Chicken and cauliflower pilaf with saffron and almonds

January 28, 2015

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Cauliflower rice. A very finely chopped, rice-like way of preparing cauliflower and one of the many food-stuffs being bandied around Instagram with an invisible ‘carbs are evil’ hashtag lately. See also courgetti. But like quality gin and proper burgers before it, wouldn’t it be a shame for another perfectly good thing to be ruined just because it’s so heavily lauded by wankers on the internet? You enjoy that gin fizz and American cheese covered beef patty! Just don’t bleat on about it like what you’re filling your face with makes a statement about your place in the world.

So cauliflower rice, anyway – I’m into it. It’s a nice alternative to roasting, cheesing and currying the bastard when you’ve tired of those options. And I really like a baked rice dish, where a load of flavours can quietly brew to create something aromatic and and satisfying that you can eat with a spoon, and cauliflower makes for a nice change from basmati. Variety is the spice of life, and all that.

The star of this dish is saffron, with a nice bit of earthiness from cumin and sweetness from shallots, while the chicken that bakes in with it gives a rich meatiness that something bland like cauliflower needs. You could make a vegetarian version that’d be just as good though. Maybe throw in some thyme and an extra bay leaf to replace the chicken’s savoury vibes. You could also, of course, mix actual rice in with the cauliflower rice, but I quite like how light it is with just the cauliflower.

There’s actually not a lot to this dish, so it’s a good one to knock up when you can’t be arsed, but still want something nice.

Ingredients (serves 2)

One head of cauliflower
A handful of raw almonds, roughly chopped
5-6 small shallots
A teaspoon of saffron strands
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
1 bay leaf
A small bunch of parsley
A lemon
4 chicken thighs
Olive oil
Salt/pepper
A small nob of butter

Directions

On the hob, heat a little olive oil in a lidded casserole dish that can go in the oven. Season the chicken thighs and then place them skin-side down in the dish. Fry for 5-10mins on a med heat to colour with the lid on the prevent the oil spitting out.

Meanwhile, finely chop the cauliflower to a rough rice consistency. I’ve head little success with using a blender – it just gets stuck, but give it a go if you’re blender’s not shit. Set aside.

Finely chop the shallots. Revove the chicken thighs from the pan and set aside, then sautee the shallots in the chickeney fat for 5-10mins until beginning to golden.

Add the almonds, bay leaf and cumin and fry for a further couple of mins.

Add the cauliflower, butter, saffron strands and around 200mls (a wine glass, ish) of water and stir well.

Place the chicken thighs, skin side up, on top of the cauliflower and put the lid on the dish.

Stick it in the oven for 35mins at 200c until the chicken is cooked through.

When cooked, remove the chicken, shred it off the bone and set aside.

Finely chop the parsley and stir through the cauliflower with the juice of the lemon.

Serve in bowls with the shredded chicken on top.

*DISCLAMER: yeah yeah, I Instagrammed it, but only to share this excellent recipe.

A spiced apple cake born out of procrastination

November 23, 2014

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You’ll often hear freelancers, or people who work from home, say that their house has never been cleaner than when they’re working to a deadline. Especially if their line of work happens to be creative. Soothing is the regimented task of bleaching out the bathroom tiles, or following the prescribed formula of re-alphabetising a bookshelf when you’re supposed to be sifting through the messier parts of your brain hoping to find gold.

It’s a peculiar kind of ennui that can set in when you find yourself filled with ideas but unable to focus them in any particular direction. I’ve spent the last six months working as a freelance writer and the hunt for commissions takes up a lot of my time, but when an editor bites, actually writing the thing can become more daunting than the prospect of a financial drought, should my pitch emails go unanswered. I’ve mapped out an entire short story collection while spending my evenings running (my latest form of procrastination), but when it comes to committing ideas to words, I’m stumped. What if those ideas sound naive and juvenile once let loose from my own mind? How could I possibly create something that isn’t a laughable imitation of all the Nora Ephron, Miranda July, A.L. Kennedy, Raymond Carver or Samuel Beckett I’ve been filling my mind with lately in an attempt at expertise by osmosis? Beckett! Who do you think you are? Says the sleep-preventing voice of self-doubt that whispers in my ear at 3am most Sundays.

