Category: Books

Cooking For One

February 16th, 2014 — 8:20pm

How many times have you heard people say that they ‘cook to relax’? I don’t. I can only cook in fact, when I’m relaxed to start off with. If I’m upset then kitchen time goes out of the window. Like a wheel coming off a cart, I become de-railed when down. How do you think I’m so good at pimping instant noodles? It’s not JUST because I spent so much time getting drunk in my yoof, you know. Eye roll.

Cooking for one can make it even harder to get motivated, supposedly. When I’m on form I generally don’t have a problem cooking 8 curries then living off them for a week until I see chunks of paneer instead of ice cubes in my gin and tonic but hey, I’ve heard of the problem. Anyway on Friday I was staring down the barrel of Dinner Alone, and Friday, in case you didn’t notice, was Valentine’s day (if you didn’t notice you’re clearly not on Twitter). Everybody is supposed to hate Valentine’s day. I don’t. I don’t like it either, I just feel completely and utterly indifferent about it, or at least I did, until I had a book out about food and dating, then all of a sudden I became all like, ‘URGH, why are you all so MISERABLE?’ It’s because I’m paranoid that no-one will realise that the book is supposed to be a bit of fun. Everyone will think I’m a massive sell out! I’m one step away from writing for, for, for, I dunno, somewhere shit!

Anyway so it’s supposed to be a bit of a laugh, this new little book of mine, and while I may never reach the dizzy heights of prose achieved in Barbara Cartland’s magnificent tome, The Romance of Food (seriously, get it, it’s incredible), I’ve had a damn good go. Also my book contains recipes that are actually good. So for Vally D I decided to bust out a recipe from it. Actually it’s more of a lesson in method – how to cook an awesome steak. It really does work, by the way, and on the previous page I tell you how to mix the perfect martini which contains 90 whole mls of gin. Yuh huh.

So I bought a magnificent 550g rib eye from Flock and Herd and ate it all to myself while watching House of Cards because I am a restaurant widow and apparently Valentine’s day is a busy night for the trade or some such rubbish. Pfft.

Cook Your Date Into Bed is available on Amazon now

It looks like the crust isn’t dark enough in this photo which is annoying. Trust me, that one crussssssty bastard.


13 comments » | Books, Meat, My book!

One Pot Pasta Disaster

January 11th, 2014 — 4:04pm

I am writing a book about cooking with BOOZE. Yuh huh. It’s not just about going out and getting drunk, coming home and knocking something up, far from it, but the fact remains that there is that angle to be covered. So I have covered it. I am covering it. I am testing recipes, anyway. Pasta must surely be in everyone’s drunken repertoire? It’s really simple to make, really stodgy, sorts you out a bit in the morning and is really satisfying at the time. The only thing more satisfying than a carb binge is a drunken carb binge. No guilt.

So I came across a number of recipes online for something called ‘one pot pasta’. The idea is that you sling everything – pasta, ingredients for the sauce, water – into a pan, and just sort of stir it about until the pasta absorbs the water and miraculously, you are left with perfect pasta and sauce. Except that is not what happens. I can honestly say that this is a crime against pasta.

Now I know the idea of the all in one was always going to be controversial, and I have to say I wasn’t particularly convinced either, but curiosity got the better of me and I had to know for sure. I’ve heard of the ‘risotto’ method, and I get the idea of the starchy, creamy sauce, but this, THIS, was precisely the consistency of…wallpaper paste. Use your imagination. My mother reads this blog. The sauce was the very definition of gloopy. The pasta was just about passable as ‘cooked’. It could have been used to glue things together in place of, say, Araldite. It was horrible, truly, BUT the bigger, more important question here is, WHY? Why bother? To save yourself from washing up ONE extra pan? Well, maybe it’s easier to just chuck everything in at once, I hear you saying, rather than cooking out an onion for a sauce for example, before adding other ingredients. Well let me tell you, it isn’t less effort, because you have to stand there and stir the bloody thing, the most effective way to do this being to use tongs. Ever tried to use tongs for any sustained period of time? It’s quite taxing on the wrist, actually. Taxing on the wrist and at the end you’re left with a sticky mess (I feel this marks the moment when my mother stops reading forever).

