Monday 27 July 2015

My favourite: frying pan

Seen here awaiting washing up from breakfast omelettes
It's seen better days, and that sharp chunk broken from the handle makes it awkward to hold, but I love this frying pan. I've had it for 20+ years as far as I can remember and it's been washed so often the maker's name on the bottom is hardly legible any more. It makes the best fried eggs and omelettes in the world. They get beautifully golden and never stick. It's just perfect.

Friday 24 July 2015


Growing root vegetables is more exciting than you'd think. Really, it is. All that effort, with the frisson that you have no idea what is going on beneath the surface. Is there bounty or have critters destroyed everything?

We're not actually growing much in the way of veg. Most horticultural effort is ploughed into the bonsai and we don't have space for much else aside from the usual couple of chilli plants. But Paul decided he wanted to have a crack at garlic. It was a little late in the season to make the decision, but we planted some Red Duke cloves in spring and several plants duly popped up.

We've spent a couple of weeks now dancing from foot to foot in anticipation, reading everything we could find and consulting noted garlic growers (i.e my mother and aunt) trying to decide when we should harvest. Eventually we had to bite the bullet and pull up a bulb to see where we were. It was plump and perfect.

I broke it into cloves. We tasted a little slice from a raw clove and it was wonderful - really bitey and hot. I tossed the rest in olive oil, salt and pepper with chunks of aubergine, courgette, red pepper and harlequin squash and baked it in a hot oven for 45 minutes, then pulled it out and added cherry tomatoes, pine nuts and crumbled feta and put it back in for another 15 minutes.

We had the vegetables with lamb loin fillets, simply pan-fried until pinkly tender. The garlic sang, but each element was delicious.

Wednesday 22 July 2015

Fig, feta and almond salad

Paul loves salad - which is a good thing - but really, really loves "interesting" salad. Which tends to mean salads with nuts and seeds, bits of cheese and carefully considered dressings as well as the usual salad veg.

This one I made last night, to go with a roast rack of pork. It's very quick to put together and it's a delicious combination. It would go equally well with lamb or chicken I think. Or just in a bowl by itself as a solo meal.

Fig, feta and almond salad (serves 2)

1 handful flaked almonds
4 ripe figs
1 little gem lettuce
125g feta
2 spring onions
2 tsp honey
1 tsp grainy mustard
1 tbs balsamic vinegar
2 tbs olive oil

Toast the flaked almonds and put them to cool in your salad bowl. Quarter the figs, wash the lettuce and tear the leaves, crumble the feta and slice the spring onions into the bowl.

In a small bowl or ramekin mix the honey, mustard, vinegar and olive oil to an emulsion. Taste it - my mustard is quite sharp so it needed 2 tsp of honey, but a mellower mustard needs less. Just before serving pour the dressing over the salad and toss gently.

Sunday 19 July 2015

Peach iced tea

I think it must have been the mid 1990s when I first tasted peach iced tea. I was immediately hooked. The sweet fruityness, the dry tannins, I loved it all.

It hasn't always been that easy to come by: Snapple was available in Australia for a short period but then seemed to disappear and I've never seen it in the UK. Lipton Ice was overly sweetened but fairly reliable until they started to put vile stevia in it (you can still get it without, but apparently the warehouse pickers who pack my internet grocery shopping can't tell the difference). The Berry Company's peach white tea is delicious and lower in sugar than Lipton, but it seems to have disappeared from the shelves.

I took some pointers from a woman from America's South, where both peaches and iced tea seem to be a way of life, and set out to make my own peach iced tea. Her secrets to a good iced tea of any flavour are to start with a properly strong tea, diluting it to taste, and using a sugar syrup to sweeten. It took several goes to get a blend I was happy with, but here it is.

Peach iced tea (makes 1 litre - about 6 glasses)

3 English breakfast tea bags
4 tbs caster sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1 sachet white peach bellini mix
Ice to serve

Place the tea bags in a 1l heatproof jug. Pour on 500ml freshly boiled water and allow to steep for 10 minutes, then remove the teabags.

In a small saucepan mix the sugar and a splash of water. Heat gently until the sugar dissolves completely. Allow to cool.

