Thursday, 11 December 2008
Shopping for provisions on our first afternoon took us to a Spar shop in Hout Bay, not far from our apartment in Llandudno. The selection of fresh meat was intoxicating. I super indulged and walked out with an entire beef fillet weighing about a kilo for an immoral R150, roughly a tenner.
I cut the fillet across the grain into thickish chunks, tossed the pieces in a bit of oil and rubbed them with some freshly ground pepper. Very simply, they were grilled over the hot coals for a few minutes each side until slightly charred and then placed on a plate and covered with foil for 10 or 15 minutes until we were ready to eat.
As the pieces of fillet relaxed under the foil, some of the juices were released and used as a simple dressing for the grilled meat. I served it with sweetcorn, a small local squash also cooked on the braai, and a green salad.
Four of us devoured the entire fillet (well three really, as Luca ate very little), and I don’t feel guilty at all although I’m sure I will soon. The beef was tender, moist, and slightly pink in the centre. Truly indulgent. The setting helped, I have to say. I thoroughly recommend the apartment we stayed in. Check it out at Sunset Rocks Accommodation.
Saturday, 22 November 2008
I was splitting some kiln dried ash offcuts into tinder the weekend before (therapy in itself) when I was pondering how to transport the tiny slivers to the ruined manor house at Minster Lovell in Oxfordshire for the event the following Wednesday evening. Knowing that I needed to take newspaper to start the fire as well, I came up with the idea of making tinder 'parcels' wrapped in newspaper as all in one, petro-chemical free fire lighters.
Inside the parcels I mixed the tinder with tiny pieces of tightly screwed up newspaper. And as a good pyro should, I couldn't help but throw in a few unused matches to help them along a little. It's important to wrap them loosely so there is plenty of air inside.
And they worked. A simple and quick way to start a fire without the need to carefully place lots of small pieces on a cold, damp, winter evening.
Monday, 6 October 2008
The combination of lamb and strawberry is something else. The sweet, citrusy berry is an unexpected but perfect complement to the tender, aromatic flesh that a rack of lamb offers.
I pre-ordered the lamb from my local butcher as there is a fair amount of preparation and trimming to be done. Saturday’s can be very busy and I didn’t want to create any enemies in the queue. He packaged up the trimmings separately and to avoid waste I turned them into a Lamb Madras for later in the week. So although the cut can seem quite expensive (almost £30 for 4 racks to feed 8), the additional meal from the trimmings makes it very worthwhile.
The idea for this menu came about after trawling through my favourite books on seasonal foods, pretty much at the last minute. We had invited six great friends around and the night was destined to be large.
I was hoping to serve octopus as a first course, but my visit to the fishmonger at the covered market in Oxford resulted in squid as an alternative. Next time I’ll make sure I give them a few days notice.
- Warm squid salad with fennel, asparagus and chilli
- Roasted rack of lamb
- Strawberry and mint salsa
- Roasted chipped potatoes with garlic and rosemary
- Steamed French beans and carrots
- Les Colonels (this time with Polish "Debowa" Vodka)
- Cheeses, grapes and coffee
For the racks of lamb, preheat the oven to 200 deg C, place the racks in a large baking dish so they support each other, and place sprigs of rosemary and halved strawberries (1 piece per person) in the space between.
Rub a little olive oil over the skin and sprinkle with salt before placing in the oven for 30-40 minutes depending on how pink you like it. You can remove the lamb from the oven and cover with foil for up to 30 minutes before serving to allow time to finish off the vegetables and it will stay hot enough to serve.
The salsa can be prepared an hour or so in advance. Chop up a punnet of strawberries and a large bunch of fresh mint leaves. Mix together in a bowl with some castor sugar (2-3 teaspoons) and sprinkle over some cider vinegar, mixing and tasting as you go to make sure it is neither to sharp nor too sweet. Cover with cling film until ready to serve.
The evening went large big time and in true pyro fashion we lit a fire in the brazier in the garden using some seasoned silver birch that had fallen in a storm earlier in June.
Monday, 15 September 2008
Part of our family routine is a roast dinner every Sunday (or a barbeque during the warmer months). The forecast was warm and dry, perfect for firing up the Weber. I bought a 2kg rolled shoulder of pork at my local butcher on the Saturday morning in anticipation. I always roast pork outside. This saves the oven (and kitchen) from filling up with smoke from all that spitting in the baking dish.
