Thursday, 30 October 2008

Leftover Mash (Again)

Here's another thing that can be done with leftover mash - cheese & potato scones. They're a bit different from regular scones, lighter in texture, and you might be less inclined to smother them with jam (try chutney instead)
Cheese & Potato Scones

115g/1 cup plain flour
½ tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
40g/3tbsp butter
1 egg, beaten
50 ml/1/4 cup buttermilk or semi-skimmed milk
115g/1 1/3 cup mashed potato
50g mature cheddar, grated
2 tbsp chopped sage or chives

Preheat oven to 220C/425F/G7.
Sift flour, salt & baking powder into a bowl. Rub in the butter using your fingers (agh! Stupid fingers. Stupid cold house. Stupid unmeltable butter) until it resembles fine breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg & milk. Add the mashed potato, herb & half the cheddar & mix into a soft dough (you might need to add a little more flour). Turn out onto a floured area & knead until you get something more like dough & less like madly made cement. Roll out the dough 2cm/3/4” thick & stamp out scones using something that resembles a 6cm/2” cutter (half pint glass, baked bean tin with both ends cut off & cleaned out inside, pumpkin shaped cookie cutter & cutting freehand all work okay). Place scones on a baking sheet that has been greased/lined with baking parchment or scattered with flour & brush the tops with egg wash or milk. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over each scone & bake for 15 minutes (maybe a little longer if necessary) until golden on the top. Leave to cool on a wire rack. Eat.

Om nom nom.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Guajillo Chile

Guajillo chile are about 12cm long & 2 to 4cm wide with a mild to medium flavour & thin dried-cherry coloured smooth skin. They have excellent flavour; sweet, tangy & spicy, and play well with Ancho chile, being an essential ingredient in Pozole Rojo.
So what can you do with them? Deseed & remove the stem, toast briefly in a dry frying pan & soak in hot water until soft, then drain & blitz in a blender or food processor (adding a little stock if necessary) and you've got the basis of a cracking sauce for enchiladas, chilli or spicy patatas bravas style potatos. Or chuck in a blender with a can of chickpeas, a couple of cloves of garlic & the juice of a lime for a tangy houmous.
Or you can shred & fry with onions & garlic, add a cup of rice & 2 cups of vegetable stock & simmer until the rice is done (stirring in some sweetcorn & green beans at the end of cooking)

Om Nom Nom

Monday, 27 October 2008

All We Want To Do Is Eat Your Brains

We're not unreasonable, I mean no ones gonna eat your eyes.
Um. Sorry about that. Moving swiftly on...


Today I'm rattling on about Seitan. Also known as Wheat Meat, it's wheat gluten (thus the enemy of the Coeliac), the stuff that gives kneaded dough its elasticity. It has a chewy texture that makes it a good meat substitute. It is pretty flavourless in itself, but takes on other flavours well. There are two ways of making seitan, the easy way and the hard way. Today I'll show the easy way.

First of all you'll be needing some Gluten powder (also known as vital wheat gluten or gluten flour). This can be bought from specialist flour suppliers & some whole food shops (I use The Flour Bin they also have a really nice maltflake flour too). You'll need 2 cups of it for this.

This recipe is for Yellow Bean style seitan, but there are lots of variations you can experiment with.
2 cups gluten powder
1 cup water
1/2 cup yellow bean sauce (I like my seitan with a lot of flavour, so you might want to reduce your quantities here. 2 tbs of yellow bean sauce & 2 tbs soy sauce might be more appropriate for more delicate palates)

Mix the water & seasoning together & pour onto the gluten powder & mix. The whole thing will quickly become rubbery & weird, but fear not! It hasn't all gone horribly wrong, this is how its supposed to look.
Really, it is.

Doesn't look pleasant, does it? Well, it's okay, it'll taste good. Knead the terrifying, rubbery stuff, and don't think about zombies, for about 1 minute (the longer you knead it, the firmer it will be. If you're making a pastrami-style seitan, it's worth kneading it for a good 10 minutes, then it'll be firm, juicy & easy to slice). Cut into two pieces & roll into logs. Wrap each log with muslin/cheesecloth & tie with string (not too tightly, as the seitan will expand a little in cooking). If you don't have any muslin, divide the dough into 4 pieces & flatten into cutlets instead.

Place in a large pan & add
1/4 cup yellow bean sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
And add enough water to just cover the seitan. Bring to the boil & simmer for 45 minutes to 1 hour, turning occasionally. Remove from heat & leave to cool (you can save the water for cooking rice in if you like) & unwrap.

