I am here to share stories, essays, anecdotes about my love of food in the greatest food city in the world
Author: Peter Majda
I'm a MA graduate in English literature from DePaul University. I earned my BA in English literature from the University of Illinois.
I completed my MA thesis on post-WWII black British literature, and am currently working on my MFA in creative writing.
My favorite authors include Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Julia Child, David Sedaris, Amy Sedaris, Amy Tan, Harper Lee.
I read about two-three books a week. I read mainly essay collections, nonfiction, humor.
I am Chicago-raised, but based in the UK.
I love brunch food and kedgeree is a great dish, very filling, and the epitome of comfort food. Kedgeree is a quick and easy dish, with roots in Indian cuisine, with the dish progressing and picking up ingredients as it made its way from India to the UK.
As breakfast for dinner is the best idea ever I thought I’d make an improvised kedgeree. We had Indian takeaway last night, and I ordered a vegetarian biryani and my partner had quite a bit of basmati rice left from his rogan josh. So I picked up some smoked mackerel from the shop and threw together a simple kedgeree.
This version is a Monday night cook, so I didn’t have all of the ingredients on hand: I didn’t have any coriander, curry paste, or crispy fried onions. But my slapdash version of kedgeree tasted pretty good.
Recipe (this feeds about 2, 3 people)
Boiled basmati rice – I mixed it with leftover biryani.
Smoked mackerel – about 140g
1/2 white onion, chopped finely
1 jalapeno pepper, chopped finely
1 Thai chili, minced finely
3 green onions, sliced thinly
curry power, to taste
4 eggs, hard boiled
Pour boiling water over the fish in a saucepan, cover and let it steep. At the same time hard boil your eggs.
Heat the oil, and fry the onions and peppers with the curry powder until translucent. Continually stir as you fry your onions – I don’t like to let it brown, so I watch over it, carefully. This will take about 5, 10 minutes, depending on how high your heat is. Add your cooked rice and stir, coating the rice with the curry-stained oil – add more oil if your food is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
Get your mackerel out of the hot water and remove the skin (it peels off easily) and flake it into the pan (make sure that you’re getting the bones out) add more curry powder if you’d like, and stir. Add the green onions and stir, ensuring that the rice is hot and that the fish is warmed through – you don’t have to cook this over a high heat, I keep it at low. Add the peas, and stir, letting them warm up and thaw.
Take your hard boiled eggs and you can add them either by slicing them in half (as I have done), or you can chop them up, as well (I don’t like chopping them because the yolk will fall out)
Serve with some naan. You can also add some yogurt (especially if you add a lot of spice). Oh, and enjoy.
It’s getting cooler now, with the autumn coming, so I thought I’d do a stew, it’s perfect cold weather food. This recipe is based on the French soup, vichyssoise, a cold, creamy soup made of potato and leek. This stew is a take, and when cooked, looks a bit like the filling of a chicken pot pie. This recipe was supposed to be a quick one, but it took me a minute to make it -nearly an hour.
The main difference between this recipe and the vichyssoise recipe is that the vegetables can be browned in this recipe. The vichyssoise recipe is meant to be snow white, so when you cook the food, you have to be careful not to brown the veg to color the soup.
Also, a vichyssoise is cold, meant to be served chilled, but this stew is meant to be served hot as it’s the kind of stew you eat when it’s chilly and rainy outside.
2 chicken breasts, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1 small bag of baby potatoes, diced – I do this because I want the potatoes to cook quickly
1 leek, sliced – you can include the green bits, because we’re not going for that bone china white look – also be very careful that you clean the leeks, there’s a beach-worth of sand and grit in the leaves
4 green onions, sliced – separate the greens from the white – slice the white bit, and mince the green bit and keep aside for serving at the end
2 small shallots, chopped
1/2 small white onion, diced
8 oz of button mushrooms, diced
1 cup of water
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 cup of soured cream
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil in a large, heavy nonstick pan and throw in the chicken and cook over a moderate heat, letting it brown lightly. This will take about 5, 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, raise the heat and let the food brown a bit – leave it alone for a bit to color the bottom of the pan and shake to loosen. The idea isn’t to cook the chicken and potatoes through – you’ll be braising, but you want to cook to add some color and to brown it a bit. You’ll also create a nice fond on the bottom of the pan.