The pan is soaking in the sink, because the ‘sauce’ stuck to the bottom of it. The pasta is in the bin. Talk about a problem that didn’t need solving.

25 comments » | Books, Monumental Fail, Pasta

Book Previews This Week in The Guardian

October 2nd, 2013 — 5:17pm

The Guardian are running a 5 day special preview of my book, 101 Sandwiches, with a recipe every day this week. It’s kicked off with the yakisoba pan, a carb on carb beauty that has elicited comments ranging from ‘that’s fucking disgusting; you’re sick and entirely responsible for the type 2 diabetes epidemic’ to ‘I love you, you’re a genius, marry me ‘. So check it out.

I also wrote a piece for them about my love of sandwiches which gives a mention to a few that didn’t make it into the book. I was dead chuffed with the amount of sandwich suggestions left in the comments. Read it here.

The book is available for pre-order on Amazon now! Released 10th October.

4 comments » | 101 Sandwiches, Books

Book Review: Veggiestan by Sally Butcher

November 13th, 2011 — 8:01pm

Sally Butcher, the shop-keeper, proud Peckhamite and author of the award-winning ‘Persia in Peckham‘ has gone and written another fantastic cookery book, this time entirely vegetarian. There’s quite a trend for veggie recipe books at the moment (which seemed to surge when people started swooning over Ottolenghi) but I  beg of you to consider chucking your money at something a little less mainstream. Go off the beaten track and take the first side road to Veggiestan.

Veggiestan is of course a fictional place, invented by Sally to reflect the position of vegetables in the Middle Eastern diet. Meat usually takes a back seat and is either optional or reserved entirely for special occasions. We could do with adopting this attitude a little more in the West, I say. I mean, some people still don’t think they’re having a meal unless it’s got meat in it. Now, this may come as a shock to my readers, but I don’t eat meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; in reality it’s about once a week (or maybe twice, not including Meat Liquor visits or bacon sandwiches) that I cook those big hunks of pork, beef and lamb and increasingly I find myself eating more fish and vegetables. There is something rather vulgar, I think, about eating  meat every day, not to mention the fact that is isn’t particularly sustainable or indeed terribly good for you.

Veggiestan is a visual carnival of a book; the cover bold and tactile, zig-zagged with fabric like fuzzy felts (remember them?) Bright patterns and photos are abundant throughout; presumably the budget shot up on the back of the first book’s success. The structure runs thus: bread and pastries; herbs and salads; dairy and eggs; soups, legumes and pulses; rice and grains; vegetables; recipes with fruit; sauces, pickles and preserves and of course, sweet things to finish.

I like to make at least 3 recipes from a book before I write about it. In fact, I started before it was even published as Sally asked me to test a recipe (yes she’s a friend – disclosure); this was how I found myself cooled by a silky, chilled yoghurt soup (above), a lifeline on a sticky summer evening. Hard to imagine eating it right now, I realise, but there’s a hot yoghurt soup recipe in the book too, for all your yoghurt soup needs. Yoghurt is one of the things Iranians are really into you see, as am I.

We see eye to eye on other ingredients too, herbs for example. Lots and lots of herbs. A plate of mixed fresh herbs (sabzi) are eaten like salad leaves at the beginning of a meal to stimulate the appetite; different herbs are believed to have various health-boosting properties. The Iranians also get right on down with mixing sweet and salty flavours, like the dates and feta in this salad (Salata Jamr wa Jubnat Feta) – one of my favourite recipes from the book. The textures are glorious too; squidgy dates against crisp fried chips of khobez flat bread.

I also loved this pomegranate salsa; sweet, ruby pops of pomegranate stud a ballsy salsa. I actually ate this with grilled meat but we’ll gloss swiftly over that.

Finally, more of a winter warmer: an Afghan carrot hotpot (Qorma-e-Zardak), which made me remember just how darn good carrots are when made the centre of a dish rather than an afterthought on the side ‘for a bit of colour’. The spicing is very well judged too, so the flavours remain distinct. I often think of lentils as something I eat when I’m skint but this felt like a treat on a cold Monday evening, especially with the hum of a scotch bonnet singing through (hello, Peckham influence) and a good hunk of fluffy bread for a bit of dippage.

