Saturday, April 21, 2012

Green spaghetti

Quick!  The boy is sleeping... I may just have time to try to persuade you to make pasta with a sauce of boiled cabbage and onion.  It doesn't sound very appealing does it... but it is delicious, I promise you, and also healthy, quick and cheap as chips - which, let's face it, is an all-too-rare combination of qualities in a dinner.  We eat it every couple of weeks and never get fed up of it.  I have even had some success feeding the startlingly green sauce to Isaac.  One day soon I will take a deep breath, plonk a bowl of the pasta in front of him and let him dig in with his hands, painting himself, his highchair, the floor and anything else within a one-metre radius a fetching emerald shade.

Green spaghetti
Adapted not very much at all from Jamie Oliver

Sauce serves 4-6 - we make a whole batch and freeze half

1 large leek, washed and cut into chunks (an onion also works)
4-6 cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole
2-3 big handfuls of cavolo nero or curly kale, washed well, tough stalks removed (Jamie says savoy cabbage works too - I think that might be taking the boiled-cabbage thing too far but should try it one day)
100g dried spaghetti, linguine or your choice of pasta per person
50-100ml good olive oil - the quantity proportional to the poshness of the oil (more of a posh one, less if it's  bog standard)
Grated parmesan

Bring a pot of well-salted water to the boil, add the leek or onion and garlic and simmer for 3 minutes (a bit longer if you're using onion).  Add the greens and cook for another 3-4 minutes, until they are just tender and a beautiful bright green colour.  Tip the veg into a colander set over another saucepan, and then into a blender, adding a slosh of cooking water and the olive oil.  Blend to a smooth puree of impossible greenness and feel healthier already.

Bring the cooking water back to the boil in the second saucepan, adding a bit more water from the kettle if necessary, and cook your pasta until just al dente - a bit harder than you like to eat it, as you're going to cook it a tiny bit more.  Drain the pasta, keeping the cooking water, and return to the saucepan.  (I am always telling Matt off for not keeping the pasta cooking water.  He never learns.)  Add as much of the sauce as you like, along with a bit of pasta cooking water and a good grating of parmesan, and simmer for another minute or so.  (I like my pasta more liberally sauced than is considered proper by the Italians, and was told by a teacher at cooking school that I'd get booted out of Italy for grating my parmesan on a microplane, but I'm just a renegade like that.)  Taste and add a grinding of black pepper, and more salt and cheese if needed.

Serve on warm plates with more grated parmesan on top.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oat (& buckwheat) pancakes

Matt's default response to "What would you like for breakfast?" at the weekend is "Pancakes!".  (Not sure exactly when I became weekend-breakfast-maker-in-chief - but I spose he does work all week, while I gallivant about changing nappies and wiping up vomit without a care in the world... haha.)  He doesn't mean thin, delicate crepes - Matt spent four years living in Montreal, and for him pancakes are thick and fluffy and ideally draped with syrup.  

I like pancakes too - both sorts - but they can feel slightly insubstantial, faintly frivolous, and I am plagued with the notion that refined carbs fried in butter do not a wholesome breakfast make.  (Pudding, on the other hand, is a different matter entirely.)  I like my morning goods to be a little more sustaining, to have a bit more heft to them - otherwise I'm hungry and/or sugar crashing half an hour later.

A few weeks ago, I thought I'd found the solution in these oatmeal pancakes... but on the third making they seemed a bit too porridge-stodgy.  They are also quite a faff to make - you have to grind oats to a powder in a food processor (a bit antisocial on a Sunday morning - sorry, neighbours) and make porridge before you make the batter, and all you wanted was pancakes.  Still, I liked the idea of a pancake made wholesome with oats, but with weekend-indulgent butter-crisp edges, so I googled and I tweaked and I think these will do nicely.  We had them with a blob of Greek yoghurt and some rhubarb and vanilla compote, but they would be equally good with butter and maple syrup or honey, or fresh berries or sliced bananas, or some combination of the above.  The buckwheat flour gives them a really nice nutty flavour, but if you don't have any then all plain flour would be fine.

