06 June, 2008

kebabs al fresco

Isn't it funny how each day has a sort of karma of its own, an immutable flavor that you can't alter, that really has nothing to do with what you're doing but simply infuses the day with a particular mood? Well, yesterday was a good one, a delicious day. Could it have been the perfect blue sky and warm sunshine? Possibly. After dropping Avery off at the stable we headed over to Islington for the latest installment of what has become akin to the search for the Holy Grail: a wardrobe for Avery's bedroom. Honestly, sometimes I wonder what on earth difference it makes when the child it the Compleat Slob: will she even hang things in it, put things in drawers if she has them? Not sure about that. But definitely she can't if she doesn't have a piece of furniture to face up to.

We keep losing wardrobes on eBay, getting all excited, agreeing on how much we want to spend, and then in the last seventeen minutes some evil person grabs it away from us. So we thought maybe real furniture, as opposed to virtual furniture, would be easier actually to buy. No luck on a wardrobe, but we did come away from Castle Gibson (our favorite place for vintage stuff, now sadly going out of business) with a lovely little metal table and two matching chairs for the garden, and leather footstool for the reception room. John later accused the footstool of being "leatherette," but I say err on the side of optimism. For once we were completely decisive and simply bought the things, instead of dithering and finding the next day that someone else had beat us to it. It was so much fun! We left the things at the shop to collect later, and wandered up the high street, popping into Oliver Bonas for a picture frame for a birthday gift, a tiny little fruit and veg stall for kebab ingredients (as you see!), and then discovered (we must be the last to know) the Islington Farmer's Market! As it happens, the oldest farmer's market in London, would you believe it? A lot of the same purveyors as I encounter at the Marylebone Market, but it turns out that just before closing time, as it was, you can get amazing deals: two apple pies for the price of one and a chocolate muffin thrown in, an extra bunch of beetroot, the price of a jar of horseradish rounded down... bargains!

Finally we loaded up the poor Mini with all our purchases and raced home to put the things in their new places: the reception room looks amazing! Our brilliant art installer Mark is here as we speak, hanging all our bits and pieces on the walls and generally turning the place into an art gallery right before my eyes. I always forget during moves how much I love all the pieces we've collected over the years, so many of them from my very own gallery, gifts from artists, gifts from me to John and from him to me, a beloved portrait of Avery here, an abstract collage there... and we've had several things framed over the past couple of weeks, so there are even new things to look at! The poor cleaning lady is beside herself: Mark's tools are everywhere, he's leaving dust from drilling holes in the wall... conflicting agendas for sure.

Back to town to pick upu Avery who was completely filthy and wilted from the sun, and from leading some hapless little girl around the dusty riding ring for an hour on Wodehouse, never a happy task I fear. "I know you'll laugh when I say this, but I NEED ICE CREAM. I don't just want it, I NEED IT." Even her dismay could not dampen my enthusiasm for my day, and it got even better with:

Grilled Kebabs with Tamarind, Honey, Saffron and Lime
(serves four)

2 chicken breast fillets, cut in cubes
4 lamb steaks, cut in cubes
2 red bell peppers, cut in chunks
1 medium eggplant, cut in chunks
1 dozen mushrooms
1 dozen small tomatoes

1/2 cup honey
1 tbsp tamarind paste, mixed with 1 tbsp very hot water
pinch saffron threads, dissolved in hot water
juice of 1 lime
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-inch knob ginger, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the chicken and lamb in one shallow dish and the vegetables in another (this is for reasons of raw meat hygiene). Mix all the marinade ingredients together and pour half over the meat and half over the veg and leave them as long as you like, stirring occasionally. When you're ready, shove all the bits and pieces onto metal skewers (if you use wood or bamboo be sure to soak them in water beforehand to avoid scorching) and grill over an open flame about 4 minutes, then turn over and grill another 4 minutes. I didn't have an open flame, but I did have my handy grill within my oven which has elements above the cooking surface, and the same timing worked perfectly.


With this (and didn't John take a brilliant photograph?) we had a nice couscous dish, and I'm going to cheat and tell you what I did wrong so you don't make the same mistake. Make sure you don't cook too much couscous! I nearly always cook too much, or too much pasta for a pasta dish. Far nicer to err on the side of too many of the other ingredients.

