Saturday 25 September 2010

British Cheese Week

I can't keep up with all the national and international "Days" and "Weeks". On any given day it seems we are supposed to be aware of three diseases, two other worthy causes and a handful of professions, local foodstuffs and indigenous trees. It's too much, so they usually pass in a blur for me. But just today I discovered that it is British Cheese Week. As cheese is something I hold very dear to my heart (well, all my arteries really. And my thighs), I thought I really had to mark the week appropriately.

I happened on the British Cheese Board website while looking for a savoury muffin recipe. I decided that this recipe for cheese & sweetcorn muffins was just the thing. Although I did use fresh corn kernels, rather than frozen. And I replaced 80g of the flour with fine polenta. And I reduced the amount of butter because I added some crumbled, cooked chorizo. But essentially I followed the recipe! And they are delicious. The flavour is very well balanced between the corn and cheese, and the bits of onion and chorizo add interesting flavour and texture. They aren't too heavy either. Paul's taken some fishing with him and I am hoping that a couple will survive long enough for me to have them with a bowl of soup for dinner during the week.

I also felt that I should make something to show that British apples are coming into season now, and that they go so very well with cheese. The Egremont Russet is a very good apple for this sort of thing, because the flesh is fairly dry so you don't end up with a soggy quesadilla, or juice running down your arm.

Cheddar and Egremont Russet Quesadillas

2 flour tortillas
1/4 Egremont Russet apple, thinly sliced
Handful British cheddar cheese
A couple of thin slices of onion
Freshly ground black pepper

Place one tortilla in a dry pan, add the thinly sliced apple, then the onion and freshly ground pepper, then top with a handful of grated cheese. Top with a second quesadilla. Cook gently on both sides until the cheese melts and the tortillas are browned and crisp. Slice into wedges and eat immediately. I think a glass of beer is the right thing with these!

Wednesday 22 September 2010

Cooking the Books - Climbing the Mango Trees

Climbing the Mango Trees, Madhur Jaffrey's memoir, is the latest book for the online food-blogging bookclub, Cooking The Books.

I was aware of who Madhur Jaffrey was, although I don't think I have seen any of her cooking programs or her movies. I knew that she was considered very influential as one of the first people to popularise Indian cooking in the West, but I wasn't at all prepared for how gripping I found Climbing the Mango Trees.

As one of my favourite novels is Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy, I found some familiar ground in Ms Jaffrey's story. But somehow the structure felt very much like recalling memories, which made the account seem much more real. The odd little insignificant details that you remember when thinking back made her memories very vivid to me.

I also found it fascinating from a historical point of view. To have heard Gandhi speak just a couple of days before his assassination is so extraordinary. And because I think of India as such an ancient culture, it's quite confronting to recognise how recently it was a British colony, and at what cost they gained independence. I hadn't realised the scale of the bloodshed at Partition.

One thing I did know is that the majority of "Indian" restaurants in Australia and the UK are run by Bangladeshis, Punjabis and Pakistanis. People who had found themselves suddenly dispossed at Partition.

It means that most of the food that I am familiar with as "Indian" has a distinctly Northern bent. The naan and tandoori-cooked foods that Ms Jaffrey found so novel with the influx of Punjabi refugees to Delhi are staples of Indian restaurants in the UK, but are just as delicious and enticing as she found them 50 years ago.

This is what inspired the dishes I cooked. I made mutton and spinach curry following Ms Jaffrey's recipe (very different from the one I usually make) which she describes as being like the curries her Muslim school friends had brought for lunch. I made her grandmother's delicious spiced cauliflower cheese. I made dhal (she says that at a pinch you can substitute Mexican black beans for the whole urad dal. It really isn't a great substitution and not one I would repeat). And I made naan.

Delicious, homely food with a history. You can't really ask more of a dinner; a fascinating story with wonderful recipes, you definitely can't ask more of a memoir.

Saturday 18 September 2010

Snacks for dancing

My dancing has been coming along quite well of late. This is me in my first ATS public performance a couple of months ago, which was nerve-wracking but unexpectedly fun.

The downside to this progress is that I have moved into a more advanced class. Which in itself is great, but it means that on a Tuesday I have a very late night, not getting home until after 10, or closer to 11 if the trains don't cooperate. And THAT means that I get home too late to cook, but having danced for 2 hours I really need some food.

I've been working around that by making a series of portable snacks. Lots of oat and nut based things, to give sustained energy and stop me from buying chocolate bars at the station. So far, I've made a couple of different kinds of flapjack, nuts with a spicy coating, Joy of Baking's lovely lemon bars, and a strangely successful carrot cheesecake swirl bar. Wish I could remember how I made them.

