Wednesday 30 December 2009

Partridge with garlic, sherry and saffron

This is pretty much a Spanish pollo al ajillo, chicken with garlic, done with partridge instead of chicken.

I browned the partridges (1 each) in olive oil in a Le Creuset dutch oven, and added a head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled. When the garlic cloves and partridges were nicely golden, I added a good pinch of saffron threads (which a friend had kindly brought me from Spain a month or so ago) and a good slurp of dry sherry, seasoned with salt and pepper, put the lid on and put it in a 180C oven and left it alone until the birds were cooked through and the sherry had reduced to a rich and delicious sauce.

The vegetables were an exercise in clearing the fridge - leek, pointed cabbage and broccoli, sauteed with a little Spanish ham.

The partridge breasts came off a bit dry. I think I should have cooked it breast side down, to take advantage of more of the sherry juices. But aside from that the flavour was fantastic and it ended up being a very pretty and luxurious-tasting dish.

Monday 28 December 2009

Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

This recipe (the second one on the page), from Skye Gyngell, is pretty good. I assumed it was an error when it called for 30g of chopped tinned tomatoes, because what would be the point? and added a whole can.

Is it better than our usual meat sauce? I don't think so. One of Paul's many virtues is that he makes a really amazing meat sauce, so it's pretty hard to beat. The oxtail did its slow-cooked thing and fell to delicious gelatinous threads, but I just wasn't convinced.

Still, if you happen to have an oxtail lurking in the freezer, you really could do worse. Especially at this time of year when it is quite nice to have the stove on for about 4 hours.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Ham & Cheese Croissants

This is one of those very useful things - a brunch recipe that you can prepare in advance, make for large numbers and is very simple, but tastes brilliant and is a real crowd-pleaser. They contain about a million calories, so I would recommend only having this for special occasions. And have some orange juice in your champagne, to make you feel more virtuous.

Because it is so simple, it pays to use some nice ingredients.

Ham & Cheese Croissants (serves 2)

4 croissants (all butter ones, not the ones with weird fats and shortening in them, and not the absolutely huge ones)
Dijon mustard
4 thick slices of good ham (this was a dry-cured, cherrywood smoked ham)
4 thick slices of gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 160C. Cut each croissant in half. Smear the cut surfaces with a little mustard. Fill each with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Put the top of each croissant back on and place them on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the croissants are browned and the cheese is oozy and beginning to take a bit of colour. Allow to rest for a couple of minutes before serving, just to avoid all your guests burning their mouths.

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope everyone has a very lovely Christmas Day, and that no one mentions That Thing That Aunty Marge Said.

Last year, some friends in the Caribbean sent me a Black Cake. This is a very moist, dark, extremely boozy cake served for weddings and Christmas and it is absolutely gorgeous. The things that make it different are the very finely chopped fruits and the use of caramelised sugar "browning" to give depth and colour. I was determined to make it for Christmas this year. I read a bunch of different recipes and came up with my own.

Caribbean-ish Black Cake

500g currants
500g dried figs (this should have been 250g prunes and 250g figs but my grocery delivery subbed the prunes for another pack of figs and I couldn't be bothered going out for prunes)
1 tin pitted black cherries, drained
100g mixed peel
100g blanched almonds
350ml dark rum
2tbs angostura bitters
1tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
180g caster sugar
100ml boiling water
Grated rind of 2 limes
2 cups plain flour
2tsp baking powder
250g butter
300g dark muscovado sugar
5 eggs

Some time beforehand - a day, a week, a month - put the fruit, almonds and spices in a large bowl. Pour over the rum, vanilla and angostura bitters. Cover tightly and leave until cake baking day.

On cake baking day, combine the caster sugar with a little bit of cold water in a heavy based saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then watch like a hawk while it boils and begins to caramelise. When it is dark brown and just before it burns, take off the heat and - with care, because it splutters and spits - stir in the boiling water. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 120C (ish - I will explain further).

Line cake tin/s with buttered paper. I used a large loaf tin and 5 chickpea tins (emptied and washed of course, and with the cut rim squashed back with pliers so I didn't cut myself and could get the cakes out), because I wanted to give some mini cakes as gifts.

Put the boozy fruit in a food processor (I had to do it in 3 batches because my processor is very small) and pulse briefly until chopped quite small, but not a homogenous paste.

In a very large bowl, or in fact my large pasta-cooking saucepan, cream together the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and baking powder, mix well, then stir in the fruit, lime zest and caramelised sugar.

Pour batter into prepared tins and place in water baths.

Bake until the cakes shrink from the sides of the tins and test done. For the small ones it was about 1 1/2 hours and I confess I got bored and increased the temperature to 140C. For the large one it was 3 hours.

