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Two cooks
at different sides of the country

Spanish Style Omelette Inspired by a Trip to Transylvania

3 months ago

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Wild Bath Asparagus with Dahl and Rice. - recipe to follow….(Matthew)

Wild Bath Asparagus with Dahl and Rice. - recipe to follow….(Matthew)

Why I prefer improvising to following recipes.

I’m not very good at following recipes. I can do it but for some reason the process doesn’t come easily to me and I get bored very quickly just thinking about it. I really enjoy reading recipes and cook books in general and also watching others cook on tv or in real life and often feel totally inspired by what they are doing - whilst mentally logging certain tips or taste combinations, ideas for unusual ingredients or just learning really simple techniques I hadn’t thought of previously.

My approach to cooking feels more like a ‘traditional’ thing. A thing passed down. There’s an element of watching and demonstrating, feeling my way through the process and using ingredients that are around without needing a trip to the supermarket. As a result I feel so much more satisfied with the result. The absence of weighing ingredients and throwing random things into the mix makes me feel good and that’s at the heart of why I love it. It’s the improvisation that I love, the problem-solving, the freedom and lack of constraint.

There are caveats to this of course and with certain things (bread), I don’t have the confidence to chuck it all in the air and see where it lands (not literally of course, that would be very messy and wasteful). I’m not advocating the dispensing of recipe-following but I do feel that unless a cook abstains from it once in a while they may not get a feel and confidence for their own creativity or palette.  

Most of my enormous family are similar I think, all seeming very confident in creating delicious food without recipes with a wide variety of beautiful textures and flavours and I’m trying to understand what gave us all the love of cooking, the appreciation of tasty and satisfying home-cooked food and the ability to pull it off. Getting together for big family parties is always wonderful as it completely centres around the food and what everyone has brought along for the big meal. Many dishes being our own versions of family favourites - like ball curry - or completely new additions that havn’t been done before. I usually stuff myself silly and spend the rest of the day ‘repeating’ and burping the delicious flavours and aromas that remind me of the fantastic meal. Sorry.

I thank my mum who I believe instilled a confidence in me for cooking and passed down the concept of putting love into the food that I make. On rainy, boring days during school holidays, with the absence of anything interesting to do, I often went to my mum for ideas. She was usually in the kitchen and was completely happy for me to use up ingredients and experiment with what we had, giving me free reign whilst keeping off my back. Sometimes I got to watch the dahl and rice being made with a slightly different hint of this or that, and then later while sitting down at the table recognise to myself the mystery ingredient in the meal…and then over the years I think, developing a palette and vocabulary of tastes.

For me, the main purpose of this blog is to get down family recipes, things I’ve created and my general approach to cooking and mostly as an archive for Benjamin and Thea to use as a resource when they leave home and start cooking for themselves. I know George feels the same way about his kids and wants to instil a love of food in them too. We shouldn’t worry. They’ll be fine. 

I will continue to write my recipes down on this blog but for anyone that reads them, don’t take mine too seriously. Or at least follow them and then next time try your own version. (Matthew)

An old bread tray filled with post-walk treats. From top to bottom: Milk Chocolate Tiffin, Dark Chocolate Tiffin, Baklava, Yorkshire Parkin, Sausage Rolls.(George)

An old bread tray filled with post-walk treats. From top to bottom: Milk Chocolate Tiffin, Dark Chocolate Tiffin, Baklava, Yorkshire Parkin, Sausage Rolls.
(George)

A Tray of Treats

It was my wife’s birthday last week and to celebrate the occasion we organised a large-scale family walk. About thirty of us. It was a cold but bright Sunday, and the weather was dry, which was lucky as it’d been tipping it down non-stop the day before.

And as it’s nice to provide something tasty at the end of a stout stroll I made a tray of treats which were warmly welcomed by all when we got back to the cars: Chocolate Tiffin (milk and dark), Baklava, Yorkshire Parkin and three types of sausage rolls (vegetarian, and mustard and black pudding laced versions). The sausage rolls were cooked just before we left for the park and wrapped first in foil and then in a bath towel. Three hours later they still had the breath of the oven on them and were soft and warm. As you can see from the photo they were the first to go.

Looking over previous posts you’ll see I’m a keen collector of kitchenalia (look at the sandwich toasters), and some years ago I picked up a giant four litre capacity army thermos flask. I filled that with hot chocolate and with the aid of a ladle and some paper cups we warmed up the walkers nicely while they tucked into their refreshments.

Chocolate Tiffin Cake

400g digestive biscuits (crushed to death)
250g butter
6 tablespoons golden syrup
4 tablespoons cocoa powder
100g chopped walnuts
50g chopped pistachios
15 or so glace cherries
100g raisins
a generous splash of Kahlua
300g chocolate (milk, dark, or white, whatever you prefer)

You’ll need a couple of 20cm square cake tins, or use your GCSE maths skills to calculate approximately 800 square centimetres in something else - so a 32cm diameter cake tin for example:
πr² when r=16. So 16 x 16 x π = 804cm² (to the nearest cm²)
and that’s close enough.

