Thursday, 29 December 2011

Food by email – a new Dukan for 2012?

 

On the first day of Christmas,
My step-mum sent to me,
A food postcard* from Mi-a-mi…

Miami beach

*from the 10-course tasting menu she and my dad were treated to on Christmas Eve.

It looked seriously good so I thought I would post it up here. Believe it or not, it was not produced by a restaurant, but by a very talented and consummate host with a demanding day job (which, surprisingly, is not working as a top chef). A Montreal-born Sicilian, it is his family tradition to eat late into the night on Christmas Eve. Those are the only details you’re getting – and don’t even think of asking for his address.

Think of it as a Christmas present: a feast for the eyes, without the calories. (This is the only time you will ever read anything about diets or calories on here, promise.)Their night started young and gradually got older and rounder, finally dropping off its perch at around 3.30am so please forgive them if the order looks awry. I also blame indigestion - theirs not mine.

Even the menu was edible; a cube sandwich of liver pate and fig compote covered with edible paper. WOW.

2nd course 

A starter dish of a Caprese salad based on an iceberg melting

3rd course 

Snails stuffed with nuts…

4th course

Foie gras crepe milkshake with mascarpone Cointreau cream and blueberry port reduction

5th course

Stone crab and lobster Martini (bisque)

6th course

Meatball cupcake with Pecorino cream

7th course

Nigiri in a hickory-smoke-filled snowglobe…

fingerbowl 

(That’s a very pretty hand towel. I don’t think they ate it...)

9th course

Frozen Asian pear and Stilton with black truffle

8th course

Smokin’ Cubano pulled pork ‘cigar’. Always think twice about licking the ashtray…(unless like here they are sesame seeds)

beef wellington

Individual Beef Wellingtons…in honour of the English guests

tiramisu

Tiramisu with chocolate mousse in handmade chocolate cups

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Mincemeat and Apple Crumble

It’s ridiculously easy at this time of year to come by a perfectly decent shop-bought mince pie. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to make them at home each year. Is it the warm fuzzy feeling that festive baking bestows upon me, the sensation that I am making something to be shared lovingly with friends and family by the light of the Christmas tree?

Bah, humbug! More like an excuse to eat mincemeat straight from the jar with a spoon…

In an effort to become more transparent in my motives towards this Yuletide ingredient, I have legitimised it in the guise of a crumble, thereby freeing it of its shortcrust shackles. It makes a blinder of a seasonal pudding, with ice-cream, clotted cream or even a brandy-laced custard.

Mincemeat and apple crumble

Serves 4

900g cooking apples

1 x 411g jar mincemeat

55g light brown sugar

110g unsalted butter

170g plain flour

A handful of crushed amaretti biscuits or oats

Preheat the oven to 180oC. Grease a baking dish.

Peel, core and chop the apples into dice of roughly 3 x 3 cm. Place these in a pan with a tablespoonful of water and the same of caster sugar. Cover and cook on a medium heat until they are yielding but not yet mush. Stir in the mincemeat and heat through, and remove the pan from the heat. Tip the fruit mixture into the greased dish.

Meanwhile, mix the flour, sugar, butter and crushed amaretti/oats with the fingers until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Scatter evenly over the fruit and bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until golden on top gently bubbling at the sides.

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Sunday, 27 November 2011

Midnight in Paris…

Marcel Proust was partial to dipping one into his cuppa; the French in general appear to have a penchant for them at most times of day, but it was a surprise when a plate of madeleines was proffered late last Friday night, their scalloped edges just the golden side of crisp. I did wonder how they’d slip down with my vin rouge. They were hard to resist, even after such a meal; they were warm and fragrant and just seconds out of the oven.

The BSG and I took in the City of Light under high azure skies after what had been a painfully prolonged absence. Amidst varied excursions to the Eiffel Tower, Monet’s gargantuan lilyscapes at l‘Orangerie and a boat trip under the many bridges of the Seine there were some truly memorable fuel-stops (in truth, the excursions were really the punctuation marks in this two-day gastronomic tour).

At the planning stage, we’d heavily researched the food aspect of our tripette and decided we’d try to get a table at Spring, the eatery du jour. The operative word being try….The phone rang – and rang. If Spring’s PR mantra is ‘treat ‘em mean, keep ‘em keen’, then they’ve got it, spot on. Though I’m not sure I do.

And so we put Spring behind us and the lovely Kate took over. Kate is chic, knowledgeable and has discerning taste in most things, especially when it comes to food, so we knew we were in safe hands – after all, it was she who was responsible for our last great Paris discovery, Chez l’Ami Jean, a secret we have proudly shared ever since with friends who are visiting the city. After meeting first for a drink and an hour watching the beautiful people at Hotel Costes, we took the scenic route through Place Vendome to Bistrot Volnay.

The emphasis here was on quality produce: various seasonal mushrooms appeared throughout the evening’s menu; alongside razor clams or St Jacques to start; pan fried with sweetbreads and foie gras to follow; stirred through the darkest, glossiest osso bucco. I had the pheasant tourte: a type of savoury pasty filled with meat, bacon, foie gras and chanterelles, with grapes and spices lending an autumn sweetness. It was very elegant and very simply done, a description that could be applied to the Volnay itself. Whilst it’s clearly a Paris bistro - complete with plaque-studded counter-bar commemorating lifelong regulars - the restrained and quietly chic palette is redolent of Manhattan; it has the feel of a neighbourhood restaurant. The staff were chatty and helpful, and we felt welcome from the off.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to those madeleines…

Eyes bigger than stomachs, three of the four of us just had to order riz-au-lait, which came with extra cream and a dark salty caramel sauce. Kate’s husband Emmanuel finished his with aplomb - like any self-respecting foodie, but all I could do was stare at the remainder on my plate and wish it a good home somewhere else - it was enormous. Therefore, when wafts of the freshly-baked-cake variety started to circulate, it took the brain a little while to recover itself and ape some kind of hunger pang. It was nothing other than gratuitous, but everyone else in the place was tucking in to those dainty sponge shells so surely it would have been rude not to….wouldn’t it?

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

A salad of fennel, orange, Parmesan and hazelnuts

Before I started working from home I had this romantic notion that I would float between desk and kitchen, keeping a vague eye on something wholesome on the stove or in the oven, blipping away until lunchtime. Now that I’ve worked here a year, I can testify to devoting even less time towards my lunch at home than I did when I had to rely on the ubiquitous sandwich chains for the weekly rotation of wraps, salads and soups – most of the time; there constantly seems to be something else that needs my attention.

Yesterday, however, was a punctuation mark of a lunch, a seagull-topped buoy on the recent sea of lacklustre lunches, and it’s inspired me to make more of an effort even though it’s only me. After all, lunch is pretty important, in the grand scheme of things.

Like all the best food daydreams, this one had an outside chance of becoming a reality as I happened to have all the ingredients in question. And the reality was delicious.

Serves 1 (or 2 as a starter)

1 bulb fennel

8 good shavings off a block of good Parmesan

Handful of crushed hazelnuts

1 orange

For the dressing:

Cider/white wine vinegar

Mustard

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Slice the very bottom off the fennel bulb and wash/discard any manky outer layers. Slice it very finely, or better still, shave it with a vegetable peeler (or – yikes! – a mandolin).

Peel and halve the orange, discarding any pips, and slice.

Make the dressing to taste (but a mustardy, zingy slick is best).

Dress and mix the fennel, nuts, cheese and orange slices in a bowl.

Eat directly from said bowl if you can stay away from your desk no longer.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Gruyère, cheddar and bacon soufflé

I’ve always been a bit scared of soufflés. I adore eating them, but would sooner leave the manufacture to someone else. The process always seems to me way too fraught to be a satisfying one, with that mad sprint finish over the last yards from the degree-perfect oven to the table. Scoping out options for supper last week and finding two rashers of bacon, a few eggs and two lumps of cheese left I suggested to the BSG that I might try making one and he said ‘why not?’ Why not, indeed? So I did.

