Sunday 30 March 2008

Spanish Food

I'm 3 days into a 5 day Spanish holiday and I am running out of mental space to remember the food! Hopefully when I upload my photos I'll remember more.

Had 2 nights in Segovia, where the roasting of meat is more than a passion. There are regulatory bodies and everything. First night roast suckling pig, second night roast baby lamb. Both amazing! I never thought that lamb skin could crackle as much as pork skin. Succulent, tender, simply seasoned and served absolutely plain, but they do this ceremonial carving of the suckling pig, carrying it to the centre of the room and chopping it into pieces with the side of a bread and butter plate. We had a couple of tapas; tasty but not that special. This one was a chicken mayonnaise topped with cubes of ham, roasted peppers and lightly caramelised onions.
I am being guided by a hard-core foody with a love for Spain, so I am eating things I probably wouldn't have ordered for myself, but I am loving. The pickled fish sandwich for breakfast being a case in point. Boquerones - fat white fresh anchovies - marinated in oil, garlic and a mild vinegar, are a common tapas dish here. But they also stuff them into crusty white rolls and eat them at breakfast. Delicious!

We're in Seville now. We've had lovely fat mussels, pork loin cooked in whisky in a bread roll, lovely cheese, a sort of ham made from tuna, more lovely cheese and an extraordinary sauce/dip sort of condiment called salmorejo, topped with shaved bacalao. And that was just lunch...
The tuna "ham" is the rectangular bits inthe middle of the pic. Delicious, but disconcerting to the semi-veggie with us.

Thursday 27 March 2008

Fish Pie and Syllabub

Well, that all went extremely well! Dinner was spread out over about 6 hours, because our guests were stuck in traffic, so we missed lunch, and then it was hailing too hard to pursue my plan to run up the road for a kebab.

So at about 3.30pm we sat in the conservatory eating the artichoke fritters and drinking the bubbly. It's always nice to surprise someone with English sparkling wine!

Then at about 8.30 we sat down to the fish pie - with purple sprouting brocoli and a lovely Sicilian viognier.
Fish Pie (after Rick Stein)

For the base:

1 tsp dried or 1 tbsp fresh herbs de provence
1 orange
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
¼ cup white wine
3 fennel, bulbs, outer leaves removed
1 large onion, chopped
2 fresh bay leaves, cut into thin strips or 2 dried bay leaves, crushed
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
50ml/2fl oz olive oil
1 tsp sugar

For the filling:

700g white fish fillets
225g scallops, cut in half
250g green prawns, shelled
1 can smoked oysters
1 lemon, sliced
2 bayleaves, extra
125ml dry white wine
250ml water
pinch saffron filaments
1tbs butter
1tbs plain flour

For the topping:

2 celeriac
1tbs crème fraiche
2tbs butter

Peel the zest of the orange with a zester or peeler. Squeeze the juice from the orange. Reserve a couple of slices of onion and some of the frondy bit of the fennel. Put all the rest of the base ingredients (including the juice of the orange) in a heavy-based pan and cook gently, covered, for about 20 minutes or until the fennel is soft and all the liquid has evaporated. Spread into the bottom of a large casserole dish (I used a pyrex lasagna dish).

Put the water, white wine, lemon, peppercorns and extra bayleaves in a sauté pan with the reserved slices of onion and fennel frondy bits and bring to the boil. Slip the white fish fillets into the court bouillon. When it comes back to the boil add the prawns. As soon as they turn slightly pink, but before they are fully opaque add the scallops and turn off the heat. When the scallops are starting to turn opaque in the cooling liquid, remove the seafood from the court bouillon with a slotted spoon and reserve. Remove the lemon slices and discard. Add the saffron threads to the liquid and return to the heat. Reduce the liquid down to 250ml, strain and reserve.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. When it froths, add the plain flour and stir until the flour is entirely lump-free and combined with the butter. Cook for a couple of minutes. Gradually add the reserved saffron-infused cooking liquid, stirring continuously, and cook until thick. Taste for seasoning and add salt and white pepper if required.

Flake the fish fillets over the base of fennel. Scatter the prawns and scallops evenly and then distribute the drained smoked oysters (if you don’t like them you can leave them out, but I always like a bit of smokiness in a fish pie and on this occasion I didn’t want the full-on smoke hit of smoked cod). Pour the saffron sauce evenly over the seafood.

Peel and cut the celeriac into chunks. Boil in salted water until tender and then blend with the crème fraiche and butter until smooth. Season to taste and spread over the fish (or buy a tub of good mashed potato if you don’t like celeriac or couldn’t be bothered). Bake in a 200C oven until the edges are bubbly and the peaks of the celeriac are golden brown. Serve with steamed greens.

