Saturday 31 May 2008

Blackberry Jelly

I decided as an end-of-week treat to make a pudding. I wanted a light fresh one though, and my thoughts turned to Nigella Lawson's slut-red raspberries with chardonnay jelly - a recipe that I have looked at many times but never tried.

It's quite a good recipe for me in that a whole bottle of wine and 300g raspberries serves 6, so it wasn't in any way challenging to scale it down for 2!

Of course, once actually in the supermarket my plans came a little unstuck. I couldn't bring myself to pay £4 for a punnet of raspberries. So my plans shifted to blackberries. And somehow I thought chardonnay wouldn't go quite as well with blackberries, so I bought a 250ml bottle of Spanish rose.

The gelatine leaves I've got aren't nearly as strong as the ones recipes seem to use, so I added 3. I also completely forgot about the vanilla bean, so just as the jelly was about to go into the glasses I poured in a slosh of vanilla extract.

3 hours later, it was lovely! I think all my guests will be eating grown-up jellies for pudding for a while. It had the most lovely soft, delicate set. The fruit was nicely boozy (although you can see in the picture, they did this weird thing where most of the berries bleached red, but some bits stayed black), and the vanilla added something very special. Definitely one to do again!

Friday 30 May 2008

The Forge

The other day I had a date to catch up with a foody ex-colleague (the one I used to go to Wahaca with all the time). She is a devotee of the TopTable deal, so we settled on going to The Forge, Covent Garden, who were promising 3 courses and a Kir Royale for £27.

When the restaurant first opened last year I went there for lunch and wasn't completely impressed. The menu was very, very long and the prix fixe was so unappetising we ended up spending a lot more than planned to get the a la carte (and I do remember enjoying the guinea fowl I ended up with). So I was intrigued to see how they have shaped up.

They have obviously come a long way - now the 3 courses were from the a la carte menu, which has been sensibly edited. A very snooty waiter antagonised me from the outset by rolling his eyes when I asked for tapwater. But after fixing him with a glacial stare he changed his tune and became appropriately subservient.

Kir Royale is one of my favourite aperitifs, but there is an art to a good one, and they just didn't get it right. You really need to use a very dry bubbly to offset the sweetness of the cassis, but this seemed to be made on a very sweet spumante. Still, it lasted through perusing the menu and the first course, so it was worthwhile.

As a starter I had smoked mackeral with lightly pickled ribbons of cucumber. The presentation was attractive - a big crosscut section of fish, so it almost looked like one of those delicious pieces of Japanese BBQd eel - but a fillet would have been easier to eat. Once I had skinned and picked out all the bits of bone I was a mess of fish. There was a quenelle of something creamy on the plate, but once I tasted it and realised that it wasn't the horseradish I was hoping for, I left it alone.

I had a fishy main course as well (with a lovely glass of Marlborough sauv blanc). A moist, tender salmon fillet with a beautifully crispy skin, served with fat asparagus spears and hollandaise. Yum! Very rich, but worth it.

There was a vile sounding Creme moulee (i.e custard) with creme de menthe and blackberries on the pudding menu, so I was delighted when the waiter said that they'd run out and were doing a caramelised lemon tart instead. My friend ordered tarte tatin and we swapped. Both were very good; although the lemon tart was much deeper than I like, you can't really complain about extra filling! My mother's tarte tatin (and indeed mine) is better, because we use lovely shortcrust pastry instead of puff, which goes better. But still, for £27 (plus a dish of beans and 2 glasses of wine) it was really a lot better than my last visit!

Monday 26 May 2008

Pork Pie

I've been getting requests for another game pie, but since the game season is pretty much over, he had to settle for pork. Again, I based it on the Mark Hix game pie recipe, but I just used pork (cubed leg and some mince). I used some sage and a lot of nutmeg to season instead of the juniper, sherry instead of port, half wholemeal flour for the pastry and crabapple jelly instead of red currant.

Basic error, I was too eager to taste it, so it wasn't properly chilled and when I sliced a load of juice (which would have no doubt set to luscious jelly) poured out. However, it tastes good and the pastry is lovely and crisp. So I wouldn't be serving it to company but I'm more than happy to take a big wedge for lunch to work. Of course, in a perfect world I would have a pot of hot English mustard to serve with it, but somehow we've run out.

Saturday 24 May 2008

GQS revisited

Tonight I finally got to take my husband to 32 Great Queen St. I've only been raving about it for a year... So I just made a booking in a week when he was too stressed with work to contribute to the discussion of where to eat after a matinee.