Good quality lumpwood charcoal is my fuel of choice. I try to avoid petrochemical firelighters as I just can't align them with the idea of cooking quality food. I'd rather a bit of proper wood smoke at the start using paper and tinder as a base to start the charcoal fire. A few small softwood offcuts in the garage were split into pencil thick pieces using my favourite hatchet. Note the tongs holding the wood, just this spring this little axe gave me seven stitches in my left index finger when splitting kindling. Or was it the bottle of red I had consumed beforehand? I'm not sure.
Pile the tinder over the top of one tightly screwed up piece of newspaper per side in the barbeque and set alight. Just a minute or two later you can start to place pieces of charcoal over the small fires, about 2 litres each side (I measure it out in an ice cream container and use tongs to create a mound).
In about 30-40 minutes, there will be two white hot mounds of charcoal. Spread each one out and then place a further 5 or 6 pieces of fuel on top of each side to extend the life of the fire. This fire will be good for up to 3 hours, or even longer if extra fuel is added during cooking time (for cooking a turkey for example). The temperature will relax towards the end which is good for a tender roast.
I roasted the pork in a pyrex dish to retain the juices for basting. Separating the crackling about 3/4 way through the cooking time helps it to become soft and crunchy, and also makes sure the pork cooks all the way through.
Saturday, 13 September 2008
My family love this. It's definitely a weekend only or special occasion meal for us, especially when making it for a lot of people. Whenever I consult the kids on what they might like to have on say a Saturday night, I get the begging big eyes and hands held in prayer position. Words need not be spoken.
I thought that it might make a nice homely Italian meal for my mother-in-law's birthday, as it would be something that she would have rarely had. The traditional side dishes of spaghetti with sugo al pomodoro, tomato and fresh oregano salad, rucola and parmesan salad and ricetta tipica are treats in themselves, and the combination is both aromatic and refreshing.
I work on one and a bit medium sized chicken breast fillets per person. Cutting the fillet 'butterfly' style, you should get four pieces from each fillet. Sprinkle some flour on a plate with salt and pepper, beat a couple of eggs into a large flat dish and put 6-7 slices of fresh bread into a food processor for the breadcrumbs. Since discovering the difference between fresh and packet breadcrumbs there is no comparison. Dried breadcrumbs burn quickly and will make the oil smokey far too soon.
In a wok or deep, wide saucepan, add a mixture of vegetable oil and light olive oil to a depth of 3-4cm. Pat each slice of chicken breast dry with kitchen paper, fully coat in seasoned plain flour, then dip in the beaten egg before pressing into the bowl of breadcrumbs for the final covering. Place 3 or 4 pieces at a time into the hot oil, turning once with tongs, until they become rigid and are golden in colour. Remove and place on a draining rack in a warm oven as the scallopini are ready. The frying can be done half and hour or more in advance to allow time to finish off the pasta, salads and veggies.
Sunday, 7 September 2008
Subconsciously willing warmer weather, I came up with a meal inspired by Middle Eastern cuisine.
Traditionally, a middle eastern feast starts with a mezze, or mixture of appetizers. There being only 4 of us, I thought a more European approach might be more managable in terms of how much food I should prepare (and how much time I had). I was pretty much fixed on a main course of slow cooked spiced shoulder of lamb, so I needed a starter and side dishes to complement. A bit of web research helped and I settled on chicken koftas as a way to begin the theme.
- Chicken and mint koftas with yogurt, cucumber and unleavened bread
- Slow roasted lamb shoulder with cumin
- Saffron cous cous
- Warm salad of slow roasted tomatoes (3 hours at 100 deg) and steamed asparagus
Le Colonel (not at all middle eastern but very popular in the south of France and very refreshing) - aka shop bought lemon sorbet served with a big dash of vodka garnished with fresh mint and lime. Brilliant.
I found a good recipe for the koftas and decided to add an egg white, a teaspoon of plain flour and a handful of mint to the listed ingredients before putting them in the food processor. I pre-prepared the kofta mix and divided it into balls so all that needed doing on the night was to grill them for 10-15 minutes before serving.
The lamb recipe is an original favourite. A few simple ingredients used in excess, but in no way overpowering. I bought a whole shoulder of lamb (about 1.8kg) and then ground up at least half a cup of cumin seeds in my mortar and pestle. I rubbed the lamb with some olive oil and then rolled it in the ground cumin to coat it completely. I put the shoulder in a baking dish, added about 250ml of liquid (stock, or in this case beer), covered it in foil and put it in a hot oven. The total cooking time was 4 hours, starting off at 200 deg for 15 mins, and then lowered to 130 deg for the remainder of the cooking time. By then, the only two bones almost fell out, making carving the shoulder really simple. During cooking, a further 250ml of stock (or beer) was needed to keep up the steam. A rich, thick, aromatic sauce was the reward which I spooned over the lamb as it was served.
