Continuing merrily on with the resolution bashing food, these burgers will reduce any will you have left to a quivering submissive jelly.  It’s not often that I can say I agree with Gordon Ramsey, but I have to say he’s spot on with his latest article for The Times; January is not a month to deprive yourself.  It’s absolutely freezing outside, all the presents are discarded, you’re back at work, it’s ages until summer – the only thing keeping a suicide attempt at bay is food.  So go on, tuck into these delicious homemade burgers.

Happiness Burgers

 

 

Ingredients

500g lean mince beef

2 spring onions, finely chopped

Half a white onion finely chopped (slice the other half and keep to one side)

3- 4 tablespoons gherkins finely chopped

1 egg

Salt and pepper

Tablespoon of olive oil

½ teaspoon of chilli flakes

1 Packet of pre-sliced cheese (I used President Emmental)

4 cheap burger buns (sesame seeds essential)

Whatever garnish you like; mayo, mustard, tomato, lettuce, more gherkins

Pre-sliced cheese essential

Making

  1. Mix all the mince, onions, gherkins, egg, good grind of seasoning, olive oil and chilli flakes in a big bowl with your hands until well mixed.  Make four – six burgers, cover with cling film and put in the fridge.

  1. Get all your salad garnishes ready on a plate and your condiments on the table, buns sliced and in the toaster.  If you like your onions raw then put them on the garnish plate, if you like them burnt put them in the heavy bottomed, non-stick frying pan that you’re going to cook the burgers on (I used my new skillet which I don’t think is non-stick, it worked fine and had those lovely chargrilled lines on).
  2. Is everything ready? Right. Put a drizzle olive oil in your pan and put it on a high heat.
  3. Get your burgers out of the oven and put two on to fry. Fry on one side for 4 minutes, and the other for 5 – 7 minutes depending on how thick they are.
  4. About a minute from the end, put a slice a cheese on top of each burger and put your buns into toast. Plates ready!
  5. Put a burger on each slightly toasted bun and go through to the table where pickles and mayonnaise will spank those January blues right into March. 
  6. If there are four of you eat the remaining two burgers, if there are two of you delude yourself until about half way through that you will eat two burgers, then admit defeat and put them in the freezer (wrapped in clingfilm).

Recipe first, story after. This recipe nearly drove me to madness, so please be warned.  If you have a weakness for dairy fat, this may push you over the edge. New Year’s Resolutions will be broken.

 Oh sweet temptation

Baked Spinach

(adapted from the Steamy Kitchen recipe)

Makes two ramekins

450 g frozen chopped spinach, defrosted

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated if you have)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper powder

225g mascarpone cheese, softened at room temperature

120 g grated parmesan cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 350F. 

2. Take a handful of the defrosted spinach and squeeze and discard the water from the spinach. Squeeze as much of the water out as you can. 

3. Heat a frying pan over medium heat. When hot, add the olive oil and swirl to coat. Add the onions and saute until soft and translucent, about 4-5 minutes (take your time, if you do this over high heat, the onions will burn and become bitter). Add the spinach and saute until the spinach is warm, but still bright green (about 30 seconds.)

4. Season and stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cayenne. Turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone cheese and the grated parmesan. 

5. Pour into 2 small ramekins (or other oven-safe dish) and bake for 30 minutes until the cheese is bubbling around the edges. Serve warm with pita bread or celery sticks if you’ve stuck to your new years resolutions.

 Right so food over – procrastination time:

Have you seen Julie & Julia by Julie Powell?  For those who are as behind as me; the book and subsequent film adaptation are about Julie Powell’s attempt to cook the 524 recipes of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, in one year.  She created a blog to document the Project as it went along. She shares her tiny New York apartment with three cats, one husband and no money.  She is also semi-alcoholic, quite mad and absolutely loathes her secretarial temping job.

I came to the book backwards, having first read an article in The Sunday Times about her second book Cleaving.  The cover of the magazine had an ominous picture of Powell holding an enormous cleaver over a hunk of flesh. She wasn’t smiling, and she looked vaguely terrifying.  The article seemed to reinforce this idea.  It emerged that she had recently had an affair with an old school friend, had quit her loathed secretarial job and embarked on an apprentice as a butcher.  She hated women who asked for skinless, boneless chicken breasts. 

The next day I clicked on her blog.  The latest post talked about how Julia Child hated the blog, the book and basically anything Julie touched.  I felt strangely sad for Powell, even though the article hadn’t left a very positive mark.

