Thursday, 18 December 2008

Emptying the fridge

Well, in 2 hours we'll be off to the airport, so I am not sure where my next post will be coming from... Will it be yum cha in Hong Kong? Will it be fish & chips on the beach in Sydney? Will it be mangoes in Brisbane? Will it be noodles in Singapore? Only time and wifi access will tell...

So breakfast this morning was clearing the fridge. The last of the milk in our coffee, leftover garlic bashed neeps & sauteed leeks pressed into fritters with the last of the eggs to bind, 2 slightly fatigued tomatoes and the last of the homecured bacon.

All I have to do now is turn the last couple of lemons into juice, freeze them in an icecube tray and wash up.

Merry Christmas all, and I will see you in the New Year.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

School Holiday Treat - Corrigan's Mayfair

It has become something of a tradition for Jude and I to have an end of term treat. The end of term has sort of snuck up on me this year, so we realised it would have to be a Monday lunch. We were going to go back to 32 Great Queen St, until we discovered that they aren't open for lunch on a Monday.
There was nothing for it. We had to try something new. And the new kid on the block at the moment is Corrigan's Mayfair.

Richard Corrigan has been busily churning out amazing food at Lindsay House, while some of his peers have been churning out ghost-written cookbooks and teflon-coated frying pans. One of my foodyest friends has eaten several times and Lindsay House and has commented that, as well as the food being wonderful, you more often than not see Corrigan in the restaurant. So my expectations were pretty high.

Jude had already been there for a while by the time I arrived, and apparently she'd been served with a little nibble of olives stuffed with goat's cheese while she sat at the bar. She said it was delicious, and given that she is one of those non-goat's cheese eaters I would have liked to see that. I missed it and we were shown to the table.

The bread that arrived was delicious. Slices of a deeply malty soda bread, and warm white rolls, with a generous dish of lightly salted butter made me feel pretty comfortable that my expectations were going to be met.

I ordered a bottle of rioja - one that I have had before and liked - because I didn't want to get into conversation with the sommelier. That was a conversation that would probably have gone expensively for me.

The menu is pretty long and extremely tempting. I was already sold on the crubeens, because my Lindsay House-fan friend has raved, but if I hadn't been so determined it would have taken me ages just to choose the starter.

The crubeens weren't as scary as "crumbed pigs trotter" may lead you to believe. I think they had been slowly cooked, then boned, pressed into disc shapes, crumbed and fried so that the outside was crisp and the inside was meltingly porky. These discs were served on a bed of leaves with some proscuitto-ish ham, some cured beetroot and dabs of a delicious horseradish dressing.

Jude also went in a salady direction, with a warm salad of game birds with romesco sauce. I couldn't really spot the romesco in the taste I had, but the bits of bird were tender, juicy and delicious.
As a main course I was edging towards partridge with bread sauce, cabbage and bacon, but I decided that I was feeling far too lazy to deal with a bird on the bone. So I had the roe venison in pastry. 3 different cuts of venison were served: a perfectly rested fillet; a slowly cooked sticky bit and a broader fillet wrapped in duxelles and pastry. I think the duxelles that we use for our beef wellingtons actually has a better flavour because of the dried mushrooms we add but that is a very minor quibble! The pastry was thin and light and the red cabbage an excellent accompaniment. There was also the tiniest slick of creamy puree on the plate - it may have been celeriac or it may have been Jerusalem artichoke, my palate was too overwhelmed by flavours to tell.

Jude settled on the game suet pudding, which was exactly what it said - light, fluffy suet pastry encasing a rich game mixture with wonderfully savoury gravy. It came with a side dish of mashed carrot and swede, but the promise of goosefat chips was too good to resist, so we shared some of them as well.

As well as excellent food, there was some fascinating eavesdropping to be done. The table of well-upholstered clergymen behind us debated the ordination of women (too late to close that stable door in the Church of England, I would have said) and what music to have at the Christmas Mass. The gentleman who said they were having Schubert was informed that it was boudoir music. There was disappointment that in the selection of cognacs, armagnacs and digestifs there wasn't a poire eau de vie. I am never putting another penny in a collection plate.

Fortunately we were relieved of the pressure to have dessert by the sight of the petits fours being taken to other tables. So we ordered coffee. And were presented with an adorable little silver dish of treats. There were cubes of quince jelly - fresh, light and quivering, somehow golden yellow not cooked to the usual amber. Tiny slivers of brulee-topped lemon tart, in the most delicate pastry. Fairly dull but workmanlike dark chocolate truffles. Perfect coffee macaroons.

