Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Walking with the Black Dog a While

At the risk of disappointing the handful of readers I have out there on thar interwebs, I'm going on hiatus for a little while.*
August was a difficult month, with family illnesses & work stresses and generally keeping a leash on the Black Dog**
I woke up this morning with one less family member in the house

Goodbye Evelyn. The sweetest, slinkiest, inkiest cat I ever knew. She loved accordions (whenever I played, she would gnaw at the keys & climb on the bellows), shredding wallpaper & biting peoples feet. She was so affectionate & gentle that you could gather up all the cat hair behind the sofa & fashion it into a mohawk for her, as long as she got a bit of cheese.

So I will be walking with the Black Dog a while. I'll be back soon, with recipes, pictures from the garden, and whatever else comes along.

*I know, I know. How will you tell the difference?
** A traditional English term for depression, though Churchill is well known for using it (Winston, not the dog from the insurance adverts), Dr Samuel Johnson (who in my head will always be Robbie Coltrane) & Sir Walter Scott used the term, and in the 1800's the phrase 'A black dog walked over him' was used to describe a person suffering from depression.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Son of a Gun, We'll Have Big Fun on the Bayou

For those of you unfamiliar with Hank Williams*, I'm talking about Jambalaya.
Jambalaya is a Creole dish of rice, vegetables and meat, influenced by the Spanish paella. There are 3 styles of Jambalaya; Creole or Red Jambalaya, which is made with tomatoes, Cajun Jambalaya, which is made without tomatoes but has onion, celery & green peppers, and the less common White Jambalaya, where the rice & meat are cooked separately & combined at the end. This is a much quicker method, and where's the fun in that?
There are a lot of stories as to how the name came about, but it's most likely origin is from the Provencal word Jambalaia, meaning mish-mash.

What I love about Jambalaya is that it is a one-pot whatever-you-got dish. As long as you've got the Holy Trinity of Creole cooking; onion, celery & green peppers, you can put pretty much anything in there, so it's a really good way of using up a glut of something from the garden. Like courgettes!

Courgette Jambalaya (oh-me-oh-my-ah)
1 onion, diced
1 sweet green pepper, diced
2 sticks celery, diced (okay, so there's a theme developing here)
2 courgettes, (say it with me) diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can red kidney beans (or any other beans really)
1 400g pack passata/tin of chopped tomatoes/fresh tomatoes, chopped
350g/2 cups long grain rice (brown or white, rinsed in cold water. Brown will take longer to cook, though)
950ml/4 cups vegetable stock
Anything you fancy - a handful of green beans, chopped, a scoop of peas or sweetcorn, a couple of diced carrots...
2 bay leaves
1 tsp each of thyme, oregano & paprika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
A little oil
Salt & pepper

In a large casserole dish or pan, saute the courgette, onion, celery & pepper. Add the garlic & rice. Stir for a minute or two & add the passata/tomatoes. Add all your herbs, red kidney beans & the vegetable stock & bring to a simmer. Leave on a low heat 15 minutes, and then add any other veg you fancy (it will steam on the surface of the rice, so still have some bite to it). It will need another 10-15 minutes on a low heat (or until the liquid is absorbed & the rice is cooked. Add more stock or water if you think it needs it). Let stand for 5 minutes before stirring & serving up.
This can also be cooked in the oven. Cover with a well fitting lid & bake at 190C/375F/G5 for 30 - 53 minutes. It will need 5 minutes to stand when it comes out of the oven.

Om nom nom!

*Gotta love him for having the gumption to rhyme 'bayou' with 'me-oh-my-oo'

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Hot Tamale (Bake)

Tamales, if you're not familiar with them, are a masa (dried ground corn*) dough, usually stuffed with cheese, chile or meat, wrapped in a banana leaf & steamed. They are the ultimate in comfort food, and if I could, I'd eat them all day, every day. The thing is, they take sodding ages to make! And you don't make them in batches of two or three, you make them by the dozens. It's an afternoons work at least. So what if you're craving some tamales, but don't have 3 hours spare to make the batter & wrap all those little parcels up? You make Tamale Bake!