Pour the sugar syrup, lemon juice and bellini mix into the tea, top up with cold water to 1 litre. Taste for sweetness (it'll be quite strong, it gets diluted by the ice) and chill.

Half fill glasses with ice, stir the iced tea (the peach tends to settle at the bottom) and pour over the ice to serve.

I think a double quantity with a good cupful of Southern Comfort and some sliced fresh peaches would make a superb party punch. I'll have to try that next.

Friday 17 July 2015

No-churn peanut caramel cheesecake ice cream

So, this is what I did with the leftover unsatisfactory honey peanut brittle I made the other week. If you don't happen to have unsatisfactory honey peanut brittle in the house, don't go out of your way to make it - use some bought honey roasted peanuts or peanut brittle or even a chopped up Daim bar or something. But the caramel cheesecake ice cream is good just plain too. If I wasn't going to add the peanut brittle, I'd add a little pinch of sea salt flakes to the mixture, for a nice balance.

No-churn peanut caramel cheesecake ice cream (serves 6-8)

280g soft cream cheese (or 300g or 250g - the standard tub in your neck of the woods)
300ml double cream
400g milk caramel (the type you make by boiling a can of condensed milk, but I used a ready made one)
1tbs vanilla
3tbs dark rum (or brandy/whisky/bourbon)
2 good handfuls roughly chopped peanut brittle

Whisk the cream cheese, double cream, caramel, vanilla and rum to soft peaks. Fold in the peanut brittle. Freeze.

This one freezes harder than my usual no-churn ice creams, so take it out of the freezer 5-10 minutes before scooping.

Tuesday 14 July 2015

The Wicked Lady, Wheathampstead

We didn't renew our cherry tree rental this year. We still have a lot of preserves, frozen fruit and a couple of pies left from last year and Paul decided that he really doesn't like cherries enough to go through all that again. What he does like is the occasional weekend dessert of fresh, unsweetened berries, bathed in a hefty slosh of cold double cream.

I did some research and found a really nice-sounding Pick Your Own farm a pleasant drive away from us. It had the advantage of a variety of soft fruits, whereas the ones closer to us seem to mostly be strawberries. I liked the idea of some red and black currants and some raspberries as well.

What with one thing and another we weren't going to leave the house until late morning, so we felt that the best thing would be to find a pub for lunch before we went fruit picking. It wouldn't have done at all to have a car full of berries languishing in the sun.

The Wicked Lady is not far from the PYO, and both the pub name and the menu sounded pretty good to me. And then as we pulled into the car park we saw a Hendricks Gin bus which I thought was an excellent omen.

They were fully booked inside, but were doing table service outside, where they were having a summer party. As well as the Hendricks bus, they had a little gazebo set up with a waitress pouring Pimms, there were giant games of jenga and battleship and children were having their faces painted.

I had a Hendricks and tonic while Paul had a pint of Doom Bar. As soon as I spotted the guinea fowl kiev on the menu I knew Paul was lost and that we would not be having a quick sandwich.

So I started with a crab and crayfish pot. It was a bit too mayonnaisey, but the flavour was excellent. Paul had brie in a pumpkin seed crust. The crust was crisp and greaseless but there was too much over-sweet chutney for his taste.

I dithered for a while over my main course before choosing corned beef hash topped with a fried egg. The corned beef was excellent, punctuated by little coriander seeds, but I think in a perfect world there would have been half the amount of potato and the rest of the bulk provided by some shredded kale or something. It was a lot of potato per bite.

And in a perfect world they would not have committed the sin of halving the kiev. The whole point of kiev is that sensuous moment when you cut into it and the garlicky butter pours out. But the guinea fowl was moist and tender and the sauce, roesti and veg were all just what he wanted.

Just as the band were starting up we left. Unfortunately we took one look at the queue of families at the PYO and headed home - far too many people had the same idea as we did. We'll try again another weekend and I suspect we will have another lunch at The Wicked Lady.