There you have it. Delicious seitan. It can be cut into thin slices, or chopped into chunks & used in stir fries or anything else that requires chunks of chewy bits. Or you can eat it, slice by slice, as you amble around the house, until there is only a meagre amount left. Then make more.
There are lots of variations for this recipe, just replace the yellow bean sauce & soy with other flavours. I'm a fan of tomato paste, salt, paprika, cayenne, cumin & black pepper for a pastrami-style seitan, or achiote paste & lime juice to make a Puerco Pibil style seitan.
In celebration on tonight's 1st episode of Charlie Brookers Dead Set, here's Jonathan Coulton!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

T-Shirt Weather

As anyone who has been to visit us at the House At The Top Of The Hill can testify, we keep our house at the temperature commonly known as Colder Than A Well Diggers Ass. We could claim that we're being green, or that we are just too tight-fisted to heat our house, but the strange truth is; we don't mind the cold.
So while our family, friends & neighbours have had boilers-a-boiling, and the radiators-a-radiating, we're still merrily ambling around in T-shirts/shirts*. But for one thing.

Most of the year, socks are something I regard as an unpleasant necessity (like Sheffield Council, or a smear test) that sometimes can't be avoided, so best to grit your teeth & get it over with. Back when I was a cub, it was only the threat of a Scolding From Nan that could make me wear socks, and I merrily scampered barefoot across grass, dirt, mud, sand, concrete, broken glass, drydocks, rotting planks, towpaths & Narrowboats, my leathery soles impervious to twigs, pebbles, rusty nails & cat claws. My mother, long since resigned to the fact that I was Peculiar, made sure I got a tetanus every 7 years & left me to it.

But every year, from November to February, socks & I are grudgingly united. But on the one condition that they must look like I have slain & skinned characters from Sesame Street.

*I'm the T-shirt wearer of the household. Mike favours the kind of shirts recycled out of wallpaper from Stately Homes

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Pasilla Chile

Pasilla chile is the dried version of the Chilaca (more about this another time) chile. Pasilla chile is a 15 to 20cm long & 2 to 4 cm wide with dark, wrinkled skin. Mild to medium hot with a flavour best described as swarthy. Think balsamic vinegar, charred dried tomatoes & baked potato skins. Think Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean. Arr.
So what can you do with it? It can be toasted & crumbled over soup, or added to sauces (it's an essential ingredient in Mole Poblano). Luckily it has an affinity with mushrooms. And cheese. Yes indeedy.
So we may as well dive in, cutlasses clamped in our jaws, and do a recipe that'll do it justice.

Pasilla Mushrooms (good on taco's and also tostadas, fajitas, or spooned over sliced grilled aubergines)

8 cloves garlic, unpeeled
6 Pasilla chiles
1tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp cumin seed, bruised
Toast the garlic cloves on an ungreased frying pan over a medium heat, turning occasionally, until soft & blackened in spots. Remove the stem & seeds of the Pasillas & press onto the frying pan for a few seconds at a time to toast them while the garlic is roasting. Put to one side. Remove garlic from the pan & peel (all this is for extra flavour, you can leave this part out if you want & just start at the next bit).
Place the chiles in a small bowl & cover with boiling water. Leave to soak for 5 minutes. Strain, reserving 80ml of the soaking water. Put chiles, soaking liquid, garlic, oregano, cumin & a dash of black pepper into a blender or food processor & blend to a smooth puree (adding a little water if it's too thick). Put to one side.

1tbs olive oil
125ml vegetable stock or water
225g sliced mushrooms (anything you like, tame or wild. Shiitake & portobellos are good. So are chestnut mushrooms)
1/2 onion, diced
feta cheese, crumbled (as little or as much as you fancy)
1tbs epazote (if you don't have it, don't worry. Leave it out or use coriander leaves)

Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the chile paste & stir (making sure it doesn't stick or burn. It will try to thwart your efforts. The smoke alarm that never notices burning toast will also try to thwart your efforts). After 5 minutes it will have thickened into a dark, delicious paste, and you will forgive it for being such bloody hard work to make. Add the stock, stir & add the mushrooms & epazote (or coriander) & simmer over a low heat for 10-15 minutes. By then the sauce will be thickly coating the mushrooms. And you should reward yourself with alcohol.
While the sauce has been thickening & you have been putting the batteries back in the smoke alarm (and the beeping it makes has scared the cats out of the house for the rest of the evening), open a packet of tortillas (corn tortillas are best. Home made corn tortillas are the nicest thing in the world. But wheat ones will do fine) & persuade fellow diners to stop playing GTA4*.
Check mushrooms & add salt & pepper if needed, transfer into serving dish & top with crumbled cheese & onion (but you thought I'd forgotten about those) & serve with tortillas.
Om nom nom!

