Sunday 26 April 2009

St George's Day Ale Dinner

April 23rd is St George's Day - England's National Day. It isn't a public holiday (which is galling to a lot of people since St Andrews Day is a holiday in Scotland and St Patricks Day is a holiday in Northern Ireland) but there are some festivities. The pub decided to do a special dinner with English food and matched ales to celebrate.

As a starter, I had a fabulous rabbit, black pudding and egg salad. The mixed leaves it was on were a bit on the fatigued side, but the mustard dressing had enough zing to stand up to the rich black pudding, and the flavours of the egg, crumbled black pudding and rabbit worked beautifully together. The ale to accompany it was Robinsons Squires Gold - which was very nice really.

For people who can't come at the idea of eating bunnies or blood sausage (or don't like eggs) there was a roasted portobello mushroom filled with tomatoes and bechamel. Which looked pretty good too.

As the main course there was what was described as "Rump of Salt Marsh Spring Lamb served with Grilled New Season Asparagus, Crushed New Potatoes and a Port & Cranberry Jus". Well, for one thing I am fairly sure that it was a leg steak, rather than a rump. And the jus was the most god-awful, ill-conceived and poorly executed sauce I have eaten in ages. Completely acid, with no sign of port, it threatened to overwhelm the lamb and lovely vegetables. And from the comments at the other tables, we weren't the only ones who thought so. The chef can't possibly have tasted it.

The ale for this course was Charles Wells Bombadier. Which isn't a bad beer, but I just couldn't be bothered with it, so I moved onto wine for the rest of the evening. The waitress very kindly packaged up the undrunk beers for us to take home.

The dessert was a classic Eton Mess. The combination of berries, meringue and cream is so, so good! I could have had seconds. The beer to accompany that was Innis & Gunn Original. I was quite interested to see how it would match with the dessert, but not interested enough to actually drink it. Instead, we had it at a barbecue last night. It was very pleasant - quite light and delicate. I think it would have been OK.

Friday 24 April 2009

Torrijas - Spanish French Toast

I've been absolutely craving one of the dishes I tried in Spain last year. Torrijas. This Easter specialty is like boozy French toast and was absolutely delicious. You could have it as a dessert, but I made it for a leisurely brunch with many cups of coffee.

Torrijas (for 2)

2 eggs
1/4 cup sherry (I used a dry amontillado)
4 thick slices of good but stale bread
butter for frying
1/4 cup maple syrup
2 tbs more sherry
sprinkle ground cinnamon

Beat the eggs with the sherry. Dip 2 slices of the bread into the egg mixture on both sides.

Heat a frying pan and add a knob of butter. When the butter froths, add the first slices of bread and add the second slices to the egg mixture.

In an ovenproof baking dish, mix the maple syrup, extra sherry and cinnamon. Turn the oven on to 140C.

Now it is time to flip the first 2 pieces of toast in the pan, and flip the second 2 in the egg mixture.

Put the kettle on for the coffee.

Flip the first 2 pieces of toast into the dish of syrup and put it into the preheated oven.

Add an extra dab of butter to the frying pan if you think it needs it. Put the second 2 pieces of toast into the frying pan.

When those are done on both sides, get them onto your plates. Pull the warm, syrup-soaked ones out of the oven and put one of them on each plate too, and pour the rest of the warm, cinnamony, boozy syrup over them.

If you were serving this for dessert, some cream would be a good thing.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Prawn & cashew spring rolls

This was supposed to just be a light snack - but it ended up being a bit more substantial so we didn't end up having the main course! It's a big cop-out really, lots of bits from the supermarket thrown together to be greater than the sum of their parts. These would be great for a summer lunch party.

Prawn & Cashew Rice Paper Rolls

1 packet cooked king prawns in chilli and coriander
1/2 pack roasted cashews
1 bunch coriander
1 bunch basil
10 rounds of rice paper

Put the prawns in a bowl, chop roughly together the herbs and cashews and add to the prawns. One at a time, soak the rice paper rounds in a bowl of warm water, put a couple of tablespoons of the prawn mixture on one end and roll up firmly. Serve with dipping sauce.