Cool cakes in the tin for at least 24 hours before turning out. You could do the marzipan and royal icing thing, but these cakes are so moist I don't think it is necessary. I bought some silver ribbon and silver icing stars, and some cute cardboard presentation boxes for the little ones, and glued the stars on with a blob of apricot jam.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I tried a couple of other recipes, in preparation for The Hurricane's birthday party, but I ended up back with Paula Deen's red velvet cupcakes. I increased the cocoa powder to 1 heaped tablespoon per batch and decreased the oil to 1 cup. They came out beautifully! Tender, a good flavour and they turned out of the moulds very obediently.

I drizzled them with melted white chocolate and dusted with edible red glitter. I think the party is sure to be a success!

Monday 21 December 2009

Indian Beetroot Saute

We were having curry. We needed a side dish. We had beetroot. I found this recipe. It was really delicious.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Autumn Vegetable Lasagne

I'm a bit smug about this one. My original idea was to make pumpkin ravioli, using bought fresh lasagne sheets. But of course, "fresh" pasta like that just isn't soft enough to stick to itself, even with a good brushing of eggwhite. And I had an enormous amount of the pumpkin filling - far more than I would have needed for ravioli.

The pumpkin filling (which went on the top and bottom layers, was roasted onion squash, ricotta and parmesan, seasoned with nutmeg, sage and rosemary. The middle layer was red onion, mixed mushrooms and spinach, bound with a few spoonfuls of intensely-flavoured porcini and truffle puree. The bechamel wasn't as cheesy or highly-seasoned as I would normally do it, because I wanted the vegetables to have a good go at shining.

It turned out beautifully! We had small portions as a side dish with pheasant breasts, stuffed and wrapped in bacon, but it would make a pretty fab offering for the vegetarian guest at Christmas. Late Autumn in Britain on a plate.

We're off on holiday for a bit, visiting Paul's parents in Cape Town. But I've scheduled lots of posts of delicious things while we're gone, so you won't even notice!

Thursday 17 December 2009

Salsify Fritters

As I said before, I kept back a couple of the parboiled salsify roots to try Escoffier's salsify fritters.

I didn't really follow the recipe, just the notion that "the prior marinade is optional but very recommendable". So I marinated chunks of the parboiled and peeled salsify in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and a sprinkling of dried chilli and parsley. Then I drained them, tossed them in cornflour and shallow fried them in vegetable oil until crisp. Drained on kitchen towel, sprinkled with salt, they made a really fab little snack with a glass of something. Prepared like this, they had quite a similar flavour and texture to artichoke hearts. Definitely my preferred preparation for this vegetable!

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Welsh Rarebit Soup

When I had my last go at making garlic soup, the very clever My Year on the Grill suggested that it could go in a completely different direction and make a garlic, cheese and beer soup. Which is clearly genius.

I based the soup on shredded leeks, and of course leeks made me think of Wales and beer & cheese made me think of Welsh Rarebit, so here we have Welsh Rarebit Soup.

Welsh Rarebit Soup

knob of butter
4 medium sized leeks, cleaned and finely shredded
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 litre vegetable stock
300 ml beer - a nice light one, not too bitter. A wheat beer or something. I used a Belgian lager which was absolutely vile and didn't do me any favours
300 g strong cheddar, grated.
1 heaped tablespoon French mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and garlic and sweat gently until the leeks begin to collapse. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil then lower the heat, and simmer for about half an hour. Add the beer, then puree roughly with a stick blender. Doesn't need to be totally smooth. Add the mustard and cheese and reheat gently until the cheese is melted and the soup is just about to boil. Season with pepper and serve with hot buttered toast.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Salsifis à la creme - again

After the less-than-successful previous attempt at salsifis à la creme, I was determined to learn from my mistakes and have another go.

I read recipes. I parboiled them before attempting to peel them. In short, she can learn!

And they were fab. I still don't think they taste like either oysters or asparagus, but they were delicate, tender and delectable. Absolutely perfect with a pan-fried venison steak, a red wine reduction and spinach wilted with garlic. I've kept a couple of the parboiled salsify back, to try another classic recipe - the salsify fritter.

Friday 11 December 2009

Apple & Spice Vin Chaud

When it is cold outside and getting out from under the blanket seems like a real chore, you have to start looking for things to stoke the inner fires. Steaming mugs of mulled wine certainly do the job, and are one of the best things about the Christmas season in the Northern Hemisphere. This white wine and apple juice version is a really delicious alternative that tastes just as festive as the classic spiced red wine. I used about a quarter of the amount of sugar recommended, which was about right for my palate, and instead of a strip of orange peel I used a quartered calamondin. Warming, comforting, delicious and festive!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

My spaghetti squash bolognaise was so good that I decided that spaghetti squash should turn up on our menus more often. I had a couple of my not-entirely-successful parmesan custards left over, so I decided that the best possible use for them was a spaghetti squash carbonara.

