Archive for July 2010

Tikka chicken

July 31st, 2010 — 12:29pm

If there’s one thing I wasn’t short on for The Big Lunch, it was yoghurt. Rachel’s Organic filled my fridge, my neighbours fridge and the makeshift fridge in my hallway, consisting of ice and gel packs on a complicated freezer rotation system. It was all very rock and roll.

I’m sure it won’t surprise anyone to learn that I jerked some chicken, but the other half looked like an opportunity to rip through a couple of pots of the white stuff; meat cooked in yoghurt is always so succulent and forms a coating which varies between a silken lip-licking paste and patches of spiced crust.

The ingredients can be twiddled but I think the essential players are turmeric, chilli powder and garam masala. A hefty blob of minced garlic and ginger is non-negotiable. I also added some nigella (onion) seeds and chopped mint, in the absence of coriander. They went down an absolute storm.

Tikka chicken

25 chicken drumsticks

1 x 500g tub of Greek yoghurt
1 x 2 inch piece of ginger
6 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon hot chilli powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon onion seeds (optional)
1 small handful coriander or mint leaves

Chop the garlic and ginger then put it in a pestle and mortar with 1 teaspoon salt and grind to a paste. Mix this paste with the yoghurt and all the other marinade ingredients.

Make two slashes across the thickest part of each drumstick then coat them with the marinade, mixing really well and rubbing it into the meat. Leave in the fridge overnight or for as long as possible, at least a few hours.

When ready to cook, remove them from the fridge half an hour before you want to cook them and preheat the oven to 180C. They will take about 25 minutes. The skin should be golden and slightly charred in places and the juices should run clear when you skewer the meat at its thickest point.

13 comments » | Barbecue, Curry, Gluten-free, Lunchbox, Main Dishes, Meat, Picnic, The Big Lunch

Savoy slaw with bacon and walnuts

July 27th, 2010 — 9:10pm

The crinkled heart of a young savoy is delicious freshened up with a dressing of yoghurt, mustard and lemon; raw brassica never tasted so good. This may be down to the addition of grilled pork and its fat.

I like this with mackerel; a freshly grilled fillet is nice but to be honest, on a school night, a couple of smoked pieces from a packet is often all I can manage.

Savoy slaw with bacon and walnuts

1 savoy cabbage, tough outer leaves and core removed and finely shredded
1 small red onion, halved and cut into fine slices
200g Greek yoghurt
1 tablespoon wholegrain mustard
100g walnuts, toasted and roughly chopped (by ‘toast’ I mean put them in a dry pan on a low heat and shimmy them around until they start to smell fragrant. Take care not to burn them).
6 rashers streaky bacon
Pinch of caster sugar
Juice of half a lemon

Grill the bacon until crisp and then chop into small pieces.

Mix the shredded cabbage, onion, bacon and walnuts together in a large bowl. Mix the yoghurt, mustard, sugar and lemon juice together well then add to the cabbage mix and combine. Season with salt and pepper.

13 comments » | Barbecue, Dressings, Lunchbox, Main Dishes, Meat, Salads, Side Dishes, Vegetables

Home made hummus & pitta

July 25th, 2010 — 11:34am

You’ve probably heard that it is really easy to make good hummus at home and that, once you’ve tried it, you’ll ‘never go back’ to the shop-bought stuff. This is rubbish. I’ve rarely met anyone in real life who hasn’t told me that their experiences of making this classic Middle Eastern chickpea slurry at home were wildly disappointing. Recipes say things like, “for a super simple, healthy supper, just whizz two tins chickpeas with 1 clove garlic, 2 tablespoons tahini, juice of 1 lemon and a glug of olive oil.” It absolutely never comes out right. It’s never smooth enough and the flavours always seem out of kilter.

I’ve been trying to make a decent version myself for years because, once I fail at something in the kitchen, I’m like a dog with a bone; Steingarten-esque in my persistence of perfection. I think I’ve cracked it but let me warn you now, you’ve got to put a little work in to get the results.

I’d been approaching the task in entirely the wrong way, viewing it as a five minute job – whack it all in the blender and hope for the best. Really good hummus though, is actually a labour of love.

It is essential to cook your own chickpeas. Tinned ones pong, their flesh weak and pallid. Soak the dried ones overnight in cold water with bicarbonate of soda then cook the next day; a 10-minute rapid boil and skimming plus an hours simmer should do it. If you think that’s a lot of effort then brace yourself for the next step. The creamiest texture comes from individually popping each chickpea from its papery skin; it is these tough coatings which make the hummus coarse. We’re talking one episode (new format) of Come Dine with Me to skin those suckers.

