Tuesday, 18 May 2010

The Feast

Wow, what a ridiculously busy couple of weeks! This post is a little overdue mostly because of my non existence apart from working and sleeping. My exciting new post as Catering Manager at the macrobert arts centre started a little prematurely but unfortunately I was still working full time in my current job. All in all I have been eating, drinking and sleeping all things macrobert lately (which is no bad thing) but I did manage to squeeze in a big family feast for Mother Hen's birthday.

Family gatherings are few and far between nowadays with everybody scattered far and wide. My sister Katie is due to go back to Sydney next week and with Dad in the middle of National Compost Week (don't ask!!) it seemed the only time for us all to get together in Stirling. The newest (and probably youngest at a mere 23) big thing in comedy Kevin Bridges was playing at the macrobert for 3 nights and I used my charming ways with the box office staff to secure us all tickets for a laughter filled night. Even though we were all excited about the show the main topic of conversation was 'What will we eat for dinner?!'.

This feast was in planning for weeks, months maybe, considering that the shoulder of lamb had been hibernating in my freezer since the beginning of Spring. It was a 'one day' piece of lamb: 'one day I will pour in a bottle of red and stud it with garlic', 'one day I will marinade it with spicy yogurt' etc etc. But since the said lamb was a present from Mother Hen it seemed entirely appropriate to bring it to the table for this occasion. I don't often get the chance to cook for people outside of work, particularly a 3 course feast so I might have gone a little overboard. We are definitely a starter family - anything delicious, picky and can be accompanied with a chilled glass of vino is the star of the show. Most of us have been known to order 2 starters instead of a main in restaurants, which invariably confuses the waiting staff. The best starters are meze, try everything, share everything and debate everything - perfect! So the menu was born - Middle Eastern meze, Spiced Slow Roast Lamb and an Orange and Lemon birthday cake.

I had 2 willing helpers on the day although nap time and Channel 4 Racing might have hampered their handiness to some extent. That said they crystallised rose petals for the cake, peeled a million broad beans and made some excellent flat breads.

The starter meze consisted of Spiced Broad Bean Fritters, Lamb Koftas, Babagonush, Humous, Mint Yogurt and Flat Breads... told you I went a little overboard! Both the fritters and koftas were Jamie Oliver recipes and by lord they were delicious. The fritters were so easy to make (apart from the aforementioned broad bean peeling) and were bursting with beautiful summery flavour. Even spiked with a little spice my chilli-phobic Pa adored them. Crunchy and crispy on the outside, and soft and fresh on the inside. I would make them again and again as long as somebody else peeled the blooming beans. The koftas were an adapted recipe, Jamie has them in flatbreads sprinkled with pistachios but as I wanted picky finger food I decided to add the pistachios into the lamb mixture. Lamb, sultanas and pistachios - is there a better food combination?! Not for me anyway. These koftas would be perfect as a main with cous cous, roasted peppers and salad, and would cook perfectly on the barbie too. Oh but remember to soak your skewers in water first, I didn't and there was a bit of a flame issue.

Lamb Koftas

250g minced lamb
1 heaped tablespoon of fresh thyme leaves
1/2 level tablespoon ground chilli
1/2 level tablespoon ground cumin
2 level tablespoons sumac (if you can't find it use lemon zest instead, but there are great suppliers on the web, try
The Asian Cookshop)
a good handful of sultanas
a good handful of shelled pistachios

Place the lamb in a large mixing bowl with the chilli, sumac, cumin and thyme leaves. Roughly chop the pistachios and add them, plus the sultanas, to the mixture. Combine all the ingredients together, get your hands in!

Split the mixture into 8 equal balls and get yourself 8 (soaked!) skewers. With damp hands, push and shape the meat around and along each skewer. Press little indents in the meat with your fingers as you go - this will give it a better texture when cooked. Grill the kebabs on a hot griddle pan until golden and cooked through.

Spiced Broad Bean Fritters with Minted Yogurt 

1kg fresh broad beans, in their pods (about 300g podded weight) or 500g defrosted broad beans, skinned
6 sprigs of fresh coriander
a small bunch of fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 level teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 a fresh chilli, deseeded and finely sliced
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 heaped teaspoon plain flour
1 litre vegetable oil
1 tablespoons natural yogurt

Boil any larger white-skinned broad beans for 30 seconds, then drain. When cool, pinch their skins off. Now whiz the coriander and half the mint in a food processor. Season with salt and pepper, then add the spices, chilli, broad beans and lemon zest and whiz until finely chopped. Sprinkle in the flour and pulse for a few seconds. I know this seems a very small amount of flour but believe me it holds everything together perfectly - adding more would only make the mixture too dry.