Then we had a bit of a pause before the ginger syllabub. I didn't end up matching a wine to it, because we'd really had quite enough to drink already. I ended up making a few extra changes to the syllabub recipe, and it made masses so I think we'll be having it today for breakfast as well. Pity we haven't got any fruit in, it'd be wonderful with a fruit salad!

Ginger Syllabub (my way)

Serves 6

100g caster sugar
200ml green ginger wine
The finely grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
3 balls of very finely julienned stem ginger
500ml double cream
1 ½ ginger nut biscuits and 1tbs green ginger wine per person

Combine the sugar, ginger wine, lemon zest and juice in a bowl and stir well. And the cream and whip to soft peaks. Fold in the julienned ginger.

Break 1 ½ ginger nuts per person into wine glasses and drizzle about 1 tbs of green ginger wine over them. Spoon the syllabub into the wine glasses and refrigerate for an hour or so.

Monday 24 March 2008

Refining my ideas

OK, so I have decided on the menu for Wednesday night - the gods of supermarkets being willing.
Artichoke fritters with Camel Valley bubbles to start (because these are dear and food-orientated friends, I don't mind them standing in the kitchen while I make the fritters)
My fish pie - fennel base, white fish, prawn and scallop saffron veloute filling with celeriac mash topping. Probably served with muscadet

Ginger syllabub for pudding. I've decided to combine Skye Gyngell's recipe with one from Delicious so I get a bit of a citrus note along with the ginger - basically I will use Skye's proportions, but using ginger wine instead of sherry and adding some crumbled gingernuts at the bottom for texture. No idea what to do about wine. This rather useful site teams a Pedro Ximenez sherry with a gingery dessert, which seems like a good idea. I'll have to see how expensive it is!

Saturday 22 March 2008

Amazing what you find when you google

We'll have houseguests for a couple of nights this week, so I have been quietly mulling over the perfect meal for them (I think I'll cook one night and we'll take them to the pub one night). It's a bit tricky, because he doesn't eat red meat (and reluctantly chicken) and they have been staying with his family (epic pastry cooks) for 2 weeks, so they may be about to OD on richness.

I started from a position of conviction that I would do the St Clement's Creams again for pudding. But then I conceived of a fish pie on a base of confit fennel. And then I realised that with the orangey fennel, I shouldn't really back up with an orange dessert, so I thought of pannacotta. And I was thinking of a bar of chocolate that a friend bought me in Venice last year, which was white with vanilla and saffron. So I thought white chocolate pannacotta infused with cardamom and saffron would be the goods.

I googled "white chocolate pannacotta" and lo! Not only did I discover that Alan Coxon got there before me, but also that there are about a million really fantastic, funny, informative food blogs out there that have recipes for a white chocolate pannacotta on them. I will particularly be bookmarking Anne's Food, A cat in the kitchen and the Sceptical Cook.

I still think a cardamom and saffron infused white chocolate pannacotta is a good idea, but I have decided that the saffron in this meal would make a much better appearance in a veloute sauce for my fish pie filling. It'll give colour and an edge. And using a veloute instead of a bechamel should leave some room for pudding. Haven't quite decided on the pudding, but I am edging towards a ginger syllabub.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Saving Myself

I'm going to be a bit quiet for the next week. I'm going to Spain on the 28th and in anticipation of much eating, drinking, and photo-worthy food, I thought I'd show some restraint. Which hasn't really worked, but I just won't be telling you about it!

Sunday 16 March 2008


I love Mexican food. Even the "Mexican" that would have a Mexican person saying "Oh you English make such strange food". The doubtless inauthentic combinations of mince, beans, tomatoes, cheese, sour cream and avocado are so tasty that I don't really care if it is not quite how the Olmecs would have done it.

Last night it was rainy and miserable and perfect for seeing a film. We'd been told about a multiplex not too far from us that had a cheesy Mexican joint as part of the complex, which sounded just perfect.

We were really lucky with our timing. We were seated in a nice booth at 6.45, but within about 15 minutes the place was heaving with people being asked to wait in the bar with electronic beepers to alert them when a table was ready. The loud (and very infectious) soundtrack was a bit odd in a half-empty restaurant, but when it had filled up it gave a real party atmosphere. I had a bottle of Magners cider, but I think that on another occasion I would insist on a jug of Lynchburg Lemonade (Jack Daniels, triple sec and lemonade) and skip the movie.

We started with a favourite - green chillis stuffed with cream cheese, crumbed and fried. In a perfect world these are filled with goats cheese, or something a bit more flavourful, but these were excellent. Not at all greasy, very crisp and nicely filled with extremely hot cheese. A sweet chilli jelly for dipping them in was a good accompaniment.

I had quite a hard time choosing my main course. I was very tempted by the ribs and the bison burger, but I settled on prime steak fajitas. My husband had single-mindedly pursued enchiladas, but was thwarted. In his opinion enchiladas must be beef, and he couldn't be pursuaded by the chicken ones, so he had a burrito instead.

