Sunday, 27 December 2015

What to do with leftover cream

My friend texted me this morning demanding recipes for leftover cream, so I leapt to it (and out of bed) to gather up a range of options, which also reminded me we have 220ml leftover from yesterday's liver paté. She has 450ml left over and it's hard to find a recipe that uses more than 100ml, though soured cream will do the trick, so here are the options - the coffees, the desserts, the savouries, and the soured cream! Each batch of ideas is arranged easiest to most cookish. Plus it also leads to ideas for how to use leftover clementines, vegetables, and meat!

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Liver paté

If you're Doing Things With Giblets, this is part two and you already have your chicken / turkey / capon livers, otherwise fowl livers are ever so cheap to come by, especially if you buy them frozen. This is my mum's gorgeous recipe (as you'll see by the fine lettering, though she will probably decry it as Early Work) and makes a silky-smooth rich flavoursome paté.

What to do with giblets

Anyone who roasted a fowl yesterday probably got an alarming little bag of Bits with it - The Giblets - alarmingly close in name to gibbets, and a kind of "finishing present". (A Finishing Present entered family folklore some years back. In the late 80s / early 90s, making pompoms was all the rage. They're surprisingly work-intensive. One of my small cousins started a massively over-ambitious pompom, with a huge disc, for a birthday present for me. She wound the wool around it until it had reached about a centimetre thick around the disc. The rest of the wool-winding would have taken about three years and resulted in a pompom the size of my head. Nevertheless, she gamely gave me the unfinished pompom, and said it was "a finishing present".) So your purveyor of meats has given you a finishing present. Wtf do you do with it, besides put it in the fridge for a decent interval before chucking it? Or give it to your daughter, alongside a carcass with rich pickings, for her to do magic with? TL;DR: pull out the liver for liver paté, turn the rest into a fabulously rich stock.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

How to make yogurt

I recently read an article which suggested, to my absolute horror, that my friends in the States don't have proper access to real yogurt, only the kind to which sugar and syrups and suchlike have beeen added, an idea I find so upsetting that I have to put it right immediately by teaching you how to make it.

Baked Camembert supper

Baked camembert is ususally touted as a starter, which is odd, because it's everything a starter shouldn't be: very filling, rich, and satisfying. It doesn't work so well at the end of a meal, either: it's hard to make a main course light enough that people will welcome quantities of gloopy, melty cheese after it, instead of groaning inside at the prospect, trying to swallow enough to be assuage their host's feelings, and then feeling a food coma setting in so fast that they must either take their leave or nod off at the table.

What it does make, however, is an absolutely brilliant romantic supper for two! Or for one, if you're very very hungry, or for more, if you are more, and add additional camemberts. Bizarrely, it's also incredibly healthy - because once you have your splendid Baked Camembert centrepiece, you surround it with fresh raw foods that want to be delved into melty hot cheese, and end up eating more raw vegetables than any usual supper might feature. Plus once the oven's hot, it only takes 15 minutes.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Aubergine sausage and olive stew

I threw this together as one of those random oh-and-we-have-that-too stews and was so astonishingly impressed with it, I immediately scrawled all the ingredients down in the Little Living-room Book of Thoughts. (It's important to have spangly wee notebooks stashed about the house generally, but in the living room especially, because you never know when Doctor Who or Farscape will trigger a major ephiphany, or you'll be struck with a thought about right-angles, or need to jot down a poem or plot line, or, indeed, a recipe.) The main point of amazement, though, was OLIVES! IN A STEW! IN STEW! OLIVES! You can put olives in stew. PUT OLIVES IN STEW.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

How to make (chicken) stock

Very short summary: after a roast, throw the carcass, some onion, any veg peelings, and maybe bay leaves and peppercorn into a large pot, cover with water, and simmer gently until you go to bed. The next day, drain it, simmer some more to reduce it if you want, done.

Stock cubes are to homemade stock what packet soup is to homemade soup. I hate foodie snobbery so if you don't have homemade stock and some recipe's insisting on it, whatever, use a stock cube - but that is the difference. A considerable one. (Whereas the difference between fresh tomatoes or tinned is generally very minor. Provided you're making a sauce, not salad.) Some recipes are very insistent on homemade stock - the recipes that really need it are the ones that rely heavily on the flavour of the liquid, eg risotto, a broth, French  onion soup, without much else (as opposed to bolognese, which has tons else). But sometimes the recipe writer is just demanding, so if they're also insisting that something has to be pancetta and bacon won't do, or that you must specifically use gorgonzola and no other blue cheese, then take their advice with a pinch of salt. They are living in their own, rainbow-filled unicorn-populated magical ideal world. Bless.

