Category Archives: recipe

Junior doctors strike and Cullen skink

My glam mum aged 93

My mum, aged 93, (her pic, left) made me the traditional Scottish dish, Cullen skink.

She bought the smoked haddock at Whole Foods Market.

“Only use undyed haddock” she commands.

A bowl of home made cullen skink

Recipe for Cullen skink

Here is the recipe my mother uses (added/amended after posting): 

Put undyed smoked haddock (500g) in cold water (300 mls) water, bring to boil and simmer for 8-10 mins until fish is cooked. Remove fish with slotted spoon, and set aside. 

While veg are cooking (below), skin fish, flake into chunks removing any bones, and set aside.
Add 2 chopped onion and 2 large potatoes (or instead of potatoes use Jerusalem artichokes!) with pepper and cook  in the haddock’s cooking water for glorious fish taste until potatoes are soft and tender – about 15/20 mins. 

Take off heat, roughly mash contents, add (450 ml) whole milk and (2g) unsalted butter. Bring to boil, turn down to simmer and gently add fish. Gently, reheat. Serve with chopped chives and if desired, creme fraiche. 

(Or drink it cold from a jar as I did happily on my return train to Bristol).

The next day, I received a call that my mother – and Cullen Skink-maker – had fallen and hurt her head. Luckily she had been able to press her Community Alarm and within five minutes of being alerted, an ambulance team had arrived and had taken her to a large London teaching hospital.

And this the day of the Junior Doctors’ strike – against a new contract that will be: “Bad for patients, bad for doctors and bad for the NHS,” according to the British Medical Association reports the New Economic Foundation.

After a scan, my mother was kept in for monitoring, and a battery of tests to ascertain why she keeps losing her balance.

God bless the National Health Service (NHS).

My late dad was one of its first GPs – see Dr John Winkler’s obituary in the Guardian.

The NHS is free health care for all – the embodiment of the world I want to live in.

God bless the NHS.

Simple oat cake recipe

Good Food oatmeal flour packet and butter with bowl of oatmeal
When I am out-and-about, and get hungry, I need healthy food, such as slow-release carbs for sustaining energy. Oats are the nutritional answer. My oatcake recipe comes from Jane Mannings of World Jungle.

Award-winning social enterprise, World Jungle brings people together creating healthier communities.

African drummers and drums

Based in Gloucestershire, World Jungle also holds regular dance classes, and organises festivals and events including African drumming and dance (see pic) . Dance is a great way to bring people together.

I like this recipe because it only uses two ingredients and there is no fancy pastry-cutting involved.

Simple oatcake recipe

200g fine oatmeal – Jane used Good Food organic oatmeal.
50g butter.

Heat the oven to hot – Gas 7 \ 425° \ 220°C

Squish the oatmeal and butter together with a fork adding a little water to bind into a dough. Roll pastry dough (on a floured board ) as thin as you can without it breaking. Lift the flattened shape, draped over rolling pin, place on a greased baking tray, and bake for 15 minutes. Eat warm, or store in an airtight container for when you are out-and-about.

I might experiment by replacing oatmeal with buckwheat flour, butter with olive oil, and adding salt, or caraway seeds.

What ingredients would you use in your oatcakes?

Knob of butter atop oatmeal in mixing bowl

Fork assembling squidge of oatmeal dough

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Tahini sauce 

Sauce drips in a stream from a spoon

This image and recipe comes from a new book, Lebanese Home Cooking, by Kamal Mouzawak, the founder of Lebanon’s first farmers’ market.

Lebanese Home Cooking, from Quarto Eats, has all my favourite food words in its title. In the 1980s a friend took me to a Lebanese restaurant in Soho and I was knocked out. Every dish appealed in new, refreshing ways. Tahini, beans, yogurt, lemons, olive oil, garlic. These are now my favourite ingredients. Versatile and health-giving, they are always in the kitchen.

(My posts on making home-made yogurt and hummus both of which I eat almost daily).


Writing about the Lebanese market founded in 2004, The New York Times says that Souk El Tayeb (“market of good”): “reconciles Lebanon’s warring factions through their common love of their food.”

Kamal Mouzawak writes: Food is a window – “the best way to look into people’s lives.”

Make food, not war.

Kamal Mouzawak is full of practical wisdom and inspiring encouragement. The recipes are simple. He says souk food is easy and fast – how I like to cook.

Tahini sauce – Tarator 

Garlic 1 clove or more

240g tahini (sesame paste)

Juice of 3 lemons

1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Crush garlic with little salt, add to tahini in the bowl, and add the lemon juice. Tahini will thicken so continue stirring with a fork and add more lemon juice if needed. The mixture will be smooth. Season with salt to taste, blend in olive oil and serve. Good over dark leafy vegetables.