Thursday 16 September 2010

Blondies and Brownies

As I mentioned last year, my office has a BYO birthday cake policy. I decided this year to do something crowd-pleasing, and in this crowd that means chocolate. I decided to make something for both the sweet and the bitter chocolate fans. A batch of white chocolate and blueberry blondies and a batch of dark chocolate and sour cherry brownies.

I used this Mark Hix recipe (scroll right down) as my base for both, leaving out the orange zest.

They were very, very successful. I used 70% dark chocolate for the dark one, which was very bitter and sophisticated. A lot of the chunks melted into it, but it still left some nicely textured pieces. I used good quality (i.e cocoa butter not veg fat) white chocolate for the white one, and I think I would reduce the amount of butter in the recipe just slightly next time; maybe 50g less, because the white chocolate did go a bit oily as it melted. The flavour of the white ones wasn't as cloyingly sweet as you'd expect, because the blueberries had a nice bit of tartness to them. You really do need to have a piece of each to compare!

I may have to have a second birthday this year to keep everyone happy.

Saturday 11 September 2010

Sweetcorn and Tomato Chowder

I can't remember if it was for my birthday or Christmas last year that my aunt sent me this nifty gadget: the corn zipper. What I do know is that it has languished in the drawer ever since. Corn has been out of season.

I had been hoping that the maiden voyage of the corn zipper would be on some home-grown sweetcorn, but alas it was not to be. The plants sprouted quickly enough, and formed ears like good little plantlets, but then totally failed to form kernels.

But all is not lost. Waving the flag for our gardening abilities, this soup does contain homegrown cherry tomatoes and chilli. And it takes less than 10 minutes to make, including going out and picking your tomatoes, which is nice.

It is a real taste of late summer and absolutely delicious, so I am proud to send this over to Deb's Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday event.

Sweetcorn and Tomato Chowder (serves 1)

splash of olive oil
100g cubed pancetta
1 shallot, minced
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 green chilli, deseeded and sliced
kernels from 1 cob of corn
150ml semiskimmed milk (2%)

Over a medium heat, saute the pancetta in a tiny splash of olive oil until it begins to crisp, then add the shallot. When the shallot is translucent add the cherry tomatoes and green chilli, and stir until the tomatoes collapse. Add the corn and milk and reduce the heat. Bring slowly to a simmer. Season with freshly ground pepper and eat.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Burgers for dinner

We had burgers for dinner - the first of our full-sized tomatoes, buns made from my frozen baguette dough, thick slices of cheddar and fried onions with well-seasoned beef patties.

They were very thick and juicy - absolutely delicious.

Unfortunately Urchin decided that she was a lapcat, and an immovable object. So Paul had to protect her fur from the dripping juices.

Sunday 5 September 2010

Review: Pomodoro! A history of the tomato in Italy

Rachel, the Crispy Cook, has given me the opportunity to join her in reading and reviewing David Gentilcore's new book Pomodoro! A history of the tomato in Italy (Columbia University Press, 2010).

I confess I was a little anxious to begin with. When the food monograph is good, it is superb (Mark Kurlansky's Cod: A biography of the fish that changed the world, is pretty much the definition of it being done well) but when it isn't done well it can be a bit turgid and the claims made hard to substantiate (I am looking sideways at a book on my shelf that will remain nameless). Fortunately Professor Gentilcore's book is in the first camp.

Tomatoes seem so essential to Italian cuisine, that it came as quite a shock to discover that spaghetti with tomato sauce only became a regular feature of Italian cooking in the 19th Century. Although that wasn't quite as much of a shock as the discovery that al dente pasta came about partly to make eating it with your hands as street food viable. Not a pleasant thought.

I found the way Gentilcore wove recipes in with politics, industrial revolution and the history of the Italian diaspora absolutely fascinating. Despite the length of time it took for tomatoes to become an accepted foodstuff (more than 200 years) the last 150 years have seen it become a staple, a badge of national identity for Italians and almost cliché. It also seems as though what tomatoes symbolise for people who identify themselves as Italian is more important than the reality of their place in history. A very interesting book and well worth a read.

We've been very lucky in that this year for the first time we have managed to get a crop of ripe tomatoes. My cherry tomatoes have fruited abundantly and the large tomatoes are also ripening nicely (although we are suffering from what apparently is called blossom end rot).

Our 6 cherry tomato plants, in hanging growbags, have produced enough tomatoes for a large bottle of roasted cherry tomato and basil sauce, which I have bottled for the winter, a large jar of pomodorini pelati (peeled, packed in a sterilised jar, the gaps filled with acidulated, salted tomato juice, sealed and heat processed), a couple of salads, a couple of meals of pasta with fresh pesto, garnished with roasted tomatoes and a really delicious tomato and goats cheese tart, served with a basil and lemon sauce, and some crab fritters. A very satisfying result!


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