Monday 28 February 2011

Meat free Monday: broccoli vinaigrette

This is a quick, delicious and healthy dinner - while the eggs coddle, the broccoli is zapped in the microwave until tender and ludicrously green. A vinaigrette of shallots, mustard, capers and white wine vinegar also gets a quick 30 second hit in the microwave to heat it and soften the shallots. A bit of ground pepper and dinner is on the table in under 10 minutes.

Monday 21 February 2011

Swiss Wine Tart

I've had this recipe for Swiss Wine Tart bookmarked for more than 2 years now. I finally decided that enough was enough, and I had to perform this piece of alchemy that involves pouring a glass of wine into a pastry case.

The method was straightforward enough, although if I had thought about it I would have had the pastry case on the oven tray in the oven before I started pouring in the wine.

But the result? A resounding "meh". It was partly, I think that looking at a tart like that I expect to taste lemon, and then not getting lemon was disappointing. It was probably also the light-bodied sauvignon blanc that I used. It would probably have been better with something quite dry and full-flavoured.

No matter. My curiosity has been satisfied. I have made it and I don't need to make it again.

Thursday 17 February 2011

Dear Prudence - Sipsmith Distillery

Real life is getting me down a bit at the moment. A winter which seems to be lasting forever, a longer commute to work, Paul being away so much and some deeply tedious cash-flow hitches are all giving me a distinctly gloomy outlook.

Fortunately, I paid Tastour for this Sipsmith Distillery outing about 9 months ago, so we could have a night off from reality in good conscience.

Sipsmith, in case you haven't been reading the London foody news (and if you haven't, I can't really blame you) is the first licenced distillery in London in 200 years. They have a glorious steampunkesque, hand-made copper potstill called Prudence.

The adorable Sam (I do love posh blokes with floppy hair) poured us very strong gins and tonic on arrival. It was the echt G&T experience - long, cold, slightly bitter and aromatic. He used Fevertree tonic and a slice of lime. Just as it should be.

Inside Prudence - I think this bit is the fractional distillation column

When everyone had arrived, Sam gave a history of gin drinking in London with some amazing "facts" (which I have been unable to verify, but he seemed pretty convincing) about 100,000 children dying of the effects of alcohol in 3 years in the 18th Century. And they say cheap lager is a problem in this country.

Then we got down to the important bit: the tasting. Sipsmith make both gin & vodka, and we got to try both. Amazing. I honestly never thought I would taste a vodka that was full-flavoured and aromatic enough to sip, neat, without even being chilled. And the gin, oh the gin! I have been a Bombay Sapphire girl for many years now, but the Sipsmith just takes the biscuit. There were a couple of people who were saying they could identify particular aromatics in it; I couldn't do that (and honestly? There are about 10g of aromatics in 250l alcohol, to produce 125l gin, so I'm a teensy bit sceptical that anyone can pick "lemon peel" as a distinct flavour without being told it was there) but the overall flavour landscape is just gorgeous.

Kelly from Tastour then brought around trays of cheese and charcuterie, to soak up the next (less strong) G&T.

As fascinating as the adorable Sam was, and as delicious as the tasting was, the absolutely best bit of the night was leaving. At the door we were each handed a goodybag with a bottle to take home - so my new most treasured possession is a bottle of Sipsmith gin. It's a bit sad when your most treasured possession is a consumable, so the Sipsmith boys will have to stay in business forever to keep me supplied.

Monday 14 February 2011

Valentine's Jelly

Paul's still working away during the week, so I am flying solo tonight. I'm not much of a one for Valentine's Day but there is still a faintly wistful side to being too far from the one you love on a day when romantic love is being shouted from the rooftops. And that's entirely separate from the fact that being apart from my husband is not my favourite thing and I don't much like Monday anyway. So I made myself a nice dessert. Two portions, because that's how I cook: one for tonight, one for tomorrow night.

Valentine's Jellies

4 blood oranges
cava/prosecco/champagne (although really, if you use actual champagne for this you need your head read)
1tsp gelatine
250g mascarpone
2tbs cointreau
1tbs sugar

Grate the zest from one of the oranges and reserve. Cut all 4 into segments, cutting between the membranes to get tidy pieces, over a bowl to catch the juice. Divide the segments between 2 serving glasses (blood oranges vary wildly in bloodiness, so mix it up a bit to let both portions get a good colour).

Put the reserved juice in a measuring jug (holding back 1tsp), and add sparkling wine to add up to 150ml. Sprinkle a teaspoonful of gelatine over the liquid, and leave for 10 minutes to sponge. When the gelatine granules have swelled a bit, stand the jug of liquid in a bowl of hot water and stir for a bit until the gelatine has dissolved completely. Pour the jelly over the orange segments, and stick it in the fridge.

