I bought a bird feeder from the hardware superstore the other day. Along with a new huge barbecue and quite a few other things you're allowed when you graduate from Dad school.Except it seems to be badly calibrated. In this part of South east London it seems the only birds it attracts are squirrels. And three very shifty looking pigeons. And while I may proudly wear a 'For the many' lapel badge on my jacket, in this situation I am taking a hardline stance on scroungers and layabout animals wanting something for nothing. I threw a tennis ball in their general direction earlier and they retreated to a safe distance, eyeing me with beady contempt.But while the level of seeds and nuts dimishes quicker than my enthusiasm for the new season's hot weather after two days of sneezing my face off, my excitement at the garden grows daily as new things pop out here and there, seemingly overnight. Violets and forget-me-nots appeared from the garden's edge like a very slow jack-in-the-box and the tulips opened wider than I thought possible to soak up the strong, bright sunlight shining constantly on the borders.We cooked outside for the first time this year. In April. Which surely is unheard of. I over-catered in my excitement. Chicken, slender sausages, langoustines with garlic butter, burgers, lamb chops marinated in harissa, za'atar, cumin and rosemary, flatbreads, charring in parts until the edges shatter when you tap them. I roasted aubergines on the coals until soft and blackened then mashed them with olive oil, plenty of garlic and some more cumin and we sat outside stuffing our faces in the late afternoon warmth.After a weekend of overeating and behaving as if we were battery chickens busted out into the freedom of the garden, Monday night called for a calmer supper.I made this tom kha, trying to recreate the one from our local Thai restaurant. And while not quite the same as theirs -- I have a feeling they may lace it with sugar -- it was fresh tasting, spicy (but with a nice heat that sort of punched you in the face then left you alone, rather than one that slowly builds like a kind of gaslighting) and ready in about 20 minutes. Halve the amount of chillies if you like, but I do rather enjoy the rush you get from something that is almost too much.I put prawns in this one, but chicken is equally delicious. As is pigeon or squirrel. Possibly.IngredientsA thumb sized piece of galangal, finely sliced3-4 red chillies (birdseye or finger)2 sticks of lemongrass, bruised and sliced into 3cm pieces1 tin of coconut milk (400ml)6 or so kaffir lime leaves1 shallot, finely sliced2 medium-small tomatoes, choppedAbout six meaty mushrooms (I used chestnut, but would have preferred oyster)300g raw tiger prawnsJuice and zest of a limeA dash of fish sauce and a little pinch of salt to tasteA bunch of coriander, choppedMethodThrow the galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, shallot and chillies into a saucepan with the coconut milk and slowly heat, stirring gently and occasionally.Cook for about five minutes then add the mushrooms and prawns and bring to just below the boil. Cook for another 5-10 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through then season with the lime juice and fish sauce to taste. Try to get the balance between salty, sour, sweet and sharp.Add the chopped coriander and lime zest and serve straight away with more lime wedges and chilli slices on the side.This weekWatched: Swan Lake ballet for children at the theatre. About my level really. I still found the whole thing preposterous though. I mean really...Read: The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Sicily, a prince in the 1860s. I mean, it's perfectly readable, but I had no great desire to rush home and pick it up.Eat: Neil from Eugene cooked us great steaks the other night, before he and Linda returned home. Delicious food and great company.Listened: Some new English jazz, would you believe. Ivo Neame featuring Shabaka Hutchings. Good stuff, interesting, and wide-ranging.
Here's a quick way to liven up a simple supper of grilled chicken or perhaps some salmon, lightly poached in a stock with some white wine and parsley. It's a zingy and fresh tasting combination of flavours.I used it the other day on top of a Texan-style chilli I found in the bottom of the freezer that I'd made a batch of about a month ago and it just lifted it from the comforting to a notch above delicious.It takes about two minutes to chop together so make it fresh and spoon it on just before you serve.Ingredients2 spring onions2 green finger chillies1 small bunch of corianderZest and juice of a limeMethodSlice the spring onion and coriander, zest the lime and finely chop the coriander. Put everything in a bowl.Squeeze the juice all over, mix well and serve.
I had a couple of packets of baby turnips in the fridge. I always struggle with them, as in, what is their point? I've always thought of them as a bulbous, soft crunch of flavourlesness. A little like eating a toasted tennis ball.To give them a chance, I threw some of my favourite flavours at them, knowing that whatever I did would be an improvement. It's hard to improve upon slowly caramelised onions, and the thought of draping them over the turnips once they had been roasted in some chilli oil was enough to get the oven on first thing this morning.Three quarters of an hour later and I had a delicious mid-morning snack with enough chilli punch in it to finally get the day going after having survived my children's joint birthday party with no fatalities and I think all children safely returned. We may yet find one or two in the bushes.So turnips are safe, for now. This would make a splendid accompaniment to spatchcocked, grilled tandoori-spiced chicken or roast coriander and cumin slow-roast lamb shoulder. Now there's an idea for next weekend.Ingredients:A few packs of baby turnips2tbsp chilli oil1tbsp chilli flakes1/2 white onion1/2tsp ground coriander1/2tsp ground cumin1/2tsp ground turmeric1tsp ghee or vegetable oilSalt and pepper to seasonMethod:Heat the oven to 180c and roast the turnips, drizzled with the chilli oil for about 45 minutes.While they are cooking, finely slice the onion and slowly sauté in the ghee with the spices and a little seasoning. Cook slowly until they are golden and starting to ever so slightly caramelise.Spoon over the turnips, drizzle with a little more chilli oil and scatter with chilli flakes.Serve immediately, being careful to not burn your tongue on the onions like I did.
