Saturday 30 August 2008

Brown sugar baked custard

WARNING: This post may make my mother tell stories about my childhood.

Recently Meryl at Inspired Bites posted this low-fat recipe for a baked custard flavoured with brown sugar and orange that sounded just heavenly. And on my way home yesterday (I went home early feeling dreadful with a cold) I decided that baked custard was exactly what I felt like. Eggy, comforting and not too difficult in my foggy-brained state.

Unfortunately the supermarket didn't have any low fat (or any other kind) of evaporated milk. So I bought double cream. And what began as a fairly virtuous pudding turned into something else entirely.

So I present to you
Brown Sugar and Cointreau Baked Custards (makes 3 or 4)

284ml double cream (it's a pot, a bit bigger than a cup but smaller than an Australian pot of cream)
1/4 cup of dark muscovado sugar (I used 1/2 cup and it was too sweet)
1 whole egg
2 egg yolks
finely grated rind of half a large orange
50ml cointreau

Warm the cream, orange zest and cointreau in a pan until it is just coming to the boil, then turn the heat off and infuse for 10 minutes. Beat the egg yolks, whole egg and sugar together well (dark muscovado forms pretty solid lumps, so it does take a bit of work) then add the infused cream and beat well. Pour through a sieve into ramekins. Stand ramekins in a baking dish and pour hot water half way up their sides. Bake in a 140C oven for 25-30 minutes or until mostly set but with a bit of a wobble. Remove ramekins from the baking dish and sit (not in the fridge) for a few hours to cool slowly and set.

I caramelised the zest of the other half of the orange as a garnish. And this morning I will be eating the orange flesh along with the third custard, for a pretty indulgent breakfast. Paul can have the leftover pizza.

Friday 29 August 2008

Summer Seafood Stew

So. The brief for last night's dinner:
  • Quick
  • Prepared in advance
  • Very tasty
  • Healthy if at all possible
Because Paul was likely to be working late, so I needed to have it on the verge of readiness when he walked through the door. And I was coming down with a cold, so I wanted steam.

And Summer Seafood Stew was the result.

I prepared some of the fennel and orange confit that I used as a base for my fish pie (using manzanilla sherry instead of white wine because that was what was open in the fridge), without letting it reduce down all the way, then added a can of chopped tomatoes and left it to simmer very gently, covered until Paul got home (which turned out to be about 45 minutes later). Then 250g peeled green prawns (these were in a chilli and garlic marinade) and a sous-vide pack of mussels (in shallot and white wine sauce), 5 more minutes of cooking and some chopped parsley and there it was. Hearty, steamy, but still summery. Seafood loves that fennel and orange confit so much! In a perfect world we would have had some good bread to mop up with, but in the privacy of your own home, no one minds if you lick the plate.

Thursday 28 August 2008

Fruits of our labour

On Monday we ate the first fruits of the harvest. To be precise, our first courgette. I think eating the first fruits instead of sacrificing it means that our crops will be blighted unto the seventh generation but it is a chance I am prepared to take.
We opened a suitably festive bottle of wine (cropped really closely because you could see the box of washing powder on the bench behind it).
And we pan-fried some really good rump steaks, adding the courgette to take advantage of the beefy, olive oily juices, seasoning well with some of the pasta seasoning I bought last year in Florence (chilli, garlic, parsley, chervil and salt).

Delicious. The flesh of the courgette was dense, creamy and infinitely better than shop-bought. Hope the plant starts to get a bit serious now - 1 courgette doesn't make much of a meal. Or a harvest!

Monday 25 August 2008


OK, that's it for holiday posting, now we can resume regular programming.

Last night it was time to have some proper home cooking again. We'd had home cooking the night before, but in someone else's home so it doesn't really count (blackberry pie, thanks Molly!).

The problem was, of course, that we cleared the fridge before we went away and haven't been shopping except for milk and beer since.

I took an inventory of the pantry and freezer and came up with cassoulet - a bag of pinto beans, soaked until I got bored, an onion, loads of garlic, a couple of pork sausages, a couple of duck legs confit, a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes, some duck stock and a bunch of dried herbs and whatnot. I went a bit crazy adding a couple of lup cheong and some smoked paprika, but I wanted it really flavourful and gutsy. On the stove until it bubbled and then into a very slow oven for about 5 hours. It did the job of being hearty and comforting (cruddy weather we are having!) and delaying the day that we really, really have to go to the supermarket.

Black pudding tour of Britain

OK, so I didn't actually take any pictures of black pudding while we were away, so here is an atmospheric, Lord of the Rings-y oak tree - the most British of trees - to illustrate my thoughts on the most British of smallgoods.

For a more technical look at black pudding (and some good-looking recipes), head over to the Big Black Pudding - a blog which is not about black pudding normally, but conveniently has a 10 page guide.

