Monday 30 June 2008

Duck with beetroot salad

When I saw Anne's post about the match made in heaven that is beetroot and goat's cheese, I knew I wanted some. But I was also quite sure that Paul - not the biggest fan of the beet - would have something to say about it if I just handed him a plate of the salad.

So I had a think and decided that the other thing that just loves beetroot is duck. There is something about the sweet fattiness of the duck that works superbly with the sweet earthiness of beetroot. As a quick fling-together supper it is pretty good too. A bag of washed spinach leaves, a vac-pack of cooked beetroot (obviously it would be better if I roasted my own - pref a heritage mixture of different coloured beets pulled from my own garden but FFS it's Monday), a round of chevre, a handful of toasted pinenuts, a garlicky, mustardy dressing. When the pinenuts come out of the pan the duck breasts go in. 6 minutes a side for these plump lumps. Yum!

Saturday 28 June 2008

My inner red-neck

You have to admit, the Americans know a lot about BBQing pork. If James Villas is to be believed (and his recipe for fruitcake is the best ever, so I am inclined to believe him) every Southern child grew up with crackling in his hand and BBQ in his soul.

So when I decided that today was the day for pork (inspired - on a very small scale - by Heather's epic hog roast) I looked across the pond for guidance. Firstly, the all-important beverage. I figured that nothing channels the inner red-neck like JD, so I went for a Lynchberg lemonade (Jack Daniels, cointreau & lemonade) to keep me company while I was cooking.

I whipped up a batch of James Villas' Carolina vinegar sauce, bottled most of it and kept some back for dinner. If you like acid flavours, this is heaven - vinegar, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, chilli, mustard etc, all cooked together to a thin sauce.

Then I made some wholemeal beer bread, with the intention of turning my pork into sandwiches. The batter had the weirdest darn texture I have ever met (sort of fluffy), but cooked to a delicious, crumbly, and completely unsandwichable bread. Brilliant for mopping up juices though.

I rubbed a lovely piece of pork belly with salt, pepper and grated nutmeg and let it sit while Paul did the blokey thing with charcoal and hickory chips.

35 minutes with the lid on the Weber and it was fab. The juiciest and most delicious pork, the lovely vinegary sauce, a good pile of celeriac remoulade (because my dear husband couldn't bear the idea of coleslaw) and the excellent malty wheaty bread.

So, as opposed as I am to American foreign policy (and my sad conviction that Obama is going down because the good ol' boys will come out just to vote against a black man), I am totally in favour of pork Southern style. I may well do grits and red-eye gravy for breakfast tomorrow.

Friday 27 June 2008

Friday night

Here it is, Friday again, and as ever, we have the Friday afternoon dilemma. I finish work at 4 on a Friday. My husband finishes 5.30-6pm. So if we want to meet up and do stuff, I either have to do an unfeasible amount of extra work, or find things to fill in time that do not involve buying more shoes. Because I really have enough shoes to be getting on with (for this season...)

Today I hit upon the answer. The salon where I get my hair (head and body) dealt with has a loyalty card, and in my purse was a full card. So I phoned and asked if I could redeem it for a file & varnish at 4.15. And calloo callay they could. I asked for their sluttiest red. It had gone gloopy and I was asked to make another choice. I went for the anti-red, with a glass of champagne and a dish of kettle crisps, because it is a classy sort of joint.

So it was with brilliant turquoise nails that I set forth down the Monopoly board of London streets. Across Leicester Sq (£260), down Piccadilly (£280), along Bond St (£320) and into the heart of Mayfair. To go to a pub that I was assured did home-made pork scratchings. And even better - served a whole sheet of pork scratchings on a wooden board with a mallet to break them up with.

Alas - our plans hit a snag at this point. The Windmill (3 times winner of Britain's best steak & kidney pie competition) has stopped doing the pork scratchings. We made do with a lesser bar snack - a really fabulous 8" sausage roll. Nicely seasoned and with lovely flaky pastry. At this point I realised that I should have brought my camera and made do with the phone... Stonking shadow on the parsley, I thought. And it is Mayfair, so when I insisted on dead horse (and was polite enough to call it ketchup) they brought out Heinz.
Of course, woman cannot live by sausage roll alone, so we crossed Regent St (£300) and went to La Trouvaille, just off Carnaby St which is a really lovely place to go if you want a plate of something nice and a glass of something sippable.