ALL THAT SAID - stock is very, very easy to make, especially if you don't forget about it and nearly burn the house down. Three times, people. Three times.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Garlic pickle elixir of life

There is nothing* better than friends who like the same sort of food that you do, but have different recipe books. We invited said friends (not knowing this about them yet) for dinner. Did they like curry? Yes, they said. And if it was quite hot, chilli-hot? Um... some of it really quite hot? Yes, they said. But we were nervous. It used to be, English people would say they liked really hot food, and then you served them really hot food, and then they died, and it was your fault they were dead, but you'd asked and they said yes. (If you're not born and bred here, it's very hard to know when English people don't like things. Because asking doesn't work, and there are no visible signs, but apparently there are minute signals with which they communicate with each other. I've done my best to go native since I started living here, but some of the finer details still elude me, to my frustration. At times I've suspected some of the information is passed on chemically, as plants do. Anyway.) So we prepared a wide range of curries, a veritable feast, all the way from the mildest up to a Balti phal, and I added fine green beans to the Balti phal, and thus by accident camouflaged the whole green chillis, which added an unexpected Russian-roulette dimension to that part of the dinner. They seemed very happy, though I always wonder if I'm missing chemical signals, even with people I know well.

THEN: they invited us around to theirs for dinner, on their boat. And prepared us a veritable curry feast! Of splendidly hot rich and various curries, a marvel of food joy, and totally different recipes to the ones we know! And they fed us garlic pickle. And only courtesy stopped me eating the entire lot out the jar with a teaspoon.

Green tapenade

I was going to share garlic pickle next, with a bit of story-time, but let's complete the dips triumvirate first, of black-olive tapenade, hummus, and green-olive tapenade. Some people might put taramasalata into the mix, but in case you haven't noticed, I don't much like fish. (I deeply regret this and am trying to work on it, slowly; so far I can actively enjoy mussels, oysters, shrimps, and salmon, and can eat other kinds of shellfish, but no actual fish besides salmon, and I will swill my mouth with sour milk to get rid of the taste of anchovies.) So, green-olive tapenade it is!

Hummus: it's not middle-class, it's chickpeas.

I get alternately baffled and a bit harrumphy when perfectly innocent food-stuffs get designated as being a particular class. Lentils as middle-class bewilders me especially - lentils? Seriously? The incredibly cheap, nutritious staple eaten by most of the subcontinent? Likewise hummus. It's not middle-class, it's chickpeas. With some other stuff. You could call it Greek fairly accurately, if you wanted, but not middle-class. And yet despite its now being very widespread and familiar, the 'orrible little label persists. So: sod that. It's not middle-class, it's chickpeas.

Nachos to share

A great big bowlful of nachos, dumped squarely between you, eaten with your fingers, oh joy joy joy! Memories of Panchos in Obs, sharing a towering mound of nachos with Nikka, while the Gipsy Kings played... I used to make this loads, then forgot about it for years, and it's burst back onto the menu recently. This is part of the vat of bolognese meal cascade, so if you haven't made a vat of bolognese, you should start here.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Socca pizza: prepare to be AMAZED!

When I'm not eating wheat for whatever reason, the thing I miss most is pizza. Even pizza restaurants can't seem to manage a wheat-free pizza, it's always something a bit soggy and disappointing. My current food hero is Jack Monroe, so when she posted a recipe for socca pizza, made with gram flour (chickpea flour) I leapt to it. It was brilliant! ...ish. Almost there. Not quite... crispy. So I started experimenting. And refining. And tweaking. And obsessively measuring every detail. Happily, Will's fallen in love with it too, so me repeatedly making us pizzas with tiny variations on a theme (science tip: you can't change two variables at once), is fine. And when I burn my hand again, he's very happy to take over, while I sing Aranjuez with my hand under the tap. So: after extensive, tasty research, here's how to make perfect, crispy gluten-free pizza. After the recipe I'll go into all the ins and outs, because not everything has to be perfect all the time, but it can be if you want it to be, and then toppings ideas.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Printable shopping lists & menu plan blanks

Who wants a visit from the organisation fairy?!

The golden rule of organisation: organisation should be less work than sorting out the chaos would be. If it takes you more time / money / effort than living with the muddle, that's not organisation, that's bureaucracy! So these are to make life easier and simpler, so you don't run out of things like tinfoil or toilet paper, or stand staring despairingly into the fridge, asking that age-old question, what the hell to make for supper. I made these shopping-list and menu-plan templates for myself, and then for my cousin, and there's different versions depending on how much planning you want / like to do. Also each set comes in two fonts.

Click on the image to preview, click on the link underneath to download it. How to use them is further down.

Option 1: Combined shopping-list + flexible menu plan

Choose one, in the font you like, and print out a batch.

Option 2: Shopping list + detailed menu plans

1. Choose one shopping list, in whichever font you prefer, print out a batch, and chop in half.

 2. Choose your meal-plan style (lunch + dinner only or breakfast, lunch, and dinner) in whichever font you prefer, and print out a batch. All versions have a "do in advance" column.

