Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Recipe Rifle: a digital original

Last year, in secret, I spent an awfully long time trying to get someone to publish Recipe Rifle as a book, but in the end failed.

It was a perfectly ghastly experience, looking back. At the time it seemed sort of fun, a respite from the tedious task of administering to a small baby. But in actual fact it was just disappointment after disappointment, I existed in a horrid limbo. Hopes up, hopes dashed. Eventually, total disaster, angry words and a general collapse. I wasn't really surprised: dancing in front of a weary, malfunctioning publishing industry, chronically unable to sell myself, I often said things in meetings like "You know, the way things are at the moment, I probably wouldn't take this book on if I were you."

And, worse, these publishing people would say to me: "Why would someone buy this book? I mean, why would they pick it up in Waterstones?" By the third time I heard this I would want, powerfully, to claw their eyes out, kick them in the stomach and scream "You tell me you fucking idiot! That's your job not mine! Jesus fucking Christ, no wonder the whole damn thing is collapsing round your ears if you're asking me why someone would buy a freaking book. I'm going home."

But I did not do that.

Instead I cut all ties to that miserable year, sulked in my tent for a while, then sought out instead The Friday Project, a publishing house that specialises in bringing blogs to a wider audience. And when I say that, I mean that they make it possible for otherwise unpublishable authors (that's me) to sell their work, without it being considered "vanity" (i.e. "mad") publishing.

The bloke who runs The Friday Project, Scott, is terrific. He doesn't ask me who will buy my book. He doesn't ask me, looking worried, how I think I am going to turn the blog into a "story". He just said "Put together whatever you think is best and maybe some people will buy it if they like it."

"Will you make it really cheap?" I asked, anxiously. "I mean, like, 50p so it's crazy not to buy it, like a vest top from H&M??"

"Not that cheap," he said. "But not expensive either."

The catch is that you will only be able to buy it online and read it on your iPad or Kindle or other e-reader, (unless it becomes a freak hit and the cost of printing the book becomes negligable). A "digital original", they call it, with graceful euphemism. and I don't get an advance, I am only paid for what I sell. But frankly with my shitty attitude that's a good thing. Give me money and I won't do anything. Give me a deadline and the possibility of money and I will work. A bit.

SO - my readers, my lovely, lovely readers who have been with me through thick and thin, through marriage, births, ups and downs (no deaths - yet) do you have a favourite post that you think I ought to definitely include? One that you can recall made you laugh? Are there any that were really bad - have I had a dodgy patch? Am I boring when I bang on about a certain thing?

Tell me! Tell me, tell me. I have to file my first draft in October.


Mango salsa


It's been an epiphanous week.

It started when my nanny got flu. "I can come in, I suppose," she said faintly down the phone last Monday. "My temperature is only 103."

"No you're alright," I said. And then started to panic about how the fuck I was going to cope alone, no nanny, no cleaner (holiday) no husband (out covering the Olympics) no mummy (holiday) no sisters (holiday) no local friends (holiday - and I don't have that many anyway) for an entire week.

I won't lie, I have never looked forward to being in sole charge of Kitty. It's a thing that depresses me - both spending a lot of time alone with her and also being depressed about being depressed about it.

At first it was ghastly. She didn't seem to want to be with me any more than I wanted to be with her. I dragged her hither and thither in her buggy, shunting her quickly from one activity to the next, shied away from the tv like it was an unexploded bomb. If it got turned on, I fretted, it would never turn off again until she goes to nursery next September.

When Kitty would go down for her lunchtime nap I would get in to bed and pull the duvet over me, squeeze my eyes shut and think "Christ, how are we going to manage this?"

But by Tuesday afternoon I had it licked.

I don't know if all toddlers are the same but Kitty has this incredibly short attention span, like a drunk, and what she likes to do is roam. So I turned the ground floor into a sort of toddler fresher's fair, with small activities ranged around, from telly at one end, stickers, drawing and playdoh in the middle, the iPad somewhere around, books and rice cakes towards the kitchen, a paddling pool in the garden and her own mini-buggy with which to commute between these activities.

The telly was on all day, every day, all week, set to a murmuring background volume, tuned to CBeebies, although she was not, in the end, as interested in it as I feared. And anyway I ceased to care one way or the other. I let go. She ranged around, singing, talking to herself, talking to me, talking to the mirror, climbing on and off furniture, digging around in the dirt, flopping out on her beanbag in front of Mr Tumble, gorging on raspberries from the garden, vomiting dramatically and then saying "Oh dear!!" while she regarded the red puddle. Meanwhile, I found that I did actually have time to cook and the house didn't fall into irreparable chaos, (although there has been an awful lot of scrabbling around for things at the last minute).

We had a wicked time. Honestly we did. I'm not just saying that, in some sort of "Ooo and then everything was alright" kind of way. It was great. I learned all sorts of things about her I didn't know. It was genuinely hilarious. I didn't miss any of the things I do when I've got a nanny. I realised, in fact, that I don't especially enjoy myself when I do have that free time.