My fajitas were impressively presented, on a wooden board with built-in sizzling plate and terracotta tortilla dish (don't know how our perky, pint-size waitress managed to carry it - it was twice her size) but the sizzle didn't really add flavour to the meat, which looked like it had been cooked and sliced and then just put on top of the onions and peppers. It was a reasonable effort - the tortillas were very good and the meat was quite nice, but I do like the slightly sticky, smokey sauce that usually coats the meat, which was missing in this case.

I think my husband liked his burrito. He certainly went very quiet and ate very quickly.

The restaurant was so busy by this stage that my husband suggested that we order dessert to prevent them kicking us out too long before the movie. We shared a banana taquito - banana wrapped in a cinnamon tortilla, fried and served with icecream and caramel sauce. You certainly wouldn't want to eat one by yourself: it was a generous portion.

By the time we'd finished, managed to get the bill and pay, it was the perfect time to stroll into the cinema. A very good night out.

Wednesday 12 March 2008

Offley good

I know it is not for everyone, but there is something about a dish of liver that is very comforting. I went to a funeral yesterday (lovely Pat Webb, rest in peace dear lady) and I just wanted something nourishing and comforting for tea last night. A hearty soup - pea and ham, mutton and barley, minestrone - would have done the job, but they all take quite a bit of time (and I end up eating them for a week).

So I decided that it was to be liver, bacon and onion gravy.

At my husband's insistance, I sliced an onion into fine half-moons. I would probably have diced it, but he was right. I cooked it very slowly in olive oil until it was entirely floppy and yellow and beginning to caramelise. Then I added some dried rosemary and cooked it a bit longer. Then I added dry-cured smoked bacon, cut into chunky lardons, and when that had browned and was about to crisp, I added 2cm pieces of lamb's liver. When that was cooked through (but before it could toughen) I added a slosh of dry sherry and some freshly ground white pepper. We had it with some M&S veg (asparagus, runner beans and broccoli; cauliflower cheese) and some extra onion gravy I'd had in the freezer. Perfect. A warming end to a sad day.

Sunday 9 March 2008

Dinner Menu Debriefing

I haven't actually cleaned up the kitchen yet (it's wonderful living in a country where cockroaches are not a problem) but I thought I would debrief on how dinner went.

The guacamole was wonderful, although it needed more chilli. Such deceptive things! The other chilli from the same package contained the fires of the sun, so I was really wary with this one and it was barely warm. Big thumbs up to Doritos for their "touch of lime" flavour tortilla chips. I was drinking Carl Jung brut de-alcoholised bubbly (trying to cut down on alcohol consumption and corresponding calorie intake) which was very pleasant really. I've definitely had worse sparkling wines.

My pork was excellent, although the crackling wasn't up to my usual standard. I think there was just too much liquid in the tin. But very flavoursome. Gee that fennel pollen is a wonderful ingredient! The potato celeriac boulangere was very good too. And sugar snaps are always wonderful unless they are overcooked.

The pudding was a disaster. I reached the point where it said "Chill in fridge for 2 hours. Whip the mousse with an electric beater until it peaks" and there was no chance at all of it peaking. It wasn't even thickening slightly. I started to panic. I put a few spoonfuls of the mixture back into a small pan and melted the rest of the box of mints into it, and added a leaf of gelatine, beat it back into the rest of the mixture and chilled it again. Still not the slightest sign of thickening. So it went into ramekins and into the freezer and was served as chocolate mint icecream pots. Even so, quite unrewarding. Not a particularly strong mint flavour and very sweet - although the texture was lovely. I had 4 spare pots, so 2 went home with our friend and 2 will sit in our freezer until a day when I crave sugar.

Saturday 8 March 2008

Dinner Menu

We've got a friend coming around for dinner tonight, and I am not in love with my menu. I love the individual elements, but it just isn't hanging together for me.

I started from a position of roast pork for the main. That was pretty easy - I love roast pork, she loves roast pork, my husband doesn't mind it on occasion. Further, a while ago at the Rose and Crown I had a piece of pork belly, which I suspect of having been cooked in liquid up to the top of the meat, with the skin left out to crackle, and I have had a piece of lovely pork belly waiting in the freezer for just such an occasion.

The accompaniments were a bit trickier. I eventually decided that, since I am having a lot of liquid around the meat, I should take advantage of it and do a sort of boulangere potatoes around it. I thought I was being clever and innovative and doing a celeriac and potato boulangere, but I see Antony Worrall Thompson beat me to it. Then some steamed sugar snaps with halved cherry tomatoes tossed through. Should be good.

