Sunday 30 August 2009

Roast Grouse with Red Currants & Skirlie

August 12th - The Glorious Twelfth - is the start of the grouse shooting season in Britain. It also signals the beginning of the end of summer and indicates that pretty soon it'll be woollies and stews for 6 months. Tasty, lean and dark, the meat almost tastes like liver. It's a bit disconcerting to have something in front of you that looks like a chicken (albeit a small one) but tastes like red meat.

I took a really traditional approach to this one - skinned them (they weren't cleanly plucked), wrapped them in streaky bacon, tucked a sprig of rosemary in the cavity and roasted them at 180C for half an hour. I served them with the leftover carrot puree from the Oeufs à la Crécy, skirlie (medium oatmeal fried with onion and bacon fat - brought half way to the twentieth century with a good handful of chopped parsley) and a sauce of redcurrants, beef stock, red wine and some wine jelly. The red currants provided just the right sour counterpoint to all the rich meaty flavours.

Friday 28 August 2009

Friday night fish - clams

Ever since April, when Jude & I went to St John, I have been wanting to have a go at razorshell clams. And for quite some time now, Paul has been complaining that I never cook linguine vongole for him. A Friday night - when skillful sourcing is more appealling than elaborate cooking - seemed like the perfect time to pull out the clams for a very simple, quick but impressive meal.

To fend off hunger, I made a quick razorshell appetiser. I made salsa verde, roughly following a Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall recipe. I dolloped the salsa verde into the razorshells and stuck them under the grill for a couple of minutes. After fortifying ourselves with that, we had the strength to cook the pasta.

After draining the squid-ink fettucine, I fried a lot of sliced garlic in a good dollop of olive oil. I added some dried pasta seasoning (garlic, parsley and chilli flakes), the venus clams and the rest of the salsa verde. A good splash of white wine and then the drained pasta got a good shake around so that all the strands were coated in the herby juices.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

Barbecued vegetables (and a bit of lamb)

We haven't done much barbecuing this summer. Although the weather has generally been better than last year, there has been a lot of afternoon rain. But last week we had several consecutive hot, dry days. Far too hot to cook indoors, we ferreted around in the fridge to see what we could put on the fire. Some lamb leg steaks came out of the freezer, a couple of globe artichokes (I know - just after I said that all artichokes in our house become fritters!), a couple of courgettes and some nice flat portobello mushrooms.

I pared back the artichokes to the base and scooped out the choke, cut them in half and dunked them in acidulated water, before rolling them in a bit of olive oil. The courgettes also got the olive oil, and the mushrooms got some chopped garlic and a little oil.

Then Paul stepped in for the actual cooking. The vegetables all needed a lot longer than the thinly cut lamb.

I made a dressing of garlic, a bit of bought bearnaise sauce and some white wine vinegar. A drizzle of the dressing over the (very brown) plate. A grinding of pepper. And it was a very comfortable way to end the day.

Monday 24 August 2009

Meat-Free Monday - Oeufs à la Crécy

Some days I think that I could have a useful career as a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon, if only I had less food in my head and more useable information.

Take my HSC (Higher School Certificate, the matriculation exams in Australia). I did very well. But what can I now remember of the text Educating Rita? That Rita makes a joke about liking Ferlinghetti served with Parmesan cheese. That the tutor (whose name I forget) likes his lamb "done to the point of abuse", that "you can incinerate ratatouille and it still wouldn't burn" and that his relationship finally ends because of a dish of Oeufs à la Crécy. Eggs with carrots. See what I mean? So much wasted memory-space.

Anyway. For the last 3 weeks our vegetable box has contained carrots. And it reached the point where some were beginning to be floppy, some were still firm and all of them had to be eaten. So eggs with carrots it is.