Vietnamese Dipping Sauce (from Bill Granger)

2 tbs hoi sin sauce
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs soy sauce
a couple of drips of roasted sesame oil

Mix all the ingredients in a ramekin.

Monday 20 April 2009

Kleftiko for Greek Orthodox Easter

ΚΑΛΟ ΠΑΣΧΑ! Which I have reason to believe means Happy Easter in Greek. Now, you know how I love appropriating other people's holidays, so I thought I would extend the Easter love and do something Greek to commemorate Easter in the Greek community.

I made tsoureki once years ago and the red eggs exploded in the oven and it didn't rise very well, so I decided to play it safe and make kleftiko. I hope that it is recognisable to the knowledgeable as kleftiko...


1 shoulder of lamb, on the bone
8 cloves of garlic, peeled but whole
1 tbs dried wild oregano
2 tbs olive oil
1 lemon
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 130C. Put 2 very long sheets of greaseproof paper at right angles in a medium sized roasting tin (you are making a parcel, so you want the paper to enclose the meat completely) and sprinkle it with half of the oregano and half the olive oil.

Put the lamb shoulder into the tin. Squeeze the lemon over the meat and tuck the squeezed halves into the tin. Put the cloves of garlic around the meat. Sprinkle with the cinnamon, the rest of the oregano, the olive oil and a goodly amount of salt and pepper.

Fold the paper up into a parcel, leaving some room for air to circulate.

Seal the parcel with a wooden clothespeg.

Put in the oven and leave for 5 hours.

The meat falls from the bone in sticky, tender shreds. I made a sort of sauce from 100g feta, mashed, 1/2 clove of garlic, chopped, 1/2 tsp chopped chilli and the juice of a lemon, which I sort of blobbed on the side. I also sauteed some baby courgettes with garlic and tomatoes, and zapped some mangetout in the microwave.

Serve with the best red wine you can muster - which in this case was a 2002 Gartelmann's Merlot, from the Hunter Valley in NSW. This wine has been through several house moves with us, and is drinking extremely well now. Light, still quite fruity, delicate but with enough oomph to get through the feta and chilli. It warranted getting out the good glasses.

Sunday 19 April 2009

School holiday treat - St Johns

Yes, it is that time again. The school holidays. So Jude and I have been racking our brains for the last month or so on where to go for our treat lunch. We finally settled on St John. Allow me to suggest that the squeamish run away and play, and come back in a couple of days when I will have something non-confrontational for you.

St John does offal. It does game. It does unusual cuts of meat that you are not particularly likely to see in other places. And it does them really very well.

I tend to think that the condition of the loos tells you a lot about a restaurant. The loos at St John are immaculately clean and white tiled. The hand soap is from Cowshed (which I love) and the hand dryer is a Dyson Airblade (which is so good it has actually given me an opinion on hand drying). So what we are seeing is simplicity and minute attention to detail.

Best to get the downside out of the way fast. The lovely sourdough bread that Jude nibbled and I wolfed while we read the menus would have been much better served with side plates. I thought that was the only wrong note for the day. I hate buttering my bread on the table, and with slices of bread it isn't like rolls where it is easy enough to break off bits and hold them in your hand to butter them. Pet hate of mine.

Moving on...

The starter they are noted for is the bone marrow. Simply roasted, presented with beautifully grilled toast, parsley salad and damp grey salt, you are instructed to scoop the marrow onto the toast, sprinkle with the salt and top with a little of the salad. The little bite I had of that one was fatty, rich and delectable. Jude said that she would never eat another starter if it was on the menu.

I had quite a hard time choosing a starter. They had brown crab on toast, which I adore, and anywhere else it would have been a certainty, but I thought I should try something else. They had grilled razor clams, and I have always said I wanted to try razor clams, so I gave them a go. Having seen this footage of Rick Stein catching them, I somehow thought they would be a bit rubbery. They weren't. The texture was more like a scallop than a clam, sweet, meaty and yet delicate, set off very nicely by the salsa verde and the slight charring of the shells. I borrowed some of Jude's toast to mop up the juices.