I love nothing more than cruising the pages of all our beautiful cookbooks, but when I am all at sea and in need of the recipe equivalent of a stern lecture (or that fun instructive part of Blue Peter) I go to the most unsightly of the lot: Leith’s Cookery Bible. Stripped of its dust-jacket, its pages stuck together and occasionally brittle with goodness-knows-what, the spine and boards rebound with parcel tape of the muddiest brown, this beloved manual has been with the BSG for 12 years, since he did a course at Leith’s. Aside from a few breaks of colour photos (and BSG biro-scribblings), it is nearly 700 pages of pure instruction, and has been so relied upon and loved over the years that if it were a toy it would be the Velveteen Rabbit.

So, with Prue’s expert help, I made my first soufflé*. And it felt a lot like a magic spell; it never ceases to delight me how the lowly egg creates such towering spectacle.
P1090817
*(I don’t think I have ever followed a recipe to the letter and this was no exception; I put chopped fried bacon bits into the bottom of the dishes).

Serves 2 apparently (but easily 6 as a starter)

Ingredients

40g butter
Dried white breadcrumbs
30g plain flour
½ teaspoon dry English mustard
a pinch of Cayenne pepper
290ml milk
3 oz sharp Cheddar or Gruyere cheese, grated (I used both)
4 eggs, separated
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 200ºC/400º F gas mark 6.

Melt a knob of the butter and brush a 15cm/6in soufflé dish (or 6 ramekins) with it. Dust lightly with the breadcrumbs.

Melt the remaining butter in a saucepan and stir in the flour, mustard and cayenne with a wooden spoon. Cook for 45 seconds. Add the milk and cook, stirring vigorously, for 2 minutes. The mixture will get very thick and leave the sides of the pan. Remove from the heat.

Cool slightly and add the cheese, egg yolks, salt and pepper. Taste; the mixture should be well seasoned.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry, mix a spoonful into the cheese mixture. Then fold in the remainder until just combined. Pour into the dish(es), which should be two-thirds full. Run your finger around the top of the mixture. This gives a ‘top hat’ appearance to the cooked soufflé.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25-30 minutes (13-20 minutes for small versions) and serve immediately. (Do not test to see if the soufflé is done for at least 20 minutes - less for smaller dishes. Then open the oven just wide enough to get your hand in and give the soufflé a slight shove. If it wobbles alarmingly, cook for a further 5 minutes.)

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Monday, 31 October 2011

Stuffed baked baby pumpkins

I did something a bit spooky last Saturday, at lunch at the Anchor and Hope. It had nothing to do with the smoked cod’s roe or the crumbed pressed pig’s head we chose to start (though these were pretty bold and out of character for me). No. It was the fact that, for the first time ever, I opted for the vegetal main course option. Of course, I have had many vegetable-heavy dishes at restaurants in my time, but these usually star a starch of some kind: a pasta or grain, a potato, or perhaps eggs. But vegetables only? Not usually. I had the baked baby pumpkin, a couple of them in fact, oozy with cheese and chestnuts with peppery leaves and a pickled walnut on the side. And they were delicious.

I am no stranger to a pure-veg plateful at home; a ratatouille or a bowl of steaming peas or cabbage is just the job some lunchtimes. But from a restaurant menu? Usually - and rather unimaginatively – something with a little more…erm, meat to it wins the day. Especially in an old-school *gastropub* like this one (only took us a decade or so to finally get there), which always make me think of chops and burgers. After such a great start, I will certainly be ordering more vegetables in the future.

It is timely that a newly svelte (alright, svelt-er) Hugh Fearnley-Wotsisname has sworn a meat embargo on his latest programme and I am enjoying the recipes very much. So, with this meat-free plateful fresh in my memory I wanted to recreate some pumpkin magic at home last week, whilst the BSG was away. I decided to try and emulate this kind of cosy-October-wonderfulness by trying a stuffed, baked munchkin pumpkin for last night’s supper.

Having had rice in a kedgeree that morning, I was keen for something different to make up the bulk of the stuffing, so opted for couscous, but I do think with hindsight that something with a little more bite and nuttiness would have stood up far better: some wild rice or barley, perhaps.

IMG00427-20111023-1905

To stir through the grains I had roasted some onions and red pepper until their extremities were pleasingly caramelised. To these I added some Shwarma spices from our local food haven, Lebanon Gate, which would permeate throughout and fill the house with wafts of warm, festive scents. Again, with the benefit of the experience I would have gone much heavier on these spices, perhaps adding some chilli for kicks, as well as stock for added depth. And cheese - a halloumi or mozzarella perhaps - melted within would have set this particular combo off nicely…

The part of this magic spell that did work first time was the baking; once you’ve nailed this, the possibilities are endless.

After washing and drying it, I carefully sliced the ‘lid’ off the baby munchkin, scooping out the string and seeds (TIP: discard the pith but keep and dry the seeds – they make a great snack when roasted). I then oiled and seasoned the inside of the fruit, replaced the lid and baked it in a shallow dish at 200 degrees for half an hour. During this time, I prepared the filling, mixing the grains, veg and spices together. I removed the pumpkin from the oven, filled it with the stuffing, replaced its lid and baked it for another 20 minutes.

Maybe it’s rather cheeky of me to post a largely imperfect recipe plus a few tweaks and call it worthwhile. However I am acutely aware that these orange orbs will be going very cheap from tomorrow morning, once Halloween has howled itself out, so there’ll be plenty of them around to experiment on. Perhaps I’ll try some kind of stew, or a pumpkin-based daal inside them next time; whichever proves the perfect magic spell, the experience has served as a satisfying display of the versatility of the fruit: a reminder that pumpkins can be a stars of the plate and not just scary Halloween lanterns or impromptu princess transport.

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Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Something new, every day…

On Saturday I found out that my grandpa doesn’t like cheese.

Oh, he will have it in a cooked form, say, cauliflower cheese and suchlike, but cheese for cheese’s sake, on a board, say, with crackers? No thank you (or thank yoohooo, as he’d say).

I’m not sure what’s more of a surprise: the aversion itself or the fact that it has only taken me thirty-odd years to learn about it.

I know quite a lot about his eating habits, you see, having spent a great deal of my childhood with him. There was always a rush between us four siblings to be the first at breakfast so we’d get the hallowed top of the milk (when it still came in bottles from a smiling man in a float) in the crater he made in our Alpen (always Alpen, decanted into Grandpa’s special plastic container to keep it fresh). Morning after morning he’d pretend to fall for the rubber fried egg we’d plant on the kitchen floor, tirelessly feigning surprise when we picked it up with our fingers. Next to him would be his own small brown teapot, he and Gran would always drink different tea.

Grandpa has always carved the roast on Sundays – nobody else can get roast beef so thin. We’d all watch as his fork would hover back and forth over his plate during the meal, as he made sure he’d speared a bit from every part of it before taking a mouthful – the perfect mouthful. And I am pretty sure that he is the reason that the chocolate digestive - nay, the pudding - was invented.

On Saturday my nephew, George, entered the world. He is wonderful beyond words.

george
George has a few months yet before the wider universe of food begins to cross his tiny taste-buds, but what adventures await him! I hope to be along for the ride. If he’s anything like his dad he’ll have a penchant for apples (and his two middle fingers), his mum he’ll be a great cook and a mayonnaise fiend, but who knows what his dislikes will be.

The BSG tells me that babies screw up their faces at sour things as they have an inbuilt anti-poison reflex, so perhaps lemons are out for the foreseeable. I wonder when he’ll try his first bread and Marmite and if he’ll like it *fingers firmly crossed on that one*.

Perhaps he’ll be an early gourmet, like G, who as a toddler was reaching for the olives (stoneless of course). Or like Lucy who dislikes bananas and tea (not together). Who knows what will influence his tastes – or even whether they are already established; will have Grandpa’s cheeseboard-phobia? We’ll just have to wait and see.

Whilst we wait, the BSG and I are rolling out a sort of meals-on-wheels service to his parents, to get them through the days that punctuate the sleep-deprived nights.

This is the first instalment; the recipe’s grabbed from Allegra McEvedy as I am hopeless with quantities and would no doubt lead you astray with the BSG-version.

