Monday 28 December 2015

Christmas feasting

For our Christmas dinner this year we bought a plump Yorkshire duck from Turner & George. We tossed around a few ideas but decided to look to the East for our meal - following Meera Sodha's recipe for roast duck fesenjan.

Initially I'd thought to just do the wonderful persimmon & chicory salad we had last year, but for some reason Ocado aren't selling persimmons this year, and the thought of going to an actual shop was just not to be born. So I made a different Diana Henry recipe, a bulgar pilau with glazed figs from A Change of Appetite. I thought the balsamic and honey glazed figs would play particularly nicely with the sweet/sour pomegranate in the duck. And they did. Instead of the cavolo nero in the original recipe, I added a packet of flower sprouts on top of the bulgar wheat, to steam gently while the wheat cooked. It made a dish that was both delicious (lovely nutty bulgar, delicious tender flower sprouts, juicy figs) and festive.

For dessert I'd made some citrussy trifles. I did individual portions because it was just us and a big trifle looks so messy and unappetising once a couple of spoonfuls have come out, so the spares could stay pristine in the fridge for a couple of days. They were mini orange and lemon sponges (half iced, which is why there is a big white smear half way down), with a good slosh of Cointreau, then orange suprême and Cointreau and orange jelly (just freshly squeezed orange juice and a bit of Cointreau, set with leaf gelatine), then a layer of (bought) vanilla custard, topped with orange syllabub and garnished with crystallised pomelo rind. Very boozy, but fresh and lovely.

Of course, a whole duck is still a bit much for two, so on Christmas Day we just had the breasts. On Boxing Day I pulled the rest of the meat from the bones and reheated it in the remaining walnut sauce. I made some spinach rice and a simple apple raita. And it was just as delicious as the original roast.

Friday 25 December 2015

Merry Christmas, everyone!

To all Foodycat readers and friends, 
I wish you a very merry Christmas. 

It's the two of us this year, and we are going to be doing a celebratory but non-traditional roast later today. We've decided to keep things pretty simple - I'm not even doing our usual spread of nibbly things, although we do have some blinis and caviar and whatnot.

Paul requested a Christmas cake, for nibbling with coffee, so I made my Caribbean-ish black cake (for the first time since I published the recipe, actually) using some of my boozy bottled cherries instead of bought canned ones. I only made a half quantity, which ended up as a 1lb loaf and a mini loaf. Plenty to keep us going! It's rich and gooey and incredibly boozy (the cherries have been in rum for over a year, the rest of the fruit soaked for a month).

And earlier this week I decided I wanted the sort of thing that usually gets made from Christmas leftovers, but as we aren't having a traditional meal I had to pre-empt and cook the bits from scratch. I boiled potatoes, halved Brussels sprouts and flower sprouts (cooked them separately but in the same pan without washing it out between times because there is no sense in making extra work).

Then I fried a sliced onion, several cloves of garlic and quite a lot of bacon in a shallow Le Creuset pan, and mixed those bits in with the cooked and drained vegetables along with a crumbled dried chilli. I heated a slosh of oil back in the Le Creuset (again, I didn't wash it out between times - it just had some oniony bacony juices in it and they weren't going to hurt us).

I piled everything back in the pan, pushing it all down well, and waited until I could hear the bits sizzling on the bottom of the pan, then sprinkled over a handful of cubed cheddar cheese and stuck it all in a hot oven. 15 minutes later it was browned and delicious, and calling to be topped with a fried egg.

Tuesday 22 December 2015

Winter Solstice

Chaenomeles in flower
The weather at the moment is a bit ridiculous. The Japanese quince is back in flower, the crab apple bonsai is coming into bud about a week after the last leaves fell, and on Saturday evening we barbecued. It's mild, wet and very windy.
Crab apple in bud
Barbecue, 19th December 2015
Barbecued lamb chops on smoked cheese and garlic flatbread
But today is the longest night. England is an old country and it's hard not to feel some of the traditions and archetypes that have been soaking into the land for centuries, so we always try to do something to welcome back the sun. And for Paul, pretty much any old English ritual requires boar and mead. In this case, a joint of wild boar, seasoned porchetta-style and wrapped in some pork rind from another occasion, to help keep the lean meat moist. I baked some sausage-stuffed Bramley apples alongside, and made a dish of Brussels sprouts and chestnuts with garlic butter. We drank some mead. We banished the dark.