Having just spent some time travelling around Britain, I sampled quite a lot of black pudding. It was on the menu for breakfast in all of the places we stayed, and I had a taste of all of them. Now, the black puddings I tried may not actually have been representative of their regions, but they all called them "local" so I am taking them more or less as my benchmarks for each region.

Gwynedd, Wales: The black pudding was quite lightly seasoned and seemed to have quite a lot of rusk or filler in it. A mealier texture than I like, but still quite pleasant. The pork and leek sausage that also featured in my "Full Welsh" breakfast was excellent, so I am going to assume that this was also a premium product.

Cumbria, England: It was in Cumbria a couple of years ago that I had my first taste of black pudding, and realised that not all puddings are created equal. This was quite different to other black puddings I have had in the Lakes, less mealy, quite velvety, but with quite large pieces of pork fat in it. As the pudding had been very nicely cooked, the fat had crisped up and was more delicious than you would think, but I think it'd be quite greasy and unpleasant if it weren't really crispy.

Perthshire, Scotland: My preferred black pudding is Scottish, so I had quite high hopes for this one. And they were very nearly met. The pudding had a lovely, velvety, close texture, not too much other stuff breaking up the texture, and it grilled to a really good crispness. The only thing that made it not quite as good as the one I buy at Borough Market was the seasoning - not quite as much pepper as I like.

Wensleydale, England: The Wensleydale pudding served at breakfast in Yorkshire had a lot of barley in it, giving it a crumblier texture. It was well-seasoned and a very good breakfast black pudding, although I wouldn't want to try any of the more refined dishes (with scallops or apple) using it.

In short - I like black pudding. But I would really like to source the smoked black pudding one of my local pubs serves - Hertfordshire smoked black pudding would definitely beat all the variations I tried last week!

Gisborough Hall Hotel

The plan was to drive from Scotland to our hotel in North Yorkshire, dump the bags, then drive to Whitby for some of their famous fish & chips fried in beef dripping. The plan came a bit unstuck when the drive to the hotel took 7 hours - partly due to some fairly major changes to the roads around Edinburgh that neither our satnav or our road map knew about.

By the time we got to Guisborough, there was no possible way we could do a 1 hour round-trip to Whitby, even for the best fish & chips in the world. So we booked an early-ish table in the hotel restaurant, lay on the bed and drank the complementary sherry.

The menu had a good variety of local produce, and I changed my mind about 3 times before settling on my meal. I started with a Smoked Whitby haddock and leek croquette, which was served with a decent amount of very good hollandaise sauce. The croquette was moist and very nicely seasoned, with good chunks of un-dyed smoked haddock.

Paul had Confit of Gressingham duck and foie gras terrine, which I thought might be quite a good use for the bloc of foie gras sitting in my pantry. The lobe of foie gras was enclosed in shreds of confit, and his portion was a decent slab, served with onion marmalade.

As a main course I had Manor House Farm organic pork cutlet grilled and served with sweet mashed potatoes, Yorkshire greens and roasted fennel compote. Now, this was the best pork cutlet I have ever had. They can so easily be dry and woody, or just really bland, but this was beautifully porky. It must have been from a very fat pig. The mashed sweet potato was dull - they combined normal potatoes and sweet potatoes and really didn't get the best of either. But the roasted fennel compote was delicious. Very similar in flavour to the Rick Stein one I nicked for my fish pie a few months back, although this had the addition of some grainy mustard that did really good things to it.

Paul's Grilled Whitby cod with a parsley and lemon crust was lovely, with big, creamy white flakes of impeccably fresh fish. I thought the crust should have been lemony-er, and I think they burnt the butter slightly, but it was still fab and made up for not getting to Whitby for fish & chips.

I bravely ventured on a dessert although I probably shouldn't have. Layered lemon and orange mousse with sable biscuits sounded all nice and light but it was a much bigger portion than expected! I was really sorry not to have my camera (or phone) at the table because it was really impressive. A tower of 3 sable biscuits, with 2 layers of mousse, a scoop of mascarpone on top, another sable on the side and a crowning glory of shards of toffee was really a bit OTT. The mousse was amazing though. Very stable and firm without getting that weird gelatine-and-eggwhite texture and a lovely, light tart citrus flavour.

We couldn't face coffee, so went for a walk in the grounds to try and find the llamas we could see from our room. They were a bit skittish and wouldn't come to chat.

Sunday 24 August 2008


After the lovely meal at the Drunken Duck, a good night's sleep and an excellent breakfast, we drove to Scotland. And from a culinary point of view things went downhill.

The hotel we stayed in had the most generic of menus. Burgers, fish & chips, steak. Nothing to indicate a sense of place. We were staying about 1/2 mile from a smokery, but they didn't have any of the local product available. Disappointing.

