Archive for the ‘Easy’ Category

Cheat’s potted crab

7 April 2014

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I’ve been dreaming of potted crab since last October, when we left London for a few days during the fall vacation and drove South, on a pilgrimage of sorts, to places I’d often been as a child. We drove toward the sea through the meandering countryside, over detours of Ashdown Forest to my old school, our old house. In Brighton I couldn’t recall the fish and chips shop we always stopped at, though I remember the soggy chips, the flaky fish, the newspaper package sticky with vinegar and sea air, the grinding stones underfoot. The shop probably doesn’t exist anymore anyway.

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Later we walked across the Seven Sisters, but in between we stayed in what must indeed be one of the prettiest villages in Sussex. In that village there was a pub. And in that pub there was potted crab. I ordered it only once, but each subsequent night I bit my lips at not having asked for it again. It was the best thing they served, or rather, it was just plain great, without qualifiers.

Potted crab is characteristic of the kind of British food that I love. It is simple, traditional, and, at its best, stellar. It’s ideal pub fare, picnic food, and perfect for an apéro.

‘Potting’ is a preservation technique, that derives from medieval pies. Meats and fish were initially baked in crusts as a means of conservation (apparently a fairly coarse crust, not intended as part of the delicacy). Once cooked, the pocket of air left between the filling and crust was filled with a sealing layer of fat poured through a hole in the crust. Later, crusts were dispensed of completely by using reusable pots.

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Since that crab in the pub in the village in Sussex I’ve wanted to make it. It has taken me all these months and a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision to make it. I cheated because I bought the crab meat. I have a very good fishmonger close by and as I mentioned, it was a last minute decision. Still, it was very good.

Cheat’s potted crab

250g butter

300g cooked crab meat

Zest and juice from 1 lemon

Pinch sea salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

Chives

Melt the the butter slowly in a small saucepan.

Place the crab meat in a medium sized bowl, add the lemon zest and juice, salt, and cayenne pepper. Pour most of the melted butter into the crab meat, reserving about one quarter. Mix well.

Transfer the crab mixture to a bowl or glass terrine without packing it too much, smooth over the top. Coarsely cut a small handfull of chives over the crab and pour the remaining melted butter to seal. Keep in the refrigerator for at least one hour and up to 2 to 3 days.

Remove from the refrigerator about half an hour before using and serve with delicious bread.

It’s that easy!

Flapjacks, and I don’t mean pancakes

27 March 2014

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To me, flapjacks have always been flapjacks.

According to the Oxford Companion to Food, flapjacks are ‘thick, chewy biscuits made from rolled oats, sugar, butter, and golden syrup baked in a flat tin.’ Thank you. Because it took me close to 14 years to understand that, in the US, flapjacks are also griddle cakes, which are akin to pancakes. I don’t blame myself too much as The Joy of Cooking, or the ‘pancake book‘ as it is known in our house, happily deems these interchangeable.

Having spent a few years in England as a child, my first encounter with a flapjack was a flapjack, so when I read about Imen‘s Fine Fettle Flapjacks, I knew exactly what she was talking about. I also immediately construed their magical ability to make the day a little better.

I’ve made the flapjacks Imen’s way first, because the recipe is compelling. Then I tinkered with it a little, because it can’t be helped.

In search of Sriracha sauce one day I walked into a small shop with a myriad specialty products and, without a plan in mind, bought a big bag of barberries and a jar of date syrup (of course, no Sriracha). For the flapjacks I substituted date syrup for some of the honey, which Imen used rather than golden syrup. I also added coconut. The date and coconut transport the flapjacks to a slightly warmer place. I liked it.

Which nonetheless begs the questions: if there is no golden syrup, are these even still flapjacks?

Adapted from Imen McDonell’s Fine Fettle Flapjacks

250 g (1 cup) butter

2 small ripe bananas

4 Tbsps honey

1 tsp cinnamon

4 Tbsps date syrup

350g (3 1/2 cups) porridge oats (which are finer than rolled oats)

115 g (1 cup) millet flakes

100 g (1/2 cup) chia seeds

100 g (1 cup) coconut flakes

Pinch of sea salt

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Butter a rectangular 9 x 13-inch (23 x 33 cm) baking tin and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Mash the bananas; then place the bananas, butter, honey, and cinnamon in a medium saucepan, and heat slowly, stirring carefully until the butter has melted. Remove from heat and stir in the date syrup.

