Friday, 30 September 2011
I suppose I might’ve mentioned my inability to make a decision – or perhaps I haven’t. It drives the BSG round the bend; he is decision incarnate. But this one is easy. Breakfast is a meal where anything goes, thereby removing the choice conundrum from the proceedings. Thus, breakfast is perfect for someone like me.
As well as blurry boundaries between foodstuffs - do I plump for yoghurt, fruit or Bircher muesli, croissants or the full English? - start and end times are also a grey area, meaning that it’s quite possible to graze from waking until lunchtime. Some of my happiest and most enduring university memories are from mornings whiled away in my friend Caz’s room in halls, drinking tea and eating toast and boiled eggs, more with Marmite and perhaps just one more piece - with marmalade - until lunchtime. We may have even missed a lecture (once), waiting for the perfect runny consistency to the yolk. Nothing cements firm friendship like sharing rounds of hot-buttered toast and pots of tea.
Of course, due to obvious time constraints, weekday breakfasts are more confined to the bounds of convenience; toast and its infinite possibilities, your favourite cereal, some porridge and stewed fruit once autumn takes its crisp hold. Eggs and bacon are reserved for the week’s end - a Friday treat of a bacon and marmalade sandwich, perhaps. The BSG and I rejoice in the advent of most weekends with a proper, frothy latte from our coffee machine – smileworthy, even on the dankest of days.
Breakfast is a parade of wonders, where friends’ wacky combinations are frequently exposed; Caz, for example, likes marmalade and Marmite on her toast… My Belgian great-grandmother loved nothing more than to dip toast and Gouda into her morning coffee (white and strong, if you’re interested). I am ever so pleased she passed me this habit. Try it - delicious. My grandpa, the king of the avant-garde food combo, always ate his sausages with marmalade, the Tabasco and Gentleman’s Relish never far out of his reach.
Then you have breakfasts that are ideal for certain situations. This year has been full of weddings, and I don’t think that there’s a better way to start a wedding Saturday than with kedgeree. Protein- and carb- rich, it stops the gap that the skipped proper lunch will leave, lines the stomach for the inevitable afternoon drinking and wakes up the taste buds with hints of spice, lemon and parsley – just make sure you check your teeth for green bits before you leave. Definitely worth prepping in advance, it can sit and wait, warming through under foil in the oven whilst you get on with things. Deal with any fishy/oniony bits before washing and dressing in your finery – no one likes eau-de-cuisine.
You don’t need a wedding as an excuse to whip this up. I reckon it’d steel you for any big (or small) day. It might take the edge off a marathon spring clean, a looming hulk of admin or a trip to a blue-and-yellow hångår to buy silly-named flat-pack furniture, a Venus flytrap and other stuff you never knew you needed.
4 eggs, almost hard boiled (prob 6 minutes will do) and peeled
680g smoked haddock fillets (or a mixture of smoked and unsmoked fish works too. Try mackerel.)
2 bay leaves
250g basmati rice
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2.5 teaspoonfuls mild curry powder
Juice of half a lemon (and the other half in wedges for squeezing over)
2 good handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander
In a large shallow pan, heat some water (or milk) - deep enough to submerge the fish - with the bay leaves. Add the fillets, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish from the pan and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skin, flake into chunks and set aside.
Cook the rice in boiling water according to pack instructions – it should be on the al-dente side. Drain the rice, refreshing briefly under a stream of hot water from the kettle. Return the steaming rice to the saucepan, covering it with a clean tea-towel and then the lid to stand for a few minutes. This is a top-quality tip from my step-mum and it ensures the fluffiest rice imaginable.
Whilst the rice is cooking, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then add the onions and soften them gently without colouring for five minutes or so. Add the curry powder and cook for another couple of minutes, until the kitchen is filled with aromas. Add the rice to the pan and heat gently through, carefully folding in the flaked fish and adding the lemon juice to taste. This can now stand in a pan or dish, waiting warm under foil in a low oven until you are ready to eat.
Just before serving, add the parsley or coriander, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Top with the eggs cut into quarters. Serve with the lemon wedges.
Twist: For some extra texture, crispy fried onion bits are often sprinkled on the top.
Friday, 23 September 2011
Each time September rolls around, three small words strike fear into the hearts of many: Back to School. I know even 60-year olds who break into a cold sweat at the prospect – even though it’s been a few decades since they hung up their satchels. So, how to combat these misgivings? As far as I can recall, salvation would come in the form of a stationery spree – a brand new pen, a fluffy pencil case or the crisp white pages of a new diary.
For me, the lentil is the food equivalent to school – I know it’s ultimately good for me and always end up enjoying it more than I imagine. In the lentil’s case, it’s what you dress it with that makes it great. In this case: mackerel. More specifically, tinned mackerel fillets (no grappling with bones necessary).
This doesn’t sound exciting, however since signing up to Hugh’s Fish Fight and eschewing the old favourite of tuna, I have turned to tinned mackerel to top baked potatoes and fill sandwiches too. Judging by the silver-haired company I keep in that particular section of the tinned-food aisle in the supermarket, it is a food as retro as its packaging suggests.
There are certain dishes that recur often in the BSG household and alongside roast chicken and spaghetti Bolognese, this tops the list. A feel-good dish in every sense, it tastes great, is 100% good for you and elevates the lentil to another plain. There’s nothing easier to whip up after a bout of overindulgence, and I swear it makes you shout cleverer answers at University Challenge. It’s back to school without the dread, plus you usually have the wherewithal for it in your cupboards when you can’t face a food shop at the end of a long day. Enjoy its countless permutations.