I would probably have had a glass of dessert wine (maybe even a mirabelle, since they didn't have poire eau de vie) but it wasn't offered. I suspect if the clergymen are your typical digestif drinkers then the sommelier wouldn't have thought two unchaperoned ladies would be likely to order them. Still - the offer would have been nice. However, for a restaurant that has only been open a month, they are kicking goals. I look forward to seeing what they can do when they really get their feet under the table!

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Pigeon breasts with bacon

We're doing some pre-holiday "eat what's in the freezer" cooking. And for a mid-week supper what was in the freezer was a pack of woodpigeon breasts, a pack of bacon and a bag of brussels sprouts with chestnuts.

Started to brown the bacon (cut into pieces), then added the pigeon breasts (I had to pick out a few pieces of shot) and browned them really well. Dumped some balsamic on to reduce to a glaze & served some buttered wholemeal spirali and the brussels sprouts & chestnuts. Very autumnal, very delicious! And since pigeon is very lean, reasonably healthy too. Dinner on the table in under half an hour (and most of that was boiling the pasta water) is a Good Thing.

Friday, 12 December 2008

Quince Linzertorte

I have attained the age where almost my entire peergroup is having babies. No one is getting engaged anymore, it is all about the Christening parties. So it wasn't completely out of the norm last weekend for us to pack up a little something wrapped with a pink ribbon and some baked goods and head off to pay tribute to a newborn. A bit like the nativity but with less myrrh and the infinitely practical satnav instead of a guiding star.

I'd had it in mind for a while to bake a linzertorte and this seemed like a good excuse. It is very transportable, delicious, and would use some of my quince marmalade (my only gripe with a traditional linzertorte is that the raspberry jam tends to be too sweet to provide a contrast with the sweet, nutty crust).

I followed this recipe. Hardly any variations at all! As my nifty new hand blender set isn't quite big enough to make a whole quantity of pastry, I just blended the nuts, sugar and butter together and then added it to the flour and spices. And the nuts were still hot from the oven so the butter melted. And I used wholemeal flour instead of white. And of course, I used a lavish amount of quince marmalade instead of the raspberry.

Worked like a charm! The pastry was divinely sweet and spicy and nutty, the quince jam a tart and juicy foil to it. We enjoyed several cups of tea and admired beautiful baby Clarissa. I think cake is much more practical than frankincense.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Black pepper goat curry

Paul bought me an early Christmas present - a replacement for my Braun multiquick that recently went to join the choir invisible. And he very kindly isn't making me wait until Christmas to start playing with it, so over the next while you may see the signs of a Morphy Richards Food Fusion Hand Blender Set in my cooking.

For instance, it came in rather handy when making a Keralan black pepper goat curry. This recipe makes a paste of fried onions, curry leaves and peppercorns and adds it to the goat meat frying in a bunch of aromatics. The one thing I changed from the recipe was the addition of water - I only added 50ml to the spice paste and then no more. From watching Paul make curries for many years I have learned that the meat and onions give off so much liquid that adding extra water only gives you a really runny gravy. Which might be OK if you are serving it with rice but we prefer naan.

The curry was delicious - but I think I should have cracked the peppercorns in the mortar and pestle before adding them to the blender. They stayed pretty much intact and didn't add the flavour that I think they should have.

For dessert I made some baked buttermilk custards, pretty much using this recipe but using buttermilk instead of cream and flavouring it with some of my calamondins in brandy. I figured that in Indian cooking there is a pretty strong heritage of reduced milk desserts and yoghurty things, so a buttermilk custard was just a short step away.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Bordeaux Wine Dinner

The food at this month's wine dinner had a French theme, matched to Bordeaux wines. In the time that we've been attending these dinners at the Rose & Crown - about 18 months - they have improved so much! The food is good, the matches are good and the service is smooth. Just about all you could ask for at £30 a head really.

The appetiser was Scallops Gratinee, served with a 2007 Chateau La Freynelle Sauvignon Semillon. The presentation was very appetising - a shallow gratin dish with a bed of spinach and 4 extremely plump scallops for us to help ourselves from. There is something very cosy and hospitable about getting to serve yourself family-style in a restaurant. The bechamel was subtly seasoned so it didn't detract from the sweet scallops and it wasn't too rich either, which was a good thing given what was still to come. The wine - a blend of semillon, muscatel and sauvignon blanc - was perfect. Very light, very crisp and yet not so sharp that it jarred against the mellow scallops. A great start to a meal.

