Monday, 28 January 2013

Smoking recipes: semi-dried tomatoes and caramel

How to dry and smoke tomatoes and how to make smoked salted caramel: recipes here on the Secret Garden Club blog. 
Tea Smoking and more smoking recipes here.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Cypriot potatoes supper and Taramosalata recipe

Cypriot red potatoes pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

I held a supper club for Cypriot potatoes this week. When I got the commission last year, several chefs said to me "those are my favourite potatoes". It's a pleasure to work with great ingredients and I ran through the gamut of possible potato recipes, putting the Cypriot spuds through their culinary paces, steaming, boiling, baking, frying, culminating with the highly experimental 'gourmet junk food' dessert of vanilla yoghurt and honey milkshake (très Greek) with cinnamon dusted french fries. I came up with this because I was wracking my brain trying to imagine a dessert with potatoes. In the past I have done a chocolate potato cake but I do hate to repeat myself.

So, idly cruising the net I came across the snippet that many people enjoy dipping their fries into milkshakes or icecream. Huh? I asked on Twitter if anyone did this and got a host of slightly sheepish answers talking about how delicious this combination is. Myself and The Teen, always ones for diligent research that involves eating, went to McDonald's, ordered fries and a vanilla milkshake. I dipped the hot thin salty crispy fry into the thick cold sweet milkshake. We looked at each other in mutual recognition: wow that's pretty good.

I then made it from scratch at home, testing on my mum and dad. Now my mum is the sort of woman who, when I took her to McDonald's for the first time, sat down and asked when the waitress was coming over to take her order. She's not a junk food kinda lady.
Mum and dad were dubious at first but I noticed that ten minutes later they were still eating it.

My supper club guests for the Cypriot potato supper club were perhaps a little more conservative. I got a mixed reaction. Most people liked either the milkshake or the fries but not together. But, they cannot say they've ever been served this before. To me, that's the point of a supper club. I'm not trying to be a restaurant: for that, well, go to a restaurant. I'm playing with ingredients, with recipes, I'm cooking everything from scratch. Things aren't necessarily perfect, but they are unique.

For instance last night, I made taramosalata and pitta bread from scratch. I've never had home-made pitta breads in a Greek/Cypriot restaurant in London. In fact, restaurant blogger Chris Pople maintains that there are no decent authentic Greek/Cypriot restaurants here at all. The UK had an influx of refugees from the Cypriot civil war in the 1970s and the restaurants seem to be stuck in that era, arguably the cuisine could do with a overhaul image-wise.

My menu:

Chase rhubarb potato vodka with freshly squeezed blood orange juice and mint. (Divine. A holiday in a glass)

Mini potatoes baked on a salt bed, topped with sour cream and cods roe. (Pop in mouth carby salty deliciousness).

Greek salad
Pitta breads

Kalamata Olive and home-made preserved lemons with sourdough crust on baked cod
Halloumi and red pepper salad
Broad bean, feta and mint salad
Cypriot potatoes, boiled with butter and mint

Yoghurt, manuka honey icecream milk shake with cinnamon dusted fries made from Cypriot potatoes.
Milkshake with fries  pic: Kerstin Rodgers/
Guests were given goody bags from Cypressa foods (extra-virgin olive oil, pistachios, halloumi and potatoes).

smoked cods roe for home made Taramasalata pic: Kerstin Rodgers/


I haven't made this for a while, ever since it went horribly wrong on one occasion and tasted so bitter I had to throw it all away. With hindsight this was due to the lack of soaking, the lack of skin removal and the grassyness of the olive oil that I used.
Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria and Romania all have a fish roe dip or spread made from smoked cod, carp or herring roe. Sweden has something similar, the wonderful squirt in your mouth 'Abba Kalles' in a tube.
The real taramo is not Barbie-hued but a subtle dusky pink. (And yes this is the correct spelling not taramasalata). The Greek word 'taramas' refers to the fish eggs. You can get the fish eggs in a 'pouch' from your local fishmonger. However there are sustainability issues: we are eating fish babies! One fish and chip shop has taken it off their menu as a result.
There seems to be three main techniques: make it with oil, make it with bread, make it with potatoes. The latter, with potatoes, is more Greek than Cypriot, making it stretchier.  The supermarket versions all contain plenty of bread. I quite like the bready version, whether home-made or shop-bought, as it can dilute the full-on fishiness.
Here is how I made it:

