Sunday, 29 March 2009

Beautiful Beans

Ripton gave this dish a round of applause! Everyone seems to love beans, the boys especially. No one's ever thrown a dish of beans back at me, that I know.

Lamb and Beans

Take two fat lamb shanks which have been marinaded for an hour in steak-and-chops and a bit of oil (this will feed three), and fry them up in a big cast iron casserole dish with a couple of onions. I always cut onions into wedges. Cook till the onions are really tender. Add some stock cubes and some boiling water and a good lot of cooked haricot beans. Normally I would cook them up myself, or take my chances with the frozen ones - until I discovered the organic tinned ones are really good. The butterbeans are also great. A few cloves of garlic - I never peel or chop garlic - just straight in. Pepper and - what made this dish - some leftover "wild mushroom organic soup" that had condensed overnight. It added a creamy and meaty gravy to the beans. It took about 2 hours to cook in the oven. I have since done this dish with shoulder shanks, which are half the price...and it was good. Also, a slow-cooked a brisket with butterbeans and mushrooms in exactly the same way....I just LOVE this method.

Steak-and-chops is a generic South African hot barbeque spice. It has revolutionised our eating..... I always bring two 5kg bags home from a spice shop in Durban. They make it up for you while you wait, shaking and adding from giant sacks till the colour looks right, then give you a pinch to taste. I bring the extra bag to share with friends, because once they taste it, they have to have some. Plus you will put it on everything...from sweet potatoes baking, to sausages, fish, lamb chops or mm mm, steak oh, and prawns! It's available here in specialist butchers or from the web. It's made by a South African company called Robertsons, but smaller spice companies make their own.

Not just a bean salad
If I could eat this salad every day, I would be happy. My secret is to buy a ready-prepared salad of mixed beans. Delphi make the best one. Nothing fancy just plenty tasty beans. And here is the rest of the ingredients ...not necessarily all at once. The important thing is balance. Other than the beans, the rest of the vegetables should be in roughly equal portions...too much cauliflower and it becomes a bit of a mission.

this is the definitely-going-in-every-time list:
chopped spring onions
third of a bag of chopped watercress
very large bunch of roughly chopped parsley
yellow pepper ( or red)
avocado (if at all possible)

and this is the whatever-else-you-have-around list:
oh it goes on

With everything chopped a similar size, squeeze in half a lemon and olive oil and then a giant spoon of organic hummous - very important. Organic hummous is the best hummous. Pepper. Salt and stir in gently. My fave dish.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Say it with Salad

Debbie, my cousin's wife, is always straightforward. When she saw the rice salad in the middle of the table she immediately said: "Sorry, I don't eat rice". I'm pleased to say that by the end of the meal she'd had three helpings! It was a lovely summer afternoon with lots of family, Rob and Debbie and us. We put two long tables together in the garden, and there's my niece Juliana, so I know we were having 10-hour lamb.

Rice Salad
Brown basmati rice, just tender and allowed to cool, obviously. Add the vegetables in more or less equal amounts. Diced carrots, chopped spring onions, chopped celery, radish, lots of parsley, peppers, cucumber, tomato, you can add a handful of cooked lentils, but rinse them - and not too many because they do spoil the lovely clean white freshness of the salad.
The dressing is olive oil, some lemon and plenty Hellmans, pepper and salt. Mix. Add some more Hellmans, allow to stand for a bit, and serve.

An unusual green salad is a huge bunch of coriander, chopped. Sliced avocado pear, sprinkle with lightly toasted pine nuts, oil and a touch of lemon. Salt, pepper. Excellent.

Tomato and onion salad
This we probably eat every evening during the summer. Big platter. Sliced tomatoes all out flat. Thin sliced onion rings all over. Salt, quite a lot. I use that flaky Malvern salt. Pepper, and lots of olive oil. Allow to stand for at least 10 minutes. Soak up the juice with crusty bread.

Becky's veggie kebabs

We had a barbie the first weekend Bexie came home: truly, it was if she'd been away a year. She offered to make vegetable kebabs. They sounded divine, and I couldn't resist getting involved as they were my first ever kebabs. We used chunks of red onion, red, yellow and green peppers - all the peppers, zucchini and big white mushrooms, halved. She marinated the veggies in steak-and-chops (but one of those hot herb rubs would be good too) with a little oil for an hour, then we threaded the soaked kebab sticks. This was the most fun, and as they stacked up on the platter, they looked absolutely beautiful. The colours! We roasted them over the fire (Weber) till just charred, and they were the star of the show.