(SEE, your maths teacher told you it’d be useful. Very good for cooking and very good for home DIY too I’ve found)

Line your tin or tins with baking parchment and butter the sides.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, then add the syrup and the cocoa and stir, and then add everything else except the chocolate and mix it all together.

Tumble the mixture into the tin and even it out pressing it to compact it together - I use a potato masher to tamp it down. Then set it aside.

Melt the chocolate by either setting it in a bowl over simmering water, or I personally prefer to just break it into a bowl and put that into a warm oven for a few minutes. When it’s melted spoon it over the mixture and spread it out.

Leave to cool, cut into rectangles. That’s it.
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Baklava

20 layers of filo pastry (you’ll need a reasonably deep oven tray that’s about 20 x 30cm, so one sheet might do two layers, depending on the size of the pastry)
200g butter
250g nuts (I used about half cashews and half pistachios, but I’ve used walnuts, pecans, and even thrown in a few sesame seeds and toasted pumpkin seeds before too to make up the bulk)
2 tablespoons demerara sugar
the seeds from about 7 green cardamoms
half a teaspoon cinnamon powder
an extra 20 or so pistachios

For The Syrup:
300g white sugar (or brown sugar)
250ml water
the juice of half a lemon
1.5 tablespoons orange blossom water

Heat the oven to 180C

Melt the butter. Brush a little on the bottom of the tin and then lay in a sheet of filo. Brush on more butter, and then another sheet. Do this until you’ve done 10 layers.

Chop, (or food process) the nuts (reserving the 20 or so extra pistachios) and mix with the demerara and the cinnamon. Grind the cardamom seeds to a powder and stir in, and then arrange in a layer on the filo. Then do as before ten more layers of filo and butter, brushing the top layer with butter at the end.

Carefully cut the baklava into the shapes you want (diamonds, triangles etc) before putting in the oven.

Bake for 20 minutes and then drop the temperature to 150C for a further 40 minutes.

While the bakala is baking make the syrup by putting all the syrup ingredients in a pan, bring it to a simmer and let it cook for about 30 mins on a low heat until nice and syrupy.

When the baklava is baked spoon over the hot syrup.

Finally chop the extra pistachios finely and sprinkle a little mound on top of each piece. Wait until cool before completing the cuts and lifting them out.

SO GOOD with a strong coffee.
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Yorkshire Parkin (Vegan, almost, if you don’t count the egg white)

110g wholemeal self-raising flour
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon mixed spice
75g medium oatmeal
175g golden syrup
50g black treacle
110g olive oil
110g brown sugar
2 egg whites
a little soya milk

Set the oven to 140C, and rub a little olive oil over the inside of a long loaf tin. Line the bottom with baking parchment.

Mix the dry ingredients together.

In a pan mix together the syrup, treacle, oil and sugar and bring up to a simmer, then add this to the dry ingredients and mix.

Add the two egg whites, mix again, and then add a little milk until you’ve got the consistency of a pouring batter.

Pour this into the tin and bake for about 50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.

Ideally put the cooled parkin, cut into squares or sticks, in a tupperware box for a good 4-5 days before eating as this will help it develop the heavy sticky syrupy consistency that you’re after.
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Sausage Rolls

Bought puff pastry, bought good sausages with skins removed, bought black pudding, bought vegetarian sausage mixture, mustard, sesame seeds, brushed with egg wash. Easy. Don’t need a recipe for that. 
(George)

This is my collection of old sandwich toasting irons. They’re mostly French, a couple from the USA and one from England. The toasted cheese and chilli sandwich that’s pictured above the blog title was made with the one third in from the right on the middle row.(George)

This is my collection of old sandwich toasting irons. They’re mostly French, a couple from the USA and one from England. The toasted cheese and chilli sandwich that’s pictured above the blog title was made with the one third in from the right on the middle row.
(George)

And here is the Serrano Ham brought back from Spain, finely sliced on a plate, and dressed with nothing more than a little black pepper. And that’s Zoe in the background. (George)

And here is the Serrano Ham brought back from Spain, finely sliced on a plate, and dressed with nothing more than a little black pepper. And that’s Zoe in the background. (George)


GEORGE WITH HAMI did a quick portrait of George with his newly aquired pig’s leg one day after returning from our families’ favourite supermarket in Javea whilst on holiday in Spain. He was very excited about the new ham and I wanted to catch some of that excitement in the photo. I shot it in the kitchen just using window light and a bit of off-camera flash. I’d only brought my little Fuji x100 along but it did an admirable job I think.(Matthew)

GEORGE WITH HAM
I did a quick portrait of George with his newly aquired pig’s leg one day after returning from our families’ favourite supermarket in Javea whilst on holiday in Spain. He was very excited about the new ham and I wanted to catch some of that excitement in the photo. I shot it in the kitchen just using window light and a bit of off-camera flash. I’d only brought my little Fuji x100 along but it did an admirable job I think.
(Matthew)

Some months ago when visiting his house, Matt made a wonderful Anglo-Indian dish called Ball Curry. I loved it, so when I got home I made it too. Here’s mine. I won’t give you the recipe as I know Matt’s going to do so, but here’s a photo of mine.(George)

