Kisir, via Bromley

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Catching up is an excellent excuse for eating.

I’ve been away having numerous catch-ups and visiting some favourite old haunts. London is a favourite old haunt and feels a little like a second home, in no small part because of the many fabulous people living there who I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Some of my happiest London memories involve long afternoons with our friends Patricia and Omer, eating delicious home-cooked Mediterranean food and perfecting cidra-pouring as afternoon slipped into evening.  So of course I jumped at the chance for a catch-up over a home-cooked meal at theirs.

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Patricia, Omer and their gorgeous children live in Bromley, South London.  I have a special little spot in my heart for this part of London as my grandparents lived there with my Mum when she was small. There is a treasured 1950’s clock from Locksbottom which still hangs on their wall, albeit in their rest home unit.  So you will understand I couldn’t resist taking this photo of a Locksbottom bus as we walked back to Bromley station.

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This post is inspired by the delicious couscous salad Patricia and Omer served with lamb and slices of avocado.  I’ve based it on a Turkish kisir but I can’t promise it’s as good as Omer’s.  It’s a pretty good lunch though, and a recommend serving it with sliced avocado.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup cooked couscous
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red pepper paste
  • 2 tomatoes, diced
  • 1/2 telegraph cucumber, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed then sliced
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 chopped parsley
  • 3-4 sprigs of mint, chopped
  • 3 spring onions, sliced
  • 1 t salt
  • 1 t black pepper
  • 1 t chilli flakes
  • Fresh avocado slices to serve (if desired)

Place your couscous in a large salad bowl.  Pour over the olive oil and mix thoroughly; some kisir recipes even recommend mixing with your hands. Next, add the red pepper paste, again mixing in very thoroughly.

I made my own paste by whizzing up a jar of roasted peppers.  For the more dedicated, there are some amazing-sounding recipes for making red pepper paste, or biber salçası, from scratch.  I loved reading this one with its beautiful, mouth-watering photography.

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The vegetables, lemon juice, herbs and seasonings go in last.  Keep mixing until everything is evenly spread and combined.  I recommend popping this in the fridge for an hour or two before serving to let the flavours mingle.
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I was greatly assisted in making my own kisir by this and this recipe.

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Beef and cabbage potstickers

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Oh, my mouth waters at the merest mention of potstickers!  Delicious, plump little morsels, steaming hot and so satisfying.  Their real name is Jiaozi, particularly popular during Chinese New Year.  In my house, we don’t wait for New Year.  They are popular year-round.

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I’ve been an enthusiastic consumer for many years now, but a recent convert to making my own.  I shied away from DIY potstickers, convinced they would be the kind of fiddly, tricky enterprise that leaves the cook hot, bothered, grumpy and worst of all, without a meal at the end of it.

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But trust me, they are quite simple and so rewarding.  I find making potstickers pleasantly meditative once I get into the swing of it, letting my thoughts wander while I shape and pinch the little parcels.

You will need:

  • Potsticker skins – any Asian grocery will have them
  • 150g cabbage, chopped finely
  • 250g minced beef
  • 2 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 T fresh ginger, grated
  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 1 t brown sugar
  • 1/2 t seasame oil
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the dipping sauce:

  • 2 T soy sauce
  • 2 T rice wine vinegar
  • Drop of sesame oil

Lightly cook the cabbage in boiling water, just until it is softened, so that it is not too aggressive in the final product.  Drain and place in a large bowl.  Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well, using your hands if you’re not too squeamish about it.

Hold a potsticker skin in your palm.  Dip your finger in water and run around the edges of the skin. Add one teaspoon of beef mixture to the top half of the skin and fold the other half over it, pressing the edges together.

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There is a special way to crimp the edges so they look pretty –  this fabulous video does a fantastic job of explaining the whole process;  if you want to skip to the crimping technique, it’s 5.05 minutes in.

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Once they are ready to cook, heat a little vegetable oil in a non-stick frying pan.  And please, do use non-stick.  I have learned this the hard way.  There is nothing worse than potstickers who take their name far too literally, so well and truly stuck you can’t eat them.

Place the potstickers into the pan and leave for a minute or two, until they are just slightly browned on the bottom.  Pour 150 mls warm water into the pan, down the side.  Put a lid of the saucepan and let the potstickers steam until cooked, about six minutes.  Take the lid off and let the bottoms crisp up for about a minute.

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Combine the dipping sauce ingredients and serve with rice and steamed greens.

 

Welsh rarebit

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Savoury cheesy beery sauce on toast, that is my delicious experience with Welsh Rarebit to date.  And my, this lovely little cheese-on-toast treat  is scrumptious.

Has anyone else ever read the Grimble books by Clement Freud?  Grimble was my first encounter with Welsh Rarebit. The exact details escape me but I know our young protagonist Grimble experiments with this dish when left to contend with household management while his parents vacation in Peru.