I started with crab on toast. It was a single slab of excellent sourdough toast piled high with crab meat (mostly rich brown meat) and a wedge of lemon on the side. My husband had brawn with radishes. The radishes were very good long ones with white tips, the brawn was as porky and tender and herb-flecked as you could wish, but a bit of white pepper would have been a good thing.

For main we shared a delicious rabbit pie. My only quibble is that the filling was a bit oversalted.

I had a scoop of heavenly raspberry and balsamic icecream for pudding. I love that you can order single scoops of icecream. It had a little home-made, slightly warm shortbread biscuit on the side. Superb.

The table of ghastly pretentious New York wannabe filmmakers behind us made for some fascinating eavesdropping, but overall I wish they'd gone to that new vegan raw food place. They probably appreciate being told that you've just become omnivorous after 8 years without meat. I for one didn't care and so I didn't want to linger over coffee.

Best of British

It is a Bank Holiday weekend - hurrah! I've seen some theories about why long weekends are called Bank Holidays in Britain, and they aren't very interesting. But a long weekend means more time to do stuff like sleep and cook and eat.

We had friends over last night and decided to take advantage of some good weather to make a really delicious seasonal menu. OK, so the anchovy chilli biscuits we kicked off with aren't particularly British, or season specific, but they are originally a Rowley Leigh recipe and he's British enough to qualify. I've tweaked the recipe a bit. I always use wholemeal flour (the nuttier flavour is good), 2 red and 2 green chillis (because they are prettier) and grated parmesan (I found the gruyere made them a bit greasy). And I roll the pastry into a log and cut it into thin coins instead of strips. It actually freezes really well, so most often I will cut and bake half the log and store the rest for a little treat another time. We ate these when they were still a little bit warm, with glasses of chilled cava. Doesn't get better, really.

My husband BBQd an enormous Sussex-reared rib steak as the main course. 2" thick, on the bone, it looked like something the Flintstones would have served. It's a pretty impressive way to BBQ; carved on our nice blackwood carving board, there is enough variation in done-ness to suit all tastes. I didn't get a picture of that one, I was too busy making salad (a bag of herb salad mix, some marinated artichoke hearts, an avocado in a lemon and garlic dressing) and finding cutlery. We had chargrilled asparagus too.

For pudding we had British berries (strawbs and blackberries) macerated in a little cointreau and icing sugar and served with a mascarpone and bitter orange semifreddo. I made the semifreddo as a bit of an experiment and it was brilliant, if I say so myself. With electric beaters I whisked a whole egg and a heaped teaspoon of icing sugar to a pale, stable foam, added 1tbs cointreau and 2tbs bitter orange marmalade (you knew there was going to be marmalade in there somewhere, didn't you?) and then folded through 250g mascarpone. In a box, in the freezer. I took it out of the freezer about 5 minutes before serving so it softened enough to slice nicely, and drizzled the juices from the berries over the top. Taste of early summer!

Sunday 18 May 2008

Strawberry Pannacotta

This is a post about strawberry pannacotta. But the picture is of BBQ rump steak, with asparagus and tomato, basil and mozzarella salad. And the reasons for this will become apparent...

Some weeks ago Dagmar in Sweden posted some gorgeous little rose-shaped cakes and since then I have been a teensy bit obsessed with rose-shaped silicon cake moulds. Mine arrived this week and I decided that for a first thing I would take advantage of the British strawberry season and make a pannacotta.

So. I made 300ml strawberry puree (strawberries processed and seived), brought 100ml cream and 1tbs sugar to the edge of boiling, added 3 sheets of gelatine, soaked and wrung out and a touch of rosewater, combined and into the moulds and into the fridge (makes 4).

Only thing is that when I went to serve 2 of them last night, with some reserved strawbs and a sprinkle of sugar, they didn't turn out. They splodged onto the plate and needed scraping out with a silicon spatula. Wonderful flavour and texture, I will do it again, but in ramekins so I needn't unmould.

Tonight we were due to eat the other pair, but we ate so much of the rump steak in the picture that it is all I can do to stay awake, no way are we having pudding!

Instant Laksa

Oh god I miss laksa! It baffles me that the heaven that is a bowl of laksa (or pho, or the other Asian meal-in-a-bowl soups for that matter) hasn't taken off in London. Or should I say London hasn't taken to them with the exception of the mediocre, underseasoned and overpriced Wagamama. Every lunchtime in Sydney men in suits pile into unprepossessing holes in the wall, tuck their ties in their top pocket and dive into a vast bowl of spicy broth, noodles, bean shoots and other good things. It is satisfying, doesn't have to be unhealthy (although the coconut milk in the laksa makes it pretty fatty), quick and cheap.