One of the most impressive things about the book is the sheer amount of work that has gone into it; you’re drawn into the story of each dish as Sally delves into the etymology of recipe names and the anthropological background. She tries to tell me this is ‘purely the result of procrastination’ but whatever the motivation, the book is all the more richer for it.

There are still so many recipes I want to cook: fig jam with nibbed pistachios; Yemeni ‘fire relish'; Iranian aubergine pickle; baked stuffed quinces; pumpkin kibbeh. I think I’d better stop there. Some ingredients may be unfamiliar, but Sally makes them entirely accessible; her warmth, wit and complete down to Earth-ness are the key. This is exactly what Sally is like in real life by the way, but you don’t need to take my word for it – get yourself down to her shop. She’s the lady with the cheery “hello!” and the big red hair. Oh and ask her to sign the book while you’re there, it could be worth a few bob one day.

Afghan Carrot Hotpot (serves 4)

2 medium onions, chopped
oil, for frying
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 scotch bonnet chilli, finely chopped
1cm knob of fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Pinch ground cloves
600g baby carrots or the equivalent of grown up carrots, cut into wedges
300g yellow split peas
3 large tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons sour grape juice or 2 teaspoons vinegar
About 500ml veg stock (I found I needed a little more to cover mine but then I did have very beasty carrots)

Fry the onions in a littl eoil in the bottom of a big saucepan and add in the garlic, chilli and ginger. When the onions have started to soften, add in the spices, carrots and split peas, followed a couple of minutes later by the tomato paste and fresh tomato chunks. Add some salt, then either the vinegar or sour grape juice, and then just enough stock to cover all the ingredients. Bring to the boil and set to simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until the carrots and peas are cooked through.

Serve over plain white rice or with bread and most definitely with yoghurt. I added a good handful of fresh mixed herbs too.

Sally also gives a recipe for a ‘Salaata’ which sounds like a very nice accompaniment:

3 small continental cucumbers (or half a regular one)
3 tomatoes
3-4 spring onions
Half a bunch of coriander, trimmed
Handful fresh mint, trimmed
1 small regular onion
2 small, hot green chillies (optional)
Juice 1-2 lemons

Just chop all the ingredients together – bigger than a salsa but much smaller than a regular chunk. Sprinkle with salt and drizzle with lemon then cover and pop in the fridge for about half an hour to let the flavours mingle.

Sally’s book is currently worth £25 but you can buy it for the frankly outrageous price of £15.54 on Amazon

Sally also writes a Veggiestan blog, a Persepolis blog and does the occasional Persian pop-up at Anderson’s in Peckham. She also runs Persepolis, the shop, with her husband Jamshid. Phew!



29 comments » | Books, Food From The Rye, Peckham

Book Review: Food Britannia

June 16th, 2011 — 2:06pm

I don’t often review books on this blog. Although I may enjoy a cook book, I rarely feel the need to jump up and tell people about it; often someone else has done it already, better. What someone else has not done already however, is write a more impressive book about British food than Andrew Webb has done with Food Britannia.

I should say right off that Andrew Webb is a friend of mine. You can therefore choose to believe that what I write here is my true opinion, or not. Let me say to you this however: I spend a great deal of time and energy writing in this space; I take a lot of pride in maintaining the integrity of it and I won’t ever tell you about something unless I feel it is of value. Caveat ends.

Food Britannia is like an encyclopaedia of British food (Encyclopaedia of Food Brittanica?) but with less of the scholarly padding and a lot more warmth and fun. I first met Andrew on the journey that sparked the idea for the book – it was called The Big British Food Map, a commission for Channel 4 which took him 11,500 miles around the country looking for the best grub going. At the end of the journey he found he couldn’t stop; he needed to fill in the gaps, find the producers undiscovered, from one-man-bands to well known brands.

This diversity in the book pleases me. I’m learning of new products to seek out and try; top of this list comes the ‘Sloe Tavy’ (above), an aged goat’s milk cheese whose rind is washed in Plymouth Sloe Gin. Cheese? Goood. Sloe gin? Goood. There are now many pink stickies peeking from the top of pages marked for my later attention – lardy cake; Somerset cider brandy; the Manchester sausage. There’s a list of suppliers in the back.

