Guacamole

The Aztecs invented it.  Frat boys love it.  Avocado sales are never higher than the weekend of Super Bowl Sunday because of it.  Basically, guacamole makes the New World go round.  As an American, no, as a Californian, I am powered by it.  It is to me what tea is to the British–fortifying and appropriate at all times of the day.

My mama always told me when a relationship ends try to take away one thing, one lesson learned no matter how small.  i.e. From my biological father she gained some wicked foosball skills.  Well making the below guacamole is one thing I’ve learned throughout my 32 years.  It’s my pleasure to share it with you now.

Ingredients:

4 avocados, cut into chunks (keep one of the pits)

1 tomato, seeded and diced

1/2 mango, diced

1/4-1/2 a small red onion, finely chopped

1 chili pepper, minced

the juice of 1 lime

1-2 tablespoons of Cholula

cilantro, roughly chopped

salt and pepper to taste

 

Method:

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and stir with a fork to combine.  Be sure not to mash the avocados too much.  The little chunks are nice.  A good guacamole is not supposed to be smooth.  It’s supposed to have texture.  Place an avocado pit in the center of the guacamole.  For magical reasons unbeknownst to me, an avocado pit helps prevent your guacamole from discoloring.  It’s science, innit?

Now cover your guacamole and set it in the fridge for about an hour.  Serve with whatever you like after this time.  Today, for me, that was a few Coronas and some salty tortilla chips pre-roast-pork-belly.  Muy divina.

before

after

Crab Cakes for Lenny Bruce

Recently, I walked through the aisles of my local supermarket and was horrified when I stumbled upon the American section.  Imagine a few shelves packed with every manner of preservative and artificial color.  Everything from Fruity Pebbles to Nerds and Cheetos to Pop Tarts and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  Basically, food for children.  Or stoned people.  I was so embarrassed I had to walk away.  I didn’t want other shoppers to think I was contemplating putting any of these items into my basket.  Then I saw the Boylan’s Black Cherry Soda and I couldn’t resist.  I also couldn’t help thinking about Lenny Bruce.

In the 1960s, Bruce neologized Jewish and Goyish as part of his act.  In it, he included many foods.  Black cherry soda being one of them and to me the most memorable.  Probably because as a kid it was my favorite drink to order when eating Reuben sandwiches at Greenblatt’s.

Kool-Aid is goyish. All Drake’s cakes are goyish. Pumpernickel is Jewish, and, as you know, white bread is very goyish. Instant potatoes–goyish. Black cherry soda’s very Jewish. Macaroons are very Jewish–very Jewish cake. Fruit salad is Jewish. Lime jello is goyish. Lime soda is very goyish.”  This is what played out in my head as I stood mouth agape looking at the black cherry soda of my youth.  I started to feel self-conscious with all the passersby witnessing my struggle.   

Eventually I put the indecision to an end and put the bottle of Boylan’s in my basket.  I headed for the check out and drank my soda with relish on the way home.  When it was finished, I hid the evidence of my crime against acceptable cuisine in some random recycling bin on the street.  I wanted no evidence to shame my English family.

Then the snob in me surfaced.  Sure I might have been purchasing crap from the American section of the grocery store but I was buying Jewish crap, not Goyish. Not that any English person would necessarily know the difference.  Nor any Goy.  But I knew and this made me feel superior.

When I came home, I had Lenny Bruce on the brain and that night his spirit found its way into my cooking.  Throughout his career, Bruce was frequently arrested under charges of obscenity.  And as obscene as he was charged for being, I topped that in the kitchen by making the most unkosher thing imaginable(not that I’m kosher).  Crab cakes with creme fraiche on top.

Lenny, I dedicate this obscenely good crab cake recipe to you and if you were around, I’d invite over for dinner so you wouldn’t have to be all alone.