Another tip is to use the smallest chickpeas you can find. I’ve taken to these brown ones recently; they’re small and nutty, although the end result is never quite as smooth as with white peas. When it comes to blending, I do the tahini and lemon juice first, otherwise the tahini can clump and never distribute properly and then add the chickpeas in batches with a splash of water each time. Again, it all helps to make a smooth paste. The rest is down to personal taste although of course it’s better to add a little at a time rather than try to counteract a dominant flavour later.

Buoyed by my success with the hummus, I decided to have a go at making pitta bread. They only needed an hour to rise and puffed up really well. Unlike the hummus, very easy to get right first time and honestly, so much better than shop-bought. Really.


This makes a big batch but let’s face it, if you’re going to faff about skinning chickpeas then you may as well make it worth your while.

325g dried chickpeas (they will double in weight once cooked)
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
5-6 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice of 1 lemon and possibly the juice of another (at least half)
2 fat cloves of garlic
1 heaped teaspoon fine salt
Olive oil

Parsley and paprika to garnish (optional). Toasted pine nuts or whole chickpeas are also good on top.

Begin the day before, by soaking your chickpeas in cold water with the bicarbonate of soda and leaving them overnight. The next day, rinse them, cover with cold water (no salt) and bring to a rapid boil and leave for 10 minutes, skimming off the scum that rises to the top. Drain then re-cover with water and simmer for an hour – 90 minutes, until they are soft and squish easily between your fingers.

Once cool, pop each one from its skin. It takes a while but I found plonking myself in front of the telly eased the pain.

Whizz the tahini and juice of 1 lemon together in a blender until well combined, then blend the garlic and salt into the mix before adding the chickpeas, a handful plus a splash of water each time. When all your chickpeas are blended in, add a good glug of olive oil (hold the bottle over the blender for a couple of seconds), turn the blender on and leave it for a few minutes. Adjust the flavours to your taste. I find it always needs more lemon juice.

Garnish with more olive oil, parsley and paprika.

Pitta Bread (makes eight)

I used part wholemeal flour, firstly because I had some hanging around and secondly for a bit more of a robust flavour. I think it works well but you can use entirely strong white bread flour if you prefer.

220g strong white bread flour
150g whole wheat flour
1 heaped teaspoon fine salt
1 tablespoon caster sugar
1 x 7g sachet fast action dried yeast
300ml warm (not hot) water
2 tablespoons olive oil

Add the yeast to the water and leave in a warm place for about 10 minutes until frothy. This means that the yeast is activated.

In a large bowl combine the flours, salt, sugar and oil and then add the yeasty water. If you have an electric mixer with a dough hook then simply set the lot on the lowest speed for 10 minutes, adding more water if necessary, until smooth and elastic. If you don’t have a mixer, combine the mix until it comes together into a ball of dough. Again, add a little more water if necessary to bring it together. Knead on a lightly floured surface for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic.

Rest the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (so that it doesn’t stick) and cover with clingfilm or a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place until doubled in size – mine only took an hour.

After this time, knock the dough back a little by punching it a few times then divide it up into 8 pieces. Roll each into a ball, then recover for another 15-20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 200C and preheat a baking stone or baking tray (turned upside down).

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough ball into a pitta shape – each should be about 0.5 cm thick. Bake them on the stone or baking tray for about 5 minutes, or until golden and puffy. They are best eaten warm from the oven and they re-heat well.

26 comments » | Barbecue, Bread, Dips, Healthy, Lunchbox, Main Dishes, Pulses, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Snacks

Grilled aubergines with yoghurt-tahini sauce

July 21st, 2010 — 8:11pm

Nearing the end of  The Big Lunch* cook-off, we found ourselves flagging; we’d been cooking for 10 hours straight, only pausing to open the odd beer. There were plans for an aubergine galette and I’d toyed with the idea of baba ganoush but when it came down to it, a super quick and simple recipe was needed. I’d made this a few weeks earlier; the cool, sesame-laced yoghurt lifts the meaty aubergine into salad territory – perfect for a hot summer’s day.

It disappeared quickly at the lunch, even though I had to skip the tahini, having used it all in the plateful you see above. A garlic-mint-lemon mix worked a treat though, with one guest declaring it “one of the best pieces of aubergine” he’s ever eaten. It’s the kind of dish you bust out at a BBQ; minimal effort, looks pretty and much more interesting than your average salad. You could even grill the slices on the BBQ first for extra smoky flavour.

Grilled aubergines with yoghurt-tahini sauce
Will serve four people as part of a BBQ or with other salads

2 very large aubergines, sliced into 2cm thick slices
500g full-fat Greek yoghurt
3-4 tablespoons tahini paste (or to taste)
1 large clove garlic, crushed
Juice of 1 lemon
A handful of mint leaves, finely chopped
A handful of coriander or parsley leaves (or both) finely chopped
Olive oil, for grilling

Begin my brushing the aubergine slices with oil and seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Either grill them for 5-10 minutes each side under a hot grill or do the same on a BBQ – they should be golden brown and slightly shrivelled.