The meal was a success and then 5 other friends turned up as planned for the dessert, cheeses and coffee. We devoured almost a litre of vodka between us just with les colonels, lit the outside fire in the brazier, danced, laughed, and enjoyed what was a mild, still September evening.
Wednesday, 3 September 2008
My sister in law and brother in law (Ali and Jared) were there for some weeks before us and described the view from their elevated campsite. They saw a large section of forest ablaze less than a kilometre away and the fire appeared to have engulfed a house. The whole campsite had to be evacuated and they were lucky that the fire was controlled before it spread across the road.
We witnessed the charred scar on the hillside each time we drove in or out of the campsite. It was a sobering experience, even for a seasoned pyro like me.
I had planned to have at least one beach barbeque during our holiday and deliberated long and hard as to what it might be.
Eventually, I recalled yet another early 90’s Time Life cookbook (Spain this time) where I learned of the origins of paella. Originally cooked on embers in the fields by farm workers in Valencia, it contained simple local ingredients such as rabbit, snails, garlic, vegetables and of course rice and spices. Perfect before a long siesta in the shade during the hottest part of the day.
Enjoy this mixture of fact, fiction and fantasy, made almost real by these written words.
This is what I would have done.
PAELLA ON THE BEACH (A FANTASY)
I arose as usual around 8am, before the sun found its way to our side of the hill. I had become addicted to striding my way to the top each morning to enjoy the view from Gassin down toward St Tropez for a few minutes before running back down to arrive at the shaded campsite almost an hour later and before anyone else was awake.
Back in the coolness of the west side of our hill, I sat at the outside table and began to prepare my list of things to pack for the evening paella on the beach. The internationalised version; seafood, chicken, vegetables, spices and rice.
FOOD to pack
- 2 cups of paella rice
- 5 cups of water (1 litre)
- Some olive oil in a small jar
- 6 chicken pieces (thighs or legs)
- Chorizo sausage
- Bulb of garlic
- 1 large onion
- 2 capsicums
- 2 tomatoes
- Handful of small live mussels
- Handful of raw prawns
- 2 lemons
EQUIPMENT to pack:
- Paella pan (beloved)
- Grease proof paper
- Kitchen paper
- Lumpwood Charcoal (about 2 litres of large pieces)
- Opinel knife
- Small chopping board
Each night, the sun was setting around 8:15, and by 8:45 it would be pretty much dark. Any wind, by this time, seemed to just conveniently disappear.
I added to my list:
- 7:15 – Light charcoal
- 7:35 – Add chicken, onions, chorizo and saffron
- 7:40 – Add tomatoes, capsicums, garlic and water
- 7:55 – Stir in rice and cover
- 8:10 - Lift cover to add mussels and prawns, cover again
- 8:20 – Remove cover and serve into grease proof paper cones
We spent the morning at the market at the nearby perched village of Ramatuelle, the perfect place for me to gather up the necessary bits to pack into the cool box back at the campsite before departing to the beach.
I had been waiting for this for so long. I wrapped the paella ingredients in foil parcels and carefully packed them in the cool box with the usual selection of bagettes and salads, a few little beers and a bottle of local rose.
We arrived at the beach at Pardigon at around two and set up camp for the day. While the kids mucked about in the sea and sand, my wife Sara and I lounged beneath the umbrellas with our books.
By six, we would normally be packing up after a 5 o’clock drink at the beach bar, but tonight would be different. We started noticing the usual casual exodus as the evening approached; my cue to set up the little domed barbeque that Ali let us use when we stayed in her caravan. It was about 12 cm in diameter, had tripod legs and a bright pink domed lid. The bowl made a perfect base for my steel paella pan.
I started by placing the charcoal over a pile of sticks and leaves the kids had collected earlier for tinder. The tinder caught instantly and before long the charcoal was crackling gently as it started to turn slowly from black to white.
With my Opinel I cut up the chicken (keeping the bones for the stock), onions, chorizo, garlic and vegetables on the chopping board on my lap while I waited for the charcoal to reach the right temperature.
A charcoal or wood fire is perfect for paella. The embers start off hot so you can cook the meat, onions and spices and prepare the stock. They then slowly die down which allows the other vegetables and the rice to cook more gently until the meal is ready to eat. For paella, it’s important not to use too much charcoal as it burns hot and can take a long time to reduce in temperature.