A note on cup measurements: I know - cup measurements are annoying.  But pancakes are such a classically North American foodstuff that I think they are acceptable here.  Plus it's late and I can't be bothered to do the conversions, so there.  If you don't have cup measures, see here for conversion tables.

Oat (& buckwheat) pancakes
Adapted from here, here and here

Serves two hungry grown-ups and a baby

1 cup milk
1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
3/4 cup oats - porridge or jumbo
1/4 cup plain flour
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
Generous pinch salt 
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp melted butter, plus more for frying
A neutral oil such as sunflower or grapeseed

In a medium bowl, combine the milk with the lemon juice or vinegar and leave for five minutes - you are making a quick, cheaty buttermilk substitute.  Add the oats to the 'buttermilk' and soak for as long as your pancake-hungry hordes will allow - I think I left mine for about twenty minutes. (One of the recipes I found online said to soak them overnight - maybe this makes the pancakes even more delicious, or perhaps easier to digest - but twenty minutes is fine.)  

Sift the flours, baking powder and salt into another bowl.  Have a coffee.  Beat the brown sugar, the egg and the melted butter into the oat mixture and then gently stir the wet mix into the dry ingredients - stop as soon as soon as you don't see any more streaks of dry flour (the less you mix, the lighter your pancakes will be - for more pancake-making tips, see here).  

Heat your best frying pan (non-stick or cast iron) over a medium heat.  Add a drop of oil and a pat of butter, and when the butter is foaming, spoon big spoonfuls of batter into the pan.  Wait until you see lots of bubbles on the surface of the pancakes, then lift up the edge of one - if they are a nice golden brown, flip them over.  They will cook much more quickly on the second side.  You might have to adjust the heat to get the requisite golden-brownness and crispy edges.  Serve the pancakes straight away, or keep them warm in a low oven.  We have also found that they reheat really well the next day in a toaster, but take no responsibility for any long-term damage that the toasting of previously fried foods may cause to your electrical appliances. 


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Maple syrup and olive oil granola

I'm back! It only took two and a half years... But to be fair I've been a bit busy since I came home from Ireland: opening a café (not mine, someone else's); falling out spectacularly with boss at said café (but that's another story); working on this Sustain project; trying and only very occasionally succeeding to conquer breakfast service at the lovely Clerkenwell Kitchen; and, most recently, having a baby.

Ever since I got pregnant last November - no! the November before last, blimey - I vowed that when I went on maternity leave I'd start my long-neglected blog up again. After all, plenty of mums juggle blogs and small people - this woman, and this one, and my friend Anne, and you can bet that these two bloggers-with-buns-in-the-oven aren't going to let a mere baby get between them and the computer screen. (And that's not counting the legions of women who blog about motherhood itself - a laugh-out-loud-on-the-train-home example of the genre here.) Hats off to you, ladies, cos nearly 9 months have slid by - enough time to grow another baby, dammit! - and I've managed not a single post. Until now (we won't talk about the fact that this one took me a month to write).

You need to know about this granola recipe. The WORLD needs to know. I gave some to two fellow February birthday girls, and both gave it an enthusiastic thumbs up - one began her thanks-for-the-nice-granola text with "Holy shit, Charles…!" which I think is how I'd like all compliments to be prefaced from now on. ("Holy shit Charles, your hair looks amazing!" - hmm, not so likely at the present time, or perhaps indeed ever, but I can dream.) I feel quite evangelical about this recipe. Since I started making it I've sent it to at least half a dozen people, and now, through this blog, another... oooh... half dozen or so might get to read it. I am doing my duty.

I've been looking for my perfect granola recipe for a long time. Back in my festival catering days I used to make great big vats of it to serve with fruit, honey and an incredible, thick, yellowish natural yoghurt made from Jersey milk by a dairy in the Cotswolds that has sadly since bitten the dust. It was good stuff, dark and crunchy, cinnamon-scented and packed with nuts and seeds and dried fruit, but it wasn't perfect - your jaw started to ache a bit towards the end of a helping, and after toasting load after industrial load of the stuff, I started to get a bit sick of the smell of it.

