Kookoo Sabzi

Thursday, 6th March 2014

Kookoo sabzi is basically an Iranian omelette with a whacking great load of herbs in it. I became rather attached to it as a weekend breakfast option a year or so back and it’s really very good in a sandwich too, just wrapped in warmed flatbread with some slivered pickles and a splutter of hot sauce (there’s a recipe for that sandwich in a very good book about sandwiches from around the world I’ve heard mentioned somewhere occasionally perhaps maybe).

Kookoo sabzi flatbread wrap with Iranian pickles and hot sauce

Anyway on Tuesday it was the day of the pancakes and so I found myself wondering what a load of skinny kookoos would be like rolled up around a stuffing and baked in a cheesy sauce. They were very easy to make and flip in a little non-stick pan, and I filled them with what was basically a mixture of posho garlic shrooms (chanterelles and chestnuts) and spinach, and baked them in a sauce rammed with cheddar and Lancashire cheeses (what I had in the fridge). Oh and I grated some rather suave aged Comte on top, because I also had that in the fridge, because I’m a member of the Food Tosserati.

The kookoo made this whole dish really pleasing because they’re just so fragrant with herbs and bitey with spring onion; they lift the whole thing meaning you can eat a large amount and not feel in danger of developing diabetic neuropathy the instant you stop eating and slump on the sofa in front of The Restaurant Man. Come to think of it, a gluten free cheese sauce would also make this a good alternative for coeliacs in danger of missing out on cheesy baked pancake things come Fat Tuesday.

Diet food

Kookoo sabzi stuffed with garlic mushrooms and baked in a cheesy…okay I don’t know what to call this but it’s well tasty, promise. 

For the pancakes (makes approx 10 pancakes)

12 eggs
3 tablespoons self raising flour
1 large handful parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 large handful dill, finely chopped
1 large handful coriander, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely chopped

For the filling

100g chanterelle mushrooms
200g chestnut mushrooms
1 regular onion
3 cloves garlic, crushed
350g spinach, chopped roughly if leaves are large (include the stalks, finely chopped)
Knob of butter
Veg oil or similar, for frying

120g cheese, grated (I used a mixture of cheddar and Lancashire)
Comte (or another cheese, obviously, to grate on top)
50g butter
50g flour
600ml milk

This method looks long and it is really, but you can get most of it going at the same time.

Preheat the oven to gas mark 6/200C/400F.

Beat the eggs together and sift in the flour. Whisk the mixture to combine; it will go lumpy which is annoying but just whisk the shit out of it. Mix in the chopped herbs, spring onions, and season highly with salt and pepper.

Set a small frying pan (mine is 6 inches diameter) over a medium-low heat and add a scant splash of oil, then wipe it around with a piece of kitchen paper. Add enough eggy mixture to make a very thin ‘pancake’, spreading it out with the back of a spoon. Cook until almost set (it’s so thin it will cook almost all the way through without turning), then, when almost set, flip it over for 30 seconds or so to set the other side. This is about a hundred times easier than it sounds. Repeat until all the mixture is gone.

Once the first pancake is out of the way, you can get the filling on at the same time. Heat a little oil in a frying pan and sling the onion in to soften. Once translucent, add a knob of butter and the mushrooms and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes or so, stirring regularly. Set aside, then add the spinach to the same pan and allow to wilt down and cook until no liquid remains in the pan. Mix with the mushrooms. Season.

To make the cheese sauce, wang the flour, butter and milk into a pan and bring to a simmer, whisking it with an air of nonchalance. Once simmering, cook out gently for a few minutes, then add the cheese. It will melt pretty fast. Season with salt and pepper.

To assemble your masterpiece, roll each pancake around some of the filling (not too much). Line them up in a baking dish. Cover with the sauce. Grate a little Comte on top. Put in the oven. Bake for 35-40 minutes until golden.

