Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Oh no, not BBQ!

Za'atar vs. achar

And so another BBQ season sizzles to its climax with the annual Nothing Hill Grates jerk chicken championship, held over the August bank holiday w/e. I & I, naturally, does not do ckicken, nor jerked 'n' charred flesh of any kind. For me, Carnival can only be about booming bass bins, contact highs and grilled corn cobs. 

This year, what with the rain and all, I stayed dry at home & griddled my own corn, smeared with coconut oil & spiced with red achar masala and green Za'atar from Palestine: the red of the chillies; the green of the wild thyme & the gold of the griddled corn cob. As Bob Marley may say: got to have Kaya now, before the rain comes falling down.

I swerve barbecues because they are irredeemably meaty, but there was a time when I was well into cooking over coals. One fine Summer, on any given Sunday, I ran a rib pit in my back yard, using the bones of the previous week's ribs to make stock for the next week's sauce, using Paul Prudhomme's recipe (swapping pork for chicken stock, obvs.) and marinating each rack of ribs over Saturday night. Indeed, I still feel a pang when I stumble upon an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives and that guy with the peroxide hairdon't is tucking into BBQ briskett. Sigh, as Homer Simpleton might say.

Back in the 1980s when living in Manhattan (and earning my corn by cutting up meat in a restaurant prep kitchen) Papaya King was a second home. Now, the nearest I get to a Kosher frankfurter is vegan hot dogs, Tofu Wieners in particular. A case of these was mistakenly delivered to FareShares but they went in the ‘fridge anyway & became a big hit: “Just like real the real thing,” according to one ingenuous volunteer.

Fat Gay Vegan provoked quite a response when he asked Facebook followers to ‘share photos of your latest vegan hot dog accomplishments... I wanna see them all!’ There were some mighty fine hot diggety dawgs, but I side with the self-proclaimed ‘Vegan hot dog queen’ who confessed, ‘My obsession with sauerkraut on vegan hot dogs is slightly out of hand.’ She sounds like my girl!

Tofu wiener griddled in mini baguette mit sauerkraut & bbq sauce.

This Summer, I've recreated the classic hot dog by griddling the sausage and serving it in a toasted bun, with mustard + sauerkraut. 'Kraut is incredibly good for you, honestly, but it must be served warm and not so sloppy that it soaks the bread. Likesay, the Tofu Wieners, which are supposed to be heated in hot water for three to four minutes, are good for griddlin', but the Vegusto hot dog is squeezed into a plastic skin that must be removed before going near a grill, so steaming 'em is the only way to go. One can then sear the steamed sausage on the grill, but it is a birrova faff. Good flavour, though.

Griddled veggie skewers.
Bun-wise, I like the mini baguettes sold X3 for a quid in the Vietnamese supermarket on Walworth Road. As a French colony, the Viets learned to make fresh bread with no fat in it twice daily, which is great if you can get the bread at breakfast time. However, Longdan has craftily centralised its baking in Leyton and its delivery van has been known to travel to the Elephant via Kingston, so the bread's half a day old already. Getting the buns for my Steely Dan listening party on the roof - at which BBQ veggie skewers were served in mini baguettes, split & toasted and smeared with humous - eventually entailed the manager phoning to advise me of their arrival!

For reasons too dull to explore, I failed to photograph the finished veggie skewer sandwich, but it was a beautiful thing, you may believe. The trick with your veggie skewers is to part roast the peppers, & I used radishes, and to marinate the mushrooms overnight. Cubes of haloumi are an option for non-vegans (on the left, below). Soak the skewers overnight before assembling your kebabs, so they don't burst into flames on the barbie. Actually, I took my griddle up to the roof, so my skewers never actually saw flames. Can you believe I purveyed all those shown below, with humous in mini baguettes, and didn't snap  pic. aof a single one? They were snatching them out of my hand!

Veggie skewers served on the roof, 14.06.14.