Saturday 11 July 2015

Coronation Chicken Salad for Mystery Box Madness

I tried, OK? I really did. I approached this week's Mystery Box Madness challenge at I Heart Cooking Clubs with a completely open mind. And I still ended up doing a Diana Henry recipe.

For Mystery Box Madness we're allocated a list of ten ingredients, and we need to find a recipe from one of the featured chefs containing at least three of them. This week's ingredients were chicken, seaweed, sesame seeds, parsley, mozzarella, pasta, mango, brown sugar, zucchini and mint. I was absolutely sure I'd find a Nigella or Ottolenghi recipe using pasta, zucchini and mint. Or a Jamie Oliver recipe using mango, brown sugar and mint. But the first recipe that caught my eye was Diana Henry's take on Coronation Chicken.

Coronation chicken is the sort of post-War British cooking that gets a pretty bad reputation - invented by Constance Spry and Rosemary Hume for the coronation of Elizabeth II, it can be an extremely lurid combination of cold chicken, mayonnaise, curry powder and raisins. It's the dish that Americans should point to every time we say rude things about American food. But it can be absolutely wonderful. Made carefully, with a kick to the dressing and a good balance of fresh ingredients it's a really wonderful combination of savoury, sweet, creamy and crunchy. Diana's recipe uses fresh mint, mango and chicken breast - I used thigh fillets - and the mint gives everything a wonderful lift.

Thursday 9 July 2015

Honey Peanut Brittle for The Wedding Bees

It was the wrong week to be reading a poorly-written, ill-realised romance with an privileged white protagonist from Charleston. "Sugar" Wallace's nostalgia for swanning around an old plantation wearing a crinoline, treating her Magical Negro as an unpaid servant for his own good and bravely suffering through the most self-indulgent possible Secret Shame with an inflated sense of entitlement would have been pretty shit at the best of times. Reading it with the back-drop of a white supremacist trying to instigate a race war by murdering African Americans in Charleston meant that it was not the best of times.

I really did not enjoy the current Cook the Books club pick. Does it show? I found the protagonist irritating, the endless supply of stock characters lazy and the big reveal of Sugar's secret to be an anticlimax. There was the tiny kernel of an original idea hidden in layers of cliché.

Normally I would just let this month's pick slide, but I think the shootings at Emanuel AME church have opened up so many conversations about race, heritage and different experiences of the deep South that I felt obliged to post. And I felt compelled to look for a recipe from African American food traditions.

Honey peanut brittle seemed the obvious choice. In the introduction to this recipe, from Alice Randall and Caroline Randall Williams' book Soul Food Love: Healthy Recipes Inspired by 100 Years of Cooking in a Black Family, they talk about the role of slaves in establishing apiculture in the US and introducing honey to plantation menus. And peanuts were a crop brought from Africa to feed the slaves, (some of the names for peanuts, "goober" and "pindar" are from African languages).
I did have some reservations about the recipe - adding roasted nuts right at the beginning seemed to be quite risky for burning, and using that proportion of honey also seemed unusual. Unfortunately my reservations were realised - the caramel started to burn long before reaching the hard crack stage, leaving me with a large tray of dark, chewy nut caramel. It still tasted OK though: fairly grown-up, with a strong honey character and the slightly bitter, more complex flavour of caramel that has gone a shade too dark. Paul's colleagues hoovered half of it (he put it in the fridge to firm a bit more and then they stood around his desk cracking chunks off) and the other half I will do something else with. A pie? An ice cream? Something that doesn't get cooked any more.

Monday 6 July 2015

Tarragon potato gratin

The photo was an after-thought...

Last weekend I made Diana Henry's chicken and cherry salad with creamy tarragon dressing. Which was delicious (although I used pan fried chicken thigh fillets instead of poached breasts, so it wasn't nearly as elegant looking). And I tweeted about it and people tweeted back about the things they do with tarragon - in a creamy dressing with squid, bean and bacon salad, on tomato and green bean salad, on potato salad with capers, with watermelon. None of which I would ever have thought of. I like tarragon in bearnaise sauce, in chicken dishes and with mushrooms, but I clearly haven't given it enough attention in the kitchen.