10 comments | Breakfast, Brunch, Cheese, Eggs, Main Dishes, Sandwiches

The Art of Avocado on Toast

Saturday, 22nd February 2014

I’m being serious, there’s an art to this. Done properly, avo on toast is one of the most sublime breakfasts/brunches/snacks/whatevers going. Done badly, which it is so often, it’s nowt but slimy green bread. I consider myself something of a master when it comes to avo toast and I don’t mind saying so. Here are my 5 steps to a really good Saturday morning.

1. Choose the right bread. You need one slice of excellent white sourdough bread per person. It really does need to be the best bread you can get. My favourite is from Brickhouse.

2. Choose the right avocado. A properly ripe avocado is essential, either the Hass (small, bobbly) or Fuerte (smooth skinned) variety, although it’s harder to get a good example of the latter. If you live near a grocer that sells those mahoosive African jobbies then give them a go – they can be gorgeous if caught at the right stage of ripeness.

3. Get the toast temperature spot on. One of the joys of avo on toast is the contrast between the warm bread and cool topping but don’t be tempted to whack it on there straight away, it will be too hot and the fruit will go unpleasantly gooey underneath. The key is to let the toast cool for 30 seconds or so, out of the toaster, but propped up against something (like the side of a chopping board); if you let it lay flat on a surface it will sweat and go soggy.

4. Apply the avocado correctly. Use a spoon to scoop out portions of avocado, then smoosh each onto the toast with a fork, leaving attractive tine marks. Don’t go overboard, it just needs to be pressed on unceremoniously. Chunks are desirable.

5. Get the toppings right. The ultimate combo for me is as follows:

  • 1 very finely shredded spring onion per slice
  • A sprinkle of red chilli flakes (the flavour works better than fresh chilli, I think)
  • Plenty of good salt, like Maldon
  • Black pepper (not too much)
  • A conservative tinkle of lemon juice (really do be careful as too much will ruin it but a tiny bit is wonderful)
  • A little zig zag of your absolute best extra virgin olive oil (a grassy flavour is perfect).

That, for me, is the ultimate avocado on toast. The most satisfying meatless breakfast/brunch going, surely?

40 comments | Breakfast, Brunch, Fruit, Vegan

Cooking For One

Sunday, 16th February 2014

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!

Sunday Leftovers No. 6

Sunday, 2nd February 2014

A brief, bullet-pointed leftovers for you today, because I’m feeling, in general, snappy.

Actually sod bullet points. They ugly.

1. The Peckham Peculiar launched this month. That’s a new local newspaper for Peckham and Nunhead. I’m writing for it. It’s ace.

2. Ganapati are opening a takeaway kitchen on Wednesday. THEY WILL DELIVER. This is major. I’ll have the number on speed dial so I can start calling the moment they open. It’ll be harder to get a delivery from there than it will to get a GP appointment say, tomorrow, in East Dulwich.

3. I went to Ireland, gained weight and lost dignity.

4. Guffaw guffaw at the accuracy of this pie chart depicting just why you actually use the Dominos online pizza tracker.

5. My new book is available to buy on Amazon and in various shops including, I was shamelessly happy to find out, SELFRIDGES. No bloody less.

6. Muffaletta sandwich in London. Eat it.

That’s it. I’m going to eat the dinner which I made my boyfriend cook for me while I flounced around with more swoosh than Robin Williams in The Birdcage.


4 comments | Sunday Leftovers

Eating and Drinking (lots of drinking) in Dublin

Sunday, 2nd February 2014

I’m always moaning about the lack of ‘proper boozers’ in London. When I lived in Gloucestershire, I worked in a pub where the regulars had their own glasses (often engraved with their names), into which I would start pouring their preferred drink when I saw them coming down the road, at exactly the same time each day. There was a lot of decent banter around that bar. I can still recall the names and faces, the lock-ins, the gossip and the horrible feeling when I finally tore myself away and buggered off to university. It was a bit like leaving a family.