Before you start, this isn't ramen in the proper ramen way, more of a broth with some things in, one of those things being a beautiful piece of seared sirloin.But as with real ramen, the key is the depth of the stock, so try and use a homemade one full of flavour, and when heating it up for the final dish, add in kombu, plenty of fish sauce, lime and lemon juice. It's quick (well, once you've made the stock), nutritious and rammed with flavour.Ingredients (for two)150g sirloin fillet per person1l chicken stock1 book Choi, halvedA few slices of gingerTwo or three red chilliesA couple of garlic cloves, sliced60g cooked buckwheat noodles (soba)A few sheets of kombu, slicedA handful of coriander leaves2tbsp lime juice2tbsp lemon juice2tbsp fish sauceMethod:Bring the stock to the boil and keep hot.Sauté the garlic and sear the steak, then remove from the pan.Sear the book Choi quickly then add the kombu, lemon, lime and fish sauce to the broth with the chillies, ginger, noodles and garlic.Cook for a minute then put the cooked noodles, bok choi and steak in a bowl and pour over the broth and serve with coriander.
A simple one today to serve with an aperitif when you have friends round.You can buy quails' eggs ready hard-boiled and peeled if you like, I often do. To be honest, in this case it's probably easier and less fiddly than boiling and peeling your own.I've done these before with smoked paprika, but today a sprinkle of garam masala took my fancy. Paired with the crunch of pistachio and the fragrance of coriander they went perfectly with some cold ginger beer.Just roll the eggs in the spice mix and drizzle with a little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Again, you can use ready-made garam masala or make your own. Depends how much time you have to spare before your guests arrive, which, if like me will be none as we struggle to get the children to bed while only wearing one sock...
I get upset if I don't have a salad of some kind on the table every evening. Be it a simple one of baby gem with vinaigrette (my favourite), tomato and shallots with parsley and oil or an onion and cucumber one with my popadoms.These are, mostly, accompaniments to a meal. With a little effort they can be transformed into the main event and satisfy the hungriest appetite. There's no need to be disappointed, especially when there are so many flavours you can add. Panzanella, Som Tam, Kachumba and Caesar salad are some examples that come to mind.This salad uses seared sirloin, cooked with the fat on, then trimmed and thinly sliced. Be careful to not overcook it, you want that bright pink to shine through against the green. The sweet, charred and juicy nectarines go well with the meat and are a real taste of summer. Make sure you taste the dressing as you go, bearing in mind how it balances with the finished dish. It should be nutty, slightly sour and a little sweet.Serves 2Ingredients1 sirloin steak, or rump if you prefer3 spring onions, finely sliced1 red onion, cut into eight wedges2 ripe nectarines, quartered1 cucumber, thinly sliced lengthways on a mandoline1 red chilli, sliced (remove the seeds for a milder heat)1 tbsp quinoa seeds, toastedCoriander leaves, choppedFor the dressing4 tbsp walnut oil1 tbsp Jerez vinegar2 tbsp lime juicea pinch of chilli flakesSaltMethodHeat a grill pan until smoking hot and season the steak with salt and pepper. Cook it for three minutes either side then set aside to rest. Add the red onion to the pan and cook in the juices.Add the nectarines, and while they're cooking, toss the cucumber with the spring onion and chilli. Mix the dressing ingredients together and taste. Adjust as necessary with more lime juice or salt.Thinly slice the steak, add to the cucumber with the peaches and red onion, scatter over the coriander and quinoa then drizzle with the dressing and serve.
I would love to go to Texas for the barbecues and the chilli. I want to eat 24-hour smoked brisket and tender ribs with the meat falling off them. What I’d really like to try is the way the long, slow cooking over smoke makes everything pink, juicy and uniquely charred in a way that you’ll never be able to recreate in the home kitchen.Until recently, I'd only ever eaten insipid chilli, with perhaps a touch of cumin or chilli powder to tell you that it wasn't a bolognese. So when I was asked to make it for my Dad’s 60th birthday, I was determined to find a recipe that would make me rethink it.I researched its history and how it is made in the chilli heartland of Texas, and finally came up with this version, which I think is truly delicious and has totally transformed my view of the dish.Serves: 6 peopleCooking time: 3 hours Ingredients500g beef skirt or brisket, thinly sliced2 racks of pork ribs2 large onions, finely chopped4 cloves of garlic, crushed4 jalapeño chillies6 tbsp brown sugar2 bottles of lager200ml apple juice250ml tomato ketchupCider vinegarDijon mustard2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce1 tbsp Paprika1 tbsp chilli powder1 tbsp ground cumin1 tbsp Cayenne pepper1 Chipotle pepper1 Ancho chilli1 large green pepper, sliced1 tin red kidney beansFresh coriander leaves to garnishMethod
- Make the barbecue sauce by heating some minced onion, two cloves of crushed garlic, ketchup, two tablespoons of brown sugar, the mustard, vinegar and apple juice. Pour in the Worcestershire sauce, leave to simmer for a couple of minutes, then set aside.
- Heat some oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan and sauté the onion and garlic until soft. Add the meat and season well. Cook for a few minutes and add the chillies and spices. Stir and add the pork ribs and cook until browned.
- Add the green pepper, pour in the lager and barbecue sauce, stir well, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to a very low simmer and cook for about two and a half hours. Add the kidney beans, cook for a further half hour and serve garnished with coriander.