I can't end my Summer recipe round-up without mention of vegan mayonnaise. It's really easy to emulsify soya milk, honest. I make it using a stick mixer in a pint glass. You’ll need twice as much oil as soya milk and don’t use good olive oil, except perhaps at the end, to give your ‘mayo’ some class. Start with mustard powder and a splash of apple juice concentrate, add the soya milk and then mix in the oil slowly, blending continuously, until it has a mayonnaise consistency. Pour it over new potatoes, mix it with shredded cabbage & carrot to make coleslaw, or chopped celery, apple & hazelnuts to make Waldorf salad. Happy days!

Vegan coleslaw & potato salad.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Automatic Green Chickpea Curry

These 'automatic' recipes are becoming facile & predictable: soak the peas overnight, then bung 'em in a pressure cooker with green curry paste & coconut milk. Cook!

Going vegan for Lent, I totally got into using coconut oil instead of butter. Actually, it has been a revelation & I don't know why I didn't get it before: saturated coconut fat is better than butter! I love the unctuous flavour that cooking with ghee imparts, but coconut oil is just as satisfying, plus it doesn't come from animals. Doh!

Pertinently, for me, cooking with coconut oil also does not promote hypertension, nor lead to the onset of Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, forty days of abstinence from dairy products has brought down my blood pressure. I did miss cheese, but won't go back to gorging on cheddar and Parmesan. I didn't miss butter, except for a few days during a fortnight when I was away on retreat with no coconut oil to gargle with in the mornings!

I experimented with oil pulling for the benefit of Fareshares' newsletter and have stuck with it, somewhat. Any oil will do, but coconut tastes best. One swooshes it around for 20 mins before expectorating into a bin (not the plumbing, esp. not my overloaded Victorian pipes!). I don't have to defend my rituals, but I am convinced the swooshing does, you know, promote oral hygiene and that.

Any road, I now have a pot of Biona Organic Raw Virgin Coconut Oil on the kitchen counter where my old mum - who became diabetic - would have kept her dripping jar. All my automatic pressure cooker recipes now begin with a dollop of coconut oil, not butter, in the bottom of the cooking pan.

This is a fast version of the green chix curry I frequently do. If you want to serve short grain brown rice with it, as I am wont to do, you'd better get that going first because it will probably take 45 minutes if you let the cooked rice  steam and become properly plump. If you're using quicker rice then follow the destructions innit.

Start by frying finely diced red onion in the coconut oil in the bottom of the pressure cooker before adding the soaked chix, green curry paste and coconut milk, either from a tin, or you might use creamed coconut, re-constitued with boiling water. I prefer the latter because you can mix it up as thick as you like and stir the green curry paste into the hot milk, gauging the end taste, Or you can just pour in a tin of milk and add a dessert spoon of greenn curry paste.

Living at London's cosmopolitan Elephant & Castle, with its dynamic Sino-Viet comminity, I can score green curry paste from a variety of ethnic outlets that also deal in bean sprouts, coriander and limes, but actually I went to Morrisons for those items, where I purchased a coriander plant for 99p. I figured it would do me for a few meals, at least, and I might be able to keep it growing. But I left the plant out over night on a window sill in my dank back yard and a snail ate most of it! Seriously.

I garnished my curry with cubes of fried tofu: those very same fried cubes that are pictured to the left. Frankly, they are superfluous to the recipe and I've only included the photo because its a better shot than the plate at the top of the page. Still. I have become partial to fried tofu cubes. There are those who will tell you that tofu has no flavour, but Sriracha, aka 'cock sauce' has heaps of chilli 'n' garlic flavour and firm fried cubes of tofu are an excellent vehicle for it, I find. Pan fry the tofu in toasted sesame oil, diluted with reg. veg. oil, plus minced ginger and/or garlic, as you like it.

Cook the curry in the pressure cooker until it steams, turn down the gas and cook on for 15 mins more, then turn the heat off and leave the cooker to cool & its pressure to dissipate. Turn out the cooked chickpeas in their creamy 'n' spicy green coconut sauce into a saucepan with a lid, chuck in a handful of bean sprouts and return to the heat with the lid on. We want those sprouts to wilt somewhat and lose the edge off their crunch.