While this is happening, mix the yoghurt, tahini, garlic, lemon juice and herbs (reserving a few herbs for garnish) together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and adjust any of the ingredients as you see fit (you may like more tahini for example). If you feel the dressing is too sour, I find a pinch of sugar never hurts. Don’t feel guilty.

When the aubergines are ready, arrange them on a plate and drizzle over some of the yoghurt sauce. Scatter with more herbs and add an extra drizzle of olive oil if you fancy it.

* The donations have continued to trickle in and so in addition to the £200 odd raised on the day, there’s another £115 plus Gift Aid on the Just Giving Page. Thanks so much to everyone who donated.

6 comments » | Barbecue, Healthy, Main Dishes, Salads, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads, Side Dishes, The Big Lunch, Vegetables

The Big Peckham Lunch

July 19th, 2010 — 9:07pm

We did it! Yesterday afternoon the people of Rye Apartments came together along with a bunch of my mates for a good old nosh up in the car park. Today I feel totally exhausted but so happy that we managed to pull it off. I’ll be honest, there were moments during our 13 hour cook-off the day before when I was apprehensive. What if there isn’t enough food? What if people don’t turn up? We started at 9am and before we knew it, we were slumped on cardboard boxes in the middle of my flat, dishevelled and slightly sweaty, trying to keep our eyes open to finish rolling vine leaves; it was 11pm. A long hard day and a huge amount of work.

It was important to do justice though, to the stellar ingredients that people donated and I must say a heartfelt thank you to all of them.

On the food front, Riverford Organics donated fruit, vegetables and herbs; Barber’s donated some of their delicious cheddar (which went into a cheese and onion tart, biscuits, scones and pretty much anything else) and Maryland Farmhouse butter. Rachel’s Organic sent milk, yoghurt (a whole lot of yoghurt), crème fraiche and cream, and Pong Cheese a selection of their cheeses including a Camembert, a goat’s cheese, a cheddar and a Bath Soft Cheese. They went into quiches and tarts.

Green and Blacks sent their organic chocolate for our super squidgy brownies and marbled chocolate meringues, and for the cake making, we had flour kindly donated by Kate Thal at Green and Blue Wines and unrefined sugar from Billington’s. The eggs were really special; old breed Burford Browns, Old Cotswold Legbar and duck eggs from Clarence Court. The colour of the yolks was intensely amber. Sally Butcher from Persepolis stepped in on the nuts and honey side of things – we had coffee and walnut cake, sunflower seeded biscuits and cherry and ground almond cake, plus some stuffed vine leaves with raisins. In our cakes and on our scones we spread clotted cream from Rodda’s and Fraser Doherty’s fruity Super Jam and I must mention that they were speedily and expertly mixed by my new pride and joy, which Kitchenaid sent to ease the burden on my puny arm muscles. She is the newest sparkliest shade of grape; I’ve named her Gilberta.

The ever brilliant Paganum kindly donated 3 amazing topsides of Malhamdale Belted Galloway beef, which we used in roast beef and horseradish sandwiches, plus a Thai-style salad dressed with chilli, fish sauce, coriander and the like. Yianni of Meatwagon fame sorted me out with chicken drumsticks from his butcher and of course I had to jerk some, although I managed to rein myself in slightly and Tikka the rest for variety.

On the drinks side of things, I was overwhelmed by the generosity of people who wanted to get involved. We had loose leaf tea from Lahloo, plus a lot of booze for those feeling fruity. Russian Standard Vodka donated 3 bottles for vodka iced teas; The Ship, a brilliant pub in Wandsworth run by a great bunch of people sent over Pimm’s plus all the trimmings – very summery. On the beer and fizzy front we had Moritz and Rothaus beer from The Beer Merchants, there was sweet, fruity cider from Sweden (Rekorderlig) plus Young’s London Gold, Adnams bitter, Red Stripe lager and Crabbie’s alcoholic ginger beer which everyone loved. It’s available in quite a few pubs around London now – I urge you to give it a try.

For those who avoid the bubbles, there was vino from my new local, The Victoria Inn, the owner of which helped out in more ways than one throughout the whole event, even ferrying over another Kitchenaid in his car. His motto is “the pub is hub”. Bloody nice bloke. Casillero del Diablo provided more wine and there was stonking chilled sherry from Tio Pepe. I think we can agree that there was something for everyone!

To round off the feast, some Bompas and Parr iris jellies with ambergris (that’s whale vomit to you and me) and candied orange from their Complete History of Food event. We wibbled them around and giggled. Hic! They were seriously boozy with Courvoisier. I love everything Bompas and Parr do and you should too.