*Yes, I know you're in the middle of a mission, Liberty city will still be there in half an hour

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Leftover Mash

Mashed potatoes. Is there a lovelier, more comforting food in this world? Oh, humble spud, they call you starchy tuber of the solanaceae family, but I call you a hug with calories*

Regular old mash with a stupid amount of black pepper is enough to keep me happy, but if you find it dull, try adding a teaspoon or two of wasabi paste. You won't be disappointed.
But anyway, what to do with leftover mash, eh?

One of my favourite things to do is gnocchi, a potato dumpling. It's a little bit time consuming, something to do when you have an hour free to potter about in the kitchen listening to Tom Waits, but home made gnocchi is much tastier & lighter in texture than shop bought gnocchi.

You'll need:
leftover mash. About 450g. A bit more or a bit less is fine, this isn't an exact science!
1 egg, beaten
plain flour (variable, depending on the texture of the mash)
1/2 tsp of salt
seasonings of your choice (like nutmeg, mixed herbs, fried onions, roasted garlic..)

In a bowl mix together the potatoes, salt & egg. Add your seasonings (I'm a nutmeg girl myself). Add the flour, one tablespoon at a time, mixing as you go, until you have a soft dough (the mixture should not be sticking to your fingers anymore, though most of you will be covered in flour & you'll be able to do a pretty good Marley's Ghost impression)

Turn the dough out onto a well floured surface & cut into roughly walnut-sized pieces. Roll the pieces into rounds (don't worry if they're different sizes) & toss in flour, as they will get sticky when left to their own devices (traditionally gnocchi are shaped by fork & a thumb into a ridged curl shape. It's a fiddly process & I suck at it). If you have more gnocchi than you can eat, it freezes well at this point. Just make sure each dumpling is well floured & put into freezerbags/tupperware/old margarine tubs & stick in the freezer.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil & drop the gnocchi into the water. They will sink to the bottom & lurk in the cloudy water for a few minutes. When ready, they will rise to the surface. Scoop them out.
Now what? Well, they're pretty good with a simple tomato sauce, or tossed in butter & garlic and topped with grated cheese, or drizzled with a lemon dressing, or baked with chunks of pumpkin in a sage & Stilton sauce...

*A hug with butter being a rather more specialised area of the internet that we will not be getting involved in

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Pickled Nasturtium Seeds (Poor Mans Capers)

Genuine Capers* (Capparis spinosa) are the pickled or salted bud of a large spiny shrub native to the Mediterranean that grows in hot, well drained dry soil. So no chance of growing it in Yorkshire.

But fear not, for we have an abundance of the next best thing, Nasturtiums! Yes, beloved flower of my old Nan, and unstoppable force at the end of the garden (where I foolishly chucked a 19p packet of Netto seeds several years ago, and have spent every summer ever since battling them for garden supremacy**) Hurrah for nasturtiums! They grow anywhere (they're originally from South America, where all the most delicious things are from), hide a multitude of sins (being essentially a big orange distraction), grow like Billy-O so slugs have no chance of doing their usual destruction, and the flowers & leaves are tasty in salads.

They are also great companion plants for curcubits (courgettes & summer squash) & brassicas (Broccoli & Cauliflower), and will keep growing & producing flowers until the first frost.

But what I'm going on about is the seeds.
Nasturtiums produce lots of seeds, about 3 seeds to every flower (and when planted in full sun they flower a lot!), which should be picked on a dry day when still firm and green (you'll have to rummage around in the leaves to find them).
There are a couple of different methods to pickling the seeds. last year I soaked them in salt water for 3 days (changing the water each day) before packing them into sterilised jars & topping with boiled vinegar. They were nice, but had lost their spicy tang (and whats the point of nasturtiums without their pepperyness?), so this time it's Mrs Beeton's recipe.