Fish the potatoes and chicken and set aside and cover. Lower the heat on the pan and add the leek, onion, the white bit of the green onion, the shallot, the mushrooms and stir, scraping up the bottom of the pan. Add some salt, which will draw some moisture out, making it easier to scrape the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Raise the heat to high and cook, stirring constantly, letting it caramelize. Add some of the water and stir, letting the water becoming thick and syrupy, and add the rest of the water and throw back the chicken and potatoes.
Raise the heat to high and let the water come to a boil and stir before lowering the heat to medium heat, and cover and cook until the potatoes are tender, 15, 20 minutes. Uncover and cook some more until the water is reduced, and then pour in the cream of chicken soup and stir, combining the reduced, thickened water and the soup until well mixed. Add the cream and continue to stir and make sure that there are no streaks of cream left.
Grind some pepper and sprinkle the minced green bits of the onion. Oh, and enjoy.
So, I owe a great debt to Sandra Lee. Though people teased her mercilessly for her “semi-homemade” recipes which weirdly boasted 70% store bought products – and she deservedly got dragged by the Internets for her hate crime of a Kwanzaa cake – she did inspire me to look to purchased pantry items when I’m putting together my cooking. While the ratio for my cooking is not 70/30, I do like to use some packaged stuff when I’m cooking.
This evening, I thought to make sausage and lentil stew. It’s starting to get cool and rainy today, so I thought a stew would be in order. But it’s Monday, a weekday, plus I had a crazy early morning, so I wasn’t in the mood to stand over a stove for hours. So I cobbled together my recipe with bought items. Lentils take time to cook, so I bought cooked lentils in a pouch, and instead of just getting vegetable broth, I thought it’d be a nice idea to use tinned vegetable soup. Along with those two packaged items, I used fresh ingredients. It’s a great compromise, and the dish only took me about half an hour to cook.
-4 fresh sausages – I get the Co-op skinny sausages because they have practically no fat -1/2 white onion, roughly chopped -1 medium carrot, sliced into coins -a handful of green beans, with the tops chopped -1 package of baby bella mushrooms, chopped roughly -3 shallots, chopped finely -4 garlic cloves, minced -1 tin of vegetable soup – I used Heinz Classic Vegetable, which is 400g (don’t throw away the tin!) -1 packet of pre-cooked lentils – I used Merchant Gourmet Tomatoey French Puy & Green Lentils -Olive oil -Herbs de provence -Salt and pepper
This recipe is super easy and quick to cook. So first, heat the oil over medium heat and when the oil is hot, add the sausages and cook, brown on all sides. The sausage casings can sometimes burst, so it may do to puncture them. Don’t be tempted to stir too much and move the sausages, because you’ll want to brown the sausages and to create some kind of fond. I cooked the sausage for about 5, 8 minutes until they were browned all over, I then fished them out and lowered the heat to low (careful that you don’t set off the smoke detector like I did with the cooking)
So set the sausages to the side and throw in the onions, shallots, garlic, green beans, and carrot into the pan and cook, stirring, letting the vegetables brown a bit and color. This isn’t a stir-fry, so don’t cook over a high heat, but you don’t want to cook it to a mush (There’s going to be more cooking later). Saute the vegetables for about 8 minutes, letting some of the vegetables color a bit. Add the mushrooms and cook for another 5, 8 minutes, until the mushrooms brown and shrink.
Add the vegetable soup and then fill the can, 2/3rds full with water and add, and then raise the heat to high and stir, letting it get to the boil. Add the sausages back and stir carefully, so you don’t splash the food. Add the lentils, and continue to stir and cook. Sprinkle the herbs and grind some fresh pepper and keep on cooking. You’ll want to cook the food for about 15, 20 minutes – you’ll want the liquid to reduce significantly and become a thick gravy. The lentils will become soft and tender. The lentils will get tender as you cook – if you let the food set for a bit and stir, you can create a crusty bottom, which can be nice. That’s up to you.
Once the lentils are cooked, scoop it out and serve it with some crusty bread. Oh, and enjoy.
When living in Chicago, I ate a great Thai restaurant in Old Town called Tiparos Thai. Unlike most people who go to Thai restaurants to order Pad Thai, I always got the spicy basil chicken. It’s a mouth-scorching dish of chopped meat, bell peppers, green beans, Thai basil leaves, and steamed jasmine rice. The dish was studded with tiny bits of hot chilies. After eating it, my lips were swollen and numb as if I had stopped by a Michigan Avenue plastic surgeons to get my lips done. This dish was so hot that it almost hurt to drink water afterwards…
Despite the pain of eating the dish, I ordered each time I went to Tiparos.
