I’ve been alone all week while my husband traveled to Baghdad, but instead of moping, I’ve been whipping up a storm in the kitchen and taking this opportunity to cook some of the things I know he doesn’t like. Also, I’m heading to Amman for a couple of weeks, so I had to sneak a little bit of my beloved pork into my menu before the trip. Pork is one of those things that I can go without for some time, but the moment it’s not around I have a momentary panic. Hopefully, I’ve topped up my tank enough to get me through. I also played with a couple of things that I’ve tried in restaurants and hoped to recreate. The results were so good I want to share them. A quick note on my recipes, I am using weight for many of my measurements because it’s much more accurate and once you get used to it, and much easier than cups – invest in a little digital scale, I urge you! Short of that, you can turn my measurements into ones you are comfortable using on many websites online.
While I was at the fishmonger last weekend I got some lovely halibut fillets for a simple dinner, but spied a small plastic bag full of freshly picked white crab. I’m a sucker for crab and the less prep work I have to do, the better. It was a little dear, but I thought a perfect little treat for diner a une! Normally I’d gravitate towards salad or noodles with an Asian flare with fresh crab, but since the weather is colder now than it was in January, I made lovely crab cakes served with sweet potato chips and steamed sugar snaps with mint. The trick to making crab cakes really delicious, I think, is to balance the light fresh crab taste with the ingredients you mix it with. To half a pound of white crab I added 2 tablespoons of sauteed red onion and a clove of minced garlic, 1 tablespoon mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs, a couple of snips of fresh chives, 1/2 teaspoon salt, a pinch of black pepper, just a hint of lemon zest and 1/2 teaspoon of dijon mustard (some people love Old Bay seasoning, I don’t, but it would be the perfect place for it). Give that a good stir and now add a beaten egg white. Form the crab mixture into nice sized crab cakes and dredge them in more panko breadcrumbs until they’re nicely coated. Place them in the fridge for about half an hour to let them set and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Fry the cakes in a very hot pan with some canola oil – about five minutes on each side without moving. Now transfer your pan to the preheated oven and allow to warm through for another 2-3 minutes. Let them drain for a little bit on some paper towels and there you have an indulgent treat.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been making up every excuse I can to go to the Whole Foods on Kensington High Street. I do have a fetish for food shopping much like other women do for shoes, but my real goal is a stop at the little Ottolenghi shop just across from where the bus lets me off. There I pick up one of their mini loaves of lemon polenta cake – they are delightfully cute with chopped pistachios on top and so good I rarely make it all the way home. After my first lemon polenta cake experience I came home and googled it to see if I could track down the recipe. This could become a very expensive habit, if I wasn’t careful. To my dismay, apparently Yotam Ottolenghi has been clever with this one and never published the recipe in his many books or newspaper columns. Instead, I was going to have to fashion something to satiate my craving. Here’s the result, in loaf form with the addition of some rosewater in the icing on top (because I think it’s that sneaky addition that I love so much).
Lemon Polenta Cake with a Rosewater Pistachio Glaze
6 ounces softened unsalted butter
8 ounces granulated sugar
7 ounces ground almonds
3 large eggs
4 lemons, zested and the juice of one of them
4 ounces polenta
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon of salt
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and grease a loaf tin (meticulously!). In a food processor (or by hand if you prefer) mix together all of the ingredients. Plonk this into your prepared tin and pop into the hot oven. Cook for an hour to 70 minutes – the cake should come away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool COMPLETELY on a wire rack before turning it out.
for the glaze:
4 ounces powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon rosewater (a little goes a very long way!)
1 lemon, juiced
Mix the sugar, rosewater and lemon juice together until a lovely, drizzly glaze forms. You may need to add a little more or less lemon juice, go slowly. When the cake has cooled completely, pour the glaze on top allowing it to spill down the sides. Scatter the pistachios on top.
