Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Spiced Mackerel and Dhal

A health kick was in order for the Kitten Kitchen household as we still carry our winter weight, despite it being June. It’s terribly hard to resist the things that give me pleasure though and curry is one of my many weaknesses, so I decided to create a low fat (sounds dull already, but bear with me) replacement for the ghee-seeping, tummy-busting yumminess that I usually indulge in. The recipe below serves four and elements can easily be swapped in/out for personal preferences.

For the Spiced Mackerel
4 mackerel fillets (locally line caught if possible)
1 tbsp ground tumeric
Squeeze of lemon juice

For the Dhal
225g red or yellow lentils
1 red onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 chicken stock cubes (or vegetable if you prefer)
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground cumin

For the Accompaniments
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500g new potatoes, cooked and sliced
Salt and pepper
4 handfuls of okra, tipped

Ensure all little bones are removed from the mackerel fillets and squeeze lemon juice over them. Slop them about a bit to get them totally covered in it, then flop them into the turmeric. Each fillet should be evenly covered with a thin coating of turmeric. Place in the fridge to marinate while preparing the other elements.

To create the dhal, gently fry the chopped onion and garlic in a little olive oil (if you want a super healthy version, try using low fat oil spray). When softened, set to one side and pop the lentils into a saucepan, cover with hot water and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat, add in the spices and the stock cube, and simmer for approximately 15 minutes or until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring regularly. You should be left with a delicious thick dhal, ready for the cooked onions and garlic to be mixed in. Reheat when the potatoes, fish and okra are nearly ready.

Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the cooked potatoes until beginning to brown. Add in the chopped garlic and seasoning and continue to cook until evenly crisp all over. In the mean time, heat a pan of water and steam the okra. While the potatoes and okra are cooking, remove the fish from the fridge and place under a med-high grill, turning regularly to ensure they cook evenly. Now would be the time to reheat the lentil dhal and warm some plates and a serving dish for the potatoes.

When each constituent is ready, place a little bed of dhal on the plates and lay a fillet of mackerel on top. Gather the drained okra and arrange on the plate. Pop the potatoes in the serving dish and get ready for some compliments from your hungry guests.

I’d recommended an Australian Chardonnay or a light lager to accompany. Mmm.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

The Ram, Firle

I’m a sucker for a good country pub and The Ram in Firle, Sussex, is quintessentially English, rustic, cosy, and all other things a country pub should be. I was lucky enough to be treated to a mystery visit there from Mr. Kitten Kitchen for Valentine’s Day. The taxi ride there took us through plenty of winding roads and I was very pleasantly surprised when we pulled up outside. I knew I was in for a relaxed, gastronomic treat.

The pub itself boasts log fires in every room, dark wood, beams and low ceilings to provide extra snuggliness for winter evenings. If there wasn’t a smoking ban, this would be the kind of place to enjoy a pipe. Dinner was a set menu affair owing to the amorous occasion and we spent slightly more than expected to, but the meal was worth every penny. Locally sourced produce is the name of the game at The Ram and, in my opinion, that’s what makes the difference between good and great food. Each mouthful positively screamed freshness.

I started with an ever popular dish of fat scallops. Little caper berries and raisins dotted the plate, which gave an unexpected but not unwelcome bite to the overall flavour. The main course was astonishingly good; a very generous portion of lamb shanks accompanied by mash and a mini shepherd’s pie. The shanks were cooked to perfection and the mini pie meat was a sort of slow-roasted affair, formed into a thick gravy laden disc, topped with creamy potatoes. For dessert we shared a selection of puddings: a gorgeously sweet sticky toffee pudding, a nutty and moist chocolate brownie, and a citrusy orange crème brûlée. The whole meal was accompanied by a deep Shiraz, starting tartly on the tongue, but quickly rounding to a smooth finish.

I’d certainly visit The Ram again, and intend to plenty of times in the summer months to enjoy their orchard and gardens. I can hear the cider and sunshine soaked grass calling me already...

