Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Back-of-the-fridge dinners


Sunday is when I run errands. I start early at the flower market, then on to Fabrique to pick up some bread for the week and a couple of cardamom buns for Sunday tea, next The Turkish Food Centre on Ridley Road for yoghurt, feta, olives, spices and finally - nearly home - the greengrocers’ for big bunches of herbs, fruit and veg. Sorry if this is beginning to sound a bit Goop. I warn you it’s not going to get much better. If it helps, you would almost certainly be horrified at the state of my jump-out-of-bed-and-get-going fashion stylin’.

To make room for all of the fresh stuff, on Saturday I rummage through the fridge and cupboards for anything that needs using up. Ends of cheese, wilting half heads of celery, softening spinach, dairy leaping over its sell-by date, olives lurking at the bottom of tubs, a remembrance of drinks parties past, everything short of a biohazard ends up in salads, soups, casseroles or pies. There is a pleasing randomness to Saturday night tea at our house. Here is this weekend’s experiment.

Saturday night chorizo and fennel


A few slightly vintage chorizo sausages, some bulbs of less-than-perky fennel, a bendy leek and a stick of celery I could almost certainly have wrapped into a bow if I’d so desired were the inspiration for this supper. Take your time browning the fennel and softening the onions – it really adds to the flavour. If I’d had some feta lurking at the back of the fridge, I’d have crumbled that over the top at the end too.

Serves 4

3 bulbs of fennel
A few tablespoons of olive oil
250g cooking chorizo, cut into 4cm chunks
3 onions, finely diced
1 leek, white and pale green part only, finely sliced
1 stick of celery, finely diced
3-4 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 red chilli, finely minced – remove the membrane and seeds if you like a milder flavour
2 teaspoons ground cumin
200ml white wine
100ml red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon tomato purée
400g tin chopped tomatoes or whole cherry tomatoes
400ml chicken stock
Small bunch of parsley, tough stalks removed, finely chopped
Small bunch of coriander, tough stalks removed, finely chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Trim any brown bits off the fennel and save any fronds to finish the dish. Cut each bulb into 6-8 wedges lengthways, depending on its size. Keep the root and core intact so the wedges hold together.

Warm a splash of olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed casserole over a medium heat and sauté the chunks of chorizo until they take on a bit of colour then remove them to a bowl with tongs or a slotted spoon – you want to leave enough of the nice, red, spicy fat in the pan to fry everything else. Raise the heat a bit and put the fennel wedges into the same pan. Sauté on both sides until they take on some colour. You’ll have to do this in a couple of batches. As each wedge is done, put it in the bowl with the chorizo.

Make sure to get the fennel nice and golden.

I love these tinned tomatoes.

When you’ve cooked all the chorizo and fennel, lower the heat and tip the onions and leek into the same pan. Add a pinch of salt and cook, stirring from time to time, until very soft, about 30 minutes. Add the celery and sauté for a further 5 minutes. Add the garlic, chilli and cumin and sauté, stirring, for a minute. Pour in the wine and vinegar and simmer quite hard until most of the liquid has evaporated. Stir in the tomato purée, chicken stock and tinned tomatoes. Simmer for 5 minutes. Add the reserved chorizo and fennel, cover and simmer gently for 30 minutes until the fennel is very tender. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 5-10 minutes until thickened slightly. Season, stir in the coriander, parsley and any reserved fennel fronds and serve.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Welcome Home Breakfast Eggs


I spent most of the summer, with a little back and forth, in south west France. You’d think a person couldn’t live on oysters, peaches and rosé alone but I’m here to tell you if you try very hard and put in the hours, you really can. As delightful as that sounds and, hell, is, I miss Hackney - my dearest, dirty, cranky and sometimes just plain weird belovèd - when we’re apart too long. I miss being able to eat lunch whenever you want, a petition on every counter and a pop-up on every corner, I miss the bearded boys and the tattooed girls and being able to buy five different kinds of anything you want at midnight.

And I definitely miss Turkish food. When I come home, I like to have breakfast at one of the many cafés on Stoke Newington High Street. In summer, I’ll take the trad plate of olives, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, tomato, boiled egg and simit bread with honey. Around about now, I choose menemen, a combination of hot peppers, tomatoes and chillies with scrambled eggs.

Even on cold days, I sit at a pavement table. This isn’t just because I usually have my dog with me, but because it’s all the better to watch the neighbourhood theatre: the boys in the barbers’ having precise and elaborate patterns shaved into their hair, skateboarders whizzing past (cue Barney: ‘BARK BARK BARK’), young couples with buggies, old ladies wheeling bags of laundry, the women in the flower shop arranging their pavement display and old men absent-mindedly working colourful tesbih, or worry beads, through their fingers. If I’m really lucky, I might see a Turkish wedding – so much mascara, so much hair, so much satin, so many metres of ribbon looped into festive decoration on newly-polished cars.

This weekend, as I sat over my breakfast menemen, I thought about how I always feel more inclined to make new resolutions in autumn than I do in the dreary milk-thistle-laced days of January. I may not have name tapes, new socks and sharpened pencils but I have new ideas and intentions. One of these is to post more here about my favourite things: daily life here in east London and all of the time I spend in France. I hope you’ll come along with me, jump in, comment, and tell me about some of your own favourite things. I’d love to hear about them.

Autumn in East London

Graffiti in Abbot Street, Hackney.

Tree with a hole in it, Clissold Park.

The beginning of the football season, Emirates Stadium, when we still dare to hope.

Chillies, autumn flowers and leaves in the kitchen.

Yellows and Golds at Columbia Road Market

2014-09-28 13.08.09

2014-09-28 13.16.35
Yellow mums.

2014-09-28 13.17.27
Chinese lanterns.

Turkish Breakfast Eggs


You can add spicy sausage or bacon to this if you like. You can also poach the eggs in the sauce rather than scramble them. You sometimes see this described as menemen, but it’s really shakshouka. If you’d like to make a poached version, make small wells in the thick sauce with the back of a spoon, tip an egg into each well and put a lid on the pan for a few minutes until the whites are just set.

1 tablespoon olive oil
A knob of butter
2 red onions, halved and finely sliced
2 red peppers, halved, cored, deseeded and sliced (it’s more usual to use a combination of red and green, but red its what I had and I prefer it anyway)
3 garlic cloves, finely grated
1 red chilli, finely chopped – leave in the seeds and membrane if you like a little heat
4 large, ripe tomatoes, cored and finely diced – don’t bother to skin or deseed them
A good pinch of sugar
Some chilli flakes (optional)
4 eggs, seasoned and lightly beaten
A small handful of parsley, tough stalks removed and chopped
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

Warm the olive oil and butter in a frying pan approximately 20cm diameter over a medium heat until the butter has melted and stopped foaming. Add the onion, peppers, garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt and fry, stirring from time to time, until everything is softened. This should take about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and sugar. Stir and continue to cook, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is thickened – you want it to be rich, and not watery at all. Taste, season and add a pinch or two of chilli flakes if it’s not fiery enough for you.

Season the eggs with salt and pepper and pour them onto the vegetables. Don’t stir them at this point. You want them to set a little before you stir them into the eggs. At the last minute, just before serving, give everything a brief stir, scatter with parsley and eat with bread.

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