My chicken stock obsession has yielded so many tasty recipes for me over these cold winter weeks. It’s terrific to have moist chicken sitting in my fridge waiting for me to transform it into whatever my mood feels like that day. Inspired by La Tartine Gourmande, I often pick up the bags of pre-cooked rice noodles at the grocery. That along with the chicken some fresh vegetables and herbs and a light Asian inspired dressing makes a lovely chicken salad that takes no time to throw together if you have the ingredients on hand. You can always substitute a store-bought rotisserie chicken if your chicken stock obsession hasn’t taken hold yet (I so recommend it though). Onto the bed of prepared rice noodles and shredded chicken, I added thin slices of fennel, pepper, red onion, cucumber (the mandolin I recommended last week comes in very handy here), some mint leaves and torn basil. The dressing is easy and can be used for so many things that I make a big batch and keep it in a jar in the fridge: 2 tablespoons ginger and 1 garlic clove grated on a microplane, 3 tablespoons fish sauce, juice of three limes and 4 tablespoons of sesame oil. Dump some dressing on top of it all and a few pink peppercorns crushed in your palms on top for the final flourish!
Everywhere I go I’ve been seeing spirulina. Huh, you ask? Yeah, I said that too until I started reading about the health benefits of what is essentially cultivated pond scum. I bought a packet of this pungent, bright green powder (yes, on a trip to Whole Foods that started with a lemon polenta cake that I’m certain undoes any good that might come from this). Anyway, I had no idea what to do with it. First time I tried to add it just to water and almost vomited from the taste – really, like pond scum on a hot summer’s day. Then I went to The Providores for brunch and saw they offered a spirulina smoothie on the menu. In an effort to eat my greens I ordered it and it was so delicious I asked how they’d made it. It’s taken me some trial and error here at home, but I’ve finally come up with a smoothie that’s great before yoga class or as a mid-afternoon pick me up. It’s really filling and with all of the good things that spirulina reportedly does for you, it’s got to be worth a try. In a blender I place one banana, one scant tablespoon spirulina powder, one scoop of whey protein powder, a half cup of fresh apple juice (no sugar added) and a nice handful of ice. Blend and serve (you may want to add more apple juice depending on how thick yours ends up). Serves 2 easily.
I love myself a little Thomas Keller from time to time. His cookbooks are like masterclasses in technique – I seriously feel like I could have worked my way through his Bouchon cookbook and learned almost as much as I did at culinary school. This week I cracked open his Ad Hoc book which is inspired by dishes as his more casual restaurant in California’s wine country, and was again in awe of the meticulousness of his recipes and attention to each and every detail. Many of the offerings require multiple steps and a little planning ahead, but if you can bring yourself to do that, the results are outstanding. I decided to try his brined pork tenderloin, taking out a couple of the steps he included that seemed just unnecessary to me and it was probably the best pork tenderloin I’ve ever eaten. Seriously delicious.
Brined Pork Tenderloin
for the brine (this is enough for one nice sized pork tenderloin):
2 tablespoons honey
4 bay leaves
1 rosemary sprig
4 thyme sprigs
4 parsley sprigs
4 garlic cloves, smashed, skin on
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/4 ounce kosher salt
2 cups water
Place everything in a saucepan, cover and heat to a boil. Boil for one minute, stirring to dissolve the salt. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely and then place in the fridge to allow it to get COLD. Now place your pork (any silver skin removed) into the cold liquid and put in the fridge for 4 hours (I used a large ziplock bag).
salt and pepper
1 tablespoon soft butter
1 garlic clove, smashed, skin on
1 sprig rosemary
1 sprig thyme
1/2 lemon thinly sliced
Remove the pork from the brine and rinse under the tap. Allow it to dry on some paper towels and sit at room temp for 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and season your pork with salt and pepper. In an oven-proof skillet heat your oil and sear the meat on all sides, making sure it gets a lovely crusty brown all over, about six minutes. Now add the butter, herbs, garlic and lemon slices to the pan and baste your meat with the sauce in the pan for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Arrange the lemons and herbs on top of the pork and transfer the skillet to the oven. Cook for 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let the meat rest on your cutting board for 15 minutes longer. Slice into 1/2 inch slices and serve.