Legitimate Displacement Activity in the Time of Covid

Lockdown Lethargy – what a yawn. Right now, I am ignoring the siren call of the ironing board and the growing mountain of clothes begging for attention from me and my deft hand with an iron. Definitely not on today …

The weather is such that comfort food is necessary and provides a legitimate displacement activity. Especially the eating thereof. Last night, I resurrected a dish I made eons ago, not quite when I was a school with God and his friends and the nuns. It proved a great hit with That Man who declared I could ‘make that again, any time.’ Praise indeed.

Jocelyn Dimbleby, the first food writer (later everyone jumped on the bandwagon) to remind me of the watermelon salads I enjoyed in the Middle East as a child, produced a book entitled Marvellous Meals with Mince. Courtesy of her generosity, dear reader, I share this recipe which has nothing to do with watermelon.

I didn’t have the minced pork detailed and used minced veal. Minced chicken or fish (a flavoursome variety) would work well too.

Savoury Pudding with Red Peppers and Green Peppercorns – with thanks and  apologies to Jocelyn Dimbleby.

serves 4 -6 depending on appetites

400g /14oz. minced veal (or pork, beef, chicken, fish. The recipe calls for 500g/17 ozs/1lb but the pack in my freezer contained 400g …)

1 or 2 leeks, depending on size, (not in JD’s recipe, but I like them) sliced not too thinly. (Or ‘slicedly thin’, as I have been known to malaprop.)

2 good-sized red peppers, halved and grilled or oven roasted till charred

2 dessertspoons green peppercorns

2 large cloves of garlic (Not in the original recipe, but I like garlic, too.)

Handful breadcrumbs (Not in the original recipe, but I used sourdough crumbs)

2 large eggs

2 tablespoons red pesto (the recipe called for tomato purée. I didn’t have any. Your choice.)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Greek yoghourt – full fat (essential fatty acids to feed the endocrine system which supports the hormone cascade.)

When the peppers are charred (what wouldn’t I give for a gas hob!), shove them into a bag or wrap in greaseproof paper and leave for a couple of minutes. (You can make this a faster job by using peppers in a jar … cheat by adding smoked paprika to achieve the smokiness of charred peppers.) Then skin the pieces and chop quite small. I got fed up chopping them last night, so I chopped two-thirds and then lined the bottom of the steaming bowl with the other pieces.)

Soften the leeks in butter or olive oil

Chuck the mince in a bowl, grate in the garlic (don’t mess around with garlic presses, you waste time and garlic) mix in the breadcrumbs, the green peppercorns, sea salt and black pepper. Mix in the chopped peppers, leeks and the eggs. Add more breadcrumbs if liked, to absorb some of the juices as it cooks.

Butter or (olive) oil a pudding basin –I lined the bottom of the bowl with red pepper pieces – tip in the veal mix, cover with greaseproof paper and then aluminium foil (note the correct spelling, USA readers!) Put on an upturned saucer or special stand so the pudding bowl doesn’t crack in the saucepan, pour in boiling water to seven-eighths of the way up the bowl. Cover with the lid.

Steam for one hour, making sure to top up with boiling water throughout. You may, of course, cook it in a loaf tin or round cake tin and bake for a similar time, in a medium to hot oven.

Upend into a flan dish or serving dish with sides, wider than the pudding – there will be juices – top with two or three dollops of Greek yoghourt and plenty of fresh coriander or parsley. (Jocelyn Dimbleby recommends green peppercorns but I had used them all in the pudding. Improvisation is all – and I love coriander.) The colours of the savoury pudding, red peppers, white yoghourt and green herbs look so appetizing.

Serve with jacket potatoes (make sure the skin is crunchy!), rice or bird’s eye pasta (orzo) or polenta. Spinach provides a good contrast, as does kale (kalettes are my latest fave green vegetable), cavolo nero, green beans, mange tout, courgettes or a salad.

Take care in these covid days – don’t ignore sensible precautions. I have friends who have been dangerously ill with it and two who have died. It’s worth the effort to stay well: it will annoy the hell out of your enemies.

 

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Post Stress Comfort Food – How to Cope When the Partying is Over.

‘After a good dinner one can forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.’   – Oscar Wilde

After the excesses of the Silly Season, everyone seems to be jumping on the Dry January bandwagon. Personally, I will fight to the death to keep wine o’clock on the agenda. (‘I drink no more than a sponge.’ – Rabelais.) But it is cold! I love salads and eat one for lunch every day but oh, how I love comfort food when the temperature drops after dusk and I am hungry and snug in the warm sanctuary of my home.

Macaroni Cheese is an all-time favourite – everyone knows how to make this – with the addition of fresh, grated garlic to the cheese sauce and lots of chopped parsley thrown in before grilling (broiling) to crisp the top.  Chunks of sautéed spicy chorizo are good too. Served with a mixed green salad or just-wilted spinach – yum.

Risottos hit the spot  – a colourful one with beetroot will cheer any flagging spirit.

Beetroot Risotto – enough for two, or eat it all yourself …

Bunch of spring onions (green onions or scallions), sliced on the diagonal, using both white and green parts

500ml/1 pint  stock – your choice of homemade vegetable, chicken or beef – hot and ready to use

250g/8oz cooked beetroot, coarsely grated

1 large clove garlic, grated (I’d use more …)

150g/6oz Arborio rice/risotto rice

100ml/4fl.oz red wine

heaped tablespoon freshly grated Parmesan

large handful freshly chopped herbs – dill, parsley, basil, celery leaves – whichever you prefer. Herbs are wonderful chelating agents and should be consumed daily to help counter the pollution we encounter from cars driving past, planes flying over.

