We've recently started taco evenings with the children and they've been a roaring success. I suppose it's the spread of food in front of them and the feeling of building your own meal that appeals to them. We're sharing everything together and I think it means they feel quite grown up and part of the fun.Usually, I'll just make a chicken dish seasoned with cumin, oregano, chilli and other bits and pieces (we call it taco seasoning, it could be called adobo spices), but this time I got the heavy guns out and went a bit nuts. There was plenty left over which went in freezer bags for next time, so it wasn't as crazy as it looked when I lay it all down. I'd suggest picking one or two dishes depending on how many people you're feeding and depending on how long you want to spend in the kitchen. I was in a food frenzy, you may not want to be.Whatever you do, you must serve the tacos with guacamole, sour cream, chopped tomatoes and grated cheddar.The dishes we had are as follows (deep breath):Homemade corn tortillas, guacamole, pico de gallo, adobo sauce, chicken with taco seasoning, red onion pickle, sour cream, slow cooked shredded pork cheek with barbecue sauce, fried prawns with Old Bay seasoning, lime and coriander mayonnaise, shredded gem lettuce,spring onions, coriander leaves and lime wedges.All this for an early evening supper with the kids. Totally bonkers and never again on such a scale, unless someone pays me.The children loved making the tortillas though, and if you don't have a tortilla press (they're cheap and available on mexgrocer.co.uk along with almost everything you may need for mexican receipes) you may want to save yourself the bother and buy corn tortillas ready-made. Of course, they're not as good and often have wheat flour in but if it saves your nerves from becoming as shredded as the pork, then it's probably a good thing.The pickled red onion recipe is here, but for the rest (apart from guacamole, I'm not going to bother giving a recipe for that) hold your breath and keep reading.Corn Tortillas:One part masa harina (corn flour) to one part warm water and a pinch of salt.Simply mix the ingredients together until they form a dough much like 'playdoh', leave to rest and then form into small balls and press between sheets of plastic (I used a cut up ziplock sandwich bag) on the tortilla maker. Cook on a volcanic cast-iron griddle pan until both sides are tortilla-like then throw on a plate and continue until you have a pile of them. Cover and leave until you're ready to eat.Pico de Gallo:This is essentially a fiery tomato salsa, but here, I've left the cherry tomatoes quite large so it's a little like a salad. Just mix together a load of chopped cherry tomatoes, some finely sliced onions, a chopped serrano chilli, some fresh coriander, salt and a good squeeze of lime juice. Leave to rest for about twenty minutes before serving.Adobo Sauce:I soaked a large dried ancho and chipotle chilli in hot water for about half an hour then blended it with a thumb of ginger a tablespoon of ground cumin and a pinch of salt. That's it. It's pretty intense and sharp, but goes really well with the other dishes.Chicken with Taco Seasoning:Take one chicken breast and slice it thinly across. Toss it in a bowl with as much as you feel of paprika, pepper, onion powder, oregano, cumin, garlic powder, salt, chilli powder and ground coriander. Why don't you start with equal amounts of each, see what you like and adjust it from there. Then, as I have done, you can make a big jar of it and you've got tacos a-go-go hey presto!Sauté the chicken in a hot frying pan with some olive oil until cooked. Add a splash of water at the end to deglaze the pan and pour everything into a bowl.Shredded Pork in Barbecue Sauce:This is a slow-cooker winner. I now buy all my meat from the incredible Anne Petch at Heal Farm in Devon. It's close to the supermarket prices and miles above in quality and welfare. She sends it by courier the next day and I cannot recommend her highly enough. I discovered her in Jane Grigson's 'English Food' and was delighted to find she's online and thriving. I felt I knew the pigs I was eating, and being in London feel much more connected to the food as is possible in a city.Take one onion, two cloves of garlic and 500g of pork cheek (diced) and brown them in a pan with some olive oil. Season well and add to the slow cooker.Add one sliced green chilli and some dried thyme sprigs and turn the slow cooker onto high. If you don't have one, you could cook this in a casserole in a low oven for the same amount of time.Make the barbecue sauce by stirring together: 1tsp tomato purée, a pinch of coconut sugar (or brown if you don't have any), a good squeeze of lime juice, probably about a lime's worth, a large pinch (depending on the size of your fingers) of garlic powder, some chilli powder, Cayenne pepper, thyme leaves, dried oregano, ground cumin, finely diced onion, chipotle paste, a good splash of Worcestershire sauce, a spoonful of Dijon mustard and some tabasco sauce. As for exact amounts, just trust your nose and instincts. I make mine with varying pinch sizes every time and it's always delicious.Add the barbecue sauce to the pork cheeks, stir well and cook with the lid on on high for four hours. Cool a little and shred with a pork. Pour into a bowl to serve. This one's a winner the next day in a sandwich too.Fried Prawns with Old Bay Seasoning:Or shrimp, as the Americans would have it, is a version of the famous fish taco. You can buy Old Bay here and I'd recommend a box for the packaging alone. I made a quick batter with flour, sparkling water and a good few spoons of Old Bay then deep-fried them until crisp. Easy as that.Lime and Coriander Mayonnaise:Make some mayonnaise and stir in some lime juice, lime zest, pepper and chopped coriander. What else do you want to know?And that's pretty much all you need for a taco party. Just make sure you're wearing elasticated trousers and have no plans for the evening. Even if you're having these at lunchtime.