In a large bowl, mix the oats, millet flakes, chia seeds, and coconut flakes, with a pinch of salt.

Pour the butter/honey/date syrup over the oat mixture and stir with a large wooden spoon until the oats are well covered and nicely sticky.

Scoop the mixture into the prepared tin and pat it well to achieve a flat, even surface. Sprinkle a couple of handfuls of millet flakes over the top and slide into the oven.

Bake the flapjacks for about 25 minutes, or until nicely brown. The flapjacks should still be soft to the touch as they will harden as they cool.

Cut into squares while still warm, but leave the flapjacks in the tin until completely cool if you can (otherwise they will crumble).

Brussels sprouts and pecorino salad

6 December 2013

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I nearly didn’t make this salad for Thanksgiving.

With Sam Sifton’s peremptory Thanksgiving book still ringing in my ears, I did, in fact, briefly debate the pros and cons of his strict no-salad rule. Might it diminish the lusciousness of the meal? Is it the last thing anyone wants to see on a festive table? On the other hand, this barely counts as salad. Surely by salad, Sifton means lettuce?

As it turned out, this deceptively simple dish of raw Brussels sprouts and fresh pecorino, both finely shaved and tossed with a simple dressing, was — again — undoubtedly one of the favorites of the table. On the contrary, what a welcome bounce on the palate between forkfuls of turkey and chestnut stuffing.

This dish wasn’t born as a Thanksgiving side, and shouldn’t die as one. It is a salad for any occasion. I first encountered something similar quite some years ago in the lunch bar up the block from our office in Soho. That version had walnuts, and though adding nuts would be overkill on Thanksgiving, they marry perfectly.

This is barely a recipe, just a few very good ingredients tossed together. It must be made a few hours ahead, so the dressing has time to soften the Brussels sprouts. There should be enough pecorino for a shaving or two in each mouthful.

Very fresh Brussels sprouts, preferably still on the stem because snapping them off is a fun occupation for children on Thanksgiving morning

Pecorino, not too aged

Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sherry or good wine vinegar

Best olive oil

Sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

Freshly hulled walnuts (optional)

Trim and remove one or two outer leaves of each Brussels sprout, then shave them finely with a mandolin or a sharp knife and lots of patience.

Cut the pecorino into paper thin shavings.

The salad is very thirsty and will soak up the dressing, so plan generously, but the proportions are roughly: 5 lemon juice plus 1 vinegar to 8 olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper. Taste the salad and adjust dressing/seasoning as necessary.

Essential slow-cooked lamb shanks

15 November 2013

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Some recipes are indispensable; these lamb shanks are of that breed. Incredibly good and remarkably easy. I simplified the original recipe slightly (not that it was complicated to begin with), and it could be further modified and adapted without much risk. This isn’t high flying patisserie, it’s a simple home-cooked dinner.

For another occasion I may take it up a notch as per the original recipe, by first rolling the shanks in finely chopped rosemary, crushed coriander seeds, dried chilli, and a spoonful of flour before browning the meat. But recently I had no white wine, forgot the anchovies, even the garlic. It was fine. Really good in fact. The dish would live on without the carrots, and might even survive with no tomatoes (compensate with more celery and/or carrots).

The essential elements are: onions and celery, some acidity (wine, vinegar), aromatics (rosemary, oregano, marjoram), and of course the magic of slow cooking. Here I followed the instructions and the result is perfect.

Recipe mildly adapted from Jamie Oliver’s first book The Naked Chef

2 medium-sized onions

5 – 6 ribs celery

1 – 2 carrots

1 – 2 garlic cloves

4 lamb shanks

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

2 Tbsps balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsps sherry or good wine vinegar

3/4 cup (200 ml) dry white wine

6 anchovy fillets

28 oz. can whole plum tomatoes

1 Tbsp fresh rosemary leaves

1 tsp dried oregano or marjoram

Fresh flat-leaf parsley, basil, or marjoram for serving

Preheat oven to 350°F (175ºC)

Chop the onions, not too finely. Halve lengthwise then slice both the celery and carrots. Finely slice the garlic.