If you have a fondness for the same kind of establishment then you’ll bloody love Dublin. There’s a pub like this on almost every street corner, all proudly serving properly poured Guinness, naturally. I tried hard to discern whether or not it actually tastes better in Ireland, as everyone claims, and while at first I didn’t notice a difference, I must admit that every pint seemed to slip down like midnight silk. Either that or I started to become an alcoholic, drinking the black stuff pretty much constantly from mid morning until bed time. The pubs do this brilliant thing too, called the ‘toasted special’, which are sandwiches, and which also bring me nicely to the start of my Dublin food story. We ate from one end of the scale (pub toasties) to the other (faaaahn dining) in just a couple of days and although I do feel fatter – subcutaneously, viscerally, psychologically – I feel we really got the measure of the place, so here are my tips.

1. The Toasted Special.

So all the pubs have these toastie makers where the whole sandwich goes in on its side like a regular toaster and is lowered down with a lever. I found that you can generally have any combination of ingredients you like, providing those ingredients are ham, cheese and onion. In the best places, a pot of English mustard comes on the side. Some try to glam it up by adding a side salad or whatever which is obviously wrong, unless that whatever is crisps. The most old boozery of proper old boozers we visited was J Grogan, with a proper chatty landlord and a clutch of regulars around the bar. I listened in to their conversations with nostalgic jealousy. You can also catch diddly music in loads of the pubs in the evenings. I have on my phone (or had before it CALLOUSLY DIED this weekend), video evidence of my boyfriend dancing with complete strangers. He also bought an acre of vineyard in Tokaj, on a whim. Then there was the three bottles of whisky that turned up at our house a week after we got back, which were clearly ordered from a shop at some point. To be honest, we did a lot of drinking.

J Grogan, 15 William St, Dublin 2.

2. Fried Chicken Surprise.

I was determined to eat mostly Irish food but when one finds oneself stuck in the rain and starving, it’s only natural to be drawn into a restaurant which is rather daintily named CRACKBIRD. Erm. While it wasn’t the best fried chicken I’ve eaten (the coating too thick and lacking crunch), the flavour was great. What I totally digged down to my sodden boots however were the dips that came with. Scotch bonnet sauce was a genuine kicker, the chermoula had its flavours tipped in the right direction to work with the chicken and, best of all, a whipped feta and caramelised lemon number had me swiping around the pot with my finger and wondering just how soon and often I can nick the idea and pass it off as my own. I’ll admit I’d ordered it because I thought they’d balls it up which is, with hindsight, pretty stupid. Lovely to be proven wrong, though.

Crackbird, 60 Dame St, Dublin 2.

3. Two Mid-Range Gems.

Etto had made it onto The List (because everyone knows that Food People do extensive Googling/make spreadsheets/ask everyone on Twitter for tips before they travel anywhere, ever) but hadn’t made the final cut simply for not serving anything ‘particularly Irish’. Sometimes I am truly the fool. Dishes were nothing groundbreaking but cooked with a very light touch: a starter of vitello tonato still tasted of veal, underneath it all, and ‘Nduja pasta had just a hint of the spicy sausage humming through. I had to order a meatball sandwich special, clearly aimed at the lunch crowd but as confidently balanced as the rest. Honeycomb ice cream to finish. Buzzing little room, great service, interesting wine list, reasonably priced.

Etto, 18 Merrion Row, Dublin 2, Tel: +353 1 678 8872

The menu at Fallon and Byrne didn’t get me in the least bit excited either. Different restaurant, same snap judgement. We gave an over-privileged sigh and climbed the stairs to emerge into a surprisingly lovely room, vast and twinkling with waist-coated staff and leather seats - its location above a ‘food and wine hall’ had me expecting something akin to a Whole Foods cafe. A caesar salad was one of the best I’ve ever eaten and a rib eye with bernaise a hunk of very well cooked, quality cow. They can make a solid martini, too. It’s the kind of restaurant that makes you want to stay put and we did, for several hours. The only photo I possess is of a half eaten salad – testament to the amount of fun we were having. 

