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Thursday, 28 February 2008

Chowing down on chowder

Celeriac has been a regular in my market shopping bag for the last few months. So far, I've been making Lily's celeriac soup, or mashing it up as a side, but now I feel the need to do something different with it. Here is a hearty chowder that will fill your belly on those cold lonely nights. And it's great for lunch the next day too.

The celeriac gives the chowder a lovely light earthy flavour, the corn adds a sweet textural difference while the potato brings everyone together for a big group hug.

What you need
1 can of butter beans, drained and rinsed. (Or if you have time soak some dried beans overnight and use those)
1 celeriac, peeled and cut into cubes
3 potatoes, washed and cut into cubes
1/2 a pint of soy milk
2 heaped teaspoons of Marigold bouillon powder
2 big leeks sliced
2 medium sized onions, finely diced
1 sprig of rosemary
Fresh parsley

The do

Put a kettle on the boil. In a big pan over medium heat, fry the leeks, rosemary and onions in some oil until soft. Add the celeriac and potato, fry for a few minutes then pour boiling water over the veg until just covered, add the bouillon. Keep at slow boil without the lid, when you can just stick a fork through the celeriac, throw in the beans. Turn the heat down and simmer until the beans become plump and take on the flavours of the soup. Do not allow to boil at this point or else the beans will split and breakdown into mush. When the beans are done, add the milk and simmer for a further 15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Serve with some crusty bread and fresh parsley.

Saturday, 23 February 2008

When gravity strikes...

While I was going through my old photos the other day I came across this picture, taken the last time Adam was in town.
I'd taken the day off work, and we spent the whole afternoon together drinking wine and constructing an amazing lasagne. Adam made fresh lasagne sheets while I grilled aubergine, and roasted vegetables. Each layer was debated, then lovingly applied. Then it came time to bung it in the oven. I lifted it off the bench, but didn't quite get a good grip on it (it was a lot heavier than I expected) then...

(apologies for the blurry shot, I was laughing so hard I couldn't keep the camera still)
I dropped the entire dish on the floor and in a lame attempt to try and catch it on its way down I slammed it against the kitchen cupboard which then swung the dish upside down causing the contents of the lasagne to spill all over the inside of the hot oven and the floor.

We had to bypass the 5-second rule, because we were paralysed with laughter - but we did finally manage to scoop it back into the dish and bake it. And it was very, very delicious.
The weekend after that I spent a whole Saturday afternoon scrubbing out the oven...and that wasn't as funny.

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Lunch Spot number 1

There's no sadness like toast at your desk at 1pm. A woman is not a machine and on my lunch break I want to feel free. I want to have time to at least get through the national and international pages in a corner somewhere with a tasty plate of whatever in front of me. It doesn't happen often, but fuck it, when it does I figure it's worth sharing.

Hence the introduction of my lunch spots to Lily & Chew, lest you ever find yourself lost and hungry in Shoreditch, because maybe you're checking out Spitalfields market, playing the art/fashion/vintage scene, speaking at a nu rave convention or dreaming up a post-punk post-nu-punk post-ironic post-post-ironic band name. (There's also an American Apparel nearby, which is handy).

My criteria for a nice place to have lunch:

1. Full belly for a fiver or less.
2. More than one meat-free option that sounds nice (two is fine) and has a happy ending (tastes good).
3. There has to be something pretty about it, which is more of a feeling, really, because it could be pretty in a sweet way or in a grimey way, but still fun either way.
4. A table that doesn't wobble.

Bricklayer's Arms
First cab off the rank is a pub. We are in London, after all, a city full of workers enjoying wet lunches every day of the week. The problem with most boozers is that the food is gobshite. Not so at the Bricklayer's Arms.

Luckily I work with very nice people (thanks to Spinky for the beautiful pic at the top of this post) so I'm happy to sometimes find myself sharing my lunch hour and the Bricklayer's is an ideal place for just such an occasion. Their Thai kitchen produces a lunchtime menu deep in flavour and light on the wallet. There's a veggie and tofu version of nearly everything, they don't skimp on quality or authentic Thai flavours and meals are big. The public bar is a lovely, warm, woody space, with a handful of real ales on tap, if that's your thing. And, wonder of wonders, the music is great.

