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Sunday, 12 August 2007

D&D day

I have to say that I've always found my bloke's secret Dungeons and Dragons life rather intriguing. Every so often they congregate for a game which lasts an entire day - so I, wanting to see want it was all about, offered to cook for them. Unfortunately, I'm still no closer to understanding what it is they actually do with those crazy 20-sided dice, but this is what i made...

What you need

1 cucumber, halved length ways, seeds removed and sliced thinly
2 red capsicum, sliced thinly
1 cup of frozen peas, cooked
noodles, cooked until just soft, rinsed under cold water and drained - I used Chinese quick cooking noodles (Japanese somen or soba noodles would also work a treat. OR thin spaghetti snapped in half before cooking would might also work well)
Japanese mayonnaise
sesame seeds
sesame oil

The do
In a big bowl, add the drained noodles and vegetables. Drizzle with sesame oil and add mayonnaise to taste (because I'm obsessed with Japanese mayonnaise, I added a lot, but some people like less). Using your hands mix everything together thoroughly. Set aside.
In a frying pan on medium flame, heat a few tablespoons of sesame seeds until golden and pour evenly over the top of the salad.

I served these with my corn cakes

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

Chilly fusilli

Pasta salad is misunderstood. Its vintage association with seventies barbecues and cheap salad bars have done it untold damage (I’m looking at you, Swagman).* But fuck all that because a good one is bloody delicious.

Obviously cold fusilli on its own is not the least bit exciting, which is why you need to dress it with a feisty blend of clingy flavours. Adding a little razzle dazzle on the side can distract from its smorgasbord roots (tonight's grilled and seasoned aubergines come courtesy of the River Café Cook Book) but is not entirely necessary. After chowing it all down, Adam happily declared he could eat this for dinner forever.

* If you have 30 seconds to lose, visit the Swagman link for what is sadly one of the most memorable TV ads of my childhood.

Base salad ingredients (for 2 pretty large serves)
1 big cup of wholeweat fusilli pasta
1/2 a continental cucumber (chopped into small slices)
200g feta cheese
1 handful cherry tomatoes (halved)
1 spring onion, finely chopped
Handful of blanched almonds
Handful of fresh basil leaves

Marinated mushrooms ingredients
250g button mushrooms (halved)
Japanese Soya Sauce
Balsamic Vinegar
A hefty teaspoon of Miso paste mixed with around 1/3 cup of water
1 clove garlic (finely sliced)

Extra dressing
Olive oil
Juice 1 lemon

And you’ll need 1 med-large eggplant/ aubergine.

Doing it
Don't worry too much about quantities. Any leftovers make for killer next day lunch box filler.

Cook your pasta then cool it straight away in cold water and set it aside to drain. Mix all your other salad ingredients together in a large bowl (crumbling the feta with your fingies).

Dry fry the blanched almonds in a hot pan, turning frequently to prevent them burning. Once they are lightly toasted, set them aside to cool then add them to your salad.

The mushroom marinade was entirely spontaneous so use whatever you've got. I mixed a big splash of balsamic vinegar, soya sauce and diluted miso paste in a bowl then thoroughly tossed through the button mushrooms and sliced garlic. Let the mush absorb the juice for a few minutes then pour the whole lot into a hot pan and cook it until the juice has reduced to a caramely sludge. Set aside to cool.

Finely slice your eggplant and grill it on both sides then toss it in olive oil, lemon juice and seasoning.

Thoroughly mix your pasta and mushrooms (with any juice) through the salad then pile it onto a plate alongside your sliced eggplant.

Friday, 3 August 2007

Lily Vs Chew Iron Chef

CHEW: A while back Lily and I did our weekly food shop together at Borough market. Lily came up with the bonza idea of Iron Chef-ing each other - buying each other an ingredient we'd never really cooked with before.

LILY: I went for the lazy approach, picking something for Chew that I'd often bought with good intentions just to watch shrivel into a moulding heap on my kitchen windowsill because I didn't know what to do with it: Jerusalem Artichoke.

CHEW: I'd always meant to give Jerusalem artichokes a go, but for some reason I never got around to it. So when Lily, with an evil glint in her eye, handed me a brown paper bag containing this knobbly root vegetable I was secretly pleased. Never one to step down from a challenge, I then made a beeline for the weird mushroom shop, where I knew I would find something that would really freak Lily out.

LILY: Chew managed to dig out something so impossible to get to know it didn't even have a wikipedia entry. The sign said Baba de Fratta, an exotic name for a limp bunch of tentacles, like the flailing arms of green sea anemone. The first bite was weird: crunchy, salty, grassy and juicy all at once. 'Good boiled in salads,' was all I could get out of the greengrocer.

CHEW: After a little Google action, I learnt a few things about this knobbly little root vegetable.
1. It has no link to the globe artichoke
2. It is also known as a sunchoke
3. Jerusalem artichokes cause huge amounts of gas (!)

My search results yielded some salads and soups but they all lacked wow-factor. I couldn't enter a cook-off with Lily and make plain old soup. Finally a recipe for Jerusalem artichoke souffle from the Riverford website caught my eye, mainly because I've never attempted a souffle before and it sounded fancy.