Ingredients:  

1/2 a pound of cooked crab meat

2 medium potatoes, peeled, diced, boiled and steam dried

a bunch of dill, chopped

a bunch of chives, chopped

2 tablespoons of capers, chopped

1/2 teaspoon sumac

1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika

the zest and juice of a lemon

3 tablespoons creme fraiche

1/4 cup mayonnaise

vegetable oil for frying

salt & pepper

a plate of flour for dredging

a plate of one whisked egg

a plate of bread crumbs (I find 2 pieces of toast is all I need)

 

Method: 

In a large bowl, mash the potatoes with half the herbs, spices, zest, and juice.  Then mix in the crab and incorporate well.

crab mixture

Form the mixture into cakes and refrigerate them about half an hour.  While they are chilling, combine the creme fraiche, mayonnaise, remaining herbs/spices/juice/zest for your sauce.  Set this aside.

crab cakes

Dredge the cakes in flour, then egg, then coat with breadcrumbs.

pre-frying

Place some oil in a large skillet.  Over medium heat, fry the cakes until golden on both sides.

frying

Serve immediately topped with sauce.

crab cakes with sauce

 

Cioppino

Recently I reread Elizabeth David’s An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.  This time round, one particular character stood out–her good friend and fellow writer, Norman Douglas.  Her anecdotes about dining with him in Italy and how he’d keep a hunk of salami in his pocket even when going to the best restaurants were hilarious.  As were her accounts of his writing the aphrodisiac cookbook, Venus in the Kitchen.  His maxims about food, “Indigestion and love will not be yoked to together” “Good intentions–no. . . Gastritis will be the result of good intentions” “To be miserly towards your friends is not pretty; to be miserly towards yourself is contemptible,” were so amusing, I ordered his book.

There is much to love, starting with the introduction by Graham Greene.  “There are said to be certain Jewish rabbis who perform the operation of circumcision with their thumbnail so rapidly and painlessly that the child never cries.  So without warning Douglas operates and the victim has no time to realise in what purgatorio of lopped limbs he is about to wake, among the miserly, the bogus, the boring, and the ungenerous.”

Mr. Douglas’ recipes are really funny and not just because they have titles like Marrow of Leopard or Vulvae Steriles.  The latter was apparently a favorite of Horace, Pliny, and Martial.  Those crazy Romans.  “I have been perusing Seneca’s letters.  He was a cocoa-drinker, masquerading as an ancient.”  There are lots of brilliant little jewels in this humorous last book of Mr. Douglas’ but my favorite would be his recipe for Stewed Crabs.  Not because it’s particularly entertaining but because it reminded me of home.

Going back to Elizabeth David. . . There is an article she wrote for The Spectator, 8 December, 1961 which is included in An Omelette and a Glass of Wine.  The piece is entitled West Points.  In it she reviewed Helen Brown’s West Coast Cook Book which was published in 1952.  “The recipes, says the author, are the regional ones of the three Pacific States–California, Oregon, and Washington State.  Some, brought from all over Europe, originated with the early settlers, and proving suitable to the new world, settled in as native dishes.”  David goes on to write that one such dish is cioppino which is what Mr. Douglas’ stewed crabs reminded me of.

Cioppino is a seafood stew and a west coast classic, especially in San Francisco.  It’s the Italian-American answer to bouillabaisse and I ate lots of it as a kid.  My mother made a version with hazelnut romesco.  Fishermen from Genoa who settled in Northern California used to make this dish aboard their boats in the 1800s.  Later when some of them went on to open restaurants, this became one of their most famous dishes on the menu.  The name cioppino comes from a word in the Ligurian dialect, ciuppin which means to chop.  As the stew is made from chopped up pieces of the day’s catch, this seems appropriate.

So many food writers begin their careers when they leave the land of their birth.  Like Claudia Roden who contacted her friends and family for recipes before leaving Cairo.  Through food she could reconnect to the feelings and memories of her old home whilst living and growing roots in her new one.  When I read her writing, I sense the attachment to her childhood.  She writes about it with nostalgia as I think a great many food writers do.  I certainly do and it wasn’t until I left Los Angeles for London that I started doing so.  Food is a great communicator.  It summons memories and gives them life again.

If you want a taste of my childhood, try the cioppino recipe I’ve written below.  The broth is made from tomatoes, wine, garlic, onions, peppers, herbs, and spices.  I like mine a bit spicy so I add chopped chilies or red pepper flakes.  All kinds of seafood is then simmered in the broth.  Since I live in England now, I’ve adapted the recipe to use what’s around me–Cromer crab and smoked fish.  I serve it with parsley, basil, and the nicest bread I can find.  And of course, I raise my glass and toast to home.

me and the mouse train window royal hill sign

 

Ingredients:

1 pound fish pie mix–salmon, cod, and smoked haddock

1/2 pound crab meat (I usually use uncooked but as I shopped late in the day, cooked was all they had.  I always think it’s fun to see crab claws in my stew)