Like now. I am sitting alone in my huge, spooky house while Kitty is out with her nanny and 40,000 other Caribbean children somewhere in Peckham having an amazing time and will not be back until bathtime.

And if I think about it too much, I might get upset. So let's go; let's fly you and I away from this gloomy now, to a different time, back to 2006 when I had just started on Londoner's Diary, which as I'm sure you know is the gossip page of the Evening Standard.

One day appeared a new girl in the editor's office. The editor liked to have a lot of girls around and she was very mean to all of them. She thought she was in the Devil Wears Prada or something and that being mean to your assistants is terribly glamorous, but we knew that we were actually in a scummy daily newspaper office in West London and that people who are mean to their assistants are bitches who will rot in hell.

The editor's girls didn't usually last. They all had office affairs eventually, which then went sour, then they went on sick leave, then never came back. But Connie, or "Beautiful Connie" as she quickly became known, was different. She was smart. She couldn't have been less interested in the skinny boys on news or any of the fast-talking, grizzled and jowly back bench. Her boyfriends were always incredibly tall mega-Sloanes that she'd known she was six, who thought journalists were dismal little people. Yet there was a steely glint in her sleepy brown eyes and a taut resiliance in her long, long blonde hair and perky tiny-flower-patterned mini dresses.

The editor had finally met her match.

She was my best - and, sometimes, only - friend at the Standard. I would often poke my head into the editor's office, where she sat drinking pot after pot of fresh ginger tea that was so strong that when you drank it, it felt like your whole face was on fire and she would shriek, quietly: "ESTHER!! Oh my god I've just eaten an entire Bounty and TWO packets of Maltesers!!!"

I have been thinking about Connie recently because I came across a recipe for a mango salsa, which she used to make for me in the weeny galley kitchen of her top floor flat in Notting Hill. Roasting in summer and freezing in winter, ("I think another bad January might finish me off"),  Connie's flat was a miracle of survival, like those plants you get in the desert, or 100,000 miles under the sea.

Anyway she almost always has the ingredients in her kitchen for this spicy mango salsa, and it's quite, quite delicious. My husband and I had this with a very rich jerk pork belly, which didn't work at all, it was too rick and gacky and yuk. It would be very good instead with some plain steak, or a tuna steak (although these days one cannot really eat such things) or a plain white fish like turbot or pollock.

Makes enough for 2-3

1 mango - diced
juice of 1 lime
small handful coriander
a sprinkling of fresh mint
1 chilli - no seeds - chopped finely
1 avocado, diced

1 Put everything in a bowl and mix

Monday, July 30, 2012

Pork-Fried Quinoa – Oh Say Can You Seed?

Finally, after only five or six hundred requests, we’re posting a quinoa recipe! People love eating this “super food” for all the obvious nutritional reasons, but based on the emails I’ve received, they’re constantly searching for new and delicious ways to use it.

Well, this was so tasty, so fast, and so easy, I’ll be shocked if it doesn’t make it into the regular rotation. And don’t think for a minute that we’ve simply overwhelmed the quinoa with a bunch of high-calorie, unhealthy ingredients, because that’s not the case. Not that I’m above such culinary shenanigans; but it just wasn’t necessary.

I was really surprised how decadent and satisfying this seemed, and with only a tablespoon of vegetable oil, and a handful of very lean smoked ham. These tiny quinoa seeds (that’s right, now you can sound like a d-bag correcting your foodie friends at cocktail parties who call this a “grain”) really are sponges for flavor. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I can’t wait to experiment with other quinoa creations.

By the way, if you’re an experienced quinoa cooker, and have any great tips, please pass them along. I’m not sure how this would work with the other varieties/colors of quinoa. I assume it would, but have never used them. I also used less water than the directions call for, but wanted the seeds to be a little “al dente,” which seemed to work well here.

Anyway, whether you’re an experienced quinoaista or a newbie like me, I hope you give this delicious pork-fried quinoa a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 large or 4 small servings:
1 cup quinoa
salt to taste
1 1/2 cups cold water
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup diced smoked ham
1/2 cup diced peppers
1/2 cup sliced green onions
3 cloves garlic minced
1 tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
1 or 2 tbsp soy sauce, or to taste
Sriracha, or any hot sauce to taste
toasted sesame seeds to taste

Bonus Quinoa Esoterica:

When my friend Tamar, from the always entertaining blog Starving Off the Land, heard I was doing a quinoa post, she sent me this photo. At first glace, this looks like some new variety of grey quinoa, but they're actually tiny oysters! Tamar farms oysters on Cape Cod, and you're looking at roughly 50,000 baby bivalves. Simply amazing. Thanks, Tamar!

Friday, July 27, 2012

Orange Pistachio Greenies – They Only Sound Like Pet Snacks and Speed

Calling a brownie made with pistachios a “greenie” seemed like a perfectly sensible thing to do, until I realized that was also the name of a popular brand of pet treats, as well as the street name for amphetamines.

Most chefs, not wanting their recipe associated with such unsavoriness would have changed the name, but not me. I’m hoping that these become so popular that eventually the pet people and druggies will be forced to change their names instead. We shall see.