I cut the spaghetti squash in half and laid them, cut side down, on a greased sheet of foil on a baking tray, and baked them for about 45 minutes on 180C. In a sautee pan I fried a couple of chopped cloves of garlic and a packet of snipped jamon in a little olive oil, then added the runny parmesan custards and another handful of grated parmesan. I scooped the seeds out of the baked and slightly cooled squash, then shredded the flesh into the sautee pan. When it was all piping hot, I divided it between our serving bowls and topped it with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Delicious! Much better than the original custards, and because of the squash it felt much lighter to eat than a cream-based pasta sauce usually is.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Garlic Soup - a second attempt

A couple of weeks ago I made some cauliflower soup. It was pretty good, but it really made both of us think of the garlic soup we had in Switzerland a couple of years ago.

I'd had an attempt at making it when we got back but it wasn't quite the way we'd remembered it. The cauliflower soup made me think that a base of a pureed vegetable might be the way to go, which led to this.

I used very finely sliced potatoes and the white part of leek, cooked briefly in butter and just enough vegetable stock to cover it until it was tender. When it was cool I pureed the vegetables with a couple of cloves of raw garlic. Then I put this thick puree back in the saucepan, thinned it with white wine and cream and gently reheated it and served it with some seared scallops on top.

This version was better than my previous attempt, but still not quite there. I think the potato base deadened the flavour too much. The next one will be a cauliflower version.

I'll be sending this to Deb for her Souper Sunday round-up.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Plum Tart

You may remember that about a year ago I made this apple tart. It was a recipe from FX Cuisine and it was both easy and delicious. And yet it wasn't quite right. It was quite eggy and one-dimensional and not all that I wanted it to be.

Now, I am pleased to present the perfected version. I used plums, taking advantage of the sharp edge they have when cooked. I added nuts and cinnamon. It was divine.

Plum Tart

500g small purple plums, quartered
200ml full-fat milk
70g raw sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g finely chopped hazelnuts
2 eggs
30ml vegetable oil

50g salted butter
50g muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, hazelnuts and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla and vegetable oil. Gradually add the milk while beating to a smooth batter (smooth-ish, given the chopped nuts). Add the quartered plums.

Tip the mixture into a pie plate, well-greased with butter and dusted with flour. Poke at the plums a bit so they are evenly distributed in the plate. Bake for 40 minutes.

Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the topping together until light and fluffy. Add the egg.

After 40 minutes pull the tart out of the oven, spread the topping over it evenly (very easy - it begins to melt on contact) and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes. When it is beautifully brown and enticing, pull it out and allow it to rest on a rack for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving with very cold cream and a glass of dessert wine.

Monday 30 November 2009

Meat-Free Monday: Gado Gado

Gado Gado is an Indonesian salad that combines raw and cooked vegetables, tofu and peanut sauce. It is seriously delicious and very hearty.

My version is not at all authentic. It was a cold night in the UK so I made the vegetables more seasonal and served it all a bit warmer than you'd usually have it.

Gado Gado (serves 2, abundantly)


1 bag bean shoots
half a peeled cucumber
half a shredded red cabbage
1 onion, sliced
2 carrots, cut into batons
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into batons
Fried tofu cubes (I used about 6 each because we like them)
1 hard boiled egg, peeled and cut into quarters (optional - obviously leave it out if you are serving a vegan)

Peanut Sauce

1tsp oil
125g crunchy peanut butter (please god choose a no sugar, no hydrogenated vegetable oil one - the ingredients should just be peanuts and maybe salt)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 shallots, finely chopped
chillies (this is between you and your palate - I used 1 very hot serrano chilli to give it some serious oomph)
water (200ml or thereabouts)
1tbs dark brown sugar or palm sugar
1 small can coconut cream
1/2 tsp grated ginger
2 dried kaffir lime leaves
1 tsp tamarind paste
1tbs soy sauce
Juice of a lime

Start by putting the sweet potato pieces in a roasting tin with a little oil, and baking it at 180C until soft and starting to brown.

Then make the sauce - in a medium-sized saucepan, heat the oil and add the garlic and shallots. When they are translucent add the chilli and peanut butter. When the peanut butter melts (stir it constantly, it is likely to catch) add the sugar, coconut cream, ginger, lime leaves, tamarind and soy sauce. Bring to the boil, and add enough water to loosen it to a good consistency. Bring to the boil again and add the juice of a lime. Remove from the heat.