1 pouch of roe (approximately 150g)
1 clove of garlic, minced
125ml of olive oil (not too strong)
150ml of a neutral oil such as groundnut.
Juice of 1 lemon
Parsley and Kalamata olives to decorate

Soak the roe in cold water for two hours. Then take off the skin. This can be fiddly depending on the thickness of the skin, but persist.
Then grind up the garlic in a food processor until it's finely minced.
Place the roe in the food processor and add the oil gradually. It'll dilute and become pale and silky. Add lemon to taste. Top with parsley and olives and an extra dribble of olive oil.

home made Taramasalata pic: Kerstin Rodgers/

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Cypriot potatoes: skordalia

Cyprus potatoes, waxy, red-skinned, firm-fleshed, the Peter Andre of the spud world, are flexible: while I've roasted the older ones, the ones in the shops right now are new, great simply boiled in their skins and slick with mint and butter. Cypriot potatoes are one of the best to cook with, coming from the iron rich red soil farms of that divided island. In North london, we are lucky, we have a sizeable Cypriot population, particularly at the fabulous shops in Green Lanes, where we can buy them, but they are also available at Tesco. This recipe, Skordalia, classically Cypriot, sounds rather unglamorous on the page, consisting of cold mashed potatoes used as a dip. It doesn't sound too appetising does it?

Well you are wrong there, it's super moreish, my lot couldn't stop eating the stuff. One day we had it as part of some meze, the next as an accompaniment to roasted salmon. Garnish with fresh mint (one of the most popular herbs in Cypriot cooking) and flat leaf parsley pesto. This is easier if you have a food processor or an electric mixer, it's got to be as silky as a babies bottom, lumps would ruin it.

Skordalia recipe

Enough for 6-8

500g Cypriot potatoes, peeled and diced
2-3 cloves of garlic (it's supposed to be very garlicky)
50-100ml olive oil
1 egg
Juice of 1 lemon
1-2 tablespoons of sea salt

To garnish:
Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
Handful of fresh flat parsley, finely chopped
Handful of walnuts (optional), finely chopped
More olive oil, lemon and salt

Put the potatoes into a pan of salted cold water and bring to the boil.Boil for ten minutes then drain. Crush the garlic in the blades of the food processor or mince beforehand. Add half the potato, and olive oil and process until smooth.
Squeeze the lemon into a jug and dissolve a tablespoon of salt in the lemon juice. Mix the rest of the olive oil and egg into the jug, whisking thoroughly.
Add the rest of the potato and the contents of the jug into the food processor and whip.
Check for seasoning. Leave to cool.
Garnish: mix ingredients and add olive oil, lemon and salt to taste. Use this as a topping for the cooled skordalia.
Eat with bread, pitta or carrot, cucumber or red pepper batons or fried strips of courgette, red pepper and aubergine. Strangely the cold Skordalia goes very well with hot fish such as oven baked salmon or cod.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Recipes: Khachapuri/Georgian pizza



This is a difficult recipe to get right. I first came across it on my trip to Georgia, the ex-Soviet state, last year. One of the culinary discoveries I enjoyed most was Khachapuri, a kind of pizza, but which contained very salty cheese called Sulguni. Khacha is Georgian for cheese and puri is derived from the Sanskrit for bread, just as a 'puri' is a puffy bread in Indian cooking.
Myself and Helen of Food Stories were both on this trip. We've been mulling it over... where to get Sulguni? How do we make khachapuri when we don't have a tandoori style oven? Which is the best recipe? Yes, these are the things about which food bloggers lay awake at night, fretting.