Chicken, chorizo and butterbean stew
Serves 4 (or two good suppers for the freezer)

4 chicken legs, jointed into thighs and drumsticks
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
250g raw chorizo sausages, thickly sliced
2 red onions, roughly chopped
2 pepper, (green or red), cut into 2cm pieces
Pinches dried oregano
Pinches dried red chilli flakes
Whole dried chillies, (optional)
120 ml white wine
2 bay leaves
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 x 400g can chopped plum tomatoes
1 x 400g can butter beans
500 ml chicken stock
2 oranges, grated zest only
Crusty bread, to serve

Generously season the skin of the chicken pieces with sea salt. Heat the olive oil in a large deep frying pan over a high heat and fry chicken, skin-side down for 7 minutes, until the skin is a deep golden-brown.
Season the side of the chicken facing up in the pan, turn the chicken over and fry for a further 3 minutes, or until the flesh-side is lightly golden.

Remove the chicken from the pan and set aside. Add the chorizo slices to the pan and fry on a high heat. Once the chorizo begins to release its oil, add the onion, peppers, oregano and chilli and stir well. Place a lid on the pan and leave to cook for 5–10 minutes, or until the vegetables have begun to soften.

Stir in the wine, bay leaves and sherry vinegar and bubble the mixture for 2-3 minutes, or until the volume of the liquid begins to reduce. Add the tomatoes and beans, then top up with enough chicken stock to fill the pan three quarters full and bring to a simmer.

Put the chicken back in the pan so that the flesh is in the sauce but the skin is exposed. Sprinkle over the orange zest. Bring the mixture back to the boil, then reduce the heat so the stew is gently bubbling. Simmer for 40 minutes, until the chicken is cooked all the way through and the sauce has thickened a little.

Leave the stew to rest for 15 minutes before serving with crusty bread. The stew can be made a day in advance to allow the flavours to develop.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Kedgeree (and other breakfasts.)

I never tire of food-related fantasy games. Forget 'I Spy', how about ‘your last meal on earth’, or ‘if you had to eat one meal every meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?’ Well, that second one’s easy: breakfast.
I suppose I might’ve mentioned my inability to make a decision – or perhaps I haven’t. It drives the BSG round the bend; he is decision incarnate. But this one is easy. Breakfast is a meal where anything goes, thereby removing the choice conundrum from the proceedings. Thus, breakfast is perfect for someone like me.
pancakesAs well as blurry boundaries between foodstuffs - do I plump for yoghurt, fruit or Bircher muesli, croissants or the full English? - start and end times are also a grey area, meaning that it’s quite possible to graze from waking until lunchtime. Some of my happiest and most enduring university memories are from mornings whiled away in my friend Caz’s room in halls, drinking tea and eating toast and boiled eggs, more with Marmite and perhaps just one more piece - with marmalade - until lunchtime. We may have even missed a lecture (once), waiting for the perfect runny consistency to the yolk. Nothing cements firm friendship like sharing rounds of hot-buttered toast and pots of tea.
Of course, due to obvious time constraints, weekday breakfasts are more confined to the bounds of convenience; toast and its infinite possibilities, your favourite cereal, some porridge and stewed fruit once autumn takes its crisp hold. Eggs and bacon are reserved for the week’s end - a Friday treat of a bacon and marmalade sandwich, perhaps. The BSG and I rejoice in the advent of most weekends with a proper, frothy latte from our coffee machine – smileworthy, even on the dankest of days.
speckled eggsBreakfast is a parade of wonders, where friends’ wacky combinations are frequently exposed; Caz, for example, likes marmalade and Marmite on her toast… My Belgian great-grandmother loved nothing more than to dip toast and Gouda into her morning coffee (white and strong, if you’re interested). I am ever so pleased she passed me this habit. Try it - delicious. My grandpa, the king of the avant-garde food combo, always ate his sausages with marmalade, the Tabasco and Gentleman’s Relish never far out of his reach.
Then you have breakfasts that are ideal for certain situations. This year has been full of weddings, and I don’t think that there’s a better way to start a wedding Saturday than with kedgeree. Protein- and carb- rich, it stops the gap that the skipped proper lunch will leave, lines the stomach for the inevitable afternoon drinking and wakes up the taste buds with hints of spice, lemon and parsley – just make sure you check your teeth for green bits before you leave. Definitely worth prepping in advance, it can sit and wait, warming through under foil in the oven whilst you get on with things. Deal with any fishy/oniony bits before washing and dressing in your finery – no one likes eau-de-cuisine.
You don’t need a wedding as an excuse to whip this up. I reckon it’d steel you for any big (or small) day. It might take the edge off a marathon spring clean, a looming hulk of admin or a trip to a blue-and-yellow hångår to buy silly-named flat-pack furniture, a Venus flytrap and other stuff you never knew you needed.
Kedgeree
Serves 4
4 eggs, almost hard boiled (prob 6 minutes will do) and peeled
680g smoked haddock fillets (or a mixture of smoked and unsmoked fish works too. Try mackerel.)
2 bay leaves
250g basmati rice
115g butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2.5 teaspoonfuls mild curry powder
Juice of half a lemon (and the other half in wedges for squeezing over)
2 good handfuls of chopped flat-leaf parsley or coriander
In a large shallow pan, heat some water (or milk) - deep enough to submerge the fish - with the bay leaves. Add the fillets, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 5-7 minutes, until the fish is cooked. Remove the fish from the pan and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skin, flake into chunks and set aside.
Cook the rice in boiling water according to pack instructions – it should be on the al-dente side. Drain the rice, refreshing briefly under a stream of hot water from the kettle. Return the steaming rice to the saucepan, covering it with a clean tea-towel and then the lid to stand for a few minutes. This is a top-quality tip from my step-mum and it ensures the fluffiest rice imaginable.
Whilst the rice is cooking, melt the butter in a pan over a low heat, then add the onions and soften them gently without colouring for five minutes or so. Add the curry powder and cook for another couple of minutes, until the kitchen is filled with aromas. Add the rice to the pan and heat gently through, carefully folding in the flaked fish and adding the lemon juice to taste. This can now stand in a pan or dish, waiting warm under foil in a low oven until you are ready to eat.
Just before serving, add the parsley or coriander, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper. Top with the eggs cut into quarters. Serve with the lemon wedges.
Twist: For some extra texture, crispy fried onion bits are often sprinkled on the top.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Lentil and mackerel salad

Each time September rolls around, three small words strike fear into the hearts of many: Back to School. I know even 60-year olds who break into a cold sweat at the prospect – even though it’s been a few decades since they hung up their satchels. So, how to combat these misgivings? As far as I can recall, salvation would come in the form of a stationery spree – a brand new pen, a fluffy pencil case or the crisp white pages of a new diary.

For me, the lentil is the food equivalent to school – I know it’s ultimately good for me and always end up enjoying it more than I imagine. In the lentil’s case, it’s what you dress it with that makes it great. In this case: mackerel. More specifically, tinned mackerel fillets (no grappling with bones necessary).

This doesn’t sound exciting, however since signing up to Hugh’s Fish Fight and eschewing the old favourite of tuna, I have turned to tinned mackerel to top baked potatoes and fill sandwiches too. Judging by the silver-haired company I keep in that particular section of the tinned-food aisle in the supermarket, it is a food as retro as its packaging suggests.

There are certain dishes that recur often in the BSG household and alongside roast chicken and spaghetti Bolognese, this tops the list. A feel-good dish in every sense, it tastes great, is 100% good for you and elevates the lentil to another plain. There’s nothing easier to whip up after a bout of overindulgence, and I swear it makes you shout cleverer answers at University Challenge. It’s back to school without the dread, plus you usually have the wherewithal for it in your cupboards when you can’t face a food shop at the end of a long day. Enjoy its countless permutations.

Lentil and mackerel salad (I think it’s a salad)

Puy lentils

Tinned mackerel

Whatever is languishing in the fridge, but a few suggestions might be:

Cherry tomatoes, quartered

Cucumber, chopped

Radishes, chopped

Carrot, grated

Parsley

Any other soft green herbs or salad leaves wilting into anonymity in your vegetable drawer

Chilli

Lemon

Olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper

Boil the lentils according to packet instructions, with a bay leaf and a bit of stock powder if you have any.