Fortunately for me (because I am too lazy to make it from scratch) on a trip to Wing Yip last year they were handing out tastes of an instant laksa kit, which actually tasted pretty good. So now we can have a laksa on the table inside 10 minutes.

This one was even more of a cheat than usual. I fried off the laksa paste, added some water, the coconut mix and brought it to a simmer. Then I added cubes of fried tofu (they keep pretty well in the freezer between trips to Wing Yip), the prawns and vegetables (asparagus and bok choy) from an M&S hot and sour prawn meal and the chilli sambal from the kit. As soon as it came back to the boil and the prawns turned pink it was into a couple of bowls, sprinkled with laksa leaves (from the kit) and deep fried shallots (which we always have in the cupboard). And it was delicious. Not as good as a proper one, but a very good meal on a chilly wet Friday night.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Nix's Thighs

Well, it is actually Antony Worral Thompson's marmalade chicken, but since a friend called Nix gave me the recipe, and I used thigh fillets instead of chicken pieces I thought Nix's Thighs was a better name.

Not too sweet, but I think when I make it again I will put a small squeeze of lemon juice in instead of the orange juice; or maybe just leave out the extra liquid. We ended up with loads more sauce than we needed, so I should probably have poured it off into a saucepan and reduced it down so it was really thick and luscious but I couldn't be bothered dirtying an extra saucepan.

I left the olive oil out - couldn't really see the point - and I used Szechwan pepper instead of black (although I think this was a dud batch because I couldn't taste the prickle from it at all). At exactly the same moment my husband and I said "wouldn't this be good with duck?" but I thought legs and he thought breasts. I will definitely make this one again - afterall, after the cake, this chicken and adding some to a sauce a while back, I've almost finished a jar of marmalade! Only 2 more to go...

Tuesday 13 May 2008


The one dish we made at Judy Witts' cooking class last year that I hadn't tried to make myself yet is veal saltimbocca. It's not particularly easy to get veal in Britain - the message about the cruelty involved in "crated" veal has made it unpopular. Although I have noticed that most of the calves' liver you get here is imported from countries that do crate, so there is a measure of hypocrisy...

Anyway, when I discovered that the Well Hung Meat Company sold organic rose veal, I decided to give it a go. And then on the weekend I found that we have a massive sage bush in the garden so I decided to give it a go ASAP.

Easy, easy, easy! I dusted one side of each scallopine with seasoned flour & on the other side I placed a sage leaf and a slice of proscuitto and ran a toothpick through the bundle to hold it together. 2 minutes a side in a smear of hot olive oil, a slosh of dry sherry to deglaze for the last 30 seconds and there it was. Served with zucchini trifolati, some sugar snaps and some more asparagus, it was a very successful dinner. And so quick!

Bambi Burgers

After an afternoon tea packed with marmalade cake, peppermint crisp tart (a South African "fridge tart" dessert on the far side of cloying) and quite a few cucumber sandwiches, I wanted something savoury and fairly light for dinner.

The BBQ again came to the rescue. A couple of packets of Sainsbury venison burgers, a tray of asparagus and a bottle of excellent Cornish sparkling wine was a very fine Sunday meal! BBQing the asparagus was something we hadn't tried before, but it was delicious. Will be even better with some of the really fat spears.

Monday 12 May 2008

Marmalade Cake

To break up the flow of pieces about meat, I thought I'd talk cake. I used to bake quite a lot, but I don't have many opportunities to now. My socialising tends to be more focused on a couple of drinks and dinners out, rather than afternoon tea. So when I get an invitation to afternoon tea I get all excited about the possibilities. I thought baked lemon cheesecake, I thought friands (but they take too many eggwhites), Spanish orange and almond cake, a nice sponge with strawberries and cream...

And then I settled on this recipe from Nigel Slater. Frosted marmalade cake - it sounded fragrant and moist and delicious (as well as using a good amount of marmalade). Best of all, the only ingredient I needed to buy was some icing sugar for the frosting.

Being a bit of a nervous baker (I'm not confident to improvise) I followed the recipe very closely. It took about 15 minutes more baking than the recipe said, but that I put down to my oven. The only variation I made was using a slosh of cointreau in the frosting as well as some of the reserved orange juice.

