Sweet on corn…

It’s still theoretically summer and that means just one thing to me right now….fresh corn on the cob! I can’t get enough of those sweet juicy bursting kernels of sheer goodness in the past few weeks. And with tightly wrapped ears of corn a mere £1 for four at the farmers’ market last week, I can afford to indulge this lust with wild abandon.

I’ve been eating the corn straight from the cobs, lightly boiled and slathered in chili and butter, dripping down my hands and smeared over my face as I eat the barely cooled corn over the sink with glee. I’ve stripped the kernels from the cobs with a knife and added these yellow nuggets of joy to the classic Chilean stew of porotos granados to put my munchkin squash to good use. And I’ve made stock with the denuded cobs and warmed up these increasing autumnal evenings with the delicious chicken and sweetcorn soup from the Leon Cookbook. And yet I still can’t enough corn so when I stumbled across a recipe for double corn muffins, I just had to make them…

A Dan Lepard recipe from the Guardian Weekend magazine, this is an incredibly simple recipe which combines fresh corn kernels, cornmeal and grated courgette, making it perfect for anyone with a zucchini glut! I decided to leave the bacon out as I wasn’t sure if I was serving these to any vegetarians and replaced it with a scotch bonnet pepper for a bit of a tingle. Other than that I followed the recipe exactly.

And it is a particularly easy recipe to follow. A quick softening of the onion, pepper and corn while I measured out the dry ingredients, beat an egg and poured the wet ingredients in my beloved measuring cups, then stirred it all together in one large mixing bowl. No folding, no faffing and absolutely no chance of over working the flour because it all combined beautifully. I mixed up this chunky flavoursome batter and popped it in the fridge overnight, so I could make the muffins fresh on Sunday to take to accompany a fried chicken fest at a friend’s house.

In the morning I spooned one dessertspoon of the batter into a regular sized bun case. Obviously these are meant to be muffins, but I’ve run out of muffin cases and couldn’t be bothered going in search of some over the Bank Holiday weekend. I planned to reduce the cooking time slightly to balance up the smaller sized muffins, but since I’m not at my sharpest early on a Sunday without at least two cups of tea in me, I actually put the oven on at 180° instead of 200° and ended up having to leave them in for 15 minutes longer after turning the oven up a bit to get them both cooked and appetisingly golden brown.

The mini muffins came out looking rich, glossy and golden but the paper cases looked soaked in oil even though I think I might have undermeasured it, but definitely had a bit less courgette in there that might have helped soak it up. I left them to cool slightly on the advice of the recipe to firm up before sampling the smallest and least appealing looking of them just to make sure I wasn’t going to poison anyone!

They were pleasingly firm, breaking apart cleanly and without disintegrating into crumbs. They were deliciously moist and studded with chewy kernels of corn with a good kick from the scotch bonnet and tasted so intense I could have sworn there was a bit of mature cheddar in there too. And despite the marked cases, they weren’t at all oily on the tongue, remaining light and chewy.

While these were a good accompaniment to chicken and would be a good breakfast dish too, they didn’t really make the most of the corn as it ended up tasting suspiciously like tinned sweetcorn after I’d cooked it. In fact with the scotch bonnet added, it tasted a bit like that weird tinned corn with bits of peppers in which was not what I was expecting. They would have been better with the sharpness of cayenne instead of the fruitiness of scotch bonnets or chilli sauce to minimise the tinned feeling. I might even go crazy next time and add some cheddar or parmesan to oomph up the umami undertones they already have.

But if you ever find yourself with a forlorn tin of sweetcorn, a courgette that’s seen better days and 30 minutes to spare, you couldn’t do better than making a batch of these, preferably full sized, and serving one split in half with a fried egg on top for a top class store cupboard supper…

Ravioli

I have had a hankering to make pasta from scratch for quite some time, but the precision of Marcella Hazan’s instructions have made me cautious. I remember my mum making fresh pasta as a child and it always seemed like a grown up version of Play Dough in its simplicity, but this seemed much more tricky and likely to go wrong, especially as I don’t have a pasta machine. Then I stumbled across a much simpler sounding recipe online which seems to have been adapted from this Jamie Oliver recipe and decided that I would take the plunge…

My friend G came for dinner on Friday and I decided to try the ravioli recipe since he would simply laugh if I messed it up and be happy enough to eat pasta out of a packet instead! Plus I could rope him into pouring extra flour or water into the dough if needed to save on getting my sticky paws everywhere!

