Monday, 28 July 2008

Lamb & beans




Fab summer weather calls for fab seasonal barbecues. So tonight I took a word of advice from Peter the Greek and massaged a nice rack of lamb with some herbed sea salt. Mine was more rosemary than herb, so it didn't get the sparkling jewel-like appearance that his did! But it tasted good. The rosemary was so lovely and fragrant when I picked it!

Some aubergine went on the Weber alongside the lamb, and while Paul handled all the outdoor cooking, I prepared some broad beans.

I probably came upon this recipe somewhere else, but I can't think where, so please put your hand up if you aren't getting credit, but I choose to call them:

Seethed broad beans

Put a shot glass of good olive oil over a very low heat and add as many whole peeled cloves of garlic as you like to eat (about 3 each, with us). As you peel the inner skin from your broad beans, drop them into the oil. They should be half frying, half stewing. When they are all in, give them a good shake, add water to just about cover, a sprinkling of herbs (I wanted mint but it has died so I used dried dill) and a little salt and then seethe (bubble furiously) for about 5 minutes or until nearly all the liquid has gone. Serve lukewarm. A side dish, but with some crumbled sheeps cheese would make a stonking bruschetta topping.

Thanks Alex!


The divine Alex from Just Cook It! has awarded me the Arte y pico blogging award and I have come over all Sally Field. In fact - to continue with my Oscars metaphor - I am on the verge of blubbing like Gwyneth in the poorly fitting pink dress (except it is a black M&S pyjama top). The thought that anyone thinks that I ‘display creativity, present interesting material and contribute to the blogging community in some way.’ is overwhelming, and I am honoured to pass it on to some of my must-reads in the blogosphere!

It is hard to narrow down to 5 the blogs that I want to pass the award on to, but here they are:

Anne, from Anne's Food takes the most wonderful food pics - and the fact that she posts pictures of lovely kittens is just a bonus. Even when she is talking about food that I don't much care for, I still want to eat it because of the wonderful way she writes.

Judy at Over a Tuscan Stove makes me want to live the dream of the Tuscan villa. And having had the privilege of attending one of her cooking classes, I know she can walk the talk.

Heather, blogging at Gild the Voodoolily is one of my favourite people that I haven't met (and I fear this will fall under her meme prohibition). Her food rocks, her photography is fab, she takes a lot of time to respond to all the comments and the ambitious foody projects she takes on are inspiring. Porkfest 2008 - I salute you!

Greek-Canadian Peter at Kalofagas is a new-ish discovery for me. There is no possible way that the sun always shines on his kitchen, but that is how it looks. I would take a vow never to eat Italian food again if I could cook Greek the way Peter cooks Greek.

Norm at Eat or Die is one I found through Heather's blog. I love his thoughts on wine as much as his thoughts on food and his food always looks and sounds enticing.

So. The rules that I was following for the Arte y pico award are:
1. Pick 5 blogs that you consider deserve this award with their creativity, design, interesting material, and also contribute to the blogger community, no matter what language.
2. Each award has to have the name of the author and also a link to his or her blog.
3. Each award-winner has to show the award and put the name and link to the blog that has given her or him the award4. Award-winners and the one who has given the prize have to show the link of “Arte y Pico” blog, so everyone will know the origin of this award.
5. Display these rules on your blog.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Best pork scratchings ever

Yesterday we went to the CLA Game Fair. This was an exceptionally well organised temple to country sports. As well as all ones huntin', shootin' and fishin' requisites, one could easily fit out one's stately home with the carpets, furniture and objet d'art on display. For a middle class girl like me, it was all about the dogs (so many beautiful friendly doggles to talk to) and the food (watched an excellent demonstration of butchering a haunch of venison). We think we've found our new coffee table - solid oak and cheaper than IKEA - and Paul bought a bunch of fishing flies and a spare spool (woohoo - be still my beating heart).

But then, I spotted it. A sign saying "Rose Cottage Fresh Pork Scratchings". A bag for £1.50, which is pretty darn pricey really.
But the lad behind the counter was the very lad whose picture appears on the package, and a packet of salty bar snacks to take home seemed just what the doctor ordered. And I have to tell you, these were the best pork scratchings of my career to date.

They were intensely porky, crisp without being gum-rippingly hard and seasoned to enhance the thirst but not to completely overwhelm the flavour. And none of the pieces that I had were in the slightest bit hairy.

The website mentioned in the Game Fair programme seems to be kaput, but these scratchings seem to come from Driffield in North Humberside. I will send them an email to see if there is a retail outlet accessible to me. Otherwise I shall have to wait until next year's game fair and buy in bulk.

