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I’ve been very remiss on the blogging front in the last few months, partly in response to a what has been a stressful time on the work front. When I’m too tired to cook interesting things, it doubles down on being too tired to blog: even if I had the energy to write, I couldn’t really make a blog post about my endless diet of rice and dal or beans and greens pasta. But I was given a bit of a nudge by hearing about readers out there who missed the blog. A couple of times people I know (or, indeed, am related to) mentioned that they hadn’t seen updates recently but on one occasion Lemur friend T told me her friends––whom I have never even met––said they’d missed the blog. It was kind of a boost to realise that I have an actual audience out there. I’m not kidding myself that anyone cares significantly about my updates, but still, even knowing that some complete strangers to me are enjoying the blog enough to miss it gave me the impetus to get back to cooking and writing about it. So thanks, readers, and welcome back!
Meanwhile, it is finally, finally summer here in the south of England. I honestly feel like we’ve waited three years for a solid week of warm weather and I am taking full advantage. (Example: I am writing now from a deckchair in my back garden.) So I was thinking about lighter summery fare when I saw a shiny pile of locally caught mackerel in the fishmonger’s display. I love mackerel – its stronger flavour and buttery texture can stand up to some punchy combinations and it’s also easy to cook. I’ve been thinking about Malaysian food a lot recently, and though this recipe isn’t at all Malaysian in overall conception, it uses some of the ingredients of the region to give a summery dish a tasty twist. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve been spending a bunch of time cooking from Fuchsia Dunlop’s fantastic Every Grain of Rice, especially its vegetable and tofu sections, but some of the cold dishes seem a bit labour-intensive for everyday cooking. I was pondering the Sichuan Numbing and Hot Beef, a party dish, really, that requires slowly simmering a whole beef shin before slicing it thinly for a crowd. And even this is Dunlop’s simplified version of an original that featured various cooking methods of tongue, heart and tripe. I love the combination of Sichuan peppercorn, cilantro and sesame but I wanted something for a weeknight dinner for two, not an impressive party platter. It struck me that, because the original is a cold dish, it might be susceptible to transformation into a yam, or Southeast Asian salad. Regular readers will know of my obsession with Thai and Viet main-dish salads, which can be quite hearty meals, but emphasise herbs and bright spicy flavours. I decided to commit what is probably a shameful bastardisation of a classic dish, and to experiment with a bit of fusion. I replaced the beef shin with a nice rare steak and the cooked sauce with a creamy sesame dressing. I think it ultimately turned into something quite different, but the result was addictive. The recipe could probably do with some revision – knock yourselves out if you have ideas for improvement – but as experiments go, it was pretty successful. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ve long been a fan of XO sauce, possibly because Dim Sum Go Go restaurant in New York makes an amazing spicy-fishy-umami version to slather on its otherwise light and delicate shrimp dumplings. As a 1980s invention designed to connote luxury, it’s probably a terribly déclassé aspect of Hong Kong food culture, but I don’t care, I love it. Still, I’d never have thought to make it if not for a coincidental series of events. First, I was given the Momofuku cookbook for Christmas. It’s a fascinating read and a lovely book but incredibly cheffy: many of the recipes require you to have made a bone stock that takes three days and some special dashi before you even begin. It’s unapologetically impractical. But one thing did stand out – a recipe for XO sauce that required two things I just happened to have: lots of good quality dried shrimp and lots of good quality leftover ham. As it happened, I had a big bag of plump pink shrimp I’d brought back from Vietnam and a vacuum-sealed pack of 5-acorn Serrano ham scraps I brought from Barcelona. It was kismet! Thus began the XO sauce experiment. Read the rest of this entry »
Lovely lemur friend M gave us some dried chilies for Christmas and when the cold snap hit, it seemed like the perfect time to use them in something deeply warming and savoury. It turned properly cold here last week and I think everyone had some version of the same idea: comfort cook meats! There was an unprecedented queue at the local butcher and he told me everyone had been buying braising meat to the point that they had actually run out of pork belly. I swithered a bit and decided on a chicken and a few plump house-made chorizos. Nothing makes me feel quite so thrifty as using every part of a chicken and the chorizos reminded me of the Mexican chilies awaiting me at home.