As the next course we had another shared dish - a whole baked camembert to share. Don't your arteries just harden at the thought? The cheese was topped with a puree of wonderfully caramelly baked garlic and came with just the right number of fingers of garlic foccacia to spread it on. The 2005 Chateau des Gravieres Collection Prestige merlot/cabernet stood up to this surprisingly well. I would have expected the wine to feel a bit thin after the mouth-coating richness of the melted cheese, but it had sufficient butteriness to stand its ground.

The main course photographed horribly, so I spared you. It was boeuf bourguignon with potato gratin and green beans. Now to my mind, if you are making a beef stew, it really has to be shin. You need a cut of meat with quite a lot of connective tissue that is going to melt during the slow cook and lubricate the meat. In this stew the flavour was wonderful but they had used too lean a cut, so although the meat was spoon-soft, it was quite dry on the tongue. The 2006 Chateau Pey La Tour Reserve served with it (another merlot/cabernet blend, but in a very different style) was again just the thing for the dish.
For dessert, a tarte tatin with vanilla icecream was accompanied by a 2005 Clos Dady Sauternes. My mother (sometimes with help from me) has been known to serve tarte tatin with Chateau d'Yquem, so I know what a magic combination it can be. This was good (but not as good as hers). I insist that puff pastry has no place in a tarte tatin - it must be a rich shortcrust - and if you have done the caramelising right the combination of butter, sugar and apples needs no other adornment. It really is a dessert that is better made at home. I think the apples for this had been poached in a spiced syrup - which was very good, but not as luscious as the way we do it.

Amazingly I could still walk after all that, but I was quite glad to walk out into the cold night air to wait for a taxi.

We're missing the next dinner - Champagne on New Years Eve - but we're booked for the one after that at the beginning of February. I am looking forward to another great year of wining and dining!

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Haggis & bashed neeps

Last weekend I thought I would take advantage of it being St Andrews Day to cook a haggis. Any excuse really - I like haggis! And it seems that I am not alone. An increasing number of Sassenachs are eating haggis because it is cheap and nutritious.

As it happens we didn't have it on St Andrews Day because we'd had an enormous lunch. But when we did get around to it, it was delicious! Not the famous MacSweens, this one was from Blackface, one of the excellent on-line meat suppliers in the UK.

We cooked it really simply in a bain marie covered tightly in foil, so that the skin didn't split and it stayed moist. I made some "bashed neeps" - mashed turnips. Now, what the Scots consider a turnip is what I call a swede and (apparently) some people call a rutabaga. Boiled, mashed with a good dob of butter and a grating of nutmeg it is a very nice accompaniment to the spicy, meaty haggis. I made a little honey, mustard and whisky sauce, but the flavour was pretty much lost. Still, it was warm, comforting and very delicious. And it's only 6 weeks to Burns Night when I have my next good excuse to eat haggis!

Winter Superfood Salad

This week I started a new dance class, the only downside to this is that it is from 9pm-10pm. So now on a Monday I need to come home from work, eat something quick and light (it is very uncomfortable bellydancing on a full belly!) and then head out again.

So I had a bit of a think and came up with this. And it was so good I think I will do it again and again. I am ever so slightly dubious about "Superfoods" but more by good luck than good management this salad contains broccoli, walnuts and pomegranates, so without trying too hard it's healthy as well. Ish. As healthy as a salad with a melted camembert dressing is going to get.

Winter Superfood Salad

Steam broccoli florets, halved baby carrots and baby leeks until tender but still crisp & divide among bowls. Pour over a melted camembert dressing - the cheese should be a good one, because a really mild, creamy cheese isn't going to provide enough oomph against the vegetables. Garnish with pomegranate seeds and walnuts and serve ASAP.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Crispy chicken thighs II

A pack of chicken thigh fillets and yet more panko could steer me in only one direction: the crispy chicken thigh.

