Sunday, 3 April 2011

Winner, Winner, One-Pot Dinner

Well, almost. This recipe suggests a frying pan in addition to a pot, but based on a recent article by John Willoughby of The New York Times' Dining and Wine section, you might just get away without it.

It all started with the promise of ripe avocados. During a weekday shop at the Covered Market, my greengrocer spotted me eying a basket of what appeared to be delectable Israeli Hass avocados. They had that almost-shriveled, blackened exterior and gave immediately to the touch. 'This can't be', I thought, greedily adding a handful to my basket. Avocados with ripe, creamy flesh suitable for guacamole are a fruit that has achieved grail status among circles of ex-pat friends, especially those from California, and the odds of finding such things are about 1 in as-many-miles-as-we-are-from-San Diego. And yet we comb produce bins of the major supermarkets, along with the baskets of the handful of markets and greengrocers in a dogged, sisyphean effort to find green gold.

So, you can see how, with a nod from this nice man that 'these'll be great for guacamole', I couldn't resist. In retrospect, however, the fact that he asked me if I'd 'like some cucumber for my guacamole' should have killed any lofty expectations of the authentic specimens I craved...I sliced and diced as soon as I was home from work--all brown and stringy, save one, which was willed into a pseudo-creamy mush with vicious mashings of a fork.

Unwilling to accept defeat, I got started on everything else to go with it. Here's the recipe:

One-Pot Stewed Chicken with Chorizo

Yields 4 portions
Time: 2 hours
  • 4 skin-on, bone-in chicken legs with thigh attached (preferably free-range, organic), patted dry with kitchen roll
  • 110g (approx.) chorizo sausage (one that has a good kick of heat and plenty of paprika), casing removed, and cut into 1-cm pieces
  • 1 Tbs butter
  • 3 Tbs olive oil (needn't be extra virgin)
  • 1 medium-large white or yellow onion, peeled and sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tbs ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp tomato paste
  • 1 8-oz tin of whole or crushed Italian tomatoes (needn't be seedless)
  • 1 Tbs dark muscovado or brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs white wine vinegar
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3-5 whole cloves
  • ideally 2 whole tinned chipotle peppers in adobo, chopped (I had to substitute 2 red chilis, with seeds, minced and 1 tsp chipotle-style hot sauce--not at all the same thing, I know!). This is all to taste, of course. If you're not a fan of chilis, go easy and use just one.
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  • Tortillas
  • Lime wedges, soured cream, guacamole, to serve as accompaniments
It's a laundry list of ingredients, but the idea here is that by combining all of these robust flavours, you'll be left with incredibly tender meat and a rich gravy.

If using the browning method, first heat a skillet on medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil and brown the chicken pieces, one-to-two at a time for a few minutes per side, until the skin is browned and starts to crisp. Transfer the chicken to a casserole or a deep pot. Lower the heat to a medium flame and add the sliced onion, stirring occasionally so that they soften and turn translucent rather than brown. Once they're softened, add the garlic and spices (cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg), turning over so that the onions are coated. Add the tomato paste and stir for a further minute or so. Add everything to the chicken in the pot. In the same skillet, raise the heat slightly, and sautee the chorizo until crispy and browned, 2-3 minutes. Again, add this to the chicken, onion, and aromatics.

The skillet can now be retired, and the pot or casserole should be set on a medium-high flame. Add in the tin of tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, bay leaf, cloves, and peppers (or chilis). Give the pot a good stir with a wooden spoon, making sure that all the chicken is coated with liquid, and add enough water so that the liquid is almost level with the chicken. Stir well again and bring the pot to a rapid simmer.

Once the liquid has reached a rapid simmer/boil, turn the heat down to a very low simmer and simmer, covered and stirring occasionally (every 15-20 mins. or so), for at least 1 1/4 hours (up to two hours). As the fat in the chicken and the sausage will rise to the surface during cooking, and there will be an ample amount of it, skim the surface of the simmering liquid with a large spoon, discarding the fat.

Place a strainer over another deep saucepan and drain the entire contents of the pot into the strainer. Pull out the chicken and reserve. Press the sausage and onion and spices against the strainer to release any other juices and set the sausage-tomato-onion remnants aside to serve later, if desired.