Couscous with Beetroot and Goats Cheese
(serves 4)

200 grams (a little less than a cup) raw instant couscous
2 tsps olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
125 grams (about 1/2 cup) chicken stock
1 small white onion, minced
6 medium roasted beetroots, cubed
1 cup crumbled goats cheese
1/2 cup toasted pinenuts
sea salt and pepper to taste

Put the couscous in a bowl and cover with water, JUST cover. The couscous will soak up this water instantly. Fluff a bit with a fork and set aside.

Saute the garlic and onion in the olive oil until soft. Heat the chicken stock until boiling and pour over the couscous and fluff well. Add all other ingredients and toss thoroughly. Lovely!


Well, then today decided to have its own flavor, and it was not quite so magical. Wimsey, poor guy, has been taking all the white fur off his belly, the bottoms of his feet and his fingertips. I know, I know, it sounds crazy. The vet calls it "overgrooming," which seems like an enormous understatement to me. It also sounds vaguely volitional, which I'm positive it is not. Nobody wants to remove all his white fur! There must be another reason. When he stayed in the country at the Family Cat Chalet (I'm not making this up) during the move, he got a cortisone shot to see if that would help, and he managed to let the fur grown back for nearly a week. But he's been back it in a big way lately, so there was nothing for it but to get him back to the vet today. Sigh. I tried to distract myself from his fate by studying all the items for sale in the waiting room. There is something funny about a cat food labeled "Adult Chicken." Of course there's also "Senior Chicken," not to mention "Kitten Chicken."

Alas, laughter was far from my mind when the nurse emerged with a rip in her tunic and the terse comment that they had decided to sedate the cat in order to draw his blood. I simply saw the pound signs mounting up, but there was nothing for it, so off we went to leave him there being tormented. Awful! Home to help Mark the art installer measure and mark the walls for all the art to be hung. Our cleaning lady followed him around glowering, and I can't really blame her, as the job satisfaction meter cannot be very high when dust accumulates right where one just hoovered. A better organised person than I am would have asked her to come tomorrow. Sigh. The sorts of problems one has when one has no problems, clearly.

Can I just tell you how much we adore our new neighborhood? Every day I discover something new to love about Hammersmith. For one thing, a fabulous little Italian delicatessen tucked away on an unprepossessing street adjacent to the Hammersmith Tube Station, called Sundrica, full of tempting olives, pates, cheeses, pastries, yum yum. I was restrained and bought only a bit of soppressata for Avery's breakfast and two little goats cheese disks swimming in herby olive oil. Deliriously good. Then on the way home I stopped at Turner's Flowers, a little tiny bedsit of a shop filled with growing and green things. And a lovely grandmotherly owner who helped me, and then turned to the lady behind me and said, "You're looking so well. Is it three and a half months now?" Imagine, a neighborhood where the shopkeepers know how pregnant their customers are. We're not in Marble Arch anymore, clearly.

And why, you ask, did I need flowers? To say thank you to our next door neighbors, Sara and Selva and their two little children, who invited us all to dinner Friday night, and introduced us to two other families, both with girls at Avery's new school! That is, one is there already and one's starting with Avery, so they already have plans to meet up at the New Girls' tea next week and stand shoulder to shoulder, come what may. Isn't it lovely to have a familiar face or two to look forward to? Dinner was lovely: baked chicken stuffed with sundried tomatoes on a couscous bed (that's what inspired me) and yogurt. And the company: we laughed all evening long. Avery simply dived in with the other girls (and one boy) and our host reported that he heard a lot of laughter there, too, and that they were discussing Shakespeare, which were their favorite plays. I think that's what happens with you get a bunch of eggheady girls together: they will all have their own interests to bring to the table, but they share a general love of reading. After dinner Sara gave us a tour of their house, the mirror image of ours, and then we all trooped next door and looked at OUR house. What a total pleasure to be brought into the circle, and to feel welcomed. We are so happy here.

Well, listen, some mind-bending noises are coming from the kitchen where Avery, Anna and Coco are making a snack for us. Did we want a snack? Is the cleaning lady having a thousand fits because not only was the art hanger here, but three children are wreaking havoc in her until-then pristine kitchen? It's better than computer games... and a small price to pay for an afternoon of fun.