Some months ago when visiting his house, Matt made a wonderful Anglo-Indian dish called Ball Curry. I loved it, so when I got home I made it too. Here’s mine. I won’t give you the recipe as I know Matt’s going to do so, but here’s a photo of mine.
(George)

Matt’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Cake with a Pistachio and Popping Candy Crumble Topping. For Zoë’s sixteenth birthday (George)

Matt’s Very Fudgy Chocolate Cake with a Pistachio and Popping Candy Crumble Topping. For Zoë’s sixteenth birthday (George)

Pulled Pork for Zoë’s Sixteenth Birthday (George)

Pulled Pork for Zoë’s Sixteenth Birthday (George)

Pork Stroganoff - improvised with what we had left while camping in France(George) 

Pork Stroganoff - improvised with what we had left while camping in France
(George) 

An Improvised Pork Stroganoff

Two thousand three hundred and sixty five miles. A real roadtrip.

We’ve just returned from our summer holiday when we drove from the north coast of France, right down through the middle, over the Pyrenees and on to Barcelona, then down the east coast to Xabia. And then after a week in a beautiful Spanish villa we drove back, this time diagonally across Spain to the west coast crossing the border with France there and then up past Bordeux, into the Loire valley and back to Dieppe. A fantastic and facinating journey watching the terrain, the weather and the roadsign fonts change.

On the way back, and on the way down, we camped. Nine of us, in one tent. And on our final evening we wanted a luxurious meal as it was to be our last dinner together. But it being France and it being Sunday there were of course no shops open anywhere, and as we were trying to use things up we had limited ingredients left. We had some thin pork steaks, half a red pepper that we’d bought back in Spain (the peppers there being overwhelmingly massive and more than that HEAVY, so half one was probably the equivilent to one normal one from the UK), a splash of Spanish dry sherry, onions, garlic… that was about it. We had a few tablespoons of a creamy, mustardy lentil dish from the night before’s dinner, some spices in a box that I’d brought along, some butter, but no cream. I then remembered that we had a pot of Greek yoghurt for breakfasts, and some vegemite which could be a reasonable substitute for stock or soy sauce to get the umami flavour that would otherwise have been added with mushrooms.

So I set about cooking it, and it turned out absolutely lovely. It’s hard to gauge just how nice it was in real life since while I can pass on the cooking times and quantities it’s not possible to add to the recipe the elements of; hunger, sitting outside as it gets dark on camping chairs, rough red wine from enamel mugs, the gentle splash of the Loire, the fear of more mosquito bites, and the potential of another night under canvas, or the fresh memories of an amazing holiday. But I think it was both really tasty, and a good lesson in ‘making do’.

So here’s the recipe. As I mentioned, I added some leftovers from the previous night’s meal, so there’d be little chance of recreating it perfectly again, but that is, I believe, the beauty of cooking - things always coming out a bit different, and often for the better.

Pork Stroganoff (With What We Had)
5 thin boneless pork steaks (sliced into strips)
1 large onion (thinly sliced)
1 clove garlic (thinly sliced)
1 red pepper (sliced into strips)
1 small glass of dry sherry
3 tablespoons of creamy mustardy lentils*
half a teaspoon of vegemite
5 heaped tablespoons of Greek yoghurt
lots of black pepper
a pinch of crushed chilli

I began by frying the onion, garlic and red peppers in a quite a generous knob of butter and a little olive oil until soft. Then transfered them to a dish. To the same pan, nice and hot and with a dash more oil I added the pork strips along with a pinch of smoked paprika, (in two batches so they fried rather than boiled), until nicely browned and added those to the other ingredients. Finally in the pan I boiled the sherry until the alcohol had burned off, then added the vegemite and whisked it in to dissolve it, and finally mixed in the lentils. Back into the pan went all the pork and vegetables and a generous seasoning of black pepper and a little salt and after it had bubbled away for a minute or two I let it cool before beating in the yoghurt one spoonful at a time to stop it splitting (I actually didn’t let it cool quite enough and it split a bit, so be careful). I also put in a final knob of butter and beat that in too before reheating and spinkling over the top some crushed chilli and lots more black pepper.

We had it with plain boiled white rice.

* The lentil thing. I simply fried off an onion and some garlic in a little olive oil until they were nice and soft before adding a generous glass of French dry cider which I let bubble away before pouring in a tin of lentils and a large dollop of Dijon mustard. This was simmered until it was thick and creamy (about 10-15 minutes) and finally a tin of cooked fine beans was added. Very easy, and a campsite dinner that felt worthy of the country it was cooked in. Lovely by itself and even better with a large sausage and some bread.

For the Stroganoff recipe you could just add a big blob of mustard instead.

(George)

Toasted Wholemeal Bread made with flour from the mill at St Dogmaels, Wales. And standing in a very nice wooden toast rack that we got at the car boot sale in Brighton. (George)

Toasted Wholemeal Bread made with flour from the mill at St Dogmaels, Wales. And standing in a very nice wooden toast rack that we got at the car boot sale in Brighton. (George)