The charcuterie plate is an old fave, but I didn't think it was absolutely enough for 2, so I encouraged Paul to get half a dozen oysters, and while he was distracted by these plump Brittany beauties I dived into the pork. Rillettes (better texture than my home made but not as well-flavoured) a lovely pate, a sort of salami (quite mild but rolled in pepper), some ham and a sausage that reminds me of something we used to get from Iseli's Swiss butcher in Ashfield when I was a child. Cornichon, pickled onions, 2 sorts of bread. I had a glass of rose, he had a glass of a pretty butch red.

Scuttled home and still had time for a bottle of cava, an episode of Chuck and a frustrating period trying to figure out how to get the bloody photos off my phone. The perfect Friday night.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Cheesy veg bake

Hey even hardened omnivores like us need a meat-free meal from time -to-time. The cheesy veg bake is fairly regular for us. This one does away with making roux etc but you still end up with a pretty decent, creamy sauce. I can't remember whose recipe this was originally (in a newspaper, I think), but I do remember that I have improved it beyond all measure.

Cheesy veg bake

Saute a couple of sliced, washed leeks in butter. Add a large bag of baby spinach (wilted by pouring a jug of boiling water over it as it sits in a colander in the sink. Stab at the mass of spinach a bit with your spoon, to separate it out.

Add a small jar of marinated artichoke hearts, drained, then stir in grated nutmeg, a heaped teaspoon of dijon mustard, ground white pepper and 200g crumbled gorgonzola piccante. As the cheese is starting to melt but before it makes a hideous mess of your pan, pour it into a baking dish. Top with a bit more crumbled gorgonzola and some pinenuts. If I had remembered that I had a bag of panko breadcrumbs in the pantry, I would have used some of them too. We bought a big tub of cheap pinenuts at the Asian supermarket a while back, so I could afford to be profligate with them. Bake at 180C for about 1/2 hour until everything is bubbly and melted and browned on top. Serves 2 as is, 4 with rice, 6 as a side dish.

The simple things

It can be hard to beat a BBQd sausage. These were lovely coarse-cut ones flavoured with nutmeg and black pepper.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

St John the Baptist's Day

Today is the feast day of St John the Baptist. Which means it is time to harvest your green walnuts for making liqueurs and candied walnuts. I jumped the gun yesterday and brought some in while my husband was BBQing sausages for dinner, but today I will be collecting more. This post on the walnut liqueur is inspiring, and I will certainly follow one of Judy's methods. I find this Dutch recipe for candied green walnuts (you need to scroll down a bit) fascinating, because it shows that the Dutch agree with the Italians on the right day for your harvesting, but also I swear it is talking about a sweetmeat that Elizabeth David writes about in Italian Food. I must dig out that reference and cross-check.

Sunday 22 June 2008

Apricot and Ginger Curd

For this month's Foodie Blogroll Joust the nominated ingredients were apricots, ginger and butter. I decided to make a fruit curd, with layers of different forms of apricot and ginger so I started from this recipe and then went my own way.

Apricot and Ginger Curd (makes about 750ml)

10 dried apricots ~ roughly chopped
10 fresh apricots (about 400g) ~ washed, stoned and quartered
1 medium bramley apple ~ peeled, cored and chopped
2 tbs lemon juice
50ml green ginger wine
120g caster sugar
120g butter
2 eggs, beaten
2 knobs of stem ginger ~ sliced into julienne

Combine the dried and fresh apricots, apple, lemon juice, ginger wine and sugar in a pan and cook gently over a low heat until the sugar has dissolved and the fruit is collapsing to fluff. Cool, then process until quite smooth. Place in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and add the eggs and butter, cut into cubes, and the stem ginger. Cook, stirring constantly, until thickened (but before the eggs scramble). Pot while still hot into sterilised jars.

This doesn't have as much sugar or acid in it as a lemon curd, so it'll last a couple of weeks in the fridge but not that long.