Tried something different though - with my grocery delivery I got 3 mini sachets of "Thai flavours" (chilli, lemongrass and coriander). So I added them to the buttermilk (I didn't have any yoghurt in) along with the garlic. Crumbed and baked and hey presto! I may never do them plain again. Although I don't think I will actually buy prepared minced coriander leaves when the fresh leaves have so much more flavour and aroma.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Royal Standard of England

There are debates raging amongst people with time on their hands about which is the oldest pub in England/in London/in Britain/ in Hertfordshire/ in the Northern hemisphere etc etc etc. Blah blah blah. I suppose it does matter if you are building a reputation on it, but I can't bring myself to care as long as the atmosphere is nice and the food is good.
One establishment that claims to be the oldest Freehouse (which isn't a pub or a coaching inn but something else, apparently) is the Royal Standard of England. In the past we've tried to drop in for lunch and been turned away so this time we booked.

They lay on the "rustic charm" a bit thick, with garlands of dried hop flowers and fake tapestries draped all over the place. But there is an open fireplace with a wood fire and a black cat with thick fluffy fur to give the charm a little bit of authenticity. You have to order at the bar - and the bartender seemed a little put out that Paul wanted to pay with cash and not leave his card behind the bar (the last time I did that my card got cloned and they got £200+ before the bank spotted it).

We started with a charcuterie plate. The slightly gormless waitress asked if we wanted a knife or fork to eat it with. I suggested that a knife would be a good thing for spreading the potted pork with. The potted pork would be called rillettes in an establishment that was less invested in Englishness. And it was wonderful. The serrano ham was very good, the salami was pretty standard but none the worse for that. The slab of brawn was mediocre. Really insipid with chunks of overcooked carrot and lots of parsley in a bland over-firm aspic - not at all the savoury delight I was hoping for.

My roast pork would have been better if there had been half as many slices of pork but cut twice as thick. The potatoes, crackling, kale, mashed parsnips, carrots & turnips and applesauce were all absolutely top-notch though.

Paul's roast venison came with all that PLUS an enormous, fluffy yorkshire pudding. And not realising that all those vegetables were coming with the meal, he'd ordered a dish of red cabbage (so good!) and some roasted peppers and onions as well.

There was no possible way I could fit in dessert but I was a bit intrigued about the Chiltern Hills pudding. The waitress said it was a sort of sponge pudding with raisins and tapioca in it. Which sounds too horrible for words. I can see why they don't let the waitresses take the food orders - they'd never sell anything. So is it the oldest pub in England? Don't know, don't care. But it is a fine place for a Sunday lunch!

Monday, 1 December 2008

Duck Breast Cassoulet

Or, what you do with a pack of duck breasts approaching their best-before date.

Well what you do, is slash the skin of the duck breasts a couple of times and rub a bit of salt in. Pan fry them quite hard for about 6 minutes, skin side down without fussing with them too much (pour off the fat that is released a couple of times - keep the fat in the freezer for roasting potatoes in at Christmas).

Flip the breasts over onto the flesh side and cook for another couple of minutes. These were easily 1 1/2" thick so they needed a lot of cooking.

Then add a plastic container of leftover baked beans to the pan. By the time the beans are properly hot through, your duck will be cooked perfectly medium rare. By the time you've taken your pictures (with the phone because the camera batteries have died and won't hold a charge), the duck will be nicely rested and beautifully tender. Not bad for a quick lunch!

Saturday, 29 November 2008


I am not the most politically active or informed person in the blogosphere, but I can read cause & effect. And when your cause is global economic meltdown, your effect is a lot of really good price cutting in the leadup to Christmas. I have recently found that my personal fiscal policy ("Credit cards lead people to fake their own deaths; if you haven't got the cash you can't have it") was in fact quite sound and all the people who encouraged me to take out large loans "to improve your credit rating" were talking sheer bull-honky.

Which put me in quite a good position this week when the Carnaby St shopping precinct ran an evening shopping event, with a free cocktail and 20% off most stuff. In the end I only bought a few fancy soaps as stocking stuffers for various female relations before we decided to take advantage of the discount at Dehesa tapas bar.

We ordered a couple of glasses of manzanilla and a plate of boquerones while we gave more attention to the menu. The boquerones were lovely ( I do like a little pickled fish...) in a tangy but not too harsh vinegar dressing with just the right amount of garlic. As much as a love a plate of olives as a bar snack, I will always turn them back if I have boquerones as an option!

Dehesa really emphasises their charcuterie menu. Which is a crying shame, because my friend's only real character flaw is that she doesn't eat pork. Of any sort. So I had to watch plates of gorgeous jamon, and dishes of crisp pork belly with cannelini beans, and succulent chicken liver spiedini topped with crisp prosciutto go to other diners knowing that I would have to skip those options on this occasion.

