Pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies

I roasted some slices of pumpkin (or technically some kind of green pumpkin shaped squash) as a vegetable, and there was some left over. So I invented pumpkin and chocolate chip cookies:

It’s a fairly basic cookie recipe with oats, chopped roasted pumpkin and chopped dark chocolate. They’re not the most amazing thing I’ve ever cooked, but they’re OK. Might have been better with a slightly sweeter chocolate, but I just used what was in the fridge, which was very dark.

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Christmas biscuits*

I did some baking yesterday.

There’s nothing especially Christmassy about the recipes themselves — ginger biscuits with candied peel and chocolate chip oat cookies — but I did make them sparkly.

It’s quite hard to photograph the glitter. It’s actually holographic rainbow sparkles, but in photographs it just looks silver.

* Note for Americans: not those kind of biscuits, obvs.

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Belated World Cup food blogging: Algeria

I wasn’t going to do World Cup food blogging for the Algeria gam, because I was out that night at a friend’s house, but as it happens I did a somewhat appropriate dish yesterday because I happened to have the right ingredients. It’s lamb meatballs in an aubergine sauce, and it’s based on a couple of dishes from Claudia Roden’s Tamarind and Saffron. I don’t actually know which part of North Africa or the Middle East they were from, but it’s close enough.

I know it looks a bit underwhelming in that snap from my phone, but actually it was nice; the aubergine made a sort of creamy sauce and it was quite a delicate sort of dish.

The meatballs are just lamb mince with egg and a bit of cumin and allspice; the sauce is roasted, mashed aubergine with a bit of yoghurt. And, you know, some of the brown lamby bits deglazed from the pan and some salt and pepper.

World Cup food blogging: USA

Well, that was a bit depressing: not so much because of the result, but the tendency to revert to long balls hoofed up the front, the lack of involvement of England’s wingers, the lack of controlled possession in midfield… all the usual England failings, in fact. Not to mention the further undermining of confidence in England’s goalkeepers. Ho hum.

However, World Cup food blogging must carry on. And so, my USA-themed food: cornbread and creole fried shrimp. The cornbread recipe I used was this one. Partially because it’s a British recipe, so I can weigh my ingredients rather than all that measuring quantities by the cup that American recipes do. And partially because it suggests substituting yoghurt for buttermilk, which is what I was planning to do anyway. I cut down the quantity of chillies slightly and cooked it in a pre-heated cast iron frying pan, though. It turned out rather nice, I must say:

The shrimp was a bit of an improvised recipe; I covered the prawns in a homemade creole-type seasoning mix — chopped thyme, dried oregano, paprika, crushed garlic, a dribble of pepper sauce, black pepper — and left for a couple of hours (the duration of the Nigeria-Argentina game, in fact).

Then I basically did the standard flour-egg-breadcrumb thing except with a mixture of cornmeal and cornstarch instead of breadcrumbs, and deep-fried them. Came out looking quite impressive:

But actually, although it tasted OK, the coating was a bit coarse and not very crispy. I don’t do a lot of deep-frying, so I don’t really know why… oil not hot enough? I think if I tried to do a cornmeal based coating again, I would use a wet batter rather than dry cornmeal coating. You live and learn.

I’d definitely do the cornbread again, though. Yummy.

So, roll on Algeria!

Passionfruit tart

The filling is basically Raymond Blanc’s lemon tart recipe with passionfruit instead of lemon.

I put the passionfruit through a sieve to get the juice and then put a couple of teaspoons of the seeds back in for decorative effect and a bit of crunch.

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Cooking tips: boil potatoes in cold water

Another thing I wish someone had told me when I first started cooking: you should cook potatoes in cold water. Obviously you do need to apply heat, otherwise you just get wet potatoes. The idea is to put them in a pan of cold water and then bring it up to the boil.

I think I learned this from a TV show where it was simply stated as Truth without explanation, but you can see why it makes sense: you don’t want the outside of the potato to be cooked while the middle is still raw. That’s not a problem with something like green beans, so those can be put straight into a pan of boiling water.

So for example, to make delicious boiled new potatoes: put the potatoes into a pan, add enough cold water to just cover them, and heat it until the water starts to boil. Add some salt, put a lid on the pan, and leave it on a low heat until the potatoes are cooked (test by sticking a knife into them). Drain the water off, chuck a bit of butter and some salt and pepper into the pan. Add some chopped chives or something, if you like. Swirl the potatoes around a bit to coat them with butter, take them off the heat and leave with the lid on for a few minutes so they absorb some of the butter and seasoning.

The potatoes will retain their heat for a surprisingly long time in a covered pan, so I often put the potatoes on the heat even before I’ve decided what else I’m cooking. They’ll still be fine after sitting around for twenty minutes or so.

The other cunning tip about boiling potatoes is: don’t just throw away the water you cooked them in. It serves as a sort of basic stock, just a bit more savoury than plain water. I always use it in the gravy when I’m cooking a roast, for example. I’m not suggesting you keep little tubs of it in the freezer; just don’t tip it straight down the sink, in case it comes in handy.