Saturday 19 December 2015

Other bloggers' dishes

It's less than a week to Christmas and it's hard to believe we're so close to the end of the year. I thought about doing a gift guide but I've clearly left it too late - so if you are still at a loss, have a look at Kavey's or Gemma's for inspiration. I thought about some other sort of seasonal round up - favourite things I've cooked this year or something - but that just hasn't grabbed me either. Instead, here is my latest round up of Other Bloggers' Dishes: the things I have cooked from other blogs.

Helen Graves' Nargisi kofta curry was basically spiced lamb scotch eggs in a yoghurt-based gravy. Completely delicious and very, very filling. Really - you may think you could eat two kofte but I would be surprised.  

Given that Ed's been writing for The Guardian and who knows who else lately, it seems a little cheeky to claim his tarragon chicken for this series, but there you go. Delicious and old-school. I added some mushrooms, because mushrooms love tarragon so much, and served it with basmati rice to soak up the sauce and some kitsch little bean bundles (not, I assure you, prepared by me).

Heather's mashed butternut and potatoes with roasted garlic, smoked gouda and bacon looked so appetising and indulgent, like a perfect holiday side dish if your family isn't utterly wedded to roast potatoes. Unfortunately, when I came to make it my squash (kabocha, not butternut) had gone a bit tragic, so it was just potatoes. And I used my ricer on them, not a hand mixer. They were fab though. Definitely worth doing again - with the squash next time.
Squashless mashed squash
And finally, Miss South's Easy Salted Caramels. These would be a perfect gift for any friend who is known to eat condensed milk by the spoonful. When I saw them on her blog I immediately imagined them rolled in freeze-dried raspberry or cranberry powder, for a bit of a tang. Which is what I did. Unfortunately, the cranberry powder is so intense that, unadulterated, it tastes like cystitis powder. SO I tipped the caramels back into a bowl, microwaved them for 30 seconds to make them pliable and kneaded them back together, giving me a pleasantly cranberry-flavoured pink caramel. I rolled it into balls again per Miss South's instructions, then rolled them in more cranberry powder, this time diluted with sifted icing sugar and some food-safe glitter. Sparkly and very delicious!

Thursday 17 December 2015

Playing with Pomelo

Steak and Vietnamese-ish pomelo salad
One of the things that people who don't like online grocery shopping say about it is that they like to browse. They also say they'd rather choose their own fresh produce. And I understand that. For me, though, the convenience and ability to take a leisurely approach over the course of the week more than make up for being stuck with Ocado's "New" tab.

But as it happens I was perusing the New tab when I noticed that they had started to stock pomelos. I've been hearing things about pomelos for a while but never knowingly tried one, so I decided to order one to play with. And to be honest, I am glad Ocado were choosing my fresh produce for me, because the pomelo is a curious beast that flies in the face of everything I know about citrus.

For one thing, it was tightly wrapped in plastic, so I couldn't tell if it was aromatic. It was also very light for its size - I'm used to choosing fruit that seem heavy and juice-laden, but apparently that's not something you look for in a pomelo.

I took it out of the plastic and got a waft of a subtle floral, almost jasmine-y fragrance. I thinly pared off the rind, for candying, and then cut off the pith with the intention of cutting the flesh into suprême for putting in a salad.

And discovered that that isn't something you do with pomelos either. The membranes are very thick and the juice sacs quite dry and separated, so it's actually the easiest thing to just pull the fruit into segments and peel the membranes off with your fingers. Which isn't as sticky as it sounds.

The flesh went into a Vietnamese-ish salad with cucumber, shallots, mint, coriander and peanuts. I made a light dressing of chilli, fish sauce and lime juice. Even with all the chunks of pomelo in the salad, it still needed the fresh acidity of the lime juice, as the fruit is fragrant rather than sharp. Wonderful with a steak.

Then I candied the peel. I've been nibbling small chunks of it whenever I feel like something sweet, but I think most of it is going to be adorning my Christmas trifle.


Monday 7 December 2015


 One of my semi-regular rants is about cauliflower cheese. So you may have heard it before. But I just don't understand how cauliflower cheese got relegated from main course to side dish. It's substantial enough to be a meal on its own, and a roast dinner doesn't really need the extra richness it provides.

This version, which made a very satisfactory dinner for the two of us, with a bit left over, uses a couple of other brassicas for extra colour, flavour and nutrition. Cauliflower, beautiful romanesco and lovely broccoli. So pretty.

Then I topped it with bacon lardons and a rich cheese sauce, panko breadcrumbs and some extra cheese for crunch. It would have served 3-4 with a jacket potato each.

