Monday, 28 December 2015

Christmas feasting

For our Christmas dinner this year we bought a plump Yorkshire duck from Turner & George. We tossed around a few ideas but decided to look to the East for our meal - following Meera Sodha's recipe for roast duck fesenjan.

Initially I'd thought to just do the wonderful persimmon & chicory salad we had last year, but for some reason Ocado aren't selling persimmons this year, and the thought of going to an actual shop was just not to be born. So I made a different Diana Henry recipe, a bulgar pilau with glazed figs from A Change of Appetite. I thought the balsamic and honey glazed figs would play particularly nicely with the sweet/sour pomegranate in the duck. And they did. Instead of the cavolo nero in the original recipe, I added a packet of flower sprouts on top of the bulgar wheat, to steam gently while the wheat cooked. It made a dish that was both delicious (lovely nutty bulgar, delicious tender flower sprouts, juicy figs) and festive.

For dessert I'd made some citrussy trifles. I did individual portions because it was just us and a big trifle looks so messy and unappetising once a couple of spoonfuls have come out, so the spares could stay pristine in the fridge for a couple of days. They were mini orange and lemon sponges (half iced, which is why there is a big white smear half way down), with a good slosh of Cointreau, then orange suprême and Cointreau and orange jelly (just freshly squeezed orange juice and a bit of Cointreau, set with leaf gelatine), then a layer of (bought) vanilla custard, topped with orange syllabub and garnished with crystallised pomelo rind. Very boozy, but fresh and lovely.

Of course, a whole duck is still a bit much for two, so on Christmas Day we just had the breasts. On Boxing Day I pulled the rest of the meat from the bones and reheated it in the remaining walnut sauce. I made some spinach rice and a simple apple raita. And it was just as delicious as the original roast.

Friday, 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas, everyone!

To all Foodycat readers and friends, 
I wish you a very merry Christmas. 

It's the two of us this year, and we are going to be doing a celebratory but non-traditional roast later today. We've decided to keep things pretty simple - I'm not even doing our usual spread of nibbly things, although we do have some blinis and caviar and whatnot.

Paul requested a Christmas cake, for nibbling with coffee, so I made my Caribbean-ish black cake (for the first time since I published the recipe, actually) using some of my boozy bottled cherries instead of bought canned ones. I only made a half quantity, which ended up as a 1lb loaf and a mini loaf. Plenty to keep us going! It's rich and gooey and incredibly boozy (the cherries have been in rum for over a year, the rest of the fruit soaked for a month).

And earlier this week I decided I wanted the sort of thing that usually gets made from Christmas leftovers, but as we aren't having a traditional meal I had to pre-empt and cook the bits from scratch. I boiled potatoes, halved Brussels sprouts and flower sprouts (cooked them separately but in the same pan without washing it out between times because there is no sense in making extra work).

Then I fried a sliced onion, several cloves of garlic and quite a lot of bacon in a shallow Le Creuset pan, and mixed those bits in with the cooked and drained vegetables along with a crumbled dried chilli. I heated a slosh of oil back in the Le Creuset (again, I didn't wash it out between times - it just had some oniony bacony juices in it and they weren't going to hurt us).

I piled everything back in the pan, pushing it all down well, and waited until I could hear the bits sizzling on the bottom of the pan, then sprinkled over a handful of cubed cheddar cheese and stuck it all in a hot oven. 15 minutes later it was browned and delicious, and calling to be topped with a fried egg.

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Winter Solstice

Chaenomeles in flower
The weather at the moment is a bit ridiculous. The Japanese quince is back in flower, the crab apple bonsai is coming into bud about a week after the last leaves fell, and on Saturday evening we barbecued. It's mild, wet and very windy.
Crab apple in bud
Barbecue, 19th December 2015
Barbecued lamb chops on smoked cheese and garlic flatbread
But today is the longest night. England is an old country and it's hard not to feel some of the traditions and archetypes that have been soaking into the land for centuries, so we always try to do something to welcome back the sun. And for Paul, pretty much any old English ritual requires boar and mead. In this case, a joint of wild boar, seasoned porchetta-style and wrapped in some pork rind from another occasion, to help keep the lean meat moist. I baked some sausage-stuffed Bramley apples alongside, and made a dish of Brussels sprouts and chestnuts with garlic butter. We drank some mead. We banished the dark.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Other bloggers' dishes

It's less than a week to Christmas and it's hard to believe we're so close to the end of the year. I thought about doing a gift guide but I've clearly left it too late - so if you are still at a loss, have a look at Kavey's or Gemma's for inspiration. I thought about some other sort of seasonal round up - favourite things I've cooked this year or something - but that just hasn't grabbed me either. Instead, here is my latest round up of Other Bloggers' Dishes: the things I have cooked from other blogs.