It’s difficult to explain the draw of this dish because the taste is so spicy sometimes it feels almost unpleasant to eat it. The basil Thai has a different, silvery, tea-like taste, that gets a pleasant green swampy taste because it’s cooked and steamed. The meat is crumbled and sauteed, the nuggets crispy, giving the rice a nice bite. And the sauce acts as a base for the dish – it’s salty, sweet, and slightly pungent. I always add a bit of Sriracha, to add a fruity sweetness, as well.
Since moving to London, I’ve eaten at lots of Thai restaurants, and have eaten the dish, and enjoyed it, though for some reason I’ve never tasted it as good as Tiparos, though I’m trying (I went to an amazing Thai restaurant in Amsterdam that was pretty good)
Anyways, this is my attempt at making Thai basil rice with chicken. Obviously, this won’t be a 100% accurate – I don’t have all the ingredients in a proper Thai basil rice, and I don’t like buying ingredients I probably won’t use again, so I’ve had to do some improvising.
Also, I used boughten rice. I don’t like cheating but I’m terrible at making rice, and it’s much easier to just buy rice already boiled in the shop. Also there are recipes that call for mince, but I bought chicken and chopped it myself…The texture of mince is a bit too pasty and fine for a dish like this – I enjoy it more with the chopped chicken.
As with most of my recipes, these measurements are at-best, guesses…
-Thai basil, a handful, to taste, chopped in strips -Coriander, a handful, to taste, chopped -300g of boneless, skinless chicken breast, chopped finely – almost to a mince (or go ahead and get chicken mince) if you don’t like chicken, you can also use pork, turkey, or beef – whatever you like, or if you’d like, you can leave the meat out, I’m not the police -1/2 of a red bell pepper chopped -3 small shallots, sliced finely -4 cloves of garlic, minced -4 finger chilies, minced finely – super finely – I seed the chili and remove the rib because these things are spicy AF -1 jalapeno pepper – I just added this because I had one left in a bag that needed eating -8, 10 green beans or string beans, with the ends chopped off, and cut the beans in half -half a white onion, roughly chopped – 3 large cremini mushrooms – normally, this dish doesn’t have mushrooms (I’ve never seen this dish with mushrooms) – but I had some that I wanted to use -1 cup of chicken broth (you probably won’t use all of it) -1 tbl of sriracha sauce (to taste, really) -2 tbl of fish sauce (this stuff has a very strong taste/smell, so be mindful of how much you use it) -3 tbl of soy sauce (I use the reduced sodium soy sauce, which still has loads of salt) -1 tbl of chili paste – I used Gochujang (Korean chili paste) -2 tbl of sugar -some white pepper, to taste -2 packets of cooked jasmine rice -1/8 cups of cooking oil, something without flavor (peanut, corn, vegetable, groundnut, that sort of thing – not olive, which has too distinct a taste)
This feels like a lot of ingredients, and it is, and it’s going to be a lot of cooking and adding…You’ll be cooking over a high flame for a lot of the cooking, so keep a window open and turn on a fan (if you have one)
Before cooking, create the sauce. In a bowl or large cup, add in the broth, sriracha, fish sauce, soy sauce, chili paste, sugar, and white pepper and mix, seeing that the sugar is dissolved (I heated the broth which made the sugar melt easily)
Heat the oil over a high flame in a nonstick pan. Throw in the beans, onions and bell pepper and cooking for about four, five minutes, stirring constantly, don’t stop. The onions probably won’t color too much, and you’re not looking into browning the veg. Add the meat and stir and continue to cook, you’ll want to get a good browning on the meat – cook for about four, five minutes. Depending on how small you’ve chopped the meat, you might already have cooked the chicken at this point, but if it’s still a bit raw, no worries, it will cook.
Add the garlic and the chilies and cook for another few minutes, until you smell the garlic cooking (it’s a great smell, btw) and then add the shallots and stir and saute for another few minutes
Remember you’re cooking over a high heat, so don’t stop stirring, you don’t want anything to burn.