This granola, by comparison, makes light work for the jaws and has a cleaner, sweet-savoury flavour, thanks to an unlikely-sounding but insanely addictive combination of maple syrup, olive oil and sea salt. Now, forgive me if I get all granola-geek on yo asses for a moment, but I always thought the clumpiness of granola was of paramount importance – individual flakes of oat, bits of nut and seeds just didn’t cut it. But I've changed... and now I am prepared to go out on a limb and say that crispy crunch trumps clumps. There’s the advertising jingle sorted already. Anyway, with this granola you get both – although I will concede that here, the clusters are so delicately formed that by the bottom of the jar, most of them have disintegrated into individual niblets. That doesn’t matter as they still taste bloody lovely – just ask Anne, who finished off her birthday batch straight from the jar.

I like it by the fistful too, but lately I’ve also been eating it with Greek yoghurt (a breastfeeding perk – full fat everything, no guilt) and steamed apple. I know steamed apple sounds like something you would only feed to the elderly and infirm or babies (and in fact I did initially steam it to feed to 7-month-old Isaac) – but it’s intensely appley and surprisingly delicious, and a nicely fresh, virtuous foil to the rich, sharp yoghurt and sweetly, saltily moreish granola. Seriously, this is the crack cocaine of breakfast cereals – I find it impossible to walk by a recently baked batch cooling on its trays without a nugget or several ending up in my mouth. Another bonus (assuming you agree that the crack cocaine bit is a bonus) is that this is the easiest, most fuss-free granola I’ve ever made – which is a good thing, considering how easy it is to polish a batch off.

I got the recipe from Orangette (such a beautiful blog), and I haven’t changed it much – just added some sesame seeds for extra crunch, and inched down the sweetness a little bit (those Yanks sure like their sugar). Sometimes I make it with flaked almonds instead of coconut, depending on what’s in the cupboard. You could fiddle with the combination of grains, nuts and seeds a lot more, just don’t mess with the olive-oil-brown-sugar-maple-syrup-and-salt part too much. On the dried fruit: usually I’m a fan of dried fruit in a granola, but I’ve come to the conclusion that this one is so good, it doesn’t need it. Cranberries do look pretty in the jar though.

Maple syrup and olive oil granola
Adapted from Orangette, who adapted it from Nekisia Davis of Early Bird Foods

300g jumbo oats
120g pumpkin seeds
120g sunflower seeds
50g sesame seeds
130g walnuts, in halves or pieces (or pecans – but I always use walnuts because pecans are so eye-wateringly expensive)
50g coconut flakes OR 75g flaked almonds
1/2 tsp fine sea salt (or use 1 tsp of a flaky one like Maldon, but crush it a bit between your fingers)
50g light or dark brown sugar
150ml maple syrup
120ml olive oil
Dried fruit such as sour cherries or cranberries, if you like

Preheat the oven to 150C and line one big or two smaller baking trays with parchment. Mix the oats, nuts, seeds, brown sugar and salt together in a big bowl, breaking up any clumps of brown sugar with your fingers. Add the maple syrup and olive oil and mix again. Scrape out onto the baking tray(s), making sure you’ve got all the precious oily, syrupy goodness out of the bowl. Bake for around 45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes (set a timer – burnt granola is a terrible thing). When the granola is toastily golden, take it out of the oven, taste it, and add more salt if you like. Allow it to cool, reminding yourself that it would be good to have some left for breakfast. It will crisp up as it cools, and some of it will set into big jaggedy clusters. Once cool, stir in the dried fruit if using – gently, so as to keep some clusters intact – and transfer to airtight containers. Put containers on a very high shelf or at the back of a cupboard, or resign yourself to making another batch very soon indeed.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The final countdown

Apologies for the long absence – what with all the cooking and studying and going to the pub and swimming in the sea, the lovely visitations from loved ones, the gardening classes and the yoga classes and the drumming classes (don’t laugh), not to mention the cleaning out of fridges, laying of tables and sweeping of stairs as dictated by numerous rotas pinned up about the place, it’s not easy to sit down at a computer.

And suddenly here I am with just three days to go. In less than four hours I have my practical exam (cooking and presenting a three course meal and baking a loaf of bread in three hours – deep breaths now), and then all day Friday there's a theory exam, followed some frantic packing and tidying, a farewell dinner at Ballymaloe House, and a final, misty-eyed trip to the Blackbird. And then back to the real world. Will we remember how it works?