Red rice is a hearty and very unassuming dish. It can be as simple as rice cooked with a tomato-based salsa and as such, you might think of it as a side dish rather than the main event. But it’s a palette made for variations and additions, and I like to add a bit of meaty flavour and a load of dark greens (it absorbs seemingly limitless amounts of them) to turn it into a one-pot meal. Besides, Mr Lemur has a bred-in-the-bone Latin American love for plain rice dishes and, after all, some of the world’s great dishes begin from nothing more than rice and chicken. This is one of those dishes that seem to involve a lot of steps but few of them call for close attention. It takes more time than effort so it’s the perfect thing to make over a weekend and it will feed you happily for days. Read the rest of this entry »
There has been lots going on for the Lemurs lately, and I’ve been neglecting the blog. Truth be told, I’ve been neglecting cooking too and that’s always an index of my overall wellbeing. Obviously, it can be pretty fun to be too busy to cook when what’s taking up your time is an endless round of parties and social events, and it can even be exhilarating to find yourself working super hard on an important project. I’ve been doing a bit of both of these and it’s certainly no hardship to attend glamorous book launches, film festival premieres and gallery openings. Nonetheless, I’m enough of an introvert that I need time at home to replenish my energies, and when I’m too tired even to cook, it’s a sign that I ought to slow things down. If I’m going to make it through the festive season in one piece, I need to take a breather and get myself back into the kitchen. Read the rest of this entry »
My green-fingered cousin sent me some rhubarb in the mail. When I saw her last week in Edinburgh, she offered to pop some of her bumper crop in the post for me but I didn’t quite believe she would do it. Next thing I knew, a large brown paper envelope was plopping through the door, filled with healthy stalks of rhubarb. I’m a big fan of this maligned fruit, in large measure because of the spectacular rhubarb pies my grandmother used to make. My nana was a great baker and her pastry was short, buttery, but not sweet. It was a great match for rhubarb, which she sweetened with mildly horrifying handfuls of sugar. The resulting pie set me up for a lifetime of rhubarb love but it’s not an everyday dish.
I’ve done a rhubarb compote before on the blog, but this is a neat technique that Lemur friend K shared, which he got (in some fashion lost in the midst of time) from iconic cookbook editor and writer Judith Jones. Here, the rhubarb pieces don’t break down but keep their shape and colour, while their liquid turns into a delicious ruby syrup. It’s very simple, but I had never done it this way before and it really is a cut above your regular compote.
Start the day before you want to eat your compote. Slice the rhubarb into inch long chunks, put in a large bowl and sprinkle on as much sugar as you usually like (hint, more than seems initially reasonable, less than a Scottish grandmother would add).
Leave to sit overnight. The next morning, you’ll find the rhubarb has released a bunch of liquid.
Pour the whole lot into a pan and heat over a medium-high heat till boiling. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the rhubarb for about five minutes. If you are relatively gentle you’ll find the rhubarb keeps its shape and doesn’t break down as in a normal compote. It will also cook very quickly.
Remove the rhubarb carefully with a spider and reduce the remaining liquid to a thick pink-red syrup.
Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and enjoy with yoghurt and granola for breakfast, or with cake or on ice cream.
I’ve been on a bit of a spelt kick lately. I know some of you will be nodding enthusiastically and others grimacing and preparing to click away. Spelt has a bit of a bad rap as cardboard-like health food and that honestly hasn’t been helped by any of the mealy and disgusting spelt bread I’ve eaten in my time. But you know I don’t like ‘health food’ – I do like food that is healthy but deliciousness is my main motivation and spelt (whisper it) is pretty darn tasty. I found this brand, Amisa, in our local international food store, and not only is it organic but it is dried over beechwood, which gives it a slightly smoky flavour.
