Student food (or weeknight meal) | Chicken and broccoli

28 February 2022

This is one of my favourite weeknight meals, so good and very quick to make, but I’m placing it in the ‘student food‘ category because Leo, who is currently at university, immediately asked me how to make it when he saw a picture I’d posted on instagram. Laggard that I am — I was on holiday after all — it took me a few weeks to send the recipe, in a stream of whatsapp messages, and I am happy to report that the method has already been duly tested and approved.

Here it is, all in one, more easily accessible hopefully than those bits and pieces of a conversation.

Chicken and broccoli recipe
Note: I actually use 2 different types of soya sauce — ‘light soya sauce’ which is quite salty and good to use instead of salt and tamari which is dark (but not the same as ‘dark soy sauce’) and has a deeper taste.

Recipe for 2:
200g tenderstem broccoli (or broccoli which is cheaper)
2 boneless chicken thighs (or breasts, but thighs are juicier)
One 1/2-thumb-size piece of fresh ginger
2 garlic cloves
Oil (any vegetable oil works)
Soya sauce
Rice wine vinegar
Sesame seeds

Trim off the stem ends of the broccoli. If using regular broccoli rather than tenderstem, cut it into small florets. Wash it in cold water.

To blanch the broccoli (optional but better): Put some salted water to boil in a saucepan (like for pasta). Once the water boils, cook the broccoli for just 1 to 2 minutes, then drain the water and add lots of very cold water from the tap to cool off the broccoli quickly. Drain.

Cut the chicken into chunks.

Peel and cut the ginger into matchsticks (=> first into thin slices, then each slice into sticks)
Peel and finely chop the garlic.

Heat the frying pan well, add a little oil. Put in the pieces of chicken and fry on high heat for about three to five minutes until they are nice and brown. Stir occasionally but not too often or they won’t brown.

Now pour some soya sauce and rice vinegar into the pan, about 1 to 2 tablespoons of each, and stir everything together. Add the broccoli. Cook for a few minutes more. =>> If you didn’t blanch the broccoli this will take a few minutes longer.

Move the pieces of chicken and broccoli to one side of the pan to make a bit of space, add a little bit of oil, and fry the ginger and garlic just for a minute (be careful that the garlic doesn’t burn, or it will become bitter).
Stir everything together.

Taste. Add soy sauce and vinegar if you think it needs it.

Sprinkle some sesame seeds.

That’s it! 💚

Vin d’orange

2 February 2022

Making apéritif alcohol infusions isn’t the peak or culmination of proficiency and dedication in the kitchen. Just the opposite. Few things are as easy as cutting fruit, scooping sugar, and pouring over some strong alcohol. Everyone should try it, especially anyone who wouldn’t touch a kitchen appliance with a ten-foot pole. Unlike preserving or canning, which usually involves quite a bit of prep, macerating, simmering, and sterilising of jars, not to mention the faintest hovering threat of serious poisoning, here there is no risk attached, the combination of sugar and strong alcohol makes sure of it.

One of my oldest friends, who is probably also the one who cooks the least, has been infusing rum with fruits, spices, herbs — even, I think, vegetables! — for decades. Many start as experiments, none follow a measured recipe. She has a whole trunkful at home, dozens and dozens of bottles. For years, every time we saw her, she also brought along a bottle (or two or three) of prunelle (sloe liqueur), made by her mother, who wasn’t, I understand, a particularly enthusiastic cook either. She had quite a way with prunelle, though.

This is where I got the hint. When I want to make something but have neither much time, nor much patience, I seep fruit in alcohol. And so we have jars of fruit-seeped alcohol — and alcohol-seeped fruit — in every corner of the kitchen. I have now taken up the mantle of prunelle production, I’ve made Seville orange gin, I have a traditional rum pot macerating with summer fruit, and another with dried fruit. I’ve even experimented with quince, though the ratafia needs some fine tuning.

Vin d’orange, a delicately flavoured bitter-orange apéritif originally from the South of France, is just such a project — ridiculously quick and easy. All it needs is a bit of patience (a few weeks at least), and, later, someone with whom to crack open a bottle.

Vin d’orange recipe adapted from Samin Nosrat
I tried a couple of different recipes for vin d’orange last year. I like this one best with just rosé and vodka. I’ve adjusted quantities, the recipe remains pretty much the same.