This should make quite a firm jelly, because I want a bit of texture to contrast with the soft mascarpone layer.

Add the sugar and cointreau to the grated orange zest, then beat in the mascarpone. Add the reserved teaspoon of orange juice and swirl through.

When the jelly is partially set (not long - about 10 minutes) dollop the pink-swirled mascarpone on top and chill for another couple of hours before serving.

Eat, with a long spoon and an episode of Firefly. If the dessert doesn't work, Nathan Fillion will cure what ails you.

Wednesday 9 February 2011

The Big Fish Fight

Being a member of the chattering classes is fucking hard work, don't let anyone tell you differently. Petitions to sign, causes to espouse, regimes to boycott, t-shirts to wear: the action never ends.

Possibly because there is always something else that needs reform.

Channel 4 has recently run a short season of programmes looking into the state of the fisheries and the possibility of sustainable fishing for the future. Jamie Oliver, Heston Blumenthal and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall all worked to draw attention to the need for reform of the current Common Fisheries Policy to conserve fish stocks. So far so worthy.

Fearnley-Whittingstall particularly targeted the diabolically wasteful practice of discards, where any species that the fisherman doesn't have a quota for has to be thrown back. But because of the way they are caught, these fish are already dead. His claim is that half of all fish caught in the North Sea are thrown back, dead. His petition to the Common Fisheries Reform Group to stop discards has 600,000 signatories, of which I am proudly one.

But I have some misgivings. The fact that there is a Common Fisheries Reform Group, and that Defra baldly states that the CFP is broken indicate that this is the perfect time for such a campaign.

That is also the thing that makes me worry.

Clearly, there have been a great many lobby groups pushing varying agendas for a very long time. The prospect that the 600,000 (almost 650,000) signatories riled up by HFW's considerable charm and passion might be co-opted by another group who want discards dropped but for less conservation-minded reasons is a concern. James Murray articulated some of my issues with the campaign very clearly - what exactly does constitute victory for the Fish Fight? I appreciate the response that he doesn't want to be yet another hat in the ring, with an agenda in competition with his allies, so to speak, but at the same time I think "Stop discards" is a placard looking for a real policy. A policy that really has to approach marine conservation on a number of levels, to preserve and husband fish stocks for the future, protect other wildlife and the marine environment. I would be hoping to see total catch bag limits, more selective gear that avoids catching less marketable species, the ban on discards and seriously rigorous policing of the policy. I don't trust self-regulation.

So what (patient people who didn't come to my blog looking for a diatribe) is the fish eater to do?

Well, I think it really all boils down (or fries up) to buying, cooking and eating thoughtfully.

In Britain, 40% of the fish eaten is just from 3 varieties: cod, salmon and tuna. Consider mixing it up and for every salmon or cod meal you have, cook a couple of meals of something else. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece of lightly smoked, wild salmon, accompanied by a white bean and spinach mash (spotted on Deb's blog as a dip), but I have also been trying to eat some more unusual things.

The problem is considering what those things should be. It's a bit of a tricky business to identify something that is in plentiful supply, that isn't farmed in environmentally compromising ways and, if wild, is caught in a way that minimises the impact on other marine life.

Mussels are considered highly sustainable and an example of environmentally-friendly aquaculture. They are also quite cheap and very delicious. This mussel, spinach and bacon gratin, (from the little fish-fighter himself) was very rich, and a tiny bit too salty for me, but utterly comforting and lovely. It doesn't have the wow factor of a big pot of mussels in the shell, but is a heck of a lot easier to eat! And there is still luscious juice to sop up with good bread.

Squid are fast to reproduce, so they are quite a good option (although apparently we don't know if they are really that sustainable). I'd been very keen to try Nigella Lawson's "squink" risotto anyway, and knowing it wasn't a disasterous choice was reassuring. I'd been planning to do the recipe as written, with little squiddy bits tossed with chilli on top, but then I saw Su-Lin's meal at the Duke of Sussex and realised that aioli was the way to go. Rather than using cod, I used Cornish, day-boat caught monkfish. The risotto was good, and certainly looked dramatic, but I don't really know that it is worth repeating. I think the ink gives a certain savouryness, but it is really more of a texture than a flavour.

As well as ending discards, the Fish Fight is trying to encourage the fish and chip shops of Britain to look at mackerel as a more sustainable option than the usual cod and haddock.

The dish they are trying to get on the menu is a deep-fried mackerel fillet on a soft white bun with tartare sauce. They are calling it the MackBap.

As an alternative, I offer you the MackoTaco (serves 2).