This isn’t a case of writer’s block, to me that self-aggrandising excuse conjures images of old Victorian novelists, clutching their brows while waiting to be struck with a lightening bolt of inspiration. Instead it’s a creeping sense of inadequacy, a resistance to creating for fear it won’t be good enough, the feeling of drowning in a sea of ideas that rages stormily, out of my control.

With cooking, there’s none of that. You follow reliable steps, safe in the knowledge that you will have a tangible end product. Even a recipe that doesn’t turn out as you expected, it still yields a valuable thing. Your story may turn out to be boring or derivative, but you can still enjoy a dry roast chicken with enough gravy.

And so I found myself yesterday, amidst a slew of writing deadlines, accountable to actual editors and ones I’d imposed on myself, baking a spiced apple cake. I have no need for cake. Sweet things have never been my favourite, I’m always ridiculously chasing a weight five pounds below what it’ll ever be and I certainly don’t have the money to splash on ingredients for the most superfluous of foods. You can’t have cake for breakfast, lunch or dinner (although that’s what I’ll be doing now that I have a massive, unnecessary cake that needs eating), and I don’t have plans for guests to consume it.

But while I may have only got through two thirds of my work yesterday, and god knows when I’ll manage to move the stories I’ve been thinking about beyond wild declarations in the pub, I found triumph in the simplicity of a cake. It was the kind of damp sponge created by baking stewed fruit into it at the bottom of the pan, like an ‘Eve’s pudding’ I distinctly remember my mother making once, even though she never really baked (hey, maybe she had work to do). Laced with cloves, cinnamon and star anise its flavour turned out to be as warming as the comfort I got from feeling like I’d achieved at least something this weekend.

So here’s the recipe, should you find yourself in need of a creative escape, or just fancy a simple, autumnal dessert.

Writing about avoiding writing might seem paradoxical, I know, but then I’m sitting here with my coat on, avoiding going to the gym, ‘just quickly bashing out a couple of sentences’ that came to mind while staring mindlessly out the window earlier. Justifying wasting time on the internet in The New Yorker recently, Kenneth Goldsmith said that ‘drifting, daydreaming, and procrastination have long been a part of the writing process’. Here’s hoping he’s right.

Ingredients

6 apples (I used Granny Smith, any kind will do)

250g of butter

220g of caster sugar (plus a spoonful more for the topping)

200g of wholemeal flour

2 teaspoons of baking powder

1/2 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda (Side-note, I was out of baking powder and 2tspns of bicarb worked fine)

4 eggs

1 cinnamon stick

1 star anise

A few cloves

1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon of all spice

1/2 teaspoon of ground nutmeg

100mls of ginger wine

A handful of sultanas

A handful of oats

A handful of flaked almonds

Directions

Peel and chop the apples into cubes. Place in a saucepan with a nob of butter, the ginger wine, the cinnamon, cloves and the star anise and allow to stew on a med heat for 15-20 mins, stirring occasionally. It should end up looking like apple pie filling. Remove the whole spices and set aside.

Cream together the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl.

Whisk the eggs and little by little, alternately add them, the baking powder/bicarb and the flour, sieved, to the butter and sugar, whipping in as you go.

Stir in the powdered spices, the sultanas and a couple of tablespoons of the apple mix.

Grease a cake tin with butter and add the apples. Top with the cake batter and spread evenly.

Bake at 180c for 45mins-1hr, checking that a knife comes out dry before removing from the oven.

Meanwhile, add the oats, almonds and a couple of tablespoons of sugar to a dry frying pan. Allow the sugar to melt and toast the nuts and oats in it while constantly stirring, being careful not to burn it (turn the heat down med-low once the sugar bubbles), for a few mins. Spread onto a chopping board to cool.

