Archive for the ‘Tradition’ Category

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Pancake Day aka Shrove Tuesday aka Mardi Gras

Shrove Tuesday is once again upon us and everyone will be stocking up on flour, eggs, milk to make their runny batter and have a gluttonous sugary feast before being shriven of these excesses in diet as well as in life.

As a child, I was brought up with the tradition of crêpes scattered with sugar and a squeeze of lemon. I never really went in for the jam, chocolate spread, ice cream concoctions which many favour now but I dare say if you’re going in for one full on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) kind of blowout, the lemon-sugar variety does seem somewhat austere.

For me it wasn’t necessarily about the pancake eating, even though I had more than my fair share of them, but more about the sheer fun of the evening spent watching everyone have a go at tossing the pancake and then regaling everyone at school about how high we managed to successfully toss the pancake into the air; or alternatively any hilarious anecdotes.

Normally I have supper followed by a pancake tossing session for dessert but recently I have tried to make the pancake my evening meal.  Hence why I’ve been trying to find alternatives to the standard runny batter crêpe to enjoy on Shrove Tuesday.  In the past I’ve made American style pancakes, savoury courgette and cheese ones and last year enjoyed an avocado and banana pancake. This year, I’ve attempted making banana pancakes with only 2 ingredients. Yes. Only 2 ingredients. Eggs and bananas.

Literally blitz 2 eggs and 2 bananas in a blender to create the batter and then fry the pancake dollops on a lightly buttered skillet. They have a foam-banana sweet taste and smell. If you don’t like bananas give these a go with a splash of vanilla extract or cinnamon. The eggs soufflé the banana mixture making these incredibly light and fluffy. Take care as you flip them as they have a tendency to break as you turn them. Seriously given these a go. Please, just try them.

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Drizzle them with maple syrup, sprinkle cinnamon or icing sugar and sliced bananas.

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I don’t know what the allure of cooking lentils at New Years is for me but I always like to start the year cooking a warm bowlful of them.

It’s not as if I’m looking for something warm and filling as the weather has been sunny and mild over the holiday period and I’m stuffed after eating so much.

So what is it that draws me to cooking lentils at this at this time of year?

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Maybe it’s their versatility? Lentils can be cooked by themselves or added to vegetable, meat or fish dishes. They can be served as a side, as with salmon and lentils or as the main component as in a lentil salad or stew.  They come in a range of colours and with it bring their own textures and tastes.  Some lentils such as red split lentils boil down to the consistency of mashed potatoes whereas other hold their shape and retain their nutty bite even after boiling them for 45mins as with green lentils.  My favourite variety are Puy lentils also called French green lentils – which are slate green/blue in colour and have a peppery warmth to them. 

For some, lentils have a hessian weave hippie vibe about them; vegans rave about them whilst for others they are just austere, peasant food.  After all, the original lentil stew, mess of pottage, was biblical in origin.  Now, I wouldn’t necessarily consider lentils austerity food but after the expense of the Christmas foodathon they are very welcome on my pocket!

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Italians, consider lentils to be lucky as their small coin-shaped form invites prosperity.  Perfectly partnered with pork increases their success; the pig known for pushing forwards, makes it a symbol of progress. Lentils with pork sausages are considered particularly auspicious. 

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But perhaps it’s the ease with which the stew comes together.  It’s so personal it’s not really a case of following a recipe it’s more about getting the quantities right of lentils to water and packing flavour.  And lentils are great at taking on flavour.  There is also very little for the cook to actually do.  After mass catering over the holidays and following strict recipes and cooking times, just throwing things into a pot of water is quite liberating and relaxing.  It’s also a great way to use up veg you’ve got knocking about in the back of the fridge.  There are no stages or steps to follow and other than not letting your lentils dry out as they boil, there really isn’t much danger of the dish going wrong.

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I tend to favour lentils cooked with chorizo as the paprika from the sausages oozes out into the stew giving everything great body and depth – maximising flavour with very little effort.  This time I had a rasher of streaky bacon and two sausages leftover from new year’s breakfast that I decided to add to the pot as well as pumpkin and chorizo.  At the very end of the cooking process I wilted shredded spring greens (leftover from Christmas Eve’s dinner) in the residual heat of the pot.

