Friday, 31 August 2012

My mum's gherkins

On first meeting you, people often ask what you do and where you come from. I dislike both those questions for different reasons. The "what do you do" question I feel limited by, because what I do in my day job isn't all that I do. And the "where are you from" question is difficult for me to answer. It feels inappropriate to go into the intricacies of where I really feel I come from on meeting someone for the first time. To keep it short and polite I tend to say "Poland" when I am in the UK, however when I come here it's immediately clear to me that although this place fills me with nostalgia, it's not home any more... That's not to say that I don't feel "at home" here, because I do. I love the place and I have never stopped missing it and, of course (as any ex-patriot will immediately understand), certain foods. Like home-made gherkins. We made these the first day that I arrived
You will need a leaf from an oak tree, and some horseradish leaves. We took the first from a tree in our garden and the other from the neighbour's garden, my mum making some elaborate excuse as to why this was OK (something to do with the original land ownership apparently) the whole time we were lifting the wooden fence in a way she's clearly well practised at. The gherkins need to be packed tightly together so you need to have lots of them and a container where they fit snugly together, you will also need a round, heavy stone that you can fit on top of this container (in a plastic bag) to squish them down. It sounds a bit faffy, but trust me -once you get all the gear together it couldn't be simpler

Lots of small cucumbers -  20-30
Dill that has flowered - lots
1-2 leaves from an oak tree
2-3 horseradish leaves
Garlic - 1 bulb, peeled
2 Tablespoons salt per 1 litre of water
Bring the water to the boil and add the salt. We used 2 litres for about 20 cucumbers. Place all the other ingredients in your container. Allow the water to cool slightly (about 15min) before pouring it into your jar. Make sure everything is covered with the water and put the stone on top. Normally, you will leave these for about 48 hours, but you can try them after 24 and see how pickled you like yours. Once ready, transfer the cucumbers and the garlic into a jar, pouring the brine over the top. You can eat these now for another couple of weeks, or keep the jar closed for a couple of months if you prefer to eat them at a later time. When you feel like a taste of another country and way of life, get them out and eat with buttered rye bread, grilled Polish sausage ("Mysliwska" for example), "Sarepska" mustard, and washed down with the obligatory Polish beer

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Sweet potato gratin and burnt aubergine salad from Ottolenghi

All year I miss the sunchine, I crave it, and then when it finally comes, like the weekend that I made Ottolenghi's sweet potato gratin and burnt aubergine salad, I turn into a complete wuss and can hardly move. I have become too accustomed to British weather now clearly. I need a breeze and the odd cloud
We went over to LT's parents house to pick up the car to go to the beach, had a glass of champagne, and that was it really. I ended up looking through his mum's cookbooks for hours. Needless to say the beach plan never crystallized. I went home and cooked this for LT and my mate Rob instead. We ate it in the garden and talked until day turned into night. That's when we realized that we had become prey to the thousands of hungry mosquitoes and transferred our conversation to the pub down the road instead
I changed the recipes from this book up here (slightly) to suit what I had (e.g. I subsitituted whipped cream in the gratin for single cream), so here I give you the versions that I made. I also forgot to put the red onion in the burnt aubergine salad


Sweet potatoes
Single cream
Garlic salt

Peppers - red and orange
Cherry tomatoes
Olive oil
Lemon juice

You do not peel the potatoes, which I love, you just slice them and combine with all the other ingredients in a mixing bowl, then bake for about 40 minutes. The aubergines you cook straight on the stove. Actually, I 'd learnt this method from an Indian friend of mine years ago, and it gives a superb chargrilled flavour to any dish. Once the aubergine is cooked, you remove the flesh and combine with the other stuff, which has been chopped into bite-sized pieces. We ate this with grilled chipolata sausages, which were meant to be barbequed, but we never even got round to starting the barbeque. That day was such a wash out, but in a pleasant kind of way in the end. When I was standing on my road in the midday heat earlier, irritated, with mascara running down my face, I didn't think anything could save it, but this meal did just that. It was that wonderful kind of simplicity, where the food is easy to make and comforting to eat - real food