Strictly speaking, I think it is supposed to be poached eggs, but I really wasn't in the mood to try to poach 5 eggs, so I used boiled. I made a thick carrot puree - just carrots and a couple of onions boiled in vegetable stock, seasoned with nutmeg and put through the food processor - spread it in my oven-proof dish, topped it with the peeled eggs, coated each egg with a dollop of dill hollandaise and flashed it under the grill until the hollandaise bubbled. It was good! Don't know how I achieved it, but the eggs were delicious. The yolks were cooked through (Paul doesn't like runny yolks) but very tender and creamy and the whites firmly set without being rubbery. The flavours worked very well together and it was extremely filling.

So next time your kids say "Why do I need to read this? I'm never going to need to know about it" you can tell them that in 18 years time, that book might make you dinner.

Sunday 23 August 2009

Golabki - Polish cabbage rolls

For some reason recently I have been craving Polish cabbage rolls just like grandma used to make. Or would have, if either of my grandmothers had been Polish.

Polish Cabbage Rolls (serves several)

1 head of green cabbage
500g beef mince
500g minced pork
1 cup cooked rice
1 egg
1 onion, minced
salt, pepper & grated nutmeg
1 onion, sliced
1 cup beef stock
1 cup passata
Sour cream to serve

Cut the core out of the cabbage and simmer the whole thing in a pot of lightly salted water, peeling off leaves using tongs as they loosen (only takes about 10 minutes). Mix the beef, pork, rice, egg and minced onion and season well with salt and much more ground pepper than you think it needs and then a little bit more. Roll spoonfuls of the filling in the cabbage leaves.
Place the sliced onion in the base of a heavy oven-proof pot and layer in the cabbage rolls. Mix the beef stock and tomato passata and pour over. Cover the pot with foil or the lid and bake for about an hour. Serve with sour cream on top.

Saturday 22 August 2009

Mussaman Beef Curry

For the last six weeks, Paul and I have been glued to BBC I-player for Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey. Long-time fans of Rick Stein, and big fans of Oriental food, we've been fascinated by his travels through Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Bali, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Amazing locations, fascinating markets, larger-than-life characters and delicious-looking dishes.

And then the joy-filled discovery that the BBC had some of the recipes up... I decided that the first thing to try would be the Mussaman Beef Curry. It's a staple of Australian Thai restaurants, but it isn't as common in the UK and the couple I have tried have been pretty horrible, with tough slices of "stirfry" beef in watery sweet coconut milk with non-descript seasoning.

This curry was something else again. I followed the recipe pretty closely (for me) - left out the potatoes, used a couple of hot Thai dried chillies and a spoonful of paprika instead of the mellow Kashmiri chillies, and a spoonful of tamarind paste with no additional water instead of the tamarind pulp and water. Practically word for word!

It's an unusual technique. You simmer the chunks of beef (I used brisket instead of blade or chuck) in coconut milk with black cardamom and cinnamon, adding the spice paste and other seasonings when the beef is cooked and tender.

I served it with plain jasmine rice, and some aubergine stir fried with garlic, green chillies, loads of basil and a splash of soy sauce. Absolutely delicious. And as a strange side-effect, we both found ourselves in an extremely relaxed, blissed-out frame of mind after we'd eaten it. Not the usual langour of a large, heavy meal, but something more mellow. Opiates in the spice mix?

Thursday 20 August 2009

A Tale of Three Chicken Pies - with pretentious musings

It may not be a good number for little girls playing together, but there is power in a trio. Father, Son & Spirit, Goldilocks' bears, the Moirai, the Norns, the Maiden, Mother and... the Other One; folklore imbues a trinity with a fillip of meaning that a pair or a quartet doesn't have.

Anyone given to reading children's stories (except possibly the ones re-written in bleach by the Disney Corporation) will be familiar with the stories of three brothers. It doesn't much matter which one. They all follow the same pattern. Three brothers set out on a journey. There are obstacles to be overcome - they don't recognise the fairy, or the saint, or the witch, or the infant Jesus. The eldest brother falls at the first hurdle through overconfidence and pride, the next brother falls at the next hurdle and the youngest, with humility and hard work, carries the day/ gets the treasure/ tastes the water of life/ wins the maiden.

