CBA Cooking 1

It occurred to me today while posting on another forum that I don’t really have regular dishes that I make, because one of the things I like most about cooking is the possibility for variety and tailoring what you eat to how you’re feeling. This week, for example, has been all about the asparagus and the role it can take in a fresh, cool but hearty salad. Asparagus and boiled egg on romaine, asparagus and feta in oregano-speckled scrambled eggs, asparagus, peach and goats’ cheese on a bed of sharp chard, rocket and sorrel. In January I would have told you without hesitation that all I planned to eat for the next month was casseroles and things with beans in. Two or three times a week I’d haul out my beloved orange ceramic Le Creuset casserole and absent-mindedly peel and dice swedes, carrots, onions and tatties and pop them in the oven with some cheap lamb, a pint of stock and a splosh of wine. Job done.

But throughout the year there are some things that I throw together when I haven’t been shopping or I can’t be arsed cooking – hence the title of the post. This will be the first in a series of posts about what I eat when I’m busy or tired or understocked or any combination. The first thing that comes to mind is papa wayk’u.

Papa wayk’u is, literally, boiled potatoes. Wayk’uy means ‘to cook’ in Quechua, but its Spanish equivalent is probably ‘cocer’ – to prepare something by boiling something in water. Papa wayk’u is what you eat in the Bolivian countryside to keep you going as a snack or a basic meal and it ranges from the basic to the delicious, when the potatoes have just been plucked from the ground and are boiled over a wood fire right there in the field. Eating an unpeeled potato is completely anathema, so although the potatoes are cooked in their skins one peels the papery peel off with one’s fingers before eating. They’re usually served with hard-boiled eggs and a simple onion salad, k’allu, which is made by slicing onions very thin, washing them in water several times to take away their sting, and combining them with chopped tomatoes, herbs and sometimes soft cheese.

In London I don’t have the patience to make k’allu or to peel the skins off with my fingers – although that is kind of fun – but I still have the habit of eating lovely floury boiled potatoes with my fingers as a snack. I boil an egg in the same pan and assemble odds and bits to go with them – a bit of tomato, an anchovy or two or some slices of hard, tangy sausage. If there’s salad then that goes on the plate too. Then I shake up a basic vinaigrette – 3 parts oil, one part good vinegar, optional squashed garlic clove/mustard/honey/soy sauce/salt – and pour it over the potatoes. Nothing enlivens a boiled potato like the silky tang of oil and good balsamic vinegar.

Then I scoff them up quick and get back to whatever I was doing :-).

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Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 3:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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If You Go Down To The Woods Today

My housemate makes a lot of noise.  It’s her job.  Often I am lulled awake by the sound of scales being played on the French horn,  hymns on the piano, lovely Bach or the oddly charming farty sounds of the serpent.  But today in place of many of these came a series of excited monkey squeals. ‘Ooh, ooh, squee!’  she cried, ‘we found chicken-of-the-woods!’

Chicken-of-the-woods has tasty flesh and lives in trees.  So far, so avian.  However, it is a mushroom.  To be precise, Laetiporus sulphureus, an enormous deep yellow fungus that creeps along the shadowy crevices of  trees and drains them of their moisture until the tree eventually dies.  It tends to colonise patches of oak woodland and infest all the trees there.  Luckily, as infestations go, it’s one of the ones you can fry in garlic butter and have for lunch. (more…)

Clos Maggiore

Mr Jones and I went to see La traviata the other night at the Royal Opera House.  The stage set was exactly the same as when we saw it last year, which perturbed me a little because I like to think that the huge fairytale fantasy worlds which we see at the opera are constructed freshly for each one. The soprano singing Violetta was very competent, but couldn’t compare to Renee Fleming who was playing this role last time we saw it – so few people can. But as always the opera left me enchanted. I love how Traviata has all these big pop hooks – in every act there’s a tune that you end up singing to yourself later, even if the glorious and agonised swell of  ‘Amami, Alfredo‘ doesn’t stay in your ears and heart for weeks afterwards.