Anyway, as I exclaimed in the video, these were great, but some dark chocolate chips really would have put this over the top. I’m adding a half-cup of mini chips to the recipe ingredients below, and I highly recommend you do as I say, not as I did.

I’m generally pretty mellow (unless I’m on greenies) about substituting ingredients in my recipes, but I can’t think of another nut that would work here instead of the pistachio. There's something about the relationship between orange and pistachio that’s just so much more intimate than other nut/citrus combinations.

The good news is, thanks to mass-marketing and large grocery stores, shelled pistachios are now widely available at a very decent price. Buy a few extra, since snacking on them while you make these is virtually impossible not to do. They’re really addictive…like greenies, and greenies. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 9 Orange Pistachio Greenies:
Wet ingredients:
1/2 cup melted butter
2 tbsp grated orange zest
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp milk
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
Dry ingredients:
2 cups shelled, dry-roasted pistachios (*note: mine were lightly salted, so if yours are not salted or heavily salted, please adjust the added salt in the recipe)
1/2 to 1 tsp salt to taste
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips (add when you combine dry into wet ingredients) 
*Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes
For the glaze:
1 or 2 tbsp orange juice
2 tsp orange zest
enough powdered sugar to thicken

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

White Gazpacho! I Eat This All the Time…Like Every 20 Years

A very, very long time ago, I had a white gazpacho. It was ice cold, very tasty, and super refreshing. It was similar to a classic gazpacho, but with no tomato and peppers. It was so unusually delicious that it really made an impression.

It had a cucumber base, was garnished with almonds and grapes, and was so good, I told myself to get the recipe and put it into regular summer rotation. That was probably 20 years ago, and I haven’t had it since. Totally spaced. 

Anyway, last week I came across this on Grubstreet, and it all came back to me. I knew I must try this soup! I’ve adapted the Dovetail’s versionslightly, but it’s one of those very personal recipes that you’ll want to adjust to your tastes.

Tweaking the amounts of salt, vinegar, and sweetness from the grapes will easily alter the final product, so experimentation is a must! The same goes for the texture. Add a bit more or less water depending on your dream viscosity.

The ice cube trick is optional, but really does keep the soup nicely chilled. The temperature is so critical here – you can’t serve this too cold. By the way, the dill oil I drip on the top was nothing more than a few tablespoons of vegetable oil mashed with some fresh dill with a mortar and pestle.

So, the next time you’re looking for a cool first course for that next great garden party, I hope you give this a try. You’ll love it so much, I’m sure you’ll make it all the time! ;) Enjoy!

Ingredients for 6 small servings:
1 tbsp olive oil 
1 cup whites part of leeks, washed, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
2 English cucumbers, peeled
8-10 green grapes
1/4 cup slivered almonds
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup crème fraiche, sour cream or plain yogurt
1 generous cup fresh bread cubes
2 tbsp sherry vinegar, or to taste
1 tsp salt, plus more to taste
cayenne to taste
1 1/2 cups cold water, more if needed
dill oil and/or fresh dill leaves

Monday, July 23, 2012

Chicken Spiedies – Is Binghamton’s Best America’s Next Big Sandwich Trend?

If it isn’t, it should be! This incredibly delicious sandwich, invented in central New York by an Italian immigrant named Camillo Iacovelli, breaks all the accepted rules regarding marinating meats, and not only does it work, it’s amazing!

You’ve heard me say on many occasions to be careful when soaking chicken in an acid marinade.  Usually an hour or two is the maximum I recommend, otherwise the meat will actually “cook” in the liquid, much like fish in a ceviche. Here, that’s exactly the idea.

You could almost call this twiced-cooked chicken, except that the food nerds would come out of the woodwork to remind us the meat doesn’t “cook” in the marinade, it becomes “denatured.” Whatever, nerds. All I know is when you grill that "over-marinaded" chicken over a hot, charcoal fire, some serious magic happens.

The term "spiedie" (SPEE-dee) comes from “spiedo,” the Italian word for spit, and simply refers to meat grilled on a skewer. The original protein was lamb, which explains all the mint and garlic in the marinade, which Iacovelli called, “zuzu.”

As I hope you find out, “zuzu” is also wonderful with chicken, and there are hundreds of credible reports of it being fantastic on pork, beef, and venison also. Yes, one taste and I think you’ll understand why this is so incredibly popular in and around Binghamton, NY.

The only mystery is why hasn’t this spread across the country? Seems like a natural. It’s got a great back story, catchy name, lots of room for local adaptations, and a marinade called “zuzu.” Come on, what more do you need? Anyway, every new sandwich trend begins with a single bun, or something like that, so I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 6 skewers:
3 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs (or any boneless meat!)
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
3/4 cup wine wine vinegar
1 rounded tablespoon sugar
6-8 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup picked mint leaves

Friday, July 20, 2012

Braised Beluga Lentils – Black Ops and the Caviar of Beans

Braised black lentils, also known as Beluga lentils, since they resemble the most prized of all caviar varieties, is one of my favorite side dishes. That alone would have ensured an eventual appearance on this blog, but it was the suspiciously large number of recent requests that were responsible for today’s post.