Potato Salad
A staple from my childhood, one of my favourites. This is how I do it: Boil the potatoes very gently in their skins.When they are just cooked, allow to cool, peel and cut into chunks. Add lots of chopped spring onion and also white onion, mixed. Add parsley, chives and chopped gherkins. For the dressing, mix a lot of Hellmans with a giant teaspoon of dry English mustard and a big dollop of double cream (being a party salad). Mix the mustard mayonnaise into the potatoes, then lots of salt and pepper. Chopped hard-boiled eggs on top is good.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

I would never eat Pigeon Pie

I would never eat a Pigeon Pie. I love pigeons too much.

My father brought Dexter the pigeon home as little fledgeling he'd picked up by the side of the road. All vulnerable and pathetic, we fed it with a dropper until it turned into Dexter the Family Tyrant. I couldn't practise the piano without Dexter on my head pecking at my hair. Dinners had to be eaten with our feet up on the chair, because Dexter loved to peck our toes. Washing up was his favourite, though. He loved to sit under the pouring tap and cavort in the bubbles as my mother tried to scrub the dishes....and no matter how many times she threw him out of the back door, he had a wonderful trick of: whoh-whoh-whoh-whoh-whoh as he flew around the house to an open window; back in and back in the suds. We loved that bird.

Years later, here in London, we befriended a pigeon who arrived in our garden. But she couldn't fly. We saved her from the foxes, she recovered, and she never left.
Every morning she waited outside the kitchen window for her breakfast, and encouraged all the other pigeons to join in the corn feast on the deck. And if we went out, Pidge was the only one who didn't fly away. Pidge was a joy to all of us for the whole of that summer. We hadn't seen her for a while when out of the blue, she arrived at Bexie's window late in the evening. She walked all the way through to the bathroom where we were, and pathetically looked up at us. She'd come to us for help. Her crop was distended, and she could not eat or drink. We made her comfortable, and took her to the vet the next morning, and that, touchingly, was that.

Luckily, I've never fallen in love with a fish.

Fish pie
My mom made Fish Pie once, when she went to a smart cookery class. I remember it well. Here I have tried to re-create it, and this is the dish Becky asked for the very first time she came home from uni.

Plenty leeks, sliced and fried. Cook till very soft. I buy one fish pie mix, that's salmon chunks, mussels and calamari, plus a tray of white fish. Add it in chunks and turn in the leeks till the fish is barely cooked. There's a very tasty fish herb mixture you can get, and I sprinkled it on. Spread the fish and leek out evenly in a terracotta dish. Halve four hard-boiled eggs and distribute evenly. Now the white sauce. Equal butter and white flour, about an ounce each, this will do a half pint of milk, which of course you slowly mix in once the flour is toasty and golden. I've dutifully used a wooden spoon for this job all my life....then I discovered my soft whisk...and trust me, use a whisk. Smooth as silk, and no one will guess in a million years you didn't use a wooden spoon. Whisk until thickened, add the salt and pepper and a bit of dry English mustard powder and cook a little more. Pour over. Creamy mashed potato smoothed over the top, grated cheddar over that, bake for a good 25 minutes - Fish Pie. Just like mother made (once only, ma!!)

Monday, 9 March 2009

I love peppers

This is me with my sister, Valerie. When I have a particular success with a recipe, I send it to her, so she has the responsibility to preserve them for all eternity.... it was her idea that we start a website with our recipes on it.

How come chefs or writers are always telling us to use the best and freshest ingredients...I mean, like any cook would use mankey old peppers or slippery onions. No. If there exists a cook in this universe unable to appreciate the sparkling crispness of a fresh yellow pepper.......well, as if.

I adore cookbooks, and am always buying inspirational ones. The chef who inspires me most is Jamie Oliver ( "Jamie", as he's known at home). Lots of fresh herbs, and really quite straight-forward. But I seldom follow a recipe. Prue Leith does a roe deer with looks excellent, but it requires 53 different ingredients! Home cooking is all about what happens to be there, and this dish turned out perfectly well.

Greek pork - simple and tasty
Fry 2 onions, add minced organic pork. Fry a bit, then add 4 whole cloves (unchopped) of garlic. Add a yellow pepper nice and chunky, then the juice of one lemon, a big bunch of chopped parsley, 2 vegetable stock cubes and mix in one cup of brown basmati rice and maybe a good handful of Puy lentils for a bit more guts. Boiling water to cover, then after 20 minutes or so, a bag of fresh spinach. Top with cinnamon and cook till all absorbed. I have since learned that you should not cook with lemon juice, as it goes a little bitter. I can't say I've noticed it, but maybe add the lemon at the end so you don't offend some universal law. I don't remember using the cinnamon, and I've never used it in a dish before, but cinnamon is a real Greek stalwart....