50g/2ozs soft goat’s cheese

Add half the beetroot to the heated stock and keep warm.

Heat some olive oil, 1-2 tablespoonsful, and gently cook the spring onions without browning.

Add the garlic to the onions and cook for a minute or so, without browning. (Burnt garlic is horrid and you will need to throw away the onions too and start again …)

Stir in the rice and cook for a minute, stirring to coat the rice – add more olive oil or butter if needed.

Pour in the wine, increase the heat until the wine sizzles.

Lower the heat and gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, waiting for the rice to absorb each ladleful before adding another.

When you have added almost all the stock, stir in the rest of the grated beetroot.

Add the remaining stock, cooking gently until the risotto is creamy and still moist, without being sloppy.

Taste for seasoning – I prefer to add sea salt when I eat it (I find most people add too much salt), but I do add fresh black pepper.

Stir in the Parmesan and half the herbs, divide between two bowls, top with the remaining herbs, pieces of goat’s cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Have extra Parmesan on the side.

 

Chicken lends itself to comfort food – try an organic/farmer’s chicken rather than the standard supermarket (tasteless?) alternative.

Chicken in Beer – serves 4

1 free-range chicken 1.5kg/3lbs approx.

olive oil/grapeseed oil  and unsalted butter

50g/2ozs chopped shallots

200g/8ozs mushrooms – small – portabello, giroles, or button, thinly sliced

2+ tablespoons brandy (works with whisky too)

1/3 litre/just over ½  pint of beer, dark is best. Not lager!

teaspoon/5g brown sugar

200ml/1/3 pint double (thick) cream. (I send to use crème fraiche, soured cream or full-fat Greek yoghourt – less cloying on the palate.)

50g unsalted butter, sea salt and fresh black pepper

Fresh herbs to serve.

Oven temperature: 220C/Gas 7/425F/200C in a fan-assisted oven.

When the oven is at temperature, smear the bird with butter and chosen oil, then lay in a roasting dish on its side.

Roast for +/- 40  minutes – basting and turning the chicken regularly – to the other side, on its back and lastly breast up.  Remove the bird to a plate to rest, breast down.

Discard the fat from the pan, add some butter, and sweat the shallots over a low heat. Do not burn.

Add the mushrooms. Stir in and cook for 2-3 minutes.

Add the brandy or whisky and use a wooden spoon to mix in the tasty bits from the bottom of the pan.

Reduce to less than half, add the beer and sugar. Reduce again to about half.

Add the cream and reduce again to a pleasing coating consistency.

Cut  50g butter into small pieces and whisk into the sauce to give it a nice sheen.

Season to taste.

Serve the chicken in the sauce.

Scatter liberally with fresh herbs.

N.B. You can also use chicken portions – adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Bird’s eye pasta is a good accompaniment as is a crunchy salad or al dente green beans with toasted, flaked almonds.

 

Tandoori Chicken – serves 4-6

Prepare 24 hours in advance – or six hours minimum.

Marinade 1

1.5kg-2kg/3-4lbs chicken portions, skinned, and scored deeply.

5g/1 teaspoon fine sea salt

juice of one lemon

Rub the salt and lemon juice into the portions and set aside for 20 minutes.

Marinade 2

450ml/ 15fl.oz plain yoghourt. (I prefer full-fat Greek yoghourt)

I small onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, at least, grated.

small green chilli – if you are worried, just use half , chopped

15ml/1 tablespoon cardamom seeds, crushed

thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, grated

thumb-sized length of cinnamon stick

5ml/1 teaspoon cumin seeds

ditto cloves

ditto black peppercorns

1 whole nutmeg

30ml/2 tablespoons yellow food colouring, mixed with 15ml/1tablespoon red food colouring.

Put the cardomon seeds, cinnamon, cumin seeds, cloves, peppercorns and nutmeg into a coffee grinder and whiz till fine. |You could use powdered spices, but the seeds taste so much better.

Use 2 teaspoons/10ml for this marinade; store remainder in a small jar.

Mix the onion, garlic, chilli, 2 teaspoons spice mix into the  yoghourt – or sling the lot into a processor/blender and blitz – and pour into a large bowl or roasting tin.

Paint the chicken pieces with the food colour.

Pour remainder of food colouring into the yoghourt.

Put the chicken pieces into the yoghourt marinade, cover and leave for 24 hours.

Set oven to the highest setting and bake the chicken for 25 minutes – charred pieces are obligatory!

Scatter with LOTS of fresh coriander – remember the chelation factor.

Serve with Basmati rice and spicy cucumber, (cut cucumber into wedges, sprinkle with salt, pepper, roasted cumin, cayenne and fresh lemon juice), shredded lettuce with sliced red onions and lemon wedges.

 

Whilst I would hope to follow with treacle tart, rhubarb fool, chocolate pie, pear and ginger pie, I wouldn’t, in truth, be able to eat any, more’s the shame. Instead, I’d opt for something light – a fruit salad of fresh lychees, mangoes and blueberries would be good.

 

Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.’ – Guy Fieri

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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