Although you know – once, just once, I would like to see an opera where there’s a man with a dissolute past who falls in love with a powerful woman, but then she leaves him and he dies of heartbreak/TB/hara-kiri before she returns having seen the error of her ways. Also I would like to see an opera or, let’s face it, any story ever in which a lady has a dissolute past and then goes on to enjoy her life, spending her hard-earned money and dying peacefully at an advanced age, surrounded by admirers.

So the music was lovely, although the audience were rather ill-behaved. Not one but two mobile phones went off and there was an outbreak of unbearably loud coughing. Here’s a tip, Traviata audiences: the only person who is supposed to be coughing in here is the lady who’s dying of consumption on stage. Got it? Thanks.

Afterwards, Mr Jones and I pondered where to go for a brief bite to eat. ‘Oh well’, he said with that insouciance that I like so much about him, ‘we could go to Clos Maggiore if you like’. I nodded like a little nanny-goat. I didn’t know what Clos Maggiore was.

Well, friends, it’s a jewel. It’s dark and French and cosy, all made of stained wood, tasteful red leather banquettes, coloured glass and brass. It has a pig with wings on the counter at the front. About fourteen people say good evening to you as you walk in, and they smile while they’re doing so. And then at the back…well, look upon this grainy camera-phone photo and try not to sigh. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 10:43 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Recipe: chhankha de pollo (Bolivian chicken broth soup)

Bolivian chicken broth

I hanker for chhankha

I’ve been feeling a bit peely-wally today, ken, so I’ve made myself invalid soup (with real invalids! J/k). No, not cock-a-leekie, but its Bolivian cousin, chhankha de pollo.   I learned to make this from some schoolteachers and learned to eat it when I was deathly hungover and parched in the strong Andean sun. Bolivians know how to deal with hangovers: they like deep bowls of broth, piping hot so the grease is all dissolved, made from sheep’s head or cow’s foot or anything else that’s no fun to eat unless its been boiling for a few hours and sometimes not even then. Well, I never got in the habit of scooping the tender flesh off half a boiled sheep’s head, but when i’m a little under the weather it’s chhankha de pollo that does the trick. First the recipe, imperfectly remembered. You need chicken legs, white rice, potatoes, onions with long green tops (spring onions will probably do) and broad beans.

Separate the onions from their tops, and finely dice the root. Place it in a saucepan with the chicken legs. Cover them with water, topping up steadily as you go along.

– Simmer a chicken leg, or one for each person, with the onion in clear water until it makes a broth. Season with salt and a stock cube if you want.

– Cook white rice in a separate pot.

– Add peeled potatoes, cut into largish chunks, to the chicken broth.

– When the chicken and potatoes are done and the broth is chickeny, add peeled broad beans and the sliced green tops of the onions. Simmer for 5 minutes or until the beans are done.

– Dollop the rice into the bottom of soup bowls and serve the broth, complete with chicken leg and onion greens, on top.

It’s difficult to get onions with their tops on in the UK, even in London, so I used leeks and substituted Jersey Royals for the delicate, round pink-and-white imilla papa used in Cochabamba. I also did the rice in a rice cooker, o decadent me. But the chhankha is as simple and nourishing as I remember it. Try it, you’ll feel better.

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 9:55 pm  Comments (3)  
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The Old Brewery, Greenwich

Tons of tuns

The Meantime Brewery in Greenwich makes a mean(time) selection of bottled ales. I’ve enjoyed their IPA before now and savoured their stout – it’s respectable, but it’s no Beijing Black or Milton Nero. But I love the idea of brewery restaurants. I went to the Montana Aleworks in Bozeman once and I still remember the salmon and mango salad and big brown ale I enjoyed with it, all surrounded by naked brick walls, lively art and cheery people. So I was all for it when Dr X, in town for the day, suggested a meal in the area.

Set in a handy corner of Wren’s spectacular Old Naval College, the brewery is easy to find – but you could do far worse for places to wander round aimlessly while killing time before dinner. The Naval College is one of the great architectural gems of London, sitting in immense, white dignity at the foot of the park, looking out onto the river. There’s much that’s touristy and naff about Greenwich, but that can’t take away the patina of history around the streets, especially when they include buildings which are both breathtaking in size and scale but also just symmetrically pleasing on a human scale – full of lovely rounded walkways, tactile flagstones, steps to loll on and pillars to hide behind.