Once you have your pot of curd, you can eat it on toast or scones , or you can layer it with Greek yogurt and crumbled ginger biscuits for a really easy dessert, or you can use it as the main flavouring for an absolutely killer cheesecake. I am really pleased how the cheesecake turned out actually, smooth and rich and perfectly tangy.

Apricot and Ginger Cheesecake

Crumb crust made from 1 packet oatmeal biscuits, 100g ground almonds, 1/2 tsp ground ginger and about 75g melted butter, pressed into base and sides of 10" springform caketin.

450g cream cheese
2tbs plain flour
3tbs caster sugar
250ml apricot and ginger curd ~ plus extra for glazing
2 eggs ~ beaten

Beat the cream cheese until fluffy, then add the other ingredients and mix well. Pour into crumb crust and bake at 180C for 45 minutes. Remove from oven, spread with a thin layer of extra curd (about 3-4tbs) and return to oven and bake another 20 minutes, then turn off the heat and allow to cool slowly.

Friday 20 June 2008

Prawn & scallop stirfry

Camera batteries are flat, so no pics...

Prawn & scallop stirfry

Stirfry a sliced onion in searingly hot oil for a couple of minutes until floppy with nicely charred edges. Add 12 shelled and deveined prawns, 12 fat scallops, 2 cloves of garlic (sliced), and 2 chopped chillies. As soon as the prawns change colour, add blanched asparagus, baby corn and sugar snap peas. After another minute add a slurry of cornflour, a touch of sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, lemon juice, minced ginger and shao xing wine. As soon as the sauce thickens and clears, serve. Serves 4 on rice, 2 without.

Monday 16 June 2008

Scallops, chorizo & broadbeans

On the weekend the Guardian published some fab-looking Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipes for dishes with 3 key ingredients. And since broadbeans are supposed to be some of the key spring/summer seasonal ingredients in this part of the world, I had a bash.

Broadbeans are funny things. 500g of big, polarfleece-lined pods yielded a small quantity of greyish beans, which after boiling and shucking left me with an even smaller quantity of glossy bright green beans. I actually found the process of slipping the beans out of their inner skins very soothing - it took me back to being a child and blanching almonds for my mother to make cakes. Which probably didn't happen all that often but has left me with very clear memories! But still, broadbeans are only going to be brought out for appreciative sorts - if I suspect for a moment that someone would prefer frozen peas I will not go to the effort!

The recipe says serves 4 as a starter - so on a bed of lettuce served the 2 of us for a light dinner. Very tasty, but I needed more lemonjuice, and next time I think I will add a couple of slivered cloves of garlic at the same time as the scallops hit the pan.

Saturday 14 June 2008

Hotel California

I had an earworm all day yesterday - for some reason I had Hotel California going round and around my head. Which got me slightly fixated on the idea of pink champagne on ice... No way would the landlord tolerate mirrors on the ceiling.

And how best to have pink champagne on ice? In the form of a pink champagne jelly.

Hotel California Jelly

200g strawberries sliced and marinated in a spoonful of cointreau and a spoonful of icing sugar
Put in a saucepan with 50ml pink prosecco and brought to the boil.
When the sugar was totally dissolved I added 3 sheets of soaked and wrung out gelatine.
When the gelatine was melted and the mixture was syrupy I added a dash of rosewater and another 200ml of pink prosecco. Which fizzed wildly. Spooned the strawbs into glasses, poured the liquid over the top and chilled for 3 hours. You can see on the left how some of the bubbles from the prosecco stay suspended in the jelly, so it is lovely and fizzy on the tongue. When we were ready to eat dessert I poured a little float of single cream over each portion.

I thought it was fab. My husband felt that there was too much jelly at the bottom, because the strawberries floated. I feel that asking the opinion of someone who doesn't love desserts was an error of judgement.

Jude's thighs again

Seriously - these are so good I made them again! Twice in a week! This time I partially roasted chunks of butternut for about 15 minutes before adding the rest of the ingredients. It looked pretty and cooked to a perfect caramellyness.