Among the new I relished the familiar: Marmite, Irn-Bru and my personal favourite, the WHAM bar. Anyone who grew up in the UK in the 1980’s remembers this tooth-extracting, space-dust studded chew bar. I got through my local newsagent’s stock with gusto and the bars in turn steadily made their way through my milk teeth.

There’s a London section too, which of course pleases me greatly. Franco Manca pizza; pie and mash with liquor; Sipsmith; The Ginger Pig and Heinz baked beans. Did you know Heinz beans grew up in Peckham? Me neither. I’m pleased to see jerk getting a mention too, not least because it’s a quote from yours truly. My favourite jerk joint at the time was Smokey Jerkey in New Cross. It’s now Caribbean Spice Jerk Centre but hey, times they change.

Food Britannia is the kind of book you dip in and out of; a coffee table book that does more than just look good. It could easily be used as a guide should you nip off on a weekend away somewhere; a handbook for the food loving adventurer. The thing that strikes me most about the book is how thoroughly well researched it is. With such a volume of entries it would be easy to skim over them but that’s just not Andrew’s style, and it shows. It’s more than a reference work, it’s a fun and engaging story of the people making quality food in this country. Considering the amount of total shit that’s put out, we should thank Andrew Webb for picking out the wood from the trees.

Food Britannia is available to buy on Amazon and at real-life book shops too.


11 comments » | Books

Steak Tartare for a Birthday Dinner

January 5th, 2010 — 7:54pm

And so the year ended with one final meaty fling in the form of a birthday meal for my boyfriend. One last colon-clogging protein punch before our bodies gave in to cravings for nothing but fish, vegetables and miso soup. I expect you could hear my arteries begging me to stop from wherever you were at the time. Or maybe I really wanted to do fish but it was the 29th of December and all the fishermen were at home toasting their toes by an open fire, spending time with their families and generally having a life rather than braving the stormy seas catching fishies for my convenience.

Anyway. The fluster of festivities left me utterly unprepared and before I knew it I found myself in front of the butcher wondering, ‘what would Simon do?’ Simon Hopkinson that is. In my hour of need I turned to my king of British cooking. The pages of his ‘Week In Week Out‘, are so indelibly etched into my memory, that as I cast my eyes over the pieces of meat in front of me, I could hear him sagely whisper, “page 148,  Helen – surely you remember?” At once a stunning vision materialised: red nuggets of beef glistening against the silvery blade of a cleaver.

I used 125g lean sirloin per person (more flavour than fillet), and spiked the fine dice with whatever choice of seasonings took my fancy; chopped capers, cornichons, shallot, parsley, anchovies, Worcestershire sauce and mustard are all strong contenders. An egg yolk is essential for me, adding silky richness. Traditionally the tartare  is heaped onto toasted rye (I didn’t have any) or alongside a pile of frites (didn’t fancy making them) but thinly sliced baguette did the job just fine.

There is a curious excitement about eating entirely raw meat; it feels a little bit naughty – risky, even. Soft nuggets of melty beef are roused to life by piquancy and heat; as much as you dare. The key is not to tip the balance too far. Restraint, as always, is key.

For the main course, fish was obviously out and there was no doubt in my mind that serving a vegetarian course to the boyfriend on his birthday would be nothing short of highly offensive. I roasted a couple of partridges and served them with Simon’s bread sauce and game crumbs; bread crumbs crisped in the partridge roasting juices. Followed by cheese with beetroot chutney and a dark chocolate fudge cake, you could say it was the perfect end to a seasonal binge, and the perfect pre-cursor to a detox. To be  honest though, I’ve never really been into all that dieting malarkey and anyway, I have a feeling it might offend Simon.

Steak Tartare

Simon advises using 125g of either fillet, lean sirloin or rump. I used sirloin in place of fillet as it has so much more flavour. Chill it well then remove any fat and dice very finely, before placing in a well chilled bowl. You can now add your choice of seasonings, or if you are serving it at a dinner party or the like, just set things out on the table and let people add their own. As I said, parsley, capers, cornichons, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, anchovies, shallots and black pepper are all worthy additions. An egg yolk on top is essential in my opinion. Clearly not a dish suitable for the pregnant or vulnerable.