And I’m glad I did have him on hand. As usual, the recipe called for large eggs when I only ever buy medium (a friend who keeps hens tells me the large ones are bad for the hen) so I immediately wasn’t sure if my proportions were right. I added an extra teaspoon of olive oil and the whole 55ml of water called for, but the dough seemed incredibly sticky, so G sifted in a tablespoon or so of extra flour and it seemed to come together very nicely. I then kneaded it for about 5 minutes and it was beautifully glossy and elastic at that point and very easy to work with the rolling pin.

I quartered the dough, learned from my mistake with the pretzels the other week and oiled the worktop before rolling the dough as thin as I could with my rolling pin. I then used a shot glass to cut circles from the dough, before rolling them again to make them thinner and easier to fill.

My choice of filling was some chard fresh from the garden, sauteed down with some anchovy and garlic, cooled slightly and chopped even finer before squeezing any excess liquid from it. I thought the iron rich tang of the chard would complement the pasta perfectly, like spinach on steroids. The leaves and stalks had a lovely texture and I put a teaspoon full of the mix onto each a pasta circle, brushed the other half with water and then pressed them together, before using the shot glass to cut the dough again to give a neat looking finish.

This is all very simple, but unsurprisingly since it was the first time I had ever worked with pasta, mind-numbingly time consuming. Making enough ravioli to cover a dinner plate, took me about an hour and used a quarter of the dough. G was almost ready to eat a tea towel by the time I started on the second quarter. I made about 2/3 of the same amount again before I ran out of chard and abandoned the pretence of making any more ravioli before one or other of us actually fainted with hunger.

The home grown tomatoes had been slowly roasting in the oven throughout my protracted pasta session and were perfectly cooked and ready to go so I got a large pan of boiling water going on the cooker and realised in my glee at making recognisable ravioli I had forgotten to oil the plate they were sitting on or even dredge the pasta with flour like the recipe instructed. So my lovely little ravioli were stuck fast and required some almost surgical attention with some warm water and a knife to prise them loose, meaning some of them looked a bit stretched and others had actually holes in places. I patched them up as best I could and cooked them for about 4 minutes til they came to the surface of the water.

Slightly battered, but beautiful!

I drained them in a sieve, put them back in the pan to dry out further on the heat, added a teaspoon of oil to prevent them sticking together and served them up with a splash of ruby red tomato sauce and some grated parmesan on top…and they were great!

The chard worked beautifully with the pasta, the tomatoes tasted like heaven and the pasta was soft and silky and even where it was a little bit thick at the edges in places, it wasn’t heavy or claggy on the tongue, just a reminder that when you think the dough is thin enough, roll it again! But despite this, we were both impressed by the pasta and ate every scrap in record time.

I’ll definitely been making fresh pasta using this recipe again, but making sure I roll, roll and roll again first. Hopefully with a bit of practise my ravioli won’t take all night in future. I was certainly a bit faster when I used the leftover dough to make a fantastic summer vegetable lasagne the next night! I might even manage to take some half decent photos too!

Summer pudding

Yes yes, I know summer is hiding her light under a bushel right now, but I’m hoping to coax her back by eating a variety of delightfully summery dishes all the while. And what is more gloriously summery (or more gloriously British) than a panopoly of soft fruits?

A recent trip to Brixton’s Farmers’ Market came up trumps when I came home with an old fashioned paper pick-you-own punnet with a handle filled with fresh juicy Kent cherries, gorgeous redcurrants and tiny tart whitecurrants all for £4. The cherries didn’t even make it til teatime, eaten one handed on the patio while reading the Sunday papers. The currants didn’t lend themselves just as well to absent-minded nibbling being much tarter and less juicy. I half-heartedly ate a few and went off to rummage in the freezer for something for dinner…

And while there I espied a forgotten bag of frozen summer fruits from Sainsbury’s and my mind leapt to making a juice drenched summer pudding as a beautiful vehicle for some organic thick cream I happened to have picked up as well. I’m a big fan of the frozen fruits Sainsbury’s sell, especially when on an offer for three bags for a fiver and often buy them to make my five a day more interesting and affordable. The fact that they also make a mean frozen daiquiri is entirely incidental!