And so it is with chicken pies.

Not long ago, Paul and I had a date night. At one of our favourite restaurants we ordered the "chicken pie for two". We've had many delicious menus there, and several really lovely pies, so expectations were high. And our overconfidence was punished. When the thin, crispy crust was broken, there was no rush of savoury steam. The filling was frankly sweet, to the point that I wondered if they swapped the salt and sugar bowls. I could see celery but I couldn't taste it and while the texture was reasonably good, it just wasn't the flavour I wanted in a chicken pie. Where were the herbs, the alliums? I felt a bit let down.

Fortunately, just 40 hours later I got another go. Another favourite place had a chicken pie on their Sunday lunch menu, and having not been satisfied with my previous pie experience, I had to order it.

This one was an individual pie dish. The crust again was thin and crisp. The steam issuing forth was rich and savoury. It was a good pie. And yet. And yet. It just didn't quite nail my echt pie yearnings. It only had a top crust. It had chunks of bacon which were good, but the pieces of chicken were a little small, a little stringy and the broth lacked body.

There was nothing for it. I had to take the "Third time's a charm" approach and make a chicken pie for myself.

The first thing I settled on, was that my pie would have both a top and bottom crust. There is something about sealing the filling completely that adds so much to a pie. And for the filling I decided to work from Nigella's coq au riesling, because that is always so delicious and I knew that there would be no lack of savour. I also knew I wanted to go from a raw filling, rather than a stew because I wanted all of the steam of the preparation to be sucked up into the pastry, to really combine the pastry and filling.

Ultimate Chicken Pie

500g shortcrust pastry
250g puff pastry (I feel no shame at all in using bought pastry, but it must must must be all-butter)
250g smoked lardons
500g chicken thigh fillets
2 leeks
250g oyster mushrooms
1tbs parsley, chopped
black pepper
1tbs cornflour slaked in 1/2 cup riesling
1 eggyolk for glazing

In a bowl, combine the lardons, diced chicken thighs, chopped leeks and torn oyster mushrooms. Season with black pepper and chopped parsley, then stir through the cornflour slurry.

Line a pie plate with the shortcrust pastry and pile in the filling, heaping it up in the centre.

Brush a little of the beaten eggyolk around the rim and cover with the puff pastry. Press down well to seal. Glaze the top with more of the egg, then cut a small hole in the top.

Bake in a 175C oven for about an hour, or until the pastry is richly coloured and the steam smells enticing.

Serve thick slices in deep dishes to catch the delectable full-bodied juices. Drink the rest of the bottle of riesling with it.

Monday 17 August 2009

Meat-Free Monday - Artichoke Vinaigrette

Artichoke Vinaigrette was love at first sight for me. The beautiful plump, fleshy flower, the ritual of tearing off the leaves one by one with your fingers and raking the meat from each with your teeth, the piquant sauce, scooping the choke out with a teaspoon to access the sweet, dense heart. All absolutely captivating and delicious.

I never prepare artichokes like this at home - if an artichoke darkens my doors, it knows it is going to be turned into an artichoke fritter - but I find them very hard to resist when I see them on a menu. Although I do take a very long time to eat them, so it isn't a dish for when I am in a hurry.

These were absolutely enormous and made a very substantial starter. In fact, with some good bread and butter (there was good bread and butter on the table BUT I DIDN'T EAT IT), an artichoke vinaigrette makes a very nice lunch or dinner.

This vinaigrette had so much mustard in it that it was almost the texture of mayonnaise. Very delicious, although I usually prefer a simple oil and vinegar vinaigrette, emulsified as you dabble each leaf in it. Such luxury!

Artichokes and vinegar are both bastards to match with wines, which also makes it very good for a booze-free Monday evening.