I love a good conspiracy theory, so I’m assuming there was some kind of funny business going on…I mean, this could have been the work of some shady international consortium. Was “Big Lentil” responsible? They usually say, “follow the money” in these situations, but I’m not sure how to do that, so I’ll just move on.

This recipe is very straightforward, and as I say, when the lentils are tender, you are done. You’ll need to keep any eye on things after the 25-minute mark, adding a splash of stock if needed. It’s always easier to add than reduce, so don’t be afraid to adjust as you go. Also, be sure to add enough salt. Under-seasoned beans are bad beans. 

One thing I forgot to mention, you might want to pour the cup of lentils on to a plate to check for little rocks. Nothing ruins a great lentil eating experience more than shattering a molar, so it’s worth the two minutes to check. Other than that, not much can go wrong.

By the way, if all the requests for this recipe were the work of some clandestine organization, well, you got what you asked for…now, please leave me alone. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 large portions:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1/2 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced carrot
1/2 cup diced celery
6 springs fresh thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup black lentils
1 3/4 – 2 cups chicken stock, more as needed
1 tbsp champagne vinegar, or to taste
2 tbsp chopped Italian parsley

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Treacle tart

I mean, what the fucking fuck do you call this??!

I have for a long time thought that treacle tart is a thing I ought to be able to make, but I have always been scared off by this "baking blind" instruction.

That's that thing, that I'm sure you're all terribly familiar with and do it all the time, (in the evenings and weekends just for a laugh), where you roll out your pastry into a tin and then cover it with ceramic beads or beans and cook it before the filling goes in and then cook it again with the filling in it. A more pointless, time-wasty and stupid instruction I've rarely seen and so have always avoided it.

But tonight we've got some nice people coming round for dinner so I thought I'd break my baking blind, treacle tart duck and do it because the alternative is to cower in darkness - and that's only hilarious for so long.

So off I went to Waitrose brmm brmm in my little car, and got some sweet pastry and a tin of golden syrup and some creme fraiche to go with it and came back and blithely stumbled into the worst and most useless recipe for anything I've ever cooked, ever. Except for that gumbo, remember that?


Just bad. Bad and wrong and unhelpful and stupid and ill and presumptuous and irresponsible. While the tart was doing its final cook in the oven I sat down for a bit with Waitrose Kitchen and had a flick through and alighted on a Fergus Henderson recipe for treacle tart that was far more detailed, complex and basically entirely different from the Rhodes recipe.

I experienced a terrible bumrush, of the sort you get when you turn over an exam paper and realise that you have spent the last week revising for a different, wrong module, or that the person you have just been massively bitching up is within earshot, or that your period is three weeks late.

I knew then. I knew in that moment that my tart was a bummer. And so it was. I can't be bothered to start listing the catclysmic death roll-call of things wrong with it, but let's just say that the BEST thing about it is that sides are burnt to shit.

FUCK! What a waste of my time! I could have been doing loads of other things! I could have been asleep.

I have nothing else to add. There is no nice ending to this story.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Asian baked salmon

There are a lot of things that you are supposed to enjoy when you are a grown-up, that I don't really enjoy.

- getting tipsy at dinner parties and arguing about politics
- organising community events
- the theatre
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
- The Sopranos
- oysters
- striking up conversations with check-out people at supermarkets
- reading the newspaper for fucking HOURS
- classical music
- gardening
- very long lunches where your bum goes to sleep

Fish is another one. And vegetables. If it wouldn't have such invidious effects on my long-term health prospects, (by which I mean make me fat), I would just eat burgers and chips and pizza all the time.

But you're not allowed to do that when you are a grown-up, you have to eat fish and vegetables - often at the same time. And a lot of people LIKE it and order it in RESTAURANTS!!!! I used to dread fish nights. I would buy it because if I didn't my husband would give me a lecture about how we're not allowed to eat burgers all the time and I'll do anything to avoid a lecture.

I'm a bit scared of fish. It smells horrible even when reasonably fresh and stinks the house out when you cook it and it's all slimy and sometimes there are BONES and urgh it's all completely gross and designed, if you ask me, just to make yourself extra grateful that you're having spag bol the next night.

And while I often get a craving for sushi, (I think I'm after the salt in the soy), quite often halfway through some sashimi I am filled with the fear that I might vomit.

Recently though, I have hit on a thing to do with salmon that I actually really genuinely look forward to.

What you do is you cover it in chilli, lime, soy, ginger, garlic and whatever other Asian things you have knocking about, wrap it in foil and then BAKE it for 12 minutes.

It doesn't stink the house out and it isn't slimy. You have it alongside spring greens sliced finely and stir-fried with some oyster sauce and it's honestly really a very nice thing to have. It has really changed my mind about fish. And I'm incredibly stubborn about stuff like that.

So let's go through that again for those of you who weren't listening.