I haven’t eaten summer pudding for years and wasn’t entirely sure how you make it, but figured it would be fairly easy once I found a recipe. A quick Google turned up this fantastically easy sounding one from Sophie Grigson on the BBC Food Website that sums up just how easy this fabulous dessert is to make! Especially since my local shop has an inability to sell fresh sliced bread, with all their loaves seeming a bit dry round the edges. This makes them perfect for a good summer pud!

Luckily I had lots of time to make the pudding so I was able to leave the frozen fruits to defrost overnight and brings the juices out as recommended, although I halved the amount of sugar she suggested. However I don’t think you’d be missing too much if you go straight to the heating stage. I simmered the fruit for about ten minutes, before adding a few tablespoons of Ribena and allowing it to cool enough to be able to dip my bread into without burning myself. I trimmed the bread of crusts while I waited and cut the slices into triangles, except for one that I cut into a circle using the base of the bowl as a template.

Once the fruit mixture had cooled enough, I dipped the circle of bread for the base in juice on both sides and began lining the bowl. I dipped each triangle on one side and began making my juicy jigsaw, wedging each piece of bread in carefully to make sure there were no gaps, adding little plugs of bread where needed. I then filled the bread shell up with the gorgeous fruit mixture and realised I was slightly short of bread to make the lid. Some judicious cutting and trimming later and all the fruit was covered and I was relieved that no one would see its hotchpotch look when the pudding was served!

I then put a saucer on top of it all, popped the bowl into the vegetable drawer of my fridge and put a few cans of chickpeas on top to weight it down overnight and allow the lovely juices to soak into the bread and help shape the pudding before eating. This should happen overnight, but it was a full 48 hours before I got back to mine. The juice hadn’t completely soaked through the lid and I was a bit worried that the pudding would fall apart when I turned it out. Crossing my fingers while I did it made it a bit trickier, but I needn’t have worried! It slipped out of the bowl easily and looked lusciously purple and mouth-watering on the plate.

I had a generous slice cut and on a plate with a dollop of thick cream in next to no time. It was delicious. The soft succulent bread contrasted with the still crunchy berries beautifully. The cream tempered the slight sourness of the berries and turned this frugal dessert into something truly stunning that I would servee to anyone. I’ve been eating this for breakfast most mornings this week and as well as tasting wonderful, it keeps incredibly well in the fridge. My five a day haven’t been this enjoyable in a long time!

Etta’s Seafood Kitchen, Brixton

Times are a-changing for the 1930s covered market in Brixton formerly known as Granville Arcade. Newly listed to prevent demolition, it has been re-named Brixton Village and is taking on a new lease of life thanks to a mixture of recently opened vintage stores, galleries and pop-up shops and the long established fishmongers and butchery stalls and stores selling food and goods from all over the world. Accompanying these retail outlets are some wonderful places to eat and drink, both new and old…

One of the newer arrivals is Etta’s Seafood Kitchen on 6th Avenue. Immediately welcoming with its purple and pink frontage and tables outside, you step inside to a low key environment with a hotch-potch of tables and some good music playing. The menu is simple, but effective, listing a variety of mains, starters and a great kids’ selection along with fresh juices and sides.

Short and sweet

Etta’s offers a mix of fresh and cooked seafood with both a traditional and Carribean feel with a reasonably priced oyster plate, fish curries or a seafood linguine all sounding enticing. However since M and I had already sneaked a quick slice of pizza at The Agile Rabbit we weren’t just as hungry as we might have been for pasta or rice, and decided to go for a mussel pot each and a portion of the crab fritters to share. Our choice was also influenced by the excellent prices with the mussel pot costing a fiver…

Our drinks arrived quickly and my mango and guava juice was tasty, but I was massively distracted though by the crab fritters coming to the table in style. Freshly fried billowing pillows of golden crabbiness on a lovely rectangular plate and an egg cup of sweet chilli sauce, these looked sensational. And they tasted as good as they looked. Light crunchy outers with soft sweet crab filled middles spiked with fresh chilli and coriander in the batter, they were extremely moreish. I skipped the sweet chilli sauce as I’m not a big fan of it, but the fritters had excellent flavours on their own. We were also impressed by the size of the portion for a mere £3.50.