This is one of those stand-by recipes that I've done so many times, I don't even think about it anymore, my hands seem to remember what to do, while my mind drifts off to things like seed catalogues, chutney, crochet - y'know, the usual stuff that floats around in there.
Of course the downside to this is when I'm cooking & not paying attention, Tamale bake is what comes out. I'll start out making a curry, or lasagna, or quiche or something, and by the time I've stuck it in the oven, it's starting to twig that the veggie sausage casserole or the cholent has gone south, so I should quickly knock up some guacamole & pretend it's what I meant to do all along (luckily Mikeyfox loves Tamale bake, and is no stranger to the It-Started-Out-As-Lasagna-But-Now-It's-Frittata approach to cooking I have). You can use any veg you have lying around for this recipe, I've been using courgettes, as it's a good way of getting through a glut, but broccoli, french beans, carrots, peppers, chard, mushrooms, runner beans, turnips, spinach, pumpkins or peas work really well (believe me, I've tried almost everything in it!)

Tamale bake
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tbs Chipotle paste (or ground chipotle. Or a chopped red chilli)
2 courgettes, chopped
1 can red kidney beans (or chickpeas. Or pinto beans. You get the idea)
200g sweetcorn
1 carton passata (or a tin of chopped tomatoes)

100g Masa de harina (I used blue masa, because I'm Peculiar. Polenta flour works just as well too)
1 egg
100ml vegetable stock
25g cheese (mozzarella is nice, as is cheddar. Wensleydale is surprisingly yum. Any cheese you fancy, really!), grated or crumbled
1/2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp smoked paprika (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/G6. Fry the onion & garlic in a pan. Add courgettes & stir around until tinged with brown. Add chipotle/chillis & passata/tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes, then add kidney beans & corn & season to taste. Pour into an ovenproof dish (a cazuela makes it look pretty, but any dish, any shape, will do) & set aside.
Now, the topping. Mix the dry ingredients together in a bowl. Add the egg & stock & beat into a smooth batter. If you're using masa, you'll need to add extra water, a little at a time, until you have something a little more spreadable. Pour over the bean mixture & spread evenly. scatter the cheese over the top & bake for 20 minutes, or until the topping is set & golden.
Serve with anything you like, really (I went for runner beans stir fried in more chipotle paste, but steamed veg, salad, guacamole, refried beans or shredded carrot tossed with a little vinegar are all delicious too!)

Om nom nom!

*Or maize. I'd call it sweetcorn, but it's actually field-corn, which is a taller, tougher variety of corn. Whatever you call it, it's soaked in lime (the chemical, not the citrus fruit), dried & ground into a fine flour which is used to make tortillas (which can be used to make burritos, fajitas, tostadas, nachos and whatever other combination of beans & cheese you can come up with), hominy, pozole, tamales, pupusas... okay, so you get the idea.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Milpa Chile

Milpa (a Nahuatl* word meaning 'to the field') is an agroecosystem of growing crops throughout Mesoamerica based on the ancient Mayan agricultural system where several complementary crops are planted together in a cleared area of forest, and cultivated for two years, then leaving the land fallow for eight years (allowing for natural regeneration of vegetation & a habitat for birds & mammals). But the milpa system isn't just about growing a lot in a tight space, it's a sacred act that brings together families & communities, the core of Mesoamerican society. It's also a system that is self-sustaining, doesn't require pesticides or fertilisers, and the planting of a wide variety of crops sustains their genetic diversity. A milpa will usually have multiple varieties of sweetcorn, beans, squashes & chiles (many will have other crops too, such as amaranth, avocado, jicama, sweet potato & tomatoes).

The Native American 3 Sisters method of companion planting (growing squash, sweetcorn & climbing beans in the same place, where the sweetcorn supports the beans, the beans fix nitrogen in the soil, and the dense groundcover of the squash suppresses weed growth) is a well known example of a milpa system. Pretty cool, huh?