Sunday 16 August 2009

Fruits of our labour - Turkey Chilli with Serrano Guacamole

Wahaca in Covent Garden gives out little pink and blue matchbooks when they give you the bill. These matchbooks don't actually contain matches, they contain little paper spikes of chilli seeds, with directions on how to grow them. It's a very cute gimmick.

Last year our Wahaca seeds came to nothing - the seedlings were ready to get going but then there was a hot day and they all died in the conservatory.

This year - barring a couple of cat-related accidents - the chillies have flourished.

According to Wiki, ripe Serrano chillies (which the matchbook said these were) can be green, red, brown, orange or yellow. Which makes it slightly difficult to tell when they are ripe! So we decided that when they had stayed the same size for a fortnight, and the green was streaked around the shoulders with purple, that they were ripe.

My reading indicated that the fleshy Serrano is the ultimate salsa chilli, so for its first outing, I decided to use it in some guacamole.

A little slice off the end of it indicated that they had a bit of a kick, but not too much, so I used a whole one, with 2 avocadoes, a pinch of salt, a load of lime juice and some finely diced onion. I'd usually add coriander and some diced tomato or cucumber to a guac, but I wanted the chilli to be the star of the show.

Dolloped onto a turkey chilli (Tex-Mex style - quite saucy and no beans) with grated cheese and blue corn chips, it was a quick and easy meal. And the home-grown chillies were definitely the star of the show.

Friday 14 August 2009

Spiced plum buns

On a recent road trip I was hit by The Hunger. As my long-suffering husband has worked out, if I don't get fed within about half an hour of this event, I will ruin his day and possibly his weekend. So we stopped at a motorway services that boasted an *international coffee chain that I will not name*. I was fed a cinnamon bun and a very milky coffee and we proceeded on our way.

But it did start me thinking about cinnamon buns and how I could probably make one more to my taste than the fluffy, insubstantial thing that saved Paul from my wrath.

So I did some reading and some thinking. This recipe seemed to go in a direction that I liked, although I was a bit sceptical about quantities & method, so I used it as a starting point and went my own way. It also turned into quite a useful receptical for a bunch of odds and ends I wanted rid of. So here we have:

Spiced Plum Buns (for my geekier readers, you will understand that it amuses me to call something a plum bun which is IN NO WAY as heavy as lead).

1tbs + 1tsp dried yeast
250ml warm water
200ml milk
190g butter (in fact I used half butter and half lard because I had some leftover from my pork pies) melted
1 egg
150g caster sugar
the seeds of 7 green cardamom pods, ground in a mortar & pestle
pinch of saffron, ground with the cardamom
500g granary bread flour
500g strong white bread flour
extra flour for rolling

for the filling

125g butter, softened
100g dark muscovado sugar
1tbs ground cinnamon
75g ground almonds (or more, or less. I was using up a bag)
2 vanilla pods, seeds only (1 will do if your vanilla was fresh - these dessicated pods have been in my sugar jar for over a year)
150g roasted plums cut into bitesize pieces (leftover from the Chinese dinner - some cranberries, dried apricots, a chopped apple would do instead)
1 eggyolk to glaze

Add the yeast to the water and 1tbs of the caster sugar and set aside for 15 minutes while it froths.

Mix together the melted butter, egg, remaining caster sugar, saffron and cardamom in a large bowl. Stir in the flours and add the milk and the yeast mixture. Knead for 10 minutes until you have a nicely elastic dough.

Cover with a clean teatowel and leave in a warm place to prove until doubled in size, about an hour.

For the filling, cream together the butter, muscovado sugar, cinnamon, almonds and vanilla seeds to a thick mud.

Cut the dough in half. Sprinkle the table with flour and lay half the dough on it. Roll out to a rectangle about 1cm thick.

Smear lavishly with half of the filling using a palette knife.