(By the way - I have no idea if these were edible mushrooms, but we were on a walk and I thought they were cute).

Fortunately on our last day we drove for 3 hours and finally found an internet cafe, which pointed us to a hotel about 20 miles from where we were staying that did seem to have an interest in local produce, so we booked a table.

A long drive across a moor, followed by a short run through midge-infested air got us into the Moor of Rannoch. Surely the most remote restaurant I have ever eaten at. It wasn't a bit fancy, but it was really what we had been hoping for.

We both started with big flat mushrooms stuffed with haggis and grilled until crispy. A very good use for haggis! I really like haggis, but being faced with a whole one can be a bit confronting.

Then I had delicious salmon, slowly cooked in the Aga with lots of butter and lemon and the best capers I have ever had. It was moist and succulent and so very lemony! Paul had roe venison, with what the menu called red currant sauce. We thought it was more like a Cumberland sauce because there was a distinct citrus edge and some shreds of zest in it.

It was so disappointing to spend time in Scotland at this time of year without even seeing grouse on the menu (saw loads of them running around though) but at least we did get one good meal.

Saturday 23 August 2008

The VGT Omnivore's Hundred

A meme that is going around at the moment - I saw it (with cool video bits) on Jenn's blog. I am not a fan of combat/competitive eating, so I see this as more of a list of things that you might not have thought of to try. I think it is funny that 3 of the items I have tried in the last fortnight! Brawn, plantain and sweetbreads. I am a pretty adventurous and wide-roaming eater but I still only got 74%. And several of the remaining 26% are on the "no way, no how" list.

Here is what you do:

1) Copy this list into your blog or journal, including these instructions.
2) Bold all the items you’ve eaten.
3) Cross out any items that you would never consider eating. (I can't figure out how to strike through in blogger and it won't let me use word formatting, so this is a work in progress ETA Arlene at the Food of Love had the very good thought to make those ones red, So I will do that!)
And my own addition - italicise the ones you had to look up!

The VGT Omnivore’s Hundred:

1. Venison
2. Nettle tea
3. Huevos rancheros
4. Steak tartare

6. Black pudding
7. Cheese fondue

8. Carp
9. Borscht
10. Baba ghanoush
11. Calamari
12. Pho
13. PB&J sandwich

14. Aloo gobi
15. Hot dog from a street cart
16. Epoisses
17. Black truffle

18. Fruit wine made from something other than grapes (many, many glasses of Japanese plum wine, which is apparently made with a type of apricot, not plum)
19. Steamed pork buns
20. Pistachio ice cream
21. Heirloom tomatoes
22. Fresh wild berries
23. Foie gras
24. Rice and beans
25. Brawn or head cheese (brawn fritters just recently)
26. Raw Scotch Bonnet pepper
27. Dulce de leche

28. Oysters
29. Baklava
30. Bagna cauda (I haven’t had this in ages! Must make it again)
31. Wasabi peas
32. Clam Chowder
in Sourdough Bowl (lots of chowder, no bowl)
33. Salted lassi (lots of sweet, no salted)
34. Sauerkraut
35. Root beer float
36. Cognac with a fat cigar
37. Clotted Cream Tea (that’s scones with jam and clotted cream, for any ignorant foreigners)
38. Vodka Jelly/Jell-O
39. Gumbo
40. Oxtail
41. Curried goat

42. Whole insects
43. Phaal (now I know what it is, I wouldn’t try it, I don’t like really firey curries)
44. Goat’s milk
45. Malt whisky from a bottle worth $120 or more (wasted on me – I’m not a huge fan, but apparently some of the Scotch I drank last week was in that class)
46. Fugu
47. Chicken tikka masala (ick – sweet and bland)
48. Eel
49. Krispy Kreme original glazed doughnut

50. Sea urchin
51. Prickly pear
52. Umeboshi
53. Abalone
54. Paneer
55. McDonald’s Big Mac Meal
56. Spaetzle

57. Dirty gin martini I'm not a martini fan, so I probably won't
58. Beer above 8% ABV
59. Poutine (would love to try though!)
60. Carob chips (ick – abomination against chocolate)
61. S’mores (I don't think so! They sound sickly sweet)
62. Sweetbreads (as of last week!)
63. kaolin (it’s one of the active ingredients in some fantastic anti-spasmodic medicine)
64. Currywurst
65. Durian
66. Frogs’ legs
67. Beignets, churros, elephant ears or funnel cake
68. Haggis
69. Fried plantain
(as of a couple of weeks ago)
70. Chitterlings or andouillette
71. Gazpacho
72. Caviar and blini
73. Louche absinthe (ick – aniseed)
74. Gjetost
or brunost
76. Baijiu
77. Hostess Fruit Pie (now I know what they are I don’t think so! They sound horrible)
78. Snail
79. Lapsang Souchong
80. Bellini
81. Tom Yum
82. Eggs Benedict