Cost: £4.95 for one course/ £6.50 for two
Veg Options: Multiple
Flavours: Thai (curries, pad thai, chili rice etc)
Atmosphere: A light, refreshed (but nicely worn in) local with lots of wood and pretty beer fonts
Wankers: None

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Nutty Spice

This evening I arrived home to find the kitchen floor covered in food. At first I thought the cat had tried to fix her own dinner, but soon realised that the shelves in the pantry had collapsed, spilling its contents everywhere. A pain in the arse, but once I finished sweeping up the pesky bits of quinoa and risotto rice, I discovered that I had about ten almost-finished packets of assorted nuts. Instead of throwing them back into the bowels of the pantry never to be seen again, I chucked them all into a baking tray and made the best of a very nutty situation.

What you need
About 280-300 grams of mixed nuts, unsalted (I used raw cashews, brazil nuts, raw peanuts, hazelnuts, walnuts
half a teaspoon each of smoked paprika, ground cumin, ground coriander, chili powder (less or more depending on how much heat you can take)
1 very big pinch of sea salt (or 2 if you love salt)
3 tablespoons of olive oil

The do
Heat oven to 200 degrees C. Grab a deepish metal baking tray, throw in the nuts, then the spices then the oil. Shake the tray around until the nuts are evenly coated in the oil and spices. Roast in the oven for around 10 minutes or less, toss them every couple of minutes so they roast evenly. They burn very quickly so don't get distracted like I did. When they are slightly browned they're done. Empty tray onto some kitchen paper to cool completely then store in a airtight jar.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Fanny and fajitas

As if veganism doesn't suffer in the publicity game enough, from Portland this week comes news that one Johnny Diablo is using his meat-free philosophy to flog a new strip joint. He explains it on his blog thus:

"We do things a little differently around here, number one of which is that we don't murder innocent creatures. That's right. Casa Diablo Gentlemen's Club is the world's first and only vegan strip club. Don't be fooled by the political correctness posers out there. We aren't feminazis. We are femi-libertarians! Creatures, human and non-human, should be allowed to do what ever they want as long as they don't step on someone else's hooves."

Portland's Willamette Week newspaper reports: "The club’s main claim to veganism seems to be that strippers cannot wear any leather, fur, silk or wool. If a dancer slips up and sports snakeskin heels, Diablo says he pulls the woman aside to talk about 'not bringing murder victims into the establishment'." Righteous.

Given the nature of their work, a restrictive dress code for strippers isn't too much of a stretch. But what of the patrons, will they have to check their leather shoes at the door or leave their croc skin wallets at home? Not a word about that, and not likely if this blog post is anything to go by: "Come see all the hot dancers and bring plenty of cash for the ladies. We have an ATM on site if you need more."

As for what's cooking in Casa Diablo's kitchen, the W Week story says: "The club’s no-frills Mexican-based menu comes with no description of meals—just a title, like “Fajita Platter $8.00” with “choose steak or chicken” written underneath. (Diablo says he enjoys duping meat-eating customers, and that what’s served is gluten-free, wheat-based soy.)"

Way to push the vegan message, man... force a few carnivorous blokes checking out naked ladies to eat fake meat. Move over Jamie Oliver.

Visit The Gurgling Cod for a nice bit of analysis on the story.

Monday, 18 February 2008

block rockin rhu-beets

I've said it before and I'll say it again: beets are beautiful. Earthy, sweet and bright as a blast of sunshine on a crisp and frosty winter afternoon. They are also ideal after a Sunday spent wandering through Highgate cemetery (home to reposing souls as diverse as Karl Marx and Titanic riders).

This recipe is a peculiar one. My interest was piqued when I read about rhubarb and potato soup a while back. When my research uncovered a Nordic dessert, I decided to take it into a different direction and go for something savoury instead, bringing beets into the mix. The result was delicious, fresh and tangy: potato held the rhubarb's creaminess while the beets tempered their tart ways and added some resistance to the mush. Lest it was a one-off fluke, I made it a second time. Once again, I enjoyed a gorgeous combination of mellow beets pushing against the barb's tongue lashing.

What you need
A bunch of small beets for 1/2 a bunch of rhubarb (twice as many beets for your barb is a good ratio)
1 med-large potato
Handful of fresh parsley
Handful of fresh sage (not essential)
Veggie stock
Splash white wine
Olive oil

Making it
Wash, peel and chop your beets and potato. Mix them through a couple of tablespoons of heated olive oil with your rhubarb (washed and chopped). Add some fresh chopped parsley and sage if you have them handy. Let it all heat through on medium for about ten minutes, stirring regularly. Add the wine and cook for another few minutes. Fill the pot with veggie stock and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for a good 20-30 minutes, until the rhubarb and the potato have disintegrated into mushy pieces.