Helen Graves' Nargisi kofta curry was basically spiced lamb scotch eggs in a yoghurt-based gravy. Completely delicious and very, very filling. Really - you may think you could eat two kofte but I would be surprised.  

Given that Ed's been writing for The Guardian and who knows who else lately, it seems a little cheeky to claim his tarragon chicken for this series, but there you go. Delicious and old-school. I added some mushrooms, because mushrooms love tarragon so much, and served it with basmati rice to soak up the sauce and some kitsch little bean bundles (not, I assure you, prepared by me).

Heather's mashed butternut and potatoes with roasted garlic, smoked gouda and bacon looked so appetising and indulgent, like a perfect holiday side dish if your family isn't utterly wedded to roast potatoes. Unfortunately, when I came to make it my squash (kabocha, not butternut) had gone a bit tragic, so it was just potatoes. And I used my ricer on them, not a hand mixer. They were fab though. Definitely worth doing again - with the squash next time.
Squashless mashed squash
And finally, Miss South's Easy Salted Caramels. These would be a perfect gift for any friend who is known to eat condensed milk by the spoonful. When I saw them on her blog I immediately imagined them rolled in freeze-dried raspberry or cranberry powder, for a bit of a tang. Which is what I did. Unfortunately, the cranberry powder is so intense that, unadulterated, it tastes like cystitis powder. SO I tipped the caramels back into a bowl, microwaved them for 30 seconds to make them pliable and kneaded them back together, giving me a pleasantly cranberry-flavoured pink caramel. I rolled it into balls again per Miss South's instructions, then rolled them in more cranberry powder, this time diluted with sifted icing sugar and some food-safe glitter. Sparkly and very delicious!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Playing with Pomelo

Steak and Vietnamese-ish pomelo salad
One of the things that people who don't like online grocery shopping say about it is that they like to browse. They also say they'd rather choose their own fresh produce. And I understand that. For me, though, the convenience and ability to take a leisurely approach over the course of the week more than make up for being stuck with Ocado's "New" tab.

But as it happens I was perusing the New tab when I noticed that they had started to stock pomelos. I've been hearing things about pomelos for a while but never knowingly tried one, so I decided to order one to play with. And to be honest, I am glad Ocado were choosing my fresh produce for me, because the pomelo is a curious beast that flies in the face of everything I know about citrus.

For one thing, it was tightly wrapped in plastic, so I couldn't tell if it was aromatic. It was also very light for its size - I'm used to choosing fruit that seem heavy and juice-laden, but apparently that's not something you look for in a pomelo.

I took it out of the plastic and got a waft of a subtle floral, almost jasmine-y fragrance. I thinly pared off the rind, for candying, and then cut off the pith with the intention of cutting the flesh into suprême for putting in a salad.

And discovered that that isn't something you do with pomelos either. The membranes are very thick and the juice sacs quite dry and separated, so it's actually the easiest thing to just pull the fruit into segments and peel the membranes off with your fingers. Which isn't as sticky as it sounds.

The flesh went into a Vietnamese-ish salad with cucumber, shallots, mint, coriander and peanuts. I made a light dressing of chilli, fish sauce and lime juice. Even with all the chunks of pomelo in the salad, it still needed the fresh acidity of the lime juice, as the fruit is fragrant rather than sharp. Wonderful with a steak.

Then I candied the peel. I've been nibbling small chunks of it whenever I feel like something sweet, but I think most of it is going to be adorning my Christmas trifle.


Monday, 7 December 2015


 One of my semi-regular rants is about cauliflower cheese. So you may have heard it before. But I just don't understand how cauliflower cheese got relegated from main course to side dish. It's substantial enough to be a meal on its own, and a roast dinner doesn't really need the extra richness it provides.

This version, which made a very satisfactory dinner for the two of us, with a bit left over, uses a couple of other brassicas for extra colour, flavour and nutrition. Cauliflower, beautiful romanesco and lovely broccoli. So pretty.