The beginning of summer heralds tuna from the Atlantic to make their way to the warmer spawning grounds of the Mediterranean.  As they swim along the western coastline of Southern Spain to cross through the Straits of Gibraltar they become ensnared in a maze of nets – the subsequent slaughter; Almadraba is an age old tradition practised in fishing villages from Conil to Tarifa since Phoenician times.

This method of catching tuna preserves the integrity of the animal’s meat which makes it as soft as butter to eat – hence why it is such a delicacy.

And if slicing this tuna and eating it sashimi style was not delicious enough, Chef Lede at El Capote, showcased 9 exquisite dishes to celebrate this glorious fish.

Atún de la Almadraba

The ideology behind a lot of the food served at these evenings is to challenge your culinary practices – anyone can cook a tuna steak – but can you think outside the box and create something different and innovative that is still a flavoursome tuna dish?

Once again Chef Lede pushed boundaries and broke culinary norms.  There was still an element of Asian influence in some of Chef Lede’s approaches; for example tuna sashimi sprayed with a mist of soya vinaigrette served with an intense spicy tomato relish.  Simple, clean but beautiful.  Or the decadent tuna tataki served with ajo blanco, kimchi and sushi sauce which I have to say was absolutely divine; my favourite dish.

The evening’s entertainment started with Chef Lede going round each table and assembling the first dish of Chicharrones de Atún (Tuna Scratchings) directly onto the centre of the table.  The tuna scratchings were delicious; salty, crispy and puffed in every bite, served with puffed corn crisps on a bed of fried breadcrumbs spiced with pimentón and olive oil caviar.  The creativity in this dish got everyone talking and buzzing with excitement as to what might be coming next.

The next dish was a subtle but savoury macaroon filled with smoked tuna and Manchego cheese.  At first bite the sweetness of the macaroon came through and some people were put off by this – however I found that the sweetness was very subtle and balanced the seasoning well.  I enjoyed this idea but would have liked it served warmer; I thought it could be an excellent dinner party starter – even though as delicate as macaroons are, one would be enough.

I had tried the following ‘tomatillo’ at Calentita where Chef Lede cooked at the Live Kitchen but there were some changes to the execution of this for the better.  Tomatillos de salmorejo con mojama, falsa tierra de migas y polvo de aceitunas (Salmorejo ‘tomatoes’ with salt cured tuna, served on a bed of breadcrumbs and black olive powder).  At Calentita the salmorejo was frozen almost slush-like and very cold; this time round the salmorejo was at room temperature and seductively oozed out of the tomato-shell and mingled with the mojama and the savoury breadcrumb and black olive rubble.  A delicious mouthful.

Tunafest Tuna TartareTuna and green apple tartare served on avocado and lime puree with scorched kimchi sauce was met with mixed reviews.  I personally would have liked the tuna to be minced further and the apple itself being less dominant in the dish – a quick grating of green apple might have achieved this.  I tend to like tartare dishes to have an almost vinegary tang to them and this was achieved mainly from the kimchi sauce rather than the apples themselves – perhaps the apples were not acidic enough?  Maybe some diced cornichons (which are normally served with steak tartare) might have given a more acidic note to the dish.  This however is purely a matter of opinion as the dish was well executed and the theatre of Chef Lede blow torching his way around El Capote was an added bonus.

Michelin starred peasant food at its best!

Callos de Atún followed and this really stumped everyone.  The magic behind this dish was in the fish sausage that was present in slices throughout the dish.  Not just adding flavour that you would normally associate with callos but texture.  The pescetarians as our table were very confused as to whether they would eat it or not and even started picking out the pieces of tuna sausage; however, once reassured that there was no meat in any of the dishes they dived back in, scraping the bowl and wanting more!

 

Ventresa de atún (tuna belly) served with ‘onion rings’ was another piece of theatre as there were two stocks.  The first being the
solid rings of stock placed on the dish, the other served hot in shot glasses where each guest needed to pour over the stock over their dish, melting the ‘onion rings’ and warming the slightly cooked dish.

Tuna belly also known as fatty tuna is the most succulent and flavoursome part of the fish and is seen as a delicacy in Japan.

Galete de atún guisado como un rabo de toro Andaluza surprised me with its rich and intense flavours.  I am assuming that the flesh at the tail end of the tuna was used for this dish and not necessarily that the dish was cooked as you would prepare oxtail; either pressure cooking or slow cooking for many hours.