Scatter half the plum pieces along one long edge of the dough.

Roll up into a Swiss Roll shape with the plums in the middle.

Repeat with the other half of the dough, filling and plums. Cut each log into thick slices - I got 8 slices out of each one. Lay out, cut sides up, on a baking sheet lined with baking paper. Try not to pack them in too tightly at this stage because they need some room to grow.

Allow to prove again for 25-30 minutes, or until doubled in volume again, then glaze the tops with the eggyolk.

Bake in a 170C oven for 25 minutes or until richly golden brown with oozy caramel bits. Rest for 10 minutes and then serve warm if at all possible.

If desired, you can brush them with a hot glaze when they come out of the oven, but these have plenty of flavour without it.

Wednesday 12 August 2009

Watermelon Fizz for a Blogoversary

Happy Blogoversary to me,
Happy Blogoversary to me!
Happy Blogoversary dear Foodycat,
Happy Blogoversary to me!

2 years of Foodycat! Hurrah! It has been a lot of fun.

And to celebrate, I present:

Watermelon Fizz

1 cup chilled watermelon flesh blended with 1/4 cup cointreau. For each glass, use half watermelon pulp topped up with very cold dry sparkling wine. It'll fizz furiously, and then it is very delicious. And has a kick.

Tuesday 11 August 2009

Piedmont Wine Dinner

Something funny is happening at our local. The staff are the same, the menu is the same, but I have a feeling that management is changing... there is just a funny atmosphere at the moment and the manager is either absent or looking anxious.

But the most recent wine dinner was very good. I have mislaid my menu. so I can't be sure about all the wines, so bear with me.

It was all wines from Piedmont, in the very North-West of Italy, with fairly generic but very tasty Italian dishes to accompany.

The first wine was a red. A Dolcetto by Fontanafredda, it was an intense purple colour with good legs - an unusual choice for the first wine of the evening, but it went well with the delicious melanzane parmigiana. Very cheesy, very well cooked, just delicious, served in cute little individual gratin dishes. A cynical person would suggest that this is the perfect first course - with that much melted cheese and the fires of hell in the tomato and aubergine , everyone would have burned their mouths and destroyed their palates so you could serve any old shit after that. Of course, I am not a cynical person.

The next wine was a lovely Gavi di Gavi. Fragrant, not too sweet and very pleasant. It came alongside a grilled swordfish steak, with a sort of puttanesca sauce (tomato, olive, anchovy and caper) or a courgette stuffed with garlic and ricotta. Very nice. The portion of fish was a little small for the amount of sauce, and swordfish is difficult to get tender and not wooden, but this was a pretty good dish.

God knows what the third wine was. It was red. I honestly cannot remember a thing about the flavour, the grape or anything else of the spiel the wine rep did. But it came with a really nicely cooked saltimbocca, served with lovely buttery spinach and rather too many small roasted potatoes. I was really impressed - you really don't see veal on the menu very often, and this was cooked very well, so it was tender and had the flavour of the sage and proscuitto right through it.

Dessert was tiramisu. It was OK - there could have been more coffee and booze in the sponge fingers, but it was certainly better than many I have had. The wine was a moscato di asti - a sweet, sparkling white wine not a million miles away from the horrible asti spumante many Australians of my vintage had as their first alcoholic beverage. I am happy to say that this wine, treated as a dessert wine and served very cold, in small glasses and with a not-very-sweet dessert it was just lovely. Not a bit like the wine I had to pour into the pot plant at that engagement party some years ago.

The Rose & Crown does that sort of food so well - and some of the other dinners have been so odd - that I am a bit anxious about the next one. South African, 1st October. Watch this space.

Sunday 9 August 2009

Hand-raised Pork Pie

Some of you will remember that last year we attended the CLA Game Fair, where we purchased the BEST PORK SCRATCHINGS EVER.