Add the sauce and cook…You’ll want to let the sauce get sticky and tacky, and so that it coats the veg and meat and get browned, stirring constantly. Depending on the heat, this can take about five, ten minutes. Fold the cooked meat and veg, stirring seeing that the food is coated with the sauce.
Add the basil and the cilantro and stir, letting the cilantro wilt.
Add the rice and stir constantly – you don’t want to cook this too long, because overcooking the rice will blow it out. Depending on if you like the rice to be crispy, you can let it sit for a few seconds and brown. Sprinkle some white pepper – white pepper’s got a very funky, manky smell, so be careful…
Once the rice is warmed through (remember the rice is already cooked), and you can’t see any white in the rice anymore, then you can plate it. I served it with boughten gyoza. Oh, and enjoy.
We eat a lot of pasta in this house…We moved to England, but we eat like we live in Italy. This was a dish I threw together on a weeknight because I was tired and wanted to do something that was nourishing but quick. I also had some rolls I wanted to use up – keeping bread is nearly impossible here in this damp country, it always goes moldy before I can do anything.
I like eating broccoli – it’s one of my favorite vegetable. At the market, I can buy a whole head of broccoli, but I feel it’s a bit of a waste because I eat the crowns, but a good 2/3 of the broccoli is that tough, thick woody stem. I know you can eat the stem if you peel it, slice it thinly, etc. When I’m doing Asian food, I’ll use the stems, but I don’t think it works with Italian cooking.
So I found some tender broccolini – its stems are super tender and cook really well, so I like using it, though I don’t buy it all the time because it’s more expensive than regular broccoli.
This recipe is easy to make and quick – and you don’t have to follow the recipe too closely – do what you’d like. This is a one-pot dish, which is nice because you don’t have too many pots and pans to clean up.
Ingredients (for the pasta dish): -250 g of short pasta – penne, fusilli, rontini, I’m partial to a rotelle, though I’ve yet to find it up in here in England – 1/2 ball of mozzarella, diced -1/4 cup of shredded Parmesan -1/4 cup of shredded Grana Padano – 2 cups of water – 1 cup of cream – 3 links of small, low-fat chicken sausage – 4 stalks of broccolini, chopped into bite-sized pieces – 4 cloves of garlic, chopped finely – 1/2 small white onion, minced -1 tbl of olive oil – salt and pepper to taste
Ingredients (for the bruschetta) – now, mind you, this is a bit of a Sandra Lee-esque recipe because I’m using jarred sauce that I wanted to use up: – 2 rolls, cut in half, width-wise, and then each half, halved again – 1 tin of anchovy, mashed up – 1/4 ball of mozzarella, chopped into tiny bits – 1 clove of garlic, chopped -1/4 cup of tomato sauce
So to make this dish, you’ll have to figure out what you want to do first, the bruschetta or the pasta…You have to keep an eye on the bruschetta or it’ll burn, so it’s up to you….This is what I did.
Heat the olive oil in a large pan, with a tight-fitting lid. add the onion and cook, adding some salt to draw moisture and to let the onion brown a bit. Add the garlic and keep stirring and keep cooking for another minute or so. Add the sausage, removed from the casing and broken up. Stir constantly and mix and cook until the meat is no longer pink. Add the pasta and stir and cook and stir for a bit, toasting the pasta a touch. Add the water, raise the heat to high, getting the water to boil, then stir. Lower the heat to simmer, cover and cook for about 10 minutes.
After about 10 minutes, remove the lid – you should have some liquid – not a lot, but some, and keep stirring. Your pasta should be tender by now. Add the cream and stir and cooking, letting the sauce thicken. Add the cheese and mix, stirring, making sure the cheese melts and creates a thick sauce (this won’t be like mac and cheese, though), add the broccolini and mix and cover the dish and cook for another 8 minutes or so, until the broccolini is tender and cooked – but still bright green. Season to taste.
Whilst I’m doing all this, I’m taking care to make the bruschetta as well. Preheat the broiler and put the rack near the bottom. Brush each piece of bread with some olive oil. Put a bit of garlic on each piece of bread. Then spoon a bit of mushed anchovy on each pieace. Then add about a spoonful of sauce. Carefully place a slice of mozzarella on each piece. Finally, drizzle some olive oil over the bruschetta – I use the oil from the anchovy. Put in the broiler and let it cook until the cheese blisters, browns, and melts – Keep an eye on the bread, though, because it can burn just like that (I just snapped my fingers)
Serve the bruschetta with your pasta (like I did in the pic). Oh, and enjoy.
