Thursday, 29 April 2010

Rainbow chard three ways; braised and served with pig cheeks


The last installment is a wee bit of a cop out, as I was home from work quite late and hadn't the energy or patientience for much else. But to sweeten the deal there's a recipe for pig cheeks too, which I had cooked the night before and worked deliciously with the chard.
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The washed chard was simply braised for about 8 minutes in seasoned butter with a handful of chives and parsley - simple, hardly worth a recipe, but definitely worth a go.
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I acquired the pig cheeks after being tempted by a post by Essex Eating, and will be cooking them time and time again! But not too often, because then I would be obese.
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Pig cheek and plum caserole
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Olive oil
2 pig cheeks, trimmed of skin and bits of fat (mine weren't but it wasn't so hard to do with a decent knife)
1 onion, roughly chopped
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
A wine glass of dry cider
A wine glass of chicken stock
Zest of a lemon
Two plums, stoned and cut into medium sized pieces.
S&P
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Heat the oven to gas mark 2, or get the slow cooker ready for action.
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Heat a good glug of olive oil in a frying pan and brown the pig cheeks (leave them whole for now) on all sides, then pop them in an oven dish/pan with a lid (or slow cooker). Fry the onions over a medium-high heat until they begin to turn golden brown, then reduce the heat and add the whole garlic cloves and a generous amount of black pepper. After a couple of minutes over a low heat, stick the whole lot in the pot with the cheeks, along with the stock, cider, lemon zest and plums.
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Cook in the oven for as many hours as you can bear; I managed six across two days. You'll need to stir occasionally, and about 3/4 through the cooking time, remove the cheeks, slice into thick slices and return to the pot to continue cooking, along with half a tsp salt. If not serving with the braised, herby chard, add a handful of flat leaf parsley to the mix too.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Rainbow chard three ways; baby leaf spaghetti


For the second dish in my chard challenge, we embrace the unbeatable line up of lemon, parsley, garlic, shallots and capers. You’ve got sour, savoury, pungent, sweet and salty; add to that the earthiness of chard and you’re onto a winner.

You'll need to fish out the teeny baby chard leaves for the recipe, leaving the larger, tougher leaves for another day. Excuse the ropey photo and clumsily written recipe!

Enough spaghetti for two (greedy) people
Olive oil
1 large banana shallot, cut into strips
1 large red chilli, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

Tbsp capers, roughly chopped

Large handful of baby chard leaves, washed
½ lemon
S&P

Put a big pan of well salted water on to boil. Five minutes before you put your spaghetti in the pot, heat a large, deep frying pan, and fry the shallots and chilli in generous glug of olive oil over a medium heat. After two minutes, lower the heat and add the garlic. Put your spaghetti onto boil, and a minute or two before it is cooked, add the capers and a generous amount of black pepper to the frying pan.
Drain the pasta, and combine everything with the remaining in the frying pan, ensuring that every last morsel is coated in the delicious garlicky, lemony, chilli flavoured oil. If you salted the pasta-water well enough, along with the capers you shouldn't need much if any additional salt. A few parmesan shavings wouldn't go amiss, but aren't essential.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Rainbow chard three ways; stalk gratin


I'm comfortable enough to admit that I'm the type of person who buys ingredients because they are pretty, with little or no clue what to actually do with them. In this post said ingredient is the delightfully loud rainbow chard, direct from the farm through a great little company called, errm, Farm Direct. Rainbow chard isn't actually a thing, apparently, but simply all of the chard colours sold together. Who knew?

After a quick plea on Twitter I was furnished with plenty of mouth-watering suggestions as to what to do with my beautiful bounty, so I present to you a triptych of recipes, beginning with a stalk gratin.