On to the brewery! We arrived a little before time, having taken the riverboat from London Bridge and found the little tucked-away courtyard with ease.  It was full of clean wooden tables and chattering folk with golden pints in front of them, condensation pooling down the sides of the glasses.  The smell of chargrilled meat pumped smokily out into the sunny evening.  Suddenly, a drink and a steak seemed like a very fine idea. (more…)

Published in: on May 31, 2010 at 9:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Ariana, princess of Persia

Ariana is an unassuming restaurant in a location which is both splendid and awful. The back, including a covered dining area with warm friendly lights and a chance to enjoy the summer breezes, abuts Mile End Park and is therefore surrounded by healthy, relaxing green space which is maintained in a state of carefully managed wildness and features joggers, strolling families, young guys playing cricket and people of that ilk. The front end lacks this good fortune and opens onto Burdett Rd, which is a bit of a scumhole. Well, not your really awful kind of scumhole, obviously. But rather rough around the edges – it’s a major thoroughfare linking the whole east of the city with Limehouse and the Docklands, and that’s enough to rub the gilt off the nicest of neighbourhoods.

Somewhat surprisingly, this is quite a favourable place to find somewhere to eat. The Orange Room on the other side of the road provides good Lebanese food and Cafe Meds up the street does excellent coffee and mighty omelettes. But Ariana’s where you want to come for dinner really, especially on a balmy May evening when a curry is too heavy and a salad is too light.

The sweet smells and verdant spread of the park outside were echoed in the cooking with generous use of fresh herbs and complex seasonings. This is food with varied, unpredictable flavours which manage to be punchy and subtle by turns.  The dishes aren’t dominated by oil, ghee, garlic or chilli – the classic starter was a well-received plate of large fresh mint and tarragon leaves with a slice of mild curd cheese and some walnuts. You couldn’t imagine anything simpler, but it was so satisfying when wrapped up in a square of fresh bread that I would have happily just dined on that alone.  It was accompanied by a slinky, smoky, divinely tasty aubergine dip, a pink-orange marvel which knocked standard-issue baba ganoush into a cocked hat. (more…)

Published in: on May 27, 2010 at 4:02 pm  Comments (2)  
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SUN

Wow, fellow pasty-faced Britishers! (And all the Britishers who aren’t pasty-faced, because Britishers come in all colours). Look at that sun! LOOK AT IT! Actually, don’t look into it, that’s a really bad idea. But good gravy, what a bright bright sunshiny day. I bet there are loads of you in the park grilling frisbees and tossing burgers and lying about in that frantic Northern European ritual of embracing the Day Star for fear it may never come back, while putting up a convincing front of lackadaisical devil-may-careness and letting the heat melt into your chilly bones.

Me, I’m celebrating in style. Not only am I wearing a strappy, flowery dress but I am eating to match the weather. Today is a melon and feta day and no mistake.

Luckily I’ve had a little honeydew melon chilling in the fridge for the last couple of days. It’s a one-person melon, little bigger than a grapefruit and it came that way because that’s how the nice man outside New Cross station with the £1 fruit and veg bowls sells them. This one was in a bowl of 3 for £1 and it’s been sitting contemplating its fate in the fridge. This morning, it’s nobly spilled its entrails for the cause – with some help from my knife. I sliced it into little bits and matched them with triangular slivers of feta, which I duly placed in my mouth while looking out the window at the sun. Oh, the collision of icy mellow sweetness and audacious milky salt! One tiny bit at a time, crumb and droplet, the odd couple of tastes eyeing each other warily before collapsing into a tangled embrace on my tongue. The result was both gratifying and refreshing.

The rest of my breakfast is crisping in the oven – a round, golden arepa like the face of the sun with some garlicky courgettes and a bit more of that feta to make it sharp. Oh yes. Here comes the summer.

Published in: on May 23, 2010 at 12:21 pm  Leave a Comment