I like tagliatelle with a creamy sauce and wanted to make some one night. I didn’t have any, but I did have some lasagna sheets in my pantry and decided to improvise with that. I bought the lasagna a while ago – I probably was going to make lasagna at one point, but that didn’t happen, so I still had the sheets in my cupboard.
So to improvise tagliatelle, I took the dried lasagna sheets and snap them into credit card-sized pieces. The rest of the sauce was just a common cream sauce that I like to make with cream, chicken, and peas.
Ingredients: -6 – 8 sheets of lasagna sheets, broken into credit card-sized pieces. Don’t feel the need to actually measure your shards against a credit card – just guesstimate. -1 chicken breast cut into bite size pieces -3 slices of bacon – I live in England, so we just have back bacon, but streaky, American bacon would work too – try to avoid those maple bacon – chopped into a small dice -1/4 cup of water -1 cup of soured cream – 3 green onions, both white and green parts, chopped -1 cup of frozen peas, thawed
First you’re gonna wanna make the pasta. After breaking up your lasagna sheets, throw the shards into a pot of boiling, salted water and cook according to the package – but shave off about two minutes (I like my pasta to be toothy and al dente)
While the pasta is cooking – and be careful because the pasta cooking won’t last very long – start on your sauce. First you’ll want to put your raw bacon bits onto a large, cold pan, and slowly heat over a low flame, allowing for the bacon to render its fat. This cooking will take a bit, because it’s best to work off a slow, low heat.
Once your bacon has begun to crisp and the fat has rendered, add the chopped chicken and stir and cook, allowing for the chicken to brown, letting the chicken leave a fond on the bottom of the pan. Add the water, and stir, scraping the browned bits on the bottom, and stir and raise the heat until the water is boiling and stir and cooking, letting the liquid reduce by about half – you’re looking to get a soupy, syrupy liquid. Add the cream and mix right away and constantly to make sure that the cream doesn’t separate. A neat trick I do sometimes if I’m not in a hurry is get some of the hot liquid from the pan and put it in a mug and then add the cream and stir and add the mixture into the pan. If the cream separates, it’s fine to eat, but it don’t look pretty.
Add the pasta and stir, letting the creamy sauce cover the noodles and stir and cook, letting the creamy sauce get thick. Add the peas and stir, letting the peas thaw.
London is experiencing a heatwave at the moment – but that didn’t deter me from using my new Dutch oven. We found a nice, little green Dutch oven at a charity shop and I wanted to use it for the longest time.
Cooking during a heatwave is a bit extra, but I’ve been dealing. For dinner last night, I wanted to do something with the Dutch oven and thought arroz con pollo, a Latin American dish that combines wonderful flavours like spiciness, heat, brininess. There are lots of versions of arroz con pollo and this one I cobbled together from a variety of people and sources.
The trick to good arroz con pollo is to get a great fond in your Dutch oven. Once you got that, then you’re golden. Weirdly enough, my arroz con pollo turned out greener than the kind I remember, but who cares – it tasted good. I used dark meat because I knew I’d be stewing the chicken and I didn’t want to overcook the meat, but you can use chicken breast if you’re worried about health – also as I was cooking the dish, I realised that it’s possible to do this vegetarian, just leave out the chicken or substitute it with mushrooms.
Chicken – I had three drumsticks and two thighs – bone-in and skin-on; this is where it’s up to you to decide how you want to do this dish, I used dark meat because I wanted to stew the dish for a little bit; also the the skin and bone add flavour to your dish
1/2 onion, chopped finely – I mean finely, grated even
1/2 carrot, chopped finely
1 stick of celery, chopped finely – see above
1 green bell pepper, chopped finely – like the celery and onion
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely – you see a theme, right?