And last, but by no means least, I’d like to say a really huge thank you to my mate Lizzie. She worked like a dog during that 13 hour cook off and basically kept me going throughout. I could not have done it without her so thank you Mabs, for being a damn good friend. We make a brilliant team.

So that’s it! We used 40 eggs, 3kg flour, 4kg sugar, an absolute shedload of cheese and a whole bottle of washing up liquid (not in the cakes you understand). My friend Rachel made that amazing bunting from my dodgy old clothes which is, quite frankly, nothing short of a miracle. The only slight disappointment was that more of the neighbours didn’t turn up but hey, what can I do; we put on an amazing spread and all they had to do is walk outside – if that doesn’t encourage them then nothing will. The ones that did turn up were absolutely lovely though and I invited a load of my mates anyway so the whole thing went off Peckham stylee. Today is a bit of a come down but I’ll get over it; I’ve already started thinking about a new project to sink my teeth into.

Of course the whole idea was to raise money for Maggie’s and that we did. The donations are still trickling in and we’ve already reached the £200 mark so I think that makes the event a success. Thanks so much to everyone who donated money. You did good. I’ll leave you with a little vid of the cook-off and the lunch itself. Cheers!

46 comments » | Cakes, Cheese, Drinks, Food Events, Food From The Rye, Lovely Food Producing People, The Big Lunch

Big Lunch Update #3

July 16th, 2010 — 8:11pm

It’s getting close now. I’m really excited and tomorrow is all about The Big Cook Off. I’ve been completely overwhelmed by the generosity of complete strangers; a gent who runs the ED Warehouse saw my appeal on The East Dulwich Forum and dropped off some perfectly sized tables and catering tea pots; a charming lady brought round some old plates she didn’t need and on Tuesday I found myself in student digs in Elephant ridding some departing graduates of unwanted cutlery.

Here’s a little vid featuring some of the other locals who’ve kindly donated their wares. At this rate, with such cool people involved, we’re going to raise a good whack for Maggie’s. Big Up Peckham!

5 comments » | Food Events, Food From The Rye, Lovely Food Producing People, Peckham, The Big Lunch

Labneh with chilli and anchovy: comfort snack du jour

July 14th, 2010 — 3:40pm

Labneh is strained yoghurt. Now now, do bear with me, it’s delicious. You mix regular, full-fat Greek yoghurt with a scant half-teaspoon of salt then bung it in some muslin and hang it over a bowl overnight. Drip, drip, drip. In the morning all the whey has drained away and what remains is a creamy thick ‘yoghurt-cheese’. It’s magic scooped up with warmed flat breads and sprinkled with za’atar, smeared in a kebab, or rolled into balls, covered with herbs and stored in olive oil.* I’ve taken to eating it plain on walnut toast first thing too; the contrast of hot toast and cool, tangy topping really floats my breakfast boat.

Popular in the Middle East and South Asia, it pops up in mezze, sandwiches, dips and even desserts. It’s basically a flavour whore and will take whatever it can get.

When it comes to comfort snacking, I tend to top it with my salty little friends the anchovies; briny, umami-packed miniatures. First it was the boiled egg with anchovy dippers, then the baked eggs with the same. Now I can’t get enough of them slivered and draped over the labneh, prickled with chilli and sprinkled with whatever herbs are lying around, or perhaps some papery shavings of red onion.

Despite labneh’s surprising richness, I like to reason with myself that it’s fairly healthy; not that the fat content of anything has ever held me back, as I’m sure you’ve come to realise. A drizzle of olive oil is all that’s needed to counter the balance back towards gluttonsville though, so don’t worry about that.

Labneh with chilli and anchovy

500g good quality, full fat Greek yoghurt (I find Total is the best brand)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon fine salt
Anchovy fillets, sliced in half lengthways
1 small mild red chilli, finely chopped
A few leaves parsley (or other herbs), finely chopped
Black pepper
Good bread, toasted, to serve

Muslin and string to strain the yoghurt

Mix the yoghurt with the salt then line a bowl with the muslin and dollop the yoghurt in the middle. Gather up the muslin then tie the top with string and hang somewhere (preferably cool, although I’ve never had a problem in my kitchen), over a bowl, overnight. In the morning remove from the muslin, mix in the lemon juice and refrigerate until needed. It will last a few days.

Spread on hot toast and top with the anchovies, chilli and herbs. Some black pepper and a drizzle of olive oil won’t go amiss.

* I’ll dig out a jar and post a piccy and recipe up for you; it’s really beautiful.

14 comments » | Bread, Breakfast, Cheese, Fish, Food From The Rye, Peckham, Sauces, Condiments and Spreads

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