Asian baked salmon for 2

2 salmon fillets
knob of fresh ginger, roughly sliced
1 clove garlic
small bunch coriander(???)
1/2 a chilli, seeds in or out I don't care
5 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp fish sauce
1/4 tsp Chinese five spice

1 Put everything except the salmon fillets in a whizzer and whizz for a few minutes.

2 Put a piece of foil on a baking dish large enough to wrap over the salmon fillets in a loose parcel. Put on the salmon fillets. Pour over your whizzed slush marinade and leave for as long as you can - although it can be baked just how it is.

3 Bake in a 180 oven for 10-12 minutes

Please note: you do not have to use all of those ingedients - this is nice just with chilli and soy and ginger; everything else is just showing off, which is a grown-up thing that I do actually enjoy.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Lamb Shank Vindaloo – Be Careful What You Wish For

Considering all the off-the-wall stuff I say in the videos, I don’t get that much negative email, but one of the more common complaints is, “Dude, where’s the Indian food?” Well, this succulent and spicy lamb shank vindaloo is for you! 

I have very little experience cooking Indian food, so that this came out as deliciously as it did is nothing short of amazing. That said, I’m sure you Goan cuisine “experts” will let me know how to make this even better next time.

The name “vindaloo” comes from a Portuguese dish called "Vinha d' Alhos," which is basically pork stewed with wine and garlic. After being introduced to India, the wine became vinegar, chicken and lamb replaced the pork, and many local spices and chilies were added…other than that, it’s exactly the same.

This is almost always done with cubes or chunks of meat, but I decided to go with the very user-friendly lamb shank instead. Portioning is simple, as one shank feeds one person, but what’s even more exciting for the novice cook is the fact that this is almost impossible to mess up. Simply simmer on low until the meat is fork tender. That’s it! I hope you give this very tasty lamb curry dish a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 Portions:

4 lamb shanks

For the marinade:
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp tamarind concentrate (I’ve never used tamarind before, so I’m not sure how this would convert to fresh or tamarind pulp, but I’m sure there are people that know!)
1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala
2 tsp salt

For the wet mixture:
1 onion, chopped
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1/3 cup sliced ginger
8 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 cup water

For the spice mixture:
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoon paprika

For the rest:
3 tablespoons clarified butter (melt butter and skim off the white milk solids)
1 large onion, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 rounded tablespoon brown sugar
cilantro leaves, optional

Heading Home from Chicago

Michele and I will be hopping the train back to San Francisco today, after a hot, but very fun week of food and festivities in Chicago. I’ll have a new recipe video posted tomorrow, and if you love lamb and spicy food, you’re in for a treat. So stay tuned for that. 

By the way, Michele took this gorgeous train shot as we were pulling into Chicago last Wednesday. Hopefully, you already follow Michele and me on Twitter, but if not, head over and check out our feeds for many more pictures of our adventures this week. Enjoy!

Bang Bang chicken

I have been sulking a lot recently for an unidentifiable reason.

Maybe it's the incredibly swizzy unfair weather we're having. Winter was such a fucking slog this year, what with Kitty not yet walking or watching telly or doing anything remotely compatible with bad weather. All we did was sit around going mad and getting ill, praying for bedtime and lusting after spring. Then spring never came, or summer. We might get a blast in September or October if we're really lucky but in reality we're just going to go straight back into winter.

And we've done all our holidays this year - we've had three already, taking advantage of having a pre-schooler to go away in May, June and early July. We invested, for the holiday, in a preposterous amount of childcare. And on the most recent holiday, to a house in Devon, we had a cook. It wasn't my idea!! So please don't have a massive go at me. We were with another couple who work incredibly hard and get paid stupendous wodges of cash and who do not want to assemble salads or wash up when they are on holiday, or stay in a hotel. So we had Cara, the dark-eyed, pink-cheeked 23 year-old Leiths graduate marvel with whom my husband fell passionately in love on the first day.

Anyway it was amazing. But after seven full days of not doing any cooking or much childcare I have come back in this sulk you see before you. I have forgotten how to look after Kitty - and she knows it. She is well aware that I think that if she cries or is in a bait it's my fault. And at the moment it is my fault because she is incredibly pissed off with me because I have taken away her morning and lunchtime bottle.

There's this tedious thing when you have children about the amount of milk they have. They fucking love milk, little children, and they especially love it out of a bottle. On the grand scale of things, I think that being attached to your bottle isn't especially bad, but people get in a right piss about it and say children ought to have all their drinks out of a toddler cup from 1 year on and no more than this amount of milk but no less than this amount of milk.

I couldn't have cared less about it: Kitty can tell me what she wants, says please and thank you, can sing Baa Baa Black Sheep, doesn't embarrass me in public and goes to bed at night in her own bed and wakes up at a civilised hour. Thus, anything she wants - a constant stream of rice cakes, Peppa Pig, drawing on the walls, three bottles a day - she can have it.

But then I went to see a paediatrician, who also happens to be my husband's cousin. I rang him in a complete blind panic two months ago when Kitty had a temperature of 104 and a head-to-toe rash and he was really nice about it. And when I say "really nice" I mean he said "If she isn't better by tomorrow, give her antibiotics."