Greek pork was inspired by a vegetarian lentil dish I made and loved. I've lost the copy I sent to Val (and I daren't check to see if she has in fact kept it)....but really, it is so shockingly simple, just five ingredients. This is how it goes:

Puy lentils with yellow pepper
Fry 2 chopped onions, add one or two chopped yellow peppers...nice fat pieces. Two cloves of garlic and a stock cube, add half a box of Puy lentils and cover with boiling water. Yellow peppers are simply made for lentils, and when all the water has boiled off, and the lentils soft and creamy, it's a really tasty dish.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Meat feast

Here I am in my kitchen. My happy space. The heart and centre of our house. Here I cook for my dearest family and extended family, and our friends. Occasionally it's just two eating in the kitchen, and I have once had 50. But big lunch or dinner parties tend to hover around the 12 mark. Seldom does it see a meal for one.

I plan to share my favourite recipes and my favourite people.

I'm going to start with a very short and sweet recipe that has people asking for it, and only agreeing to come (Juliana!) if that's what we're having. this is:

10-hour lamb
one shoulder of lamb
plenty of salt
place in a 100C oven and bake for 10 hours.

We've had to get up at 5am, sometimes, to put it on...but it's hardly a big job, and it is the most popular meal (other than the Durban beef curry, maybe) that we put on the table. Potatoes can be put in for hours and then crisped up when the meat comes out. You can add herbs/onions/ marinade of any description, but I keep mine simple. It really needs very little else. It comes out of the oven crisp and perfect, with the meat gently falling off the bone. Serve with smashed veggies, ah la my mom - although, I boil two different vegetables in two different stocks (say broccolli and peas, or zucchini (but not too soft) and er, peas).

A good spinach is soft fried spring onions in butter, as a little touch, I add a crushed bay leaf fresh off my birthday tree, and fry it along with the onions. Remove the bay leaf, and add the spinach - oh do as much spinach as the pot will take, trust me.... and a little powdered stock, cook down, stirring a lot, then a good dollop of double cream and pepper....okay it's not rocket science...but I've only just discovered this one and it's good, good, good.

Since time immemorial it has been Bexie's job to do the carrots. Perfect matchsticks caramelized in butter and sugar. But now she's at Sussex University, and I'm in charge of the carrots now!

So for carrots: slice them down the middle, boil up with stock till just tender, then braise for a minute or two with butter, pepper and the juice of half a lemon...mmmmm. Oh, and chopped parsley on top to impress.

Bexie came home this weekend, endearingly missing home comforts. Taking a mother's chance to prove she's right, and to spoil her, I did my new lamb shank and beans and piled the plates high with plenty home-cooked veggies including her favourite, carrots. Most of us went back for seconds - the bean gravy finished off with bread - all the plates and pots were licked clean. I sat back with a satisfied smile ......Bexie digested for a few minutes, then: "so what's happened to the carrots?"

So there's a Sunday lunch that can feed 10, although we've easily done the joint justice when there's only four of us.

We love having Morrie and Carol down for the weekend. Our oldest friends, usually they get a Durban curry, but this time held firm. I'd do a braised beef. I wanted to keep it as simple as possible. Good beef with a good gravy - a country casserole. I loved making this dish because I found some mixed wild mushrooms and these were perfect for the gravy. I repeated a mantra to myself, though: don't put too much in.

I remember this dish, because the next time they came, months later, Morrie asked for the recipe.

Country braised beef
Big wedges of onions - in my big oval cast iron casserole. you need the biggest casserole you can accommodate. On the top of the stove and into the oven, you'll use it for everything ....even for small dishes. I fry the onions slowly in the olive oil. When they're good, add the flour-coated beef ...although in real life, I throw in all the braising steak, then spoon some flour on top with some pepper and stir it around. Cook a bit. The flour needs to brown.

I always use too much meat, and never regret it. Add water...not too much, a clove of garlic, organic beef stock, the wild mushrooms and then a bouquet garni. As darling as the little muslin bags are, like miniature white Christmas puddings, it's still a weird pleasure to plunge a sharp knife into the side of one and shake all the dry herbs into the gravy. Bring it all back up to the boil, scrape and mix the flour in, obviously, and put it into the oven to barely simmer for about an hour. Halved peeled potatoes go in and slow cook for another hour or so.

Serve with the potatoes and, you know, another veg.