Chop the coriander and cut the lime unto wedges.
Then put  it all on a plate and enjoy!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cauli_Cheese: Slight Reprise

Heston's cheese sauce was the culinary revelation of 2012. The gastronomic Dangermouse made béchamel obsolete by mixing cornflour with finely grated cheese, rather than add it into the liquid to thicken the sauce. Oh, and the liquid isn't milk, which compromises the sauce's cheesiness, but bouillon, which perks it up! 

Cauli w/Red Liecester cheese & Serrano purée sauce.
This revelation occurred on TV in the depths of winter as I was rapidly losing my eyesight. Several times over the ensuing months, as the darkness encroached, I asked my carer, or anyone willing, to make the comforting cheesey sauce for me. Vision restored by surgical intervention, I did not wait for my second cataract operation to essay it here and Easy Macaroni Cheese with Peas was the first proper post on my renamed 'n' reloaded food blog, More Gravy.

Since then, I must have made my crude version of this sauce a million times. Well, a couple of dozen, anyway. Not bragging but FYI, late last year, I cooked a cauliflower cheese for thirty-plus hungry people. For the sauce, I used 3L of Marigold to 800g grated Cheddar, plus two heaped tablespoonfuls of cornflour. It took a minute to thicken, but I am gratified to report that the sauce came together beautifully in the finish & right on time.

At home, I have been known to use my handicap as an excuse to  purchase ready-trimmed florets of cauli 'n' broccoli from the diabolical, rob-yourself so-called 'convenience' store on Walworth Road. I'd much rather use an organic cauli from FareShares, obvs. but they usually sell out pretty swiftly on Thursdays. I'll quickly knock up a cheese sauce while the florets steam, using whatever medium hard cheese is to hand: red Leicester; double Gloucester and, of course, Cheddar, Cheddar, Cheddar.

If I have cheese rinds collected in a little tupperware in the 'fridge, I simmer them in the bouillon to infuse it with cheesiness for twenty minutes or more before making the sauce. Sooner than over-cook the florets, I crisp 'em in the oven. I'm not so fond of cream cheese that I regularly have the stuff hanging around, but if so, I'll finish the sauce by beating a good dollop in, off the heat. More often, liking chilli, I'll mix hot sauce in to finish as with the Cajohns serrano purée in the red Leicester sauce.

The Last Cauli_Cheese supper
But all that cheesiness is behind me, now, for I have given up cheese - and eggs & butter, too - for Lent, to see what it's like being vegan for forty days. If pushed to explain, I refer to this satirical song about spiritual one-upmanship, Dude by I-Fly: 'I've said no to eggs and cheese, but you're just eating what you please.' I know they're joking and I am not particularly respectful of religious rituals, but I suppose I was looking for an opportunity to abstain from consuming all animal products, at least for a while.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Regal Borscht

I have at last joined FareShares, which is going through a transitional phase, you might say. In order to facilitate more relaxed and happy communications at its meetings on the 15th of each month, I suggested that we hold these meetings up the street, at 184 Crampton Street, aka the Pullens Centre and serve food. Specifucally, borscht.


Bootiful borscht with perfect purple ladle
This, then, was the venue of Pullens Soup Kitchen, some seven years ago, a radical experiment in community cohesion that involved making soup in the centre every working day and giving it away at lunchtime, by donation. Some Pullens TAR committee members responded to this subversive initiative with a virulent hate campaign that eventually led to my illegal exclusion from their community association.

Back then, some seven years ago, Prince was in London, playing his legendary 21 nights at the O2. Tickets for those shows were notionally priced at a very reasonable £31.21 - '3121' was the name of the album Prince was promoting and a copy of it, as I recall, came free with each ticket. However, all 21 nights sold out before I got my act together and so I was obliged to work the secondary market, via eBay, or go the traditional route, bunging a wad of cash to a tout outside the venue. Either way, it was loads of hassle and would've cost the best past of an 'undred quid to go on my own to see the little man in a big arena and so, one way or another over three weeks of 02 nights, I passed up the opportunity to experience Prince in the living moment and, boy, do I regret it. It's never the Prince shows one catches that are regrettable.

posh bowl by Daniel Reynolds, Reynoldsware
Back then, Borscht, as recoded on the blog became one of the emblematic soups that our fragile community kitchen did well. After they shut me out, Pullens TRA committee paid one of its members to rip out the old kitchen and bar counter, throwing away the old furniture. They sanitized the building, installing central heating and the ugliest laminate flooring known to man. It is really sad how they have ruined the character of a building that was originally & ingeniously converted for community use by ex-squatters. Still, life goes on and however soulless the remodelled Pullens Centre may be, with its frightful flooring, it remains a perfectly good venue for meetings and there is an oven & hob to reheat food.