Saturday 5 December 2015

Piquet, Fitzrovia

Beetroot & goats cheese
For a few weeks I'd been hearing increasing buzz about Piquet. Well, maybe not buzz. More of a well-mannered murmur of appreciation and licking of well-fed lips. People whose opinions on food I respect were saying it was very nice. And grown-up. You could book a table and drink out of actual glasses. Then I also saw a suggestion that it was going to be reviewed by the big guns, so decided I needed to go while it was still possible to get in.

We chose the "Discover Piquet" menu option, at £29.95 for three courses and a welcoming drink. I started with a heritage beetroot salad, goat’s cheese mousse, black figs and hazelnuts - comfortable in the knowledge that Jude can't bear goat's cheese, so I wouldn't have to share. Beetroot and goat's cheese is such a safe combination, but this was beautifully composed, with the leaves, figs and toasted hazelnuts adding extra dimension. The slices of golden beetroot confused me, because even though I knew it was beetroot my eyes kept telling me it was persimmon and my palate didn't know what to think.

Jude had celeriac velouté, trompette mushrooms, of which I didn't get anything approaching an acceptable photo. The presentation elevated the soup, poured from a jug around the black mushrooms, but the flavour lived up to the theatre.

I had chicken with a wild mushroom raviolo and salsify as my main course. The portion was a touch on the dainty side but it was the most wonderfully chicken-flavoured chicken I've had in ages. The salsify was lovely - it's such a pain in the arse to prepare that I am always happier to have someone else do it. Unfortunately the raviolo was a bit underdone and firm to the bite.

Jude definitely won the main course round. Her casserole of cod cheeks, baby squid & chorizo, haricot blanc and chopped herb oil was a more generously sized portion, the little squidlets on top were perfectly crisp and the cod cheeks sweet and delicate.

We'd both ordered gin and tonics when we arrived, so one of the (well trained, very lovely) waiters offered us glasses of cava instead of the house cocktail included in the menu.  And very nice it was too. So good, we had seconds with our desserts.

Jude finds it very difficult to go past iles flottante on a dessert menu. So she didn't even try. It wasn't as pretty as the one they do at Brasserie Zedel (they use those bright pink sugared almonds as the garnish), but it was good.

My baked almond tart was utterly gorgeous. Thin, crisp pastry, a thin layer of something like powidl, then a lovely frangipane filling and some not-too sweet prunes. It was served warm with whipped cream on the side. Classic and wonderful. Just like the rest of Piquet.

Thursday 3 December 2015

A short season of short ribs

A few weeks ago I got a last minute invitation to a preview night of Zelman Meats in Soho. On a little back street in Soho, Rex & Mariano had been hugely popular with people I follow on twitter, but wasn't attracting enough regulars and lunchtime custom, so the owners decided to try something quite different.
The raw red prawns are still on the menu - and I was amazed by how good they were - but the big thing Zelman Meats is doing, apparently, is making the most of the cuts left after the premium steaks are taken off the carcasses for the Goodman restaurants. So at the preview night we were fed magnificent picanha (rump cap) and utterly divine short ribs.  
Aubergine with harissa & yoghurt (which was a bit undercooked), beautiful meat, stunning truffle chips
And just after this wonderful dinner I discovered that Ocado were selling beef short ribs. So I bought some.
Short rib ragu
We've had them as a rich ragu, with lots of red wine and mushrooms, stirred through pasta.
 We've had them cooked to shreds with chipotle, thyme, cumin and coriander and packed into tortillas.
Short rib chilli
Short rib tacos, with shredded salted cabbage and tomato and avocado salsa
And we've had them in a sweet chilli and tamarind glaze.
Work in progress - tea smoking the ribs
I haven't quite nailed the technique for the glazed ribs. I want to give the effect of a slow, cool barbecue, and tried to get it by tea smoking the ribs and slowly baking them in the oven. But if I start the ribs on the hob to get the smoke going the meat cooks too fast, and if I just do them in the oven it doesn't get hot enough to smoke.

The glaze itself -
2tbs tamarind paste
1tbs habanero sweet chilli sauce
1tbs ketjap manis
1tbs dark soy sauce
- is very good, but I do wonder about maybe adding some liquid smoke or a touch of pimenton or something to cheat the smoke flavour.

Anyway - while they look unprepossessing after an 8 hour slow bake, the meat fell apart as soon as it was nudged with a fork but was still beautifully juicy.

Creamy coleslaw was not the right accompaniment - too rich. An Asian-flavoured vinegar slaw would be better

Thursday 26 November 2015

Diana Henry's cheddar, onion and spinach tart

It's Potluck week again at I Heart Cooking Clubs - where you simply have to cook a dish from any of the previous featured cooks and food writers. 