LILY:On d-day I was drooling all over Carluccio's (with my seaweed in my handbag) and I thought, hell's bells, I'll kick this thing with a fancy pizza. Thin crust with baba, gorgonzola, procini mushrooms and some truffle-infused dried berries (an idea I stole from my sister in law, Mish). Surprisingly, it worked, with the saltiness of the green matching the earthier porcini and truffle (although I am sure there are far less heavy handed ways of using this green to lend an interesting flavour).

CHEW: The big day. Lily and Adam are due to arrive in an hour's time. I get all my ingredients together and turn on the scales.
Nothing happens.
Flashing battery icon.
ARRRGHHH! Battery-operated scales seemed such a good idea. I should have known they would have a drawback.

Usually I would push on despite the setback but my limited knowledge of souffle making has taught me that precision is the key. All of a sudden it was meet-the-neighbours time. Maybe we should have done this years ago, but this being London we were afraid they'd answer the door naked with a machete. Five minutes later we knew one thing about all our neighbours - they don't own kitchen scales.

Time for Plan B. I sent my faithful apprentice to the local shop for some new provisions.

LILY:If I hadn't bumped into Mr Chew running around Sainsbury's Express like a headless chook (while I too scrabbled for forgotten ingredients), I would have been none the wiser to Chew's last minute kitchen dramas. Her Jerusalem Artichoke Dauphinoise was the ants pants, with the lemony artichokes offsetting the richness of the cream a treat. Better than its potato brethren I reckon.

CHEW: Lily really pulled out the big guns with her gourmet pizza. The crunchy/saltiness of the Barba worked in perfect harmony with the creamy robustness of the gorgonzola, and the truffle/berry combo was like a party in my mouth.

LILY:Chew's bloke -- vastly more patient and linguistically advanced than I -- did a more thorough google search at the dinner table and so we realised the actual spelling of my Mediterranean vegetable is Barba di Frate (friar's beard). And, yes, it does rate a mention on wikipedia after all.

IRON CHEF RECIPE 1: Jerusalem Artichoke Bake

What you need
3 big potatoes thinly sliced
a handful of Jerusalem artichokes thinly sliced
1 cup of cream
parmesan, grated
rosemary and thyme, chopped

The do
Preheat oven to 180
If you're short on time like I was, parboil the potatoes and jerusalem artichoke until semi cooked. Drain. Butter up an A4-sized oven tray and spread a thin layer of potato and artichoke on it. Splash on some cream, cheese, pepper a tiny bit of salt, then some of the chopped herbs. repeat twice. Finish off the top layer with a good layer of cheese and place in oven. It is ready when a fork goes right in and the cheese goes crunchy. Serve it like you never even heard of souffle - surround it with good green leaves and crusty bread.

IRON CHEF RECIPE 2: Barba di Frate Pizza

What you need

A pizza base (however you like it) and enough of the following to load it with:
Olive oil
Raisins or dried berries
Porcini mushrooms (wash and soak them as directed)
Fresh mushrooms – regular or you could go oyster or shiitake
A sloppy chunk of gorgonzola (be sure to lick the plastic wrap clean – it’s all about keeping your rubbish green)
Truffle oil
That crazy baba shit

Doing It

Turn your oven on to 210C. Brush your base with olive oil. Be sure to wash your porcinis good before you soak them cos grit is shit. Place the berries in a bowl then douse them in truffle oil and mix them all about. Clean your baba, chop off its roots, dunk it in salted boiling water for a couple of minutes then rinse it with cold. Slice the fresh mush thin and put it on your base, followed by baba (probably best chopped but I went big and flamboyant). Toss your berries and porcini on top with lots of fresh, grated pepper. Slop on some big wads of gorgonzola then zap it all in the oven for… ahem, this all happened so long ago I honestly can’t remember. But, you know, cook it till it’s pizzarific. And try to keep your mouth closed while munching.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007


A few Saturdays ago, I was hanging with the ladies on a hen do. We spent most of the day at a Burlesque afternoon tea, sipping daintily on champagne and chowing down on sandwiches, scones and cakes.
Fast forward to dinner time.
We stumbled over to Bam-bou for more cocktails and amazingly enough, more food. While I was probably too drunk to give an accurate account of the feast that was laid out before me. I will say that it was delicious, and one thing that did stand out was the spicy tomato soup...
...which I tried to recreate as a main for Sarah and Nat when they came over for dinner later that week.

What you need

Half a big red chili, sliced
One stalk of lemongrass, pounded and tied in a knot
1 onion, chopped in half then sliced thinly
a few teaspoons of vegetable bouillon
half a thumb of ginger, thinly sliced
1 bunch of coriander, chopped
1 bunch of Thai basil (or normal basil), chopped
a handful of Vietnamese coriander
a few spring onions, chopped
12 normal sized vine tomatoes, chopped into small cubes

The do

In a big pot, heat a few splashes of oil and fry chili, onion, ginger and lemongrass. When onion begins to brown, add tomatoes, fry for a few minutes. Boil a kettle of water (approx 2L) and pour into pot. Add bouillon, taste and add more if required. Turn heat down and allow to simmer for about half an hour to an hour.
Just before serving, add all the chopped herbs and stir. Season with a little soy if needed and serve with your favourite noodles. I choose superfine white Chinese noodles. Vermicelli would work well too.

During dinner, Nat showed us the form she had to fill out at the police station about how her leg got squashed between two cars. One requirement was to draw the accident scene, which we all found so hilarious we almost choked on our extra-fine noodles.

For another variation on tomato soup, check out Lily's Spicy roast tomato soup