Serves 2 as a small but delicious side;

The stalks of 250g of rainbow chard, washed
3tbsp single cream
1tsp dijon mustard
Small handful chives, finely chopped
Handful grated cheddar
Small handful breadcrumbs, pref wholemeal
S & P


Heat the oven to about gas mark 7, or whatever that is in a normal kitchen. Bring a pan of salted water to the boil, drop in the stalks for 30-45 seconds, then remove from the heat and drain immediately.


Mix together the cream, mustard and chives, and season liberally. Combine the stalks and the cream mixture, then tip the whole lot into a little baking dish. You can at this point take a moment to smash a treasured kitchen implement, but it really isn't necessary and to be honest rather spoiled the mood a bit.

Top with the cheese, and then the breadcrumbs, and a few more turns of pepper. Bake for 15-20 minutes making sure that you don't burn the breadcrumbs, until it's bubbly and melty and golden. Eat with your chosen thing which was in my case a big steak, also from Farm Direct.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Altruistic curry and cake

As well as our usual quest for good times and gluttony, this weekend we wanted to raise a bit of cash for a good cause. We invited guests to bring a dish of their choosing along with a tenner to put into the pot for our chosen organisation, Providence Row, an East London homeless charity who focus on offering rehabilitation and training.

We were lucky enough to be joined by Rani and Saira of Joginder's Supperclub, who brought along saag paneer, chicken curry, Indian corn bread and lovely fragrant rice. Rani makes her own paneer which was fresh, luscious and lactic, and along with the delicately spiced spinach made for a totally yummy dish. The chicken, cooked slowly on the bone to an old family recipe, was equally delicious. Side dishes were lovely, with the cornbread giving a salty lift to the whole thing; throughly enjoyed!

My savoury contribution was a Malaysian tofu curry with lots of lemongrass, galangal, ginger, garlic, dried chillis and coconut; a dish I've cooked a great deal and which always goes down well.

On to desserts!A delicious dark chocolate and cherry cake from Nadia, who runs her own professional catering business. The cherries were blended and mixed into the chocolate, making the cake really moist, with a hint of sweet/sour cherry. Topped with a sweet vanilla and cream cheese frosting, the cake was entirely devourable and a chocoholics fairground.

I adapted a recipe from the Ottolenghi book to make a rhubarb, honey, orange and polenta cake, which I served with Greek yoghurt. Now, much as I love the big man himself - and his team of talented chefs - I think I prefer this to the original (though it doesn't look quite as pretty), and will definitely be making it again very soon.

We then had some intriguing 'raw' chocolate bars which were essentially ground nuts, sweetened with dates and honey and encased in deliciously dark chocolate...a real treat served with a strong black coffee. Mr Shed's contribution was homemade beer, which needless to say was enjoyed by all.

Due to cancellations and a no show we were a little down on numbers, but had a great afternoon and a decadent feast regardless. Thank you SO MUCH to everyone who came!

Most touchingly of all, two of our regulars who were unable to attend sent a tenner for the cause along with a lovely card; what a generous and inspiring act of kindness, especial thanks to Chris and Dave.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

The looong brunch





I'll skip the usual too-many-beers-the-night-before-blah-blah-etc - we've all heard it before and it's neither big or clever - and go straight to the brunch we hosted on Sunday. Again, I completely neglected to take any photos - but the delightful Su Lin did, so thanks to her for the lovely depictions of Sunday's preceedings.

Glass of Fizz, Freshly Squeeze Orange Juice
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Honey Baked Rhubarb with Greek Yoghurt & Toasted Oats
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Montgomery's Cheddar & Leek Tart, Homemade Baked Beans
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Filter Coffee, Earl Grey or English Breakfast Tea
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Wholemeal Sourdough Toast, homemade peanut butter,
a selection of preserves and proper butter
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Spotted Dick Porridge Pudding with Custard
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- £10 a head
We failed to remember that we'd given our juicer to a charity shop so ended up squeezing over 60 oranges by hand. In case you've never done this yourself it is a total ballache, but the OJ was completely amazing due to the super sweet Spanish oranges.