A bit of asparagus on the side and there it is. AND we weren't hugely hungry last night so we've still got a lovely piece of chicken in the fridge, bathed in rich jellied juices. I can't decide if I am just going to eat it as is or turn it into something else!

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Jude's Thighs

My friend Jude went to visit her dad over the weekend, and came back raving about this Diana Henry chicken dish. Now, I like Diana Henry and I like chicken, so I thought I would have a go.

So, my interpretation, for 2 people, via Jude goes like this:
1 onion, peeled and cut into 8ths, a head of garlic cloves, peeled, the leaves of a couple of good stems of rosemary, 3 chicken Maryland pieces (skin on), a slosh of olive oil, a double slosh of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper and into the oven for 45 minutes at 190C. Served with a pile of steamed veg tossed with a little butter and torn basil. Just delicious! It is very interesting really, the balsamic doesn't taste either sweet or vinegary, just rich and dark and fantastic. If I hadn't smelled it cooking I would have thought it was maybe soy sauce based.

Now I want Cook Simple, so I can see what other delights the book has in store.


Just a couple of pics from the weekend. We'd bought a spatchcocked chicken and BBQd it over some hickory chips soaked in red wine. Salad and BBQd asparagus on the side. Delicious! But chicken really is not the meat to do hickory smoke justice... There is pork in our future!

Sunday 8 June 2008

Dim Sum

Yesterday afternoon my husband came home with a bottle of Bollinger. Which was very nice, but I was very hungry and it totally scuttled my plans of going for a late lunch to the pub.

So I ferreted around for something quick to eat. A friend on a forum had posted a recipe for her lup cheong omelette and since I had eggs, lup cheong and spring onions, I threw it together.

Bob's Lup Cheong Omelette

Slice your lap cheong finely on the diagonal, chop the spring onions (including the green parts, do NOT discard!). Beat the eggs, season with fish sauce, soy sauce and pepper (I like white but you could use ground black). Get the wok smoking hot (yeah baby), quickly stirfry the lap cheong and onions but don't let them burn. Then add the eggs, swirl them around the pan so that they don't get thick, move the edges into the middle and the middle to the edges so that it's nice and wrinkly and thin, and the sausage gets distributed evenly. Roll it/fold it over when the top is still slightly runny so that the centre will be soft. Serve. It all takes about 2 minutes.

The only variations I made were mixing the sliced spring onions with the eggs, so they stayed quite raw and fresh-tasting, and added a couple of sliced green chillies. It didn't roll particularly well because I used loads of sausage, but it tasted brilliant.

But after hoovering down the omelette, we were both still hungry, so I stayed with the dim sum theme (can't really call it yum cha, since we were drinking champagne) and put some frozen dumplings in the steamer. We had prawn har gau and pork shao mai left from the last Wing Yip visit, so even though there were more than we really needed, it would have been rude not to finish them. I did my usual soy, red vinegar and sesame oil dipping sauce, but instead of adding chilli sauce for heat I added a spoonful of roasted chilli oil. It added a wonderful smokey flavour.

As you can imagine, the planned BBQ chicken dinner did not take place.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Duck breast with marmalade sauce

The other night I thought I would have another crack at Nix's Thighs. But not using chicken and really doing it entirely differently to make duck breasts in a marmalade sauce...

So I dry-fried some Szechwan pepper and ground it finely with some salt, slashed the skin on the duck breasts and put them skin side down in the hot pan and let them crisp up. I smeared the flesh side with a paste of marmalade, dijon mustard, ginger and garlic and then flipped the breasts skin side up on a rack over a pan of water, sprinkled them with the salt & pepper mix and finished them in a hot oven, while using the rendered-out duck fat in my pan to stirfry a bag of "rainbow stirfry mix" with some sugar snap peas.

It worked really well, but I think I should have kept back some of my marmalade paste, heated it and let it down with a little orange juice as a sauce. It's all a learning experience!

Monday 2 June 2008

Pork, pumpkin & peashoot stirfry

The other day I was in the super-market and saw peashoots. I straight away thought of Heather's wonderful-looking pork dish from a couple of weeks back (although I did get sidetracked by memories of a delicious Chinese peashoot in crab sauce).

