Sunday 27 March 2011

Opening the barbecue innings

I really enjoyed the recent Jamie Oliver "30-minute meals" series - some very good ideas! I was smitten by the crispy chicken with kim chee slaw, noodles and curry sauce. His technique for pressing the chicken with a heated, weighted pan to speed up the cooking is very clever! So I had decided that that was what was for dinner. Although I didn't have all the bits for the green curry sauce so I took a big cheat and decided to use my favourite laksa kit to make a thick, rich sauce.

But then Paul threw a spanner in the works and decided that the weather was too good not to have the first barbecue of spring. Easy enough to work around (although it meant I didn't get to try the nifty weighted pan trick) - the chicken was done on the Weber, while the noodles, salad and sauce were done indoors.

I think the charcoal must have been a bit damp - it threw off sparks like fireworks.

Chicken grilled over charcoal is just so damn good. I didn't add the honey and sesame seeds as I would have cooking in the pan - these were absolutely plain, letting the meat and charcoal speak for themselves, while the laksa sauce and cool, crunchy salad provided a spicy background.

I think the kim chee slaw is going to appear on our table a lot this summer. The combination of flavours is bright and sparky and goes brilliantly with grilled meat.

You'll be pleased to hear that having the two chicken legs in the bowl was just for photographic purposes! Even I can't eat a portion that big, and no one minds having cold barbecued chicken for lunch the following day.

Monday 21 March 2011

Meat-free Mondays: sweet & sour beetroot

This is one of those dishes where I really want to write about it, because it was delicious, but at the same time it contains some really polarising ingredients and I know a lot of people are going to see this and say "Yuk".

I do understand the beetroot hate. It isn't my favourite thing, although I have an increasing appreciation for it as a fresh vegetable OR as a condiment (but not steeped in vinegar and served as a vegetable). I don't understand the goats cheese haters but I do recognise that those who don't like it REALLY don't like it, and can smell it from the other side of the room.

So, yes, this is a polarising meal. Beetroot & shallots glazed with butter, honey and balsamic (based on the sweet & sour beetroot in Diana Henry's Plenty), topped with a disc of goats cheese and grilled until browned, bubbly and delicious. Paul doesn't like sweet & sour and he doesn't like beetroot, so this was definitely a solo treat.

Monday 14 March 2011

Life of Pi

It's March 14th - or, as the Americans might write it, 3.14. Pi day, in fact. The mathematical constant without which re-calculating quantities for round cake tins becomes a bear of a job.

And to celebrate Pi, I present you with a pie. It's a bit of a cheat, taking full advantage of short-cutty convenience foods, but it's a damn good pie.

Game Pie

1 tbs olive oil
1 bag diced soffrito mix
1 tub smoked bacon lardons
300g diced wild rabbit
300g diced venison
3 crushed juniper berries
1 tub Bordelaise sauce that was tucked away in the freezer for a rainy day
1tbs flour
2tbs booze (I used whisky because it was there)
1 pack frozen butter shortcrust
1/2 pack frozen butter puff
1 eggyolk

Soften the soffrito in a heavy-based pan in the olive oil & add the lardons. Add the meat, juniper berries and Bordelaise sauce, bring to the boil and turn down to a simmer, covered for about an hour or until tender. Drain the meat into a colander, reserving the liquid and returning it to the pan. Mix the flour with the booze to a smooth paste and slowly add to the reserved liquid, stirring constantly. Bring back up to the boil and reduce the sauce until it forms a luscious thick gravy. Stir the meat back in and allow to cool.

Line the base of the pie dish with the shortcrust, pack in the cooled game stew and top with the puff pastry. Cut a hole in the top so steam can escape and decorate with the mathematical symbol of your choice. Glaze the pit with the beaten eggyolk and bake at 175C for about 45 minutes or until it is appetisingly browned and there are little bubbles of boiling stew erupting from the airvent.

Serve with a green vegetable and a glass of red wine.

Wednesday 9 March 2011

Cook the Books: An Embarrassment of Mangoes

March in Hertfordshire is worlds away from the Caribbean. Wrapped up in several thick layers of clothes, listening to the rain on the conservatory roof, it was almost impossible to imagine the blue sky and sunshine Ann Vanderhoof describes in the current Cook the Books bookclub selection, An Embarrassment of Mangoes.

This isn't my first at-second-hand encounter with sailing around the Caribbean. An amazing foody friend of mine has been crewing on a charter catamaran based in the British Virgin Islands for several years. Once in a while amazing nutmeg scented parcels of aged rums, bizarre spiced cocoa balls and nutmeg jam arrive, with lovely evocative letters about trying to produce gourmet meals in a galley kitchen with uncertain supply chains.

Because of those luxurious parcels, and the lovely passage in the book about hiking through the nutmeg trees, I'd been keen to do something with nutmeg or mace. Unfortunately I couldn't decide what.

So I settled on booze.

A frozen daiquiri (made with tinned mango pulp - I did mention March in Hertfordshire, mangoes are hard to come by), heady with lime juice and coconut rum was a delicious hit of sunshine on a grey day.

And as a substantial snack as a base for the booze - shark & bake with shadow benny sauce and some fried plantains. I used coriander leaves for the shadow benny, and (as a supporter of the Fish Fight) some lovely fat fillets of Cornish day-boat caught pollock instead of shark for my fried bakes.

It may not look much like Trinidad outside, but we still had our little taste of the Caribbean.


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