So... some edited (food-related) highlights of the last six weeks, in reverse order.

Gone fishing

First off, my maiden fishing trip, with seven of my classmates and our friendly and patient skipper, Michael.

I caught mackerel! Bucket loads of them! (Well, at least six.) And was only sick once, and very discretely.

Glenny was the undisputed champion of the voyage, catching a pollock that was nearly as big as her. (In fact the girls beat the boys hands down, not that it's a competition, obviously...) That night Darina and Tim had invited all the students that had helped on the market stall for dinner, so we took a few fish over with us. They were swiftly filleted and dispatched to the frying pan, and they were sweetly delicious.

Ballymaloe beach barbecue

On Sunday we had a nearly-end-of-course barbecue on the beach, brilliantly organised by my class-mate Zoe. There was a hog roast (more of a hoglet roast really – Tim and Darina had donated a piglet for the party, and very delicious he was too), and a sound system (decorated with sweet peas from the glasshouse), and more booze than you could shake a stick at (including a gin, gooseberry and elderflower cocktail I made, which I'll wager was the best use of an overcooked gooseberry compote ever), and sunshine and rain and a full moon and singing and dancing and even a bit of cross-dressing swimming in the sea (thanks for that, Conor) – what more could you want of a beach barbecue? (Ok, a bit less rain perhaps.)

There were onions grilled with thyme to accompany the hog, and all the students chipped in with salads and breads.
I made a lurid pink beetroot and horseradish salad...

...and a delicious-if-I-do-say-so-myself spelt focaccia (the recipe is here – shhhhhh it’s not a Ballymaloe one – I did double the recipe and put a bit more olive oil in and a bit less water, and cooked it in a big roasting tray).

A bevy of birthdays

Matt J and Sigrid came over last weekend – the trip was Matt’s 30th birthday present from the rest of the Jarmans. We went on a little adventure to West Cork and stayed in a caravan on Saturday night, and it was ace, and the Goldfrapp song ‘Caravan Girl’ has been going round in my head ever since.

We slept in our funny little cupboard rooms and woke up to the rain drumming soothingly on the caravan roof, and cooked nice food (a highlight: flat French beans fresh from the Ballymaloe glasshouse, boiled till squeaky and then stirred into fried onions and little bits of local Gubeen chorizo), and walked along the cliffs to the next village for a pint (Owenahincha, where we were staying, boasts only a derelict hotel and a chippie – Rosscarbery is much posher), and had lunch at the lovely Glebe Gardens & Cafe, and wandered through their beautiful gardens...

(who would have thought you could grow apricots in an unheated polytunnel in Ireland?)

...and stumbled across a little festival in Baltimore, and had Guinness and oysters even though we weren’t really hungry because it would have been rude not to.

The weekend before that, Ayanna, Frank, Damani, Dave and Matt G all came for Ayanna’s birthday, and we ate fantastic wood-fired pizza, which Philip, the German butcher and baker and Darina’s son-in-law-to-be, is now making at school on Saturdays with his fiancé Emily, assisted by a few of the students (my housemate Antonio mans the oven). The toppings use lots of local ingredients, with as much produce as possible from the school farm, and have included potato, red onion, bacon and rosemary:
...and the unlikely sounding but delicious (really must look 'delicious' up in the thesaurus) courgette and glazed new season carrots:

I made birthday brownies (as tradition dictates - see recipe below), and we walked round the gardens and ceremoniously harvested the spring onions I’d planted on the first day, to be roasted for brunch the next day with thyme and olive oil and sea salt.

Frank and Dave were smitten by Tommy the duck, who has now been installed in the glasshouse as a slug extermination device (perhaps a slightly flawed plan, as he seems to have as much of a taste for lettuce as he does for slug – but a nice idea).

There seem to have been student birthdays at least once a week, which I suppose is normal when you spend a quarter of a year with 60-odd people. For Antonio's birthday I made the usual brownies, tweaked to make use of my new-found (and still slightly wobbly) paper piping bag skills:

I thought it was about time I included a recipe on here, so here is the one for the brownies. They are gluten free, so will make any coeliacs or wheat-intolerant people you know very happy indeed.