Monday, 13 August 2012

Matcha (green tea) and maple ice cream

Finally we have Summer in London! This means beers and barbecues, dinners outside on pavements, leisurely night-time strolls and plenty of ice-cream. At least for me. I don't have an ice-cream maker, so I just stir. It's still the simplest thing in the world
Although it's made from clotted cream I would still argue that this ice-cream is reasonably healthy since it contains no sugar and really good quality green tea powder from the Japan Centre. Incidentally, this is one of my favourite shops in London. Every time I come I get stuck in here for at least an hour, so I have to remember to never attempt to "pop in" on my way somewhere, because I will be late. This has happened more than once, the place is a time warp

I blended the pot of clotted cream with a tablespoon of matcha and about 4 tablespoons of maple syrup. I put the mixture into a plastic box and into the freezer. Then, you just stir every half an hour until it's ready, more if you feel like it, for about 4 hours

Friday, 10 August 2012

Food in Sardinia

The best food discovery I made on my holiday in Sardinia has to be "Bottarga". The discovery was made on the second night there, when I couldn't tear away myself from the clam shells that were covered in it. It's like cat nip, I remarked to LT. So he enquired about this magic substance, and so I was introduced to "Bottarga". It's dried fish roe - I forget from which fish - and you can eat it grated on spaghetti (with clams) or as a starter. This was a salad made from bottarga slices and celery, for instance
I prefer it with clam spaghetti. Mirto is a drink made from the myrtle plant. The red (black) one is made from the berries, and the white from the leaf. This is the typical post dinner liquor round these parts, and it tastes different everywhere you go. We didn't like the red one so much on our second night, yet when we tasted a home-made version in an agriturismo we were staying at, it was delicious (and much stronger). One of the reasons I would recommend staying at agriturismos in Italy is the food. In the typical Italian fashion, it always starts with an antipasti course, followed by first course of rice or pasta and then a meat/fish course. And then a little desert. And then some coffee and liquor.That up there is the first course and a delicious cheese spread made from Pecorino and Ricotta. They kindly left it for me during the primo, because I liked it so much. The primo is in the background there - it may look like rice but its actually a specifically Sardo type of pasta. This is was at Mulino Betzu, an extremely friendly agriturismo in the Oristano region, about an hour south of Alghero. That's as far as we planned our holiday, so on the owner's recommendation we headed down to Piscinas after, which is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been. Here we stayed in an agriturismo in the mountains, nestled between ghost towns which used to be mining villages, and close to the soft, green dunes of the coast. We ate a lot of wild boar, washing it down with local wine and Ichnusa beer. Then I got ill and wanted to come home

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Keeping it real at FEAST Food Festival, London

I know I should be writing about Sardinian food right now, but yesterday I went to the FEAST food festival on St. Thomas' Street in London Bridge and it kind of changed things for me
I ate delicious Ceviche from The Last Days of Pisco, which reminded me how much I love the stuff and how simple it is to make
I also ate snails-on-a-stick and rabbit from Anchor & Hope, where my friend Petey works
And spiced lamb with hummus from Morito
The atmosphere was great, everyone smiling and chatting, like a proper festival without the messiness. We ate, we drank. My friend Petey suggested that we do something together, something life-changing. I said yes. I will reveal all once the project has wings, but I will give you a clue: it's nothing to do with babies. It's good to take your time with big decisions. They say that you only regret the things you didn't do, and not the things you did, but I beg to disagree. If you have my tendency to make rash decisions, then you'll know what I'm talking about - sometimes the timing is wrong, sometimes you can do things for the wrong reasons and other times it's just a plain, old bad idea. You need to know that you are really ready to commit to something before you actually do it and be sure that everything is as it should be. That doesn't mean being flakey and indecisive, as that's the other extreme and can be just as destructive, just keeping things in perspective. Oh, I think I have just inadvertently understood the meaning of the hip-hop phrase "keeping it real"