83. Pocky (I keep meaning to, they sound weird!)
84. 3 Michelin Star Tasting Menu (only 2 star so far, woe is me!)
85. Kobe beef
86. Hare
87. Goulash
88. Flowers

89. Horse
90. Criollo chocolate
91. Spam
92. Soft shell crab
93. Rose harissa

94. Catfish
95. Mole poblano
96. Bagel and lox
97. Lobster Thermidor
98. Polenta

99. Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee
100. Snake

The Drunken Duck, Ambleside

In the Lake District there is a wonderful gastropub called the Drunken Duck. In 4 visits to the Lakes we've only managed to get a table for dinner once, so I was really keen to get in this time. And when I went to the website to find the phone number I discovered that they have rooms as well! What serendipity. So I got a Courtyard View room and a table for dinner in the restaurant.

We checked in at about 3.30 to discover the most civilised thing in the world. The (quite reasonable) room rate included bed, breakfast AND afternoon tea! The lovely girl on reception said "Just call down when you want your tea", and 10 minutes after that a tray of fresh, hot scones, homemade mixed berry jam and a generous dish of clotted cream arrived. The tea was proper leaf tea with a strainer and everything. How absolutely perfect.

Paul went down to his favourite lake to fish, the sun came out and I lay on the bed and read. Brilliant afternoon. Although I should probably have had a good walk to prepare myself for the dinner to come.

The people sat on both sides of us in the restaurant were a bit dreadful. Paul has this hypothesis that people who are uncomfortable in restaurants behave badly and I think it is true. I suspect they thought they were coming to a pubby pub and to have white tablecloths and good glassware was a bit much for them.

The menu was very, very tempting. I started with a game terrine with pear and vanilla chutney. Unusual, but perfect. Shreds of slow cooked meat (I suspect venison shin) surrounded lean chunks of rare meat - pigeon, venison and pheasant, I think. The only way I can figure that they got the texture is to have cooked the bits separately, then pressed them into the terrine and weighted them while they cooled and the jelly from the slow-cooked meat glued it all together. Heaven.

Paul started with beef carpaccio. Which was good, but I won the first round.

As a main course, I had lamb with beans and sweetbreads. I'd never tried sweetbreads before and I figured that this was a good, non-threatening introduction to them. And if anyone is going to make something taste good, I back the Drunken Duck to do it. The lamb (fillet) was delicious. Herby and tender and lovely. The beans (a mixture of little white and green beans - maybe fresh navy beans and broadbeans?) were delicious, but the sweetbreads were a bit of a non-event. They were cut into very small pieces, so I just got fleeting tastes of something sort of creamy and fatty before they were gone. Can't really see why they are a gourmet treat. The only thing that let the dish down was the spinach. It hadn't been washed properly and was very gritty. That sensation of grit rubbing against your teeth is horrible. I did mention it to the waitress, but her English wasn't very good and I don't think she understood. And I am sure she didn't tell the kitchen.

Paul had venison for his main course. It was served with red cabbage and a sauce that involved chocolate. Also tender and delicious.

We couldn't face dessert or cheese, so we wandered outside to finish our wine while we looked across the valley at the twinkling lights of Ambleside.

Samphire redux

You may remember a couple of months ago I posted about going to Borough Market and cooking the samphire I bought there. My seafood and samphire pasta was very delicious and I am sorry I haven't seen any samphire since!

But last week in Wales we were walking in the estuary in front of Portmeirion and saw it growing. I had a nibble, and it was definitely the same stuff, just not as beautifully developed as the bundle I had bought.

Sadly, being on day 2 of a 7 day holiday, we weren't really in a position to pick any! But it - along with reading Michael Pollan's In Defence of Food while I was away - has made me determined to get more foraged foods into our diet. I think I need to buy a book on identifying edible stuff.

Friday 22 August 2008

Castell Deudreath Wales

While the food on our holiday wasn't all I had hoped for, we did have several good meals. Castell Deudraeth, a 20th Century folly overlooking the extraordinary 20th Century folly that is Portmeirion gave us one of them.

The weather was really cruddy, so we weren't going to get to do much walking, but Paul had fond memories of a previous trip to Portmeirion, so he was determined that we should see it. At the head of the ascent into the village was this funny not-very-old-looking castle with a sign saying "bistro". So I decided that it was lunchtime.

The menu was good - many tasty-sounding locally sourced dishes - if a bit pricier than I had planned. But since the night before had ended up quite cheap (we'd ended up at quite a nice pub called Y Beuno but it wasn't an expensive night out) it was justified. And as a retrospective justification, our dinner that night wasn't very good, so we deserved it.