Whilst the lentils are boiling, chop the vegetables and herbs and put everything into a bowl. Make a salad dressing (perhaps a bit sharper than you usually have it as the lentils will slightly dull this – mustard works very well in there somewhere).

Drain the lentils, and then add them to the bowl whilst still warm – if you have used any spinach or rocket leaves, this has the pleasing effect of wilting them slightly. Drain the mackerel fillets from their oil and add them to the bowl, stirring gently through with a fork so that they slightly break up.

Add the dressing, mix and season with salt and pepper. Have a lemon on hand to squeeze over if necessary.

Enjoy a big bowlful and feel very smug.

Monday, 12 September 2011

When the chips are down

Once when I was having a very bad day, a good friend of mine told me that a slice of watermelon would make things alright – turns out that’s what he’d had to hand at the time, but it worked in all its sunshiny redness. Not long later and from this same, wise source, it was a crunchy peanut butter and raspberry jam sandwich (the details here have to be very precise). Food had done at those moments what kind words could not.

On both occasions, it was as if having such a simple treat shone a different light on everything else and gave me strength to regroup. Now, I’m not advocating comfort eating – we all know what trouble that gets people into - but I reckon its true that, when the occasion demands it, a little of something you love does you good. A teaspoon of sugar in your builder’s when you need some galvanising? Sure. A bacon sandwich on a bleary morning, or a hot chocolate grabbed after a crappy journey to work? Definitely.

Last night’s supper was a case in point; the BSG roasted half a chicken rubbed in some Australian Bush Mix (we’d in the cupboard and had been wondering what to do with) until its skin was smoky and crisp, which we shared with some homemade coleslaw (carrot, sweetheart cabbage and red onion shredded in the Magimix and dressed in yoghurt, pepper and lemon) and some wonderful, golden McCain crispy French fries*.

Really, truly, happy-making food. Thank you, darling BSG.

*I am sure that nothing beats making your own, but in the absence of a deep fat fryer for multiple cooking sessions, these frozen chips are brilliant.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Say it with flour

There are post-holiday blues, and then there are post holiday-blues, like when you return from your fairytale wedding on an island in a sparkly sea surrounded by your friends and family to find that the decorators you’ve so carefully timed to give your flat a refresh in your absence have disconnected your telly, left the contents of your kitchen on the floor, the books off the bookshelf and hung your pictures ‘their way’. Plus your beloved, tiny sausage dog is so cross at being left behind that he’s up at 3am wanting a pee and a walk –except he doesn’t really, he just wants to annoy you.

P1090278 How to combat such a comedown and persuade the newlyweds not to make a break for the nearest airport? Yesterday, September tried an effort at an Indian summer to show that London is still a brilliant place to be. I think it should keep trying – the BSG and I are taking them for drinks outside the Dock Kitchen next week.

In our first modest effort to go some way to buoying the spirits of these two dear friends – let’s call them Barbie and Ken – and thanking them for the Montenegrin extravaganza that was their wedding we decided to make them a quiche. I’d been meaning to make one, having never attempted it due to an abject fear of short pastry, and we’d been inspired by a very good homemade one recently courtesy of our friend G. Barbie happens to be a veggie, so it would also prove a useful exercise in the expansion of my pitiful repertoire in that department (stuffed baked marrow, anyone?).

I came across this recipe whilst flicking through the BSG’s newest epicurean tome, How to Eat In, by Adam Byatt of Trinity in Clapham. Both of us were already eager to visit Trinity; having read these recipes we’re champing at the bit. His recipe called for fresh morels, but it being early autumn rather than early summer we used dried chanterelles instead and it worked out fine.

 

Quiche of morels, broad beans and goat’s cheese

150g fresh morels (or 15g dried morels or chanterelles)

200g fresh broad beans (we used frozen ones)

1 bunch chives

Shortcrust pastry (make your own or readymade is fine)

4 eggs

2 egg yolks

700 ml double cream

100g goat’s cheese

Salt and pepper

Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 180 ˚C. Clean and trim the fresh mushrooms, or soak the dried ones. Blanch the beans in boiling salted water, run under cold water and pop them from their outer casings. Finely chop the chives.

Place a 26cm x 4cm tart ring or dish on a cold baking sheet.

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface to a 40cm disc that is 0.5 cm thick. Drape it over the tart ring, then press it well into the bottom inside edge and let it overhang the top. Line the pastry case with clingfilm and fill with rice or baking beans. Bake ‘blind’ for 25 minutes.

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Take the pastry case out of the oven, keeping it in the ring on the baking sheet. Removed the clingfilm and rice or beans and leave the pastry to cool. Turn the oven temperature down to 160˚C for cooking the quiche.

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Put the eggs and egg yolks into a large bowl and gently whisk in the cream. Crumble in the goat’s cheese, stir in the chives and season with salt and pepper.

Heat a frying pan, splash in some olive oil and gently fry the mushrooms for 4 minutes with plenty of seasoning. Remove and leave to cool, then add to the egg and cream mix with the beans. Leave to stand for 30 minutes – this will prevent the mushrooms from rising to the top of the filling during baking.

Trim the overhanging pastry off the cooled pastry case and brush away the crumbs to leave a perfectly lined tart ring.

Return the tart ring to the oven and, keeping the oven door open, pour the filling mix into the pastry case. Close the oven door and bake the quiche for 45 minutes, gently shaking the baking sheet after 30 minutes. When the quiche is done, the filling should be set around the edges with a slight wobble in the centre.

Take the quiche out of the oven and allow to cool in the tart ring for an hour or so before cutting into slices.

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Thursday, 18 August 2011

Pizza East Portobello

There are some things that sound like somebody, somewhere along the line, has made a mistake – but which just work. Take, for example, the wonderful marriages of salted butter and jam, celery with peanut butter and half an avocado with Worcester sauce.

My art teacher at school used to call such serendipitous discoveries ‘happy accidents’ – a bit like the summer afternoon when my gran and a ten-year-old me concocted a ‘pioneering’ drink from raspberry cordial and lemonade which we called the Frisbee and got terrifically excited about it. Only later did we find out that the raspberry cordial was actually Crème de Framboise and our terrific excitement was in fact drunkenness. Boy, that was one heck of an afternoon – thanks Gran.

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I digress. Just down the road from us, Pizza East has landed on the corner of Portobello and Golborne Road, W(est) 10; one such ‘happy accident’. No-one tell them it’s not East London and perhaps they won’t notice and try to take it back.

Although the place is only a few months old, the BSG and I have already managed to cover a large swathe of the menu and haven’t yet found a bum note. Though it is perennially packed out from 6.45pm, tables are swiftly turned, giving enough time to wet your whistle at the bar or outside on sunny evenings with a cocktail or some such (anywhere that serves Aperol spritzers is legendary in my book).

The place is open-plan so you can watch the drama unfold in the heat of the kitchen as wood-fired ovens roar open-mouthed and orders are relayed. Due to the presence of these ovens, the place also turns out other delicious things cooked amongst the flames. You can have crispy pork belly, beef fillet, salmon amongst others and if you can’t make up your mind, they do a pizza with pork belly on top. Heroes.

squid with salsa verde

To start, there are the usual Italian offerings of antipasti and others, but punctuated with a bit of Brit – bruschetta with bone marrow or beaten Pollock and radishes anyone? (We thought it rather a nice nod to the site’s previous guise, The Fat Badger pub). We shared the char-grilled squid with salsa verde and lemon – a nice clean start to proceedings. But we’ll probably try them all, before long.

Hands down the best pizza I have had in a long time was the spicy sausage, broccoli and mozzarella I had last time I was there. Just the right mix of pepper and richness, and amazingly no tomato sauce – the BSG had serious food envy, despite hugely enjoying his pizza with veal meatballs, prosciutto, cream and sage. My friend Dani, a veggie, adores the courgette flower, ricotta and marjoram, which sounds so pretty and is just as delicious. The ciabatta-style dough they use is pillowy and elastic, with a satisfying crunch where the crust bubbles up: an altogether different pizza dough, so the BSG thinks.