So then I come to the book, which I got for Christmas.  I read it through.   Say what you like about Julie, she is unputdownable:  infuriating and terrifying and hilarious.  I recognized a kindred sprit – flailing round the kitchen drunk and tired and dirty, grimly hoping it will all turn out okay – and was repulsed in equal measure.  Repulsed I think partly because of her honesty.  Non-fiction is always a little uncomfortable.

The book it reminded me of (in being it’s complete opposite), is A Homemade Life by Molly Wizenburg, which is also a book from a blog in keeping with the Internet-sandpit approach the publishers favour nowadays.  

In fact, her tagline is  “Life itself is the proper binge” – Julia Child, so maybe the connection isn’t quite so random. 

Molly’s book is gentle, sweet and lovely. She finds vintage champagne glasses with her devoted boyfriend, and cooks with produce from  farmers markets.  She loves salad.  Her instructions at the beginning of the book are  gently militant about reading recipes before you start and cleaning up as you go.  By contrast, Julie shops in random Korean corner stores, rarely reads a recipe before she starts and cooks knee deep in dirty dishes, sauce splashes and cat hair.  All of the dishes involve  industrial quantities of butter. 

Although Julie is cooking for a vast and challenging project,  clearly this is the way she lives her life.  Teetering on the edge of control.  Obsessed with some Grand Endeavour. Molly on the other hand, seems serenely organised, pretty and clean, happily pedestrian.  Yes she licks cream cheese off her fingers late at night, I’m sure.  But I doubt she would find herself at work sniffing a suspicious bad smell, coming from herself and wondering whether its Burger King special sauce, as Julie does one day.

I swing between Molly and Julie, depending on the time of day, where I am. How hungry I’m feeling. But on Wednesday I was Julia all the way.  On not much more than a whim and a hint of insanity, I knew that I needed to cook Baked Spinach.

This recipe involved many ingredients that I just knew London’s corner shops would not sell. I found parmesan and frozen spinach fine.  The spices I had.  Mascarpone  was extremely elusive.  I rang my local Costcutter (just how worrying is that sentence), where they had no idea what mascarpone was.  A local, very posh expensive food shop promised they had it and that it would be open until 6pm.  I got out of work early and raced for the bus, which didn’t come for ages.  I then got off two stops too early.  I ran clattering through the rain to The Posh Shop, got there panting and crazed at 10 to 6 to see a very closed and deserted shop.  (I should mention at this point that it was lashing freezing rain.)

I could admit defeat, wait for the bus and catch it the short distance home.  Or I could walk back (about 20 minutes) and try every single Off License and corner shop in the extremely unlikely event that one bit just have mascarpone.

Of course, I walked. To those who aren’t familiar with the London Off License; they are often narrow, very brightly lit, with loud Arabic television watched by one or more surly men.  Some are very helpful.  Most aren’t.   None had mascasrpone.   Finally, bedraggled and almost hopeless, I waded into Costcutter.  It had mascarpone. Lots and lots of tubs of it.  I picked it ran to the till and giddly shouted at the man at the till “You DID have it”.  Needless to say he had absolutely no idea what I was talking about, and  started talking softly to his colleague in Urdu.

Nonetheless, I was joyous.  I stepped outside and bumped into P. I had texted him to ask him to go out and find me mascarpone.  Sensibly, he had refused.  He will help, up to a limit, with these crazed food adventures of mine.  But finding thick butter cream on a freezing day with no actual need, indeed when he was not even going to eat it, was beyond his reserves.  Anyway I came out, saw him and waved the tub in the air wailing, giggling and generally acting mental.  He patiently listened to my story of woe, and then gently asked if I was OK.  I realised when I got home and saw mascara running down my face, wet frizzy hair all over the place and a glint of mania in my eye, how worried he might have been. 

I then made this bloody baked spinach thing, which was amazing by the way.  While munching through it, resolutions crashing around me, I settled to read Julie & Julia, and realised how much Julie and I had in common.

Well that didn’t last long did it?! The regular blogging I mean.  Although you could say that about Christmas.  Just two or three days and it’s all over.  Now it’s that awkward middley bit between Christmas and New Year.  It’s a time I can’t help reflecting on what I have and haven’t done this year.  I’m sorely tempted to succumb to post-Christmas blues and eat only melted cheese until New Year’s Eve when some solid carbs will be the order of the day.  Anyway, I hope you all had wonderfully decadent Christmas’ and that Santa brought you heaps of goodies.

I was obviously a very good girl this year, because he brought me a MagiMix and my first Le Creuset  pan.  It’s a cast-iron griddle, super heavy and stern looking.  It demands respect.  I feel safer with it in the house because I know that if someone tried to rob me one firm whack round the head with the Creuset would sort them out. 