Fava bean stew – foul medamass

I love the addition of quartered lemons to this fava bean stew.

120g small brown beans

1 onion peeled halved

Garlic

Handful split yellow lentils

1 lemon plus juice of 2 lemons

80 ml olive oil

Ground cumin and salt.

Soak beans overnight. Drain. Add onion halves, garlic and lentils. Add water to cover by 2 fingers. Cook beans for several hours to be mushy. Add quartered lemons 20 minutes before the end. Take off heat and add lemon juice, olive oil, cumin and salt to taste.

Souk food – soul food.

PS On the subject of tahini sauce, I came across this amazing recipe by UK chef and co-owner of Wahaca, Thomasina: Tagliatelle with blue cheese, tahini and caramelised onions. Straining the yogurt and adding tahini makes this into a luxurious and creamy dish, yet it is light too. Comfort food – recommend!

The original recipe (serves 4-6). Here follows my mini-version:

Cook 900g sliced onions slowly (25 mins) in 4 teaspoons olive oil + 30g butter. Cook 450g pasta (I use buckwheat noodles), adding 300g frozen peas in the last three minutes of cooking. Drain pasta and peas but keep 250ml of the cooking water. Strain 450g of Greek natural yogurt. (I added the residual ‘yogurt water’ to the pasta cooking water because I hate waste.).

Put pasta in a bowl. Beat reserved pasta water into strained yogurt, and season. Then add to pasta, so it absorbs sauce for a few minutes. Add more of the cooking water gradually until you have a “silky pile of pasta”. Crumble 100g blue cheese over your luxurious pasta pile, and top with the caramelised onions.

Exterior of Byblos with yellow awning with lettering, Mezza of Lebanon

And, finally, a picture of Rafic’s (see comments) Lebanese restaurant in London. Mezza of Lebanon (1968 – 2004) was at 262 Kensington High Street, near Holland Park.

Making chicken soup from scratch

Raw high-welfare chicken and cut-up carrots and red onion covered with water in a panThe secret of chicken soup is to use raw chicken.

By all means, use a cooked chicken carcass to make stock but if you want to make healing chicken soup, start from scratch with raw chicken.

I used two legs from Abel and Cole high-welfare chickens.

Add a cut-up onion and carrots. Cover with water. If you use loads of water, it will dilute the soup. But just covering the chicken and veg with water will create the right concentrated amount.

Bring to the boil and simmer for about one and a half hours to two hours until the chicken is tender and falls away from the bone.

The next secret – imparted by my mother – is not to let the precious liquid boil away. So keep a lid on the pan. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Strain to drink the healing soup – this article explains why chicken soup has healing properties.

The beautifully-tender chicken and vegetables will make another meal.

It is simple to make, and will bring strength.

Gut gastronomy beef broth

A bowl of beef broth

Beef broth soothes the digestion and produces easy-to-absorb minerals including calcium. Made with bones, it is a low-cost way of sustaining your health. Bones cost a few pounds.

(Apologies to vegetarians and vegans and please let us know your best tonics.)

“A good broth will resurrect the dead,”

– South American proverb. 

Read more about broth’s healing powers at the Weston Price Foundation and the way broth also delivers easy-to-absorb broken-down material from cartilage and tendons that might help arthritis and joint pain.

I bought the beef rib bones from Sheepdrove Organic Farm for £2.50 per kg. 

Why organic? Because I want to eat meat from an animal which has not been given routine antibiotics, which has chewed fresh grass in the fields as nature intended (not convenience-food grain that gives the beast a belly-ache), and can follow its natural animal behaviour. 

I used a recipe from Gut Gastronomy by nutritional therapist Vicky Edgson and Grayshott spa chef Adam Palmer based on the spa’s health regime. Published by Jacqui Small, this fine book with beautiful images by Lisa Linder is filled with highly nutritious recipes to help increase digestive health, and repair and nourish the body.  

The Gut Gastronomy recipe uses beef marrow bones. 

Here is the recipe (for four) slightly adapted.

Ingredients

3 kg (6lb 10 oz) beef marrow bones – ask the butcher to chop them into manageable chunks, about 3-5 cms (1-2 inches) pieces 

4 carrots, 3 large onions, 4 celery sticks (optional), roughly chopped

5 litres (8 3/4 pints/20 cups) of cold water
(I used my biggest pan, about 5 pints, and this made a lovely, concentrated broth)

2 bay leaves, 10 whole peppercorns

If you have some, add half bunch of thyme. 

I also added dried chilli for extra hotness. 

roasted bones and pan with carrots and onions

Method
Roast the cut bones in a large roasting dish for 30 – 40 minutes at Gas Mark 7. 

Drain 2 teaspoons of the fat from the bones into a large saucepan and sauté the veg.

