Friday 30 September 2011

Simon Says: British Food Fortnight

It's the 10th annual British Food Fortnight (17th September to 2nd October - I am late to the bandwagon). I had a look down the list of 14 ways to participate, and to be honest none of them really floated my boat. It's either things I already do (seek local food, buy British, choose seasonal produce, cook British dishes, explore regional food) or really have no connection to (children's menus, school dinners, going to church for harvest festival).

We did celebrate the Harvest/autumnal equinox in time-honoured fashion with a couple of cans of cider, though.

The thing about British food, like British people really, is that it is a bit of a mongrel. Waves of invasion and immigration and colonisation have added dishes, techniques and ingredients to the menu that were never native to the UK. And this is a Good Thing, since otherwise we'd just be eating onions and broad beans. Even the rabbit was introduced. What really makes British food British is the fact that people are cooking British ingredients in Britain. It's the terroir, don't you know.

Quiche Lorraine. If you call it kweech it makes it British.

So I decided that to really commemorate British Food Fortnight I was going to draw your attention to a very British national treasure of the food scene: Simon Hopkinson. Now, if you aren't into food (why are you reading this blog?!) or you aren't from these parts, you probably haven't heard of this guy. But he gets name-checked by Delia Smith, Rowley Leigh, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, Nigel Slater - pretty much anybody in England who likes proper, unpretentious food with no shortage of flavour. In 2005 a book of his from the 1980s was voted "most useful cookbook of all time" by a panel of chefs, restaurateurs and food writers. This year, he made his first TV series, The Good Cook.

You can tell it was a good series from Paul's response. He is not the devotee of food shows that I am, so to grab his attention it has to be a bit special. He kept declaring that every university student in the land should watch this series, that there was no excuse to eat rubbish when Hopkinson was showing so very clearly how to cook delicious, simple things from scratch. He gets quite emotional at the thought of young people living off chicken nuggets and Iceland ready meals. He also kept demanding that I add the dishes to our menu, and no one can say I am not an obedient woman. Well they could really, but on this I agreed with my lord & master and let him think it was his idea.
Fried ham and cheese sandwich - like their namesake the 4th Earl of Sandwich, English to the core! And not at all a croque monsieur.

Apparently I am deficient in my wifely duties, having never made a lemon drizzle cake before. This isn't from the Good Cook series, but it is a Hopkinson recipe. And quite sublime too.

The Hopkinson recipe was for a rhubarb crumble, but I had apples. It was very nice, but I really do prefer my normal crumble with oats and nuts and whatnot added.

Grilled aubergines with olive oil, garlic, parsley and feta cheese. No doubt stolen from the Greeks at the same time as the Elgin marbles and they are not getting this back either.

As Jay Rayner wrote recently, "if you really want to do justice to the British larder, you'd better be sodden with French technique". Excellent produce, cooked with a bit of care and centuries of knowledge picked up from all over. That's really what British food is about.

Monday 26 September 2011

Meat-Free Monday: Carrot & Feta Cake

Some people seem to have been a bit shocked by the news that arch-carnivore Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall, whose Meat book is the last word on the subject, has published a book of meat-free recipes. I don't know why there should be such a kerfuffle. It seems obvious that for sustainable living and good health, eating less meat is a good idea. And it isn't as though he has ever rejected vegetables. From the earliest River Cottage TV shows, he has always given as much time and consideration to growing and preparing vegetables as he has to rearing & butchering & preparing meat.
I don't think this is a recipe from his new book, but it is a delicious meat-free savoury cake. Delicious in a big chunk eaten instead of a biscuit with morning tea, better alongside a bowl of vegetable soup. If you have a hard time dealing with the idea of a savoury cake, call it a loaf and no one will bat an eyelid.

Friday 23 September 2011

White chocolate coeur à la crème for Cook the Books

I am a contrary soul. Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that I almost invariably go left just because everyone else is going right. It means I haven't read The Kite Runner or The Da Vinci Code. And it means that I have never read Orangette, Molly Wizenburg's blog (or in fact any of the other "must-read" blogs. Must-read? Not for me!)

It means that the current Cook the Books bookclub selection, Molly Wizenburg's book, A Homemade Life, was an entirely unknown quantity for me.

What a treat it was! Warm, funny, very moving, it's a series of short pieces that hang together as autobiography, interspersed with recipes.

There were a number of dishes I wanted to try, and in fact a number I have and still will, but it wasn't long before I realised that it had to be the white chocolate coeur à la crème. Unlike Molly, I don't have a strong association between the 80s and white chocolate (I thought the 80s was all about kiwi fruit with meat and strawberry vinaigrette) but I do have strong nostalgia for coeur à la crème.

More than 20 years ago I bought my mother a set of coeur à la crème moulds (was it for a birthday or Christmas? That I cannot remember). She memorably used them (I think following the traditional Elizabeth David recipe, which is slightly savoury and contains whipped eggwhites) for my aunt's wedding lunch, and served them with pears poached in red wine. Although actually I can't remember if that was the same occasion.

So my mother actually has the right kit for these delights (which, just in case she is wondering, would go very nicely with sauternes if she is planning a birthday menu for Bill...). I don't. But I do have an actual proper cheese-making mould from my Forging Fromage endeavours.