Lastly, before I go I want to give you the recipe my reader Jack told me about, and has kindly provided. I haven't made it yet, and I think I'll substitute smoked trout for the haddock, but it sounds lovely. Give it a go.

Rick Stein’s Mild Potato Curry topped with Smoked Haddock and a Poached Egg
Serves 4

4 ounces undyed smoked haddock
2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
4 eggs

350g (12oz) waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
2 tbsps vegetable oil (sunflower/rapeseed)
1/2 tsp (more?) yellow mustard seeds
1/2 tsp (more?) turmeric powder
100gms (4oz) onions finely chopped
2 tomatoes, peeled, deseeded, and diced
1 tbsp chopped coriander.
Maldon salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cook the potatoes in salted water for 6-7 minutes until just tender, drain. Meanwhile, heat the oil in the pan, add the yellow mustard seeds and cover the pan with a screen, while you stand back from the popping oil! When they pop, add the turmeric and onions and fry them until soft and lightly browned. Add the potatoes, Maldon salt, black pepper, and fry a couple of minutes
Add tomatoes, stir in coriander, set aside and keep warm.

Bring about 5cm (2 inches) of water to the boil in a shallow pan. Add the pieces of haddock, bring back to simmer and poach 4 mins. Lift out with a slotted spoon, cover and keep warm. At the same time bring another pan with 2 inches of water to a gentle simmer. Add the vinegar, break in the eggs (as will fit), and poach for three minutes. Lift out and drain on kitchen paper.

Serve potato curry on warm plates, remove the skin from the fish, place on top of the potatoes. Put the poached egg on top of the fish, and garnish with coriander.

Doesn't that sound tempting? I wish I had some right now.



Jack said...

Hi Kristen,
I think the Rick stein recipe should read 4 x 4oz of Haddock. I'm definately having a go at the couscous recipe. Sounds great for summer.

Kristen In London said...

Do you mean 4 ounces per serving? That makes sense. Do try the couscous, it's lovely! I'm facing the school "sports day picnic" tomorrow and trying not to over-prepare... tomato mozzarella salad, hummous, shrimp with a horseradish dip, a baguette and goats cheese... I'm trying to resist the impulse to turn tonight's leftover chicken into salad for tomorrow...

payotbb said...

You are so lucky with the neighbors! I wouldn't know ours if I ran into them in the street. I have a fabulous Moroccan chicken and couscous dish that I always make for large dinner parties that include kids - for some reason it is always such a social dish. I actually got it off of an Arab news website. It includes saffron, which I love to have the excuse to add. I was thinking about it for this weekend actually but thought it might not be summery enough.

Kristen In London said...

Oh, I know about the neighbors! Who would ever have dreamed we'd find ourselves with such lovely, hilarious, generous people. And all the right kids!

I just got some saffron advice from an Iranian friend this afternoon, who cooks with it nearly every day (that must get expensive). She mashes it with a cube of sugar with a mortar and pestle and then adds a tiny bit of hot water and keeps it in the fridge all week, doling it out. Sounds interesting.

payotbb said...

You know, I am definitely going to make that dish this weekend. Maybe with some sort of yogurt mint sauce as a condiment. Amazingly, it is still up on the website I used to look at 5 or 6 years ago when I traveled regularly to Cairo and Dubai. http://www.arabicnews.com/recipes/Moroccan_Couscous.html

By the way, have you ever seen this place: http://www.retrouvius.com/
I think you would like it!

Kristen In London said...

I don't believe it, payottb: that shop is the precise place where we bought our partner desk and red leather chairs! What an unbelievable coincidence that you should send me that link!

How would chickpeas be in your couscous dish? The yogurt mint dip sounds lovely, why not add some cucumbers? Always looking for ways to get your five a day!...

payotbb said...

I think it has chickpeas, but they call them "garbanzo beans," which is what my father used to call them. The cucumber yogurt salad would make a perfect accompaniment! On retrouvius, it was touted on BBC radio this week, so I went to check it out. I cannot wait for the day that we own our own home again so that we can buy furniture to fit it! Unlike you, I have really hesitated to buy anything specifically for our rented home, which is really silly of me.

Kristen In London said...

yeah, you gotta buy even when you rent! You CAN take it with you! Have fun with your dishes this weekend...