Matchbook font menu plans


Lobster font menu plans


 How to use...


 The shopping lists

Print a batch of shopping lists and put them up somewhere in the kitchen. (Mine are the combined version, so they're folded in half.) If you don't have a pinboard, some combination of crocodile clip / paperclip / string / blutack should do the trick. Maybe on the inside of a cupboard, but I like to keep mine visible, so I remember to add stuff.

Any time something's running low - tinfoil, loo paper, salt, the random things that are easy to forget - add it to the list. (When I had a utility room, I always had a backup of stuff like that, and replaced the back up, but this kitchen has less space.)

I have pens cached everywhere, all over the house, so that's not a problem, but you could attach a pen, except in a pen-short house, someone would steal it. So instead you could empty a cheap pack of ballpoints into the cutlery drawer. (One of my many pen caches.)

The combined shopping list / meal plan

Before we go shopping, or while we're wandering around the shops, we jot on the meal-list side what we're planning to make, in no particular order, and add the ingredients to the things already on the list. There's only the two of us, so no need for military menu planning and it all stays quite flexible, but I do allocate specific easy & quick dishes for teaching nights when I finish at about 10. That meal list then stays pinned up on the pinboard while we cook our way throught it; meanwhile, a new shopping list is gathering up anything we're now running out of.

The detailed menu plan

I made this at my cousin's request, as she needs to do more planning - she has two kids, and does complicated things involving pre-soaking all the ingredients, hence the "do in advance" column which is also handy for remembering to defrost stuff. I only menu-plan with that kind of detail when I'm cooking or planning for someone else.

The meals list

Old menu plans don't get chucked away - they go in the magic meals list envelope. I've had that envelope since about 2008, at least, so some lists must've strayed, but it's still bulging. It's been pinned on the pinboard, blu-tacked on a cupboard inside, magnetted to the fridge and the side of the boiler... Whenever we can't think of anything to cook for the coming weeks, we rifle through the assorted scraps.

The meals list is especially useful when the season changes, and our heads are still full of stews & soups and we can't even remember what we eat in summertime. (That's why I added "season" to the detailed menu plan.) Occasionally I think about writing or typing up a masterlist, but I like seeing the constellations of dishes, and find that useful, and also like the fragments of memory and other houses.

Enjoy! (Also, if you want other versions and want me to make them with those lovely fonts and with the organisation fairy, let me know.)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Sag paneer

Sag aloo (aloo = potato, remember) is one of my always-orders for Indian food (and if you're in Oxford, you should be going to the Standard Tandoori, which is a marvellous story that shall be told another time, but trust me, ignore the name, and just go) and another one I figured was unreplicable at home... nope, not at all. Quite easy to make. But as I usually have the aloo served up in aloo gajjar, and paneer is basically cheese (cheese... CHEESE... CHEESE...!) , sag paneer is now one of my always-makes for curries. Or just sag, if we don't have paneer. (Paneer, I should add, is cheese, quite mild-tasting, white, often comes already cubed, and I buy it from the Indian grocers aka the spice shop. You can also make it but I haven't learnt how yet.)

Sag actually just means "greens", which could be spinach or not; palak means spinach specifically. So most of the year round I'm making palak paneer, but occasionally, when the season and the stars are right, it's most definitely sag paneer, because I'm using this:

Friday, 22 May 2015

Aloo gajjar

Aloo gajjar (which actually just means potato-carrots, but sounds more glamorous) is a staple side dish for almost every curry I make - humble ingredients, quick, yummy and spicy, and been in my repertoire for long enough to feel like comfort food. It even predates the Balti Bible curries, as a quick bit of cookbook archaeology shows:


A quick break from the avalanche of curries, because the cold / flu is still going strong, and a bowlful of kimchi is suddenly the most magical salty-chilli-gingery-garlicky elixir imaginable, and a brilliant fuschia-purple to boot. You know the way a spoonful of Branston pickle can make your mouth spasm in sudden pickle-lust? That's what kimchi does.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Luxurious dhal

This is a gloriously luxurious dhal, so a bit more effort than most, so I go into a bit of a disquisition on dhal and lentils first, and then a random tangent of family folklore, and then get back onto the subject of how to make it, but you shouldn't think all dhals are this as involved as this one, but it is, of course, thoroughly worth it.

Fragrant stock

All the curry dishes keep saying "fragrant stock or water" - most of the time I'm really not fussed about it and just use water if I don't have fragrant stock; occasionally, when I can be bothered, I'll make up a batch of fragrant stock for a curry I'm cooking and freeze the extra in 200ml batches, for future curries. When it comes to a luxurious dahl, though, I really will bother, because those lentils want all the soak-in glorious flavour they can stand! And actually it's ridiculously easy, and quick. It only takes 20 minutes, so for most curries, you could pop it on once you've got the onions frying, and it'll be ready in time. It also smells glorious.