No other fucker will do that for you, when your child is sick. They mimsy about like total utter dildos, saying "Well you could do this or you could do that". But Dr Mike just told me what to do. So obviously I fell passionately in love with him. When he rang to check up on Kitty and to say that maybe he ought to see her in person I screamed "Yes!" and raced about doing my hair, putting proper shoes on, picking the crud out of Kitty's ears and ironing her into her Bonpoint.

And when Dr Mike told me that Kitty was having too much milk and ought to drop her multitude of bottle events I meekly nodded and gave him my shy Princess Diana "okay" face, rather than snarling and mentally flicking him a V-sign like I do with everyone else.

Kitty's not that pleased about this bottle cessation. She rages through the kitchen, rummaging deep in cupboards and drawers until only her dirty little feet are poking out, looking for the few Avents we still having hanging about, assembles one with a shaky, addict's hand then staggers about sucking hopefully at air before throwing the bottle across the floor and weeping theatrically.

There was an awful lot of weeping yesterday, imprisoned as we were in the house by the rain and we were at each other's throats. Back when I was reasonably good at childcare, I used to have this thing where when I was was in sole charge of Kitty I would lock away my iPad and only check my emails when she was napping. Otherwise the temptation, like yesterday, to poke the iPad all day and barely focus on the child is overwhelming and she's not stupid and starts wailing and flinging herself about from a lack of attention.

Christ are you still awake? I'm even boring myself with all this. No wonder I'm in a sulk.

Anyway let's just leave things there with the weather, back where we started, and move on to a recipe shall we?

I did this last night for my husband and was terrific except that I didn't use enough vegetables. So if you want to do this, make sure you have 3 parts vegetables - any you like - to 1 part chicken. I ate mostly poached chicken and it was quite strange

Bang Bang Chicken

1 quantity of chicken. It is supposed to be poached and it is supposed to be cold. I did this by poaching an entire chicken; you brown it in oil in a massive casserole whatsit then filling the whatsit with water so that just the top inch of the chicken is visible. Throw in a carrot, a halved onion, some peppercorns, a star anise (??) then put it in the oven for 1hr 45min at 180. Poached chicken is just as nice as roast chicken when it comes to leftovers

A large pile of shredded vegetables - carrots, cucumber, mung beans? sweetcorn? whatever, dressed with:
- a drizzle of toasted sesame oil
- lime juice
- shredded mint

For the bang bang sauce - enough for 2 people.

- 1 tbsp groundnut oil
- 1 tbsp peanut butter
- 1 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1/2 tbsp dried red chilli flakes
- 2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp light soy sauce

Whizz all this up in a food processor

Assemble the salad by layering your vegetables, then the sliced/shredded chicken then the sauce, then sprinkle over some coriander, toasted sesame seeds, chopped chillies. You know the drill.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Affogato and the Magic of Cold Brewed Coffee

Michele and I are still in steamy Chicago, where the temperature is about 95, but the humidity makes it feel more like the sun. Man, could I go for an iced coffee right about now. I’ve been interested in trying this cold-brewed coffee technique for a while, but it was this lovely post on An Edible Mosaic that moved me into action.

Of course, the glamor shot (formally referred to as the “money shot”) is of an Affogato – the ultra-simple, Italian coffee dessert – but the real star here is the amazingly easy iced coffee concentrate recipe.

Apparently, since the flavors are extracted without heat, the results are a smoother, less acidic, less bitter product, which supposedly offers a purer coffee experience. All I know is that it made the best tasting iced coffee I’ve ever had. This would’ve been a complete success just for that fact alone, but that it also made possible this incredibly refreshing affogato, puts it way over the top.

You can use the coffee concentrate straight on ice cream or gelato, or dilute it with an equal part water for iced coffee. Of course, the purists will tell you that affogato is made with hot espresso, but the cold coffee works really well. The ice cream melted more slowly, and seemed to be even creamier than the standard technique.

Anyway, this only takes about five minutes to make, there are no special tools or equipment needed, and one taste is all you’ll need to become a believer like me. I hope you give this a try soon…while it’s still hot. Enjoy!

Cold-Brewed Coffee Concentrate (makes about 2 3/4 cups)
3 cups cold water
2/3 cup very freshly ground coffee (I used the medium grind on my espresso machine)
*Mix water and coffee in a large glass container. Cover and let it sit at room temperature for 12 hours. Strain though coffee filter or paper towel, and serve!

For the Affogato:
1 or 2 scoops vanilla ice cream or gelato
as much coffee concentrate as you like (I like equal parts)
shaved dark chocolate

Friday, July 13, 2012

Hello From Chicago!

From left to right: Nick, Steph, Tony and Nora
Michele and I attended Nora and Tony’s rehearsal dinner last night, hosted by my cousin, and some say look-a-like, Nick Quartaro and his lovely wife Stephanie. 

We had a great time catching up with family we hadn’t seen in years, and as if that weren’t enough, we also got to enjoy a fantastic dinner at The Bristol, where Tony is Chef de Cuisine.