I found it much easier to pick a main course. I thought the pigeon, cabbage and bacon sounded fabulous. And it was pretty good. The cabbage was slightly over salted, and the way it presented I was looking for the tang of sauerkraut which wasn't there. Not the fault of the dish, just my expectation when seeing finely shredded, slowly cooked white cabbage. It had the mouthfeel of sauerkraut, just not the flavour. The big lardons of tender bacon through it made up for that though! The pigeon breast meat was lovely and gamey, cooked just a bit more rare than medium, which is how I like it, but it meant the thighs and wings were just a bit too tough to be edible.

I think on the main courses Jude made the better choice. Her lamb sweetbreads with peas and mint were just lovely. I have had sweetbreads before - and not been particularly wowed by them. These were delicious. Tender and creamy, rich but not cloying with the mint, peas and onions.

We shared some tiny little potatoes, cooked in their jackets. I could have eaten those potatoes all day.

With our meals we shared a bottle of a very nice Minervois. A red wine, but quite light and (I thought) well suited to our food. Something I really liked was that the wine list is arranged in order of prices, so it was quite easy to draw my line in the sand of what I wanted to pay for a bottle. And there were quite a few bottles for less than £30, which was very pleasing!

The dessert menu was too hard to resist. Our plan to share half a dozen freshly baked madeleines came to nothing. I was very tempted by the raspberry ripple icecream. And then I was very tempted by the treacle tart. And then I thought it would be nice if there was someone willing to share the marmalade sponge for 2 with me. And then I thought eccles cakes with lancashire cheese would be good.

Jude was much more focussed. She spotted the lemon sorbet with Russian vodka and ordered it with a minimum of fuss or vacillation. It was a wonderful sorbet! Just nudging at the edge of being too sharp without going over it; perfectly smooth without a hint of icyness.

I opted for the buttermilk pudding with prunes: Jude thought you'd have to have a nursery food fetish to be interested in that. Which I do - but I was actually thinking more of my mother's sublime buttermilk pannacotta. This was a softer set than a pannacotta, closer to yoghurt really. I couldn't believe they managed to turn it out! It was vanilla-y and lemon-y and lactic-y and gorgeous. The prunes were good. They would have been better if they'd been plumped up in some Pedro Ximenez or armangac. The shortbread fingers showed just how short it can be. Just lovely.

The classiest moment of the meal came at the end. When Jude's starter was cleared, she'd asked if her marrowbones could be wrapped up to take home for her dog. At the end of the meal she was presented with a bag containing about 10 of the bones. He is going to be a very happy puppy!

Oh - and I forgot to say that Fergus Henderson was there, chatting to a couple of people and dealing with suppliers. That is very, very cool.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Eisbein and Sauerkraut

Does anyone else remember the Richard Scarry story of Brave Pierre Bear? Brave Pierre Bear lives way up North, he fishes, he builds canoes, he snowshoes and he shoots moose. And after shooting a moose he makes moose pies, moose cakes and 13 jars of minced moose meat.

I have been feeling very much like Brave Pierre Bear every time I opened the fridge this week. It seemed that there were pork products everywhere I looked. I had a tray of pork skins in salt, waiting to be made into scratchings, a tub of pork belly in a cure for bacon, and another tub of pork hock being cured for eisbein.

Eisbein isn't one of my culinary traditions. I've had it a couple of times in South Africa and thought it was delicious, although far too big a portion! So I decided one hock between the two of us would be plenty. I sort of followed this recipe, using a dry rub of salt, pepper, garlic and juniper berries. Then I slowly roasted it for 2 hours, basting it with a dark ale as I went, until the meat was meltingly tender and the skin was dark and sticky.

