced. About 20 minutes before it is ready, add the cherries and sugar. At the end of cooking, you should have quite a thick sauce, reduce a over a high heat if it seems thin. Taste for salt/sugar/spice adjustments.

Put 2 litres salted water on to boil. Drain the rice, and rinse in a sieve until the water runs clear. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the rice and cook for 4-7 minutes, until the rice is very nearly cooked. It should still have a bite in the centre, but be almost ready to eat. Drain, and mix in a little butter. Heat some butter in a heavy bottomed( NON-STICK!) saucepan that has a lid. With the pan still on the heat, line the base with some of the rice-just enough to cover. Spoon over a half of the lamb, then cover with half of what’s left of the rice. Layer the second half of the lamb on that, and finally the remainder of the rice. Shape the top of the rice into a slightly domed shape with a wooden spoon, the highest part in the centre. Cook on a medium high heat for 2 minutes, and then turn the heat down to the lowest heat, put the lid on and cook for 40 minutes. While it is cooking, put a chopping board or baking sheet in the freezer (something metal is best). When the cooking time is up, put the pan on the frozen surface for 1 minute. This helps the bottom of the rice come loose from the pan. Serve, either straight from the pan, or up-end it into a dish, where, if you’re lucky, you’ll end up with a nicely moulded cake of lamb pilaf.