Pour the vegetable oil into a large saucepan until it's 5 to 7cm deep. Heat the oil. To check whether it's hot enough for frying drop a small piece of bread into the pan, if it turns golden its ready.

Cover a plate with a sheet of greaseproof paper. Scoop up a small amount of the broad bean mixture and either use your hands or two spoons to shape it into little rounds, then put them on the plate. When they are all done, carefully lower one of them into the hot oil with a slotted spoon and fry until they are a golden, dark green colour. When you have the hang of it fry the rest in small batches.

For the lemon minted yogurt, squeeze half the lemon juice into the yogurt. Pick and chop the rest of your mint leaves and stir them in, season to taste.

As for the lamb.... well it was lovely. I used the Moroccan Lamb recipe from the wonderful food for friends yeah but also added Ras el Hanout which is an amazingly fragrant middle eastern spice blend that includes actual rose petals. I cooked it for nearly 5 hours at 140c so it fell away at the bone and hardly needed the extra additions of the left over babagonush, mint yogurt and hummous. There was discussions of it being served with cous cous studded with pomegranate seeds but I decided to be kind to my tattie loving man and served it with roasted new potatoes and cumin roasted squash.

Friday, 7 May 2010

New blog and old favourites

So welcome! If there's anybody there...

This is my first exercise in writing about what I love/adore/dream about, no not tall ginger gentlemen, but food. Ah food! As well as proving my darling Mother Hen right (again, Roots was amazing) this is hopefully going to be the perfect thing to channel my culinary energies. Basically The Larder will give my family, friends, boyfriend and work colleagues a wee bit of peace from my constant prattling about all things edible. Hopefully you will listen though.

Today feels like the start of summer, although it has the chilly Stirling wind as a companion, so to celebrate Prawn Fettuccini was on the menu. I am disgustingly addicted to tomatoes at the moment, it's a daily essential. At least one meal a day must contain my fix of tomato-y goodness. This recipe is an old reliable and an absolute favorite. The best meals are not the fanciest but the ones that manage to fulfil all your wants on one plate - or one bowl as I always seem to favour bowl food for some reason, must be the comfort factor. The juicy sweet prawns, squashy summery tomatoes and the sharp tang of lemon juice manage to cheer up the dullest Scottish day and the grumpiest Scottish person (not naming any names!) every single time.

Prawn Fettuccini
Serves 2

The fresh chilli is not meant to make it too spicy - it just gives the dish a gentle warmth. Up the amount if you're a chilli fiend (like me) or tone it down if you want something a little softer. Once every 2 months my local market have king prawns on sale so I stuff the freezer but if you don't have them this sauce is well worth making part of your staple repertoire. Quick and easy, minimal ingredients and goes with any type of pasta.

200g of raw king prawns
1 small tub (16 or so) of cherry tomatoes - if you can get a mixture of types and colours even better
2 cloves of garlic
2 handfuls of rocket
1 fresh red chilli
juice of half a lemon
a glug of white wine
1 handful of flatleaf parsley
enough fresh fettuccini for 2

Quarter some of the tomatoes, half some and leave a few small ones whole. Chop up your garlic, chilli and parsley. Run a knife over the back of your prawns, not all the way through, just to devein them. Heat a deep frying pan on the stove with a good glug of olive oil and pop on a pan of salted hot water. When the oil is ready throw the garlic and chilli straight in, stir continuously, don’t let it stick. Keep a close eye on it, burnt garlic is bitter and horrid. At that point add your tomatoes, this will stop the cooking process. Put your fresh pasta on now.
Add your wine and let the whole sauce simmer, it should smell amazing! You should see the tomato skins start to peel off and them to soften considerably. At that point get a potato masher and squish the whole lot down, not too much but just to amalgamate the whole thing. Add your lemon juice, give it a stir and add your prawns. They should take less than a minute to cook through in the sauce.
Drain the pasta and leave in the pan drizzed with some extra virgin olive oil. Once the prawns are pink throughout turn the heat off and add the parsley and seasoning. Sprinkle a layer of rocket over the sauce and then pop the pasta over that (it helps the rocket wilt), don’t stir yet.
Get the plates out, quick 5 second tidy up and pour a few glasses. Take a pair of tongs and stir it all together, add an extra slosh of extra virgin for a bit of fruitiness.