a large bunch of cilantro, leaves and stems, chopped finely
1/2 an onion, roughly chopped
1 envelope of any kind of Mexican-style seasoning – I used some leftover taco seasoning
1/4 cup of olives, chopped – the olives are of your choice, whatever you got in your refrigerator door. I used the pimento-stuffed kind
3 tbl of capers, rinsed and drained – this is important, ‘cuz these suckers are salty AF
2 cups of chicken broth
1/4 cup of frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
salt and pepper
1 packet of pre-cooked rice (I know, very slatternly of me)
So, first what you need to do is make the sofrito – a base for your dish. Sofrito is usually a mush of aromatics. I don’t have a blender or mixer because a London kitchen is too small for that nonsense, so I had to use two sharp knives, a cutting board, and a lot of patience. For my sofrito, I used the onion, carrot, celery, bell pepper, garlic, and cilantro, and just chopped that up over and over again, until I got a messy, gloppy, salsa-like mush. You can do this easier in a mixer, and in fact, I recommend this, as making sofrito by hand was a little much. Once you have the sofrito put it in a bowl and set aside for a moment.
Next heat oil in your dutch oven over a low flame and place the chicken, skin side down. I choose to do it on a cold surface because I want the skin to render. As soon as the skin starts to brown and sizzle, let it cook, undisturbed for about 7 minutes on one side. I say undisturbed because you want the skin to darken and start to render its fat and crisp up – otherwise, if you mess with the chicken too soon, it’ll just stick to the bottom of the pot (which isn’t the end of the world, btw)
After about 7 minutes, turn the chicken over and cook for an additional 7 minutes and then remove and place on a platter. At this point, I quickly add the sofrito, reserving about half of it. while that’s sweating, remove the skin from the chicken, chop into tiny, tiny bits and add back into the pan – it’s a bit like the lardons of a coq au vin – see, fusion!
Anyways, cook, stirring, letting the skin crisp up – and let the sofrito soften. Add a bit of salt to draw out the moisture and continue to cook, making sure to scrap up any of the browned chicken skin bits. Add the seasonings – I did a quarter of the envelope – and stir, letting the oil and chicken fat bloom all those Latin spices. You gotta stir though because it’s easy for the spices to burn.
Add the roughly chopped onions and stir, cooking to get the onions to turn translucent. This will take about 8 minutes. You’ll see that you’re getting quite a fond – it’ll be dark brown (well, mine was, anyways)
Start adding the broth a little bit at a time, scraping the browned bits and darkened spices, stirring to loosen the bottom of the pan. Once you get the two cups in, return the chicken and its accumulated juices. Raise the heat to high to get it to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer…If you’re doing chicken breasts, this won’t take very long, with thighs and drumsticks, it takes longer, at least 25 minutes. Your chicken thigh is safe to eat when it registers 75° C on a meat thermometer. When it gets to about 75° C, fish the meat out and set aside and raise the heat to high again and boil down to reduce to about 1 cup of liquid – it should be nice and thick. Add the shredded chicken. Then add the olives and capers and stir. Add the rest of the reserved sofrito and keep cooking. Then this is the most controversial bit of my recipe – I add a packet of the pre-cooked, parboiled rice (the kind that comes in a pouch you gotta squeeze apart to distribute it) Most recipes call for raw rice to be added to the pan right after the sofrito to toast – but I don’t like cooking rice because I always get it wrong. With the pre-cooked stuff, all you’re really doing is heating the rice through. Often these pouched rice comes in clumps, so just make sure you’re breaking up the clumps with your wooden spoon. Add the peas and stir until they thaw (you don’t really want to heat them). Add some cilantro as a garnish (you can also add a chopped green onion – do what you want, I’m not the police)
I like Cajun cooking and like Mexican food, I haven’t really eaten a lot of Cajun food in London. I like gumbo and étouffée and when I lived in Chicago, I used to go to Heaven on Seven. I used to enjoy watching the daytime television appearances of Paul Prudhomme who was hilarious and personable and introduced Cajun cooking to me. The other sharp memory I have of Cajun cooking is Justin “I guarantee” Wilson, who I watched on PBS when I was a kid (as a kid, I thought is TV kitchen set looked like the Keebler Elves’ tree hollow) I got a couple of his books – used – at the Newberry Book Fair (unfortunately, none made it in the move to London)
So I thought I’d try my hand at Cajun cooking. I imagined this recipe up – and please, I understand, this is not authentic Cajun cooking. I’m sure that I’m breaking many rules whilst making this, which is why I’m calling this dish a Cajun-style stew – style letting you know that I am aware of my non-Cajun-ness.
Anyways, below is the recipe – just a quick thing: in London, andouille is hard to find, so I had to replace it with kiełbasa – something that’s way easier to find in London, ‘cuz we got lotsa Polish people running around this city.