Fallon and Byrne, 11-17 Exchequer Street, Dublin 2, Tel: +353 (01) 472 1010

4. Lunch not Dinner. 

The Winding Stair appears to be lauded as one of Dublin’s hottest restaurants but to be honest it left me baffled. I’m a greedy person, and despite my stamina diminishing with age (trauma!), I can still hold my own when faced with the long haul. The portions here though = gargantuan. Laughably large. That’s my starter below, a platter of smoked fish on a board which was larger than a sheet of A4, if Guinness addled memory serves. Be a lovely lunch though, don’t ya think? Not so much a prelude to a pile of mashed potato, fish and onions the size of a small island. I just wonder what they’re trying to achieve; generosity is a lovely sentiment, but not when it leads to serious discomfort.

The Winding Stair, 40 Lower Ormond Quay, Dublin 1, Tel: + 353 1 8727320

5. High End Jinks. 

The Greenhouse was recommended to me by the human directory of Michelin starred restaurants, Andy Hayler. Despite our lack of agreement on the value of the Michelin guide, there’s no doubt he’s right to say that it’s curious this place doesn’t have a star. Incidentally, I remember first learning about the guide from a regular bar fly while working in that pub back in Gloucestershire in 2000. “You can see them twinkling through the window” he told me and yes, for more than a moment I believed him. The cooking here is serious without taking itself seriously. Well worth the wonga.

The Greenhouse, St. Stephen’s Green, Dawson Street, Dublin 2, Tel: (01) 6767015

So there you have it: the highlights of as much food as it’s possible to consume in the space of 2.5 days without making oneself physically ill. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: THIS IS A PUBLIC SERVICE.

On non-food related business:

- We stayed as a guest of Trinity Capital Hotel which looked like it was designed by Willy Wonka. I’m down with that, personally, but I believe not everyone wants to spend the night amidst giant purple curlicues.

- Dublin is famous for its taxis (there are more there than in NYC, apparently), although the only one you’ll really need is from the airport. This is a good chance to get the down low on Dublin, if the rest of the internet is to be believed. Me? I got a soliloquy on the moral status of the Gas Board.

- Irish people are incredibly friendly and they can drink like whales, let alone fish. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.



7 comments | Restaurant Reviews, Travel

The Peckham Peculiar

Monday, 20th January 2014

The village I grew up in had (still has, I think) a local magazine. It would cover ‘news’ and dates of important events, such as the times of the next bell ringing session in the local church (BAN IT, I SAY – those bells woke me up every week as a teenager and I still harbour resentment) and, my personal favourite, dates for the next meetings of the budgerigar society. For some reason, I would always feel a little spike of anticipation when it flopped through the letterbox. I always thought, despite a vast amount of evidence to the contrary, that it would contain something actually worth reading. Twelve years of living in that house and I never learned my lesson. I longed for an article, a story about some local person, a subset of the community, a business, an event, an eyewitness account of someone taking their cat for walks on a lead. But no. The writing was never there, just lots and lots of ads for double glazing.

So now Peckham has a local newspaper, and – no pressure – it will be everything I never had. The food bit *cough* will be particularly special *cough*. Yeah I’m writing that bit. It’s called The Peckham Peculiar, it launched on Saturday, and you know what, it has stuff to actually read inside it. The first issue has a glimpse inside Peckham’s famous hair salons, a piece about the legendary Peckham Liberal Club and loads of other local stories.

The first issue is available from stockists listed here – more to come. If you’re lucky you might get one of the limited edition covers designed by brilliant local artist Jake Tilson. If you pick up a copy, do comment to let us know what you think!

We’ll also be on BBC Breakfast at 6.50, 7.50 and 8.50 am tomorrow having a bleary eyed editorial meeting so tune in to hear us bitching about redevelopment and planning stuff to go into the next issue. I think. It was kind of early. 

6 comments | The Peckham Peculiar

One Pot Pasta Disaster

Saturday, 11th January 2014

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

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