When the sweet potato is just about done, do the other veg. Blanch the bean shoots and cucumber, drain well and divide between 2 large bowls. In a wok or saute pan, stir fry the cabbage, onion, carrot and tofu until the vegetables are tender but still slightly crunchy. Place a layer of the stirfried vegetables over the bean shoots and cucumber. Top this with slices of the roast sweet potato.

Pour a generous amount of the still-warm peanut sauce over the vegetables and garnish with the hard-boiled egg quarters. If you aren't using them, some shreds of crisp deep-fried shallots would be good instead. Or as well.

Any left-over sauce is really delicious cold as a dip.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toast

One of the best things I have eaten this year is the Parmesan Custard with Anchovy Toast at Le Cafe Anglais. My dining partner in crime Jude found that the recipe was available on t'internet, so I have been patiently biding my time and waiting for a moment when I could make it.

The moment came. And other than the fact that I reached for the wrong jar of red powder, so it was seasoned with smoked paprika instead of cayenne, I followed the recipe exactly. Sadly, it was a little disappointing. It wasn't as cheesy and it was a lot runnier than I remembered. The anchovy toasts (done in a frying pan and squashed with a spatula because I don't have a pannini press) were very delicious, and the whole thing made a decadent and delicious brunch. But it just wasn't as good as Rowley's. Might have to go back to try his again; see where I went wrong.

Wednesday 25 November 2009

Pumpkin gnocchi with mushrooms

First things first - this recipe does not work as written. As I was beating the mixture I realised that there was no possible way I'd be able to knead it and roll it. My options were either to keep adding flour, or to poach spoonfuls of the mixture.

I decided that there was so much mixture that adding flour to it would be crazy - we'd end up knee deep in gnocchi. Also, I didn't want to adulterate the flavour and colour of the pumpkin any further. So spoonfuls it would be.

I used 2 teaspoons to shape quenelles, dropping them into a small pan of simmering, salted water. When they floated, I lifted them out with a slotted spoon and put them, not quite touching, into a dish lined with butter and a sprinkling of semolina. Then I stored them in the fridge.

My grand plan was that these were going to be the main course of dinner for friends, one of whom doesn't really eat meat. I was going to use a porcini and truffle puree and some fresh mushrooms and sage leaves to sauce them. It was going to be delicious.

This all came unstuck when our early, light lunch became a late, large lunch. Further food was no longer appealling or desirable.

So the following day, I melted some butter in a saute pan, added quite a lot of garlic and added some of the gnocchi and very gently let them take a bit of colour. Then I added a punnet of oyster mushrooms, a couple of sliced white mushrooms, and some duxelles that I had in the freezer.

The gnocchi were still very tender, so I had to work carefully to avoid breaking them up, but fairly soon they were hot through, with the slightest crust on the outside, and the mushrooms were succulent. It made an excellent side dish to some venison sausages! And a good thing too, because I still have loads left in the fridge.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Bonfire Casserole

For this not-very-photogenic sausage casserole I stuck to the recipe, just halving the quantities and adding a couple of turnips that I had lying in the veg drawer. After all, sausage, apples, potatoes and 3 kinds of mustard in a creamy sauce is just about as good as cold weather food gets, isn't it?

It was seriously delicious. The Bramleys disappear into it completely to thicken the sauce and add a bit of sharpness, so if you have a family who doesn't like fruit with meat, don't tell them and they won't know. Lovely. And re-heated very well, so it's quite a good one to make in advance when you know you won't have much time and will want something tasty to come home to.

Friday 20 November 2009

Red Velvet Cake

Some time ago I heard myself offering to make cupcakes for a friend's daughter's birthday party. I said that my silicon rose moulds would be perfect for little birthday cakes for a 5 year old.

Then I realised that I had had more failures than successes with those bloody cake moulds and that I really needed to do a dry run or two.

I also decided that red velvet cakes would be terribly cute in rose shapes. I have never tasted red velvet cake before, but I thought it would be good.

I googled, and came upon Paula Deen's recipe. Now, you may not have come across Paula Deen before (she's fairly new to me - I don't think her shows are on TV here) but she is a Southern American TV cook and restaurateur who first came to my attention with a Brunch Burger featuring a burger patty, bacon and a fried egg sandwiched between glazed doughnuts. I figured the mind behind that burger had to know a thing or two about the quintessentially Southern red velvet cake.

I made a half quantity & used colouring paste instead of liquid food colouring. And they worked beautifully! They turned out without a fuss, they had a lovely light, open but moist texture and were pretty much fantastic.

I think when I make them for the actual birthday I will use a lot more cocoa powder, because the cakes sort of tasted vanilla-y and sweet, rather than having any sort of chocolate flavour to them. It'd also make the red colour richer. My camera totally freaked out and made them look a glowing orange, but they were actually a bright lipstick red. Can't wait to do them again!