Take your red hot soup off the stove and let it all calm down for a good five minutes. Blend in batches if need be (this is the last thing you want to send spinning round your kitchen walls). Divide between bowls. If you want to add a little creme fraiche, go right ahead. One thing I would advise is to accompany this soup with your favourite toast: its intensity warrants a small serving rather than a whopping plate. If you want to reduce the intensity, bring a little more potato into the mix.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Morocco, part three: sweet pastilla

I love Saturday. A real, proper day off with a sleep-in at the end and vague memories of drunkenness from the night before. So, onto a sweet Moroccan dessert, perfect for the weekend.

Apple and cream pastilla for two

Three large apples (peeled and chopped into small cubes)
1-2 sheets of filo (to make about 6 small rounds)
250 grams of almonds
1/2 litre milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp orange flower water
2 tbsp honey
Corn starch

The do
First, a neat trick for shelling almonds: soak them in boiling water for about twenty minutes and the husk will slide right off. Then toast them on a low heat in the oven until they are golden. While the almonds are toasting, soften the chopped apple pieces in a pan with the butter and a sprinkling of nutmeg. Cut your filo sheets into rounds and toast them in the oven until they are crisp and golden. Roughly crush the almonds and mix them in a bowl with warmed honey until they are coated.

In a saucepan, bring the milk to the boil. As soon as it boils, lower the heat and whisk in some corn starch. Add the sugar and orange flower water. Simmer until it thickens into a cream and let it cool.

Lay a filo round on each plate, pile with some of the apple then the nut mix, drizzle with a little more warmed honey then repeat the layers until you've used all the mix. Finally, pour the cream over the top and crunch your spoon into this sweet pile of appley goodness.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

morocco, part two: Zaalouk

The first of the two main dishes I cooked with Lahcen in Fes was Zaalouk, a smokey aubergine stew spiced with cumin and paprika. (I learnt a brilliant general cooking tip during its preparation: to pulp raw tomatoes, chop them in half horizontally and use a box grater to grate the flesh away from the skin.)

The recipe includes preserved lemons. No biggie if you don't have them but they are apparently quite easy to make -- you score some lemons, overstuff them with salt, squeeze them into a jar, top it up with more salt, water and lemon juice and then let them fester for four weeks. I set my first batch in the cupboard on the weekend so can't say how they're going yet. Will let you know next month.

What you need for Zaalouk
2-3 aubergines
2-3 tomatoes
Finely chopped chillies, seeds discarded (2-3 if mild, 1 if hot)
2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
1/4 of a chopped, preserved lemon (not essential)
1 pinch each of ground cumin, paprika, ground black pepper
Lemon juice
Olive oil
A handful of olives and strips of preserved lemon skin to serve (if you have it)

The Do
To get your Zaalouk smokey as Dusty Springfield you really want to start by cooking the aubergine directly on a medium flame on your stovetop, letting them blister on the outside and turning regularly until they are scalded black all over and going limp. (If, like me, you don't have gas, bugger. You can do it in the oven.) When they are cooked, seal the aubergines in a plastic bag for at least twenty minutes. It will be very easy to remove their skins thereafter.

Meanwhile, slice your tomatoes in half and grate the flesh into a bowl (such a genius way to leave the skins behind). Set aside. Fry the finely chopped chillies in olive oil for a few minutes before adding the garlic. Soften over medium heat (chuck in a little wine if you so desire), then add the tomatoes and chopped, preserved lemon. Once the toms are heated through, mix in your spices and a splash more olive oil. Let the mix reduce over a low heat until the tomatoes have thickened. Meanwhile take your cooled, smokey aubergines out of the plastic, peel off the skin and chop them good. Add them to the mix and mash it all up over the heat until it fuses into a lovely, thick, velvety stew. Remove from heat and let cool for a few minutes before stirring in the fresh parsley. Sprinkle with olives, lemon juice and preserved lemon peel. In my limited experience, Zaalouk is best accompanied by fresh, crusty bread for scooping, lots of smiles and a bloody good view.

A quick iron fix

It's been quite an international week here at Lily and Chew! With all this jetsetting, the immune system can take quite a hit when jumping from different climates and nothing is better for you than some dark leafy greens. Proper big spinach is hard to find if you are relying on the big supermarkets - it's just so unfashionable at the moment. This weekend at the farmer's market I managed to score two big bunches of Popeye's vegetable of choice at a much more manageable size than the mega spinach I bought a few weeks ago.