I have to admit that the sourdough bread and jams weren't homemade, but there's nothing fruity (apart from rhubarb) in season right now, and regards the former, no one with a proper job makes their own sourdough, do they?

BUT, but but but! The porridge pud, magnificently devised by The Porridge Lady (winner of the Golden Spurtle, speciality category 2009!) was the piece de la resistance - not too sweet, helped along with aromatic spices and a lift of orange zest, served with a lovely sweet custard. My only tweaks (entirely unnecessary) were vegetarian suet, soaking the raisins in brandy before use, and to make an egg custard instead. It made a great surprise to present at the end, thank you Porridge Lady!

We had such a GREAT day and our last guests left shortly after 11pm, after another round of toast, cheese, lots of beer and takeaway pizzas. Awesome Sunday.

Friday, 16 April 2010

Cheapo Thursday


Vinopolis offer these funny wine tour things, which certainly aren't for anyone who actually knows what they're talking about, but
tickets were only a tenner (half price), and it made for an amusing evening. Not that I know what I'm talking about, but I have, y'know, had wine before.

You get a 15 minute seminar on how to taste wine, which - due to its simplicity rather than my competence - mainly covered things I know already, but the woman was entertaining and I picked up a couple of nuggets of new information, but I won't bore you with my amateurish regurgitation of her advice.

You are then set free to roam around their premises at your leisure, which are vast and interesting, and almost worth the ticket price alone. They have a big glass case FILLED with bottles of Chateau Petrus which must be worth squillions, although it doesn't exactly represent the best way to store a barrel-load of awesome wine so I have suspicions that someone drank the good stuff and just refilled the bottles....

Anyway, there are three wine tasting areas - worlds old and new, and downright wacky - and with the basic package you have five tokens which you can exchange for a taste of what you fancy. Predictably, I went for wines that I knew I would probably like, instead of trying new things, but the range on offer isn't huge, and I was happy to sip agreeable things rather than push the boundaries.

I liked this;

And this;


And also this;

Once you've spent your wine tokens, you head through to the Bombay Saphire bar for complimentary cocktail. The choice is limited to fairly sweet, fruit juice ridden concoctions, but Bramble-esque tipple was okay, though a bit too sweet, served in a dinky martini glass.


There are options to upgrade your ticket to include more wines, rum, champagne and even absinthe, but we were eager to get back to Brewer's Wharf to try some of their new house brewer's beers - I urge you all to head there and order a pint of Hoptimum, for it is delicious.

So...you can try six wines (including the wine in the seminar), learn a little something, and drink a fruity gin cocktail, all for £10. It's not for anyone with any semi-serious knowledge about wine, but it's a fun thing to do. Go with someone else or in a group, and enjoy your cheapo Thursday.


Vinopolis, London Bridge.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Mexican fiesta after a short siesta

A small sleep after Gin Face retired to it's sleeping quaters (leaving a trail of handbag contents and clothes from door to bed via bathroom), Hangover Girl emerged demanding sympathy and breakfast in equal measure. Not even this calibre of skull crushing faceache could dampen the beautiful sunny day, and Hangover Girl devoured eggs Benedict, fresh juice and strong coffee in the sunshine outside The Acoustic Cafe.

12 noon: "we should really get on with it, shouldn't we, what to we need to buy?"
"Ack! tequila is what we need to buy. I'll be sick.". "No you won't, get on with it".

So I did (get on with it, not puke). We also managed to go out for a filling mezze snackette at Cirrik around 3pm, but that pushed me over the edge a bit and I had to go lie down in a darkened room and think about nothing.

In truth, I had already done a reasonable amount of prep, but it was still an uphill battle, with massive relief when I realised it all tasted nice and Was Going To Be Okay.