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Salsifis à la creme

In my vegetable box recently was some salsify. As far as I know, I had never had salsify before, but I had a faint recollection of Elizabeth David mentioning a dish of salsify in a cream sauce.

At this point, a sensible person would have found a recipe. A sensible person would have read how to prepare the vegetable. But I was lazy and decided that it couldn't possibly be more complicated than peeling it, covering it with cream and baking it. Could it?

Well, the first thing to know is that the long roots ooze a latex-y sap, which sets on your fingers and will not shift. Hindsight research tells me that the thing to do is to boil them before you peel them to overcome this.

The second thing to know is that they take a long time to cook. I baked them in cream seasoned with nutmeg, salt and pepper for 50 minutes and it wasn't even close. I ended up doing them in the microwave for 10 minutes and they ended up tender, the cream reduced to a thick luscious sauce and it was the perfect accompaniment to roast chicken with squash and courgettes.

The third thing to know is that salsify has quite a lot in common with Jerusalem Artichokes. Including some of the effects on the digestion. So not really something to eat when your priest, potential lover or future employer are coming over later, unless you know they have a puerile sense of humour.

Sunday 15 November 2009

Saturday 14 November 2009

Venison stew with parsnip & apple mash

The lens got a bit steamed up on this one...

We had a houseguest who was getting all excited about seasonal produce in the UK. So I decided that we had to make a feature of game for at least one meal while she was with us!

I had some beetroot as well, so I scratched about the internet and found this recipe for a venison and beetroot casserole. I did it almost as written... but I used dried shiitake mushrooms instead of fresh chestnut mushrooms, didn't put carrots in and used beef stock instead of vegetable stock. And I didn't marinate the meat because I find that often wine-based marinades dry out the meat too much. And I finished the dish with a beurre manie, to thicken it slightly and give it a rich sheen.

As a side dish, I wanted something equally seasonal, so I decided on a parsnip mash.

Parsnip & Apple Mustard Mash

3 large parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 bramley apple, peeled and chopped
knob of butter
slurp of cream
1tbs seeded mustard (I used a cider mustard)
salt, white pepper & nutmeg

Boil the parsnips in salted water until tender. Drain and shake until dry. In a separate pan, in the tiniest bit of water, cook the apples until they are fluffy. Puree the apples and parsnips together (I used a food processor but a ricer or a fork would be just fine) with the butter, cream and mustard. Return to the pan and reheat, seasoning with salt, freshly ground white pepper and a little nutmeg.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Spaghetti Squash Bolognaise

After my spelt and squash risotto for Cook the Books, I had half a cooked spaghetti squash leftover. So later that week I took some of my roasted tomato sauce from the freezer and made a thick, meaty pasta sauce (adding an aubergine that had seen better days). When the sauce was cooked, I shredded the spaghetti squash flesh into it with a fork and let it simmer a couple of minutes to reheat. The sauce doesn't soak into the squash in the way it does to pasta, but for a lighter, low-carb option, it was very tasty!

Monday 9 November 2009

Meat Free Monday - Carrot Soup & Welsh Rarebit

As Tennyson said "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love". He could just as well have said "In the Autumn a young woman's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of melted cheese" but he seems to have idealised skinny, consumptive women who didn't know how good fondue and raclette could be.

The weather has turned cold and nothing seems more appetising than a simple bowl of soup and cheese on toast. I decided that instead of doing a regular grilled cheese on toast, I'd make it a bit fancier and do a rarebit - it's George Gaston's fault, he did one recently that gave me such a craving!

This is a good Meat-Free Monday meal, but I am also going to send it over to Deb for her Souper Sundays round up!

Carrot & Leek Soup

2 leeks, washed and sliced finely (this was an excuse to use my new mandolin)
500g carrots, sliced finely
vegetable stock

Melt the butter in a big saucepan, add the vegetables. When the leeks start to soften, cover with the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer until the leeks have collapsed to a puree and the carrots are soft. Season with salt and pepper.

Welsh Rarebit

4 slices of good, sturdy bread
1tsp butter
1tsp flour
1/2 cup brown ale
grated cheese (I used a mixture of mature chedder and parmesan)
worcestershire sauce
cayenne pepper
Dijon mustard

In a small pan, make a roux of the butter and flour. When it starts to bubble, gradually add the ale, stirring constantly until you have a smooth sauce. When the sauce comes to the boil, gradually add the grated cheese, stirring constantly while it melts. How much you need is a matter for you and your cardiologist - I used about 150g. When the cheese is almost melted, taste and season with a splash of worcestershire sauce, a sprinkle of cayenne pepper and a teaspoonful of mustard.