Makes 24-48 (or more tiny bite-sized ones)

375g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids, preferably Fairtrade and/or organic)
375g butter
400g unrefined caster sugar
6 very large, 7 large or 9 medium free range eggs
4 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder - again, Fairtrade and/or organic
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
250g ground almonds
1 double espresso worth of strong coffee
Large handful of walnuts or pecans if you like

Preheat the oven to 180C.
Put the chocolate and butter in a heatproof bowl, set over a pan of cold water and bring the water to the boil. Turn the heat off and prod occasionally with a spoon until chocolate and butter melt.
Whizz the sugar, eggs, cocoa and bicarb in a food mixer or with an electric whisk. Add the ground almonds, the melted chocolate and the coffee.
Pour into one or two baking trays lined with baking parchment, sprinkle with nuts if using and cook for between 20 and 30 minutes, depending on how deep your baking trays are, how fierce your oven is and how squidgy you want the brownies to be.

Note: If you’re making these for a birthday, a thank you or whatever, you can toast the nuts first and stir them into the mixture instead of sprinkling them on top, melt some white chocolate, and pipe H-a-p-p-y B-i-r-t-h-d-a-y or whatever onto the tops of the brownies. Arrange them on a big plate and decorate with raspberries and mint leaves, or edible flowers. Even if, like mine, your piping skills aren’t up to much, they never fail to look lovely.
Other notable birthdays of late have been that of the lovely Peggy, who threw a cocktails and canapés party (there are, as Peggy noted, benefits to having your birthday at a cookery school). Here is Peggy hostessing it right up with her half-time oranges (famous on three continents):

The Barn contributed a big plate of tiny bruschetta (bruschetti?) to the party, made on pieces of Bob's number one son who'd been in the freezer.

...and I also made some little courgette, feta and dill cakes from Thomasina Miers’ lovely book Cook – they were a bit messy to make (partly because all the fridges in the cottages were so full of booze that there was nowhere to chill the mixture before I shaped them), but very tasty indeed - so tasty, in fact, that by the time I'd thought to take a picture of them, there was only one lonely and rather unphotogenic little fritter left... so no picture here to entice you, but make them, they really are the business.

Little courgette and dill cakes

Feeds 8 as a nibble or starter

500g courgettes, coarsely grated
2 eggs, beaten
6 spring onions or 3 shallots, finely chopped
2 heaped tbsp chopped fresh dill
80g fresh breadcrumbs
100g feta cheese, crumbled
a little flour, seasoned with salt and pepper
olive oil for frying
sea salt and black pepper

Put the courgettes in a colander and sprinkle with sea salt. Leave to drain for 30 mins (I put a weight on top), then squeeze out excess moisture, patting dry with kitchen paper. Mix the courgettes with the eggs, spring onion, dill, breadcrumbs and feta, and season. Refrigerate. Shape into small, flattish, bite-sized patties, roll in seasoned flour. Fry in batches in olive oil over a medium-high heat, cooking on both sides till golden. Drain on kitchen paper, and serve straight away with lemon wedges, parsley salad or tzatziki, or reheat in the oven later on.
The copious canapes were washed down with considerably more cocktails (and wine, and tequila) than is advisable, and the day after Peggy's party several of us were in a somewhat sorry state... but my housemates Brooke and Henrietta fed us back to something approaching normality with Brooke's speciality, spaghetti Carbonara. Brooke has treated us to Carbonara a few times over the past few weeks, and hers is the best I've had - nothing like the scrambled-eggy versions I've eaten (and made) in the past.

There is so much more to tell you about – the school trip... The fancy tasting menu at the Cliff House Hotel... (see Deirdre’s post about and lovely photos of that here
.) The amazing peas that have all but disappeared now from the glasshouse, and the tomatoes that are just arriving... But I think this is probably more than enough for now... and besides I have to get out of bed and get down to the glasshouses to pick some salad leaves for my exam. Wish me luck!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Children of Bob

Bob has had babies! Twins, in fact.