With the best will in the world, there is not usually room for pudding, so when we do squeeze it in we share. The raspberry sponge with mascarpone we had last time was well worth it, light and sharp and like a nursery teatime. No doubt we’ll try everything all over the coming months; it’s only fair to our support our new local which we’ve taken to our hearts (stomachs) – even if it doesn’t really sound that local. Moreover, there’s no doubt it will open more people eyes to the many wonders of the Golborne Road and its diverse shops and stalls. About time.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Glorious good pud

I have been accosted this week by several indignant blog-readers, some of whom I was unaware of, reminding me that its been a whole month since my last post. I am truly sorry, but even more delighted that there’s somebody outside of my family who  reads this, so this is for you kids, and I promise not to be so slack in the future.

My buddy Mel, who is a teacher and on her well-earned summer holiday (though can’t seem to lie in – she emailed at silly o’clock this morning) tells me she is off to the races at Goodwood tomorrow and she needs to make a pudding that will stand up to two car journeys and summer heat (here’s hoping).

Ah Goodwood! If I close my eyes, I can almost hear the thunder of horses, the sweeping views down to the Solent and enormous cotton-wool clouds drifting overhead. I hope the sun’s out for them.

Anyway, back to the pudding. Trying to stay largely away from anything soft or involving too much melty stuff, such as cream or chocolate I lighted on this delicate and retro-sounding recipe in How I Cook.

I can’t say that I’ve tried them all, but the thing I like best about Skye Gyngell’s recipes is that they come out (even in my clumsy hands) pretty much as they look in the book – minus the backdrop of vintage crockery, country flowers and sun bleached-tabletops of course. I know I am obsessed with this book, so I will put it down after this post, I promise. Though probably not for long.

This can be baked, transported and sliced with the minimum of fuss and the compote will be delicious and summery. A tub of crème fraiche to dollop on the side is all it needs. Put a quid on for me, my friend. x

Pound cake

Makes 12 slices
450g unsalted butter, softened, plus some melted to grease
450g plain flour, sifted
½ tsp sea salt
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp bicarb of soda
450g golden caster sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 large free-range eggs
125 ml whole milk
Finely grated zest of an orange
Finely grated zest of a lemon

Heat the oven to 160˚C. Line a loose-bottomed cake tin (23 cm) with foil and baking parchment and brush the parchment with melted butter, dusting afterwards with a little flour. (NB I probably wouldn’t do any of this as I am too lazy and then it would probably stay in the tin, only to be prized out with a spoon…)

Sift the flour, salt, baking powder and bicarb together into a bowl and put to one side.

Using an electric mixer (your Magimix will do fine, Mel), beat the butter, sugar and vanilla extract together on a low speed for 2 minutes, increasing the speed to high and beating until pale and fluffy. Turn the speed down again and beat in the eggs, one at a time, alternately with the milk. (To substitute my lack of ‘speeds’, I would use the pulse button for slow, the continuous button for fast…)

Using a large metal spoon, fold the flour into the mixture in three batches, followed by the orange and lemon zest, until evenly combined.

Spoon the cake mixture into the prepared cake tin and gently level the surface with the back of a spoon. Stand the cake tin on the middle oven shelf and bake for 1 and ¼ hours, or until the cake has begun to shrink away from the sides of the tin and a skewer inserted comes out clean.

Leave in the tin for 5 mins then turn out onto a wire rack to cool. This cake is best eaten slightly warm from the oven (or the sunny boot of your car).

Apricot compote

Serves 10-12

1 kg ripe apricots
175g caster sugar
Pared zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla pod, spilt lengthways
Tiny pinch of salt

Half apricots and remove stones, keeping 3 or 4 stones and throwing the others away.

Put the halved apricots and all the other ingredients into a pan with the reserved stones. Pour in a little water, just enough to give a 1cm depth in the pan and place over a low heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high and cook, stirring from time to time, for 10 minutes. The apricots should be soft and brighter in colour, their skins having slipped off. Set aside to cool.

Spoon the cooled compote into a suitable container, cover and refrigerate until well chilled. This will keep until you need it.

Monday, 27 June 2011

No green fingers

I’m not sure what’s become of my courgette plant. On Saturday when I last looked, it was standing strong, leaves aloft with a few signs of baby shoots and flowers – the promise of fruit – and today it is a twisted heap of limp, lying listless on the ground. To make matters worse, when I googled the problem, I was reminded that courgettes are ‘surprisingly easy to grow’…..grrrr.

I’m not sure if it was the cats or the slimers this time, but there are no dead slugs or snails in my carefully laid beer-trap (no, I’m not sorry, RSCPA,) and I’ve nothing equivalent for feline entrapment, so I guess I’ll have to lump it. One thing’s for sure: next year it’s going to be flowers, all the way – oh, and herbs seem to be ok. Vegetables just don’t seem to be my bag, and I haven’t got the energy for a Boggis/Bunce/Bean-style campaign against the plethora of pests on my block. Moreover, my potatoes are so tall they look like tomatoes (as has been pointed out several times); they resemble a healthy, leafy hedge, but alas, there are no goodies beneath.

A shame then, that I won’t have the glut of free courgettes I dreamt of as an excuse to make my new favourite thing, from Skye Gyngell’s How I Cook. We had this jammy marvel alongside a chilli-infused lamb shoulder and our green-fingered friend Joe’s new potatoes, freshly dug from his garden. They were so fresh they were crisp, like apples. I think I’ll leave the clever stuff to him.

Slow-cooked courgettes with mint

Serves 4-6

1 kg courgettes, trimmed

1 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and very finely chopped

1 dried red chilli

Sea salt

Handful of mint leaves, very finely chopped

Slice the courgettes into fine rounds (food processor slicer was practically invented for this). Put the butter and oil into a heavy-based saucepan and heat gently until the butter melts. Add the garlic and crumble in the chilli, stir once or twice, then cook for a few minutes until the garlic is soft, but not coloured.

Now add the courgettes with a good pinch of salt and put the lid on the pan. Cook over a low heat for 40 mins, stirring regularly to ensure that the courgettes do not stick to the bottom of the pan. Once cooked they should be very soft, almost fallen apart.

Stir in the chopped mint and serve warm.

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Tuesday, 14 June 2011

A big, green goodie bowl

I’m a lazy cook when the BSG’s away. Working from home means that lunch usually consists of perhaps a bowl of peas and a piece of toast and Marmite. And perhaps some cheese…or an egg. Or some Shreddies.

The key to lunch is that it’s quick - and though neither glamorous nor clever, the aforementioned ingredients happen to be amongst my favourite things to eat at any time. However, they can get a bit boring when repeated. We were given some cut and come again salad leaves by Ma BSG in the spring, which do exactly what they say on their (beautiful wooden wine) box. So, seeing as the plants seem to be growing despite my best efforts to the contrary, I decided to experiment with them and our rampant herbs recently in an endeavour to put some crunch into my lunch.

The results have turned out better then I could have imagined: it’s still quick, yet it’s also interesting and - dare I say it - healthy (though I’m not sure that was on the list).

IMG_2245Quantities are not important, it depends how big a bowl of goodies you feel like: every day should be different.

Frozen peas

Frozen broad beans

Mixed handful of soft green herbs; Chervil, Sorrel, Basil, Parsley, Mint…

Some young salad leaves (if you have them)

A grating of hard Italian cheese (the block in the back of your fridge that’s been there for ages)

A glug of greenest olive oil

A squeeze of lemon juice (and some zest if you’re feeling like a zing)

Salt and pepper to taste

Boil the frozen vegetables according to packet instructions and drain, then toss in all the other ingredients and that’s it. For something more substantial, this would go very well stirred through some filled pasta.

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Thursday, 2 June 2011

BSG anniversary

It’s been a year since the partnership between the BSG and his beloved Magimix was formally validated by the church of John Lewis. To celebrate this, we headed back to the scene of the festivities, to Norfolk for a long weekend. After the prolonged spell of warm dry weather the place seemed a whole season ahead of a usual May (and perhaps two ahead of what was last year’s May 8th – 9 degrees and horizontal drizzle). The hedgerows were festooned with lacy swathes of cow parsley, gigantic fishbone leaves hung from the horse chestnuts and a sweet smell pervaded the warm breeze. True, the ground looked parched and in desperate need of rain, but I was glad to miss it this time.