Place the slices of bread in a shallow baking dish. Pour the hot, smooth cheese over the slices of bread, and put the baking dish under the grill for a couple of minutes (watching closely) until the cheese colours and bubbles.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Quince Bakewell Pudding

You may remember that last year I made marmalade from our ornamental quinces. This year our crop was a lot smaller (the knobbly one is from the bonsai quince that Captain Haddock is growing) and I decided to try something different.

My plan was to peel and core them, poach them until tender in a sugar syrup and then preserve them in brandy. Well that didn't really work out at all. They collapsed in the sugar syrup into a fragrant mush, which then set into a very firm, tangy jam.

I decided to turn the jam into a classic English pastry - the Bakewell Pudding. The difference between a Bakewell Tart and a Bakewell Pudding is that the tart uses shortcrust and the pudding uses puff. There are probably other differences but that is the main one.

I followed this recipe, substituting a thick layer of quince jam for the raspberries and omitting the almond essence.

Delicious. Not too sweet, not too heavy, just a really delicious combination of fruit and almonds. With a hefty spoonful of clotted cream, naturally!

Thursday 5 November 2009

Nutmeg & Apple Buns

We had some friends staying for the weekend, so I decided that it'd be nice to make some spiced buns for breakfast.

These spiced plum buns worked well but I was keen to get something really traditionally British into them: the Bramley apple. Bramley's are what they call a cooking apple over here - they are quite sour and collapse into fluff when you cook them. They are the best thing in the world for making apple sauce to go with pork or goose.

I also wanted to make the buns a bit more decadent, so I had a crack at making a laminated dough. It worked very well, although I didn't do quite as many folds as I should have.

The friends I was making these for had sent me a gift of some lovely nutmeg jam from Grenada, so I wanted to feature that as well. To make the nutmeg flavour stand out I left the cardamom out of the dough, spread it thickly with the jam and sprinkled it with a chopped Bramley and a handful of dried sour cherries before rolling, slicing and baking.

I think next time I will definitely do the laminated dough again, but actually make a proper croissant pastry. These were lighter than a normal yeasted bun, and you could see how delicious and rich they would have been if I had persevered with the rolling and folding.

Tuesday 3 November 2009

Green Tomato Relish

This year - our third attempt - we finally managed to harvest some ripe tomatoes. Which I completely neglected to get a picture of. But then it started to get colder and we realised that we were going to have to harvest the remaining green tomatoes before frost got them.

So what to do with the green tomatoes? I decided to make some really simple green tomato and chilli relish.

I chopped the green tomatoes, a couple of onions and 4 ripe serrano chillies, and put them in a pan with some white wine vinegar, salt, sugar and celery seeds and cooked it until it was thick. Most of it I bottled to mature, but some got dolloped immediately onto thick, juicy cheeseburgers. Spicy, tangy and just how I like relish to be.

Saturday 31 October 2009

Happy Halloween

Australia doesn't really do Halloween. You get some kids trick or treating, and the odd person who throws a party to provide an excuse for dressing up as a slutty pirate, but it isn't particularly widespread. In the UK it runs much deeper, but the celebration now is still more informed by American TV than by traditional practices.

But this week in my veg box there was a small, smooth, orange pumpkin. And I just knew that it had to become my first jack o' lantern.

As it happens, the hardest part was scraping out the seeds. No matter what I tried I could NOT get the fibres out. The carved-away flesh joined another pumpkin in becoming a pot of velvety soup.

Friday 30 October 2009

Fig and Walnut Flapjacks

The other weekend I went to a dance festival. It wasn't the best-organised event I have ever been to - no joining instructions were sent out, no details were available about the facilities etc. So I was heading off for 6 hours of workshops without knowing if there was going to be food available. And you must know that for me that is an impossible situation.

So - just in case there was no food available - I decided to take a snack and a hell of a lot of water (the last festival I went to ran out of bottled water half-way through the last day). My snack needed to be nutritious, sustaining and portable. Something with oats and nuts seemed to fit the bill.

I decided on Nigel Slater's Fig and Pumpkin Seed Bars (at the bottom of this page). Of course, the pumpkin seeds that I was sure I had turned out to be sunflower seeds, but the substitution wasn't a problem. The walnut flavour was much more dominant than the sunflower seeds, and calling it a "bar" doesn't appropriately convey the sticky moistness so I renamed it.

As it happens, there was some food available, but a piece of my flapjack was very welcome in between the Dynamic Duos and Spins and Formations workshops and it saved me from whatever horrors lurked in the snack vending machine.