I shaped the loaves late last night, slipped them into their proving baskets (Tim had said to line the baskets with clean tea towels, but those are hard to come by in our house so I used a pillow slip), tucked them safely up in a black bin liner and just about managed to resist the urge to read them a bedtime story. This morning I woke up before my alarm with a head full of bread, and crept downstairs feeling like a kid on Christmas morning.
In the black bin bag in the kitchen I found two voluptuously, extravagantly swollen loaves. One was so big that it was threatening to flow over the sides of its basket, so I switched on the oven, waited impatiently for it to get hot enough, flipped the loaf clumsily onto a baking tray (one pillow slip between two proving baskets suddenly not seeming like such a great idea), slashed its surface, sprinkled it with flour and slid it (carefully, carefully) into the at-last hot oven.

Forty minutes later - my first sourdough loaf! It was a bit wonky looking, and my housemate Charlotte said it smelled funny, but nothing could dent my maternal pride - and when I took it and its as-yet unbaked sibling in to school to show Tim, he said they looked lovely. He showed me how to brush water around the sides and top of the second loaf to soften the crust while it was baking and allow it to expand as much as it wanted to.

Not much left now, and there's no better compliment than that.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Growth spurt

Our house has been a hotbed of fermentation this week. Everywhere you look there are plastic tubs of beige ooze. They don’t look like much, but they contain MAGIC – the magical beginnings of sourdough bread. How exciting is it that you can mix together a bit of flour and water, keep adding little bits of flour and water each day, and then after a few days add a bigger bit of flour and water and some salt and make a beautiful, crusty, chewy loaf of bread? Very, that’s how.

Sometimes the starters get a bit over-excited – never keep one in a glass jar, apparently they can explode with such force that they shatter the glass.
My starter (Bob – apparently you’re supposed to name them - the leaky one pictured above is my housemate Conor's offspring, Bernie) is 8 days old, and tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, I’ll be baking my first two naturally leavened loaves. Earlier today it looked like this – I think at this stage it's called a sponge (Sponge Bob - ha ha). Or perhaps it's still a starter – need to read some more Andrew Whitley.

I kept some back as a starter (sponge?) for next time I want to make bread, added more flour and salt, and mixed a craggy looking dough.

After 15 minutes of good hard kneading, it was starting to look lovely and smooth and round, like an ostrich egg, or a big pregnant belly.

It’s been growing all evening, and before I go to bed I’m going to knock it back, shape it, and put it into baskets for its final proving, ready to be baked tomorrow morning.
Other things have been growing too. Spuds, for example. This is Darina's husband Tim Allen, our gardening teacher (and bread-baking guru), lifting the very first new potatoes of the season.

(As they’re grown in the glasshouse, these potatoes are so early that when I worked on the Ballymaloe stall at the farmers’ market on Saturday, we were selling them at €8 a kilo. One woman brought a bag over to the scales and I had to tell her that that would be €28 please. It was quite a big bag, admittedly, but still. She politely declined.)

The broad beans are ready for picking too, and the courgettes are in full swing, and my little spring onions are coming along nicely.

Our windowsill salad garden has contributed towards several dinners...

...and the seeds I planted in gardening class a couple of weeks ago have come up lovely and are ready to be snipped into salads.

A first chick has hatched in the incubator in the office (you might just be able to make him out)…
…and the adopted duckling is now almost as big as his surrogate mum.

What else has happened? I’ve learned to cook some proper hearty Irish fare, including a full Irish breakfast, complete with fadge (stop sniggering at the back – it’s potato cake) and black and white pudding (but omitting the optional kidneys, because as everyone knows they smell of wee). I overcooked my egg a bit, but other than that it was a very tasty plateful, eaten for lunch yesterday, washed down with a glass of Bucks Fizz. Beats a sandwich sitting at your desk, I think you will agree. (Apologies if you're reading this while sprinkling your keyboard with Pret crumbs.)

(Hmm - not sure why this photo is sideways.)
I’ve also made Irish stew…

...and white yeast bread...

…and some fancier stuff, like crab pate…

...and my very first Hollandaise sauce.

(Blogger - stop messing with my photos.)
We got to watch Philip, one of our teachers, butcher half a pig.

And there have been more walks to the beach, sometimes even before-school ones…

…and more fuzzily documented trips to the Blackbird…

Will write soon with news of Bob’s progress. Betcha can’t wait.