Baked Cheesy Nachos with Refried Beans, Tangy
Habanero Sauce, Fresh Salsa & Sour Cream
Salmon Ceviche with Warm Flour Tortillas
Chilli non-Carne with Red Rice, Guacamole & Sour Cream
Tequila!
Strawberry topped Pastel des Tres Leches
(three milks cake),with Mexican Hot Chocolate
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The tangy habanero salsa was inspired by Bribed With Food's delicious Picante! table sauce, and is just too addictive for words. Habanero chillis have such a delicious flavour that you all too seldom experience because it's such a hot chilli, but when diluted into a table sauce you get all the flavour without too much bite. I found the recipe in Thomasina Miers' Mexican Food Made Simple, and it's one I will make again and again.
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The three milks cake was actually quite a success, despite it's odd composition; you make a very solid, eggy sponge, in which you make lots of tiny holes with a skewer, then feed it with a pint of condensed milk, evapourated milk, and double cream. I then covered it in more whipped cream and topped with gin-soaked strawberries - and once I get my arse into gear and upload the single, sad photo I managed to take, you'll be able to see it's remains below.
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Here's the salmon ceviche recipe, as it is SO easy, delicious, and can be prepared a little in advance so is perfect for anyone who wants to spend more time with their guests and less time fretting in the kitchen. Mine's quite a simple recipe but you can ponce it up with mango, avocado, and salad as you feel fit - add any salad leaves or avocado just before serving so they don't go minging.
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Salmon Ceviche, serves 10-12 for a starter
1.2kg very fresh skin & boneless scottish salmon fillet
1tsp of sea salt
1 large banana shallot, very finely chopped
Juice of one, big, juicy grapefuit
Juice of 3 or 4 limes
1-2tsp Tangy Habanero Sauce (see below, or tabasco)
Heaped tsp caster sugar
Handful of chives, finely chopped
Handful flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Salt & pepper to taste
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Dice the salmon into small pieces - about 1cm square-ish - and combine with the salt. Leave for a 10 minutes, then drain off any liquid which has started to collect. Add the remaining ingredients, but don't season just yet, and stick in the fridge until ready to serve (ideally no more than 2 hours). The fish should be coated in the juices, but not sitting in a pool.
When ready to serve, drain off the excess liquid and adjust the seasoning. The fish will now be opaque - cooked by the citrus juices. Serve with warm flatbreads or soft tortillas. Yum.
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Tangy Habanero Table Sauce, as nicked from Mexican Food Made Simple - buy the book!
1 medium white onion diced
2 carrots, finely chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
500ml water
250ml white wine vinegar
2 habanero (scotch bonnet) chillis, stalks removed but with seeds
1tbsp salt
1tsp honey
2 tsp fresh oregano
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Very gently fry the onion and carrot in the olive oil until the onion goes translucent (do not brown). Add the water and boil until the vegetables are soft. Blend this together with the rest of the ingredients, and tada! fantastic, spicy table sauce for all to enjoy. Makes a few jars' worth, but you can just store in sterilised jars in the fridge....it won't last long.

Don't forget your dancing shoes

So it turns out that Alexis of Lex Eat! and Lex Cook You Eat! fame isn't the only clever gal in her neighbourhood. The lovely Y (as I believe she is referred to in common e-parlance) is just one talented musician amongst a whole bunch of talented musicians collectively known as Motor City Revue, who host a magical motown night on the second Friday of each month.

If you travel to darkest Stepney on said second Friday, to a pub called The George Tavern, you'll be rewarded with a "10 piece motown/northern soul/R&B/stax covers band banging out the greatest tunes known to man. Ever." - fact. You'll find Y and the rest of the band laying down brilliant foundations for a mesmerising vocal team lead by Kelly; that girl can SING, and sing she did until she could sing no more.

The night runs from 8pm til 3am, and when the band aren't playing for their lives (and evidently loving every second) they're djing 50s and 60s classics making for an additive dancathon of general awesomeness.

SO....me and my gin-face crawled in at god-knows-o'clock on Saturday morning making preparation for that evening's Mexican meal quite interesting...