Lentil and mackerel salad (I think it’s a salad)
Whatever is languishing in the fridge, but a few suggestions might be:
Cherry tomatoes, quartered
Any other soft green herbs or salad leaves wilting into anonymity in your vegetable drawer
Olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper
Boil the lentils according to packet instructions, with a bay leaf and a bit of stock powder if you have any.
Whilst the lentils are boiling, chop the vegetables and herbs and put everything into a bowl. Make a salad dressing (perhaps a bit sharper than you usually have it as the lentils will slightly dull this – mustard works very well in there somewhere).
Drain the lentils, and then add them to the bowl whilst still warm – if you have used any spinach or rocket leaves, this has the pleasing effect of wilting them slightly. Drain the mackerel fillets from their oil and add them to the bowl, stirring gently through with a fork so that they slightly break up.
Add the dressing, mix and season with salt and pepper. Have a lemon on hand to squeeze over if necessary.
Enjoy a big bowlful and feel very smug.
Monday, 12 September 2011
Once when I was having a very bad day, a good friend of mine told me that a slice of watermelon would make things alright – turns out that’s what he’d had to hand at the time, but it worked in all its sunshiny redness. Not long later and from this same, wise source, it was a crunchy peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich (the details here have to be very precise). Food had done at those moments what kind words could not.
On both occasions, it was as if having such a simple treat shone a different light on everything else and gave me strength to regroup. Now, I’m not advocating comfort eating – we all know what trouble that gets people into - but I reckon its true that, when the occasion demands it, a little of something you love does you good. A teaspoon of sugar in your builder’s when you need some galvanising? Sure. A bacon sandwich on a bleary morning, or a hot chocolate grabbed after a crappy journey to work? Definitely.
Last night’s supper was a case in point; the BSG roasted half a chicken rubbed in some Australian Bush Mix (we’d in the cupboard and had been wondering what to do with) until its skin was smoky and crisp, which we shared with some homemade coleslaw (carrot, sweetheart cabbage and red onion shredded in the Magimix and dressed in yoghurt, pepper and lemon) and some wonderful, golden McCain crispy French fries*.
Really, truly, happy-making food. Thank you, darling BSG.
*I am sure that nothing beats making your own, but in the absence of a deep fat fryer for multiple cooking sessions, these frozen chips are brilliant.
Sunday, 4 September 2011
There are post-holiday blues, and then there are post holiday-blues, like when you return from your fairytale wedding on an island in a sparkly sea surrounded by your friends and family to find that the decorators you’ve so carefully timed to give your flat a refresh in your absence have disconnected your telly, left the contents of your kitchen on the floor, the books off the bookshelf and hung your pictures ‘their way’. Plus your beloved, tiny sausage dog is so cross at being left behind that he’s up at 3am wanting a pee and a walk –except he doesn’t really, he just wants to annoy you.
How to combat such a comedown and persuade the newlyweds not to make a break for the nearest airport? Yesterday, September tried an effort at an Indian summer to show that London is still a brilliant place to be. I think it should keep trying – the BSG and I are taking them for drinks outside the Dock Kitchen next week.
In our first modest effort to go some way to buoying the spirits of these two dear friends – let’s call them Barbie and Ken – and thanking them for the Montenegrin extravaganza that was their wedding we decided to make them a quiche. I’d been meaning to make one, having never attempted it due to an abject fear of short pastry, and we’d been inspired by a very good homemade one recently courtesy of our friend G. Barbie happens to be a veggie, so it would also prove a useful exercise in the expansion of my pitiful repertoire in that department (stuffed baked marrow, anyone?).
I came across this recipe whilst flicking through the BSG’s newest epicurean tome, How to Eat In, by Adam Byatt of Trinity in Clapham. Both of us were already eager to visit Trinity; having read these recipes we’re champing at the bit. His recipe called for fresh morels, but it being early autumn rather than early summer we used dried chanterelles instead and it worked out fine.
Quiche of morels, broad beans and goat’s cheese
150g fresh morels (or 15g dried morels or chanterelles)
200g fresh broad beans (we used frozen ones)
1 bunch chives
Shortcrust pastry (make your own or readymade is fine)
2 egg yolks
700 ml double cream
100g goat’s cheese
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C. Clean and trim the fresh mushrooms, or soak the dried ones. Blanch the beans in boiling salted water, run under cold water and pop them from their outer casings. Finely chop the chives.
Place a 26cm x 4cm tart ring or dish on a cold baking sheet.
Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a 40cm disc that is 0.5 cm thick. Drape it over the tart ring, then press it well into the bottom inside edge and let it overhang the top. Line the pastry case with clingfilm and fill with rice or baking beans. Bake ‘blind’ for 25 minutes.
Take the pastry case out of the oven, keeping it in the ring on the baking sheet. Removed the clingfilm and rice or beans and leave the pastry to cool. Turn the oven temperature down to 160˚C for cooking the quiche.
Put the eggs and egg yolks into a large bowl and gently whisk in the cream. Crumble in the goat’s cheese, stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper.
Heat a frying pan, splash in some olive oil and gently fry the mushrooms for 4 minutes with plenty of seasoning. Remove and leave to cool, then add to the egg and cream mix with the beans. Leave to stand for 30 minutes – this will prevent the mushrooms from rising to the top of the filling during baking.
Trim the overhanging pastry off the cooled pastry case and brush away the crumbs to leave a perfectly lined tart ring.
Return the tart ring to the oven and, keeping the oven door open, pour the filling mix into the pastry case. Close the oven door and bake the quiche for 45 minutes, gently shaking the baking sheet after 30 minutes. When the quiche is done, the filling should be set around the edges with a slight wobble in the centre.
Take the quiche out of the oven and allow to cool in the tart ring for an hour or so before cutting into slices.