Remove the cake from the oven and cool for ten mins. Turn out onto a plate allowing the apples to tumble over the cake.

Break up the oat/almond mix and sprinkle over the cake. Slice and serve warm with vanilla ice cream now, and cold with a cup of tea later.

 

 

Beetroot carpaccio with broad bean salsa verde and goat’s cheese

July 27, 2014

beetroot and goat's cheese salad

I’ve spent a lot of time reading menus on restaurant websites for a piece I was writing this week, and I’ll tell you what, nothing puts a dampener on your green soup like combing through tantalising descriptions of which meats are being shoved into tacos at the moment, or just how many things can be done with an avocado.

Munching on stale cashew nuts and slices of toast nicked from my housemates, my mind kept wandering to more and more elaborate things I could make for my dinner, having been bombarded with words like ’emulsified’, ‘smashed’ and ‘whipped’ all day. I thought, screw simply grating that bunch of beetroots like a savage, or noodling them like some nutter who spends too much time on Pinterest (you rang?), I’m gonna ~carpaccio them, like a fancy badass. (I did this using the flat-blade setting on my spiraliser btw, but you could just use a knife to slice them really thinly)

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It seems as though any chef who’s anyone is wanging a load of broad beans into everything at the moment, in season as they are, which means I too have a fridge full of them. It takes on average a year and a half to get a person-sized portion of the little bastards out of their pods and shells, so I’m always inclined to blend them up into a sauce of sorts to make them go further. Made into a kind of salsa verde, with garlic, olive oil, parsley, anchovies and lemon, they became a brilliant topping for my slivers of beetroot, all salty and grassy against the sweet earthy beets. Throw some goat’s cheese, a winning partner for beetroot, and Bob’s yer uncle, you’ve got a lovely summer salad that you could flog for a tenner up Soho.

This would be great as part of a BBQ spread or served as a starter – if you’re the kind of person who serve starters, because it only takes a bit of blending and assembling to put together, and can easily be made in advance. Or of course, you could slap it in a Tupperware and smugly eat it for your lunch at work while everyone else chows down on Pret sandwiches.

Because of the anchovies in the salsa, this isn’t actually vegetarian, but you could sub for capers for the same salty, umami (eugh, soz) boost if anyone objects to the anchovs.

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Carrot-top and beet-green soup

July 22, 2014

carrot top and beet green soup

Is there anything better than free food? Maybe only free booze but then that gift is a double-edged sword thanks to the threat of a hangover. When carrots and beetroots come with the stems and greens still on (which they do, if like me you’re the kind of bourgeois bastard who buys your vegetables from a health food shop in Dulwich), I’ll often bin them, because, well, laziness. But times are tight chez Silver, thanks to a forced surprise career-change into the world of freelance, so I had a little look around for frugal recipes, and it seems beet-green soup is a proper thing. A delicious thing! This blog’s not called Feast on Scraps for nothing.

Renegade that I am, I threw carrot tops in there too. Carrots and beets work well together in their root form after all, and their leaves also have a flavoursome common ground. This did mean the soup took a good bit more blending than a basic beetroot one, as the carrot leaves are tougher, but I’m sure you can handle that. Does being tougher means they’ve more goodness in? Let’s say it does.

Speaking of goodness, this soup is packed full of it – often-wasted greens come packed with as many vitamins as the kale you’re paying £3 a bag for after all. That’s why it looks so gross – it’s basically a savoury green smoothie. Those are chopped cashew nuts making a vain attempt to tart it up btw. They were nice, include at your discretion.

So get cooking up your cut-offs, for a lunch that’s nutritious, satisfying, and sort of free.