Fortunately I was in the business of making midwinter Christmas fare, not catering for myself in the absence of parental guidance.  Ever since Grimble, I have been fascinated by the notion of Welsh Rarebit, not in the least part because of its name.  History is divided on whether ‘Rarebit’ was once ‘rabbit.’  Indeed, no rabbit is involved in this dish, although if you add an egg, you can call it a buck rabbit.

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There were no eggs or buck rabbits involved in this rendition, for which we used Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall‘s Welsh Rarebit recipe with a few alterations.  This is really quite simple to make, and despite its sloppy brown appearance, it is truly tasty  I heartily recommend for warming, comforting deliciousness when you need some heating up.

Ingredients:

  • 50g flour
  • 50g butter
  • 250ml strong beer warmed
  • 250g strong cheddar grated
  • 2tsp English mustard
  • 1-2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • black pepper
  • 4 large slices granary

Method:

Melt the butter and whisk in the flour to make a roux sauce.  Slowly add the warmed beer, whisking and stirring as you go to make a smooth, beery sauce.  At this point, add the cheese and stir it in as it melts.  Add the mustard, Worcestershire sauce (to taste – I found one tablespoon plenty, although the recipe calls for two) and the brown sugar.  Season with black pepper.

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Toast the bread.  Top with the beer and cheese mixture and place under a hot grill until it is browned and bubbling.  Serve immediately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sage and cheddar biscuits or, what to do with sage?

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What to do with sage? Make buttery, cheesy sage and cheddar biscuits?  Yes please.

I’ve found myself with a reasonably plentiful supply of fresh sage, which is a new thing.  I have always managed to grow parsley and been left perplexed at how to use the stuff up, but my previous sage attempts have all turned into sad little heaps.

It seems I’m not the only person to pose this question. The lovely Chocolate and Zucchini blog has very helpfully compiled a list of suggestions.  Those of you who have read some of my other cheese-laced ramblings can probably imagine that sage and cheddar biscuits were a stand-out.

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Mmm, cheddar.  Do you know what I love most about cheddar?  It’s those delightful little crunchy bits amongst the dense, savoury cheese.  And recently, I was fascinated to learn  from this wonderful cheese blog, Fromage Homage, that they have a special name….calcium lactate crystals.

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These little biscuits are adapted from this recipe.  They provide a lot of bang for their buck, being so very simple to make but looking most classy served up as a home-made nibble to accompany drinks.  I need to provide you with a warning: they are incredibly buttery.  So much so that you need to have at least two.

Here’s how to make your very own:

Ingredients:

  • 125 grams butter, chilled and diced
  • 125 grams Cheddar  cheese, grated
  • 125 grams flour
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
  • Ground black pepper

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius and line two baking trays.

Combine the butter, cheese, flour, sage and pepper in a bowl.  Mix until it forms a ball (I find it easiest to use my hands for this).

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out to 0.5 cm thickness.  Use a cutter to make into rounds, treating it like a cookie doll by rolling up the offcuts and cutting out more biscuits.

Bake in the oven for 12-15 minutes until crisp and golden.  Cool for one minute and then transfer to a baking rack.

Makes 16 biscuits.
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Lemon and chipotle coleslaw

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What a handsome red cabbage!  Or at least, that was my first thought when gifted some of the cabbage overflow from my parents’ bountiful garden.  And don’t you agree?

And my second thought was coleslaw.

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Coleslaw, or slaw, has made quite the resurgence of late, I believe as part of the Americana food trend. It’s a welcome resurgence as far as I’m concerned; I have always loved coleslaw.   In my 1980’s suburban New Zealand childhood all coleslaw came with a generous slathering of mayonnaise and I loved every inch of it, particularly leftover coleslaw sandwiches  (there was little competition with my sisters for this lunchbox item).

Coleslaw’s history begins in Holland as ‘koolsla’, a cabbage salad.  It came to New York with the flood of Dutch immigrants who grew cabbages around the Hudson River.  Cabbage appears to be the only consistent ingredient of coleslaw over the years, with many variations now common.

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And mine is one of these.  I don’t think it’s particularly traditional to have chipotle with your coleslaw, but it gives it a nice heat and makes it a good accompaniment for barbecued meat and corn cobs. A word about the chipotle – I used this lovely Orcona smoked chipotle from the sunny Hawke’s Bay superb flavour and my is it hot!  I find a only need a pinch in this recipe, but it may vary with your chipotle and palate.

You will need:

  • One red cabbage, finely sliced
  • One grated carrot
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons peanut oil
  • 1/2 – 1 teaspoon of chipotle flakes
  • 2 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • 2 tablespoons chopped mint

In a large bowl, whisk the lemon juice and peanut oil together.  Add the chipotle flakes, coriander and mint and mix in.

Put the cabbage and carrot on top of the dressing in the bowl and toss the vegetables in the dressing.

Serve immediately.

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Irish soda bread

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You all know how much I love a good, old-fashioned cookbook.  So I was naturally delighted when this little gem, ‘The Cookin’ Woman: Irish Country Recipes’ arrived in my letter box, thanks to my little sister (Science teacher extraordinaire and blogger at Einstein’s Kitchen).