Burgurlar bashing aside, both presents received girlish squeals of delight. Most excitingly for you though dearest readers; I was given an amazing camera.

No more blurry shots of my tea! 

Soon all the colourful delights of my culinary adventures will be on display.  I have misplaced the CD to upload them onto my laptop (I’m praying it’s at my parents house) so I am storing up some gorgeous shots of creamy baked spinach, cheesy cottage pie and when the MagiMix arrives (no way I was lugging that massive box on the train) there will be all kinds of cakes, dips and soups to feast your eyes on.

Until then enjoy the rest of the holidays, rave like it’s the end of a decade on Thursday and get ready for some good eating come 2010.

Two posts!  In as many days! No, my computer has not been hijacked by a super-blogger intent on making you chubby.  I’m trying this new thing called blogging regularly. It’s pretty exciting, and I’m only on the second day.  Joining in my mad cap experiment is Julia Smith, who will work up your appetite with her furious ranting.  I’m sure even political-type creatures stop for tea occasionally.

In keeping with our blog-bond, my recipe tonight is dedicated to her.  Red, juicy meat cooked in its own buttery juices; what better way to say I’m one of people! I will not be conquered! (Or, possibly, I’m a steak-loving dictator…mmm…will have to work on my political themed meals).  But for:

Ten Minute Steak

Ingredients

2 sirloin steaks (mine were British, air-dried, from Waitrose so they must be good)

Roseval new potatoes (enough for two – halved)

Green beans (enough for two – trimmed)

Salt and pepper

Butter and olive oil

Making

Season the steaks well, on both sides and leave to come up to room temperature for 10 – 30 minutes.

Put the oven on a low – medium heat, around 100C, you could roast a couple of Portobello mushrooms and tomatoes in here while everything else is cooking.

Put the potatoes on about 15 minutes before you want to eat.

In a large, flat bottom frying pan, heat a good wodge of butter (30g?) and a good splash of olive oil (2 tbsp?).  Get them really hot, until it’s just starting to brown.

Add the steaks and fry on each for 1 minute. Time yourself. Be firm.

Put the steaks on a resting tray (thanks Grandma!) or on a plate and pop in the warm oven (along with your eating plates).

Add the green beans to the steak pan and fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.

When the potatoes are ready crush up with a fork and then pour on some of the steak fat.

Serve up like so:

Political Steak

 

 The first time I cooked red cabbage it went blue.  I boiled the life, the very red, out of it. (Other culinary delights served at that meal were raw jacket potatoes, off sour cream and pork chops as tough as leather).

Now if you read below you will see I have mastered Savoy cabbage.  I made it sexy.  But on a whim I had also brought red cabbage.  It sat in the fridge for at least a week.  It eyed me redly each time I looked in.  It dared me to make a meal of it.  I wasn’t ready. 

Could I forgive myself massacring the bright little vegetable again?  On Thursday the decision was made for me.  With nothing in the fridge except said cabbage and some other bits, I thought what the heck! It’s only cabbage! It can’t kill me!

It was the highlight of the meal, surpassing whatever protein and carb is was served with; it was so good I can’t even remember what they were.  Oh what lovely things happen with a bit of courage, and masses of butter.

Righteous Red Cabbage

 

Steamy Hot Cabbage Love

Ingredients

I admit, this is one of those where I measured nothing, I threw it all in, half expectant of disaster, half hypnotized by the buttery red smell of lovely cabbage coming from the pan.  Do the same.

Half a red cabbage

25g butter (perhaps more or less, I’m not sure, just whack it in)

Two tablespoons of water

Two – three tablespoons of balsamic vinegar (glug it in)

Roughly two tablespoons of pine nuts (throw them in)

Roughly two tablespoons of capers (throw them in again, although do drain the vinegar off them first)

Salt

Making

 

1. Slice the cabbage in slivers (shred it)

2. Melt the butter in a big, deep frying pan

3. Add the cabbage, stir around and then add the water

4. Fry, stirring about for a bit until it’s starting to go a bit limper

5. Add the pine nuts, stir about for a minute or so

6. Glug in the balsamic vinegar

7. Add the capers

8. Stir around, nibbling little shreds of it until it’s the right texture for you

9. Add some salt (to taste).

10. Enjoy with whatever else is the fridge

In other news:

At the weekend P and I had a big party (sorry if you weren’t invited, come next time).  I made roast potatoes.  I forgot to boil them, arghh disaster I thought.  But not, quartered maris pipers cooked in plenty of very hot olive oil, with lots of smashed garlic cloves and rosemary springs for an hour or so made delicious crispy, fluffy inside roasties that were devoured by my drunken friends.