The 9 tuna dishes presented to us were of a very high standard and each one delicious in its own right.  I felt that this year Chef Lede and Ian managed the serving of courses much better than they did at their previous tuna event and it is very impressive to think that in little old El Capote 320 plates were served over the course of the evening to an appreciative crowd.

Dessert will remain unmentioned as there was no tuna in it!

If there is anyone who would have liked to have attended a tuna inspired evening as above, let myself or El Capote know as there are only a few more weeks available of Atún de la Almadraba.

Tuna that cuts like butter!

 

 

 

taste, flavour, snack, relish

As the hazy, orange sun sets over these lazy summer evenings and the insects clumsily fly through the shimmering evening heat, the scents and flavours that I want to immerse myself in are those of the Eastern Mediterranean.  However, it’s not just the food that I’m after, even though that would be no great loss (!) but the whole culinary, cultural approach.  No procession of courses, eating with your hands; food to get stuck into.  I envisage a multitude of different delicious dishes along a table that encourages conversation, sharing, food passed around and the tearing of bread.  To me, this can only mean one thing – mezze.

“Mezze are an integral part of life in much of the Muslim Mediterranean and are considered to be one of the most civilised and exciting ways to eat.”

Mezze: the word is found in all the cuisines of the former Ottoman Empire and comes from the Turkish meze meaning, “taste, flavour, snack, relish.”

At home, creating a mezze spread of eight to ten dishes is unrealistic, but creating individual pieces of a mezze every now and again can be fun.

Traditional mezze dishes include:  fattoush (bread and vegetable salad), hummus (chickpea dip), falafel (deep-fried chickpea balls), köfte (minced lamb meatballs), mutabbal (aubergine salad), souvlaki (lamb kebabs), tabbouleh (bulgar wheat salad) and olives.  There are several more dishes that can be seen on a mezze table with each region of the Mediterranean creating alternatives and variations.

And with BBQ season in full swing why not try to create your version of a classic mutabbal?

Whether you know it as mutabbal, aubergine salad, poor man’s caviar or baba ganoush, this smoky aubergine dip is the grown up version of the ubiquitous hummus and is a classic part of any mezze.

Levantine in origin, it comes up under a variety of names from Turkey to Egypt and can be presented in different guises: a dip, a salad, a vegetable side dish.  It can be served loose and smooth to be scooped up by your flatbread or served chunky needing a fork to assist but no matter which variation you choose it will still be exceptionally good.

Gastrorob’s Baba Ganoush

The principal ingredients are:

The only strict rule that I insist you adhere to is that the aubergines must be blackened on open flame – too many versions fail to recognise the importance of this.  It is this process which gives this dish its distinctive, smoky taste.  Cooking them in a smoking hot oven will not give you the depth of flavour you require here – a grill set to max would work but it will smoke out the entire house. Those who have gas hobs can blacken the skins on the actual hob but this will make a mess!  Basically, a BBQ is the most effective and convenient method to achieve aubergines as desired.  Understandably, this is not the best dish to try to recreate in winter!

Ottolenghi, chars his directly over a gas flame, where Lebovitz chars them over a flame before baking in the oven until they have collapsed all the way through

My method borrows from both, I tend to cut into the aubergine creating a few incisions (face up) along the length of the vegetable, drizzle oil over and place into the hottest oven for 20mins and then grill on open flame until scorched and black.

Recipe:

Remove the scorched aubergine from the flames and then scoop all the flesh and juices into a blender (or bowl and use a fork).  Add the juice of half a lemon, one table spoon of tahini paste, a garlic clove per aubergine and a good drizzle of olive oil to slacken the mixture.  Season to taste.  Add chopped fresh mint and coriander.  Taste your baba ganoush and tweak the flavours to suit your palate.

Some recipes include tomatoes, after all it is sometimes referred to as an aubergine salad with tomatoes or a tomato salad with aubergine depending on which side of the Mediterranean you come from, but I find this just dilutes the intense smoky flavour that you want from your Baba Ganoush.

Drizzle olive oil in a dark green ribbon around the dish and if you’re in an extravagant mood rain over pomegranate seeds for that jewel-like touch of decadence that inspired this dish.