Season the lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the shanks on all sides, remove from pot and set aside. Pour out the grease and wipe away any burnt bits.

Pour a little more olive olive into the pot and cook the onion until just starting to turn translucent. Add the celery, carrots, and garlic, season with some salt, and cook for 7-8 minutes until the vegetables being to soften.

Add the vinegars and cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Pour in the white wine and simmer for another couple of minutes.

Meanwhile chop the anchovies, drain the tomatoes and cut them in half lengthwise. Add the anchovies and tomatoes to the pot. Swirl the pan to shake up the flavors and place the lamb shanks snugly on top of the sauce.

Finely chop the rosemary to be sprinkled with the dried oregano (or marjoram) onto the shanks. Put on the lid and place in the oven. After 45 minutes turn the shanks over in the sauce (so that the part that wasn’t submerged now basks in the liquid) and place back into the oven for the another 45 minutes.

Now remove the lid, turn the shanks over once more, and cook for another 1/2 hour. (Altogether the shanks cook for 2 hours: 1 1/2 hours covered, 1/2 hour uncovered.)

Let rest and cool for at least 10 to 15 minutes before serving. Or better yet, let cool completely, refrigerate, and reheat the next day in a 350°F (175ºC) oven for about 20-30 minutes.

Serve over rice, polenta, or mashed potatoes sprinkled generously with chopped fresh herbs.

Stewed dried fruit

13 April 2013

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My intention was to make Louisa’s cake, which I’ve craved since I first saw it two years ago. And since I had no ricotta at home I thought making my own, as I’ve also been wanting to do for a long time, would be the perfect, lazy Saturday morning, we’ve-been-away-and-I-haven’t-cooked-in-a-week sort of project. So I set forth, resolutely and with a tinge of excitement, salting and boiling cream and milk, when I realized there was no cheesecloth at home, either.

Perhaps it was the slow pace induced by a gorgeously sunny, cold week by the sea, cycling, walking, eating, and generally just being, but I was completely stumped. Not for a moment; for many minutes, an hour maybe. Just standing there in the kitchen, wondering what in the world I might do with two liters of salty milk, and what dessert might be on a post-vacation weekend. The invitation was a last minute thing, too.

I thought about the stewed fruits, something I used to make often, in winter especially, but rarely do anymore, for no particular reason. We usually have dried fruit around the house, and though a bit short on prunes to my taste, there was a good enough mix for my purpose.

A few hours had gone by, the morning behind us, and the milk still on the stovetop, so I decided to make a very dense, creamy yogurt to go with the fruit, as I’d done before.

All went quite well from then on. I added bay leaf to my usual recipe, and was very pleased with the result. Of course, the yogurt was nowhere near being set in time for dinner, but I had some commercial greek yogurt handy, too.

My salty yogurt is still sitting in the fridge. I’ve been thinking of making cheese, but for that I’d need some cloth.

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This dessert is very good and extremely easy. Adapted from Jüdische Küche by Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen.

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) dried figs

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) dried apricots, preferably unsulphured

200-250 g (1 1/2 cups) prunes

100-150 g raisins

(Also dried apples, pears, unsweetened dried pineapples, as desired, adjusting the quantities to have enough syrup to cover all the fruit)

2 lemons

4 Tbsps honey

6 or 7 cloves

1 or 2 cinnamon sticks (depending on their size)

About 20 peppercorns

1 bay leaf
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Make a syrup with 2 l (8 cups) water, the rind and juice from the lemons, the honey, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Add the figs (and pears if using) and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the apricots (and apples and pineapple if using) and simmer for another 10 minutes.

Finally, add the prunes and raisins and simmer for a final 10 minutes (total stewing time 30 minutes).

Let the fruit cool in the liquid then refrigerate for a few hours at least before serving with thick yogurt or crème fraîche. (Remove peppercorns, cloves, and bay leaf before serving, or warn your guests.)


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