Another thing that happened in Georgia, on the dusty trails lurching from kvevri to kvevri, was... love! Our Helen met our Donald, a ferociously gifted wine blogger (I'm channelling Cilla here). They both like to party and the rest is history. They are now living together, a formidable team. Love in the blogosphere.
Helen and I have since been searching for convincing recipes. Part of the problem was nowhere in the UK sold Sulguni. The award-winning book The Georgian Feast contained a couple of disappointing recipes that just didn't seem right. The author suggested using Danish Havarti cheese and Muenster, which was just wrong. Had she even been to Georgia, we wondered?
I tried another recipe from the New York Times, which wasn't right either, lacking the yoghurt in the dough, which gives it the desired slightly sour taste.
Then Jerusalem, the book by Ottolenghi, came out, with a recipe for khachapuri. There is a sizeable Jewish population in Georgia, some of whom emigrated to Israel. (The food in Israel is excellent, being influenced by the Jewish diaspora, ie: everywhere.) Khachapuri is a popular snack in Israel, hence its inclusion in 'Jerusalem'.
So Donald, Helen and Chris Pople came over. Helen even found Sulguni in a Bayswater shop! Donald bought a kalashnikov of Armenian brandy! We all decided it was the moment to taste every bizarro dairy product you have ever seen in Eastern European shops but were too scared to ask. You know that  glass of white stuff called 'Puck'? It's basically Dairylea but saltier therefore nicer.
There are two main types of Khachapuri: circular and boat/fish shaped. The 'fish' shape is reputed to be related to Christianity. In Tbilisi we were given the circular Khachapuri, 'megruli', filled and topped with cheese. In other parts of Georgia, you can have 'Ajarian' Khachapuri, which is sometimes topped with an egg.
Despite the Bayswater Sulguni being the 'real' thing, it didn't seem salty enough. One wants a stretchy mozzarella type cheese with a high salt content. Ottolenghi's solution of a mixture of feta, ricotta and halloumi did taste very authentic. However I disagree with one aspect of his recipe: brushing the dough with egg before baking. It wasn't like that in Georgia, in fact the circular version had almost a thin flakey dough encasing the very salty cheese. So it's still not right but we are getting there!
Donald Edwards, Helen Graves, at msmarmitelover's house to make khachapuri

(Tweaked) Jerusalem Khachapuri recipe

250g strong white flour
10g quick acting dried yeast or 20g fresh yeast
1 egg
110g  plain yoghurt
60ml lukewarm water
1 teaspoon salt

40g halloumi cheese, cut into thin slices
20g feta, crumbled
60g ricotta or at a pinch, creamy cottage cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
a pinch of good dried thyme

Eggs optional
Extra salt on top

You know I've stopped sifting flour, I just give it a good stirring with a fork or a few twirls in the food mixer. Most flour nowadays doesn't have lumps and really they ask you to sift it so that it gets air in it. Less washing up!
Anyway, don't bother sifting the flour, into a bowl, add the yeast, egg, yoghurt, water, then the salt. (Try not to let the salt touch the yeast before mixing, it slows down the rising, so Ottolenghi says to pour the liquid ingredients into a well and sprinkle the salt around the rim.) Mix it all together, cover and leave to rise. It's quite a slow rise. At least 2 or 3 hours.
Divide the dough into three parts, rolling each part out into a circle 16cms in diameter (on a floury surface der!). Then stretch each end out into a boat shape. Shove the cheese mixture in the middle and try to close up the sides so it doesn't fall out.
Right, really important: preheat your oven up to as high as it will go. You want its maximum temperature, probably about 250ºC.
I've recently treated myself to a peel so I floured that lightly and carefully moved the khachapuri boats onto the peel. Then, because my technique is not yet that great, I managed to move the boats onto the floor of the hottest oven of my Aga. With an ordinary oven, use either a pizza stone, a bit of marble, or a preheated flat baking tray. You want that heat on the bottom, so don't put it onto a cold tray, you want to seal the bottom.
It takes about 15 minutes to cook. Have a look, see whether it's golden and puffy.
You can break an egg into the boat as a topping if you like, then return the khachapuri into the oven for another five minutes.
Eat with a tarragon and walnut salad, that's very Georgian.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Recipe: brioche and marmalade pudding

Some things are just good to eat. 

Leftover brioche, recipe here.
Marmalade, recipe here.
300ml Single cream
300ml Whole milk
60g sugar
2 eggs, beaten
100g Unsalted butter
Sultanas (I like green ones from Indian shops) soaked in Cointreau if you like 

Butter a baking tin. Cut the brioche into slices and butter both sides. Spread marmalade on the side facing upwards.
Mix the cream, milk, sugar and eggs together. Pour on top.
Sprinkle the plump sultanas on top.
Bake at 180 for 15 minutes or until golden brown.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dippety do dah!

dip (dp)
v. dippeddip·pingdips
1. To plunge briefly into a liquid, as in order to wet, coat, or saturate.

I'm very dippy. Many of you knew that anyway. But I do love a dip. I'm orally fixated (I suspect most food writers are, I wasn't breast-fed you see). The transportation of bread/pitta/vegetables scooped at rapid and repetitive intervals via a silken savoury thick purée into my mouth, is right up my street. 
Getting a fair amount of dip onto the receptacle without dropping it or worse, losing the dipping tool in the dip, is a skill in itself. Of course double dipping is a no-no amongst strangers but if I'm with mates, or drunk, I don't care. Dips are perfect with booze.
You need a blender for these. (I'm using a Vitamix which is like a really powerful blender for extra smoothness).