18 comments » | Books, Meat, Starters

Ottolenghi *Swoon*

January 4th, 2009 — 10:57am

Like many people who do a hefty amount of cooking, I don’t often follow recipes in books (which is not to say I don’t have a massive collection!). Instead, I prefer to use them for inspiration, to check techniques or sometimes just to look at the pretty pictures, quite frankly. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule and Ottolenghi is most definitely one of them. I adored the ‘New Vegetarian‘ series, I now adore the book and I hope that soon I shall adore the restaurant/deli too.

There is a bold simplicity to these recipes, which are based around a set of ‘star ingredients’, (listed in the front of the book) – essential flavours in the Ottolenghi repertoire, for example, yoghurt, tahini, sumac and pomegranate molasses. These ingredients I am already in love with, particularly since the release of books such as Moro East and Persia in Peckham.

This roast pumpkin with burnt aubergine and pomegranate molasses is a current favourite. Soft, sweet squash scattered with crunchy toasted seeds and nuts, accompanied by an aubergine sauce which is pure genius. I know I will continue making this sauce for many years to come. The aubergine is charred until wrinkly and often bursting – the smoky flesh then scraped and combined with natural yoghurt, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and that sticky, fragrant molasses. Great sweet and sour flavours and contrasting textures.

The squash didn’t make it onto a plate, I just plonked the sauce in the middle and we ate the whole lot, from the oven dish, on the sofa. The original sauce recipe calls for olive oil but I left it out (Christmas calorie guilt) and it still tastes amazing. In fact, I may even prefer it.

I picked up two more aubergines on the way home yesterday, to make a double batch this afternoon. I will be munching through it while thumbing through the book, trying to decide which of the ten or so earmarked recipes will be next on my hitlist. This is a true pleasure in itself, for the book is a beautiful thing. Glorious pictures of the Ottolenghi establishment/s, platters towered high with lush, vibrant salads, perfectly cooked meats and decadent cakes and pastries.

Glossy pages, beautiful photography and chef magic aside however, I reckon Ottolenghi is the perfect book for the home cook. The recipes are easy to make yet impressive and (at the risk of sounding a bit Jamie O), sexy. There is a sense of generosity, a celebration of ingredients, the flavour of each being clearly discernable – no fussing. The Ottolenghi passion has jumped right from the chefs to the book to the plate to my belly and – I think I may be in love.

Roasted Butternut Squash with Burnt Aubergine and Pomegranate Molasses (from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sammi Tamimi).
(I bought a big bottle of pomegranate molasses in my local Sainsbury’s for £2.50 ish. It is also available in delis and middle Eastern food shops).

1 large butternut squash (I used a small pumpkin)
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon pumpkin seeds
1 tablespoon sunflower seeds (I didn’t have any)
1 tablespoon black (or white) sesame seeds
1 teaspoon nigella (black onion) seeds
10g sliced almonds
10g basil leaves (I didn’t have any)
Sea salt and black pepper

For the sauce
1 medium aubergine
150g Greek yoghurt, room temp
2 tablespoons olive oil (I left this out)
1.5 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon roughly choppped flatleaf parsley
1 garlic clove, crushed

– Preheat oven to 220C/Gas 7/425F. Cut the squash into wedges, 2-3cm thick. Remove the seeds and arrange in a roasting tray, skin side down. Brush with half the oil and season well. Cook for 25-30 minutes until soft and slightly brown.

– Reduce the oven to 180C/Gas4/350F. Spread the almonds and seeds on a roasting tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

– For the sauce, either put the aubergine directly onto a gas hob flame, turning occasionally, for 10-15 minutes, until the skin is dried and cracked and the aubergine smells smoky. You can also do this by putting the aubergine under a hot grill. The aubergine often bursts I find, but this is fine. Just be careful not to lose that flesh! It needs to be very soft inside.

– Scoop the flesh from the aubergine and discard the skin. Drain the flesh in a colander for ten minutes, then chop roughly and combine with the yoghurt, oil, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley and season.

– Arrange the squash on a plate, scatter over the seeds and nuts and serve the dressing alongside. Scatter over the basil and serve.

36 comments » | Books, Gluten-free, Healthy, Lunchbox, Side Dishes, Vegetables

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