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Beetroot and sweet potato curry

July 10, 2014

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I hear what you’re saying – you’ve seen this dish somewhere before, probably in some regional vegetarian restaurant with the walls rag-painted a sunny yellow that prides itself on its ~kooky mismatched furniture and dark blue glassware. Meat-avoiders who don’t like sweet potato must be fucked, such is its prominence as the ‘vegetarian option’ on pub menus far and wide alongside its culinary cell-mates, goat’s cheese and undisclosed ‘roasted vegetables’ (always pepper and red onion, always).

But let us overlook the supposed naffness of a sweet potato curry and remind ourselves, with this very dish, that it’s an ingredient that shines brightest when you mix it with a load of spice, lends a sauce thickness without having to shit on any healthiness with cream and butter, and goes a very long way in small quantities. There’s just one medium sized sweet potato in the above dish (and not masses else, as you’ll see), and it fed six, easy.

I decided the sweetness of this particular potato would work nicely with earthy South Indian spices since they sit so well with easily-sickly coconut. Speaking of which, there’s a bit of that in there too, but diluted so as not to get a creamy sauce. Used sparingly, and with a can of tomatoes the partially cooked down sweet potato as the main sauce base, you get a nice hint of its flavour without any overwhelming richness.

One of the best curries I’ve ever eaten was a beetroot pachardi at Peckham’s South Indian gem, Ganapati, so since I was looking that way for spices, I threw a chopped beet in too. Holding its shape even after a long cook, it added a necessary amount of bite where some of the sweet potato had broken down, and look at the lovely colour it gives! Maybe this is where all those restaurant with a 90s hangover are going wrong. Beetroots save all!

There’s a reasonably long list of spices here, so you could use a paste if you don’t have them (I’d recommend something mellow like tikka and boost it with fresh chilli and ginger), but I can’t advocate having a load of spices enough. Stored well they last ages, and having a good stock at all times means you’ll never have to eat dull food, even if all you’ve got in is an egg and a potato.

With a couple of birdeye chillies in the mix, this is a fairly hot curry, but palatable thanks to the sweet vegetables and a final drizzle of cooling yoghurt, but adjust to however you like it by using either less birdeye chilli, or a basic red one.

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Sea bream baked with summer lentils and brown shrimp butter sauce

June 10, 2014

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I don’t cook fish much, but I’m trying to keep myself out of restaurants for entirely boring financial reasons, so when I had a hankering for a fancy dinner of a maritime ilk the other day, it was making my own or nothing. But hey, me and my housemate ate this feast, which would easily have had a £17 price-tag if served to you under the light of exposed bulbs by some beardy type in a butchers apron and T-shirt with the sleeves rolled up, for a fraction of the price (£4 that fish!) with a nice bottle of wine, wearing lounge clothes. And we only had to change rooms to pass out on the sofa afterwards. You don’t get that in Soho. Well, mostly.

The fishmongers near where I live, F.C. Soper in Nunhead, since you ask, always has a great selection, for a reasonable price, so I went bananas and got a pot of brown shrimp as well as a couple of lovely fillets of sea bream. Not only because they made the dish seem all ~restaurantey, but because since I tried them served similarly, swimming in butter and herbs, I can’t get enough of the salty, slightly sour edge they offer the polite taste of a meaty white fish. In terms of what they bring to the table, I think they’re like capers with more bite, or crispy bits of bacon with more subtlety.

Lentils are a great addition to a dish you want to beef out without just plonking a few potatoes on the side, and they don’t have to be wintery. Because this dish uses cooked lentils (I just had tinned, but you could use pre-boiled or leftover from another dish), the tomatoes and spinach don’t get long enough in the oven to really cook down so, the finished thing retains a nice freshness.

This would be great if you’ve got friends over, as you basically just wang it in the oven and then fry your shrimps, so the whole thing can be started and on the table within half an hour.