A small amount of melted white chocolate is whisked through cream cheese and folded into whipped cream, then the mixture is drained in cheesecloth-lined moulds overnight so it becomes firm enough to turn out, yet light and luscious as a mousse. Unfortunately at the 11th hour I realised that I had run out of cheesecloth, so I had to line my mould with my jellybags, the seams of which left some pretty deep indentations in my glorious pudding.

In Molly's book, she serves this with a berry puree (there were lots of berry purees in the 80s. Ubiquitously called coulis). I served it with some rhubarb compote. Unfortunately I managed to make the rhubarb completely inedible - no idea what went wrong but it was horrible. The coeur à la crème, however, was divine.

Monday 19 September 2011

Meat Free Monday: Crispy tofu & spicy tomato sauce

Jamie Oliver's The Nicest Pan-Baked Sole begat Deb's Pan-Baked Tofu begat this. Which actually doesn't resemble either of the other dishes except in that there is a tomato-based sauce!

I made a spicy tomato sauce with lots of pickled hot wax chilli, capers, garlic and basil, with an extra kick of smoked hot sauce. While that simmered until it was quite thick and fairly dry I sliced a block of smoked almond and sesame tofu into steaks, dusted them with cornflour and fried them in a little vegetable oil until they were nicely crisped. Placed the tofu on the sauce and served immediately.

Friday 16 September 2011

Onions baked with parmesan and cream

The title says it all really - par boiled onions, bathed in seasoned cream and parmesan, baked until bubbly and divine and the cream thickens to a gorgeous rich sauce. It's a Nigel Slater recipe, and the man does know what he is doing. Although, bizarrely, there is no mention of nutmeg which is just wrong really. Of all things, onions, cream and parmesan love nutmeg. So I added a good grating of fresh nutmeg when I seasoned it.

With all that divine decadence (Sally Bowles), you only need very simple (not to say bland) flavours alongside. A roasted chicken, with lots of garlic, a big pile of peas. You don't even need butter on the peas, and it is not often I say that!

Sunday 11 September 2011

Sandwich heaven - torta

Continuing my love-affair with Mexican Food Made Simple... I cannot believe I hadn't had a torta before! A split ciabatta bun, toasted in the chorizo juices, laden with refried beans (and as an aside, I can't believe how good homemade refried beans are!) avocado, lettuce, coarsely-chopped fresh tomato salsa. A curl of freshly-grilled chorizo. A little chipotle mayo. Heaven.

It's a very clever combination of ingredients. The earthy beans, creamy avocado and sparkling acid salsa are equal players with the crisp refreshing lettuce, fatty, spicy sausage and subtle fire of the chipotle mayo. All conveniently encased in a sandwich thick enough to keep your fingers moderately clean.

I am particularly proud of this one because I entered it in a competition on Thomasina Miers' facebook page and it won. My prize funded an extremely pleasant dinner at the Covent Garden Wahaca, which was a celebration of the fact that Paul now has a job in London, so not only does he get to come home every night, but we can also do extremely decadent things like meet up after work for a meal!

I am also hoping I can sneak this under the wire to Deb's Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday (soups, salads and sammies) round-up!

Sunday 4 September 2011

Chilli chilli bang bang

Thanks for your comments everyone - the panic is over, our photos are not lost. Unfortunately, the entire Windows operating system seems to have died, so I am trying to figure out Gimp for my photos etc.

It also seems that Chromium + Blogger is not a good mix - it seems to be ridiculously complicated to position my photos in posts now! So I apologise if the formatting of my posts is a bit whacky for a while.

When I came home to discover that a small, hairy animal had walloped one of our Hungarian Hot Wax chillis, I suddenly had to find a use for a large quantity of them.

We'd been talking about slicing some to
pickle, like a jalapeno, so I made a
couple of jars of those. I didn't really work from a recipe, I just read the label on the jar of commercial jalapenos in the pantry. I packed the sliced chillis into hot sterilised jars and poured over boiling pickle

(vinegar, salt, peppercorns and a touch of calcium chloride), then as the slices floated I packed in more.

I left them for a fortnight before we tasted them, and I am extremely happy with the result! They aren't quite as firey as our jalapenos, but the flavour and texture is exactly right.

I also made a jar of chilli relish. This was inspired by my brother-in-law's pizza relish,

a versatile, pungent mixture of minced chillis and garlic, the precise recipe for which is a closely guarded secret.

My version is not a closely guarded secret.

Hungarian Hot Wax Relish

6 or 7 Hungarian Hot Wax chillis - still green but beginning to change colour
6 or 7 cloves of garlic, peeled
1tbs coarse salt
75ml white wine vinegar

Grind the chillis, garlic, salt and vinegar to a chunky puree. Place in a small saucepan, bring just to the boil. Pack into a hot, sterilised jar and store in the fridge.

So far, this relish has appeared on burgers, in a toasted brioche with cheese and a fried egg, has enveloped prawns for some delicious tacos, and has snuggled up with mozzarella and gorgonzola in some killer quesadillas. I actually need to make another jar PDQ, with the rate we are getting through this one.

I won't let the cat harvest the chillis this time though.


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