This recipe isn’t the kind of recipe you chisel on stone – I improvised a lot of it as I was shopping at Sainsburys (on a Saturday, no less – so there were many screaming children up in there)
400 g of smoked sausage – for an authentic version of Cajun cooking, you’d want to use andhouille, but given that this is London, I found smoked Polish sausage, instead – chopped in bite-sized pieces
1 green bell pepper – so Sainsburys was out of green bell pepper so this time I used yellow bell pepper -diced
I large yellow onion diced
1 chili (green or red) diced
1 rib of celery diced
1 400g of chopped tomatoes
1/4 cup of flour
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
2 green onions, chopped finely
a bunch of flat-leafed parsley, chopped finely
1 cup of fish broth
200 g of cooked rice
ketchup to taste
hot sauce to taste – Tobasco is good, but I used Cholula hot sauce
Cajun seasoning to taste
150 g of cooked cold water prawns
salt and pepper
So to assemble the dish, you first have to make a roux. Usually it’s made with flour and butter, but I’m trying to do something a little healthier, so I made the roux with oil and flour. It doesn’t cook the same way as you’d do it with butter (probably not as good), but it’s worth a try. Over a small flame, I dumped the oil and flour onto a heavy-bottomed pan, and stirred continuously, making a paste, working to get a nutty brown color. I kept a careful eye on the cooking so I won’t burn the shit. You can’t leave the pan, though, otherwise it can burn very quickly…Keep watch so you don’t destroy the roux (and set off your smoke detector)
Add the bell pepper, onion, celery, and chili and mix. Add some salt and some of the Cajun seasoning and stir. The roux will coat the vegetables. Cook for about 10 minutes, letting the vegetables sweat – you don’t have to let the vegetables brown. Add the fish broth and stir, scraping any sticky bits from the bottom of the pan (there shouldn’t be too much – it’s not a fond). Let the mixture simmer for a bit, before adding the chopped sausage.
Add the can of tomato and add some water – about half of the tomato tin and stir. Add some more Cajun seasoning and stir, raising the heat to high, and let it boil. Stir and let the stew thicken a bit. Add the parsley and green onion and let it boil for longer to let the stew thicken and to let the liquid cook away.
Once the stew gets thick, add the cooked rice, the hot sauce, and ketchup and keep stirring – it’s a lot of stirring, it’s not a dish from which you can walk away – you’ll want a very thick, reddish stew. It’ll smell great. The whole cooking process should take about 40 minutes, and at the last minute add the prawns, and remove from the heat, and stir a bit to heat the prawns through (you don’t want to cook them as they’ll get rubbery if you do)
Serve in bowls, hopefully you got some cornbread (we didn’t – this is London – the closest thing is corn muffins from Gail’s). Oh, and enjoy.
The other night, I went to a cookbook club with a dear friend of mine. The ingenious idea behind the cookbook club is that the group is assigned a cookbook – in this case, it was Margaret Costa’sFour Seasons Cookery Book – and each of us was assigned a recipe. My friend had to do ratatouille and I did Costa’s recipe for peperonata. We then bring the dish to the club and share it with the other members, each of whom brings his/her own dish, as well. It’s a great, friendly way of learning about cooking, and even more importantly, talking about cooking. Everyone’s dish was wonderful and there were leftovers to take home.
Costa’s peperonata reminds me a bit of ratatouille or sausage and peppers, hold the sausage. It’s a very simple, vegetarian dish, and I chose it because it’s summer and I didn’t want to take the hot Tube with meat or dairy and possibly get people sick. I also work in an office with a tiny dorm fridge, and I wasn’t sure that I’d be able to get the food in the fridge.
I won’t go into too much detail about how to make Costa’s dish – you should get the book to do that – but I’ll go over the basics. Essentially, it’s a side dish to be eaten hot or cold. For a serving of four, I chopped up 10 medium-sized tomatoes, 6 red bell peppers, two cloves of garlic (just two) and a little bit of salt. And that’s it. It was so simple, that I kept looking back to the recipe to see if maybe I was missing something. I almost threw pepper in it, but caught myself because there was no pepper in Costa’s recipe.
At the class we were discussing Costa’s recipes which are “of a time” – a bit like those Mad Men-style recipes that charm us with their silliness or weirdness. These are the kinds of recipes that are supposed to impress dinner party guests.