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Honey, oat and quinoa granola

May 26, 2014

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So I make my own granola now, yeah? Scoff all you want (I also live on the Dulwich-really side of Peckham and intend to eat said granola with trendy almond milk – put that in yer pipe and smoke it), but it’s actually for pretty boring, practical reasons. Like a wolf in organically bred sheep’s clothing, granola is one of those foods that purports to be healthy but is generally as sugary as a bowl of Ricicles – many a time have I turned up late for work after scrutinising every box of nice looking cereal in Whole Foods, only to discover that the second ingredient is invariably fructose, or glucose syrup. That’s just sugar by a fancier name, bros! I don’t like eggs or milk, and I’m weird about yoghurt in non savoury dishes, so I’ve generally ended up slinking back to my desk with a bowl of sugar-free muesli and rice milk in some attempt at filling myself up with something healthy, and man that’s a joyless bowl of food – it’s like hipster gruel with currants in.

MY BREAKFAST STRUGGLE – you still with me?

I did find that Dorset honey granola is sweetened with only honey and not that much of it, but who wants to spend £4 a week on granola? So, make your own. It’s cheap – yeah, you’ll have to buy a few bags of nuts and dried fruit and honey and shit, but it’s mainly made from cheapo oats, and a worthy initial investment for something that’s actually very low cost per portion, and those are all things worth having in the cupboard anyway. It’s essentially just throwing things together so you can make it in less than half an hour, and best of all, you can control the ingredients and genuinely know that you’re left with something that is definitely only nuts, seeds, honey and oats. Yeah, yeah, I know honey is also sugar, but good (better?) sugar, yeah, and you don’t need that much of it.

It was (obv) Gwyneth’s recipe for quinoa granola that made me think I should just make my own, but WHOA are quinoa flakes – sort of a gluten free equivalent of rolled oats – expensive, and my mate Harriet said I could just use regular, sort-of-not-as-pricey, and way more multi-use, quinoa instead. Plus, I’ve no beef with gluten myself, so I’ve used good old oats too.

You just need to do the baked oat bit, and then you can throw whatever the eff else you want in it (try peanut M&Ms, treat yourself!) so I’ll give my recipe below, but adapt as you so fancy. Read the rest of this entry »

Cauliflower rice risotto with leek and mushrooms

May 25, 2014

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I’ve not given up carbs or any bullshit like that – I’m just trying to balance out the fact that I YOLO’d the winter away on Pret croissants and cheese. Plus, I get a vegetable box every couple of weeks (from Riverford, and I couldn’t fault their value, service and selection, since you ask) so you’ve got to get creative. You get sent whatever’s in season, and it’s all very well roasting your first few April cauliflowers, but you know, that wears thin quick.

I was previously pretty sceptical about cauliflower rice. It seemed like some joyless substitute for one of the most wonderful of foods, trying to trick you just because it looks the same, but I was actually surprised at just how ‘risotto-ey’ this ‘no grains’ version was – still creamy, still with that al-dente rice bite, but without the post-food coma the heaviness of a regular risotto induces. This also made it pretty great for lunch – or just eating double the amount of without feeling gross.

My blender has given up the ghost after a run in with some chick peas, and my NutriBullet dreams are yet to come true, so I did this one just by chopping up the cauliflower really finely, a task not nearly as tedious as you might thing, and it makes it look all ~rustic, ooh.

Before I moved out of my mother’s to go to university, I used to cook dinners for my sister who was five at the time, regularly sneaking pureed cauliflower into her mac and cheese, and I reckon you could trick a kid with this cauliflower too, as chopping it so fine really does rid it of its vegetable texture.

Throw parmesan in it if you want, cheese rarely ruins anything but I kept the ol’ calories down with a spoon of light Philadelphia, because FML, but that was still really nice.

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Beetroot spaghetti with mackerel and dill dressing

May 24, 2014

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Bought myself a mother-fucking spiraliser! Feel like total badass, noodling away all of my vegetables. The day I got it I couldn’t get Ren & Stimpy’s ‘Billy The Beef Tallow Boy’ song out of my head, but with the lyric, ‘can we deep fry the…’ replaced with ‘can we spiralise the…’ It was quite a day.