It was superb. An absolutely magnificent cake! Not too sweet, the nice shreds of the good bitter orange marmalade I used were an excellent addition. I look forward to another opportunity to make this one! And the variations - lime and lime marmalade, blood orange for lurid colour, grapefruit. So many options!

Saturday 10 May 2008

BBQ lamb leg

We've had a week of spectacular weather - as good as it gets really - so we just have to keep BBQing as long as we can! This time we had a butterflied lamb leg (boned and flattened) so it cooks more gently than chops or a steak and you end up with loads of BCBs (burnt crispy bits, for those of you who don't read Pratchett) and incredibly tender, juicy, pink middle.

It went on the BBQ just as it was, no marinade or anything, but as it cooked it was sprinkled with salt, pepper and dried thyme, crushed together in a mortar and pestle. And when it came off the heat it went into a shallow bath of lemon juice, olive oil and garlic. The fragrance as it hit the dressing was just wonderful.

Anyway. Today's picture is much more about the salad on the side. I got a bit carried away on adding tasty things to it and it ended up being way more food than necessary, so I didn't eat much of the meat in the end (my theory being that cold lamb is delicious the next day, salad isn't). So we have here BBQ aubergine, a dollop of hummus (a disappointing bland one) and salad. The salad was a tub of "Italian salad" (leaves, pine nuts, parmesan and pesto dressing), a tub of cherry tomatoes and bocconcini, half an avocado, artichoke hearts and some lovely slippery strips of bottled roast peppers. All of my favourite things!

Friday 9 May 2008

Fish Stew

Last night I didn't get the crucial "Buy salad, I will BBQ" message, so we reverted to plan B, a sort of Provencal -ish fish soup with rouille. But I got distracted and reduced it more than intended so let's call it fish stew.

Fish Stew

Sweat a diced onion and a diced fennel in some olive oil. Add a cup of chicken stock, a tin of chopped tomatoes and the juice of half an orange. Add a pinch of saffron stamens.

When it comes to the boil add a diced white fish fillet (finally got rid of the last piece of swordfish from the freezer), and when it comes to the boil again add a bag of frozen fruits de mer. When the prawns are pink and opaque stir in a whopping quantity of chopped herbs (I used chervil, lemon thyme and parsley) and taste for seasoning.

Serve in a big bowl with a dollop of rouille - which I made with bought mayonnaise, bought roasted peppers, a clove of garlic and a little smoked paprika.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Foodie Blogroll

I was having a look at Judy Witt's Over a Tuscan Stove blog the other week and saw her link to the Foodie Blogroll. Who would have thought there were so many people writing about food? Anyway, if you have a look down the right hand side of the page you will see many, many inspirational blogs!

Jacki's Bento Blog reminded me it had been a while since I did a bento, so I did a really basic one for lunch yesterday. You can see from the picture that most everything is still frozen! So the top layer is 4 har gau and 3 tod mun, with some dipping sauce (my usual soy, black vinegar and chilli). The bottom layer is broccoli florets and some gai larn cooked with garlic and ginger, that I'd had portioned up in the freezer. It was tasty! But gee I need to work on my presentation.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

BBQ lamb chops

A lamb loin chop, cooked over charcoal (or better yet, wood) is one of the most delicious things in the world. Look at the colour on that meat! It looks like it has been glazed (or photo-shopped) but that lovely reddish tinge is the colour it goes when you put the lid on to slow the cooking and it absorbs the smoke.

Aubergine has such an affinity for lamb (a dollop of smoky baba ganoush on a piece of grilled lamb is very close to heaven) and for barbecuing, so I split one in half, cut some slits into it but not all the way through, and marinated it for about 5 minutes in olive oil, lemon juice and garlic before putting it on the grill quite some time before the meat. Some halved courgettes got the same treatment (we are in training - we've got 5 courgette plants in the garden this summer, so the more delicious ways with them that we master, the better).

A bit of salad - with some really perfect avocado in it - and there you have one of the tastes of summer. Being able to sit out in short sleeves and bare feet was just the icing on the cake.

Asparagus Risotto

I made an asparagus risotto for tea last night and it was the best I have made, I think! It's not low-carb, clearly, but yesterday was a bank holiday long weekend so I extended my "not following the diet" a bit.