Paul started with oysters. He is so pleased that raw oysters are almost the only thing he ever eats that he doesn't have to share with me. These were big fat ones, really creamy, served with the biggest bottle of Tabasco sauce that I have ever seen. There's another picture, that I took for his dad, with the oysters and Paul looking very, very smug.

My starter was described as home-cured duck, which it wasn't. It was very delicious cold roast duck. The beetroot was perfect with it. But if it was cured, it was extremely mild!

Paul's main wasn't very photogenic. But I had a lovely dressed crab. And a perfect glass of sauvignon blanc to go with it.

And it turned out that because we ate at the restaurant, we got into Portmeirion free of charge, so actually if you deduct the £14 entry for 2 adults, lunch wasn't that pricey afterall. I love a good justification.


I thought this deserved a post all of its own. One of Paul's pitcher plants has produced a flower. I didn't even know they did that! But she is beautiful. I think she looks like Audrey from Little Shop of Horrors.

Friday 15 August 2008

Clearing the fridge

This will be my last post for a week, we're off on holiday this morning. A week of driving, walking and eating around Northern Britain. I am hoping that some really top-quality blogging will result!

But it meant that last night there was some work to do. Everything that was likely to perish in the fridge had to go. And to my mind, the best thing to do in this situation is to put everything in a pan with some olive oil and a tin of chopped tomatoes.

So - a couple of slices of leftover jerk beef, a leftover chicken thigh, an onion, a red pepper past its first firmness, a couple of big flat field mushrooms, an aubergine and 4 small tomatoes. A sachet of French onion soup that is far too disgusting to have as soup but makes a useful thickener and seasoning. The last of a bottle of red wine that wasn't very nice.

Now the fridge is clear, we won't come back to funny smells and we can enjoy our holiday.

Schiacciata con l'uva

I've had a friend staying this week, but I had to work late and so on, so the plan was to have a nice breakfast together before she flew out on Thursday. I racked my brains for a good breakfast dish that was going to be pretty impressive but not too irksome to make and not leave me with too much washing up. I rejected various fry-ups and egg dishes because the timing was awkward, and then remembered the wonderful grape foccacia Schiacciata con l'uva.

Last year when my mother and I were in Florence, our apartment was very close to a little pasticceria, so we'd run across to get pastries for breakfast and this is one that we had. A yeast-raised dough in two layers, with tiny, pippy wine grapes exploding juicily in the middle and on top.

Because Judy Witts is my guru of all things Tuscan, I mostly followed her recipe - including using blueberries instead of grapes. But because I am an incorrigible fiddler with recipes, I also referred to some other sources who used some wine in the dough, thought it sounded a good idea and substituted half a cup of red wine for some of the water used on the yeast.
Because my timing was going to be a bit tight, I kneaded the dough on Wednesday morning before work and stuck it in the fridge. I went through a bit of a baking stage a few years back and Paul Hollywood's tip that dough rises perfectly albeit slowly in the fridge was a revelation.

So all I had to do yesterday morning was preheat the oven, roll out the dough and squidge the blueberries onto it. And it was bloody brilliant. Next time I will make the edge a bit thinner - there is too thick a portion that has no fruit - and use fresh rosemary. But it was just so luscious! Soggy with juices in the best possible way, not too sweet and a really fantastic breakfast.

Thursday 14 August 2008

Back to Sahib's

After my first encounter with Sahib's the other week I have been a bit obsessed with going back. And last night we did it.

We ordered more sensibly this time - 2 starters between 3 people and no filling up on rice. And when I say 2 starters between 3 people I mean Paul got his usual meat samosas and then the three of us shared some tandoori lamb chops. Some succulent, smokey, spicy, delicious tandoori lamb chops with little foil handles so you didn't get messy fingers. Of course, that didn't prevent me from getting it smeared all over my face as I tried to get every last shred.

Then as main courses we had the okra again (really, it was that good), luscious king prawn masala, incredible black dal and delicious rogan josh.

The atmosphere was really different - instead of music videos they were playing a football match on the big screen - but the food was so very delicious!

School Holiday Treat - Ultimate salt beef sandwich

I really should have taken this picture when it was in full glory on the plate, not sitting there almost finished, a shadow of itself.

Anyway. Lunch this week with a teacher pal (Jude, of the famous Jude's thighs) to celebrate the fact that it is school holidays and she can play during the day. 32 Great Queen St - because we can.

I started with brawn fritters. Now, I don't know if the brawn was in fact made from pig's head, but if it was then it was the most user-friendly introduction to pig's head that you can imagine. Richly flavoured succulent shreds of meat encased in sturdy breading and deepfried to a chestnut brown. Very rich, but thoroughly delicious.

My main, was simply described as Hereford brisket, dripping toast, pickles. What emerged was the best salt beef sandwich ever. Thin, robust toast, crisped with dripping, topped with a goodly measure of sauerkraut and slices of gruyere, then covered with the most divinely tender salt brisket, crisscrossed with german mustard. On the side, a gherkin and a pickled chilli. I could have eaten two, only I wanted to leave room for pudding.