The dish I've made is one of the best savoury tarts I have ever made, even though I thoroughly bollocksed up the pastry.

It's Diana Henry's cheddar, onion and spinach tart - slowly cooked onions and minerally spinach, topped with a rich savoury cheesy custard.  Utterly delectable.
Unfortunately, when I was completely committed to making this, I realised that I didn't have nearly enough plain flour for the pastry. So I ended up having to use 175g of wholemeal self-raising flour to make up the quantity. Bad Idea. It ended up expanding so much that the filling overflowed and stuck to the tin and made a considerable mess.

That aside, the only change I made to the recipe was adding a good grating of nutmeg, because I am constitutionally incapable of making something cheesy and spinachy without adding nutmeg. And even with the lovely sharp cheese and strong mustard, the nutmeg flavour did carry through. And it was good.

Tuesday 24 November 2015

Gorgonzola and kale tortelloni bake

It's got a bit chilly this week! The temperature yesterday hovered around 5 or 6C. Definitely melted cheese weather.

This tortelloni bake isn't pretty and is mind-bogglingly calorific. Perfect when a walk to the post office means you can't feel your face.

Gorgonzola and kale tortelloni bake (serves 2)

500g good quality fresh spinach and ricotta tortelloni or ravioli (I bought some from The Fresh Pasta Company with walnuts in, which were particularly good, but not cheap)
60g baby kale leaves, washed (which is a lot more than it sounds)
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
170ml cream
200g gorgonzola, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Cook the tortelloni according to packet instructions and drain.

Spread half the kale leaves in the base of a 9" square casserole dish, sprinkle with half of the garlic and 1/3 of the gorgonzola. Add half of the cooked tortelloni, spread out in a single layer. Top with the rest of the kale leaves and garlic, half of the remaining gorgonzola and half of the cream. Arrange the rest of the tortelloni on top, the rest of the gorgonzola and sprinkle on the remaining cream, making sure each piece of pasta gets a trickle.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly.

Saturday 21 November 2015

Häagen-Dazs Chocolate Salted Caramel

Saying "yes" to the offer of sampling the chocolate salted caramel ice cream from Häagen-Dazs was pretty obvious. I think it's been clear over the years that I really like Häagen-Dazs as a brand and I really like ice cream under most circumstances.

I said "yes" and a couple of vouchers arrived in the post a day or so later. Getting to the shops took a bit longer. It meant I totally missed National Chocolate Week, which was the whole point of them offering me the product to try. But as I know that for many people every week is chocolate week I don't feel too bad about that time slip.

So I knew I really liked their regular salted caramel ice cream and I thought I'd better get a tub of that as well as the chocolate to do a side by side comparison. Definitely for research purposes. And not at all just for me because it is delicious. I also picked up a tub of vanilla for Paul. His choice. I'm generous like that.

"Chocolate ice cream with a decadent salted caramel swirl and salted caramel brittle". The chocolate wasn't too sweet, which I really liked. The salted caramel had enough salt to stand up against the chocolate - I had wondered about that, because chocolate can be such a brute - although I thought the chunky bits of caramel were more chewy than brittle. It's very good, and I am sure lovers of grown up chocolate flavours will absolutely fall for it, but it's not quite enough to make chocolate my first choice of ice cream flavour. Not in a world with salted caramel, and dulce de leche, and macadamia nut brittle, and pralines and cream.

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Chorizo and tomatoes

Not a recipe or anything, I just got a kick out of the halved cherry tomatoes being the same size, shape and colour as the halved cooking chorizo.

Monday 16 November 2015

Dr Oetker Ristorante Calzone

Yes, I like cooking. I cook four or five nights a week. I cook even if I'm eating alone. It's more of a pleasure than a chore (particularly since I have a dishwasher...). But we always, always have a couple of pizzas in the freezer. Pizza is Paul's comfort food. It fits, for him, into some weird mental category where the calories don't count, he considers it low-carb and no matter how queasy he is feeling pizza makes him feel better.

Unfortunately, the pizza places that deliver to us are all pretty awful and overpriced. We were delighted, a few months ago, to discover a new one. The first pizzas we had from there were delicious, some of the best we've had in years. Our second order was patchy. Our third was so undercooked it was almost raw and made us both sick. And I've noticed they have stopped delivering.

So we'd rather stick with frozen pizzas, where at least we know they are cooked all the way through. I was very pleased to accept a couple of vouchers to try Dr Oetker Ristorante Pizza Calzone.