For a quick iron fix - chop it up, throw into boiling water for a few minutes. Drain, crumb some feta over the top and give it a generous drizzle of good olive oil. A squeeze of lemon and some pepper and you're done. I'm going to eat mine with some of Carter's leftover homemade pasta.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

make mine Moroccan: part one

When I went to Fes the weekend before last I was under no illusion that I'd be getting to know the place particularly well. Four days is not the right time for cultural immersion and I pretty much let myself off the hook by remaining totally ignorant prior to landing. Thankfully, I got lucky. And the instigator was food.

I booked a class with local chef, Lahcen Beqqi, via the joint I stayed in, Dar Roumana (it is beyond beautiful and owned by a fantastic couple, if you don't mind splashing out a bit). When Lahcen arrived with a shopping basket at 9.30 on my first morning I was a little dazed after getting in late the night before. We headed straight into the throng of the souk, with stalls containing every kind of produce imagineable in the theatrical old-city setting of the medina. Here I got the first inkling of a very practical bent in the Moroccan kitchen: no part of plant or animal goes to waste. It can leave a vegetarian feeling a little squeamish.

We filled Lahcen's basket as he chatted about food and culture and gently pushed me out of gobsmacked bystander status. To his eternal credit, Lahcen wants you to get amongst it, talk to stall holders and buy ingredients for yourself.

Once we'd sampled dates, seen live chickens lose their heads, marvelled at some genital produce at the camel stall and filled the basket with fresh, tasty goodness, it was time to head to Lahcen's kitchen. There, I met his charming accomplices, the two Fatimas ('Fatima cous cous' and 'Fatima tagine') and enjoyed a mint tea and the breathtaking rooftop view of the medina before getting my apron on.

Over the next few hours we made four delicious dishes and I got some brilliant cooking tips. But Lahcen's classes are not really about equipping students with fancy techniques. Food is history, family, country, music and friendship, and it was conversation along these lines that was most enriching. If he had his way, the classes would be part of a broader cultural experience, the full Morocco story. He is already developing his business, Fes Cooking, in this direction, pushing you to engage as much as you allow yourself. In hindsight, I would have gone a little better prepared, with small change for the souk and some arabic so I could talk more to stallholders and the Fatimas in the kitchen. But, you know, as long as you are open to whatever interaction might come your way, there is no doubt you will have a wonderful day. And I did. Followed by the next day and the next and the next. I loved every minute of my Fes jaunt.

Recipes start tomorrow, beginning with Zaalouk...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Блинчатый пирог: Russian Pancake cake

Last October I was lucky enough to visit Russia. It was a great trip all in all, once I developed a healthy sense of humour and a tolerance for inane bureaucracy (England has trained me well). Everyone looked like they wanted to kill me, but that turned out to be a false impression, and Russians are actually very friendly once you chisel your way through the frosty exterior.

From a culinary perspective, I approached the trip with great trepidation. I tried to imagine what it would be like to survive on boiled potatoes and bootleg vodka for 10 days. I even thought about packing food alongside my thermal underwear.
As it turned out, the food was fantastic. We had some great hearty soups like barley vegetable, cream of mushroom and of course borscht, lovely salads with lots of dill, a few wild mushroom-type dishes. We were lucky enough to make it there just before the proper winter set in, while the restaurants were still using fresh produce.

After this time they use mostly frozen food. We visited a supermarket (one of my favourite things to do whilst in another country) and found this pick n mix frozen aisle that had all kinds of fruit and veg - from mushrooms and broccoli to strawberries and blueberries.

One of the highlights was a very popular blini cafe (Russkie bliny ul. Gagarinskaya 13; 15-20 mins from Nevskiy Prospekt metro) on the outskirts of central St Petersburg. It wouldn't win points for ambiance, it was like someone had set up a makeshift cafe in their front room by throwing in couple of chairs and tables with complete with plastic tablecloths. It was perfect.

Carters had a blinchiki (deep-fried folded pancake) with egg and shallots while I went for a Blinchaty cake (pancake pie) - think lasagne but with pancakes instead of pasta, layered with light buttery potato mash and gamey wild mushrooms. The perfect lunch for a very cold and hungry person.

Several months later back in London, Miriam and Ross hosted a Foods of the World Russian lunch, and seeing as it was the perfect occasion for it, I decided I'd give the ol Blinchaty cake a whirl.

I used the same ingredients as the one I had in St Petersburg but with the addition of spinach for some greenery.