Sunny Norfolk

To celebrate this first anniversary, our first thoughts – naturally - concerned food. This is how we express, spoil, console and refresh ourselves and the prospect of concocting a feasting menu was terrifically indulgent and exciting. Yes, even more so than a roll-top bath and hot and cold running room-service in a sandy-bricked village in the Cotswolds…

Given the weather, how could we not visit Cookie’s Crab Shop? It was packed full of happy seasiders in their pack-a-macs. (NB: if you are shellfish-averse, tell someone before ordering the Royal Salad – the BSG spent half his lunch carefully halving his lunch, ending up with a mountain of smoked mackerel and rollmops opposite my crab and crayfish monolith.)

Impossible as it was to imagine ever eating again after such a feast, we managed an Italian beef stew, melting over some polenta laced with Fontina (thank you Antonio Carluccio), followed by something rather exciting we’d stumbled across in an abandoned Olive magazine (thank you Rosie’s mum): Pimm’s jelly. This one’s definitely for grown-ups, and will prove a winner for pudding at any barbeque. Furthermore, as if this wasn’t fun enough – it was still fizzy.

Pimm’s, lemon and mint jelly

(It doesn’t matter if you use sachets or leaves in this recipe – the below is leaves but I used a sachet of powder – whichever you can find. If it makes a pint rather than a litre, split the ratios accordingly, 7 lemonade: 2 Pimm’s: 1 water.)

10 gelatine leaves
Small bunch mint leaves
200ml Pimm's
700ml sparkling lemonade
Chopped cucumber , strawberries, orange and lemon slices, to serve

Soak the gelatine in a bowl of cold water. Heat 100ml water in a pan, drop in the mint leaves and leave to infuse for 5 minutes. Take out the leaves, reheat, then stir in the gelatine until dissolved. Add the Pimm's and lemonade and cool. Skim off any remaining foam. Pour into a 1-litre jelly mould and chill overnight until set.

Turn out onto a plate and surround the jelly with the traditional Pimm's garnish.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Borrowed and blue (well, green, actually)

If you, like my friend Antonia, happened to be jogging in St James’s Park early this morning you might have been party to the dress rehearsal, amongst the barriers, big screens and bunting. The city has been combed polished and planted to its best for the biggest day of pageantry in decades. If you’re not sure what I am talking about, do switch off and crawl back under that republican stronghold that is your rock.

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I have a bit of an excited feeling in my stomach, even though come Friday I am going to be hundreds of miles from the big smoke, trying to watch the coverage in a tabac in Normandy with a ‘staunch monarchist’ named Colette; we will both be wearing our hats. Although the BSG isn’t fussed and is much more interested in the outcome of the football season and in this evening’s Masterchef final, I am sure he will peek in at some point to have a look…

After last weekend, the weather’s looking dodgy. But, like birds dropping their wares on your head, rain on the wedding day is likely to bring good fortune (well somebody had to present an upside.) I am sure that William and Kate’s giant street-party/bbq will still go ahead unhindered, the two Dads manning the coals. I reckon it’ll be that old favourite, butterflied leg of lamb, rubbed in salt and sumac, and I’ve borrowed Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe from Saturday’s Guardian to go with it. The BSG, his mum and I had it last night with our lamb chops and it was flavour fit for a princess. Call it our dress rehearsal.

Lamb cutlets with sumac, aubergine and green tahini

Serves four.

4 medium aubergines

2 tsp white-wine vinegar

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp dried mint

1 tsp ground cumin (can make it without this)

Salt and black pepper

For the lamb

2 600g racks of lamb, French trimmed

2 tbsp olive oil

5 tbsp sumac mixed with 2 tsp Maldon sea salt

4 tbsp Greek yoghurt

For the tahini sauce

60g tahini paste

1 mild green chilli, deseeded (or less, to taste)

40g parsley, leaves and stems

2 tbsp lemon juice

1 garlic clove

60ml water

1 pinch each salt and sugar

Pierce the aubergines in a few places with a knife, then lay on a foil-lined tray and place under a hot grill for up to an hour, turning them a few times. They need to deflate completely and the skin burn and break. Once done, remove from the grill. Set the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Cut down the centre of each aubergine and scoop the flesh into a colander. Leave to drain for at least 15 minutes. Chop up the aubergine, add the vinegar, oil, mint, cumin and plenty of salt and pepper, and set aside.

While the aubergines are cooking, start on the lamb. Put a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Brush the lamb with oil and sear until golden-brown all over. Place on a baking sheet and press sumac and salt all over the flesh. Roast for 15-20 minutes, until cooked but still pink, then leave to rest for five minutes.

Put all the sauce ingredients in a small food processor bowl and work for two to three minutes, until you have a smooth, green paste. Add a little water, if needed, to get it to a pouring consistency.

To serve, carve the racks into individual cutlets and divide between four plates. Spoon over some of the aubergine, followed by some sauce, and top with a dollop of yoghurt.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

April firsts

I am not such a very nice person as it turns out. I mean, what on earth has Rachel Allen ever done to me? Nothing, apart from smile gently down the telly. And yet for some reason, I find all her jingly, lilting sunniness irritating to the point of wanting to leap in and start a food fight there in her spotless, Ballymaloe telly-kitchen.

leeds

However, this longstanding grudge dissipated when last weekend I sampled some of her food. Well, not her food exactly, but recipes from her book, beautifully executed by my friend Sarah, who does everything absolutely precisely: she is a scientist to her very core. (We used to have art v. science arguments at school, like the dog v. cat ones I have with the BSG these days - he is pro-cat if you’re interested in taking sides).

A couple of days with Sarah and her family in the rolling countryside outside Leeds had three of us Londoners wondering why we hadn’t jacked in the big smoke for this idyllic, wholesome life. In the first few warm rays of the year we had lunch outside: a delicious, shredded salad of savoy cabbage, carrots, crisp apples, bacon bits and chicken. And it was Rachel Allen – well Sarah, really – who made us feel these first breaths of summer. I think there may have even been some rougeing of the face, but that was my fault entirely.

Salad

Feeling rather virtuous after this refreshing main course (I would say light, except we ate all of it, including Sarah’s husband’s portion…He’d been on a run and thoroughly deserved to eat), Sarah produced the most beautiful lemon tart. Honestly, it looked like the best homemade thing I’d ever seen – shop-bought ones with their unbroken perfection don’t quite cut it. And it tasted like a cloud of citrussy sunshine, and had some kind of bruléed crust on its top. Heaven. As it turned out, that was Rachel too. So, not just a pretty husband, then. I even got a picture of lunch, for once, before it disappeared.

lemon tart

It was surprise we’d managed to fit any lunch in at all, when a mere hour beforehand we’d paid a visit to the Ilkley branch of Betty’s Tea Room. For a first-timer like me, simply ordering a coffee (albeit a rich, Latte Latino made with chocolate sauce and cinnamon) just wouldn’t have cut the mustard, so with it came the plumpest Yorkshire Fat Rascal (an enormous warm fruit bun), some freshly baked rarebit scones and Betty’s famous cinnamon toast. Clearly a recipe they’d perfected over time, the cinnamon and sugar lay in a thick crust over crunchy fingers of brown toast – the sort of mean brown toast you’d never have associated with such a treat but which was now transformed under its crystalline cloak. No wonder Sarah’s son, Finlay, eschewed his rather yummy-looking lunch in its favour.

The rest of the weekend continued much along the same theme – three girls from London, being fed like kings, with pancetta wrapped monkfish, white chocolate mousse, pork and apple crumble (my first savoury crumble – won’t be my last that’s for sure) and on Sunday morning, blueberry pancakes like the fluffiest cumulonimbus made by Rhys, Sarah’s hubby; a good excuse to march up onto the moor for a brisk one.

Ice cream

It was very hard to leave, even harder to manage the wagyu burger the BSG had prepared on my return and nigh on impossible to fathom what we’ll conjure up for them on the return leg; I might ask my new favourite person...

rachel-allen

Monday, 28 March 2011

Breakfast of champions – Bircher Muesli

This is the perfect weekend jump-start when the clock-change is imminent and there is a sweeter smell of summer in the air (I haven’t asked a science person about this but I am sure there is…Does anyone else sniff the air and get excited - or is that just me?) We shared it with our friend Caz, who is a champion in every way. Oh, and then we moved a shed, built a wall and overhauled the garden. Testimony to its powers.