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NB: You lit up your BBQ to cook something other than aubergines on it!  Pinchitos (our beef versions of lamb souvlaki kebabs) is a perfect accompaniment to baba ganoush; serve with some BBQ-warmed pita/tortillas/flatbreads/naan bread and fresh coriander and mint sprinkled over.

از غذا لذت ببرید!

 

Shepherd’s Pie, baked beans and ketchup – Oh my God!  Could food get any more comforting?!

I remember as a child I would mix it all together so that every spoonful was a mashed-potatoey, mince-meaty, ketchup-tangy mouthful.

And then came the correction; it’s only Shepherd’s Pie if made with real shepherds – or at least minced lamb!  If made with beef mince it is a Cottage Pie.  Either name, I loved it as much as a child as I do to this day (however as I’m all grown up now, I only mix it up into a potatoey, meaty, ketchupy mouthful at home!)

But even though I make it in the same way that both my Mum and Granny taught me, I recently stumbled across a recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall that makes a very decadent shepherd’s pie.

delicious, comforting, familiar, easy to make, and above all, thrifty

The premise is that it uses up your left-over Sunday roast.  And that for me is great as I’m not one to have reheated day old roast lamb.  I can’t make up my mind whether it is the smell or the gelatinous texture that puts me off so this is a brilliant way of exploiting your leftovers.

Hugh’s Shepherd’s Pie

Ingredients

  • About 1Kg of leftover roast lamb
  • Olive oil
  • Onions
  • Any leftover gravy or lamb juices
  • Small glass of red wine
  • 2 tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2 tbsp Worcester sauce
  • Mashed potatoes made up to cover the dish
  • Seasoning

Method

1st: Heat the olive oil in a saucepan big enough to accommodate all the ingredients.  Coarsely chop the meat and brown in the hot olive oil – this will render out any excess fat and make the meat crispy around the edges.  Remove onto a plate.

2nd: Sweat the onions (I used a leek that was hidden at the back of my fridge and bunged in diced carrot for good measure!) make sure to scrape any meaty bits off the bottom of the pan whilst turning the onions.

3rd: Once the onions are translucent return the meat to the pan and add the red wine, Worcester sauce and ketchup.  Mix in the left over gravy and season to taste.  Simmer gently for a few minutes and if the mixture looks too dry add a little water.  Simmer gently for 20-30mins.

4th: Have a final taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary – add more ketchup, wine, salt/pepper to taste.  Again add a little water to slacken the mixture if you feel it needs it.

5th: Put the mixture into a casserole dish and cover the meat completely with your mashed potatoes.  (I wanted to use up the left over roast potatoes too so I chopped these up into small dice as I want them to retain some shape.  As you can see from the photo I covered half in mashed potato and the other half in diced small potatoes.)  Bake at 200˚C for 30-40mins until the mash is lightly browned on top and the sauce if bubbling around the edges.

Recipe taken and adapted from http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/chefs/hugh-fearnley-whittingstall/hugh-s-mum-s-shepherd-s-pie-recipe

As a meal it ticks all the boxes – delicious, comforting, familiar, easy to make, and above all, thrifty.  With spring warmth having finally kick started but chilly evenings this is the sort of food you want to eat for supper.

This makes a delicious mid-week supper.  If you have left-over lamb that you do not know how to use up I urge you to give it a try – it may seem lengthy but to be honest there really is nothing to it as it is either simmering on your hob or baking in the oven – you are not slaving stove-top for 1hour.  I preferred the diced roast potatoes on-top to the traditional mash and this would take out a whole stage of the process, alternatively using instant mash may also be an option.  What I wouldn’t recommend is that you purposefully roast some lamb to create this as the whole point of this dish is to use up left-over meat so as not to be wasteful.

This recipe should serve 4-6 people but if you need to serve a large number of people you could always add some veg on the side or add minced lamb to make the dish go further.

 

As much fun as the run up to Christmas is – the actual event divides us.  The stress of buying presents that outdo the ones you gave last year or the traditional family arguments has everyone bee-lining for the drinks cabinet upon arrival!  And even though you don’t need a manual to overcome the holiday blues, here is my mantra to see you through the ‘Season of Goodwill’ without needing rehabilitation.

All you need to remember is that Christmas is all about tradition.  Food tradition.  

Presents may come and go but ultimately the reunion of family and friends around a table sharing the same food is what is important.  And what stays with you when you grow-up is the familiarisation and comfort that that food tradition brought.