(There was no fat from my rib bones so I omitted this stage and added the carrots and onions at the next stage, without frying them.)

Add the bay leaves, peppercorns (and dried chilli), sprigs of thyme and roasted bones and cover with 5 litres (8 3/4 pints/ 20 cups) of cold water. Skim any fat as you bring it to a simmer. Gently cook for 5 – 6 hours. 

Broth is served clear, strained of meat and vegetables. Strain to make consommé, and cool before freezing. I shredded the plentiful meat from the bones and made several servings of delicious broth with meat (see top pic). 

I swear I cured my poor inflamed gums thanks to this healing soup.

Fellow blogger, Annie Levy at Kitchen Counter Culture, suggested I used some of the broth for borscht, which I did, using my grandmother’s recipe.

And that is for the next blog post.

Update (January 2016): This recipe cured another bout of gum infection after two days of drinking 5 pints of the above broth (this time made with non-organic bones). It worked its magic.

Coconut benefits banana bread

Banana bread

Funny to think that, as a child, I thought of coconuts as fairground shies, or Bounty chocolate bars. Yet coconuts are far more versatile than that. 

Coconuts produce coconut oil, coconut flesh, coconut milk, and coconut water, naturally and healthily.

Like hemp, coconut is nourishing, health-giving, and practical too. Think coir matting

Coconuts act as body moisturiser, teeth-cleaner, digestion-soother, rehydrater. And more. 

Coconut even sorts out head lice, according to Dr Mercola’s wondrous list of coconut’s varied uses.

If you love scientific facts and opinion with lots of swear words, check out Shannon’s Kitchen on coconut’s versatility and health reputation.

My coconut musing is prompted by a hamper full of coconut joy sent by Cocofina.

Cocofina coconut products

Cocofina have been cracking coconuts since 2005. The name says it all: Cocofina is made from fine young coconuts picked at their peak when its water is at its most plentiful.

To add to my joy, Cocofina is certified organic (by the Soil Association), which is shorthand for healthily-grown food, with no chemical fertilisers/pesticides to pollute soil, air, crops, wildlife and farm workers.

Cocofina’s big triumph is to produce delicious on-the-go nutrition energy bars. I sampled them with various energy-snack (and coconut) lovers, and their praise was unstinting.

And I love its coconut nectar – low-GI slow-release sweetness without that crazy thing that happens to my eyes (as if they are being squeezed) when I eat sugar.

(Pause to reflect on sugar – how it drove slavery, and now makes mental slaves of us all via obesity and the money markets).

To celebrate coconut happiness, I made banana cake, substituting sugar with coconut nectar, and coconut oil instead of butter.

Along with pre-soaked sultanas, this recipe produced a light, healthy cake, its bananariness lifted by nectar and complimented by coconut.

Banana bread

If you don’t have self-raising flour, add an extra egg. Keep the baking powder/bicarbonate of soda to a scant teaspoon – just enough to lighten the flour but not too much to impart its strange fizzy taste. Or even (boldly) omit and rely on beaten eggs instead.

2/3 large mashed ripe or over-ripe bananas (up to 500g/1lb)

125g (4oz) butter/coconut oil, softened

125g (4oz) caster sugar/4 Tablespoons coconut flower nectar or honey

2 large eggs, lightly beaten with a fork until frothy with air

250g (8oz) self-raising flour (or ordinary flour with extra egg) I used gram flour made from chickpeas because wheat (argumentative fellow) does not agree with me.

1 scant tsp baking powder/bicarbonate of soda

Optional extras: sultanas soaked in water and drained, walnut pieces, cocoa nibs/lemon rind.

Oil 2lb loaf tin and line its base and sides with baking parchment/greaseproof paper.

Rub in the oil/butter/fat into the flour (+ lightening agent if used) until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the sweetener and mashed bananas and lightly beaten eggs beating it well.

Heat oven to 180C/160C fan/gas 4.

Turn into the tin and bake for about 1 hour until a skewer comes out clean, covering if necessary so the top does not burn. 

This recipe is a great way to use up over-ripe bananas. 

Happy eating! 

Diana Henry’s salt beef

Salt beef is a perfect meat for taking to a feast because it can be be prepared in advance and travels well.

It is ideal for a stress-free Christmas – no sweating over a hot stove all day.

Tender and aromatic, it can be served hot or cold with vegetables or salads. Or, traditionally, as a sandwich with mustard and pickles.

It is called salt beef because it is preserved (pickled) in salt a week before cooking. The brine is washed off so the meat is not salty. The joint is pressed, refrigerated, packs down neatly and should ideally travel in a cool box.