On my last trip to my lovely local butcher, they had some exciting looking bits of lamb loin – not the big roasting cut you most often see in the UK, but more like a pork loin; just the very tender central strip of meat. When I asked about it, the butcher told me they were from this season’s spring lambs. Yes, admittedly, these are those super adorable little lambs that go sproing all across the South Downs. So cute and so tasty. I generally prefer meat with a bit more flavour than a loin but at this time of year, it’s really worth making the most of the delicacy and super-soft texture of spring lamb. In the spirit of terroir, I decided to cook the meat with the local Sussex peas that are also coming into the shops at this time of year, and to finish the dish I picked up some sheep’s milk yoghurt. I grant you, there’s something slightly perverse about the combination. It seems a bit like those Asian ‘mother and child’ dishes of eggs stuffed back into the bodies of their roasting mothers, or maybe it’s just that it’s so very treyf. Regardless, I liked the idea of using tangy sheep’s milk yoghurt alongside sweet peas and pan-roasted lamb. Read the rest of this entry »
Last time in was in Los Angeles, I bought several pounds of dried chilies from a Mexican market. It was kind of hilarious as a pound of chilies is a lot and I ended up with two grocery bags stuffed full to cram into my suitcase. Luckily, I hadn’t brought many clothes since I had sensibly predicted the food shopping potential of LA before I left. I used up the anchos and pasillas relatively quickly, but I still have quite a few chile californias left, partly because I’m never quite sure what to do with them. They’re milder in both spice and flavour than the others and thus they often end up last picked for Mexican chile-oriented meals. But when Mr Lemur brought home a pork loin in one of his many Ready Steady Cook-style shopping excursions, it hit me that the mild flavour of the pork might be nicely matched with a chile california sauce.
I don’t usually (read: ever) cook with pork loin. Regular readers will know that I like longer cooking cuts with succulent meaty flavour. I can honestly say that I’ve cooked more pig cheeks than pork chops in the last year, so I had to do some research on how to cook the loin. That said, while delicacy is not my main focus in the world of meat, pork loin can be delicious if you get enough flavour into it and don’t overcook the damn thing. I started by marinading it in achiote paste and lime juice for a good 8 hours, then served it with a chile california and blood orange sauce and a big bowl of avocado salad. You could almost pretend it wasn’t November…
Chile california pork loin
For the pork:
- 1 pork loin
- 1 tbsp achiote powder
- 1 tsp white or cider vinegar
- enough water to make a paste
- juice of 1 lime
For the sauce:
- 8 chiles california
- juice of 1 blood orange, or regular orange
- juice of 1 lime
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 3 small tomatoes
To make the marinade, mix the achiote powder with the vinegar and as much water as you need to make a paste, then add the lime juice. It should be thick enough to coat the meat but liquidy enough to spoon out easily. Cover the meat and refrigerate for 8 hours.
When you’re ready to cook, open the chilies out lengthways, remove seeds and membranes, fry them quickly on both sides in a cast-iron skillet and then soak for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the oven to gas mark 7 / 425F / 220C and put in the pork. Cook pork for between 30-45 minutes – your oven will hopefully be different from mine, which is on the crappity side, but in any case it’s hard to predict how long exactly it will take to be juicy and pink rather than grey and dry. An oven thermometer is probably the best way to do it – you want to take it to about 145F. I think we overcooked ours marginally but it was at least still nicely pink.
While the meat is cooking, make the sauce. Take the chilies out of the water and blend them to a paste in a mini-prep. Push the paste through a sieve into a bowl. Put the tomatoes under a grill/broiler until blistered and blackened, then peel and dump them into a food processor and whizz until mushed up but not totally smooth. Chop the onions and sauté in a medium sized pan until turning brown. Turn the heat up to high and add the tomatoes and puréed chilies. Fry on medium-high heat for a couple of minutes till the sauce thickens, then turn the heat down and add orange and lime juice. Salt generously.
Pour the sauce over the pork, and serve with rice and a generous green salad.
Italian food expert K came to stay last weekend and he arrived with a plan: he’d been reading about the spicy Calabrian sausage nduja in last week’s Telegraph and thought we should try it out. (I should stop here and and remind readers that K just moved to the UK and possibly didn’t realise the implications of buying the Torygraph. Also he was seduced by a freebie that came with the weekend paper. Let’s not judge, we’ve all done that.) Anyway, by good fortune, I went to the Brighton Fiery Food Festival right after we spoke and came across a Calabrian food stall hawking several different kinds of nduja. Either this was the universe telling me to buy nduja or the Calabrian food lobby has a seriously good PR department.
The nice man from BreadTree told me that Calabrians think it is high time people got over their love of chorizo and recognised nduja as the best spiced pork sausage in Europe. To prove his case, he offered two main types of nduja: Nduja di Spilinga and Nero di Calabria. The first was a satisfyingly deep red colour (on the left below) and clearly rich with oil and dried peperoncino chillies. I liked the look of it immediately. Slightly more expensive was Nero di Calabria (on the right), which is organic and made from the famous Calabrian black pigs. I bought some of each for taste test purposes. Read the rest of this entry »