Balti madras

So far on the many marvellous curries list, we've got how to make some major spice mixes (balti and garam masla and green masala paste) and perfect rice, but the only main dish so far is the bright fresh-tasting jalfrezi. And for a true curry cascade, you need many many curries: you need "main" dishes and dahls and vegetable side dishes, all tucked away nicely in the freezer, so whenever you want curry, you only need to make one dish and still serve a curry feast. Or do what I've just done: crawl from a fluey sofa to pull a selection of curry dishes out to defrost, then curl back up with lemsip and a laptop. To muse on Madras.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Lots Lasagne

It's just as easy to make three lasagnes as to make one, so this makes three, each serving 4-6 people, so you can eat one and freeze two, or invite an extra twelve friends around, or turn up to someone's move with enough lasagne to feed all the helpers for a couple of days.

Monday, 12 January 2015

There's nothing for lunch!... Green masala & egg

Another emergency lunch where I'd failed to defrost a soup in advance and didn't have the makings of a nice big salad and the fridge was looking accusatorily empty and unpromising. In fact, the fridge's total Fresh Food quota was four baby sweetcorn and a tablespoon or two of leftover cream. There were, however, eggs. I also don't have much time for lunch. Mental process: egg on toast? But that'll make me sleepy all afternoon. There's frozen peas: pea omelette? But an omelette without cheese is no fun... Oh look! I have green masala paste! Toast takes 5 mins, hard-boiling eggs only takes 10...

There's nothing for lunch!... Dahl soup

(You are bearing witness to a process of discovery here. If you want actual recipe thingy, scroll down to the photo of the typed bit.) It's lunchtime, the fridge is a barren wasteland with some dead leaves clinging to the bottom of the salad drawer, there is nothing for lunch - but wait!

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Breakfasts: anything but cereal

These days, I eat breakfast every morning and have really delicious breakfasts that I actually want to eat, which is a total revelation, because I spent years miserably spooning cold milk into my face, with the occasional floating husk caught up in it, out of a dutiful sense of Doing The Right Thing. For the Most Important Meal of the Day (total myth, btw), it was an utter misery. I hate cereal. All cereal. Pronutro, that South African staple that turns instantly to stodgy baby food the moment milk touches it most of all. But also sweet cereals, bran cereals (oh the years I spent dutifully eating all-bran!), even muesli if it's with milk. Crunchy muesli with yoghurt is acceptable, but that's it. I don't eat toast much, either - I like it, but it's not an especially healthy staple. I think back and for most of my twenties, I started each day far too early, simultaneously brittle and woolly with sleep, sitting up at a table because That's What You Did, with that horrible bowl of cold milk and its horrible floating bran flakes, trying to get it over with 15 mls at a time. And then, because this was my twenties, went off to an ill-fitting job in ill-fitting clothes that I sort of hoped would pass muster but it was very possible that one half of my body would lose bloodflow when I sat down at my desk. (That wasn't my entire twenties, obviously, but it's what stands out when I think of those miserable breakfasts.)

Well, ring the changes! Around 28 or so, with a very nice job and clothes that fitted, I had the revolutionary idea: what if I ate a breakfast that I actually liked? Even if it wasn't on the Official Breakfast List?

Mexican scrambled egg

This is the sort of breakfast you want when you wake up so hungry that the person next to you is in real mortal danger, but you only have about ten minutes' worth of energy max so a full English is out of the question. Yes, I eat spicy food for breakfast. I eat all sorts of weird things for breakfast, which I'll post about in a sec. So this is me stumbling sleepily and ravenously downstairs on a Saturday morning at a quarter-to-whatever-you-think-is-early, and this is what my rummage turns up:

Not-just-Christmassy Red Cabbage

I haven't overshared for ages, because the day after my birthday, all the horrible EU VAT stuff hit, and then while I was still wrestling with that hydra-octopus, I got a wipe-out two-week-plus flu. So instead of spending my much-anticipated holiday making spice mixes and cooking muchly and doing odd decorative things to the house, I spent it sipping lemsip and banging up on EU legislation and stats. Fun fun fun.

Everyone else in the world might already have their red-cabbage recipe, but I only discovered this for the first time last New Year's (the one a year ago), for a dinner party, and thought it was so marvellous that... I didn't make it again until this winter. Which is ridiculous. Like the special notebook that's too nice to use, or the fancy ingredient you save for the right moment until it grows mould and has to be thrown away. I meant to post this recipe before Christmas, and then at least before New Year, but instead I shall stick to my original realisation, which is that it's for all of winter. Also, for a dish I'd mentally pigeonholed as "special occasion", it's very cheap, and for anyone whose New Year Resolutions feature cabbage heavily, this is for you. It is wonderful.