2 handfuls of clams

2 small onions, chopped

7 cloves of garlic, grated

1 chili pepper

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

a bunch of fresh thyme

a bunch basil, chiffonade

1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped

3 bay leaves

1 jar fish soup (I use the soupe de poisson from our fishmonger)

1 can of chopped tomatoes

1/2 bottle white wine (I use Vinho Verde as that’s what I like to drink with this meal)

ingredients

Method:

Dry roast the fennel seeds until you can smell their fragrance.  Remove from heat and grind with a mortar and pestle.

fennel dust

Next, add some olive oil to a large pot.  Over medium-low heat, saute the onions, bell peppers, garlic, chili pepper, bay leaves, thyme, basil, parsley, and fennel dust.

1st saute

Once everything starts to caramelize, add the can of tomatoes and wine.  Simmer for about 15 minutes or until flavors start to meld.

tomatoes and wine simmer

Pour the jar of fish soup into your mixture.  This will enrich it.  Then, stir in the clams.  As soon as they start to open, add the fish.  After two minutes, stir in the cooked crab.  Turn off the heat and allow everything to stand for a few minutes under a lid.

fish soup clams fish pie mix crab pot of soup bowls of soup soup

 

Masala Chai for Afternoon Ennui

When life is too colorless to continue and like Dorothy you’ve clicked the shit out your ruby-bottomed Louboutins to no avail, forget Starbucks.  Make your own chai instead.  With one sip you will be transported to the shores of French Colonial Pondicherry where life smells of jasmine, desserts taste like roses, and sounds from the Bay of Bengal lull chubby princesses like myself to sleep.

Ingredients:

2 cups water

1/4-1/2 cup milk, depending on your preference

2 Ceylon cinnamon sticks

1/2 vanilla bean sliced down the center or a 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste

the contents of 6 cardamom pods

2 twists of a pepper mill

2 tablespoons of freshly grated ginger

3 black teabags without bergamot (a strong English breakfast would do nicely)

2 tablespoons Demerara sugar ( more if you prefer it quite sweet)

Method:

Bring the water to a boil.  When it does, add all ingredients EXCEPT for the sugar and milk.  Let bubble for three minutes then simmer for two.

boiling up close boil

Next, turn the heat down to low and add the milk.  Stir often to avoid scalding and also to prevent the milk from forming a skin.  After a couple more minutes of stewing, take off the heat and stir in the sugar.  Now strain your tea into a small pot (my favorite strainer is the top hat model from Fortnum & Mason) and pretend you never tasted the “chai” at your local coffee bar.

straining pouring chai

Post scriptum: The word chai means tea in Hindi so when coffee shops have “chai tea” on the menu they’re being redundant.  Now you know two things they don’t.  1.  How to make proper chai.  2.  The definition of said word.

Party!

Last night, I had the privilege of attending The Young British Foodies awards ceremony which took place in gallery 9 of Tate Britain.  This is where the Romantic paintings live.  Nothing feels more magical nor more decadent than sipping a Stellacello Pompelmo Spritz whilst crossing parquet floors under the watchful gaze of Rossetti’s pre-Raphaelite beauties or John Singer Sargent’s grandes dames et petites filles.

Despite the oil-based magnificence that colored the walls, the main attraction really was the food.  Flavors and colors from all over the map convened for a few hours of gastronomic bliss.  Lebanese, Mauritian, Italian, English, nods to Asia and South America too.  Meat that came in cones and cakes that looked like art.  I don’t think there was a moment all evening when my husband didn’t have either a slice of beef carpaccio or some sort of charcuterie hanging from his lip.  Then again I don’t think there was a moment when I didn’t have a drink in each hand or at least some some sort of sweet.  The aptly named Maxwell House Arctic roll from Jesse Dunford Wood and Parlour was one of my favorite treats of the night.  Then again, I do have a soft spot for frozen treats.

Which is why I was present last night.  My lemon icebox pie piece got me into the food writing finals.  I am thrilled and so honored to say that I won.  Tracey MacLeod and Yotam Ottolenghi presented the award.  They were judges in the category as were Marina O’Laughlin and Fay Maschler.  As I said, I’m thrilled.