Set the strained liquid in the saucepan onto a high heat so that it begins to reduce to at least half its original volume. Once reduced, taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper as needed.

Pick all of the meat off of the chicken, discarding any bones or skin. Try not to eat it all in the process! The meat should fall away from the bone.

Once the sauce is reduced, how you serve this dish is up to you! I returned the chicken to the reduced sauce and served in warm tortillas with a squeeze of lime, coriander, soured cream, and tomatoes. You'll have just spent a lot of time developing that rich gravy, so there's no need to add much to it. Another variation might be to serve the chicken pieces whole, with the sausage, onions and gravy over the top (remember to pick out the bay leaf!), with rice or couscous.

While perhaps a bit time consuming, the overall effort is minimal and the flavours robust--part sweet, part smokey and hot from the sausage and chipotles, part tangy from the vinegar and tomatoes, and the chicken is melt-in-the-mouth. It is a satisfying weekday supper, even when the avocados are brown!

With thanks to E. for her help with the recipe!

Monday, 21 March 2011

How Not to Make Lemon Cake

(a bad photograph of a less-than-perfect Lemon Cake)

An exciting event took place on Sunday: the first baking project occurred at my new chez moi!

I've been glued to Raymond Blanc's 'Kitchen Secrets' series on BBC2, and I was desperate to make his Lemon Cake from the second episode 'Cakes and Pastries'. What else was going to console me after discovering that Adam, M. Blanc's right-hand Commis who is beyond charming, is a newlywed?

(Surely my sigh was part of a collective exhale that spread across a certain BBC 'Lifestyle and Leisure'-watching demographic as he dedicated his Piece Montee to the happy couple?). There's even a Facebook group called 'Stop Raymond Blanc Nagging Poor Adam'. I, for one, think 'A-Dam' loves every minute of it, though. It may be tough love, but my guess is that Adam has put in many tougher, crueler hours/days/years to achieve such a level of mutual trust and closeness with his Chef de cuisine.

Anyway, back to this Lemon Cake.

I'm not truly 'home' in a place until the oven has been used. There's no microwave in the new digs, so it's back to old school warm-up-leftovers-in-a-casserole-dish kind of quick cooking on weeknights. Warming up leftovers in the oven doesn't count as 'using' the oven, though. I wanted something that would fill my humble rooms with something decadent and comforting. The perfect cake with a big cup of coffee on a Sunday afternoon seemed just the thing.

So, I diligently copied down the ingredients as I heard them on the programme.

For the cake:

5 eggs

300g caster sugar

140mL cream

juice and zest of 3 lemons

splash of dark rum

80g melted butter

240g flour

½ tsp baking powder

Yes, at minute 3:11 the voice-over woman clearly says 'zest AND JUICE' of three lemons. Whoops. Lesson number one: always double-check recipes gleaned from episodes of food TV. I got schooled. X-nay on the uice-jay. A relatively wet batter went in my pint-sized oven at 180 degrees C (as far as I knew...), and rose very slowly but steadily over the 50-minute time period prescribed. It did not, by any means, gain the kind of loft that Raymond Blanc's did, and that's when I began to worry. I cursed the oven, a brand new container of baking soda, grocery store eggs...had I not whisked enough air into the batter? I left the cake in for ten extra minutes, hoping that the mounded loaf would maintain it's pathetic poof. No such luck. After five minutes on the counter, that loaf sank into a log of dense, slightly rubbery stodge.

Unwilling to admit defeat, however, I continued on, glazing with warmed apricot jam and followed with une couche of lemon glaze. The result: a lemon loaf that is the stumpy, ugly step-sister to Raymond Blanc's Lemon Cake. In taste, however, I'm pleased to announce that it did not suffer, and I greedily sliced myself a hunk, took a seat at my new kitchen table as the sun blazed on the red brick across the street and was perfectly content with my stodgy cake, a cup of coffee, and to be truly home.

If you'd like to make Raymond Blanc's Lemon Cake as it should be made, the recipe is here.

Also, any tried and tested lemon cake recipes are most welcome!

Sunday, 27 February 2011

When Lewis Carroll and Philippe Starck do Afternoon Tea

the Lobby of the Sanderson

When D. phoned from Istanbul to say a reunion had been scheduled for friends coming in from Denmark, Turkey, and, well, well as far-flung city boroughs...and that afternoon tea at the Sanderson was going to be involved, no further convincing was necessary for me to take the day off to go to London for a Mad Hatter's Afternoon Tea.