The peperonata went over well with the other guests, though I have to admit, it’s a hard dish to mess up.
Margaret Costa is a great food writer, and though the recipes are probably not dishes I’ll be cooking, I do own her book. I was one of a handful of people who knew who Costa was and was familiar with her book. When someone asked “who would buy this book now?” I raised my hand – I buy midcentury cookbooks because I love the kitsch/camp value. I also appreciate what cooking looked like when folks didn’t have access to many of the ingredients we take for granted now. Reading writers like Elizabeth David or Julia Child is an interesting education in social studies – particularly class and gender – what middle-class women were expected to do and how they were expected to do it.
The other we talked about was the dated format of the book. Unlike contemporary cookbooks, the recipes aren’t laid out with the ingredients listed in bullet points, nor are there gorgeous photographs of the dishes. Costa’s recipes are written far more casually and conversationally – she’ll write something like “heat the oil and throw in the onion and garlic which you have chopped up” – so as a warning, read the recipes in their entirety because the ingredient lists don’t indicate what you do with the ingredients, you have to read the instructions themselves (which are written out in paragraph form)
Along with the format, we also talked about the cover. There are a few editions of the book with the latest being a tasteful, grey cover. I own the goofy, campy cover as seen below:
So the cover is so ugly that I had to get it – it’s hideous, especially the dead bird that’s taking centre stage. It looks stuffed (taxidermied) I find it funny that the food stylist thought that including a dead pigeon would make the book seem enticing.
I’ve made the dish before last night, though my version had anchovy and olives, and I’ve added parsley and pepper. The peperonata took on a sweet, summery taste (even though it’s firmly ensconced in Costa’s ‘autumn recipes’).
I’m shifting to a plant-based lifestyle, slowly but surely. I haven’t given up meat, yet, but have started to gradually move toward vegetarian food. It’s easier to do if one doesn’t go cold turkey. I’ve been eating oatmeal and muesli for lunch and trying to do plant-based dinners. Tonight I made a brown rice and quinoa dish with mushrooms – I love mushrooms because for meat-eaters, mushrooms are a great substitute (it’s the umami – the salty flavor that is contained in ‘shrooms) The dish isn’t 100% vegetarian because I used beef broth (I couldn’t find my mushroom broth), but any broth will do (though chicken broth might be too light)
Anyways, this recipe is totally easy to make – and one that is adaptable to whatever ingredients you have in your kitchen.
Ingredients (serves two)
1 package of Tilda brown steamed basmati rice & quinoa (250 g)
1 200g package of chestnut mushrooms, chopped finely
1 200g package of white button mushrooms, chopped finely
1 shallot, chopped finely
1 bouillon cube (I used beef, but you can use anything you want)
4 green onions – both green and white parts, sliced thinly
1/2 cup of frozen peas
2 cups of hot water (you probably won’t use all of it)
1/4 cup of Parmesan cheese, shredded
2 tbl of tomato paste
1 tbl of olive oil
1 tsp of lemon zest
pinch of red chili flakes
In a large, nonstick pan, heat the oil over medium heat, and add the chili flakes and throw in the chopped mushrooms. It’s going to look like your pan is pretty crowded, but that’s okay – mushrooms shrink like crazy when you cook them. You’ll have to cook the mushrooms for a bit – 10 minutes, until the mushrooms shrink and release the juices and then let the juices evaporate and start to create a fond. Add the tomato paste and mix and cook until the raw taste of tomato paste is cooked away, and the bottom of the pan is sticky and covered with browned bits. Add a little bit of the hot water – just enough to deglaze the bottom of the pan. Stir and loosen the bits and mix, adding a bit more water and cooking until all the water is gone.
Add the shallot and stir and cook until the shallot becomes translucent. More fond will be created, so add more water to loosen the browned bits. Add the broth cube as well and stir and cook until the cube is dissolved and there’s a thick, syrupy sauce. Add the package of rice and quinoa (it’s already cooked) and cook, breaking up the chunks of the rice, making sure it’s coated in the sauce. Add the green onions – both green and white parts. Add the lemon zest and the cheese and mix. Add the green peas (it’s okay if they’re frozen – they’ll thaw while cooking) and stir, heating the rice through (just make sure you don’t overcook the peas) Grind some fresh pepper. Serve, and Oh, enjoy.