Porridge in its many manifestations has by now done its job, an inner pilot-light through dark mornings that by now sits a bit heavy on the imagination. Crunchy nut cornflakes, clusters, whatevers are dreamy but for addicts like the BSG and me a daily dose could be a fast-track to overkill and the exit of the crunchy nut asylum – a place I do not plan to leave; they are there only for special occasions and late night snacks. No, what we need now is restraint, plus something virtuous to break the fast before summer brings along its fruit salads.

The best thing about this recipe is that you will feel so incredibly pleased with yourself all round. It is delicious, healthy and you can put pretty much any combination of fruit, nuts, seeds and yoghurt in, so it doesn’t get boring. You can keep the soaked porridge oats in the fridge for a few days and mix things in each morning as the mood takes you. Thank you, Switzerland.

I am not sure it even merits a recipe – really, an idiot could do it, but here’s one from Gordon Ramsay that I’ve tweaked, as for some reason it seems harder to write one the easier the method is. Or perhaps that is just me.

Serves 4

200g rolled oats (about 2 cups)
350ml apple juice or water (about 11/2 cups)
1 crunchy apple, Braeburns work well
125g natural or low-fat yoghurt
Seasonal fresh fruit (such as berries, bananas, peaches and apricots)
Runny honey, to drizzle (or maple syrup)
A sprinkling of nuts or seeds, to serve

Place the oats in a bowl and cover with enough apple juice or water to
moisten them. Cover the bowl with cling film and chill for an hour, or preferably overnight, in the fridge.
Peel the apple if you prefer, then coarsely grate (discarding the pips) and stir into the oats. Stir in enough yoghurt to reach a desired consistency. You could also add more milk, yoghurt or apple juice to loosen the mixture if it is too thick.Serve the muesli in individual bowls topped with seasonal fruit of your choice then drizzle with a little honey. Sprinkle with your favourite nuts or seeds – whatever you have to hand.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Dotori

I have had a cold for what feels like months. No matter what I take, it sticks around, lulling me into a false sense of security by momentarily letting me breathe through my nose whilst talking, or sniff unshackled for a nanosecond. But no, it’s always a brief glimmer of hope over across never-ending sea of Olbas oil. If it carries on any longer I will be buying shares in Sudafed. Worst of all, people look on in horror when I try talking as I sound like Ed Miliband. Where everything else has failed, I am hoping to purge myself of this unwanted horror by writing the brute out.

Perhaps I could be forgiven for thinking that some serious spice might shift it. We tried lunch at Wahaca last week: crunchy and briefly fragrant but no cigar, and I’d had high hopes for the curry we had at the Battersea Rickshaw for my brother Dave’s 30th (he’s a spice addict) – apparently it was delicious…though I did have a kamikaze mouthful of one green chilli somewhere during proceedings which I could taste…

There was a longer break in the status quo when we hit Dotori in Finsbury Park last week. The BSG’s sister, Pom, has long been singing the praises of her favourite local, opposite the Twelve Pins on Stroud Green Road. If you’ve never trodden the Finsbury Park turf, do not fear getting lost – this place couldn’t be any closer to the station.

The restaurant serves both Japanese and Korean food, with a slight lean towards Korean. This being my first Korean meal ever, I was not sure what to expect, but I can say with certainty that they do hot and crisp very well. It’s not a big place and was already heaving when we arrived – Pom had been right to book. The menu was broad and gave good descriptions of everything on offer. We had some pork gyoza dumplings to start, plus some very spicy kimchi (fermented cabbage), delicious and reportedly rather smelly (what’s the nasal equivalent of falling on deaf ears, I wonder?) with a chilli hit to pierce the lurgy. Then, some tooth-sticking crispy chilli squid which no doubt held the fat content of a small town but was caramelised deliciousness. The rice sticks in a chilli-based sauce (looked like anaemic Cheesestrings but thankfully the similarity ended there) were hoovered up in no time, and somewhere along the way the BSG snapped his chopsticks in half in his unbridled enthusiasm.

Everything was shared and enthusiastically scoffed and the staff were ready to make any decisions on our behalf when required, thus avoiding any faux pas when coupling our main courses of bibimbap and their sauces. These are clay pots of sizzling (nuclear-hot, finger-tip-searing) rice, egg, vegetables and a choice of meat toppings, stirred ‘in the right way’ by our helpful waiter. Ever the wild card, the BSG chose the raw beef topping – there was no offal listed on the menu. Lip-reading the groans of pleasure elicited by my fellow diners I could tell that these were good – if not quite spiced highly enough to clear my olfactory system.

In the name of research, I am looking forward to revisiting this reasonably-priced, no-frills establishment once more, when I’ve taken hold of the appropriate senses. Much to the BSG’s chagrin, I will be taking my camera next time, if the food stays on the plate for long enough…

Friday, 25 February 2011

Fennel Gratin

I haven’t transformed this blog into a cookbook review, but seeing as February’s one of those months when people choose to dine in* more often than out, I thought I would tell you about this one. No doubt the best cookbook we’ve been given in the last year (thanks Mum), the Balthazar cookbook presents the very best of Franco-NY-bistro fare as expertly executed in the establishments of Keith McNally across the pond. I have to warn you that you will salivate whilst perusing its pages. Wear a bib.

The below is a recipe from the book which we can’t leave alone. It is such a simple vegetable dish, it makes you wonder how you’d ever managed without it. Velvety and comforting, it warms one’s very core with its fragrant creaminess, going very well alongside roast meat and dark green vegetables, with baked fish and counterbalancing the salt on a crispy roast pork belly…with anything, really - or perhaps, on a duvet night, all on its own.

I feel a little guilty about how I’ve neglected the cauliflower cheese combo since meeting this one, but it is ever so slightly more sophisticated whilst remaining as simple. It employs another champion of the vegetable patch that withstands this chilly side of the year: fennel.

Fennel Gratin (Serves 6)

6 fennel bulbs, outer layer removed, cut into slices 5mm thick
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (black will do)
125ml double cream
60g Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat the oven to 180˚C/Gas Mark 4.
Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the sliced fennel for 5 minutes. Drain, toss with the salt and pepper and spread into a buttered 15x25cm casserole or gratin dish. Pour in the cream, toss to coat, then settle the fennel into an even layer. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil, sprinkle the grated Gruyère over the top and slip the dish under the grill until the cheese browns to a crisp coating, about 3 minutes.

fennel gratin

* You may notice that the pictures this week do not do the fennel justice (above was nicked from the book – hence grainier than the real thing). I could have sworn I took some but I can’t immediately find them. You will probably get them with a recipe for pavlova, in July. Instead, scattered are some pics of the magnificent Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon (more about that soon) and some other bits that the BSG and I ate on Feb 14th. We dined in, handsomely.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Marmaladies

Adieu, grey January; Monday of the year, full of food-guilt, short-lived resolutions and tax self-assessments. Only a week old, February already seems a little brighter and with this, the first truly sunny day of the year, the spirits are lifting and thoughts are turning to the great outdoors. In fact, I am sure that the birds are singing just a bit louder today.

Of course, January wasn’t all bad. There was the sparkle of a few important birthdays, an engagement and the first instalment of what’s to be an annual ritual: a marmalade cook-up with Ma-BSG (let’s just call her Lady Marmalade). This is an inner circle I am proud to be part of; each February her amber jars are eagerly awaited by regular lucky recipients.

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We used a secret family recipe (yup, I’d have to kill you), which employed nice old-fashioned things like muslin but this one in Skye Gyngell’s wonderful new book How I Cook will do nicely as it looks like typical, sunny, Antipodean simplicity and she always makes beautiful things (even her name is pretty). Roll on you summer days, so I can get me to her wonderful cafe at Petersham Nurseries and sip wine under the canopy amongst the flowerpots.

