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

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Awadh-Style Curried Asian Eggplant

DSC_0322aThe versatile aubergine is so gloriously exotic that it should occupy some mystical plateau, like chocolate. The Mayans weren’t mixing eggplants into their sacred ceremonial brews, but they should have been. The idea is not so farfetched, either – the eggplant apparently contains more nicotine than any other plant except tobacco (although you would have to consume 20 pounds of eggplant to ingest the same amount of nicotine in a cigarette). And of course the eggplant is a member of the nightshade family (along with potatoes, tomatoes, and capsicums). For this Awadh curry I used Asian eggplants, which have thinner skin and more delicate flesh than Italian eggplants. Unlike Italian eggplants, Asian eggplants do not have to be peeled: the skin is tender and not bitter. Fully cooked, Asian eggplants have a consistency like hot custard. Hot, savory, delicious umami custard. Continue reading

Mexican Milk-Braised Brisket

DSC_0288aAlmost exactly a year ago, I ate at El Suadero, the Monday night Mexican pop-up at Sitka and Spruce in Seattle, which is where I had the unforgettable eponymous milk-braised veal brisket that inspired this dish. Sometime after I returned to London, I set about finding boneless rolled veal brisket, which is what I decided that I needed to recreate it. Starting from the premise that I would only buy free-raised veal, I bought two rolled veal briskets from the lovely people at the Wild Beef Company, which sometimes trades at the Borough Market, and excitedly told my father what I planned to make. My father, who is not a religious man but can have a cruel streak, intoned ominously, “Thou shalt not seethe the calf in its mother’s milk.” Continue reading

Beef Rendang

DSC_0118aWhen we were all a little younger than we are now (i.e., college-aged), it seemed that everyone fell into two camps on the subject of New Year’s resolutions. We were ardent believers, list-makers, inquisitive interrogators (“what are your New Year’s resolutions?”). Or we were hardened cynics. New Year’s resolution haters. I have to confess I fell more into the first category. I was extremely anxious if I hadn’t identified my New Year’s resolutions by Christmas, and I took them very seriously. The problem is: the day after one of the most dedicated partying nights of the year is not the best time for personal fortitude. Nor was it possible (for me, anyway) to rectify personality defects by sheer force of will. By mid-February, if I made it that far, like almost everyone else I invariably had broken my resolutions.

Now that we are older and the gloss of our idealistic zeal has been tarnished by years of hard living, the best that most of us can manage is a dry January. That is why I propose that we take a leaf from the book of that lofty body the United Nations, and adopt the more gentle practice of making non-binding New Year’s resolutions. The high-minded sentiment is there, without the guilt. Continue reading

Spicy Cantonese Pork and Jellyfish with Celery

DSC_0795aI had all sorts of grand plans for this to be the year that I posted wonderful holiday-themed recipes and tips in time for Christmas. Unfortunately, between work, illness, and an oven that was broken until yesterday, I just haven’t gotten around to making my holiday dishes. Instead, as usual, I will be making edible holiday gifts on Christmas eve, cursing myself for being a procrastinator, and probably blogging whatever works sometime next week. Thus today, instead of nutmeg and allspice scented fantasies, boozy dark chocolate and eggnog, I bring you … jellyfish. Continue reading

Ma Po Tofu

DSC_0775aMy friend Nayan is a talented polymath who claims that he can cook anything. A professionally-trained chef turned itinerant winemaker, Nayan professes to have perfect palate memory: that he can taste something, identify its components, and duplicate it. On Sunday, for the first time, we cooked together. We were both craving spicy food. What started as a vague idea to cook something with chillies turned into a foray into regional Chinese cooking. Continue reading

Eating in Seattle – Szechuan Chef

Living in London for three years has wholly transformed the way that I think about food in the United States. When I go back to visit, I have no interest in fine dining. I want the food I can’t eat in London. Period. Give me proper Vietnamese food, give me Mexican food, give me homestyle Southern cooking, sushi, and yes, give me Szechuan food.  This last may perplex English readers. There are some excellent Szechuan restaurants in London. However London does not have Szechuan Chef, and, more importantly, London does not have Szechuan Chef’s Szechuan style crab. Continue reading

Spicy Brussels Sprouts with ‘Nduja Sausage and Mushrooms

DSC_0665The benighted Brussels sprout is finally having its day. It used to be quite fashionable to detest Brussels sprouts; now the momentum has shifted in the other direction and is gathering speed. As a descendant of cabbage-eaters on both sides of my family, I suppose it was inevitable that I would be a Brussels sprout lover. (Research shows, in fact, that our palates are most influenced by the foods our mothers consumed during pregnancy.) Previously, in order to induce friends to consume them, I had to cleverly disguise my Brussels sprouts with things like nuts and dried cranberries. The last time I did that, my friend Jess remarked, “I think you should have let the Brussels sprouts be Brussels sprouts.” Let the age of the Brussels sprouts begin. Continue reading

Chicken, Peanut, and Yam Stew

I have blogged before about my volunteer work with the Food Chain, and about the fact that I, a Polish Jew, am responsible for coming up with tasty recipes suitable for our service users who request “African” and “Afro-Caribbean” meals. The latter are somewhat easier; while the Afro-Caribbean population is incredibly diverse, at least the Caribbean is a relatively small geographical area. The produce in the markets in Trinidad and Domenica tends to be similar, even if their roti recipes are different. But “African”? Africa is a CONTINENT. It’s taken me a long time to gain a passing familiarity with Moroccan food, and that’s one country, in North Africa, out of 53 (if you include the island nations). So time and again I find myself seeking guidance from that indefatigable source, the internet. Everything’s true on the internet, right?

This lovely chicken dish, which I’ve now cooked to rave reviews at the Food Chain (twice) and at home (once) is a somewhat-adapted “Ghanaian” stew. I feel compelled to offer a disclaimer: I have not been to Ghana. I don’t think I’ve been to a Ghanaian restaurant. I have no idea whether I’ve gotten my proportions all wrong in cooking to my Eurocentric palate. But this stew, in which chicken cooks slowly with peanuts and tomatoes and ginger and spicy peppers until the chicken falls off the bone and the sauce becomes a rich thick fatty paste, is DELICIOUS, and it’s what I’m eating for dinner. Thank you internet! Continue reading

Duck Egg Pasta with ‘Nduja Sausage, Grape Tomatoes and Arugula

I am overjoyed! I finally got my camera back after a three-week separation. I picked it up from Parcelforce on Thursday, and on Friday, one of a spate of truly lovely spring days we’ve been enjoying in London, I went to Borough Market, a market I’ve avoided lately because I usually spend a fortune there on lovely food. (Friday was no exception.) A week or so ago I bought some duck eggs which I planned to use for fresh pasta, and in Borough Market I was looking for one product in particular: ‘Nduja sausage. ‘Nduja is a soft, spreadable Calabrian sausage loosely related to Andouille. It’s seasoned with fennel and oregano and Calabrian chilis – apparently it can contain up to 60% chilli peppers – and the chilis give it a beautiful deep red colour. It pairs naturally with pasta Continue reading