Sunday, 20 July 2008

Gooseberry Fool

We've got a bit of a problem at the moment. Our shower has no hot water. Not sure why the rest of the house can have hot water but not the shower but there it is. And while I am happy (well, not happy, but resigned) to have baths to wash myself, I can't wash my hair in the bath. Jugs of water never rinse cleanly enough and I always have a faint fear that I will end up with my hair stuck down the drain requiring the help of the firebrigade to get free.

Which explains why I was walking down the high street with nicely shampooed and blowdried hair yesterday.

And what I saw made me pause. Punnets of red dessert gooseberries for 85p each (they were small punnets). So my thoughts turned to the most traditional of puddings, the gooseberry fool.

Instead of going with the totally traditional cream version, I decided to follow Delia's lead and go with a yoghurt base. I diverged a tiny bit from her method, and just bashed them up with a fork a bit instead of putting them in the blender, and I followed Great Queen Street's idea of adding a little rosewater. A couple of crunchy butterscotch shortbread biscuits and Bob's your uncle. Very nice, very British, very summery.

Friday, 18 July 2008

Pork Scratchings

I haven't been to Wahaca in ages. My usual partner in crime has moved on to bigger and better things, so I no longer have someone at work who appreciates the finer things in life. Like pork scratchings.

It takes a strong woman to say "The best bar snack in the known universe is a (sometimes hairy) piece of fried pig skin" but that is what I am here to do. And the scratchings at Wahaca are the best you will find in a wide area.

Made in-house apparently, much lighter and fluffier than your average scratching, as well as being 3 times the size. While they are lacking the occasional bits of pig flesh clinging to the underside that we expect and love, they are dusted with fennel-salt and come with some really excellent guacamole as a dip. The perfect accompaniment to a Wahaca Mule (tequila, lime & ginger ale).

The Hairy Bar Snack boys may not approve. These scratchings do not have the intense, salty, MSG porkiness of a traditional scratching. But they are mighty fine. I wish the HBS t-shirts came in girl sizes.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Spatchcocked guinea fowl

So - you take a guineafowl. Which for some reason has a reputation for being dry and tough: the farmed stuff is tender, succulent and really quite fatty. You figure that it will kick arse on the BBQ.

You look at Norm Shoen's blog and say "Spatchcock seems a good idea".

Then you google and find a couple of youtube clips showing burly men going snip, snip, rip, whack and there you have a spatchcock. So how hard can it be?
The answer is really quite hard. I think I must have little girly hands. Or blunt shears. Because it took a lot of swearing to get the spine and breast bone out of my guineafowl!

But once it was done, rubbed liberally with salt and pepper and slowly roasted in the Weber, we were rewarded with juicy, delicious meat (that you could probably serve to a wimp who says they don't like game) and deeply golden (and in some cases charcoal black) crisp skin. Leftover veg from Friday night made this a pretty low-effort Sunday supper (given that I spatchcocked the bird a week ago and it's been in the freezer since so I'd almost forgotten the pain).

I bet if I get some new shears I'll be able to smack out a spatchcock in seconds the next time. And there will be a next time...

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Royal Foodie Joust - Sesame Scallops

Peter from Kalofagas won last month's Royal Foodie Joust with a magnificent Apricot and Pistachio Cake, and for this month nominated seafood, sesame and coriander as his challenge ingredients.

That said "Thai" to me, so I worked on a vaguely Thai-inspired warm salad. I wanted lots of fresh flavours and contrasting textures to show the ingredients to their full advantage. And it worked out pretty well.

So I am proud to present as my entry to this month's Foodie Joust:

Sesame scallops, 3-pea salad, coriander chilli dressing

For the Scallops
300g large scallops, roe-off
1 eggwhite, lightly beaten
sesame seeds
oil for frying

For the salad
1 bag of pea shoots
1 bag of mangetout (topped and tailed)
1 bag of sugar snap peas (topped and tailed)
1/2 package of coriander leaves (stalks removed and reserved)

For the dressing
Reserved coriander stalks
1/2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp sugar
1 small red chilli
1 tbs light soy sauce
2 tbs cold water
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
4-5 drops toasted sesame oil

Dip half of the scallops into the eggwhite, press into the sesame seeds and chill for half an hour (I decided not to do all the scallops because I didn't want the sesame flavour to be too dominant).

Blend the dressing ingredients - not too thoroughly, some chunky bits are nice.

Blanch the sugar snaps and mange tout and combine with the pea shoots and coriander leaves.

Sear the scallops in a little oil until nicely coloured, turning once.

Toss the salad with half the dressing, divide into 2 big bowls, top with the scallops and drizzle with the remaining dressing.

Serves 2 as a substantial dinner.

Roast venison

We had some friends over for dinner on Friday. A problem that I have noticed in our friendship group is that pretty much all the couples come with one fussy eater. So it takes some serious consideration as to what will suit. This pair are pretty easy, all things considered. She eats most things (prefers her meat well-done), but he only eats a limited number of vegetables - and not really the ones we mostly eat.