In FareShares, I've joined a volunteer organisation that's demoralised by a long-running battle between an increasingly isolated individual and the collective, which seems to be leading inexorably to that individual being excluded. With my own history of exclusion, I would hate to see that happen. We should all be able to get around a table and talk reasonably about our differences. I found through the Soup Kitchen that soup has highly conciliatory properties. Perhaps it has to do with water being such a resonant vehicle for intentionality, so that one can literally taste the love in food that is deliberately made as an act of devotion. I talk of borscht.

standing in your purple moccs
Borscht is Princely, souperficially (sic.) because it is purple. Deeply purple. I too am pretty purple, having recently scored a pair of purple suede moccasins - by Dunlop! - and a purple silicon ladle, from the kitchenshop on Walworth Road formerly known as Paul's (which has actually improved since Paul retired). My old mate, Michael, RIP, he used to love that shop. He used to buy objects from there for their beauty that he would never actually use. But my Mick memorial purple silicon ladle is better than beautiful, it is a perfect tool to perform the jobs I bought it for: forcing puréed borscht through a sieve with the back of it; using its plasticity to scoop thickened soup from the corners of the borscht pot. Worth every penny of the six quid it cost me. My purple ladle is fit for purpose & does not disappoint.

What's further enhanced the quality of my life over recent months is tapes of Prince's gigs with his latest group, 3rdEyeGirl. It's a female power trio, like a funky Band of Gypsys, with Prince wailing on guitar. If you are unaware of Prince's status as a guitar slinger, watch this take over of a supergroup salute to George Harrison. Observe the expression on Dhani Harrison's face at 4:46!

With 3rdEyeGirl, Prince has got his full range of Hendrix tricks & Santana licks out of the box and is playing crunchy, grungy 'reloaded 'versions of old hits from his purple pomp - Let's Go Crazy, She's Always In My Hair - plus his classic guitar solo tunes, such as Bambi and, obviously, Guitar, as well as new group songs with titles in BLOCKCAPSNOGAPS: FIXURLIFEUP & PRETZELBODYLOGIC.

Now Prince is in London, playing shows around town while I am making a fresh vat o' borscht with Lincolnshire-grown beets, plus one Bramley apple per kilo to add a certain jaunty juiciness. Last Sunday, Prince played the Shepherds Bush Empire, but I did not stir my stumps. This Sunday, Prince played Koko in Mornington Crescent and I did make it up there, but baulked when I saw the length of the queue. Someone tweeted that four hours queuing + £70 cash on the door was generously repaid by a stunning, intimate three hour show, but I no longer have the stamina, sadly, to hack that. I have a gammy left foot that can't take too much standing around, even for His Badness. So I may have to reconcile myself to missing his purple nourishment this time around, too.

The previous day I had concocted a hearty purple borscht for the sake of FareShares. The trick to emulating beefiness in a vegan borscht is to mince field mushrooms and sweat them in the base so that they disappear into the soup, leaving their boskiness behind. That and a dessert spoon of yeast extract per litre of bouillon. We shared it, along with other offerings that made up a really good meal, actually, before conducting our monthly FareShares business meeting.

We agreed that next month, March 15th, the evening shall be open to everyone. Past, present and future volunteers are welcome to share food with us. At the February meeting, we were only seven and the conundrum faced by FareShares cannot be resolved in a single sitting, but as Prince famously declared, "All seven and we'll watch them fall. They stand in the way of love & we will smoke them all. With an intellect and a savoir-faire, no one in the whole universe will ever compare to the healing power of vegan borscht."