So to accompany our Sunday roast (which was a lovely boned saddle of Texel Saltmarsh lamb) I made a potato gratin with sprigs of fresh tarragon and slices of garlic between the layers of spud. Usual (for me) stock/white wine (actually vermouth)/cream mixture and a long slow bake until it was meltingly tender and well-browned on top. I just seasoned the meat with salt, pepper and garlic because I didn't want other herbs to compete with the delicate aniseed flavour of the tarragon. It was pretty darn good. Would be wonderful with a roast chicken too.

Friday 3 July 2015

Kurubuta and Kikkoman, Eat Me!

My London stamping ground is pretty small. You could probably walk the borders of it in a couple of hours, taking a leisurely pace. It runs from Marylebone/Euston Rd in the north down to the Thames, seldom going west of Grosvenor Square or east of Kingsway. There's so much encompassed in that area that even after nine years I still don't feel like I know it well. I haven't been to all the museums or galleries and definitely haven't been to a tithe of the restaurants. It takes a pretty special invitation to get me to Chelsea. But as I stood at the bus stop outside Sloane Square tube, the people-watching was so superior that I knew I was in for something good.
Crunchy rice senbei crisps (rear) porky scratchings with yuzu kosho dip (front)
The invitation was to Kurobuta for the launch of Eat Me! a 4-part series of beautiful-looking youtube videos where Scott Hallsworth, founder of Kurobuta, teaches Made in Chelsea's Millie Mackintosh about "contemporised, Westernised" Japanese food. And there was the added lure of a Kikkoman soy sauce tasting and some of Scott's food. Quite a lot of Scott's food, actually.
After a quick game of "Aussie or Kiwi?" where I correctly spotted that bartender Paps was from Far North Queensland, there were drinks and an introduction to Kikkoman by Bing-Yu Lee, the London General Manager. Then Scott explained how he uses Kikkoman soy sauce in making a lot of the sauces and condiments he uses on his food, and Paps demonstrated how he'd added a twist to some classic cocktails with the addition of a bit of soy sauce. Definitely worth venturing west for.
Paps muddling cucumber
There were two Kikkoman cocktails - a soy sauce sour and a take on a bloody mary. Usually I love a sour (alcohol, lemon, eggwhite and a bit of sweetening), and I am a huge fan of the salted rim on a margarita, but somehow having that much umami depth in every sip of the sour didn't work for me. The other one though - wow. I am sharing the recipe for that one with Kurobuta's kind permission because it was completely delicious, the addition of cucumber adding a light freshness that was very welcome and the soy standing in for the Worcestershire and celery salt savouriness. Yum. Make one this weekend: you won't be sorry.

Bloody Kik in the pants (by Michael “Paps” Papal for Kurobuta)

50ml vodka
50ml Tomato juice
4 drops of Tabasco
Pinch of Shichimi salt
10ml honey
10 ml lime
10ml lemon
5ml Kikkoman soy sauce
4 pieces cucumber

Muddle cucumber with the salt and Tabasco, pour rest of ingredients in and shake. Garnish with lemon wedge and the salt to present.
Debris from soy sauce tasting, flamed edamame with sake, lemon, butter and Maldon salt
But really, for me the event was all about the food. Scott describes Kurobuta as a "rock & roll izakaya" but while the atmosphere was relaxed the food was carefully considered and meticulously prepared.
Yellowtail sashimi with kizami wasabi salsa and yuzu soy
Beef fillet tataki with onion ponzu and garlic crisps
Tuna sashimi pizza with truffle ponzu (I couldn't detect any truffle) red onions and green chillies
Sashimi selection, just a teensy bit cold to appreciate the flavours properly
Jerusalem artichoke chopsticks with truffle ponzu dip - I could taste the truffle this time
Kombu roasted Chilean seabass with spicy shiso ponzu
Unfortunately I had to leave just as these glorious-looking pork belly buns were served. I knew if I started playing "just one more course" I would never be able to tear myself away. Fortunately there is a branch of Kurobuta in Marble Arch, which is a bit more accessible for me, so I'll be able to go back and eat the rest of the menu.
BBQ pork belly in steamed buns with spicy peanut soy


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