So if you're growing your own veg, a milpa system is well worth a try. I plant squashes & pumpkins at the base of my sweetcorn, tomatoes & beans, where they keep the roots cool & moist, and block out light & suppress weeds. It's also a good way of getting a few more crops out of a small space. Say, if you only have room for a wigwam of runner beans, why not plant a pumpkin or squash at the base, and encourage it to grow around the base of your wigwam. Small climbing squash like acorn can happily work their way up the lower parts of bean frames without affecting your lovely legumes.

So all this is a pretty long winded way of explaining why this recipe I came up with the other day is called 'Milpa Chile', using a few veg from my own little milpa (and it's another courgette recipe)

Milpa Chile
2 Ancho chiles (dried)
2 courgettes
250g sweetcorn
100g green beans (or runner beans), sliced
1 onion, sliced
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tsp epazote (or coriander leaf)
50-100ml vegetable stock
salt & pepper

Remove seeds from the ancho chiles & soak in boiling water until soft (this will take 5-10 minutes). Put ancho & garlic in a blender or food processor (have a taste of the soaking water. Sometimes the chile gods frown upon us, and the soaking water tastes bitter & unpleasant. When the chile gods favour us, the soaking water is spiky, spicy and yum. If it isn't bitter, add it to the blender. If the spicy ones frown upon you, add a little water instead. And make appropriate offerings of chocolate hobnobs, and unlikely promises). Wizz away, adding water until you have a smooth puree. Set to one side (incidentally, this puree is lovely with sweet potato wedges. Just toss them in the puree, add a squeeze of orange juice & bake in the oven - yum!). Fry the onion & courgette in a pan until browned. Add the sweetcorn& beans & give it a quick stir & add the ancho puree & stir. Add your vegetable stock (this is a personal judgement thing here, add stock until the sauce is a thickness you like. If you like your chile quite dry & intense, don't add any at all, if you like it quite wet, so the juices soak into the rice, add more). Simmer for 5-10 minutes (5 if you like your beans with a bit of bite, 10 if not. Add water or stock if it's looking a little too dry). Season with salt & pepper, and the epazote/coriander. Serve with rice (I went for arroz amarillo - it's yellow!) & a wedge of lime. Avocado is good too.

Om nom nom!

*A group of languages & dialects around central Mexico & Mesoamerica (the chunk of South America that stretches from Mexico to Honduras & Nicaragua. Nahuatl words that have been adopted & adapted into English include 'Chocolate', 'chile', 'coyote' & 'tomato. The word 'Nahuatl' means 'a good, clear sound'.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

A Surfeit of Squash

If you grow your own courgettes (or Zucchini, if you're so inclined), you'll probably be well into the annual excess of edibles - I know I am!

This year I've been growing an obscene amount of squashes, though I've never thought of it as a 'glut' (Mikeyfox has a theory that vegetarians don't get gluts of home grown veg. I just assumed we were greedy). The picture above is some pickings from the garden; the yellow round Summer Ball (possibly the bestest courgette I've ever grown! It's a fairly compact variety, needing about a square meter of space, but produces staggering quantities of beautiful round fruits that can not only be picked when apple-sized onwards, but can be left to mature into pumpkins. How cool is that?!), green round Tonda Chiaro di Nizza (fancy name, but needs more space to ramble around, and doesn't have the insanely high yields of the Summer Ball), long yellow Atena Polka (a Polish variety, good yield on a fairly compact plant. A real favourite, plush yellow courgettes are much easier to find amongst all those green leaves!*). The big fellow in the middle is a Black Beauty from my Ma-in-Law (because I can't say no to free veg!)

So I'm hoping to post a bunch of courgette recipes for folks out there with more courgettes than they know what to do with.
I'll start you off with something quick & simple, a courgette & lettuce salad.

I'm afraid it's not really a recipe. Just thinly slice courgettes (I use a speed peeler - those Y-shaped things, though a knife will do the job) toss the slices with salad leaves & whatever else you have lying around (I went for young french beans & a drizzle of mustardy salad dressing, but thinly sliced or grated carrot or beetroot is delicious, or cucumber, or radishes). Yum!

*If, like me, you tend to stumble across zeppelin-sized specimens lurking under the lower leaves.