The sausages were more problematic.  I cooked all 80 of the cocktail king with 2 tablespoons each of sesame seed oil, soy sauce and honey. A kindly guest (read a drunken boy) smelt the lovely sausages, cooking happily in their marinade. He saw all the hot runny juices and silly, hapless creature thought the juice was fat.  He poured all that salty sweet marinade down the sink. ARGH!! Luckily the sausages had covered themselves and sucked up a lot of the flavour so it wasn’t a total disaster. But a lesson to be learnt – never let strangers touch the oven. Ever.

 Wikipedia has reliably informed me that spaghetti alla puttanesca means Whore’s Spaghetti, whore in Italian being puttana.  

According to chef Jeff Smith of the Frugal Gourmet, it was a quick, cheap meal that prostitutes could prepare between customers.  So, in the theme of all things sexy (see cabbage below) this pasta dish seemed a fitting follow-on post. 

I occasionally crave pasta.  My darling mother taught me that you should listen to your cravings as they are your body telling you it needs something. 

Does my body actually need a double portion of refined carbohydrates smothered in oily, salty tomato sauce? I’m not sure. But it’s winter, so maybe it needs stores to see me through the cold.  

I can imagine this dish would certainly see a lady of the night through until morning anyway… 

Prostitute Pasta

Keeps you going all night

 

Ingredients

Good olive oil (I use Cyrus extra virgin)
4 cloves of garlic flattened and cut in half (length ways)
1 yellow/white onion (finely chopped)
1 tin of anchovies (chopped up)
1 tin of plum or chopped tomatoes
1 medium red chilli (into thin slices)
1 jar of black olives, chopped into thirds (the fiddlest part of the whole recipe)
3 tablespoons of capers (drained)
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon of dried parsley
Pasta (enough for two)

Making

1. In a bowl add the tomatoes, chilli, capers, olives, parlsey and a grinding of salt and pepper – if you’re using plum tomatoes chop them up
2. In a deep frying pan heat the oil and then add the garlic, cook until browned but not burnt (meanwhile boil the kettle)
3. Add the onions and cook for 3 minutes

 

 
Fishy, garlic, onion breath, what a passion starter
4. Add the anchovies for a minutes
5. Put your pasta on (remember to salt well)
6. Add the tomato mix to the frying pan and cook on a high heat, stirring occasionally and crushing with any lumps up with a fork
7. Drain the pasta when still al dente, leave about a tablespoon of water in
8. Add a little olive oil and salt to the pasta, stir about and then plate up
9. Add the sauce on top, sprinkle a little bit of dried or fresh parsley on top and serve to the waiting whores.

I served this with my favourite garlic chilli prawns:

Ingredients

1 packet raw (this is crucial) king prawns
1 medium chilli (thinly sliced)
3 fat cloves of garlic (crushed and chopped up)
1 tablespoon of good quality olive oil
Salt and pepper

Making

1. Before starting anything else mix the above ingredients in bowl and then put to oneside
2. After dishing up the pasta and sauce, put the deep frying back on the hob on a high heat, add the prawns and cook until pink
3. Either find room on the pasta plate (hard) or serve up seperately on a side plate.

Just a quick one this time.  You must make this.  It’s easy and tasty and cheap and warming. 

Sexed up Cabbage
Ingredients   

One savoy cabbage (into strips)   
One white onion (finely chopped)  
1 litre Chicken stock  
1 packet Streaky bacon(very roughly chopped, chunky 1cm pieces)  
1/5 litre white wine (half a bottle ish, the rest for quaffing)  
New potatoes (enough for two – into thirds) 
25g salted butter  
1 tin Butter beans  
Salt and pepper 
 

Making – you’ll need a wok or deep frying pan  
 

Heat a spalsh of olive oil in your pan on a high heat and add the bacon. Cook until crispy and remove to a seperate bowl.  
 

Add the butter to your pan, heat gently and add your onion, fry for 5 minutes until softening, then add your cabbage and fry gently for a further 10 minutes.  
 

Add the bacon, salt and pepper and then add the chicken stock and potatoes and turn up the heat – let it come to a boil.  
 

Then add the white wine, bring to a boil again  and then simmer for 15 minutes or so until the potatoes are tender, you may want to stick a lid on – just depends how runny you want it.  
 

Add the butter beans about 5 minutes from the end.  
 

Serve with bread and butter  
 

Pretend that you will save some for lunch whilst in fact eating it all that night, mostly with spoon out of the pan.
 

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