Pan-Seared Octopus with Delicata Squash, Chickpeas, and Saffron

DSC_0278aMany people shy away from cooking octopus, believing that it is too difficult to cook. The truth is slightly different. Octopus is relatively easy to cook; it’s tenderizing the octopus that poses the challenges. Perfectly-cooked octopus definitely must not be rubbery, but one also must not commit the cardinal sin of mushy octopus. Everyone seems to have a different method for tenderizing octopus. Some people literally beat octopus with a rock, or, failing that, with a meat tenderizer. My friend Patrick sets up a pot of boiling water and a pot of ice water, and plunges the octopus in each water bath for about ten seconds, switching back and forth, about 30 times. I have heard that tenderizing the octopus sous vide works extremely well. I used to simmer octopus for about an hour in a pot of water to which some milk (the lactic acid works the trick) has been added. But I swear by my new method, which is time-consuming, but infallibly produces excellent results. Continue reading

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Spicy Cocktail Nuts

DSC_0673bAlthough nothing can substitute for a well-crafted cocktail, I have an abiding affection for good bar food. I have been known to drag friends to Mark’s Bar at Hix (where the drinks are undeniably excellent) simply because I craved the salty-fatty-crispy-hot pork crackling with Bramley apple sauce that you can get for a mere £3.95, which perfectly complements the sharp gin drinks I gravitate towards. (The freebie marmite sticks are another story – I still loathe marmite, after over three years in England.) Lately, when I host cocktail parties, I like to make my own bar snacks. Sure, it’s perfectly fine to dump a bag of potato chips (sorry, Brits – crisps) in a bowl, particularly if you’re hosting a large group, but if you have the time, it is so much more fun (and impressive!) to offer BESPOKE SNACKS tailored specifically to the drinks on offer. At a recent dinner party at which I served mostly Mexican dishes, I started the evening with margaritas, home-made Mexican pickles, and these spiced cocktail nuts.  Continue reading

Lamb, Mint, and Almond Meatballs with Saffron-Almond Sauce

Life in the new flat is not all wine and roses. Since my move in early October, I’ve been contending with the Never-Ending Kitchen Remodel. You know, that delightful pastiche featuring those charming rascals, the Slapdash Contractors, with supporting roles played by the Goddamn Shitty Appliances. The first time I attempted to use the oven I turned on the timer rather than the heat, and couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. It ticked loudly tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick until I worked out how to get the heat on and blew all the fuses in the kitchen. Sarf-East cockney contractor Del-boy came round an hour or two later and put the oven on its own fuse. Once the oven was reconnected the timer started ticking again tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Del-boy scratched his head, muttered something about not being boffered, and skulked off. Saturday I brought home beef bones to roast for stock, at which point I learned the oven doesn’t actually work, as in doesn’t get hot. I stomped around crankily and may have whined a bit about wanting to roast things. Lovely Flatmate called the truculent nameless Polish contractor, who looked in the oven and said, “I can’t fix. You need specialist.”

So, still no oven. The timer works though. There it is now, tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick-tick. Continue reading

Garlic and Puy Lentil Soup with Smoked Paprika and Spicy Greens

There are few flavour combinations that I like so well as garlic and paprika. Married to one another, garlic and paprika have a greater-than-the-sum-of-their-parts appeal, a briny, lingering, and distinctive aroma and flavour that work equally well with seafood and meat, with pulses and with vegetables. I am, of course, immensely fond of Spanish food, which some might say has its foundations in this happy union. Paprika, or pimentón, supposedly was brought to Spain from the Americas by Christopher Columbus, and it has become such an integral part of Spanish food that in Spain, paprika is rigorously regulated for quality, with denominations of origin, like wine and olive oil. When cooking with paprika, invest in high-quality Spanish paprika (it makes such a difference), and keep both sweet and smoked in your cupboard – you’ll use both. Continue reading