Monday, 25 January 2010

Drop Scones

Gosh, I love it when good friends visit. This weekend I was treated to the company of a very old friend and her husband. Being newlyweds, these two are a delight to be around as they genuinely glow with togetherness. They also happen to make rather good food and I’m not one to turn down the offer of someone else cooking for me, especially when it means I can pinch any of their tried and tested recipes. The Sunday morning brought fresh winter sunshine and I was woken by some clonking about in the kitchen. After wrapping up against the chill I was greeted with the sight of my friends whisking up some drop scone mix. A very large portion of Thai curry the night before had me wondering whether I could manage anything that substantial for breakfast, but the result was actually very light and fluffy. We hurriedly polished off the entire batch with maple syrup, Drunken Monkey (see previous post), and apricot jam. All washed down with huge mugs of tea and plenty of nattering. Here’s the original recipe from Rachel Allen:

100g (4oz) self raising flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
25g (1oz) caster sugar
Pinch of salt
1 organic egg
125ml (4fl oz) milk
Drop of sunflower oil, for greasing

Sieve the flour and baking powder into a bowl, add the sugar and salt and stir to mix. Make a well in the centre, crack in the egg and whisk, gradually drawing in the flour from the edge. Add the milk gradually, whisking all the time, to form a smooth batter.

Lightly grease a frying pan and warm it over a moderate heat. Drop 3 tablespoons of the batter into the pan, keeping them well apart so they don't stick together. Cook for about 2 minutes, until bubbles appear on the surface and begin to burst and the drop scones are golden underneath (and not before).Then flip them over and cook on the other side for a minute or so, until golden on this side as well. Remove from the pan and serve warm.

Monday, 18 January 2010

Ridiculously Good Chilli

If I ever have visitors which I haven’t seen a long time, I like to spend as little time as possible in the kitchen. I’m not one of these lucky people who have a big island in the centre of their workspace which they can prop up a friend on and natter away while they prepare a meal. If I’m cooking, I’m pretty much the only one who can fit in the room without being in danger of knocking over steaming pots. A great fallback dish which can be made in advance (and is in fact better if eaten the day after) is chilli con carne. It’s one of those dishes that can be absolutely delicious, but so many people cook badly. Here’s a recipe which has never failed and always has people asking for second helpings:

A little olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp chilli powder (or 2 fresh red chillies, chopped)
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp coriander
A stick of cinnamon
1 beef stock cube
1kg lean, locally reared beef mince
A large glass of shiraz (or merlot if you can’t find that)
2 cans of chopped tomatoes
2 cans of kidney beans, drained
Rice or crusty bread to accompany

Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan and soften the onions, then add the mince and garlic and stir until browned. Pop the red wine in (and pour one for yourself) and bring to the boil. Simmer for a few minutes, then add all remaining ingredients, pop the lid on and simmer gently for approximately 1 hour or until the chilli is lovely and thick. Snaffle it up with some rice or bread and a spot of sour cream to add another depth of texture and temperature.

Photo courtesy of Michelle.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Rockpool in Sydney

Although the most expensive meal I have ever eaten, Rockpool in Sydney certainly lived up to its reputation. It was an incredible experience from start to finish (well, not quite as the amuse-bouche was about as amusing as a large fish egg floating in custardy soup, plonked into a shot glass, can possibly get). My dining partner and I chose the four course a la carte menu so we could sample a little of everything. To start I had green lip abalone, red braised thirlmere goose, chicken crisps and fine noodles with xo dressing. It sounds like a huge meal doesn’t it, but in fact it was a lovely fist-sized dish, plenty for the first course. I was intrigued by the chicken crisps which turned out to be a very thin slice of chicken skin, baked until it had become a wafer thin and would melt in the mouth. The whole dish was wonderfully savoury, yet left a slight sweetness right at the end, especially when consumed with the rather nice bottle of Australian Sauvignon Blanc we had.

For round two, I had grilled hervey bay scallops with sweet corn crepe and mussel butter. For me, this was the highlight of the meal. It’s one of the most delicious combinations I have ever eaten. I regrettably forgot to take a photo to display the simplicity of it, but I was far too involved in getting it into my mouth. The creaminess of the sweetcorn, the hint of the sea from the mussel butter and the gentle resistance from the scallops as I bit into them was to die for. I would pay a lot of money to be back in Oz right now and eating that dish.

The third course was a work of art in itself; bright smears of red pepper jus accompanied a lovely pink piece of slow cooked castricum lamb, braised breast, baby radishes and olives. Caper berries and tiny purple flowers gave another flash of colour to this edible collage. The lamb could’ve done with ever so slightly longer in the oven for my tastes, but it wasn’t bleating so it can’t be all bad.