I served it with sauerkraut cooked with apples and white wine, and some spatzli. Now, spatzli ARE part of my culinary heritage, and I fear Grossmami would turn in her grave at the sight of them. For one thing, I used a ricer, instead of cutting them from a board into the water the way she did. And I had the ricer too far away from the water, and my water wasn't deep enough, so they clumped together a bit. On the other hand, they were light and the flavour was very good.

The other downside, of course, is that I produced a dismally beige plate of food. Even using red apples and leaving the skin on would have helped! The tiniest sprig of parsley, perhaps? Good, rich comforting flavours, even if it looks unappealling.

Thursday 16 April 2009

Home made pork scratchings

Ever since Alex posted about his homemade, baked pork scratchings, I have been wanting to do them. My favourite bar snack, in the privacy of my own home, and what could be simpler?
You just salt some pork skin, leave it in the fridge for a couple of days to dry out thoroughly, and roast them until they crackle. Right?

Well, my first problem was getting the pork skins. Our local butcher isn't a proper butcher - they get pre-wrapped cuts of meat from some sort of central depot, and they have no idea of the provenance of any of the meat, so I don't shop there.

What I ended up doing was ordering a couple of nice, organic rolled pork belly joints from the Well Hung Meat Company, with the intention of making bacon from the meat, and using the skins for the scratchings.

I cut the skins into pieces (using kitchen scissors - much easier to handle than a knife), salted them and put them uncovered into the fridge for a couple of days.
Then I carefully wiped off the salt and water that had leached out of them, put them in a baking tin, dusted them with fennel pollen and roasted them, according to Alex's instructions. This was my second problem. Alex said it should take about 90 minutes, starting at 180C and reducing the heat to 140C. Well, after 2 hours at 140C I put the heat back up to 180C and it still took a total of 4 hours to crisp properly!

The end result was fabulous - the perfect texture and a wonderful aroma from the fennel pollen, but having the oven on for 4 hours just for this is a bit too extravagant. Still - if you can find something better with a glass of German wheat beer, I would like to hear about it!

Wednesday 15 April 2009

Layered Dip

This is pretty much a straight rip off from Heather's 5-layer dip. It looked so good and so easy that I just couldn't resist.

Note to self - smaller portion next time!

The peculiar-looking objects in the bowl are blue corn chips. Actually they are more of a dark purple. Just the thing for scooping up the layers of refried beans, melted cheese, salsa, chicken and guacamole (I did a layer of salsa instead of Heather's layer of of sour cream).

Monday 13 April 2009

Salt cod with fennel and saffron

Back in January I saw these recipes from Skye Gyngell, and thought the salt cod with fennel, tomato and saffron looked fantastic. Then it took me 3 months to find a supplier of salt cod. Everything was lined up to be delicious - tomatoes, onions, fennel, chilli, saffron, white wine and salt cod. I crushed some butterbeans with parsley, lemon juice and garlic. And yet, and yet... It just wasn't there. I think the pieces of cod needed to bake in the sauce for maybe half an hour, maybe longer, in order to have a proper flavour exchange and get to real succulence. As it was, the fish just sat in the sauce without being really connected to it. At least now I know where to get the salt cod, so I can try again.

Sunday 12 April 2009

Hot Cross Buns

We are at home this weekend. For once we've got a long weekend and no fixed plans. And it is wonderful! So I am taking full advantage.

I've taken an extra day off work and got my teeth into a few projects. And - because we're always away for Christmas so I never get a Christmas tree - I have decorated an Easter tree. That's my Lindt bunny at the bottom of the tree. I can happily avoid most Easter eggs (I really don't like cheap chocolate) but I do get very sad and sulky if I don't get my Lindt bunny.

And I have had the time to do a bit of traditional baking. Whether you are celebrating the resurrection of Christ, or honouring Eostre with the four quarters of the moon, the hot cross bun is a beautiful thing when done well. Sadly, I have never been able to do them well.