The Morgans Hotel Group (of Mondrian and Delano fame) opened Sanderson's doors in 2000, and the 'urban spa' has no item left untouched by Philippe Starck (down to the chrome Poaa free weights, glinting in bespoke shelves in superior rooms). Turning off the tide of shopping hoards on Oxford Street onto Berners Street, one already feels the sense that 'urban spa' is not far off the mark. On entering the Lobby, which occupies the south wing and flows into the Long Bar to one's right, the usual Starckian suspects are present: the red lips couch is there, along with big, bold lines, fluid spaces, the suspended chair, and a painting of a stately-looking Pinscher(?). Glancing over at the Long Bar, there was, equally, no denying Ian Schrager's hand in the Sanderson ethos--days away from London Fashion Week and the young, svelte and beautiful had already assumed poses along the angular bar.

Tea was taken in the courtyard garden, whose plexi-paneled roof shielded us from the drizzle, and whose heat lamps kept us cozy. After a full explanation of the menu and clear instructions from our helpful server, and we were off down the rabbit's hole...

Our cake stand, made from shabby-chic recovered china
(from top)
'hot and cold lollies'
'chocolate and hazelnut ice cream 'bombes'

the best scones I've ever had

'Eat Me', 'Drink Me' and a dark chocolate espresso 'Opera' cake

clotted cream and jam that was more like delicious strawberry compote

finger sandwiches: cucumber on beetroot bread, egg and cress on brown bread, smoked salmon and cream cheese on spinach bread and butter and ham on saffron bread

white chocolate 'Eat Me' shell filled with sponge and strawberry cream

'Drink Me' potion, filled with three layers of purees: apple pie, lemon curd, and toffee pudding (we were told that this version was infinitely better than that conceived for their wintertime tea, which layered smoked salmon with roast dinner and Christmas pudding...)

an impossibly glossy chocolate cappuccino 'Opera' layer cake

going, going...gone.

Waddling back to the Lobby, we felt much more like Alice post-'Eat Me' than Alice post-'Drink Me', but it's an experience that everyone should try while it lasts!

Sanderson Hotel

50 Berners Street
020 7300 1400
Tube: Oxford Circus

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Birthday Bourguignon

And another month gone. With no post. Not that there hasn't been some cooking happening. There certainly HAS been eating going on, and so I shall try to redeem the neglectful silence with some highlights.

We start with a birthday dinner of Beef Bourguignon--Julia Child's Boeuf Bourguignon, to be precise. Yes, a food blog post about Julia Child and Beef Bourguignon...wasn't there a book or a movie or something recently...?

Anyway, for friend P.'s birthday, Chef E. and I hosted a French-inspired evening. Taking our cue from Julia's master recipe in The Way to Cook (a 'crowbar separation' from both Amy Adams and Mastering the Art of French Cooking)we meticulously patted man-portion kilos of cubed beef with paper towels and got to browning. A bottle of wine, Italian tinned tomatoes, some stock, and a few hours later we had stew, served with green beans with lemon dressing and toasted almonds.

As this was a celebration of E.'s birthday as well, an apple pie, as requested, was wrestled up, and there was dinner!

Our dessert was experimental to say the least, without Grandma's recipe for pie crust to hand, and dear friend A., who can't eat dairy. Soy butter to the rescue! I ended up with a super pliable dough that rolled out beautifully, and the roux for the stew was definitely none the worse for this lactose-free substitute.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Comfort in a Bowl (the other winter vegetables)

I do realise that a recent post focused on a winter vegetable soup, but this one is not your average winter potage and it's also tastier than any other I've had recently.

Along with my New Year's resolution to 'travel more' (I find these kinds of would-like-to-do -anyway objectives far easier to fulfill than those based on deprivation and restraint), I thought I might also reaffirm my belief in no-waste cooking. I shall cook with what lyeth in the darkest recesses of the cupboards, and I shall like what comes of it. Or else. Or be defeated trying.