Carving the (pink-coloured) salt beef

Carving the salt beef

An animal lost its life to feed us so the least I can do is make sure it was well-looked after while it was alive – so the meat had to be organic.

I bought tied and rolled organic brisket from Sheepdrove Organic Farm where the animals graze on herb-rich pastures, live in family herds and express their natural behaviour.

 

I bought two briskets totalling 4 kilos (9lbs) in weight, and cut one in half so it would fit in my pans. This fed ten people for three meals.

I have never preserved meat before and, I won’t lie, it was nerve-wracking: would the meat go mouldy and thus ruin Christmas festivities? In the end I trusted my sense of smell to assure me nothing was amiss.

Reader, I nailed it. My 91-year-old mum said it reminded her of salt beef from her childhood, and my sister praised its subtle flavours.

Salt beef is not exclusively Jewish but “it is the Jewish community that has kept up the tradition,” says cookery writer, Xanthe Clay.

There are two main stages to salt beef: preserving in brine, then simmering in fresh water and vegetables.

The challenges to preserving:

  • Time: the raw meat is soaked for seven days in a salty solution
  • Maths: working out the right salt/sugar solution for the weight of the meat
  • Receptacles: they have to be non-metallic and deep enough to take the joint covered with water
  • Ingenuity: You have to keep the joint under water. I used bottles of oil etc (see pic below) to weigh down the meat.
Meat in brine weighed down by bottles lying sideways

Preserving the meat in brine

Salt is an ancient way of preserving food. (I have been using it to make gut-friendly sauerkraut and plum kimchi.)

The salty water (in which the food is soaked) is called brine. Salt beef traditionally uses saltpetre, too, to preserves the meat’s red/pinkness (otherwise it would be grey) and also to kill the bacteria that causes botulism.

Luckily, my sis’s boyfriend, Paul of 80s Rock Pics, had some saltpetre – nowadays hard to find – but available online.

There are health issues with nitrates but as I hardly eat bacon and other cured meat, I figure a little bit of what you fancy does you good.

Once the meat is preserved for seven days, the salty brine is washed off the meat.

The meat is then simmered in fresh water, carrots and onions for several hours. This produces a flavoursome broth. Keep the broth to heat-up the meat (if you want to serve it hot), use it as a stock or serve as a soup – it has the most amazing taste.

Meat in colanders under kitchen tap

Washing off the salt/sugar brine solution

Brisket in broth

Brisket simmering in fresh water and vegetables

 

 

 

 

 

 

After being drained, press the meat again (we used large plates with smaller bowls on top weighed down with heavy books to provide an air-tight press).

Wrap the meat well, and refrigerate. I used parchment lined-foil from Lakeland and secured it with gaffer tape.

My oracles were Evelyn Rose’s The Complete International Jewish Cookbook, that my mother gave me decades ago. Reliable and practical, it is much-used and loved.

My other main text was a recipe from Diana Henry, another favourite cookery writer.

I now hand you over to Diana Henry for her salt beef recipe.

Here is the ratio of salt/sugar to meat for the brine solution (in the preserving stage) to save you any brain-numbing calculations.

Ratios for brine

For each kilo/lb of beef

110g (1¾oz) of sugar

140g (2 1/4 oz) of salt

22g (1/3 oz) of saltpetre (optional).

Diana Henry’s salt beef

For the brine
275g (9¾oz) soft light-brown sugar
350g (12oz) coarse sea salt
2 tsp black peppercorns
½ tbsp juniper berries
4 cloves
4 bay leaves
4 sprigs of thyme
55g (2oz) saltpetre (optional).

For the beef
2.5kg (5lb 8oz) piece of beef brisket
1 large carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
1 celery stick, roughly chopped
1 leek, cut into large chunks
1 bouquet garni
½ head of garlic

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a very large saucepan, pour in 2.5 litres (4½ pints) of water and gradually bring to the boil, stirring to help the sugar and salt dissolve. Once it comes to the boil, let it bubble away for two minutes. Take off the heat and leave to cool completely.

Pierce the meat all over with a skewer. Put it in a large, sterilised plastic box or bucket (something non-reactive) and cover the meat with the brine; it must be totally immersed. The best thing I’ve found for weighing it down is two massive bottles of vodka. Put them in on top of the meat and it will stay below the level of the brine. Leave in a very cool place (a cellar or a room that is always freezing cold – most houses have one). Leave it for seven days.

Take the beef out of the brine and rinse it. Roll and tie the meat and put it in a pan with the vegetables, bouquet garni and garlic, adding enough cold water to cover. Bring the water to simmering point, then leave to poach gently – I mean gently – for two and a half to three hours. Cook until the meat is completely tender (check with a skewer).

Season’s greetings and a happy shiny new 2015!

Brisket being pressed

Cooked brisket being pressed by weighty tomes