Then I topped it with bacon lardons and a rich cheese sauce, panko breadcrumbs and some extra cheese for crunch. It would have served 3-4 with a jacket potato each.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Piquet, Fitzrovia

Beetroot & goats cheese
For a few weeks I'd been hearing increasing buzz about Piquet. Well, maybe not buzz. More of a well-mannered murmur of appreciation and licking of well-fed lips. People whose opinions on food I respect were saying it was very nice. And grown-up. You could book a table and drink out of actual glasses. Then I also saw a suggestion that it was going to be reviewed by the big guns, so decided I needed to go while it was still possible to get in.

We chose the "Discover Piquet" menu option, at £29.95 for three courses and a welcoming drink. I started with a heritage beetroot salad, goat’s cheese mousse, black figs and hazelnuts - comfortable in the knowledge that Jude can't bear goat's cheese, so I wouldn't have to share. Beetroot and goat's cheese is such a safe combination, but this was beautifully composed, with the leaves, figs and toasted hazelnuts adding extra dimension. The slices of golden beetroot confused me, because even though I knew it was beetroot my eyes kept telling me it was persimmon and my palate didn't know what to think.

Jude had celeriac velouté, trompette mushrooms, of which I didn't get anything approaching an acceptable photo. The presentation elevated the soup, poured from a jug around the black mushrooms, but the flavour lived up to the theatre.

I had chicken with a wild mushroom raviolo and salsify as my main course. The portion was a touch on the dainty side but it was the most wonderfully chicken-flavoured chicken I've had in ages. The salsify was lovely - it's such a pain in the arse to prepare that I am always happier to have someone else do it. Unfortunately the raviolo was a bit underdone and firm to the bite.

Jude definitely won the main course round. Her casserole of cod cheeks, baby squid & chorizo, haricot blanc and chopped herb oil was a more generously sized portion, the little squidlets on top were perfectly crisp and the cod cheeks sweet and delicate.

We'd both ordered gin and tonics when we arrived, so one of the (well trained, very lovely) waiters offered us glasses of cava instead of the house cocktail included in the menu.  And very nice it was too. So good, we had seconds with our desserts.

Jude finds it very difficult to go past iles flottante on a dessert menu. So she didn't even try. It wasn't as pretty as the one they do at Brasserie Zedel (they use those bright pink sugared almonds as the garnish), but it was good.

My baked almond tart was utterly gorgeous. Thin, crisp pastry, a thin layer of something like powidl, then a lovely frangipane filling and some not-too sweet prunes. It was served warm with whipped cream on the side. Classic and wonderful. Just like the rest of Piquet.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

A short season of short ribs

A few weeks ago I got a last minute invitation to a preview night of Zelman Meats in Soho. On a little back street in Soho, Rex & Mariano had been hugely popular with people I follow on twitter, but wasn't attracting enough regulars and lunchtime custom, so the owners decided to try something quite different.
The raw red prawns are still on the menu - and I was amazed by how good they were - but the big thing Zelman Meats is doing, apparently, is making the most of the cuts left after the premium steaks are taken off the carcasses for the Goodman restaurants. So at the preview night we were fed magnificent picanha (rump cap) and utterly divine short ribs.  
Aubergine with harissa & yoghurt (which was a bit undercooked), beautiful meat, stunning truffle chips
And just after this wonderful dinner I discovered that Ocado were selling beef short ribs. So I bought some.
Short rib ragu
We've had them as a rich ragu, with lots of red wine and mushrooms, stirred through pasta.
 We've had them cooked to shreds with chipotle, thyme, cumin and coriander and packed into tortillas.
Short rib chilli
Short rib tacos, with shredded salted cabbage and tomato and avocado salsa
And we've had them in a sweet chilli and tamarind glaze.
Work in progress - tea smoking the ribs
I haven't quite nailed the technique for the glazed ribs. I want to give the effect of a slow, cool barbecue, and tried to get it by tea smoking the ribs and slowly baking them in the oven. But if I start the ribs on the hob to get the smoke going the meat cooks too fast, and if I just do them in the oven it doesn't get hot enough to smoke.

The glaze itself -
2tbs tamarind paste
1tbs habanero sweet chilli sauce
1tbs ketjap manis
1tbs dark soy sauce
- is very good, but I do wonder about maybe adding some liquid smoke or a touch of pimenton or something to cheat the smoke flavour.

Anyway - while they look unprepossessing after an 8 hour slow bake, the meat fell apart as soon as it was nudged with a fork but was still beautifully juicy.

Creamy coleslaw was not the right accompaniment - too rich. An Asian-flavoured vinegar slaw would be better


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