Crab fritters

The mussels appeared at the table steaming hot and promptly and were again a good sized portion. I love mussels, but find that quite often these days they lack much flavour apart from a brineyness so I was trepidatious. No need, these little babies were sweet and tasty with a gorgeous cooking liquor infused with a hint of curry, fresh coriander and lots of garlic. We abandoned much semblance of table manners and devoured our mountain of mussels with our hands. Despite the finger bowl provided, we created a pile of napkins as tall as that of the mussel shells…

One partly eaten portion of mussels…

We didn’t have a single unopened mussel between us and they were beautifully clean and grit free apart from one solitary barnacle that confirmed these weren’t frozen and thawed bi-valves, but fabulously fresh specimens from a market that specialises in fish! We cleared our plates with gusto and my only complaint was that there was nothing to soak up the cooking juices. I managed to resist the urge to drink them out of the dish and sat back feeling very satisfied.

The cafe around us was a good level of busy for a Tuesday lunchtime with the outside tables playing host to several people just calling in for a quick plate of fresh oysters, as well as those tucking into the lovely looking linguine on their lunchbreak. We didn’t feel rushed to eat and leave, but I can imagine it is a fight to get a table here on a Saturday lunchtime!

Our bill came to a mere £16.50 between two for two mains, a shared starter and drinks. All the food is freshly prepared by Etta herself who chatted away to us as we paid, telling us how her kids help out with the cooking and waiting and that all the ingredients are super-fresh and from the local market where possible. Our mussels though (and much of the fish and seafood) came from Billingsgate rather than the local fishmongers which is fine by me as they were such good quality!

Our lunch genuinely felt like sitting in someone’s kitchen for good food and good feelings, but without any sense of it being contrived or cute. This is good home cooking with a serious does of Brixton charm and style. I love seafood and am tickled pink to discover somewhere close to home to indulge my cravings without taking out a mortgage to pay for it. I can’t wait to go back and try the fish curry and the linguine next…in fact, i’ll even skip the pizza to make sure I can do them justice!

Edamame Bean Dip

Magic beans...

I am a big fan of frozen vegetables. Cheap, long lasting and extremely handy, I usually keep several varieties to hand. But when frozen peas and sweetcorn get a bit bland, I reach for the somewhat trendier frozen soyabeans or edamame from Bird’s Eye to add some Eastern promise to dishes such as fried rice. I love their nutty moreish taste and texture.

So when I espied a little pot of edamame bean dip with chili and lemongrass in Marks and Spencer a few months ago, I couldn’t help snapping it up to try it. It was delicious sweet and nutty with a warming kick, but unsurprisingly it was a tiny pot for the price and laden with oil. I wondered if I could make my own slightly less fatty version.

Back home I got out the soybeans, a nice juicy lemon and some Cap Bon harissa and the blender and pondered what I could do to make this a soft smooth dip that would yield to a toasted pitta or a crisp tortilla chip…and surprisingly my mind turned to cottage cheese!

Here's one I made earlier...

Personally I find cottage cheese on its own to be offensively bland and extremely unappealing, but for this it seemed just right. Low in fat, soft, creamy and easy to blend without an overpowering flavour of its own it would make the perfect base with the soybeans.

Since I was feeling casual in my creation, I didn’t really use any precise measurements. About a quarter of the bag of soybeans were boiled and drained, before going into the blender with the juice of a lemon, a big squirt of harissa, some salt and pepper and about 3 or 4 dessert spoons of cottage cheese. This created the perfect consistency for dipping and spreading with just enough of a chili kick.

Dip-tastic!

I served this for as a surprisingly filling lunch on some Ryvita. The high protein content of the beans makes this tasty and filling without being heavy. It was also just too tempting not to scrape the bowl of the blender clean with a few salted tortilla chips…

Cheap, quick and pretty healthy, this dip has become a bit of a lunchtime favourite already. It stores well in a tupperware pot and is really really good with a  few flatbreads and some fresh tomatoes from the garden if anyone calls unexpectedly and needs a snack. It’s also achieved the impossible and rendered cottage cheese delicious!