Thank you to the participants and judges of The YBFs.  It was one of the best nights I’ve had in a while and I will never forget it.  Hugo of Black Hand Food, I’ll never forget you either.  The sleeve of ham you gave me was divine.

Honestly.  Last night was the best.  This morning I woke up feeling grateful and hungover.  When does that happen?

OH.  One last thing.  Before leaving last night’s party, I took a soy honey caramel from Noisette Bakehouse‘s candy dish.  When I later ate it at home, it was no surprise to me that she had won the baking category.  This was confectionery perfection.  Jacque Genin in Paris has nothing on this woman.  That said, I really hope she doesn’t start charging 110 Euros a kilo for her candy otherwise I’ll probably never taste it again.

hall John Singer Sargent's Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose John Singer Sargent's Madame X John William Waterhouse's The Lady of Shalott rossettis in the background cakes by Ahh Toots Feast courgette cake orange and earl grey cake Yotam, Tracey, and Misti roses in my drinks walkin' after midnight

ham

 

 

 

 

Chicken Soup with Rice

 

In September, for a while

I will ride a crocodile

Down the chicken soupy Nile

Paddle once, paddle twice

Paddle chicken soup with rice

~Maurice Sendak

     Helena, poor mamaleh, has a cold and I can’t help thinking it has something to do with last week’s puddle splashing.  So after I made roast chicken the other night, I decided Jewish penicillin was in order.  As my stock simmered on the stovetop, I realized, oy vey!, we had no matzoh meal in the house.  I saved all that schmaltz for nothing.  Thank goodness for leftover rice because that’s what I used and it was delicious.  To make this follow my recipe for Roast Chicken to Stock to Soup, but instead of adding matzo balls or pasta shapes, add 1-2 cups of rice.  I wanted to use red camargue but just like the matzoh meal, I was out.  I know.  I’ve clearly been slacking on keeping my pantry properly stocked.  All the same, I used basmati and it was wonderful.  “Chicken soup with rice is nice,” Helena has been chanting.  Thus the Maurice Sendak.  I bought her a copy of the poem today and she loves it like I hope you’ll love this soup.

2014-08-25 19.15.50

 3 bears soup

RRRRatatouille

My husband’s Auntie M. is extremely grand.  She is the kind of woman who has a favorite table at The Wolseley.  Ditto J. Sheekey’s.  Ditto Ronnie Scott’s.  Of course she hasn’t been to the latter since the late 60s.  Why should she?  Mose Allison hasn’t been in years.  And though she is a woman, she has celebrated more than a few of her birthdays with private parties at Boodle’s.  The smoked eel there is wonderful.  Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.  Did I mention Auntie M. is extremely grand?  She is.  She has the diction of a Mitford and better posture than the queen.

On my 30th birthday, Auntie M. gave me an Hermès scarf.  She told me now that I was a woman of a certain age, my wardrobe required it.  

Last week, I saw Auntie M. and she gave me a few heads of wild French garlic.  She had just been to her home in the Languedoc and picked up several beautiful bunches before crossing the channel back to Angleterre.

garlic from Pomerols

This gift inspired me to make an enormous pot of ratatouille.  Not only because it’s delicious but because I can’t wait to tell Auntie M.  I always smile at the way she rrrrolls her posh Scottish Rs.

 

Ingredients:   

7 cloves of garlic, grated

2 onions, chopped

2 medium eggplant (aubergines), chopped

3 zucchini (courgettes), chopped

4 bell peppers, I like to get all different colors

600 grams piccolo tomatoes, quartered and de-seeded

1 bunch of thyme, chopped

1 bunch of basil, chopped

1/2 bunch parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons tomato paste

salt and pepper

olive oil

 

Method:

In a large pot, heat about a 1/4 cup of olive oil over a medium low flame.  Then add the onions and garlic.

saute onions and garlic

Stir constantly, making sure nothing burns.  When they start to caramelize, add the eggplant and thyme.

eggplant eggplant and thyme

 

When that starts to go soft, add the peppers, zucchini, and half the basil.  

peppers and courgettes

When those start to go soft, add the tomatoes and tomato paste.  Stir to incorporate.  

650 g tomatoescooking

Season with salt and pepper and don’t be precious with the salt.  You’ll need quite a bit.  Garnish with the remaining basil and serve.

serving

This goes so well with Bandol Rosé or a Picpoul de Pinet, my favorite being from Domaine La Grangette as my husband recently wrote about.