About 25 minutes later I started browning the chicken, chicken bones and chorizo chunks with the saffron and onions over the hot embers in the olive oil, then added the chopped tomatoes, garlic and capsicum, gradually adding water to prevent the food from sticking and to make the stock. I then removed the bones, added the rice and gave it a good stir.
To prevent the news print being in contact with the paella, I laid a few sheets of wet kitchen paper over the rice before soaking 5 or so sheets of newspaper in sea water and laying them on top, being careful to fold up the corners so they didn’t burn from the heat of the embers below.
The fire subsided gently as I had hoped. About 10 minutes later I lifted the paper cover and laid the mussels and prawns on top of the rice. Some time later I started to see lumps appear in the newspaper cover as the mussels steamed open. I lifted the wet paper cover and voila, perfectly cooked rice, vegetables and seafood. And, there was still enough light to savour both the look and taste of the meal.
I tore the grease proof paper into 30 x 30 cm pieces, folded each in half, and half again and then opened the folded paper into a cone in the same way I remembered making filters in chemistry at high school. A sheet of folded newspaper loosely wrapped around the outside added the necessary insulation before spooning the piping hot paella into each cone and topping off with a couple of slices of fresh lemon.
The smell was incredible. A steamy blend of saffron, chorizo, vegetables and sea food with freshly cut lemon.
I ate with my hands, savouring the texture, aroma and taste of each mouthful with sticky fingers that were later cleansed with the remains of the squeezed lemon slices.
Friday, 8 August 2008
2 small hot red chillies, finely chopped
3-4 roughly chopped cloves of garlic
1 tablespoon of chopped parsley/basil
1 tablespoon of finely grated parmesan cheese
2-3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
A knob of butter
Add the spaghetti to a pot of boiling water, then add the chillies, garlic and olive oil to a pan and cook them gently, being careful not to burn the garlic. Take the pan off the heat while you wait for the pasta to cook.
Thursday, 7 August 2008
Barbequed Chicken Pieces with Lemon and Rosemary
I love my gas barbeque. It means I can cook outside any day of the week, (almost) all year round, even when I don’t have the time to prepare a proper charcoal fire. It is just brilliant for low temperature, slow cooking of thick cuts of meat like chicken legs and thighs where a charcoal fire at around 1,000 degrees C would annihilate the food on the outside and leave it raw in the centre. Sound familiar?
Tonight, for example, a collection of chicken pieces were pulled from the freezer, defrosted in tepid water for about 15 minutes, and then mixed with a little olive oil and a load of fresh rosemary before being put on the barbie for supper.
Thick chicken legs and thighs can be notoriously slow to cook, which is why all those annoying barbeque packs sold in supermarkets instruct you to cook them in the oven first, and then ‘finish’ them off on the barbeque. What is the point of that.
I dry the thawed chicken pieces with kitchen paper, and put them in a boil with some olive oil, rosemary and a little salt, and mix them all together to make sure the chicken pieces are evenly coated with the herbs and oil.
The best way to cook pieces like this is on a hot plate. No naked flames that is, otherwise the fat that drips into the flames from the skin will ignite and cover the food in soot. Not nice. Another tip is to cover the pieces with foil as they cook. This helps the chicken pieces cook all the way through and retains all of their moisture. Squeeze lemon juice over the chicken about half way through and add extra rosemary too. It smells wonderful as it cooks and makes a delicious, simple meal.
Allow about 40 minutes to cook the chicken on the lowest heat your barbeque will allow. You will only need to turn the pieces two or three times during this time, adding lemon and extra herbs as you do.
Tonight, Luca wrapped some fresh sweetcorn pieces in foil with some freshly ground black pepper and I let them cook slowly around the edges of the barbeque with the chicken. Kitty made a beautifully arranged salad of spinach, cherry tomatoes, watercress and avocado. Perfect for a humid, bright, August evening.
Tuesday, 5 August 2008
(Dressed with sautéed mushrooms, more herbs, and chicken stock.)
I am constantly looking for excuses to serve this. It is so much fun to make and wonderful to look at. It tastes great too which helps. This was the first course served at last weekend's dinner party in the 'Involtini' post below. The only fire in this one, sadly, is the gas hob, but it was too much of a special event not to post it.
I stumbled across this recipe years ago in a Time Life Italian cook book that has since been lost in various relocations between Australia and the UK. I have forgotten the name and regional origin of the dish, but I will never forget the recipe. The first time I made this I used a rolling pin (no pasta machine at the time). Watching an intricately shaped parsley leaf breaking into tiny pieces between two sheets of fresh pasta and growing to 5 times its size as I rolled it out was unforgettable.