I’ve often bragged about Tony’s prowess in the kitchen, so I thought I’d give you a look at the menu. I hope this shows why we’re all so proud of Tony. Please keep in mind that I was shooting without a flash, so you'll have to take my word that the food was even more gorgeous than it looks here. Today’s the wedding, and if that’s even half as fun as the rehearsal dinner, we are in for a fantastic time. Enjoy!

Monkey Bread with Dill Butter

Carrot salad, mizuna, spiced hazelnuts, yogurt vinaigrette

Gnocchi, zucchini, beurre-fondue, mint

Roast chicken, dill spaetzle, crunchy vegetable salad

Green beans, almond butter, kumquats, crispy shallots

Beef brisket, summer squash, salsa verde

Corn panna cotta, blueberries, chocolate-dipped orange shortbread

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Classic Rice Pilaf and Little White Lies

You’re a great cook. You know it, and so do all your friends. There are no techniques or recipes you haven’t mastered, well, except for one… you stink at making rice. Sure, when it comes up in conversation you lie and say your rice rocks, and offer advice to your unsuspecting friends, but we know the truth.

It’s okay. You’re not alone. Cooking a perfect batch of white rice without a rice cooker can be a challenge. I attempted to solve this issue in 2007, when I posted “How To Make Perfect White Rice,” but if for whatever reasons you still can’t do it, no problem! We’re simply going to have you do what so many great minds over the centuries have done in these situations…give up.

That’s right, we going for forget about cooking rice on the stove, and show you the incredibly delicious and absolutely foolproof world of pilaf! Because it’s coated with butter first, and baked with less liquid, this almost magical recipe will give you magazine quality rice every time (and I’m talking about the good food magazines, not those ones that went out of business).

I’m showing a fairly classic version here, which includes the extremely optional ingredient, saffron. If you are not familiar with this exotic spice, follow this wiki-link to get more info, as the subtle taste is very hard for me to describe. By the way, it’s crazy expensive and you’ll only want a tiny pinch, for too much will dominate the palette.

You also want a high-quality, non-discount brand of rice. Cheap rice has lots of broken grains, which do not cook evenly. So, if there’s shame in your rice game, I hope you give this great rice pilaf recipe a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for about 6 servings:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
2 cups white long grain rice
pinch of saffron, optional
3 cups good quality chicken stock or broth (or water if you must)
1 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
pinch of cayenne  
*wrap very tightly in foil, bake at 350 for 35 minutes, let rest 10 more, and then fluff!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

On the California Zephyr to Chicago

California Zephyr Train Photo (c) Flickr user Loco Steve
Michele and I are on a train to Chicago! We have a family wedding to attend, and it’s my birthday tomorrow, so we’ll be celebrating by eating and drinking our way across the Windy City. If you follow me on Twitterand/or Instagram, I’ll be sharing photos of all the deliciousness as it happens. It’s our first trip to Chicago, so if you have any “must try” spots, feel free to share!

The wedding we’re attending joins our cousin (and future James Beard Award winner) Tony and his beautiful fiance Nora. You may remember them from such epic 24-course meals as the one shown in the 3-part video below. You can see the lovely couple at the beginning of Part 1 (do not miss Nora’s slow-mo caviar tasting reaction shot!). I’ve only posted the videos, so if you want to read a detailed account of this historic meal, check out the original post here. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Crispy Pork Cutlets with Creamy Jalapeno Green Onion Gravy – Say Auf Wiedersehen to the 3-Pan Breading Station!

This is what happens when you have two food wishes in your head at the same time. I’ve wanted to do a schnitzel video für immer, but thanks to another recent food wish, I was also craving biscuits with cream gravy. So, I sort of did both, and it worked out well. Very well.

The crispy pork cutlet part of the presentation is very simple and straightforward, but it did afford the opportunity to share my new breading system. With all the time you’ll save, you can hit the gym to burn off this less than light, but extremely satisfying meal.

I’ve never been a big fan of the 3-pan breading system. Once you dredge meat in the prescribed dish of seasoned flour, you have to toss the rest. The whole idea is to simply coat the meat with flour, so why not just sprinkle on already seasoned meat? We use much less flour that way, and with zero waste.

From there, we’re not dipping these in a bowl of beaten eggs. Why do that, when we can just dump one egg on to the same plate and toss to coat. Faster, easier, and one egg is plenty for four cutlets.

As far as the cream gravy goes, the jalapenos and green onion probably seem logical, but some may raise an eyebrow over the diced dill pickle. I’m not sure exactly why I added them, but I just had one of those feelings. Pickles and pork, dill and cream sauce, it felt right, and it tasted even righter.

By the way, you can substitute veal, beef, turkey or chicken for the pork without missing a beat. Anyway, I hope you give this easy pork cutlet, delicious cream gravy, and/or new breading system a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 8 Cutlets (makes four entrée size portions of 2 cutlets each):

2 fully trimmed pork tenderloins, cut into 8 pieces, pounded flat
salt and pepper to taste
flour as needed
2 eggs
about 3 cups panko breadcrumbs
For the gravy:
2 tbsp melted butter
1/3 cup diced dill pickles
1 or 2 jalapeños, small dice
1 bunch green onions, chopped
salt and cayenne to taste
1 1/2 tablespoon flour
1 1/2 cup cold milk, plus more to adjust thickness if needed

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Veracruz-Style Red Snapper – A New Take on a Very Old Classic

Fish “Veracruz” was the first “authentic” Mexican recipe I ever ate. I had it 30 years ago at the Casa Del Sol in Saranac Lake, NY, where I worked while enrolled in culinary school. 