At the market the other week I'd bought a beautiful boned haunch of roe venison. In the hope that it would be bbq weather, I took inspiration from Heather and did a dry rub for the meat. Mine was toasted cumin and coriander (a nod to the South African origins of 3 of the people at my table), juniper, salt, white pepper and some brown sugar. Unfortunately the weather didn't play along, so it had to be roasted.

I did a sort of potatoes dauphinoise thing - layers of potato and celeriac, with a persillade and some grated cheese between the layers, covered with a mixture of milk and cream and baked really slowly for almost 2 hours. And peas and spinach braised with spring onions and white wine.

Very happy with how that all went. The meat was tender and juicy and very well-flavoured, the veg were the perfect thing.

Pudding presented a bit more of a challenge. This couple think that dessert begins and ends with chocolate. I like fruit. And there is so much fantastic summer fruit about at the moment so I decided to pervert a classic and do a chocolate cherry clafoutis. This one looked gorgeous but as soon as I saw "make two batters" I ditched that idea and just made a normal clafoutis batter, substituting some good cocoa for a bit of the flour, and breaking a bar of 85% cocoa chocolate over the cherries, so it melted into little puddles in the batter. It was OK, but not a patch on the original for my palate.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Stirfried seafood with garlic and green peppercorns


At the market the other week I got some gorgeous fresh green peppercorns. Which went straight into the freezer until I could figure out what to do with them. A jungle curry is on the agenda, but I haven't had access to most of the ingredients (krachai and galangal are not regular lines at Waitrose) so that will have to wait. In the meantime, I followed a recipe from Vatch's Thai Street Food (leaving out the crab claws and using a bag of thawed fruits de mer mix) and enjoyed a delicious dinner of seafood with garlic and green peppercorns.

Sunday, 6 July 2008

Truffled chicken pie


Dismal weather today. Really, really cruddy. Our overflow waterbutt went from being 1/2 full on Friday to totally full this evening. It was grey and I actually had to hunt out a woolly cardigan.

So the plan to bbq some German sausages fell by the wayside. So did the warm salad and the stirfried seafood that had crossed my mind. In weather like this if it isn't a soup it's a stew and if it isn't a stew it is a savoury pie. It is the only way.

I had one of Jude's Thighs tucked away in the freezer and I thought the remnant of jellied, savoury juices and tender, flavourful meat were a good beginning on a chicken pie. In consultation with the other person eating the pie, it was decided on double crust, puff pastry, leeks and mushrooms. It was also decided that a bit of sliced white truffle would not be a flavour too far and would make it worthy of the wine that we wanted to drink.

Plans came a little unstuck when we discovered that the packet of pastry we bought was insufficient for a double crust... So I present to you:

Truffled chicken lattice pie

Sweat 2 finely chopped washed leeks in butter very very slowly with 6 whole cloves of garlic. Add a handful of mushrooms, sliced, and sweat further. When all the liquid has disappeared, deglaze with a slosh of dry sherry and allow to cool.

In a bowl combine the shredded meat and skin from a leftover cooked chicken thigh, the darkly jellied juices, a small tub of reduced-fat creme fraiche, a teaspoon of dijon mustard, a packet of smoked bacon lardons, half a jar of sliced truffles, 3/4 of a beaten egg and 6 chicken thigh fillets (raw), chopped. Add the cooled leeks and mushrooms and season well with pepper (doesn't need salt).

Pack into a pie dish lined with puff pastry and top with strips of pastry in a lattice. Glaze with the remaining 1/4 beaten egg (this is why you read a recipe the whole way through before you start cooking, people) and bake at 180C for about 45-50 minutes until the pastry is well browned and the filling is cooked through. Give it another 10 minutes if you are super-paranoid about the hint of pink on chicken.

Serves 4 if you do side veg, or 2 with a very tasty lunch for a lucky person...

Very truffley, but the other flavours aren't completely lost. This is a big, butch savoury pie and this is no time to muck around with a delicate little white wine - the 1999 Pauillac bordeaux was really good with it.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Samphire and seafood pasta


The big question, after a trip to the markets, is "What do I do with this?" The most perishable of the things I bought yesterday was this samphire, so it had to feature in tonight's meal. And because it was freaking expensive it deserved a bit of TLC.

I googled. It turned up ideas from Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and from Rick Stein. Now, both of these men know what they are doing in the kitchen, so I could have very easily picked one of those recipes and relaxed and let them take care of things. But you know, that really isn't my way. So I took Hugh's pasta and Rick's salad and combined them into an extremely speedy dish of my own.