On Thursday night we went out for my birthday supper at Olivio Carne, the sister to what is pretty much my favourite restaurant in London (Olivio near Victoria station) and I had pasta for the first time in nearly two months. My new rule is that food like that has to be worth it. And it was. A beautiful wild boar pappardelle. I also had plenty of Kate's duck ragù just to help her out.I've been wondering how to recreate one of my favourite dishes, ravioli con burro e salvia without pasta while I've been avoiding carbs. My new rules are that it's fine to occasionally eat what you want, and to not make sugar and wheat part of my daily diet. There seemed, after thinking about it, little point in trying to recreate ravioli, so here's a new dish based on those flavours.Leek is nature's cannelloni. And with this, instead of the traditional sage infused butter, a creamy sauce seemed a good idea. And to keep it dairy and wheat free meant almond milk and tapioca starch, so it's also gluten free. And vegan. And paleo. And Whole 30. It also dances the can-can for you while singing the Nessun Dorma. This should win awards for the most inclusive dish in the world. Unless you are allergic to nuts. Leave them out if you are. Unless you like risk.It's quite straightforward to make, once you get everything together. Just try not to spill double the amount of tapioca you need into the saucepan. This is very upsetting and can lead to a bit of a strop.Ingredients for two people as a starterFor the filling:420g roast butternut squash or pumpkin, diced40g almonds, skin on, chopped a little1 large clove of garlic, smashedA few young thyme sprigs1tbsp shiitake mushroom powder (optional)Pinch of chilli flakesA big squeeze of lemon juicesalt and pepperOlive oilFor the sauce:1 leek, light green part, pushed into tubesA large handful of sage leaves, shredded3tbsp Olive oilThin bits of middle of the leek, finely sliced300ml Almond milk1 1/2tbsp Tapioca starchSaltShredded sage leaves, chopped toasted almonds and dried borage flowers to serve, if you have them on the shelf in a jar and keep wondering what to do with them.MethodRoast the filling ingredients (apart from the lemon juice) at 200c for 25-30 mins, until soft and golden then leave to cool before adding the lemon juice and blitzing until smooth (but not too smooth) in a food processor then put in a bowl. Taste it and adjust the lemon juice and seasoning if necessary.Cut the dark green and white parts off the leek and use for stock. Or, do what I did and forget about them in the back of the fridge then throw them away.Push out the inner tubes of the leek, leaving you with about six of the large outer tubes. Slice the inner ones then sauté them until soft in good olive oil, with sage and then season and transfer to a bowl. Add the almond milk and tapioca to the pan, heat and whisk until you have an emulsion as thick as double cream. Add the leek and sage mixture and leave to infuse for ten minutes before removing the sage stalks and blitzing the sauce in the food processor. If you prefer, you can leave it unblitzed, but I prefer it smooth.Stuff the leek tubes with the filling and cook gently in a little olive oil until soft. Turning occasionally and carefully. Chop some toasted almonds and get the sauce warmed.Put the sauce on plates, top with the leek then sprinkle over the almonds, sage leaves and borage flowers if using. Blowtorch the leek if you're feeling fancy. Finish with a drizzle of excellent olive oil and serve.
Tomorrow the children go back to school after six years off for Easter. I think we're all looking forward to it. It has been good having them around, though, and we've had some fun in the kitchen. Notably making these sausages.Normally, you'd put breadcrumbs in British-style sausages, that's one of the reasons they're not as dense as the meatier Italian ones, or, my favourite, merguez, which I shall be making soon. So to make these wheat-free, I used milled flax seed instead, which helped bind the mixture as well as give a little extra texture.They're quick to make and you can buy the casings from your butcher or online. Making them yourself means there are no additives in them, and you can vary the spicing and herbs as you like, as well as the thickness and length. We got 18 large ones out of this, so quite a few went in the freezer.You can ask your butcher to mince the meat for you if you don't have a mincer at home, and you will need a sausage maker, you can also get these cheaply online. You can, however, skip the casings and roll them by hand into sausage shapes if you want. I'd highly recommend a machine though, not least for the opportunity to add a touch of 'Carry-On' to the kitchen. It's not possible to put the casing on the nozzle without thinking about GCSE biology with Mr. Johnson.Experiment with garlic, herb and red wine or mixed spices. Leek and apple perhaps, and paprika and onion. We'll not be buying sausages any more.Ingredients800g pork mince or pork shoulder800g pork belly1tbsp ground ginger1tbsp ground five-spice1tbsp ground nutmeg1tbsp dried oregano1tbsp dried tarragon1tbsp dried thyme2tbsp flax seedPepperLoads of salt150ml cold water2m hog casing sausage skinMethodMince the meat and mix in the rest of the ingredients.Fry a little of the mixture to test the seasoning and adjust as needed.Try not to snigger as you roll the casing on to the nozzle.Turn the machine on and slowly feed the mixture through until it starts to fill the casing. Gradually let it fill until you reach the desired size then twist to seal and carry on. Twist the opposite way on the next one and repeat until finished.You can cook them straight away, (I tend to grill them) but it's better to let them dry a little, uncovered, in the fridge for a day.Wrap well and freeze what you don't need immediately.