I make the best Babaghanoush in the world, here is the recipe:

3 large shiny aubergines, charred and skinned
1 large tablespoon of tahini,
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of ground cumin,
2 tablespoons of good olive oil
2 tablespoons of Maldon sea salt
Some pomegranate seeds or parsley to garnish.

I'm doing this on the Aga where I can char my aubergines on the hot plate, turning them as the skin gets black. On a normal gas hob, you can do the same thing, either directly on the flame or on a cast iron flat pan. Or, light a disposable bbq. If you don't have an aga, a gas hob, or a garden/outside space, then perch the disposable bbq on your window sill. Try not to drop it onto someone's head below.
I'm insisting upon this charring process because that's what this dish is all about really, the smoky burnt taste from the aubergines. Always include a little bit (a couple of inches) of the charred skin into the final dip.
When the aubergines look shrunken inside and the skin is all blackened, strip the skin off, discard the stems, and put the flesh into a blender.
Add all the other stuff, keep tasting and adjust it to your taste. That's fine, you can. I'm not a food deity. You can do what you like. You like less salt? Fine. You like more? Go ahead. 

Red pepper dip:

This is a bit like muhammara but even simpler. It takes minutes. I've only put one chilli in which gives you residual heat without blowing your head off.

4 red bell peppers or long red peppers, roasted, skinned
1 red chilli, roasted, skinned
Juice of 1 lemon
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon of ground coriander
1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt
Some nibbed pistachios to garnish (optional)

Roast the peppers and the chilli in an oiled oven tray. This takes about 20 minutes for the bell peppers and 10 for the chilli.
Then, ouchy ouchy, strip the skin off. I find it best to do it while it's hot and steamy, much quicker and easier. Discard the seeds and the stem.
Put the flesh into the blender along with the rest of the ingredients. Let it cool down.

Yellow pepper dip with walnut

2 yellow bell peppers, roasted, skinned
A handful of walnuts
Juice of 1 lemon or lime
2 cloves of garlic, minced
A tiny pinch of saffron
1-2 tablespoons of food sunflower or pumpkin seed oil
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt
Garnish with walnuts or parsley

Follow the roasting peppers instructions above. Blend the flesh with the rest of the ingredients.

Yoghurt dip

So many cultures have a refreshing yoghurty dip: raitha for the Indians, Tzatziki for the Greeks. Call it what you like, I love this stuff and can eat it for breakfast, in bed, lunch or dinner.

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded if it's not good quality, chopped into thin slices.
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt or other good sea salt
300ml of greek style yoghurt
2 tablespoons of dried mint or, Indian trick this, mint sauce in a jar!
Or fresh herbs such as mint (traditional), but feel free to add coriander, dill, parsley, tarragon (very Georgian)
Juice of 1 lemon
More salt to taste

One you've prepped your cucumber slices, salt them. This is a tip I got in France for making the cucumber crunchy. Leave for half an hour or longer.
Then tip away the excess liquid.
Then add the yoghurt and the rest of the ingredients. Garnish with fresh mint.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Let them eat brioche

Because that's the type of cake Marie Antoinette was referring to, except she didn't say it at all. Poor woman, she was accused of terrible things and insensitivity over the price and shortage of bread wasn't the worst of it, she was also accused of incest with her son.
But back to brioche: every French bakery sells this buttery eggy bread. I've never liked it but felt inspired to try making it from scratch, especially I happen to have a vintage brioche mould. It's not a short process, taking around three days altogether. Yup three days according to Dan Lepard's recipe: one night leaving the milk and yeast to ferment, another night leaving the buttery dough to chill overnight. Was it worth it?

Sure, it was buttery as fuck. It tasted like croissant but with a different crumb formation. It's a little like a panettone but without the fruit. My daughter declared that it needed nutella spread on top too.
I took the final brioche by tube to share with my parents over in Clerkenwell. I've still got some left which I'll try toasted, or in a 'brioche and butter' pudding.