A large, closeable glass jar with a capacity of 3 litres (and later 3 clean sealable 750ml bottles)

4 Seville oranges
1 orange
1/2 lemon
180g to 200g sugar
1 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1.5 litres (= 2 bottles) of rosé wine (cheap but drinkable!)
350ml (= half a bottle) of vodka

Wash and dry the jar with a clean cloth.

Rinse all the citrus, cut them it into smallish chunks.

Place all the fruit into the jar. Add the sugar and vanilla bean, and pour in the alcohol. Mix well but gently until the sugar dissolves. Seal tightly and leave in a cool, dark place (or the fridge, if there is room!) for about a month. (Samin Nosrat suggests between 32 and 40 days, but I am pretty sure I left mine quite a bit longer last year. Whatever suits, it’s far from a perfect science!)

After about a month, when the vin d’orange has developed the right orangey and bitter taste, strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve lined with two layers of cheesecloth into clean sealable bottles. The vin d’orange is now ready to drink, and will only get better and better.

Serve chilled, with friends.

12 things to cook | in midwinter

29 January 2022

In January, I’ve realised, I often cook by colour. The light is softer then, better. Colours don’t blaze, they gleam, they glow from within. It isn’t that, at other times of the year, colours don’t matter. Perhaps they are less conspicuous, or simply taken for granted!

But the sudden appearance of a fluorescent purple or a tender green against the muted winter grays instantly makes one notice. So at this time of the year, when I choose what to eat, the question is often — what colour is my mood?

Here are some of the dishes I circle back to often, by tone.

BRIGHT — Salads, of course, and citrus!

Winter technicolour salad

Endive salad

Cabbage slaw

Marmalade cake

Orange and clementine salad

GREEN — Leaves and herbs

Soup in shades of green

Soba noodle soup

Kale and cauliflower gratin

BROWN — Low and slow cooked things

Slow cooked pork belly

Slow roasted pork shoulder

Baked apples

Three ginger cake

Quick and easy kombu miso noodle soup

27 January 2022

Snowdays were the magic of New York winters, here in London, it’s the flowers. Flowers in winter! I had never noticed.

Perhaps living most of my adult life in cities where temperatures in January usually sink far below freezing is to blame. Perhaps I just wasn’t looking. I have over the years gone from a reliable killer of every indoor plant, to a tentative balcony pot tender, all the way, most recently, to a mildly obsessive pruner, mulcher, planter, and general garden observer these past couple of years when there was Absolutely. Nothing. Else. To. Do. Somehow I hadn’t really realised that some flowers bloom in the dead of winter, and not because of climate anomalies.

This has changed my view on January. I don’t bemoan the absence of snow, or gripe at the soggy, bone-chilling but stubbornly above freezing — ‘this isn’t proper winter!’ — temperatures.

The camelia I was given last year (the day I also discovered these life-altering sourdough discard scones) has just begun to bloom. Hellebores are unfurling. And tiny tightly bound buds have appeared on all the mimosa trees nearby.

— Magic!

Quick and easy kombu miso noodle soup
This has become my favourite easy, one-pot, 40-minute (but only because the kombu needs to soak for half an hour) lunch.

A 5 to 15cm piece of kombu

Per person —
1/3 to 1/2ltr (1 1/2 to 2 cups) water
75g rice or soba noodles
100g-ish of tofu or salmon or boneless chicken thigh (or breast)
2 Tbsps miso paste
4 to 5 spring onions (scallions)
Tamari soy sauce
Favourite form of chilli (flakes, paste, rayu, …)

Let the kombu soak in the cold water in a saucepan for 30 minutes. => choose a pan that will hold about 3 times the amount of water.

Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the ingredients: (It’s important to prep everything in advance as the dish comes together in bare minutes at the end)

Cut the tofu/salmon/chicken into bite size pieces. NOTE: These pieces could be seared in a pan, which would be very good, but it creates an additional step and uses a extra pan that will need to be washed… For simplicity I added them directly to be cooked with the noodles.

Remove any damaged outer layer and chop the spring onions (scallions) very thinly (discard both ends).

Once the kombu has soaked for half an hour, turn on the heat and bring the water to a boil. Remove the kombu just before the water starts to boil (when there are just tiny bubbles forming around the kombu, before they erupt into a full boil).