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It’s appropriate not just because I love unusual cookbooks, but also because my better half is Northern Irish.  Florence Irwin is the author, lauded as Ulster’s first travelling domestic science instructor.  She came to write this book after her expeditions throughout County Down. Her recipes include not only traditional fare and specialties such as dulse, but also suggestions for the modern-day cook such as the outlandish ‘imaginative and healthy vegetable dishes,’ and some household tips.

I myself would be interested to know quite how this little book found its way to this side of the world.  The original sales sticker on the back says it is from Four Provinces Bookshop (sadly now closed), 244 – 246 Grays Inn Road, London.  From there to Port Chalmers…who knows how that happened?

One of my favourite Irish treats is Soda Bread, or Soda Farl.  The leavening agent is baking soda, and the bread itself is dense and wholesome with a pleasant soda twang.

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Naturally, the Cookin’ Woman has a recipe for Soda Bread.  It’s surprisingly easy to make, being rather like whipping up a batch of scones, and it resulted in a delicious little loaf.  I am pleased to report passed the Northern Irish test – all gone rather quickly and washed down with plenty of tea.

You will need:

  • 1.5 pounds or 680 grams plain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Approx. 3/4 pint or 350 mls buttermilk (I used plain yoghurt thinned with a little milk)

Preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit or 190 Celsius, leaving the tray you will be using for the soda bread in the oven to warm up.

Sift the flour, baking soda, cream of tartar and salt into a large bowl.  Make a well in the centre.

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At this point, Florence becomes very firm on instructions to ensure a light loaf.  One is not to add it ‘drop by drop.’ Instead, start with adding about half the buttermilk to the well in the centre.  Using a knife, draw the batter from the sides and add more liquid as the batter thickens.

To ensure a light loaf, you don’t want it over-worked  ‘ragged’ in the centre.  And so I stopped mixing at about the point where it was lumpy and not to dry.

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Spread the warmed tray with flour.  Tip out the dough, dredge it in flour and knead lightly, tucking in the edges to form a circle as you go, and doing so ‘very lightly indeed.’  When the top is smooth, turn it upside down (to distribute flour to what is now the top of the loaf) and roll it to about 1 inch thick.

Cut it into farls.  Yes, I had to check this out too – ‘farl’ is an old Scottish word for quarter.

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Florence doesn’t specify a time, but just that one bakes it until it is ‘risen, nicely brown and cooked to the centre.’  This took my farls 30 minutes.

Delicious hot with butter and tea!

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Bacon and asparagus risotto

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It’s truly wonderful to be writing about asparagus.  The appearance of these little green spears of joy means it must be spring.  I’m sure you’ve all enjoyed my endless assault of stodge and apples as much as I have, but there are few things in life as heartening as these green signs of life presented to us after a long winter.

Risotto is a favourite dish of mine.  My husband describes it as a labour of love and one that he couldn’t be bothered with, because risotto takes a certain degree of patience as one gently stirs the rice and waits for the stock to slowly absorb.  But this is exactly why I love it – it affords plenty of contemplative time and an excuse to mooch around in the kitchen.

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I was inspired to make this particular little dish as I am taking every chance to make use of the all-too-short asparagus season, but spring being the perverse season it is, we are still getting some rather miserable days and cold nights.  Asparagus risotto is the perfect antidote – another chance to make use of asparagus, with all the heartening loveliness of risotto you need on those windy, nasty days.  The streaky bacon in this takes the savoury hit up a notch, but you could have it vegetarian-styles and it would still be rather tasty, I believe.

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This is what you need for 2-3 large bowls of risotto:

  • 3 rashers streaky bacon, chopped
  • 6 spears of asparagus, chopped
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1.5 cups aborio rice
  • 6-8 cups chicken stock
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Butter
  • Salt and pepper

Put your chicken stock into a saucepan and get it gently heated, perhaps the odd bubble but definitely not boiling.

While it warms up, put a heavy-bottomed pot or saucepan on low-medium heat.  Add the olive oil and let it warm up.

Once the oil is a little warm and swish-able around the base of your pot or pan, add the bacon and asparagus.  Cook it gently for up to 5 minutes, letting the asparagus soften slightly.

Tip in the rice and stir it around so all the grains are coated in the oil. When the rice grains start to go translucent, add a ladle of stock to the pot.  Stir until the stock has been absorbed, and then repeat with another ladle of stock, stirring until all the stock is absorbed.

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Repeat until the stock is all used up.  This process should take 20 – 30 minutes. Be vigilant and keep stirring throughout!  There is nothing worse than having your lovely risotto cemented all over the base of the pan.

Once your stock is all gone and your rice cooked you’re nearly ready to gobble.  At this stage, I grate in a liberal amount of parmesan cheese (I have not specified an amount because too much is never enough when it comes to me and cheese) and dot the risotto all over with butter.  Season as you like and give it another good stir, then serve immediately.

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