Not being maudlin about it, but this picfure of my beetrooty left hand is poignant, since it was cut off on 13.04.11. Truly, you do not miss something till it's gone. On the other hand (sic) there's loads of borscht left & I froze some! Prince promises to stay in town for as long as people want to hear him play, so that's not over yet, either. Maybe 3trdEyeGirl will pop up at the Pullens Centre next Friday night?

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Automatic Chilli

Inside the space capsule.

I'm evolving a series of 'automatic' recipes, in which one simply puts all the ingredients in my 1.5L pressure cooker, and this Red & Black Bean Chilli may be the best yet.  

I buy black turtle and red kidney beans from FareShares, soak and cook a cupful of them together in their soak water with chopped tomato and  sweet pepper purée plus chilli 'n' garlic. I lightly roast whole heads of garlic before peeling the cloves and preserving them in oil in the 'fridge for cooking and tend to throw in whole cloves, as seen in this here picture.

I start by frying half a finely-chopped red onion in a splash of vegetable oil and an (optional) knob of butter, adding garlic and chilli. I did have a little of my very own chilli jam - made with a punnet of Scotch bonnets, minced, with a carrier bag of diced sweet red 'n' yellow bell peppers and sweated down with a tablespoonful of molasses - in the bottom of a jar. It got left out of the 'fridge for too long during the Summer and fermented somewhat.  I bunged what was left of it into a big chilli I made last week and I don't know when I'll make more.

Speaking of Chilli Jam, Hot Headz currently has The Chilli Jam Man Original - the original jam that started it all - at half price! Until I get around to making more of my own jam,  I have a jar of chilli powder mixed with smoked paprika that wants using and it's not as if there's any shortage of hot sauce around these parts. Just the other day, I scored a bottle of Walkerswood Scotch bonnet sauce for £1.49 from the Buy'n'Buy Halal meat shop that occupies the former premises of The Beaten Path on Walworth Road.

To cooked onion & chillies, I add half a can of tomatoes and a tablespoonful of red pepper purée  - biber salçası -   sweet or spicey. I tend to buy tatli, the sweet one, and depend upon chillies for heat. Morrisons sells 390g tetra packs of Italian chopped tomatoes with garlic & onion, which I prefer to tins unless they (a) have ring-pulls and (b) are cheap. Alternatively, deploy passata or even a leftover tomatoey pasta sauce. I recently made a chilli using half a jar of Arabiatta.

Add the beans, in their soak water, into the pressure cooker with the other ingredients and add a bit more water to cover them, leaving the 'cooker at least a quarter empty. Put the lid on and cook on high heat until the steam escapes, then turn the heat down and cook on for a further 20 minutes before turning off the heat and leaving the pot to cool as its contents continue to cook.

Red & black bean chocolate chilli on mash.
When the pressure cooker has cooled and relaxed, open it and empty the cooked chilli beans into another pot. If it seems a bit less sloppy than you might prefer, add water. Your chilli should be rich, dark and unctuous. It's almost ready to serve, but before you go ahead, consider the issue of chocolate.

Some say a touch of chocolate in your chilli adds another dimension to its flavour and what they say turns out to be true!

You may add cocoa powder, but I've experimented with the buttons of 73% plain, vegan chocolate sold in the radical bookshop that occupies FareShares' back room, 56aInfoshop. Five buttons melted and mixed in with the chilli certainly gave it a certain je ne sais quoi, but any more buttons was definitely de trop.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Griddled Grass

I don't wish to present myself as the kind of person who enjoys out-of-season vegetables willy nilly, with no thought for the natural order of things, but plump Peruvian asparagus was two punnets for three quid in Marks & Sparks and the first week of January is no time to be abstemious. So, I succumbed. 