Scoop a tablespoon of miso paste into each bowl, add just a spoonful of hot kombu water and mix well until the miso has dissolved (this will prevent the miso from forming clumps in the broth).

Put the noodles into the boiling water — the cooking time is usually just five minutes. Watch carefully and taste for doneness.

Tofu option: place the pieces of tofu inside the bowl with the miso.
Salmon or chicken option: put the fish/meat in the pan with the cooking noodles during the last few minutes of cooking — the chicken should take 3 to 4 minutes to poach, the salmon just 1 or 2 minutes so add this at the very end!

As soon as the noodles are cooked, remove the pan from the heat and pour the soup (and noodles) into each bowl.

Sprinkle a small handfull of spring onions over the soup and season with tamari or soy sauce and a spoonful — or two — of chilli.

Best scones, made with sourdough discard

13 January 2022

I am beginning to suspect that these scones are justification alone for nurturing a sourdough mother in the first place. They are so good, quite a notch above any other scones I have ever made or tried. They came into my life unexpectedly, thanks to a friend who made them for a (licit!, low-key) birthday gathering in the park last year. I quickly asked for the recipe. And immediately began playing around with ingredients.

The original recipe is with chocolate chips but I’ve been riffing on them brazenly since the beginning (I don’t love chocolate chips). Some sweet, some savory, all of them spur-of-the-moment improvisations, usually with what’s in the house.

The first were with pancetta and wild garlic, I made them for Easter last year (first and last photos). This weekend, guided again by vestiges in the fridge, it was leek, chorizo, and pecorino — so good! (even though I forgot to put in half of the leeks. Always running out of time and doing everything at the very last minute…). Cheddar and leeks would be great too. Or chives and smoked trout!

The sweet versions have remained more constant: sultanas, corinth raisins, and walnuts is a perfect combination. But I can imagine slivered almonds with little bits of dried apricots. Walnuts and figs. Pistachios and barberries…

The possibilities are endless.

Were homemade sourdough to disappear from my life, these scones might be the most missed casualty.

Sourdough discard scones adapted from Little Spoon Farm
This is a basic recipe which includes ingredient suggestions for either sweet or savory versions. Begin by choosing the type of scones desired before starting out. If I were to make plain scones I would follow the sweet recipe and include sugar at the very least, and probably vanilla extract and lemon zest too.

Wet ingredients
125g (1/2 cup) sourdough discard
1 egg
2 Tbsps heavy cream (plus 2 Tbsps to brush the scones before baking)
1 Tbsp yogurt

In a medium bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients — sourdough discard, egg, cream, and yogurt. Set aside.

Dry ingredients
250g (2 cups) flour (I usually use white spelt)
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsps baking powder
113g very cold butter (this is important as it will be grated into the dough)

In a large bowl, whik together the flour, salt, and baking powder.

Grate in the cold butter and use fingertips to crumble well into the flour mix until it ressembles something like coarse crumbs. Set aside.

***** *** ***** *** ***** *** *****

Components for sweet scones
2 Tbsps sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
Grated zest from 1/2 lemon
160g dried fruit and nuts (for example: currants, sultanas, and walnuts; finely chopped dried apricots and slivered almonds; finely chopped figs and walnuts; chopped pistachios and barberries; …)

Components for savory scones
A handful of green: chopped wild garlic or finely sliced leeks (these I sear in a little oil in a pan for 3 to 4 minutes) or finely chopped chives — all well washed.
A handful of meat: finely diced pancetta (lightly browned in a small pan), finely cubed chorizo (can be left raw), finely cup smoked trout or salmon
A handful of grated cheese: Parmiggiano, cheddar, pecorino, … (though I might omit the cheese if using smoked fish)

***** *** ***** *** ***** *** *****

Mix the chosen components into the dry ingredients and combine to distribute evenly.

Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix by hand just enough to create a dough that holds together. It will be quite dry but there should be no need to add any liquid.

Create a ball, then flatten it into a very thick pancake. Place the ‘pancake’ onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cut it into eight pie wedges. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and place in the fridge for at least half an hour and up to overnight.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 200C (400F).

Brush the scones with heavy cream (and sprinkle the sweet scones with sugar if desired), slide into the oven, and bake for 20 minutes until golden.

The scones are best eaten immediately, if possible still warm!

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