Wednesday 28 October 2009

Roast tomato sauce

A recent trip to Costco yielded a 6kg box of lovely ripe tomatoes. Paul and I decided to have a cook-off - split the box in half and each produce a tomato sauce to our own taste and then compare. But this is my blog so you only get to see my efforts...

I decided to concentrate the tomato flavour by roasting them. I peeled, quartered and seeded the tomatoes, then pushed the seeds through a sieve to get as many of the juices into the sauce as possible. I packed them in a single layer in a roasting tin, sprinkled a little olive oil over them and studded the tomatoes with whole peeled garlic cloves and a couple of sliced green chillies. A small seasoning of salt and into a slow oven for 2 hours.

The tomatoes cooked down almost to a puree. I split the cooked sauce into 3 portions, froze 2 and used one the following night for dinner.

We had a lot of rare roast beef left over from a previous meal. I'd been thinking about a week of beef sandwiches for lunch, but then I decided it had a better fate. Apparently it used to be traditional to mince the leftover Sunday roast and produce it for Monday dinner - as cottage pie or rissoles or something.

I chopped the beef (and another green chilli, just in case you were concerned by the green flecks in my mince) and put it through the mincer.

I fried a chopped onion and some sliced garlic in some olive oil, added a heap of dried herbs (rosemary, celery seed, oregano, thyme and marjoram) and a sliced yellow pepper. When the pepper was slightly softened I added the mince, then a portion of the roasted tomato sauce.

After a nice slow simmer I served it on wholemeal spaghetti with grated parmesan.

It was very tasty! The ground beef produced a much finer-textured sauce than raw mince does. There was a lot of liquid (normally my meat sauce can support a spoon) but it was very full-flavoured and much richer than I would have expected.

Sunday 25 October 2009

Cook the Books - French Lessons

This month's selection for Cook the Books is Peter Mayle's French Lessons: Adventures with Knife, Fork and Corkscrew. It's a series of short pieces on his gastronomic adventures around France and I have to say I was a bit bored by it. I loved his books A Year in Provence and Toujours, Provence so I'd been really looking forward to this one, but I just found it all a bit same-y. He goes somewhere for a festival celebrating a food that people in Britain don't usually eat, discovers it is delicious and that the locals are passionate about it and then he drinks too much. Rinse and repeat.

I wasn't particularly moved to eat any of the things he talked about. I wasn't even particularly moved to visit France and attend any of these festivals myself. I was a bit at a loss. And then I was watching Eating in the Sun on iPlayer and Nadia's challenge was to recreate a meal at Alain Ducasse's restaurant La Bastide de Moustiers. This was what I was looking for! All the countryside they showed in the episode was the Provencal landscape Mayle describes so lovingly in his other books and the care and attention the chefs at La Bastide de Moustiers put into their dishes was exactly what I wanted to convey about French food.

One of the dishes Nadia was challenged to cook was a sort of spelt risotto, with several different squash preparations and black truffles. I thought that tied in nicely with the truffle mass that Mayle attends in French Lessons.

I didn't follow the recipe exactly. For some reason every time I tried to read the recipe I went cross-eyed and got really confused, so I got the ingredients and then pretty much made it up. I softened chopped onion and garlic in some butter and olive oil, then added the pearled spelt and some finely chopped butternut. I added a splash of cava (because it was what I was drinking and I didn't want to open another bottle of white wine) and when it was absorbed I proceeded with hot vegetable stock, as if I was making a risotto. Towards the end of the cooking I stirred through half a jar of sliced truffles. These weren't the brand I have had before and unfortunately they were almost entirely lacking in flavour and aroma. Then I stirred through the shredded flesh of half a baked spaghetti squash and served the risotto topped with caramelly roast slices of butternut, some mustard cress and shaved pecorino pepato.

Aside from the disappointment of the truffles, it was a truly delicious autumn dish. I've never cooked with spelt before and while it didn't give the creamy starchiness that rice gives a risotto, it had a lovely nutty texture and I think it'd be a lot more forgiving of being cooked in advance and reheated. The different flavours and textures of the squash were really lovely. I served it to a largely vegetarian friend and he was either extremely polite or pretty impressed too. I will definitely make this again - but I'll probably skip the truffle and the first squash bit and just add the spaghetti squash at the end with cubes of roasted butternut stirred through.

And now I am saving for a weekend at La Bastide De Moustiers. Maybe 2012.

Friday 23 October 2009

Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons

When my foody friend started planning her trip several months ago, we agreed that when she was staying with us we would have a no-holds-barred, fuck-the-expense, blowout meal. And I knew just the place. Raymond Blanc's Le Manoir Aux Quat' Saisons has held 2 Michelin stars for 25 years and has won pretty much every other foody award going. And it isn't very far from where we live.