Fortunately a focus on the other aspects of the menu proved to be no hardship. We ordered some salt cod croquetas with romesco sauce, some crisp calamari with allioli and some crostini with caponata as a first round.

The croquetas were amazing - hard to believe that something based on mashed potato and deepfried could be so light. The romesco didn't add much. I wanted it to be punchier to add some contrast but, while pleasant, it wasn't punchy. The tiny, crisp baby squid were perfectly fried. Beautifully crisp outside, completely buttery inside, and the allioli was magic with them. Wonderful! The caponata was extremely good. You could taste that each element had been cooked carefully and separately before being combined. It didn't have as much of a sweet element as when I make it, and I think it was better. It was very finely diced, so it sat very nicely on the very thin crostini (which in days gone by could have been called melba toast and no one would have known the difference).

After sitting and savouring that pile, we decided to order a couple more dishes and some more manzanilla.

A selection of Spanish cheeses was good but not great. I loved the cubes of slow- cooked quince as a fun variation on membrillo, and the cheeses were very good, but they tasted like they'd been cut a while back and the walnut bread they were served with wasn't the best accompaniment. We also tried a slow cooked lamb shank with mint & carrot puree. It was lovely - as good as it gets - but somehow the very Australian Sunday-roast flavours of lamb, mint and carrots was jarring against the Spanish and Italian flavours that had gone before.

I justified ordering a dessert because if we'd been at a normal bistro, we'd probably have eaten 3 courses of fairly substantial food. Despite the variety of dishes we really hadn't eaten that much! So we shared a Santiago tart with apricot puree and cardamom icecream. Sublime. Slightly warm almond tart with a filling that wasn't too moist and heavy, or too dry, or too custardy, but just right. A thick but not stodgy puree of slightly tart apricots. The richest and most intensely perfumed of cardamom icecreams. Entirely wonderful!

The 20% off our meal was a welcome bonus, and we skipped the opportunity to shop further in favour of hoarding our remaining cash and going home for another glass of wine.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Baked Beans

One of the by-products of curing your own bacon is a bag full of rinds and bones in the freezer. And call me crazy, but to me that says "beans".

Now, I could have pulled some duck confit out of the freezer, grabbed some sausages and made a big cassoulet, but I wanted something a bit less refined. I wanted baked beans.

I read a lot of recipes and realised that pretty much whatever I wanted to put in I could put in, because almost certainly someone's grandmother used to do it that way. So instead of following any particular recipe I made it up as I went along.

My USP for this one is that I used a bottle of stout as the cooking liquid. Most of the recipes I looked at called for brown sugar and/or molasses, but I decided that I wanted the sweetness to come from the stout.

Baked Beans

1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
500g pinto beans, soaked over night, drained and rinsed
Bacon rinds and bones
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup smoky bbq sauce
1tbs hot English mustard
375ml bottle of stout

Into a cast iron pot, brought to the boil, reduced to a slow simmer, covered and left for 3 hours or so.

The first night we had it as was, in a bowl with a bit more bacon and a little grated cheese. Next day it reappeared as breakfast with crisply fried bacon and eggs. The bits of bacon rind had disintegrated into the most unctuous, gelatinous sauce with lots of rich flavour. The meat had fallen off the bones and added delicious little bites to the beans. And there is still a good amount for me to jar for another time. I may never send another penny Mr Heinz's way.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Making Bacon II

You may recall that a couple of months ago I made bacon. It was a huge success and made me much beloved of my husband. Until we ran out. So for the sake of my marriage I had to make a second batch.

The cure I used before was fantastic, so I made no changes to that (except I pounded the spices in the mortar and pestle because my darling mini-processor went to appliance heaven during my pinenut macaroon experiment).

What I did differently was smoke it. Paul was given a smoker for Christmas about 7 years ago and has never taken it out of the packaging, so I decided that the time had come.

Turns out that it is a pretty nifty piece of equipment. And it occurs to me that I could use it to make the mother of all fondues...

A pair of spirit burners sit in a rack, with a tray sat over it. Smoking dust (fine wood chips - in this case oak) go into an indentation in the tray, a drip tray covers the dust to avoid flares and then a rack goes over that, the cured, rinsed meat goes on the rack, a lid clips over all and in 2 hours (as my crazy aunt used to say) Bob is your aunty's live-in lover.