Last weekend I tried a friend's tried-and-true recipe, which didn't work for me at all. So I went back to the drawing board. Natashya's lemon & currant hot cross buns looked so utterly perfect that I knew that was the way forward. Of course, I couldn't resist tinkering with the recipe a bit, and it worked out really well, so I am proud to present:

Cherry and Saffron Hot Cross Buns

1 cup lukewarm water
1 tbs honey
1 1/2 tbs dry yeast
1 cup semi-skimmed milk, at room temperature
1/2 cup caster sugar
A big pinch of saffron stamens
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups strong white flour
1 cup ground almonds
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 cup dried sour cherries
1/4 cup chopped mixed peel
extra flour for dusting

Hot Lemon Glaze:

1/2 cup caster sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

Icing for crosses:

3/4 cup icing sugar, sifted (I used golden organic icing sugar, so my crosses were a delicate caramel colour. Normal icing sugar will give you white crosses. A drop of red food colouring will give you pink crosses which would be nice if you have 4 year old girls in the house)
1 Tbsp. lemon juice

1. For the dough, add the yeast to the warm water and honey and let sit for about 10 minutes, until there is a good thick froth on the surface. Add the saffron and vanilla to the milk and also leave about 5 minutes, until the saffron colour has leached through the milk.

2. Mix the sugar, lemon zest, flour, ground almonds, salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and dried fruit in a large bowl. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture and the milk mixture. Using your hands, knead until sticky but elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm, draft-free place for 1 1/2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.

3. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface, knead lightly to knock back and cut into 12 roughly equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a ball and place in a greased 9x13-inch cake pan (I used a pyrex lasagne dish). Cover pan loosely with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for another 45 minutes.

4. Preheat oven to 180C.

5. Bake buns for 40 - 45 minutes, until a rich golden colour. While buns are baking, prepare the hot glaze.

6. For hot glaze, stir sugar and lemon juice in a small pan over medium heat until sugar has dissolved and the glaze just comes to the boil. When buns come out of the oven, poke holes with a bamboo skewer and cut down between them (they will have risen together). Brush buns with glaze repeatedly until it has all been used up, allowing glaze to soak in to buns. Return the glazed buns to the (turned off) oven for 10 minutes, then remove and let buns cool in pan.

7. For icing, beat icing sugar and a teaspoonful of lemon juice, adding a little more lemon juice as needed until it is thick and smooth. Pipe a cross of icing onto each cooled bun. If the buns aren't completely cool - for example, because you want to eat one immediately with a cup of tea - the cross will spread out a bit, but be none the worse for that. Store buns in pan until ready to serve. The buns are best served on the day they are baked but the following day, split and thickly buttered they will still be acceptable!The ground almonds give them a bit more moisture than your traditional HCB.

Friday 10 April 2009

A serious steak

I know I have shown you thick forerib steaks, on the bone, cooked on the barbecue before, but this guy was too gorgeous not to photograph. This one got 20 minutes a side, mostly with the lid on and it came out perfectly pink in the middle. Served with oyster mushrooms, sauteed and finished with a persillade, and some barbecued baby leeks and asparagus.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Tandoori lamb chops

One of the very nicest things at our favourite Indian restaurant are the tandoori lamb chops. They are so good that Certain People have been known to order a dish of them as a starter and then a second dish of them as a main course. Which is 10 fat, delicious lamb cutlets.

In an effort to replicate the deliciousness, I have had a jar of tandoori paste in the cupboard for 4 months. Not to mature, just waiting for barbecue season. And then we had to wait a bit longer, until British lamb was available. I can't justify the airmiles for New Zealand lamb.

Half a jar of tandoori paste, mixed with a tub of plain yoghurt. Thick mid-loin chops, layered with the marinade and left for 6 hours. A hot charcoal fire. Served with asparagus, tomato and aubergine, and a wedge of lemon. Almost as good as Sahibs.

HOLD THE PRESSES: I have just been informed that a plate of chops at Sahibs is 6 cutlets - so Certain People actually will eat 12 of them for dinner. And snack on my chilli paneer.