After the usual onion/butter/carnaroli/white wine phase, my first addition of stock was a bit of leftover garlicky saffrony broth from my pollo al ajillo of a few weeks back, that I've had stashed in the freezer. Then additions of plain chicken stock (a rather good one I made on Saturday). After a couple of additions of stock I added the stems of the asparagus, peeled and cut into 1" lengths. When the rice was just about done I added what I think is called a mantecato, a bit of extra butter and some grated parmesan, seasoned with white pepper, then poured the risotto into deep plates, with a disk of soft, mild goats' cheese in each. Garnished with the asparagus spears, boiled separately. The garlic saffron broth added an extra dimension that I don't think I will be able to replicate easily, and the fresh, fat, local asparagus was just divine.

Friday 2 May 2008

Chakchouka baked eggs

Yeah - sorry, more eggs. As part of the whole weightloss, improved diet lifestyle, we're having a go at having fish once a week (WITHOUT added chorizo!) and a vegetarian meal once a week. We go through these phases.

So tonight we had chakchouka baked eggs - a variation on a dish I ate a lot when I was living in a flat I couldn't really afford. Tonight we had the the deluxe version... It's pretty similar to this but I added some bits. And if you are ever in Sydney, get yourself to Cafe Mint on Crown St for breakfast. Order - I insist - the spicy lamb mince with hummus & za-atar toast, and a side order of chakchouka. It will be the biggest breakfast you've eaten, but it is the most delicious thing ever served on a Saturday morning.

Anyhoo - for the recipe:

Chakchouka Baked Eggs (for 2)

Saute a large, sliced onion in olive oil in a heavy-based pan until translucent. Add 1tsp cumin seeds and 1 tsp lightly crushed coriander seeds and continue to saute until the onion is getting quite floppy. Add 3 chopped cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp hot smoked paprika and 2 dried chillies, then 3 sliced peppers (any combination of peppers but not all green - that would be bitter and I suspect quite icky). When the peppers start to soften add a tin of chopped tomatoes and some salt and quite a lot of pepper. When the mixture comes to a simmer, crack 3 eggs into it (or 2 or 4 - I do 3 because I want 1 and my husband wants 2). Crumble a block of feta over the top and leave to simmer until the eggs are cooked and the feta has begun to melt.

The other thing I did was top it with courgette crisps for some extra veg and a bit of contrast. Slice your courgettes quite thinly, toss them in olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and salt and pepper, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 180-200C for 15-20 minutes or until browned but not black. Takes some watching. I usually do these to sprinkle over a courgette risotto for a texture contrast.

Chilean wine dinner

The pub had another wine dinner last night. I have come to the conclusion that they shouldn't try to theme the food to the wine, because they get a bit tangled up. I don't know anything about Chilean food, but I do know that the menu last night was a bit odd, and certainly not as nicely presented or cooked as their normal dishes.

To start with - Jerusalem Artichoke Soup. I don't think it was. For one thing, I haven't seen a Jerusalem Artichoke in the shops for weeks, and for another, Jerusalem Artichokes puree so very beautifully that I don't think you could achieve the effect of a clear green liquid with pulverised little hard vegetable bits. My clinching argument is that they are, how should I put it? A very windy vegetable and this soup certainly did not produce the usual effect. It was over-seasoned with black pepper and not a lot of other flavour. The wine was a heavenly 2006 sauvignon blanc which made the soup look better than it was.

The next course was a fairly large portion of very rich, very delicious seafood baked in creamy, cheesy sauce. It had nice chunky pieces of crayfish, mussels and squid, slices of sweet, soft onion and this lovely sauce, which all went very well with a very good chardonnay. And it isn't often that I use the words "very good chardonnay"!

The main course was described as "beef and corn pie". When it arrived it was a casserole of mince with sweetcorn kernels, sultanas and slices of hardboiled egg, served with some rice. One of my companions doesn't eat egg, so she sent hers back and had the vegetarian option, which was described as "tomato and lima bean stew" - which turned out to be a thick vegetable sauce enclosed in a folded wheat tortilla. The beef was tasty, if not at all what I pictured, and went well with the lovely fruity carmenere.

They called the pudding turron del vino - wine and almond nougat. When I think of nougat I think of the white sweet with chunks of nuts through it, wrapped in rice paper. What arrived was a glass with a layer of a sweet, loose almond paste, broken up with flaked almonds, topped by a strawberry puree and a generous amount of whipped cream. It was very nice (but a similar texture to the dish they called "blancmange" at the Sicilian dinner). The wine was fantastic. A 2007 viognier, it stood up to the sweet fruityness much better than I ever would have imagined.

So dinner was pretty good, all things considered, but I just feel that if they hadn't tried to do Chilean food they would probably have been better.


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