Let’s not go and pretend a vegetable noodle is better than pasta btw – I remember once seething through an episode of Ready Steady Cook while Tesco’s most-wanted Anthony Worrall Thompson insistently refer to slivers of courgette as ‘pasta’. Pasta is pasta, long strands of vegetable can be referred to as noodles at best, for the shape.

A noodled vegetable is instead something delicious in its own right – a novel way to eat salad, you could say, and actually, a lot can be said for the familiarity of the twisted texture that certainly makes it as satisfying as pasta, especially when it’s as deeply flavoursome as earthy beetroot, sharp dill and lemon, and rich oily fish. Best of all, this recipe takes less than 15mins.

The dressing for the beetroot comes from a mind-blowingly delicious (yep) beet and bulgar salad on NYT’s Restaurant Takeaway blog, which is essentially just a mustard and dill vinaigrette, but man, is it good with beetroot (nb: I recently made beetroot noodles with no dressing, just the yoghurt topping, and they were a bit dry, so need at least a drizzle of oil). I’m pretty obsessed with the honey, tahini and garlic yoghurt dressing, which I found on life-envy blog, My New Roots. It’s sweet, and nutty and sharp and just extremely tasty so I’ve slapped it on everything lately. I can’t actually find the original post, so I’ll include my remembered version below (soz MNR ILU).

I’d originally planned this recipe with a bit of smoked salmon, but had a frugal panic in Whole Foods and went for smoked mackerel instead. Either would work just as well, but the meatiness of the mackerel certainly made this into a heartier meal.

The beetroot gets a quick stint in the oven because personally, I like hot food better, but if you do fancy them cold, still do the oven bit and let them cool, as the heat softens the rawness out of them slightly, while still retaining the crunch. The peas are just there for a bit of green, so take them or leave them – rocket might be nice instead.

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Turkey, lemon, thyme and quinoa meatballs

May 12, 2014

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We all like to think we are completely in control of all of our decisions, but you’d be a fool to think that we’re not influenced by the surge of information free-flowing towards us every day. Advertisers and the like have known that for decades, but even everyday occurrences will alter your behaviour – noticing a workmate wearing a certain shade of lipstick might mean your make-up is subconsciously altered or you may find yourself differing your bar order depending on who you’re with.

I’ve always fancied myself as a healthy eater. I love a plate of Tayyabs lamb chops and a pile of rice smothered in their truly otherworldly grilled aubergine dhal more than life itself, but a body type that hangs onto fat like an enthusiastic shopper clutching a cut-price Celine bag in a sample sale means that I’ve always embraced the other end of the food spectrum too. And do you know what, I like lentils, so it’s hardly even a chore. That said, with the recent increased influx of clean eating seeping into my Instagram feed this year, opening the online rabbit hole to beautifully photographed meals with not a complex carb in sight, I’ve felt the need to up my game a bit. There’s nothing like all your internet friends going bananas for courgette noodles and green juice to make you think that white rice, roast chicken, spinach and soy sauce isn’t the saintly dinner you’ve been kidding yourself it is all this time. I’ve bought the Gwyneth book! I’m serious about this shit!

Turkey meatballs seem to be a much loved food of the feel-good set – low fat, easily flavoured, and easy to make yet fancy-enough looking to give you good Instagram boast-fodder, so I had a bash at my own version, since I’m now a self-appointed member of this smug-club. Initiation through meatballs.

The reasonably bland turkey took on the flavours of the lemon and thyme in these meatballs beautifully to create bites that were both fresh and richly herby, while the added quinoa not only made the meat go further (I got two portions out of just a third of a packet of mince) but made them nutty and wholesome. The tomato sauce here was just quick and basic, so I’d say just it however you usually would make it, or use a simple bit of passata or something, but I’ll throw in the details of my version anyway.

I just had them with some steamed greens, since there was grain in the balls, but you could have them with some spiralised courgette, if you really want to up your likes.

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