In the usual way of these things it ended up nothing like hers (and a good deal fussier than I usually like a stirfry), but I was happy with it.

Pork, Pumpkin & Peashoot Stirfry

Cut half a butternut pumpkin into small pieces, rub with a little olive oil. Add a lot of whole cloves of garlic. Roast at about 180C for 30 minutes or until cooked through and starting to get a toasted edge.

While the pumpkin is roasting, marinate chunks of aubergine (optional, but I had a lovely violet and white streaked one that a friend brought me from France that wanted using) and thin slivers of pork loin in a combination of yellow bean paste, shao xing wine, soy sauce & red rice vinegar.

Soak a few dried shiitake mushrooms in boiling water, drain and slice finely.

When the pumpkin is very nearly done, drain the pork & aubergine, reserving the marinade. Stirfry in hot oil with a couple of sliced chillis, then add the sliced shiitake, the pumpkin and garlic, a good handful of sugar snap peas and some peashoots. Add a bit of sugar and some cornflour to the reserved marinade and pour into the pan, stirring to cover everything with the sauce, which will boil and thicken rapidly. Stir through coriander leaves and sliced spring onions.

Strangely, the aubergine in yellow bean marinade tasted like banana.

If/when I do this again I'd use basil instead of coriander.

Sunday 1 June 2008

Good food, bad photography

Yesterday morning the postman rang the doorbell to get a signature for a parcel. Inside the parcel - without any sort of accompanying letter - were our passports and all the documentation we had provided the Home Office. And inside my husband's passport was the stamp giving him indefinite leave to remain in Britain.

Clearly, we were delighted and decided that a celebration was in order. So I booked a table at Mon Plaisir, the first restaurant we had been to in London when we arrived 2 years ago. It seemed fitting. I've blogged about Mon Plaisir before but my husband is now terribly concerned that if I say too many good things or make it look too wonderful it will be inundated and we won't be able to get a table anymore and the quality will suffer. Fortunately, my photography does not do any of the dishes justice, so the murky brown pictures can stand in the way of the atmosphere being destroyed.

We ordered champagne - Laurent Perrier brut - and settled to the serious business of eavesdropping. The table behind us were a pair of sisters and one's husband, who were very drunk and very loud and made extremely unnecessary comments about the transgender woman in the elegant pink suit at the table nearby. And harassed the waitress (whose name is Maria) telling her that she wasn't pronouncing her own name properly (she puts the emphasis on the first syllable - like Mario - instead of the middle and end the way you do in Britain). And said "I don't really like pudding. I wonder if they have cheese?". Do they have cheese? It is a French restaurant, of course they have bloody cheese! Anyway, they left eventually.

I started with Tomato and olive terrine with roquefort icecream. It just goes to show what a difference someone who really knows what they are doing in the kitchen makes. The terrine itself wasn't anything special, but combined with a scoop of intensely flavoured tapenade and the sweet, milky roquefort icecream it was magic. The icecream was amazing - the flavour of the blue cheese hanging back at first and then coming in with a punch. The foie gras parfait, topped with passionfruit gelee and served with toasted brioche was, I am told, delicious. He thought the gelee was a bit distracting from the foie gras but the presentation, on a triangle of slate, was a winner.

We moved on to a bottle of chablis. I had Roast scallops with cauliflower puree, he had Dover sole meuniere. The scallops were perfect! Caramelised and brown outside, sweet, firm and juicy inside. The cauliflower puree was smooth and rich. Wafers of raw cauli and a peashoot salad added a bit of textural interest. Not too sure about the morel vinaigrette dressing - it wasn't really sharp enough to call it a vinaigrette and the morels were more of a textural presence than a flavour. I think if you are going to use an ingredient like that it should be allowed to shine. The sole was wonderful too - much meatier than you usually get, a nice amount of caramelisation on the outside gave a charcoal edge then the flesh inside was delicate and creamy.

We shared some cheese to finish - a nice piece of goat, a pretty boring hard cheese, a gloriously gooey Epoisses de Bourgogne, a creamy strong blue and something else that has slipped my mind. And then the joy of an uneventful Tube ride home because all the idiots were on the Circle Line drinking themselves sick.


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