Our family’s food tradition at Christmas, like many other families in Gibraltar (other than the quintessential prawns, cured meats and cheeses plentiful at every Christmas table) was that on 24th December we would have roast leg of pork followed by my Granny’s trifle and on 25th December we would have roast turkey followed by Christmas pudding and custard with Grandpa’s cinnamon-induced-coughing-fits!

Boxing Day is where many families differed.  In our house, so as not to waste the good meat from Christmas Day, we would have croquettas.

A croqueta is a small breadcrumbed fried food roll containing mashed potatoes and ground meat/shellfish/fish/vegetables and mixed with bechamel sauce.

Again – how your family made these is another tradition.  Making a bechamel sauce would make it richer in taste and definitely more decadent but in a bid to use up Christmas roast leftovers, we would use any remaining roast potatoes (usually having to quickly boil some more) and leftover turkey.  I always remember my Mum and Grandpa processing turkey and potato leftovers in one of those 70’s/80’s stand alone beige plastic electric food grinders.  Then shaping the croquetas into sausage shaped rolls and dregging them through breadcrumbs, egg and then breadcrumbs again before frying them in oil.

croquettes

Even now, celebrating Christmas in the Uk our family tradition is kept going.  Leftover turkey and roasties are destined to be Boxing Day croquetas.  More recently I’ve been partnering these with my homemade chilli jam but ketchup is just as great!  

By the looks of it, we’re not the only family to do this, as Antony Worrall Thompson has provided a turkey and ham croqueta recipe in the Daily Mail’s Boxing Day edition. 

So remember, keeping your food traditions is what it is all about.

I hope you all had a Merry Christmas and wish you the best for the New Year.

The pagans knew how to party!  They marked every festival with mirth and merriment but above all food.  Food playing a central part to their festivities.  So it isn’t really surprising that the Christians adopted this ethos before embarking upon a period of abstinence and denial.

Throughout the 40 days of Lent, people are called to fasting and prayer.  However, the week preceding Lent has become a time of merrymaking, culminating on Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before the ritual fasting of the Lenten season, which begins on Ash Wednesday.

One way to use up the eggs, milk and fats in the house is to add flour to make pancakes.

How to make the perfect pancakescrepes

  • 120g plain flour
  • pinch salt
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 210ml milk
  • 90ml water
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • butter/oil for frying

1st: Combine the dry ingredients in a bowl and create a well in the centre.  In a jug mix the milk and water.

2nd: Crack the eggs into the centre and beat into the flour.  Gradually pour the milk and water mixture until you get a smooth liquid.

3rd: Stir in the oil and allow to stand for approx 30mins.

4th: Heat a non-stick frying pan until very hot and then add the butter or oil until the pan is slicked in the butter/oil.  I tend to drain the excess and then wipe nearly clean with a paper towel.  Lower the heat.  Keep checking the heat as you go as you need the batter to cook before you toss/flip it.

Through experience I normally have to sacrifice my first one to the pancake gods before my batch is to prove bountiful

By the time bubbles are forming and popping on top, and the edges look slightly dry the underside should be golden brown.  Only once golden will it be easy to slide the pancake around in the pan.

photoTo toss or not to toss?

All I can say at this stage is to give it a go.  Flipping a pancake is fun.  And that is what being in the kitchen should be about.  Don’t be afraid.  Tip the frying pan away from you and in one quick movement with a flick of the wrist, toss your pancake into the air towards you – always remembering that you need to try and catch it!!

If you are not going to toss it into the air – once the underside is golden brown you are going to need to flip the pancake over.  Slide a metal spatula quickly under the centre of the pancake and flip over quickly and purposefully.

 

 

Toppingscrepes1

  • Caster sugar and lemon juice
  • Nutella, bananas and hazelnuts
  • Jam (with an extra sprinkle of sugar!)
  • Golden syrup
  • Ice cream
  • Greek Yoghurt and honey

As these are more French crêpes than American hotcakes I wouldn’t go for maple syrup nor crispy bacon as it really does not work here.  Think sugary, chocolaty, rich, decadent and fattening, and you’re on the right track.

At the end of the day, if you’re going to give up sweets and/or chocolate for 40 days why not gorge on them until you’re ready to burst?!

Flipping marvellous!