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!
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