Tuesday 12 August 2008

Jerk & plantains

Last night we had not one but two new vegetables! Which is pretty cool really, because it is so easy to get in a rut with the veg.

So, this all started when Norm posted a stonking looking jerk-rubbed ribeye. We love jerk seasoning. The combination of heat and depth and vinegar really is fantastic. We've done jerk pork and any number of jerk burgers, but never jerk beef. It seemed like a good idea.

In Waitrose on the weekend there was a nice piece of prime rib, just the right size to be a bbqing cut for the two of us. Unfortunately the weather was uncooperative, so I roasted it instead - 190C for about 45 minutes, after a solid smearing with Walkerswood jerk paste. This gave a much better-done piece of beef than we would usually eat, but it was perfectly succulent and the connective tissues had all gelatinised. It was almost like eating brisket.

Thinking about suitable accompaniments I remembered that my friend Kim had been talking about doing plantains recently, and Waitrose stocks green plantains (disconcertingly next to the bananas. I bet lots of people get caught out). I figured that a tin of callaloo (a green vegetable a bit like spinach) and fried plantains would be culturally appropriate with my jerk beef.

Well. Plantains are weird. Peeling them is quite difficult, and the skin oozes an icky, sticky sap that oxidised really quickly and was extremely difficult to get off my hands. But then I cut them into chunks and fried the pieces in a splash of olive oil with some slivers of garlic, mashing them down slightly to increase the surface area in contact with the pan. When they were crisp and brown, I gave them a sprinkling of salt and some allspice. They are very dry and starchy - almost like a roasted chestnut.

So despite ignoring rule number 1 and expending effort cooking something without knowing whether I would like it, this was a great success. Plantain is not going to be on high rotation, but it'll definitely be on my table again. And next time I might add some coconut cream to the callaloo, to see if I can approximate the flavour of the taro leaves in coconut cream that I remember fondly from my childhood. Not that I need the saturated fats!

Monday 11 August 2008

Turkey canneloni

Another use for Heather's roasted tomato bechamel - again with my addition of roasted garlic. I think this is the last time I will credit her for it. You all get the picture now, she is a goddess etc etc.

Anyhow, the filling was turkey mince, onion and spinach, given a bit of unctuousness with a tub of jellied roast chicken juices I had nestling in the freezer and some cheap white wine. Heavily seasoned, rolled in lasagne sheets, into a buttered pyrex dish and covered with the bechamel and some extra cheese. Is there anything that sucks up seasoning like turkey? I went completely nuts on the seasoning (salt, white pepper and nutmeg) and it was still delicate.

Citrus Ginger Cranachan - Foodie Joust Sep 1

I am just not convinced by my entry for this month's foodie joust... But the pictures turned out nice so here it is.

Kittie won last month's seafood, sesame, cilantro challenge with an extra- ordinary trio of dishes and has set this month's challenge ingredients - whole grains, ginger and citrus.

In honour of Kittie being a Scot, and because I am going to Scotland next week, I decided to combine two of my favourite Scots-ish things to come up with something that would surpass them both. It didn't.

Favourite thing number 1 is cranachan (aka cream crowdie) - a luscious combination of cream, raspberries, toasted oats, whisky and honey. Favourite thing number 2 is whisky oranges with atholl brose cream - a luscious combination of cream, oranges, whisky and honey. I think you can probably see why I thought they would work well together...

So. I marinated segments of orange, lime and pink grapefruit in orange-blossom honey, slivered stem ginger and Jack Daniels (someone wouldn't let me use his single malt...) for the best part of a day. Poured off most of the juice (used it to make some fairly charming little grown-up jellies), whisked double cream with more honey and JD, folded through the drained segments with wholegrain porridge oats (caramelised with brown sugar) and topped the lot with some exceptionally pretty shreds of caramelised citrus peel. Chilled an hour and ate it.

And it tasted just the slightest bit too hand-knitted. I think I got my proportion of oats wrong. The cream, fruit and booze should dominate with the hit of toastiness from the caramelised oats as an undercurrent, and I just missed the mark.

Sunday 10 August 2008


"Can we have an omelette with cheese and chives for brunch?" he says. Well, why not? Ended up a bit more scrambled than I was going for but never mind. An obscenely rich combination of eggs, bacon, cream, stilton and chives. Certainly kept us going the whole day, but you know what? It was too much cheese.

Rules to live by

Rule 1: Taste it first.