We have been there once before, but it was when Foodycat was but a baby blog and I was too shy to take pictures. No such reservations this time...

We sat in a lovely sunny bay window in the lounge, watching a host of ladybirds climb the stone windowframes. We sipped champagne, perused the menu and stuffed down the elegant canapes with a regrettable want of manners.

As well as some really lovely olives we were served two slate slabs bearing an enticing assortment. There was a piece of red pepper jelly (a bit like a fruit roll-up) wrapped around goats cheese mousse, a sort of mini pizza topped with more goats cheese, a crisp piece of almost lacy toast topped with marinated anchovies (like the Spanish boquerones, not like the canned ones you put on pizza!), a crisply fried ball of courgette risotto, a square potato crisp topped with salmon tartare and caviar, and a choux puff filled with foie gras. All the ones I tried were delicious, but I really felt that fewer would have been better! It was just too many flavours.

We chose the Les Classiques du Manoir aux Quat'Saisons - five courses of Raymond Blanc's greatest hits.

We ordered a half bottle of 2006 La Forest Chablis Premier Cru to go with the first portion of the meal. This sort of turned out to be a bad idea, because it was absolutely sublime - buttery, rich and lovely - and it would have been much better to get a whole bottle. On the other hand, it also allowed us to witness one of the subtle touches that shows why Le Manoir has kept their Michelin stars for so long. Paul asked the (absurdly young but accomplished) wine waiter to leave the empty bottle on the table so that he could get the details of the wine. The waiter, without missing a beat said "Would you like us to remove the label for you?" and in about 10 minutes the label was returned to us, mounted on a pretty postcard, all ready to be placed in Paul's wine diary (if he were organised enough to keep such a thing).

The first dish on the menu was a beetroot terrine. This was on the menu the last time we were here and it was even better this time! As well as the central beetroot terrine, there were pieces of three different coloured beetroots, some beetroot puree, two coloured crisps and some baby beet leaves. All crowned with a wonderful horseradish creme fraiche. The thing that makes it so amazing is that every element tastes subtly different, so the flavour is as varied as the colour. Just brilliant.

The next course was a wild mushroom risotto. Everything risotto should be but seldom is! It was soft and creamy, but still with some texture to the rice. It was topped with sauteed wild mushrooms, some baby leaves and some very generous slices of truffle.

The fish course was the only let down - and don't get me wrong, if I'd eaten it anywhere else I would have been overwhelmed, but it just wasn't up to the standard of the rest. A tender piece of Cornish brill, topped with the plumpest, sweetest scallop I have ever tasted, but the subtle, buttery sauce didn't add a lot and the waitress couldn't identify the vegetables with it. There were ribbons of cucumber (she said they were leeks) and something that I suspect may have been some form of seaweed. Of course, we'd finished the gorgeous Chablis by this time, and were on to a very nice red wine - but it couldn't compete with the Chablis and it didn't do the fish any favours.

The lamb that followed made everything better. A pile of couscous flavoured with preserved lemon was topped with a really delicious rare lamb cutlet, with a little pile of sticky, tender braised lamb shank meat, a half kidney that finally made me understand why people eat kidneys, a smear of the most velvety aubergine puree and half a tiny artichoke heart. I could eat that dish every day for a week.

When the dessert arrived I realised I had made a mistake. Because we were having a set menu, I didn't pay all that much attention to the details. So what I saw on the menu for dessert was "Bitter cocoa sorbet" but I had missed the all-important second phrase "... concealed in a pistachio souffle". Oh my. I adore a hot souffle, so it was a wonderful surprise. It was a very sweet, delicately green cloud, and then nestled in the bottom of the dish was a nugget of the darkest, bitterest chocolate sorbet ever. A perfect combination! The sorbet was just beginning to melt, adding a little more moisture and richness to the souffle. Divine.

We moved back into the lounge for coffee and petite fours. I had a lovely pot of verbena tisane, which is one of my more recent discoveries as a digestif. Very soothing to a full stomach! The array of petite fours was amazing - liquorice icecream covered in crisp chocolate, pistachio macaroons, pistachio sponge topped with apricot preserve, a rich salted caramel and chocolate tart, a white chocolate cup filled with cream and mango, a chocolate truffle topped with gold leaf, squares of chewy chocolate fudge.

Eventually we felt able to take a wander around the gardens. I include this picture of Paul & me looking happy and well-fed because it is a particularly nice photo of my lovely husband.

The vegetable gardens are amazing - and it was so nice to see men in chefs whites ducking through with a basket and a pair of scissors, getting ready for the evening service.

I've never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant in a city, so I just can't imagine what they can offer to make the total experience on a par with Le Manoir. Now to start saving for my next lunch there!


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