First things first, the instructions say to place the frozen calzone directly onto the rack in a preheated oven. Now, I always do that with other frozen pizzas, but I just wasn't 100% convinced of the structural integrity of the dough envelope, so I decided to be cautious and put it straight onto the rack, but with a paper-lined tray on the shelf underneath it. Which was a good move, as I watched a long drip of cheese ooze down.

As this sort of folded pastry tends to be lava-hot inside, I was quite happy to take a few pictures before I ate it. I know from past experience that you can't really taste anything with a blistered palate. The aroma when I first cut into it was very good - a savoury waft of yeast and herbs.

To me, this tasted of my childhood. I don't know if we actually ate French tinned champignons that often, but that slightly pickled mushroom taste took me straight back there. The Edam cheese is mild and pleasantly gooey, the salami nicely meaty, the crust crunchy. There could/should have been more cheese, as quite a lot of it dripped out and was lost, though. It doesn't taste particularly Italian; it's a very Teutonic approach to a pizza, but it was an enjoyable solo meal.

The biggest problem I can see with us adding these calzones to our regular pizza supply is the cooking time. Because they are folded they take more than twice as long to bake as an ordinary frozen pizza. If it's going to take half an hour to bake I'm probably more likely to go up the road for a kebab. But other people are more patient than I am.

One other concern I had was over the use of palm oil, but I read the Dr Oetker supplier report to the Roundtable for Sustainable Palm Oil. Dr Oetker has been in conversion to sustainable palm oil suppliers since 2011, and world wide conversion is scheduled for this year.  Which is very pleasing for those of us who like orang utans as much as we like pizza.

Disclaimer: In the words of Simply Red "If you don't know me by now, you will never never never know me". I was given vouchers for Dr Oetker pizza products. No other payment was offered, no promises were made. My opinions are my own.

Monday 9 November 2015

Chilli harvest 2015

Wonkus early chilli fruit

Last year's habanero crop was a bit much for us. Even taking the Caribbean approach to Scotch Bonnets, of putting a whole, un-cut one into a pot of stew for flavour with less heat left us sweating and gasping. So this year we wanted a milder, more generally useful chilli. Paul chose Santa Fe Grande, and successfully grew four plants. Four prolific plants.

The first fruits that were formed were... not what we were expecting. "Hot conical blunt-tipped waxed fruits, 1½" wide by 3½" long"? No. But eventually they started producing more normal-looking fruit, so I guess it was just like a young hen producing double-yolk eggs - all a bit over-enthusiastic until things settle into a rhythm. For me, though, I thought we'd swung too far in the other direction. The habaneros were too hot for us but these had hardly any heat at all. So this is not the cultivar of my dreams.

As it has got colder we've had to strip the plants of fruit to make room in the conservatory for the calamondin bonsai, so I've been on a chilli processing kick. It hasn't quite matched the Great Wall of Cherries but there have been enough to be getting on with.

I've made Thai chilli paste and Turkish chilli paste, a vast quantity of chilli, garlic and ginger paste for curries, pickled some, preserved some in oil (heat processed for safety) and made a couple of jars of our family recipe pizza relish. Everything we're eating from eggs to ragu has been getting a spoonful or two of chilli. It's a good thing we are fond of a little heat.

Saturday 31 October 2015

Happy Halloween

I haven't cooked anything Halloweeny, but I did carve my annual cat pumpkin. I hope everyone celebrating has a lovely evening!

Friday 30 October 2015

Nigella's cumin lamb ribs for potluck week

I actually hadn't planned this, but the other day we had a Nigella Lawson dish for tea, and this week it is Potluck Week on I Heart Cooking Clubs, so it was clearly meant to be.

The recipe - lamb ribs with cumin and nigella seeds - is in her new book, I think, but she's got it on her website as an exclusive for community members. Worth signing up just for that, I think. And it's good enough to tempt me to buy the book.

Lamb ribs are very popular in South Africa, as a snack, grilled over a wood fire, simply seasoned with salt and pepper (I posted about them after a trip to SA) but you don't tend to see them as much over here. But Ocado have started to stock them, so hopefully they will take off.

Paul was very sceptical about me cooking ribbetje in a newfangled way, but the weather wasn't up for lighting the fire and I didn't give him much option.

The recipe takes about a minute to put together, and then two hours of slow roasting while all the fat renders out of the ribs leaving tender meat and an abundance of crispy bits. We had them as a main meal, piled on stir fried vegetables, but they would make great party food, as long as you don't have a white carpet and aren't wearing a posh frock.


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