You may remember back in June I was making nocino - green walnut liqueur. Well, this morning I decided to have a taste and see what progress we were making. It was quite promising - vodka had gone in, a luscious green syrup came out. But OH MY GOD is it filthy. For those of you who thought Benedictine was the lowest human taste in liqueurs could go, this is SO much worse. Really. Erk. It combined the paint-stripper quality of cheap liquor with an indefinable herbalness. Paul found it repeating on him for several hours. He may need reconstructive surgery. On the other hand, our drains are likely to be spotless and we may be arrested by MI5 for concocting chemical weapons.

And the problem is that never having tasted "proper" nocino I have NO idea whether I have done something wrong. Is this the flavour that generations of Italian grandmothers were seeking? Or did I just fuck it up somewhere along the line?

So - it isn't really rule number 1, rule number 1 is READ THE RECIPE THE WHOLE WAY THROUGH. But I've lost count, so this can be the new rule number 1 - find out if you like the taste first.

It's a lovely colour though.

Saturday 9 August 2008

Another Friday Fish Fry

I had lots of different thoughts about what to have for dinner last night. The challenge ingredients for this month's Foodie Joust have been announced, and I have an idea, so I was thinking about doing that. Then I thought canneloni, made with some more of Heather's roasted tomato bechamel. And then I realised that I just wanted a rematch on the fried fish from last week.

Paul is now on holiday for 2 weeks, so he celebrated by buying me some nice champagne (it's a 100% chardonnay one, which isn't entirely to his taste, so I got most of it) and it was just the thing to go with a nice plate of fish. I think - despite the Greek technique and Spanish marinade - that I shall follow the Italian line and call it a fritto misto.

Some tiny baby courgettes (not from our garden) and a couple of trays of seafood mix (prawn, scallop and calamari) got 2 hours in the cazon en adobo marinade (made correctly with white wine vinegar this time) then flour, iced water and hot oil. Just a plate of sliced tomatoes, dressed with vinegar and salt on the side. We shared the plate of seafood between us and just picked away at it, while sipping the champagne. Rather romantic, really!

Sunday 3 August 2008

Fresh trout

Dinner tonight was caught, cleaned and cooked by Paul. I made salad and opened the front door so he could take the debris to the rubbish.

In the 8 years that I have known him, this is the second fish he has brought home. The first was a little bream, which was legal but really a 1-person fish. This fine rainbow trout clocked in at 800g (uncleaned) and made a very substantial meal.

He landed it just before 1800hrs, had the head and tail off so it fit in the pan, dusted it with seasoned flour (salt, white pepper and some smoked paprika) and into the pan by 2000hrs. A little sunflower oil, because after Friday's fish fry he is entirely on board with sunflower for frying fish. A fairly slow cook. And onto the plate.

Serendipitously, I am reading Cherry Cake & Ginger Beer, which features recipes for all the dishes in childrens' books that we longed to try. Even if the Christian message of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe went over my head the first few times it was read to me, the magic of superlatively fresh trout, followed by marmalade rolypoly was not. I got to the recipe for the marmalade rolypoly mid-afternoon, and was on the verge of getting dressed (it's Sunday - I didn't get past pyjamas) and going in search of suet. Fortunately sloth held me back, because after eating that beautiful slab of fish, I couldn't possibly face a suet pudding. Maybe next weekend...

Garden Mac & Cheese

I tend to think that the splatter index is the most useful measure of a cookbook. You can tell at a glance which books get properly used by the greasy fingermarks, oil splashes and fruit stains on the most opened pages. For me, hands down the most successful cookbook in the collection is the Australian Women's Weekly Italian Cooking Class. One oil-spattered page has both spinach with spirali and puttanesca - 2 dishes that arguably did more to nourish my teenage self than any others.

Making Heather's Garden Mac I was hit with a wave of nostalgia - the mid point of the dish when I had the pasta, spinach, leek and gammon in the pyrex dish reminded me so much of the spinach with spirali. Fancier pasta of course, but the same soothing pink, cream and green colours and the same indescribable smell of spinach and hot pasta. It was almost a shame to add the roasted tomato bechamel.

Glad I did though. She's onto something with that roasted tomato bechamel. I added half a dozen fat cloves of garlic to my roasting pan, so when I was squidging the tomatoes and deglazed juices into the bechamel they disappeared and were just evident as fleeting bursts of flavour. Can't wait to see what it'll do to a lasagne.

Saturday 2 August 2008

Fried fish

I've been feeling a bit down about cooking this week. Happy to eat, of course, but just a bit meh about actually planning and shopping and cooking meals.

But it was Friday yesterday, and I feel that Fridays you can go either way - the nice man can bring you a pizza, or you cook something impressive but easy. Yet again Peter provided the inspiration. This post of his on fried oysters intrigued me. Apparently in Greek tavernas they just chuck the seafood in seasoned flour, then dunk in iced water and into the hot oil. So that got me half way there.

You may remember back in April that I ate myself into an ecstatic trance in Spain. One of the dishes that really rocked my world was cazon en adobo (marinated fried fish). That got me the rest of the way there. I would marinade some fish in the Spanish way and then fry it in Peter's Greek way.