This week's challenge brought about this roasted red pepper and Butternut squash soup, which has a few warming ingredients to liven up even the greyest of grey British January days. Ginger and red chillies add some sweet heat, and the addition of parsley stems, fresh tomatoes, green chillies and creme fraiche render the dish both more visually appealing and more texturally interesting. I also advise moderation when blending soups in a blender--a few chunky bits are always welcome so as not to create something that resembles baby food (as so many store-bought soups do).

So, without further ado:

Yield: 3-4 portions

1 Butternut squash (peeled, seeded, and cut into roughly 3-cm cubes)
1 large red Bell pepper/capsicum (rinsed, seeded, and cut into 4-5 thick segments, lengthwise)

2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
2-cm cube of fresh ginger, minced
1 Tbs. clear honey
1 red chili (rinsed, seeded, minced)
1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
5-6 Tbs. olive oil (enough to coat all the veg)
Salt and ground black pepper

2-3 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2 cloves garlic (one whole, peeled, one peeled and minced)
1 small white onion (peeled and quartered)

3/4 cup fresh parsley or coriander (or mix of both) (rinsed, leaves roughly chopped, stems reserved)
4 Tbs. creme fraiche (plus more to serve on the side)
1 green chili, minced
1 red chili, minced
Fresh tomatoes (washed, roughly chopped)

Preheat the oven (on the broil setting) to 200 C, with one rack elevated to near the broiler). Place prepared Butternut squash and pepper onto a shallow baking tray and use a fork to mix the above five ingredients together. Pour over veg in the baking tray, tossing the veg until all is coated in the oil. Season with salt and pepper.

Roast the veg for about 30-40 minutes, or until soft and the edges caramelised. Meanwhile, heat the stock to a simmer over a medium-low flame and add the whole garlic clove and quartered onion. Continue to simmer on a low flame until the veg is fully roasted.

Transfer the roasted veg and scrape any oil from the tray into a blender. Add parsley/coriander stems and one cup of stock (garlic and onion included) and blend (make sure the top of the blender is not fully closed, as steam will need to escape!), adding more stock as needed. Pour half of the soup into a pot or serving tureen (so that some of it remains chunky) and blend remaining soup, with more stock if necessary. Transfer all of the liquid into a serving bowl and stir through 4 Tbs. of creme fraiche.

Arrange chopped chillis, tomatoes, and parsley, coriander, or both, on a plate and serve alongside soup, as well as a few lemon wedges and extra creme fraiche.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

EOA: Equal Opportunity Adulteration-Of a Culinary Sort

And now it's time for a dish that I am aware may elicit the ire of my dear Italian and Mexican friends. My apologies, in advance!

It was another cupboard-cleaning affair of a dinner. These tend to happen during that stretch between Thanksgiving and Christmas, when both my budget and my patience for yet more food shopping are stretched thin. I embrace these impromptu meals, rummaging through the crisper to see what is on the verge of going soft and concave and winding forearms deep into the dark depths, precariously between bottles, to snatch up whatever jars and packets of goodness-knows-what that have been knocking around for far too long.

A chicken breast. Fresh tagliatelle. Chipotles in adobo. Whipping cream.
Chipotle Chicken Tagliatelle

Approx. 300-400g fresh tagliatelle pasta
1/2 medium white onion, sliced
1 tsp. brown sugar
4 Tbs. virgin olive oil
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 cherry tomatoes, washed, stemmed and halved
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
4 dashes Worcestershire sauce
2 chipotle peppers in adobo, roughly chopped
6 oz chicken broth
4 oz heavy whipping cream (or single cream, or half-and-half, if feeling more virtuous)
Flat-leaf Italian parsley, to garnish (optional)
Salt and ground black pepper

In an oven-proof skillet, soften the onion on a medium heat in 1 Tbs. of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. When the onions have begun to soften and go a bit translucent, add the brown sugar and caramelise the onion. Once the onions have caramelised (sugar has dissolved, onions are soft and sticky), remove from the pan and set aside.

Chop the chipotle peppers and rub them all over the chicken, using a bit of the jarred adobo as well. Return the skillet to the hob and, in 3 Tbs. of olive oil, brown the chicken breast. Once the chicken is browned (1-2 minutes each side), add the onions back into the pan, along with the garlic, cherry tomatoes, Worcester sauce, and lemon zest. Stir and saute for a minute or so. Then, add just enough chicken stock to deglaze the pan. Cover the skillet with foil and put in a 220-degree C oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the chicken breast is cooked through and its juices run clear when pierced.