Monday 6 April 2009

My new favourite thing

A while ago I decided that going to the supermarket was for the birds. A succession of Sundays where we had to cut short whatever we were doing in order to do some grocery shopping made me very grumpy. So I started to get my groceries delivered. And I really can't see a downside to it:
  • I can run to the kitchen cupboard mid-order to see if we need rice
  • I can have one tab open with my order and one tab open with my recipe, so I don't forget to buy important things (doesn't mean I actually remember to put the bayleaf in the bloody dish when I cook it though)
  • I can comparison-shop much more easily
  • I can take advantage of special offers more easily (I tend not to bulk-buy if I have to carry the shopping home!)
  • The groceries come from the same central warehouse that the store is supplied by - so fresh vegetables and meat tends to last longer
Which is all good, really. I also find that I am more disciplined - I do less impulse buying. On the other hand, I've tried a few new things that I probably wouldn't have tasted because they were on special offer.

Like the camembert with truffle butter I had this weekend. This stuff is amazing! It's made by a Swiss company, Baer, who seem to be responsible for a lot of the cheapier, less characterful soft cheeses that you see in the supermarket. This cheese is in a totally different class to their other output. It's hexagonal, and I found that a wedge bisecting a side of the hexagon was the perfect size to nestle on a spelt cracker. The bloomy rind has a nice, strong mushroomy smell, and when you cut into it the aroma of the layer of truffle butter complements and doesn't overwhelm that smell. It's not a luscious, ripe and runny camembert but the butter adds richness while the truffles add a bit of luxury. Paul thought that it smelled like his socks. I thought it was sexier than that by a substantial margin. Not an every day indulgence, but a really gorgeous treat.

Sunday 5 April 2009

Australian Wine Dinner

For the first time since we've been going to the Rose & Crown wine-tasting dinners, they did an Australian theme. We spent some time pondering what this might mean in terms of matched food, and came up with prawns, lamb and pavlova served with Jacobs Creek and McGuigans. And we were wrong on all counts.

We started with a wonderful spicy pumpkin soup with warm damper (made by someone who has never had damper, I suspect - it was a bit weird) which went beautifully with the 2008 Billi Billi Pinot Grigio. The Pinot Grigio was a bit fruitier than you'd usually expect, so the big hit of spice and the thick, creamy, sweet pumpkin soup was a very good match.

The second course was a barramundi fillet served with crispy leeks and a vermouth sauce. I tend to think that barramundi is a bit over-rated, and I would have been happier with something caught a bit closer to Hertfordshire, but this was a pretty good effort. Nicely cooked white fish with a bit of green god-knows-what and a well-seasoned creamy sauce. They made a pretty brave (but good) call and served a red wine with the fish - a lovely light, dry, 2007 Notley Gorge Pinot Noir.

The main course was another pretty brave call - kangaroo fillet.
Kangaroo is a delicious, dark, lean meat, not that different to venison, but people come over all sentimental about how cute they are and don't want to eat Skippy. Well, Bambi and Thumper and Babe are pretty darn cute too. But they are also tasty. Kangaroo was also a pretty brave choice because it can turn to boot leather very easily. And we did notice a couple at a table near us struggling to get a knife through their portions. But the portions served to us were very nicely done - tender and just pink. The crispy leeks (which hadn't turned up with the barramundi), tart fruity sauce ("riberry" - whatever that is) and roesti made a very well-composed dish. And they stood up to the thuggish brutality of the 2002 Eden Valley Shiraz, from Peter Lehmann. I actually got the best part of 2 glasses of the shiraz - it was much bigger than Paul likes - and I thoroughly enjoyed the impenetrable darkness of the colour and the blackcurrant strepsil flavour. I'd never really experienced dark fruit and menthol so clearly in a glass of wine. I may, in fact, have been reminded of a youthful party involving a glass of ribena and an Alpine Light cigarette.