I can never resist a cheese platter if it’s on a dessert menu, so I chose this for my fourth course and was treated to a very pokey blue, a tangy hard cheese (similar to cheddar), and a creamy camembert like piece. All delicious, especially when washed down with a glass of vintage tokay. The entire meal was very well complimented with attentive yet not overly obsequious service (I feel rather uncomfortable when waiters are so grovelling that if you asked them to chew your dinner for you, they would probably oblige). I’d recommend Rockpool to anyone, provided you have a good couple of hundred quid to burn.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Wham Bam Thank You Jam and the Drunken Monkey

Over the last six months I’ve managed to amass around 20 different types of chutney, pickle and jam. They currently inhabit the entire top shelf of my fridge and I swear they are multiplying. I like to imagine them having a very vinegary and sugary party, every time I shut the door, though I doubt they have enough room to do any dancing.

I’ve managed to stop myself from buying anymore preserves now, but I just couldn’t help making some when I discovered a couple of very simple recipes. I assumed that jam making would be terribly tricky, but it turns out that the only thing you need lots of is patience. The final stage when it’s almost at setting point seems to last for an age, but it’s well worth the wait to stand back and see lots of neat little jam jars, filled with deliciousness.

The first batch, forever more called ‘Wham Bam, Thank You Jam’, is a tweaked version of a recipe from Delicious. It has a gorgeous chilli, lemongrass and ginger tang. I doubled the ingredients (if you’re going to the trouble of making jam, why on earth would you only want 3 jars at the end of it?), I didn’t bother deseeding the chillies (I like ridiculously hot food, as you may have guessed from my previous post, Hot Pot), and I used an extra couple of lemon grass sticks. It’s vital to use bloody good tomatoes for this recipe. They need plenty of flavour. If you’re uncertain, give them a sniff in the shop and if they don’t make you feel like you’re six years old again, helping your Granddad select the best fruit from the greenhouse, don’t bother.

The second batch, now known as ‘The Drunken Monkey’, mainly consists of banana, pineapple and dark rum. It came from The World Wide Gourmet. Again, I doubled the ingredients though and also added a little pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg to make it extra warming. I’d recommend putting it on a hot pancake with some west country clotted cream.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A Good Pint of Cider and Some Chicken Pie

Over the last few months I have found myself longing for Dorset. Having spent my formative years in a little town called Sherborne, surrounded by fields and forests, the city where I live now can seem practically barren at times. Brighton does of course have its share of open spaces, not forgetting the beach itself, but it’s just not the same. Earlier this year, I got all misty-eyed while watching Morris: A Life with Bells On, my heart aching for countryside and, more importantly, a good pint of cider.

There’s something utterly transporting about the taste of that fruity brew. The first sip always pulls me back to autumn mornings, looking over the River Purley, the mist curling down from the road as I walked our dog. And fresh lardy cake from Oxford’s Bakery… God, the taste of that would drive my brother crazy. He would eat an entire one to himself, every Saturday morning; I have no idea how he’s turned out so athletic. Oh, and cheese and apple. I have vivid memories of my Dad slicing an apple with his enormous hands (hot in any weather) and devouring it with slabs of local cheddar. And my Mum’s chicken pie. I haven’t had that in years, but I still recall the flakiness of the puff pastry as it mingled with the simple, thick sauce and the incredibly tender meat. I am drooling at the thought.

Cheers Mum:
4 free-range chicken breasts (don’t insult the dish with unhappy meat)
A couple of handfuls of chestnut mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ red onion, roughly chopped
½ pint chicken stock (if you can make your own, here’s a great recipe)
Enough pastry to cover a 30cm pie dish (a deep one)
A sprig of fresh rosemary
A couple of sprigs of fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Corn flour for thickening
A little olive oil
1 egg yolk

Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Place a pie bird in the pie dish (this isn’t vital, but does prevent it from sagging or bubbling over the side). Cut the meat into bite size chunks, then coat in the corn flour. Brown the chicken quickly in a hot pan with the olive oil, then remove and place in the bottom of the pie dish. Using the same pan, brown the onion, then add the garlic and mushrooms and cook for a further five minutes. Scoop the mixture into the pie dish over the chicken and pour on the stock. Add seasoning and herbs and stir. Brush a little of the egg yolk onto the pie dish lip and cover the whole thing with the pastry, cutting away any excess and making a hole for the pie bird. Put a little more yolk over the pastry to ensure a lovely colour. Pop it in the oven for approximately 30 minutes. Remove and devour.

Photo courtesy of Dan.