This is hot-smoking, so you are heating the meat at the same time. Cold-smoking (like for smoked salmon) is a trickier proposition involving all manner of piping and whatnot. But because the pork-belly is a big, thick piece of meat it certainly wasn't heated to the point of being cooked (if we'd been doing fish fillets they would have been well cooked).

The downside to this method is that it didn't "set" the protein as well as the slow bake in the original recipe did. So it was a real bastard to get the rind off and debone it. And I ended up with very thick, ragged slices instead of tidy little rashers like my previous effort.

Next time I will certainly smoke it again - the flavour penetrated beautifully - but I will debone and remove the rind before it goes into the cure, and probably smoke it for longer.

Stay tuned for the next episode "How I used the bacon"...

Sunday, 23 November 2008

Normandy Apple Pie

When I saw this recipe of Francois-Xavier's for Normandy Apple Pie I was smitten. It wasn't just that his photography was so stunning, it was also the idea of an all-in-one apple tart.

I love the sort of French open-faced apple tart that has a rich shortcrust shell, a smear of apple puree and then slices of apples and an apricot jam glaze, but that sort of thing is a bit involved. It takes lots of bowls, a lot of time and quite a bit of patience. And as I have mentioned before, my pastry isn't my most attractive feature.

So this recipe really is genius. It is almost like an apple toad-in-the-hole (or, more attractively, an apple clafoutis).

An eggy, vanilla-y batter is mixed with sliced apples and baked. Then a frosting of butter, sugar and egg is spread over the hot pie and returned to the oven.

Then you eat it. Warm.

It was good. I used Granny Smiths, but it was amazing how their flavour got swamped by eggyness. I think a sharper apple would be better, but the texture of Bramleys would be wrong. Not sure what the better option would be.

I used muscovado sugar in the frosting, which cooked to a magnificent caramelly glaze - very happy with that.

I think making it again I would probably add a grating of nutmeg to the first batter - it just needed a little something else.

You could serve icecream or custard with it, but I don't think it needs anymore sweetness or egg. All it needs is very cold cream, in the quantity recently referred to on Dexter as "A metric fuck-tonne".

Friday, 21 November 2008

Cheddar & Leek Biscuits

I promised Paul bacon & eggs for breakfast. But I wanted to make something a bit more interesting...

So I adapted Kat & Matt's Buttermilk Biscuits with Cheddar & Green Onions. Some of the adaptations being that I didn't have any buttermilk or green onions!

Cheddar & Leek Biscuits

1 baby leek, finely chopped
1/4 cup grated strong cheddar
2/3 cup wholemeal flour
1tsp baking powder
2tbs butter
1/4 cup low fat Greek yoghurt

Combine the leek, cheddar, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Rub in the butter until it forms coarse crumbs, then bind with the yoghurt, mixing very lightly.

Form into 2-4 square-ish biscuits and bake at 220C for 15 minutes.

Serve with hot soup for lunch, or split with bacon, eggs and fried tomatoes for breakfast.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Good steak

A weekend trip to Costco produced a whole rib eye for a couple of £/kg less than supermarket steaks. With the definite advantage that Paul - chief steak chef in our kitchen - got to cut them to requirements. I just had to do side dishes.

So I glazed some halved shallots in red wine and beef stock until they were sweet and the sauce was syrupy.

Then I melted some butter in a pot, added sliced baby leeks and whole baby carrots, tossed them in the butter and added washed, shredded baby leaf greens, pepper & grated nutmeg and clapped a lid on them to wilt down.

A couple of minutes a side in a very hot frying pan with a small slick of oil. A seasoning of salt and pepper. And there it was. Perfect, butter-soft, medium-rare steaks. Unbeatable.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Moules, frites & aioli

I am a bit tempted to launch a new blogging event - CBF Friday. What is the absolute minimum effort you can expend for Friday's dinner without actually just calling for pizza? I have had Friday nights where I have chosen my wine by the presence of a stelvin closure because I CBF finding a corkscrew... and someone who may or may not be me has been seen eating tuna straight from a ring-pull can because anything else is just too hard.

So last Friday's dinner wasn't exactly a personal best, but it did show all the signs that I was a bit over the week.

I had a couple of bags of mussels in garlic butter sauce, just waiting to be plunged into a pot of boiling water to reheat. I had a box of par-cooked oven fries. I had a box of par-cooked roast parsnips.