Please, PLEASE don’t shirk on the sugar (I did and ended up adding it later) – I know it seems an awful lot but those Seville oranges are bitter critters so it won’t be over-sweet and besides, the sugar has to fulfil the much useful task of SETTING the jam; you do not want goop. You will make a lot of marmalade, but it makes great presents and puddings, is fab with cheese, sausages or bacon and if all else fails just eat it à la Paddington Bear.

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Seville Orange Marmalade 
(makes about 2.5kg – that’s a lot of jars. Time to clean out that fridge…)

1 kg Seville oranges
3 litres water
2 pinches of salt
About 2kg caster sugar

Scrub the oranges clean then finely slice the fruit into pinwheels, using a sharp knife, leaving on the skin but removing all pips and the central pithy membrane.

Put the fruit, water and salt into a large preserving pan and place over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer gently until the peel is soft; this will take 1.5-2 hours. Remove form the heat and leave to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a large ceramic or glass bowl, cover and leave to stand in cool place for 24 hours.

The following day, measure the fruit and water into a clean preserving pan. Bring to the boil and for every cupful of mixture, add a cupful of sugar. Bring back to the boil.

Cook steadily for 20 minutes or so until setting point is reached. To check, put a teaspoonful of the marmalade onto a chilled saucer. (Make sure you take the pan off the heat first and let the mixture catch its breath here.) Leave it for a minute, then push with your finger – if the surface wrinkles and the marmalade appears to be setting it is ready. Take off the heat and remove any scum from the surface with a skimming spoon.

Leave to stand for 5 minutes then stir gently to distribute the fruit. Spoon into warm sterilised jars (wash them thoroughly then stand them on a baking tray in a cool oven for 20 minutes) filling them almost to the top. Cover the surface with a wax-paper disc or baking parchment and allow to cool, then seal the jars and store in a cool, dark, dry place (the BSG’s prize pickle shelf has had to be reorganised).

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Monday, 24 January 2011

Curry revenge (or a thank-you for all those uninvited takeaway flyers in our letterbox)

They say old habits die hard, but that’s really because they’re the ones you want to preserve. University Challenge when we’re at home on Mondays, Orange Wednesdays and Sunday night curry to name a few.
And what’s wrong with a Sunday night curry takeaway anyway? Its just want you want at the end of the week when the cupboard’s looking a little spartan and the herbs are pooling at the bottom of the fridge drawer. You’re knackered, the telly’s on. Fifteen quid well spent, surely? Well, yes - and no. Multiply that by the number of weeks in the year and you get- , well I don’t know exactly, but rather a good weekend break somewhere perhaps…

Just before Christmas, the BSG and I visited Rasa, just off Oxford Street with our friend G. (What we were doing just off Oxford Street on a Saturday night in a blizzard I don’t know, but we’d certainly go again.) This is Keralan food at its finest and it transported us away from standard takeaway fare into new realms of curry possibility. The BSG sat there, the illuminated light-bulb over his head shining like a beacon: we’d learn to make good, fragrant curries and step away from the soggy naans and the free poppadoms, simultaneously saving money and setting our palates free. For this, we’d need a good reference book (if any excuse were ever required for another cookbook).

The expert man at Books for Cooks knew exactly what was needed and prescribed 50 Great Curries of India, by Camellia Panjabi – that would keep us going for a while. Full of authentic dishes from all over the country, preceded by a comprehensive guide to all things curry and beyond, this is the book for anyone who wants to understand the spices, notes and colours that make up Indian cuisine. It doesn’t stop at the main dishes, but also explains breads, vegetable dishes, relishes and chutneys too. The book is small in size (really handy) but of epic proportions and will become indispensable; it has certainly put the joy back into Sunday evenings for us. I have already successfully(ish) attempted two, so it has the added bonus of being idiot-proof. You will be amazed how you want to make chapatis to go with everything, they are so easy.

If you are still hell-bent on the lazy, brought–to-your-door Tupperware element then why not make it in the week, freeze it and call through to whoever’s in the kitchen to heat it through? If you are still missing them, call your local curry house for a chat. But with this book in hand, I promise you’ll be reluctant to dial that number on your speed dial again. Homemade curry is a bit of an unexplored world for us, and one New Year’s resolution we want to keep.

Parsee Red Chicken Curry (Mumbai)
Serves 4

(NB: the right ingredients are key here, so stock up your cupboards before you start – the spices will last and make an interesting meal out of almost anything. Kashmiri chillies should be employed in this recipe; you can’t just use the ones from the fresh aisle of the supermarket. Believe me, I know.)

10-12 Kashmiri chillies
Half a thumb of ginger, peeled and chopped
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
3 medium tomatoes, chopped (you can use tinned if you prefer)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 in cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon turmeric
8-9 cloves garlic
65 ml oil
3-4 bay leaves
1 kg chicken cut into pieces (preferably on bone)
Salt

Soak the Kashmiri chillies in a little warm water for about 20 minutes to soften and bloat.
Put the Kashmiri chillies, ginger, onions, tomatoes, cumin, coriander seeds, cinnamon, turmeric and garlic into a food processor and blend to a smooth paste.

Put the oil in a pan to heat. Add the bay leaves and gently fry for 1 minute. Then add the paste and stir it for 3 minutes.

Add the chicken pieces and stir for a further 2 minutes. Add 1 cup water (add more if you prefer a thinner gravy) and salt to taste, cover with a lid and cook on a very slow heat until it’s done.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Chicken, leek and tarragon pie: a golden hello

You know those promises you make at the end of an evening: you’ve all had slightly more wine than necessary and you very enthusiastically set plans in order that you fully intend to keep, but which somehow magically evaporate during the night? Well, the pie challenge wasn’t one of them.
Over a sober brunch we agreed with our friends Anna and Charlie that we should do a pie exchange; we had little idea how serious this promise was on their part until this week. Seriously, perhaps we should have all cut our fingers and mixed the blood on it – that is, if it wasn’t really gross.
Only a present like the one they gave us for our wedding could have had the BSG and me leaping up and down on the sofa. Five (yes five, just about a whole section in itself) books on every aspect of pie eating, culture and making, and a couple of pie dishes; yes, Anna meant business: it was time to get practising. So, in honour of Dad and Ari, finally landed from NYC after two days of failed attempts due to airport freeze lockdowns, I thought I’d just knock up a pie…
Well, you don’t just ‘knock up a pie’. Well, at least not the chicken, leek and tarragon pie I selected from the book called Pie (why on earth not?) by Angela Boggiano; I chose it because the picture made me want to breach the golden crust and dive right in.
First, you’ve got to poach a whole chicken with stock veg and fresh tarragon sprigs, removing the bird after its Jacuzzi simmer and reserving the stock, which you then reduce by half. (I should think that handy leftovers from a roast chicken would be as effective here, unless you have an entire afternoon you want sucking up.)
Meanwhile, sauté 2 finely sliced leeks and half an onion in oil and butter until softened, adding ¼ pint white wine and simmering to reduce by half. Add single cream and aforementioned stock in increments of a similar volume, the zest of half a lemon and some chopped tarragon. Combine with the chicken meat* and season with salt and pepper, and set aside to cool.
There are so many rules about pastry floating about that I am sure I broke dozens, but I made my rich short-crust pastry in my food processor, thus avoiding any clammy-hand-heat (a chance would have been a fine thing during the Arctic, pre-Crimbo blast). It was an utter pleasure to stand observing as the machine worked its magic and the dough was the texture of a damp builder’s sand as I gathered it into a ball. After chilling it in the fridge in clingfilm I rolled it flat between sheets of greaseproof paper (a valuable tip indeed) and draped and pressed it into the perfect pie dish. Adding the now-cooled filling, I sealed and crimped (squished) the edges together, brushing the top with beaten egg.
After 35 minutes on a preheated baking tray in the oven at 180 degrees, the pie came out crisp and golden all over, the pastry cooked perfectly (the wonder of the pie dish). The inside was velvety unctuousness, punctuated by lemon and tarragon exclamation marks.
It was almost as easy as pie…time is really what’s required here. Pies are just perfect for these winter days and I can’t wait to make more of them.
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*I have to say that I stripped the bird with my bare hands once it had cooled; a bit savage maybe, but far more effective at extracting every morsel than any tool – not to mention way more fun.