4 mackerel fillets
Flour for dusting
2 eggs, beaten
oil for deep frying
1 can chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 heaped tbs chopped chipotle in adobo
1/2 tsp toasted cumin seeds
1/4 cup tahini
juice of 1 lime
olive oil
1 avocado
juice of half a lime
2 spring onions
1 tomato
4 soft white tortillas

Blend the chickpeas, garlic, lime juice, cumin, chipotle and a splash of olive oil with a pinch of salt to a paste. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding some water and the juice of half a lime if it is too thick. Maybe a bit of tabasco if you like it really spicy.

Cut the avocado into cubes and mix with the sliced spring onions and diced tomato, adding the juice of half a lime and a little salt to taste.

Dust the mackerel fillets with flour, then dip in the beaten egg. Deep fry the fillets at about 170C until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels.

Spread some of the chipotle hummus on the tortillas, add the crisp, hot mackerel fillets and top with the tangy avocado salsa. Roll up and eat immediately, with lots of paper towels to catch the drips.

Activism isn't all sacrifice and self-righteousness. It's much easier to get behind a cause that tastes delicious.

Saturday 5 February 2011

The most important meal of the day

One of the highlights of my weekends is a good breakfast. It's the biggest thing that I miss about the lifestyle in Sydney - eggs benedict and good coffee at the beach on the weekend. Don't get me wrong - I do pretty well for myself during the week (this week's breakfast has been these black cherry flapjacks, based on the plum flapjacks that Beth, from Jam & Clotted Cream posted, but with cherries instead of plums and treacle instead of golden syrup) .

But it is on the weekend that I really let my hair down and cook something delicious. We tend to have a late-ish brunch, and then an evening meal on weekends, so I don't feel so bad about the extremely calorific meals that sometimes appear on my table. It's very hard to beat classic bacon and eggs, but I do try to mix it up a bit.

These green eggs and ham are lovely - the eggs for my omelette whisked up with a couple of tablespoons of pesto (home made in summer, frozen in an icecube tray), then topped with cubes of pancetta fried with a clove of garlic, sliced, and some shreds of red chilli.

Nigel Slater's absolutely gorgeous cinnamon doughnuts were actually a request from Mr I-don't-have-a-sweet-tooth. He only likes a couple of doughnuts a year - which is a shame, because it is the first time I made them, and I wasn't expecting the holes to close up so much as they puffed in the hot oil. I want a re-match and I don't know if I can wait a year!

I've really been enjoying Jamie Oliver's 30-minute meals series - and both this tortilla and the glazed chorizo were from the tapas feast episode. I was really impressed with the chorizo, because I was expecting the honey and vinegar to leave a much more aggressive sweet/sour impression, but it was actually very well balanced and completely delicious. And the two dishes did take a lot less than 30 minutes, without even trying.

And I have had Natashya's Italian sausage recipe bookmarked for months. I used fennel pollen, instead of fennel seeds, and I added a bit of chilli sauce to the mixture because I love spicy Italian sausage but it is hard to find. These little sausage patties were so delicious, with eggs, sourdough toast and some fried tomatoes, they were definitely the right way to start the day. Although afterwards I wasn't really inclined to do anything other than sit in the conservatory with another cup of coffee.

Thursday 3 February 2011

Public Service Announcement

You may know of Jacob's Creek wines. They have a slightly naff reputation (Oh, how we laughed when a friend returned from a European tour with an air of sophistication and a stated preference for Jacob's Creek) but none the less provide a perfectly acceptable wine for the price point. Trustworthy, when you don't recognise anything else on the bottle-o shelf.

Since the branch of Threshers on the corner closed (landlord hiked up the rent), we've been thrown on the mercies of the local convenience store, which only stocks a limited range of wine, so we've been drinking quite a lot of Jacob's Creek.

The shiraz-cabernet blend - very pleasant. Quite light, for an Australian shiraz, and exceedingly drinkable.

The semillon-chardonnay - again, very pleasant and extremely drinkable. I suspect we will go through a few of these as the weather warms up.

And then there is the pinot grigio. Dear god, the pinot grigio. I took a sip and screamed "What the fuck is that?". I thought Paul had poured me a glass of pear cider and diluted it with lemon cordial. The only "wine" I have ever tasted that was as bad was Passion Pop, served at a pyjama party when I was old enough to know better. The tasting notes on the bottle say "A light to medium bodied wine with fresh lemon and pear fruit flavours with crisp green apple notes", so sadly it appears that pear cider diluted with lemon cordial was actually the effect they were going for. Utterly vile. Be on your guard. If you see this wine, do not approach it; back away and alert the authorities. There must be some sort of official body responsible for stamping out this sort of horror.


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