Remove the chicken from the pan and slice on a cutting board. Return the skillet to the hob on a low heat and add the cream, stirring continuously with a whisk until a thickened sauce is formed. As the sauce thickens and reduces on a very low simmer, cook the fresh pasta in salted boiling water.

Strain the pasta, reserving a few ounces of the pasta water, and add to sauce. Add a bit of the pasta water if sauce is thicker than desired. Stir through thoroughly and plate pasta, topped with sliced chicken and parsley.

While you're at it, if you happen to have some dulce de lechce cream to get rid of, a little parfait of dark chocolate digestives, chocolate chips, and hazelnuts makes a lovely dessert (though I wouldn't recommend following up the pasta with this straight away!).

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Comfort in a Bowl

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the earth; I have not been knocked out by a low-hung gargoyle or the icy slick coating the cobbles. I've just been, well, incommunicado the last couple of months; the means for communication were certainly present--as were my own laziness and a rather hectic schedule. My sincerest apologies to you out there--who are probably no longer bothering to read!--who have been met with Poirot's face for the last three months... I'm tired of his visage, too.

So, here's a too-good-not-to-share adaption of a recipe from the October 1995 issue of Bon Appetit:

Yields 4 generous portions.

3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium white onion, peeled and chopped
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
Olive oil

2 Tbs. fresh thyme, stripped from stems
1 whole sprig fresh rosemary
1 small bunch sage (4-5 leaves)

2 Tbs red onion jam
Splash of red wine

2 courgettes, chopped and ends removed
1 yellow pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cloves of garlic, whole/peeled
1 medium baking potato, cubed
1/4 cup red lentils (optional)
1 8-oz tin of peeled tomatoes
8-12 oz water
8 oz boiling water with 1 chicken or vegetable stock cube dissolved in it

Ground black pepper
1 tsp. pul biber or chili flakes

Rinse and chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces--preferably so that they are all roughly the same size. This is not crucial. I find the best vegetable soups are those that have those escaped, odd bits--they add texture. Sweat the chopped onions, celery, and carrots in a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in a large pot or dutch oven until they are soft, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. A bit of salt will help with this. As the mirepoix breaks down and starts to smell scrumptious, throw in the rosemary, 1 Tbs. thyme, sage, and stir. Put a lid on the pot to help the herbs infuse into the vegetables. Leave the pot covered, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes or so.

Fish out the sprig of rosemary, the sage leaves, and add a splash (half of a wine glass) of red wine. Scrape the bottom of the pot to release any bits that have caramelised and stuck. Now add the red onion jam, courgettes, pepper, garlic cloves, potato, and stir. Add the tin of tomatoes, breaking up the tomatoes with the wooden spoon. Next, add the water and stock and stir through thoroughly. There should be enough liquid to cover all of the other ingredients; add more water if needed. Now is a good time to check seasoning. Add more salt if necessary, add ground black pepper, chili flakes, and if the onion jam was left out, add a pinch of sugar to offset the acidity of the tinned tomatoes. Cover the pot and raise the heat slightly to bring to a boil. When the soup has reached the boil, add the red lentils (optional) and turn down the heat to a vigorous simmer (more of a low boil). Cover the pot and allow the soup to simmer for at least 15 minutes, or until the lentils and potatoes are cooked through and all the vegetables have softened.

When the soup has simmered away and the vegetables have reached the desired softness, tip in the remaining fresh thyme and check the seasoning once more, adding more salt and pepper as needed. Turn off the heat. Using a ladle, transfer 1/3 - 1/2 of the soup to a blender and pulse until smooth (allow the liquid to cool a few minutes in the blender before blending, or keep the steam hole of the blender open, covered with a towel). Try to get the two cloves of garlic included in the portion that is blended--if they manage to remain elusive to your ladle's trawl, that's fine; they'll have gone soft and sweeter having been boiled whole.

Pour the pureed soup back into the pot to join the remainder and stir through.
Serve warm.

David Chang of Momofuku recently quoted the Basque chef Juan Mari Arzak on Lynne Rossetto Kasper's 'The Splendid Table', saying 'You have to look at food through a child's eyes', and on a cold, dark Sunday afternoon, this simple and straightforward soup was comfort in a bowl.