Greek-Spanish Fried Seafood

300g cod fillets (line caught, MSC approved etc. Actually this was an error of judgement - too flaky, delicious, but broke up. Monkfish or shark would have been better)
150g large green prawns
1tbs olive oil
3tbs vinegar (should have used white wine vinegar, but only had balsamic or Chinese red rice in, so used the Chinese, didn't want it too sticky)
1tsp minced garlic
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp hot smoked paprika
salt & pepper

Combine and refrigerate for as long as you've got. The recipes say 6 hours or overnight, I had 2 hours from me getting home to Paul getting home.

Toss in plain flour (didn't season the flour because there was enough seasoning in the marinade), plunge into iced water and deepfry. I used a mixture of olive and sunflower oils.

Serve with lemon wedges and a green salad.

Friday 1 August 2008

There is a great disturbance in the blogosphere

I'm a bit late jumping on this bandwagon, but this is outrageous. To summarise, a blogger called Melissa made a potato salad, inspired by a food site's potato salad. She modified it in a few ways, wrote it up her own way and gave them credit. Then she got a notice telling her to take it down because this mob don't give permission to reproduce recipes because theirs are tested and perfect.

How ridiculous. Is there a cook in the world who hasn't used almonds instead of hazelnuts because that was what was in the cupboard? Or used basil because their family doesn't like coriander? Or stuck the pot in the oven instead of stirring it on the stove? And then decided they preferred it that way. We all have. My cook books are littered with handwritten amendments "takes longer", "use half water half lemon juice", "good with beef as well". When my mother sends me recipes for things she usually tells me what the recipe says as well as what she did differently. That is how cooking works. You taste stuff, you change stuff and you share it.

The cooks I don't like are the mean-spirited ones. The ones who won't tell you a recipe, or who leave out an ingredient because they don't want you to get it right, or who tell you they followed x recipe without telling you that they used 3 different ingredients and a totally different method.

So leaving aside the patronising tone the PR person took with Melissa, or the legality of copyrighting potato salad, the approach they have taken is terribly miserly and entirely against the whole spirit of generosity and love that underpins cooking. Have they not read Like Water For Chocolate? I'd never even heard of these people before, but I am determined that they will not undermine the way I do things - eating the way I like to, taking inspiration from wherever I can find it and passing on everything I learn.


Last night our friends got a babysitter for the hurricane, so we seized the opportunity for a grownup night out. Even better - Penny was on strong antibiotics, so we had a designated driver! Woohoo! Our first pick - Marcello - was closed for a staff holiday, so Penny got on the line to a neighbour who knows stuff. The neighbour who knows stuff said that there was a Punjabi members club a few suburbs down from us where you don't need to be Punjabi or a member but the food is fantastic.

I won't keep you in suspense. She was right. The food was fantastic.

We over-ordered by a long way. I think it is safe to say that when we go back (and it is when, not if) we will not be ordering a starter and a main for each person. I think we could have halved our order and still been well-fed.

The meat samosas were good. The daal bhajia (sort of Indian-spiced felafels) were delicious. But it was the chilli chicken wings (10 wings to a serve) and chilli paneer that were exceptional. I swear there was at least 500g cheese on that plate! Delicious. It tipped me towards fullness before the mains even came out. The top picture is the chilli paneer - delicious chilli-glazed cubes of pressed cottage cheese (on the menu they said tofu, which gives an idea of the texture but I am sure it was dairy).

But the mains did come out. Lamb masala was given added succulence by being cooked on the bone. Goan fish curry was fragrant, not hot but perfectly spiced. The keema mattar was the best I have ever tasted, proving yet again that curried mince is nothing to be ashamed of. Chicken Dhansak was excellent. The crisply fried okra showed that the Indians really are the best in the world at preparing these hideous slimy vegetables. And then there was rice. And peshwari naan. And garlic naan.

The thing that made Sahib's (for that is what the place is called) so much better than any other Indian we've had in Britain is that everything tasted different. I get so bored & frustrated with ordering a couple of dishes and when they come out you can tell that they just have a pot of red sauce and a pot of brown sauce sitting waiting for pre-cooked lamb or chicken or vegetables to be added. Each dish we ordered was sensitively seasoned (even the full-on chilli kick of the paneer had a richness to the heat) and had varying textures.

It wasn't all plain sailing. I had to ask a couple of times for a glass of water, it was very, very noisy and it took more than half an hour from asking for the bill before they brought out the credit card reader. Those minor cavils aside, the food was so good that it baffles me how any other Indian restaurants stay in business. It wasn't cheap but the quality! And the quantity! They packed a doggy bag, and I have just had leftover fish curry and fried okra for lunch - and it was just as good as I thought it was last night.


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