Well, it was that time of year again, so this time we schlepped up to Belvoir Castle in Leicestershire. Due to the linguistic idiosyncrasies that come about when Saxon peasantry have Norman overlords, Belvoir is actually pronounced Beever.

The pork scratchings seller was there again - the product just as good as before - but this year I was particularly keen to get to see some of the cooking demonstrations.

Stephen Hallam, a representative of Dickinson & Morris, was doing a demonstration of the Melton Mowbray pork pie. And since we were about 5 miles from Melton Mowbray, it seemed churlish not to watch.

Interesting facts that came out of his demonstration:
  • as with the classic Parmigiano-Reggiano/ Proscuitto di Parma relationship, the Melton Mowbray pork pie was born out of the local cheese industry. The whey left from making Stilton cheese was fed to the pigs, which produced a surplus of good pork, which was stuck into pastry for ease of transport.
  • The Melton Mowbray pork pie now has Protected Geographical Indication status - like Champagne and Gorgonzola
  • Melton Mowbray pork pies are known as "hand-raised" pies because they are shaped by hand and not in a tin.
So clearly I had to go home and put some of the tricks of the trade into practice. He didn't actually hand out a recipe, but there were some principles to follow:
  • All meat, no rusk or filler
  • Equal amounts of pastry and filling
  • hot water crust to be made with lard
  • the hot water crust doesn't have to be used hot
  • 50% cubed pork shoulder and 50% minced fatty pork belly
  • Seasoned with salt and white pepper (although I am pretty sure he was fibbing, or at least side-stepping the truth, because I am quite sure there is nutmeg in a Dickinson & Morris pork pie)
  • you put 2 holes in the pastry - one to pour the jelly into and one to let the air out of. This basic piece of physics was a revelation to me.
Hand-Raised Pork Pie

500g minced pork belly
500g cubed pork shoulder
2tbs salt (I was using Maldon - I'd say halve it if you are using table salt)
2tbs coarsely ground white pepper
1tsp ground mace
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp dried sage
750g strong white bread flour
200g lard
290ml water
1 egg
1 cup jellied pork stock

Bring the water and lard to the boil, pour into the flour and stir to a dough. When it is cool enough to handle, divide into parts. You need 3/4 of the dough divided into 4 for the cases and 1/4 divided into 4 for the lids. I know - complex mathematics. Shape each of your 8 bits of pastry into discs, wrap in clingfilm and refrigerate overnight.

Mix the pork shoulder and belly and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg, mace and sage. Divide the mixture into 4 and roll into balls. Set aside.

Temper a disc of case pastry in your hands until it is pliable. Use a glass or a jar or something, lightly dusted with flour, to shape the case. Ease the pastry off the case using a palette knife. Push a ball of filling into the case. Temper a disc of lid pastry in your hands to top it. Crimp the top pastry (I didn't get the hang of that with these ones, but I think I have figured it out for next time).

Repeat with the other three lots of pastry and filling.

Glaze the pastry - sides and top but not crimped edges - with egg.

Cut 2 holes in the lid.

Bake on a baking sheet (with a rim - I had a bit of overflow) at 180C until they are done. Apparently it takes longer for the pastry to cook than the meat, so when the pastry is an appetising brown colour the meat will be done too. About an hour.

Allow the pies to cool.

When the pies have cooled, melt the jellied stock in a saucepan and pour a little into each pie using a funnel. Stop when the stock starts to pour out the other hole.


Serve cold with hot English mustard and possibly some Branston pickles and certainly a tall glass of cider or ale. A classic bar snack, a classic British dish.

Friday 7 August 2009

Reflection on roast lamb

OK, I know I have posted about a hundred pictures of roasted or grilled meat in the last couple of years, BUT LOOK AT THE REFLECTION IN THE KNIFE! This is possibly the best random photo I have ever, ever taken. And the lamb, a boned shoulder, roasted with courgettes, onions, butternut and carrots was pretty damn good too.


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