For dessert, we had something described as a lamington, which no Scout pack would recognise as such. A heavy chocolate cake, sandwiched with jam, covered in an obscenely rich bitter chocolate ganache, sprinkled with coconut and served with cream. It was very good - but not really what I want when I want a lamington. The Skillogalee Liquer Muscat that was served with it was wonderful though. Such a classic Australian wine! And almost rich and sweet enough to do battle with the chocolate ganache. Quite a feat.

Friday 3 April 2009

Befores and Afters

Having determined that I was going to make gnocchi and pesto for our guests, I had to come up with something to snack on before hand, and a dessert to follow.

Artichoke fritters would be hot and fairly substantial with a glass of something while we were chatting and I was cooking the gnocchi in small batches. They also look spectacular and provide a nice crispy crunch which would be a good contrast with the soft gnocchi.

For dessert I made a boozy citrussy trifle. I don't like jelly in trifle, so I never put it in.

Boozy Orange Trifle

1 madeira cake (or other plain loaf cake)
2 tbs whisky marmalade
4 navel oranges
1/4 cup booze (I used the brandy from my bottle of calamondins, sweet sherry, marsala or madeira would be OK too)
500ml good quality vanilla custard
4 calamondins in brandy (or juice of half an orange, zest of half an orange and 2tbs booze)
400ml cream

Cut the cake in half horizontally, smear with the marmalade and stick it back together. Cut the sandwiched cake into 1.5cm slices and use to line a glass bowl.

Pare the zest from the oranges and set aside. Cut the peel off the oranges and cut between the segments, collecting the juice. Mix the juice with the booze and sprinkle over the cake slices in the bowl.

Place the orange segments in the bowl and top with the custard.

Puree the calamondins with another spoonful of the brandy they were bottled in, mix with the cream and whisk to a soft syllabub, and pour that over the custard.

Garnish with the zest from the oranges, cut into julienne and candied.

Serves 5 people with 4 having second helpings and 2 finishing it later on for supper.

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Gnocchi fit for an Italian Fraternal Organisation

In the latest "Cook the Books" bookclub, we've been reading Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential.

I'm actually faintly ashamed that I hadn't read it before. I have had many people tell me that I had to read it because I would love it, but somehow I never got around to it. And they were right - I did just love it.

I loved his no-holds-barred style, I loved the minutiae of life in a professional kitchen and I loved how clearly you could hear his voice. It reads very much like his narration on some of his TV shows. So I guess he didn't have a ghostwriter. Which makes for a pleasant change!

I am not one of those enthusiastic amateur cooks who imagines going pro one day. I don't want to run a pub, or a cafe, or win Masterchef (unless I get a newspaper column out of it). I like my sleep too much. But getting a comfy lounge chair view of the life was brilliant.

It was quite difficult to choose something to cook that represented the book for me. Would it be something piled into a ring? Would it be garnished with snipped parsley? Would it be the sort of beef daube Bourdain says he likes to eat on his days off? No. It had to be gnocchi.

I loved the story from early on in his career about the hotel chef being asked by some mobsters to make some old-fashioned gnocchi Genovese. I also found it funny (typical of the Gallocentric restaurant training I guess) how very scornful Bourdain is about Italian restaurants.

In the incident with the mob, Bourdain comments that the chef probably hasn't made gnocchi or meat sauce from scratch in years. Now, I couldn't find a really Genovese meat sauce recipe, so I went with the classic pesto. Which turned out to be a good thing, because I ended up serving this to vegetarian friends.

For my gnocchi recipe, I turned to Giorgio Locatelli. Locatelli specifically states in Made in Italy that not all professional kitchens are swashbuckling pirate ships like Bourdain describes, and his kitchen is definitely not, so I thought that tied in nicely too.

It took a couple of goes to figure out what the paste was supposed to feel like, in order to have them cook to light, fluffy clouds. But I got there! Fresh pesto, extra cheese on top, and a side dish of warm barbecued vegetable salad (baby leeks, aubergine, courgettes and peppers in a lemon and garlic vinaigrette). It wasn't pretty, it wasn't restauranty, it was vegetarian and it certainly wasn't French. But I don't think Bourdain would hate it.


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