For a starter for 4, mix three medium sized eggs with one cup of plain flour into a dough, then wrap it in cling film and put it in the fridge for an hour or so.
Meanwhile, chop up a few good handfuls of whatever mushrooms you can get. This time I used Japanese shitake mushrooms and mini yellow chantarelles. Another couple of handfuls of chopped herbs are needed (I used parsley, dill and basil), as is 3-400ml of reduced chicken stock (either home made or shop bought – but definitely not with stock cubes!).
If you are using a pasta machine, work the dough into strips to thickness no. 5. Lay the strips out and carefully place individual leaves of herbs along one half (lengthways) and then fold the pasta over to create a long thin strip with the herbs sandwiched in between.
Re-work the folded pasta in the machine down to thickness no. 6 and cut into small squares before setting aside in layers between cling film on a plate. Dust each layer with a little flour to prevent them from sticking.
When ready to serve, sauté the chopped mushrooms in a mix of butter and olive oil then add half of the herbs. Boil the pasta squares for a couple of minutes in plenty of water then strain and serve them into warmed bowls. Dress them with the sautéed mushrooms, the remaining chopped herbs, hot reduced chicken stock and some finely grated parmesan cheese. The soft silky texture of the pasta combines wonderfully with the other rich and aromatic ingredients and makes a starter that both satisfies and makes you hungry for the next course.Once you’ve done this once, like me, you’ll be addicted.
Monday, 4 August 2008
Monday, 28 July 2008
My favourite toy is of course my ‘Go-Anywhere Weber’. A delightful invention designed to be portable, functional, and to outlive whoever is lucky enough to have one. I could rant on for ages about the design details, but that will have to be another time.
The traditional barbeque of fatty, mealy sausages served with bread and ketchup barely skims the surface of what it is possible to create over a bed of white hot charcoal.
I only had an hour to prepare for this before we left the house, racing against the clock as usual as we had to pick up Kitty’s friend Ruby at a pre-arranged location en route. I marinated some diced chicken breast and capsicum in some Pataks tandoori paste mixed with a dash of natural yogurt, pre-soaked a bunch of bamboo skewers in water (wrapped in foil and wet kitchen paper to keep them moist), chopped up some tomatoes, lettuce, lemons and coriander leaves, and bundled the lot into a cool box with a bit of extra yogurt in a pot. I also packed some good quality chipolata pork sausages that would take about the same amount of time to cook as the chicken.
Normally I’d have gone the unleavened bread route, but without the luxury of time, I took two packs of pitta breads for the kebabs and a few soft rolls for the chipolatas.
The great thing about the Go Anywhere Weber is that you can pack the charcoal inside it, (I put it in a carrier bag), with fire lighters or tinder to make the journey from the car to your picnic spot all the easier. I always use good quality lumpwood charcoal. It burns without smoking, gets super hot in about 30 minutes, and burns for up to an hour or so. Pyro Junior (Luca) then gets to play with it after I have finished all the cooking.
After the fire was lit, I had plenty of time to sit comfortably and mindlessly skewer the marinated chicken and capsicum pieces while I waited for the fire to mature. The chipolatas and kebabs took about 10 minutes to cook and then I warmed the pitta breads over the coals.
Sunday 27 July 2008
Friday, 25 July 2008
Another heart warming pleasure. Soft, warm, yeast-free bread cooked on a hot dry skillet. Great camping food, or just as good in the kitchen. The batch in the photos was cooked one cool spring evening when we were staying in a Mongolian yurt at Larkhill Tipis in Wales.
This is my Mediterraneanised version of the traditional Indian chapatti. Look up any chapatti recipe (or use mine below), and replace the wholemeal flour with plain white flour, and the ghee with olive oil. A pinch of salt and that's it. You might want to add a few simple Mediterranean herbs, but I prefer it as it comes.
Mix the dough an hour before you need it and work it until it is soft and elastic (5-10 minutes), then wrap it in cling film or foil to let the moisture equalize.
When the fire (or hob!) is ready, divide the dough into golfball sized portions and roll them out as thinly as possible dusting with a little flour as you go.
On a hot dry skillet (I use a paella pan), cook the breads for as long as it takes for them to puff up a bit on each side. Depending on how hot the skillet is this could by anything up to about half a minute. As they come off the heat, wrap them in a tea towel to keep them warm and to stop them from drying out before serving.
The paella pan in the photos is sitting on hot embers and a few small rocks to keep an air gap between the embers and the pan.
Perfect with any Indian or Middle Eastern meal, rewarding to make, and even better to eat.
Dough mix (makes 6 small rotis):
1 cup plain flour
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon of olive oil