For this recipe I used good quality Président unsalted butter which has a low water to fat content. My message for today: spend money on good butter. When we are broke, prioritise spending on the best quality simple ingredients. If you can't afford a meal in a Michelin star restaurant or a holiday in Hawaii, you can at least splash out on a decent pack of butter. As most of us don't have access to the lovely butter from @thebutterviking, go for grass fed cow butter, recognisable from the deep yellow colour or go crazy and buy Echiré.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Winter salads

The month of January is when gyms make their yearly profits; that's when most people join up. But if everybody that joined went regularly, the gyms would be bursting at the seams, unable to fit everyone in. January is when we have an internal spring clean: we promise ourselves that this year, things are going to change, we will get fitter and eat better. Statistically it's unlikely you'll keep going to the gym but you can at least boost your fruit and veg intake by eating salad. Salad in winter? Brrr. But actually it really hits the spot. The lack of sunlight, more time spent indoors, and low-level Seasonal Affective Disorder leads your body to crave the vitamins present in fresh raw food.
Use winter salad 'leaves': endive/chicory both red and white, and cabbage. Grate roots and bulbs in there too: fennel, celeriac, radishes and carrots. They last for ages in the fridge bottom drawer and, even when made up and dressed, do not get 'burnt' as the French call a soggy salad, for you can eat them the next day.
Add citrus, nuts, fruit, pickles, onions, sprouted grains, parmesan, grilled halloumi or feta to spruce up the salad.  Here are some ideas:
Cabbage, rocket, orange and sherry sultana salad:

I made this first for a Scandinavian supper club, it's a kind of slaw.

Half a white cabbage, thinly sliced into ribbons
2 oranges, peeled, thinly sliced into rounds
100g of sultanas, soaked a few hours beforehand in sherry or a dessert wine, rendering them plump with alcohol, then drained. (Actually I just tossed the remaining sherry into the salad)
Half a bag of rocket

The juice of whatever leftover citrus you have in your fruit bowl: I used 1 lemon and 1 grapefruit.
50ml Good pumpkin seed oil.
1 tablespoon of Maldon salt, some in the dressing leaving some to sprinkle on top last minute.

Mix all the ingredients together.
Fennel, blood orange, mint and pomegranate salad:

The aniseedy flavour of fennel and the sturdiness of the root make for a refreshing winter salad. You can also make the classic fennel, orange and black olive salad tossed with your favourite vinaigrette.

2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced lengthways (use a mandolin if you have one)
2 blood oranges, thinly sliced
a handful of fresh mint leaves
Seeds of half a pomegranate, sprinkled over the top

30ml of olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt

Layer the fennel on the bottom of the plate, then the circles of blood oranges, then the mint and pomegranates. Add the dressing immediately and let the fennel soak up the dressing before serving.

Fennel, preserved lemon, watercress and celeriac salad:

2 fennel bulbs, sliced into thin ribbons
1 small celeriac, peeled and sliced into thin ribbons (you need a food processor for this ideally)
Half a bag of watercress salad
2 preserved salted lemons, cut into small pieces
A handful of hazelnuts

30-50ml of hazelnut oil
Juice of 1 lemon or 2, to taste
1 tablespoon of Maldon salt.

Mix everything together.

Endive/chicory salad:
By this I mean the bullet shaped buds of leaves rather than the curly bitter lettuce. Unfortunately it's a 'faux amis' in terms of language: the French call our chicory 'endive' and our endives 'chicorée'.
The British don't use endives much (partly because it's quite expensive to buy) but it's a staple on the French table during winter, either as a salad or baked in a white sauce, each endive wrapped with ham. This year The Secret Garden Club is going to have a go at growing some forced endives, Belgian stylee. Endives/chicory can come blanched (for they are grown underground without light) or in red. When buying white endives, note that the paler the leaves, the less bitter the taste.
Health note: we all need to eat more bitter tasting foods. Bitter is best.
A classic French winter salad recipe is Walnut, Roquefort and endive salad:

4 heads of white or red endive, split in half
60g of roquefort cheese or other blue cheese, diced
50g of walnuts
2 pears, sliced thinly lengthways (optional)

Dressing: you can either go creamy (creme fraiche, more roquefort, garlic and olive oil) or use your normal dressing.
I like to experiment with different oils so I think a walnut oil would be lovely with this.
30ml walnut oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt with some leftover to sprinkle over the salad last minute.

3 carrot salad:

I mixed black or purple carrots, orange carrots and mooli/daikon for colour, crispness and taste.

4 orange carrots, sliced into ribbons with a vegetable peeler or food processor
1 daikon, sliced into ribbons
4 purple carrots, sliced into ribbons
A handful of alfalfa sprouts
30g of sunflower seeds

30-50ml of sunflower oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tablespoons of whole grain mustard
1 tablespoon of Maldon sea salt
Whip this up until it forms a mayonnaise style dressing.

Mix ingredients together, adding the alfalfa sprouts on top.

Come on, what are you waiting for?