Samphire & Seafood Pasta

Put the water on for the pasta and wash a big double handful of samphire. Slowly soften 2 fat cloves of garlic in butter in a large saute pan. Add prawns. When they begin to turn pink, add your fresh linguine to the pasta pot, then add the leftover crab ravioli filling (that you've taken out of the freezer and thawed) to the prawns and add the juice of half a lemon. A minute before the pasta is ready, add the samphire to the pasta pot. Cook for that last minute, drain and add to the prawn and crab with the juice of another half lemon and the finely grated zest of the lemon. Divide between 2 big bowls and enjoy. Needs some pepper but certainly no salt.

I was really happy with how this turned out. The samphire was crunchy and fresh and salty, the prawns plump, the crab sweet and the lemon the perfect counterpoint. Pasta with tuna, lemon zest, parsley and capers was the first dish I ever cooked for Paul and although the ingredients in tonight's meal were much posher, the bright flavours and comforting pasta were the same. Ah memories. I can't remember what we drank with that tuna pasta way back then, but I am sure tonight's Dr Loosen riesling was better.

Friday, 4 July 2008

Great Queen Street (yet again)

I know - you are beginning to get the impression that I only go to 3 restaurants. Which isn't really true... But there are only a few that I jump at the opportunity to go to. So when a friend said she was taking the week off work and would I be up for a lunch I said hell yes. And when she said she wanted to try GQS I said HELL YES and booked an afternoon off work. We were planning to head into Borough Market after lunch, so I didn't burden myself with a camera, hence dodgy phone pics.

To start with, we had glasses of fresh strawberry and prosecco fizz. I was conflicted with the menu. Not by the main - the Hereford beef burger (served pink) on dripping toast with parsley salad and pickled walnut was on the menu. But by the starter. Gazpacho? Crab on toast? A complicated but delicious sounding pressed tongue dish? I opted for duck ham with sour prunes. And it was a very good plan! The duck ham was delicious, and the jammy, vinegary prunes were perfect.

A brief pause and then we launched into pudding. I made Kim order the muscat caramel custard, because I had raved so much and I had gooseberries with rosewater and meringue. The gooseberries were perfect with a magnificent meringue, absolutely plain cream (what does possess some people to sweeten cream that is going with meringue?). No obvious rosewater but I think that is a good thing - if you can tell it is there I think you are doing it wrong.

All up, a fantastic lunch, but then we got a cab to the market and discovered that shopping when stuffed to the gills is as bad an idea as shopping hungry. So hard to get inspired. I bought some fresh green peppercorns and some samphire, but they are for another day's posting.

South African Wine Dinner

The Rose & Crown's wine dinner last night was on a South African theme. I was slightly apprehensive - given some of the odd food choices at previous themed dinners - but I won't make you wait, the food was good.

Started with an appetiser of avocado and tomato canapes (very nice) served with a very strange sauvignon blanc. I love my NZ sauv blancs, with the tropical fruit aromas and clean finish. This was a dark yellow and tasted like buttered asparagus. It went quite well with the buttery avocado, but I don't think anyone at our table finished theirs.

For the first course I chose Cape Kidgeree - which only differed from your classic English kedgeree in being a bit spicier (which is how I make it anyway) and using an undyed smoked fish instead of your flourescent yellow smoked cod. It was unexpectedly light and extremely delicious served with a chenin blanc. The other option (I snaffled a taste) was a creamed corn and tomato soup which was so much nicer than you would have thought! I think the corn must have been chargrilled because there was a lovely nutty smokiness to the flavour.

My second course option was Boer chicken pie with ham, boiled egg & carrots, served with spiced yellow rice. In a perfect world I would not have served eggy, ricey kidgeree followed by eggy pie and rice, but I really didn't fancy the other option (curried potato and onion stew). The pie was lovely - crisp pastry, abundant, well seasoned filling. It was quite spicy, which was delicious but unexpected in a chicken pie. It was matched with a mouvedre - fruity, jammy, tanin-y heaven (for those of us who like that sort of thing) but better served with a red meat, I think. I felt quite sorry for the wine rep: the poor woman was trying to explain the wines etc and half my table were ignoring her while trying to remember Mel Gibson's character name in Lethal Weapon. It was Riggs.

Pudding was klappertert - coconut pie. Apparently klepper means clapping coconut shells together to make horsey noises in the manner of Monty Python. 2 divine little tartlets with eggy, coconutty filling, one topped with berries, one topped with a ginger and orange icecream that tasted very similar to my marmalade semifreddo. Absolutely delicious, but in a catastrophic misjudgement they served it with a viognier. This was a lovely wine at first taste - very apricotty and drinkable - but it just didn't have the sweetness to stand up to a pudding. The klappertert made it thin and vinegary. After I'd finished my pudding, waited a while and had a sip of water I went back to the wine and it was lovely again.

Certainly some of the best food they have served at one of these dinners, but the wine matching was again not right. I wonder if the wine reps even get to taste the dishes before they match them?
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