Never mind the beans!
 To feast upon what was formerly a fleeting high Summer delicacy in the depths of Winter may signify that we are living through the end of days, but the flavour and mouthfeel of those crunchy griddled spears of 'Sparrow grass' - not to mention the subsequent fragrance of one's urine - are so seductive that it's easy to forgive onseslf for being self indulgent. Unless one is wantonly dunking said spears of griddled 'grass into a jar of Maille (pronounced “my”) Bérnaise sauce, replete with E nos. & egg, never mind its cracked black pepper. But I almost never do that & that is not what this is about. So, like my wee, I shall speak no more of the creamy yet tangy sauce that, according to its manufacturer, represents 'the delicate essence of fine French cooking'.

No, this is ALL about the inspired accompaniments that I conjured up on successive evenings to accompany my reliably great griddled 'grass.

Firstly: a luxurious truffled mashed potato, made with double cream that was extra thick and half a 90g jar of minced black truffles in olive oil that a dear friend gave me, but not for Christmas. It's been lurking in my cupboard, pending risotto (which, now the jar has been opened, is imminent) for a few months. The deeply funky flavour of truffle is intoxicating, but like Chanel, it does not come cheap. This jar bore a price tag of £11.95, which might as well be twelve quid. I don't want to come across as a Sybarite living purely for pleasure and I probably would not be so self-indulgent as to splurge a dozen notes on such a symphony of boskiness, myself. But I didn't buy it, did I?

Posh mash, no messing.
I have refined my mash-making technique - as recently outlined in my aduki pie recipe - to a fine art: whole red spuds, steamed in their skins then left to cool enough to handle & for their jackets to loosen; sliced in half and placed cut side down into a ricer, the action of which will force the flesh of the potatoes through its holes, leaving their skins behind. That is all. Add a few good dollops of cream and as much truffle as you can manage. Combine these three ingredients thoroughly and leave the truffled creamy mash to stand for a few minutes, in the steamer to keep it warm, while the funky flavour fully permeates the mixture.

Griddled grass and truffled mash might call for poached quail's eggs and Champagne, but I would be deaf to such suggestions. Instead, I added a dollop of black beans that I had to hand as part of my serial efforts to evolve recipes for the pressure cooker. As seen in the photo, above.

The very next day, I griddled the other punnet of asparagus that came all the way from Peru.

This time, to accompany the grass, I wanted to use some roots I had left over from the festive season, beetroot & celeriac. My first thought was to have another go at Yotam Ottolenghi's gratin. That's why I bought the cream that ended up in the mash, above. But the cream I bought, when I got home from the shops, turned out to be too extra thick to pour. I figured I'd go back for runnier double cream, but then I remembered this jar of White Sauce for Lasagne that I had in my cupboard.

Now, if I don't want to seem so self-indulgent as to scoff asparagus in midwinter and garnish it with truffles, I absolutely refuse to be characterised as the kind of person who buys jars of ready made béchamel. It was cheap and I was curious, whaddya? So, I used that instead, making it a lot more garlicky with the addition of several cloves from a batch of garlic I'd roasted. The way I like to use garlic, mostly, is to lightly roast whole heads, peel them when cold and preserve the cloves in a jar with oil in the 'fridge, so it's there when I want it and I don't have to faff about, peeling and chopping, which can take a while when you're short-handed. Roasted garlic has a mellower, smokier flavour, plus I find that roasting and preserving one's garlic is preferable to leaving it to sprout and go soft.

I peeled and steamed the roots, sliced 'em as thinly as a one-handed man can and layered them into a small loaf tin with alternate layers of the patented White Sauce. I under-baked it and could've, should've, would've cooked it much longer and slower. But my asparagus was well griddled and I could wait no longer to get my laughing gear around it. I might have eaten the grass separately and no doubt I would have if I'd had a 200g jar of that Bérnaise sauce with cracked black pepper to hand. But there is no documentary evidence of that having happened in this case, despite my local supermarket having discounted said item to £1.19.

As it was, I packed most of my bake back in the tin, sprinkled it with breadcrumbs and gave it nearly another hour in the oven  on low, melting mozzarella on top in the final ten minutes, which did produce an amazing deep purple colour and velvety texture, although the beets totally overpowered the celeriac. The roast garlic in the sauce didn't work, either. Still, I like the idea of layered loaves of root slivers and shall take my investigation further, so I guess the moral of this tale for 2014 is keep striving and fail better.