All I needed was some nice garlicky mayonnaise. And quite frankly making mayonnaise is therapy, not cooking. The clop clop noise that a wooden spoon makes in a bowl of mayonnaise is right up there with dog snores for being a calming influence. Don't look at me like that - dog snores are lovely.

Friday night aioli

2 cloves of garlic
1 egg yolk
1tsp white wine vinegar
100ml mild olive oil
1tbs boiling water
Freshly ground black pepper

Mix the crushed garlic with the eggyolk and vinegar. Very slowly, stirring all the time, drip the oil into the egg mixture. When the oil has all been used and the mayonnaise thickens add a spoonful of boiling water to help stablise it, then season with black pepper.

Makes just enough for 2 greedy people to dunk their chips in.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Steak & fondue sauce

I don't know if it is the descent into winter or the descent into recession, but for some reason I have been bombarded recently by fondue recipes. I love fondue - the cheese type. I think chocolate fondue is an abomination against god and I have never had a good meat fondue. But cheese fondue is an all-time comfort food.

In our family fondue has always been made with cheddar (apparently due to difficulty accessing gruyere and emmenthal originally, and then out of preference) with fresh rosemary, garlic and white wine.

But the problem is that these days I feel immense reluctance to make a whole meal from bread and melted cheese. I find it a bit indigestible too, even if I have a nice herb tisane afterwards.

My recent success with the pear & camembert salad made me think differently about fondue. Why have it as the main event, when a tiny portion could garnish some steamed vegetables as a sauce?

So white wine ( I used 75ml chardonnay) with 2 cloves of garlic, smashed a bit but not crushed, and a sprinkling of dried rosemary came to the boil in a little saucepan and then sat off the heat for 15 minutes. When the time came to eat, I returned the saucepan to the heat and added 50g grated mature cheddar and stirred until it melted. At this point I should have added a little cornflour slaked with kirsch or wine, but I didn't. But given my time over I would - it binds it and thickens it slightly.

My fondue went over steamed baby cauliflowers, leeks and carrots, with a steak. It was delicious. It filled the kitchen with just the right smell of my childhood, and gave me the flavour I was after and was incidentally fantastic with the vegetables. Cauliflower cheese may never be the same again.

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Oxtail Tom Yum

In another lifetime I was a groovy young girl-about-town, living in share houses with varying numbers of people and cats in Sydney's inner west. Erskineville - affectionately known as Erko - had a lot going for it. It was 500m from King St, Newtown (arguably the coolest street in Sydney) but a lot cheaper than a Newtown address. It had The Rose, where they not only served the most wonderful salt & pepper calamari as a bar snack but also made some of the best cocktails I have ever had. It had a drycleaner who didn't ask any questions when presented with duvets with cat sick on them. And it had Maggie's Thai.

Maggie's distinguished itself from the dozens of other Thai takeaways in the area, not because it was cheaper or prettier, but because it had the occasional different dish on the menu. On principal I used to order from the specials board. And so it was that one day I tried an oxtail tom yum soup and fell in love. Big chunks of succulent oxtail in a firey but balanced hot and sour broth with the inspired touch - wedges of fresh tomato. I'd suck the meat from the knobbly bones, taking bites of the acid-sweet tomato, pouring spoonfuls of the soup over steamed jasmine rice and work myself into a state of food-induced bliss.

I'm a long way from Maggie's now, and I have never seen oxtail tom yum on another menu, so I have had to develop my own (inauthentic) way of doing it.

First, I braise pieces of oxtail in a Chinese red-braising master stock similar to this one of Kylie Kwong's. It takes about 6 hours to get really tender. I lift the meat out (strain the stock and freeze it and reuse it) and when it is cool enough to handle, I pull the sheets of fat off and strip the meat from the bones. Not strictly necessary but I would rather take a bit of trouble at this point and make it easier to eat later! And the fat puts people off oxtail, when it is rich, deliciously flavoured meat.

The following day I make up a pot of tom yum broth (chicken stock, bought tom yum paste, kaffir lime leaves, bruised lemon grass stalks & some coins of ginger), add the oxtail meat, correct the flavour with fish sauce and lime or lemon juice and then pour it over wedges of fresh tomato and some bean shoots (or bag of precut stirfry vegetables). It is spicy, comforting, meaty and very satisfying as a meal in a bowl.


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