I remember trying and loving it, and being very surprised that “this” was actually Mexican food. Besides…olives on fish? That was some crazy stuff.

Up to that point, the only “Mexican” food I’d ever had was crispy cafeteria tacos made by completely non-Mexican lunch ladies. So, this kind of thing was very exciting for me. I’ve forgotten the exact recipe after all these years of adaptation, but that’s of little consequence as it’s the kind of dish you make a little different every time anyway.

I like red snapper for this, but any white, flaky fish will work. By the way, many Veracruz-style fish recipes call for pickled jalapenos, but I think there’s plenty of acidity in this from the lime and tomatoes, so I like the fresh pepper a little more.

If you don’t want to do this in individual portions like I did, you can certainly do it in a regular casserole dish, but you’ll probably need to give it a few extra minutes. Simply use the same fork-flaking doneness test as shown in the clip. Flakiness never lies.

This food wish goes out to all of you that asked for flavorful, foolproof fish recipes. I’m not sure why people get so scared to cook fish, but if you’re one of them, this is for you. Other than a few minutes of slicing, this couldn’t be easier. Serve simply with some chips, or over rice for a more substantial meal. Either way, I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 servings:
2 boneless red snapper filets, about 7 oz each
cayenne, salt and pepper to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers
1 tablespoon caper brine
1 large jalapeno, sliced, seeded
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup sliced Castelvetrano green olives, or any green olive
2 tablespoon fresh chopped oregano
2 limes
*Bake at 425 degrees F. for 15-20 minutes

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

She’s Not My Cherry Pie, She’s Our Cherry Pie

Were these "lips" merely a coincidence?
I think we all know the answer to that.
First of all, I’d like to apologize to Warrant for calling their song “Cherry Pie” the worst in rock history…I totally forgot about the abomination that is Jefferson Starship’s “We Build This City.” At least Warrant’s song had pie(s) in it. 

This delicious and super easy cherry pie features a crunchy, streusel-like crust, which as I joke about in the video, makes the best ice cream topping ever. It's such a natural pairing that I'm not sure it should even be served if there's no vanilla ice cream around. Of course you’re going to try and find the sweetest cherries you can, but if you don’t, please feel free to adjust the sugar amount below as indicated. Other than that, no alterations should be necessary.

Some of you may feel like sneaking some cinnamon in there somewhere, but I agree with the many who say that particular spice doesn’t pair well with cherries, and should be saved for the apples and peaches. 

Anyway, it’s the 4th of July, and I have food to eat, beer to drink, and fireworks to watch on TV. I hope you all have a fantastic holiday, and also that you give this classic summer pie a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for One 9-inch Cherry Pie:
For the crumb topping:
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup packed all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon fine salt
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut in pieces
For the pie:
1 uncooked pie shell
2 pounds pitted cherries (reserve all juices!)
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/3 to 1/2 cup white sugar depending on sweetness of cherries
1/4 cup cornstarch
*Bake at 350 degrees F. for 1 hour and 15 minutes

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Great All-American Burger Dog – USA! USA! USA!

This “burger dog” is far more than a hot dog shaped cheeseburger. It’s a testament to American ingenuity and being close to the right place at the right time. While I’m posting this as a fun, 4th of July grilling idea, my real motivation is to tell this “only in America” story of food stand stardom.

As the story goes, Bill “Burger Bill” Parrish didn’t want to buy two different kinds of buns for his tiny snack stand, which he operated on Lake Merced, near the Olympic Club in San Francisco. Since there’s no such thing as flat, round hot dogs, Bill decided to shape his burgers to fit the hot dog bun, and The City’s most storied cheeseburger was born.

The irresistible and geometrically superior burgers became so popular that golfers at the Olympic Club would send their caddies over to grab as many burger dogs as they could carry. Eventually the very exclusive club offered to let Bill set up his trailer on the course, near the 11th hole, where they’ve been a fixture ever since.

The course is only open to members, so the only way to taste one of these rare beauties is if you’re invited to play as a guest. I’ve had the pleasure twice, and both times the burger experience was just as memorable as the golf. They really are brilliant.

Above and beyond fitting the uni-bun, Burger Bill’s rectangular meat ended up being culinarily superior for all the reasons I brag about in the video. The shape insures a great crust of grill marks, and a perfect meat-to-bun ratio as you eat your way down the length.

With all deference to Mr. Parrish, I’ve added an extra bonus technique of seasoning the inside of the burger before it’s formed. When you add this to the aforementioned attributes, you’re talking about a great, and uniquely American burger experience. I hope you give these a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients per burger dog:
8 oz ground beef (80/20 grind)
1 large hot dog bun
1 slice cheese
salt and pepper to taste