» New potatoes is © Jack Hynes and used under a CC by-nc-sa licence.

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Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew (addendum)

Just another thought that occurred to me while I was cooking this the other day:

Food isn’t fashion.

I’m always annoyed by the way they present food products in the style section of the Sunday paper: a stylish-looking package of olive oil/chocolate/wine floating in white space to tempt shoppers as though it was a new pair of shoes or some face cream. Or those terribly precious delicatessens with largely empty shelves which just have a few products artfully arranged as though they were Fabergé eggs rather than, for example, eggs.

It’s not the cost — I’m not averse to spending money on food — it’s the suggestion that good food is just a style issue. Which is kind of ridiculous. For example, Spanish food has been a bit trendy over the past couple of years in London, and so people who care about such things are perhaps more likely to buy Spanish Iberico ham where before they would have bought Italian prosciutto. And why not, it’s a great product. But there’s nothing new about it. It is made in the same way as ham has been made over half of Europe for hundreds of years. It may be new to us, but it is the most traditionally produced product imaginable, the antithesis of fashion.

So what’s the significance of the [delicious if not very photogenic] gloop? Well, it’s a sausage casserole. And sausage casserole is, for me, a dish very much associated with bad student cooking: cheap sausages, too much tinned tomato, big lumps of random vegetables. My sausage casserole was made with Toulouse sausages and chorizo, a mixture of brown lentils and black beans, a jar of Spanish tomato and red pepper sauce, all backed up with lots of onion, celery, garlic, bacon, fresh herbs, and stock made with the carcass of a roast organic chicken and a pig’s trotter for extra oomph. It’s somewhere between a cassoulet and a feijoada. But it is still, really, a sausage casserole. The difference is that I am a better cook than I was back then, using better ingredients and making better use of them.

My personal tiny epiphany about this came when I was looking through an Italian cookbook and found a recipe for polpettone. You take minced beef, mix in some onion, herbs, garlic, chopped salami, milk-soaked breadcrumbs and grated parmesan, press it into a bread tin and cook it in the oven. In other words, it’s meatloaf. But up until that point I had entirely associated meatloaf with blue-collar American cooking of a, umm, not very aspirational kind. In the sitcom Roseanne, she was always cooking meatloaf, and I’m sure I’ve seen it used elsewhere in US popular culture as a signifier of social class. But seeing it in an Italian cookbook with an Italian name made me look at the recipe and think, you know, that actually sounds rather delicious. And it was. My preconceptions about meatloaf were simple snobbery.

Maybe there are some dishes which are genuinely just a bad idea, but which were inexplicably popular at some time or other. But generally, no matter how old-fashioned or déclassé or boring you think a dish is, if you make it carefully and thoughtfully with good ingredients it will be delicious.

[The first two parts of Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew are here and here.]

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Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew (part two)

The first part was very broad-brush stuff: here I get (slightly) more specific.

Learning to cook is a lifelong project.

Learning to cook is a cumulative process. Some bits of it are widely applicable, but there are also many small pieces of specific knowledge. They aren’t generally complicated or difficult, but there are a lot of them, because there are so many different ingredients and cooking techniques. You build up a stock of knowledge as you learn new recipes. You can’t really rush that process, short of going to catering college or working in a restaurant so that you’re cooking all day every day. But learning is part of the fun.

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Everything I Know About Cooking, I Learnt From Making Stew*

These are some general thoughts about cooking; things I wish someone had told me when I first started. If you’re wondering about my credentials to be handing out that kind of advice… well, I don’t have any. I’m just a keen home cook. So take it with a pinch of salt.

Cooking is easy.

This is how to make a stew:

Peel, chop and brown some onions. Brown some chunks of meat. Put the onions and meat into a casserole. Put a glug of wine (or water, or whatever seems appropriate)  into the hot pan the meat was fried in and while it boils away a bit, scrape up the sticky brown goodness from the pan; pour that into the casserole as well. And some stock, a few vegetables, some herbs (perhaps a few bay leaves, sprigs of thyme and parsley stalks) and some salt and pepper. Leave it in a low oven or over a low heat for a few hours.

None of that is difficult.

I don’t want to be glib about this; I know that when you first start cooking, even quite simple things like peeling, chopping and browning an onion can be intimidating. Everything is new to you so you’re never quite sure you’re doing anything right; you’re not particularly comfortable handling knives; the onions make you cry†; you’re not quite sure what level of brown you’re aiming for.†

You’re never going to remove that learning curve completely. But we’re talking about a pretty manageable level of difficulty here.

Admittedly, not all dishes are easy; some things are technical, or require very precise timing, or have a chance of going dramatically wrong. But not as many as you might think. It’s entirely possible to avoid all that difficult stuff and still have a whole repertoire of delicious recipes that you can use to impress your friends/colleagues/in-laws/potential bedmates.

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