What I intend to do is layer up the potato, onions and celeriac, leaving a bit of a divot in the middle of the tin, put the pork on the divot, (having first done the boiling water trick to the scored skin to help it crackle) so it is partly on and surrounded by the veg, then add a mixture of white wine and veg stock up to the level of the skin. I'm going to rub in a combination of fennel pollen, salt and crushed white peppercorns. A slow oven for 3 or 4 hours and all should be well, although I may need to remove the potatoes and turn up the heat to crisp the skin at the end.

Our friend is quite picky about puddings - she likes chocolate mousse, fruit salad and creme brulee. I am anxious about creme brulee and only really like fruit salad with loads of cointreau (our friend is teetotal) so that left chocolate mousse. I've been waiting for an opportunity to try an After 8 mousse similar to this one but without the brandy - a ganache of cream and After 8 mints. I am fascinated by how the gloop in those mints can become a mousse! I think it'll be tasty - and very rich - but I'm not sure really about how well it goes with my pork.

So that leaves something to start with. I decided not to do a proper starter, because that really is a lot of food, so we don't need 3 substantial courses, but there does have to be a little something to nibble while I finish cooking and while we chat and have a drink. I was also a bit anxious that the menu wasn't colourful enough - brown meat and potatoes, green sugar snaps, brown mousse. A beetroot or a carrot dip would have been ideal, but my husband is funny about beetroot and carrot didn't occur to me until just now. So we are having guacamole and tortilla chips. More green, but since it tastes fab, and has flecks of red and darker green through it, it'll just have to do. Anyway, due to the non-alcohol drinking of our friend, she'll most likely be on orange juice (she has a choice of apple, orange and diet coke) so that will make things prettier.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Truffled celeriac mash

After the lovely celeriac and truffle soup at Gilpin Lodge, I have been a bit keen on putting those flavours together myself - and last night had the opportunity. We go through phases where we cook loads of steak, but we haven't recently (and the few we have done lately have been dire; M&S needs to hire some proper butchers) and my husband decided that it was time for us to have a proper steak. He went into a huddle with the butcher, and emerged with the most enormous rump steaks I have seen. I can't imagine how large the animal must have been! They were cut about 3/4 inch thick, and were of a rich purpley colour. Only one would fit in our pan - and a good thing too, because there was no way we could eat any more than that.

When you have a really nice piece of meat, the accompaniments need to be good too. A warm green bean and cherry tomato salad in mustard dressing (I think the dressing is originally a River Cafe recipe - just Dijon mustard and lemon juice to make it runny) and truffled celeriac mash seemed to be just the thing. The mash was wonderful! I just peeled and diced the celeriac, boiled it in lightly salted water until tender, then mashed it with a potato masher (doesn't get it smooth, at home I like a rough textured mash, but if you like it smooth you can use a food processor, celeriac doesn't go to glue the way potatoes do) and stirred through 5 or 6 slices of truffle along with a slurp of the oil they were packed in. The steak turned out to be magnificent - very well flavoured with the most buttery texture - so the whole thing was very successful. In fact, we may do it all again tonight.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Another Friday Night

I think my problem with the new Delia Smith book is that it really isn't written for me. I have 3 of her books - Summer, Winter and Christmas, and they are all fab. The recipes work almost every time, they are delicious and the pictures are nice. But the new How to Cheat at Cooking is not for me. It is for people who don't cook because they think it is too hard, or for people who get put off by recipes because they have too many ingredients. By showing how you can add ready-prepared stuff to a recipe, and telling you exactly where to get these things, she's reaching out to the non-cook.

I, however, am not a non-cook. And I've been adding ready-prepared stuff to dishes for ages. Last night's meal was a case in point. We had some stuff in the fridge, but nothing I fancied or felt like cooking. We also have a pretty well-stocked pantry and freezer, so we added bits here and there and concocted a rather good seafood & chorizo stew. The only actually "fresh" things in it were half a bunch of slightly past-it coriander and the juice of half a lemon.

Seafood and Chorizo for Friday Supper
1 packet Sainsburys diced chorizo
1 packet Waitrose frozen seafood mix
2 tsp easy garlic
1 slosh dry sherry
1 tin chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tin diced tomatoes
1 tbs tomato paste
Handful chopped coriander
Juice of half a lemon

Heat a little olive oil in a large saute pan and add the chorizo. Sizzle it really well until it has given up a lot of fragrant, red oil and has browned and crisped at the edges. Add the frozen seafood (or you could be organised and already have it thawed) and stir well into the oil. Add the garlic (you probably won't want 2 tsp but we love garlic). When it has all begun to sizzle nicely add the sherry. When the sherry has almost evaporated add the chickpeas and tomatoes and tomato paste. When the sauce has thickened and the seafood is hot through, but before it starts to shrink and toughen, stir in the coriander and lemon juice and serve in large bowls. Serves 2 - 4 if you have rice or bread or another course.


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