Wipe the Nasturtium seeds with a clean cloth (I did give them a quick rinse first) & pack into sterilised glass jars (there are various ways of sterilising, but I tend to swipe some home brewing cleanser & deodoriser from the other half's beer making kit. Works a treat.).
To each pint of vinegar used (I used distilled) add 1/2 oz (about 14g) salt & 6 peppercorns, sling in a pan & bring to the boil. Strain & pour over the capers. Seal & store in a cool dry place, and resist the urge to open for, ooh, 3 months. Though they can be kept longer, up to a year or more if things are good & sterile (I've got some chutney I made in 2006 that's still good***)

*not to be confused with the 3 act caper, which involves heists, plot twists, thrilling rooftop chases and the Woman Who Done Him Wrong
**Though we all know that its the spectacularly fat magpie who lives in the pear tree that is the master of us all
***Made on 6th June 2006, so it was named Apicklypse. Chortle indeed.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Ancho Chile

Here in the UK chile (or chili, or chilli) peppers come in two varieties. Red & Green. If you're really lucky, maybe Habanero or Birds Eye too. But there are more than 100 different varieties of chile out there, and they don't all blow your head off. Some are mild or sweet. Some taste of chocolate or cherries.

So today I'm blathering on about Ancho chiles (Ancho meaning 'wide' in Spanish, apparently).

Ancho is the dried version of the Poblano chile (which I'll save for another time) it is around 7cm wide at the top & 10cm long with wrinkled skin a dark reddish-brown colour. It's flavour is mild (pretty low down on the Scoville Scale) & a little acid (think tart cherries & earth), and probably my favourite of all chiles.
So what can you do with it? I'm a fan of removing the stem & seeds, shredding it & frying it up with a chopped onion & a couple of cloves of garlic, then adding a cup of long grain rice & 2 cups of vegetable stock, simmering 10-15 minutes & stirring in some chopped green beans & sweetcorn at the end of the cooking time. You can deseed it & toast it in a dry frying pan, leave it to cool & crumble over lentil soup. Or deseed & soak it in hot water for 10 minutes, then discard the soaking water & blitz in a food processor with a couple of cloves of garlic to make a chile paste that could be the start of a pretty good chilli con carne, or enchilada sauce. Or you could add a little honey & a slug of olive oil, toss some sweet potato wedges in it & roast for 35-45 minutes in a hot oven.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


I am a Gypsy.

There. I said it.
Probably doesn't seem like a big deal, does it? To write it down where anyone can read it. Bless you, relative anonymity of the internet!
But it is a big deal, at least it is to me. In my 33 years of shambling about in the world it is something I have only dared say to my nearest & most trusted in the last 3 or 4 years. Before that I had only ever told my husband, when he proposed (seemed like the time to tell, really), back when the millennium was all shiny & new.
I am a Gypsy. Specifically I am half Romanichal, half Gadje, meaning non-Gypsy. Poshrat, meaning half-blood. I was raised by my non-Gypsy mother, and taught to keep my ethnicity a secret. Back then schools still refused to teach Gypsy children, Gypsies were beaten up, victimised, persecuted & driven out of towns & villages.
So it was something to keep secret. And it stayed a secret. Frankly its a habit I find hard to break. Every time I speak about it, when I hear a neighbour or a co-worker blame local thefts or vandalism on 'gyppos', when the news fails to report the persecution of the Italian Roma, when someone I've known for many years calls Gypsies 'less than human'*, where I would have kept my mouth shut, now I'm speaking out. And every damn time I expect the earth to swallow me up (stupid irrational brain)
No doubt I'll be returning to this subject before long, striving to right wrongs in my own lumbering, awkward way. In the meantime, Chillies!

*These are just a few of the choicest examples from recent months. I wish I could say I made them up for illustrative purposes, but I didn't.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Getting The Hell Out Of Dodge

After 7 years of being perched at the top of The Steepest Street, after much discussion, dithering, procrastination and the saga of the wall that plaster would not stick to, a descision was made. Time for Operation Get The Hell Out Of Dodge.
Then the economy took a nose dive.
Oh well.
Still, operation Get The hell Out Of Dodge (Eventually) continues. It's been fun living in a city, with 4 different cinemas showing the same mediocre films, and 24 hour access to jaffa cakes. But there's also all the damn people. See, as nice as it is to have all these bars, clubs, theatres, restaurants, cinemas, sports centres and what not, we're not actually using them.
So the plan is vague. Less people. More land. And chickens. And possibly somewhere to make cider. A lot of cider. And keep the chickens and the ciders as far apart as possible. I've never seen a drunk chicken, but I'm betting its not a pleasant sight.