Блинчатый пирог: Pancake cake
What you need
a frying pan and springform tin of approximately the same diameter

For the crepes
3 eggs
1.5 cups flour
2 cups soy milk
half a teaspoon cornflour
2 tbsp oil
1 pinch salt

For the filling
2 small handfuls of dried porchini mushrooms, soaked in hot water
750g of fresh mushrooms, diced finely
750g bag of organic frozen spinach
7-8 medium sized potatoes
2 onions, diced finely
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
a few springs of dill, chopped
supermarket breadcrumbs
parmesan cheese
soy milk

The do
Boil the potatoes in salted water until soft and then mash with soy milk and butter. Season with lots of salt and pepper. Set aside.

crepe mixture: combine 1 egg and a half glass of milk in a mixing bowl. Add sifted flour, salt and cornflower. Slowly whisk in the rest of the milk. Add 2 tbsp of oil. Whisk until thoroughly combined. The batter should be quite runny, like the consistency of pouring cream. To prevent lumps, add all the ingredients gradually. Allow to stand for half an hour.
Heat a frying pan on high until it's very hot, throw a small knob of butter in the pan. With ladle in one hand, and the pan tilted at an angle with the other, put a ladleful of batter onto the top part of the pan. Move the pan quickly in a circular motion so the batter covers the whole surface before it sets.
When the edges start to lift away from the pan, flip the pancake over, cook for about 5-8 seconds then transfer to a plate. Repeat, stacking one on top of the other until all the mixture is gone.

mushroom filling: Drain the mushrooms, making sure you keep the water. Finely dice them and then sieve the water to remove any grit.
In a pan over medium heat, fry the onion and garlic, then after a few minutes, add all the mushrooms and the water. Fry until mixture is dry, season with salt and pepper.

spinach filling: in a frypan over medium heat, fry frozen spinach lumps until thawed. Remove from heat and push into a sieve to remove excess water.

Putting it all together: Line a springform cake tin with tin foil and sprinkle a thin layer of breadcrumbs onto the base. Lay a crepe on top of the crumbs, then a thin layer of potato (use your fingers, it's easier) spinach, grated parmesan, crepe, mushrooms, dill, grated parmesan, crepe, potato, spinach, dill, parmesan, crepe, mushroom, dill, parmesan, crepe. Continue until you run out of ingredients, finishing on a crepe with cheese on top. Press down firmly. Cover with foil, then bake for 40 mins or until a knife stuck into the centre comes out hot. Slice up and serve.

The Russian Table of Food was a sight to behold. Delicious salads and borscht. Little aubergine and sour cream blinis. Gorgeous freshly baked Georgian cheese bread.
And the desserts were A M A Z I N G.
There was a sweet plum pizza with nuts on top, and a creamy pudding with almonds which had to be set in a flower pot. Oh, and the pear, rhubarb, quince and lime favoured vodkas!
(At this point, I have to admit that I have been an irresponsible blogger and while I should have been writing down the names of these dishes I was eating them instead! Fingers crossed that their creators will be reading and be kind enough to email the recipes to so I can post them. Watch this space...)

Friday, 8 February 2008

Yu Sheng In Print

Chew's delicious Yu Sheng salad recipe made it into the pages of thelondonpaper this week. I thoroughly recommend it for Chinese New Year festivities, both for fabulous flavour and salad twister party antics.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Winter roast

When the days are biting there's nothing like a big plate of roast winter veggies to protect you from the chill. To me, anything tastes good roasted so I chuck in whatever is in the house. This plate includes potatoes, fennel, beetroot, onion, garlic and jerusalem artichoke. All tossed in oil and fresh rosemary, seasoned with salt and a smattering of chili flakes. Make sure you toss everything after the first ten minutes roasting before giving them another ten.

On the side, couscous with sauteed shallots, courgettes, mushrooms and parsley. So very delicious. Speaking of couscous, I am off to Morocco today for five days, taking in this cooking course in Fes. The results next week.

we've taken a hit

We're having a little technical issue here at Lily & Chew. Our mothership, Blogger, renovated mid-Jan with the outcome that, for the moment, you are unable to search our recipes via the ingredients list that normally appears in our sidebar. This kind of thing is beyond the realms of our technical ability to restore right at the moment. But it is being looked into. If you do want to search for anything in particular in the meantime, then I'm afraid it's a google job. Thanks for your patience.

On another note, thank you to everyone who has voted for us thus far in the 2008 Blogger's Choice Awards. I never knew we'd go in for such pomp and pageantry but by golly we love it!