Monday, 25 October 2010

OLD MASTERS AND MINESTRONE

Sunday in town! What a civilised way to spend the day. I met a friend at the Royal Academy of Arts to see the Treasures from Budapest exhibition, which was surprisingly interesting, once one got beyond all the Renaissance religious paintings and Baroque mythologies. There were some beautiful drawings, including some real gems by Leonardo, Raphael, Watteau, and some very fine paintings. The exhibition was not busy and it was lovely to stroll through the quiet rooms, while outside Piccadilly seethed with tourists lost in London. Afterwards, we walked down St James's Street, past the eccentric bookseller where we once worked together, through St James's Park, pausing every so often to admire a wonderful vista, lit by the most gorgeous autumn sunshine, and on to Jacky's flat in Pimlico for Prosecco and her homemade minestrone soup. Jacky and I first met when we worked at the Dictionary of Art in the late 1980s. She is probably the only friend with whom I could talk about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight without feeling horribly pretentious - indeed, this Medieval poem was the subject of our conversation the first time we met while doing some menial task such as stuffing envelopes (when one works as a publisher's dogsbody, as I did in my first job, one spends a great deal of time stuffing envelopes!). Jacky is also a fellow foodie: in fact, she came up with the nom de plume Demon Cook (she also named me Demon Shopper).

Jacky's minestrone was robust, flavourful and comforting,  just the thing after a walk in the cold autumn sunshine. The word 'minestrone' literally means "the big soup", and is one of the cornerstones of Italian cuisine, along with pasta. There is no set list of ingredients and there are many regional and seasonal varieties. I suspect any good cook has their own personal minestrone recipe: Jacky's was more "soupy" than mine, which tends to be thick, almost a stew, but it was packed with interesting flavours and ingredients, and it was so filling, I could not finish mine.

I tend to make my minestrone with whatever is in the fridge, but there are a few ingredients which I consider essential: tomatoes, bacon, carrots, onions, small pasta and beans. And fresh Parmesan or Pecorino to grate over the finished soup.

Other good things to put in minestrone:

Dark green cabbage, Cavolo Nero, or kale
Green beans
White beans
Salami, sliced
Courgettes
Fresh torn basil leaves

For an authentic Italian touch, throw in the hard rind of the Parmesan: it will soften and melt. Serve minestrone with a dollop of Pesto and lots of freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese.

KITCHEN CONFESSIONAL

What do you eat for breakfast?
Usually, Activia fig yoghurt. Not because I believe the advertising blurb, but because I like it. When it's cold, I like porridge, with a swirl of maple syrup. Fry-ups are reserved for camping trips. I love scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, boiled egg with Marmite soldiers, or fried tomatoes on toasted sourdough.

What food reminds you of your childhood?
Anything with kidneys or liver. My mother's puddings: 'Sylvabella' - a sort of chocolate mousse with boudoir fingers soaked in alcohol; Charlottoe Malakoff - almonds, cream, sugar and butter on top of boudoir fingers soaked in alchohol.


Ever eaten anything just to be polite?
No. If I don't like something, I just leave it. I cannot bear oysters, celery or dried fruits.

Marmite. Love it or hate it?
I LOVE it!! And I cannot recommend Nigella's marmite spaghetti too highly - delicious!

Coffee or tea?
I'm a big tea drinker and get through at least 10 cups a day - it's what keeps me going when I'm teaching. My favourites are Redbush and Lapsang Souchong. I like my tea weak and milky with one teaspoon of sugar. I like coffee, but I am fussy about it.

Favourite alcoholic drinks?
Prosecco, a good New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, Campari and Orange, Caipirinha cocktail, Leffe Belgian beer.

Are you a competitive cook?
Oooh yes, I am terribly competitive, so much so that my friend Nick calls me The Kitchen Nazi, and will not allow me in the kitchen when he is cooking because I have a dreadful tendency to meddle and tell everyone else how to do it because I am convinced I am right - all the time!

What kitchen gadget could you not live without?
My trusty Kitchenaid mixer. Ultra-powerful and uber retro, it makes fantastic bread dough and the lightest meringues. Also, my Ikea garlic press: the best one I've ever owned.

What do you always keep in your fridge?
Skimmed milk, Greek yoghurt, garlic, Belazu rose harissa, eggs, fresh Parmesan cheese, Feta and Halloumi cheese, President unsalted French butter

What is your signature dish/dishes?
'Fran Bread' (my foccaccia)
Pollo al ajillo (Spanish chicken with garlic and white wine)
Chocolate brownies
Kleftiko (Greek lamb stew)
Indian leg of lamb

What are your guiltiest food pleasures?
Lying in bed with a good book or my Macbook, drinking Lapsang Souchong tea and eating Green & Black's White Chocolate.
Cheese - especially gooey soft cheeses like Gorgonzola and Camembert.

Fantasy dinner guests?
Kevin McCloud, Phil Spencer, Kirstie Allsopp, Nigella Lawson, Richard Dawkins, Dr Brian Cox, Professor Jim Al Khalili, Ian Bostridge, Beethoven, pianist Sviatoslav Richter. Could be an interesting evening - music, science and popular culture! Oh, and my food.

Dinner party disasters?
Do I look like the kind of person who has dinner party disasters?! My tip is never to cook an untried dish for dinner guests. I always have a dry run if I'm doing something new.

Is the kitchen the most important room in your house?
In a way........it's where I go to think and cook. I find cooking very therapeutic - half an hour chopping and stirring with The Archers on the radio is my way of unwinding at the end of the day. I would love to have a big kitchen so that friends could sit and chat to me while I cook.

Most memorable meal?
A recent 12-course tasting menu at Ca' Mea, a restaurant near Baldalucco in Liguria (see earlier post).

THE BEST CHOCOLATE ICE CREAM

I am normally wary of labelling anything "the best", but in the case of this ice cream, it is entirely appropriate, for it truly is the best chocolate ice cream I have ever tasted.

I am not a huge fan of ice cream, generally, at least, not the stuff you can buy here. In Italy, it's a different matter: on holiday on the shores of Lake Garda a few years ago, I made it my project to try every flavour at the local gelateria (it boasted about 30 different varieties). Italian icecream is softer than its English cousin and served at a more "comfortable" temperature (I can't bear temple-achingly cold food). My favourite flavours are pistachio, coconut, hazelnut, banana and zabaglione. A little gelateria has opened on the high street, just around the corner from where I live. It is pretty good, with an enticing selection of flavours, but the ice cream is kept at slightly too cold a temperature for my liking.....

I had some egg yolks left over from making rather brutish-looking chocolate macaroons the other day (their brutishness the result of an imbalance of ingredients - my fault entirely! - though this did not detract from their flavour), exactly the right quantity for the ice cream recipe. Ice cream takes a bit of planning, I find, as the bowl of my ice cream maker needs to be placed in the freezer 24 hours ahead to ensure it is sufficiently cold to do the job. I do not have a fancy, expensive ice cream maker. Mine is really an electric churn and spares me the tedious job of retrieving the ice cream from the freezer several times and whisking it vigorously to keep it creamy.

This recipe comes from Nigella's How to Eat; she in turn owes it to Italian cook and food writer Marcella Hazan. Apparently, it comes originally from the Cipriani Hotel in Venice. It is dark, smoky and intense. Surprisingly, it contains no cream, yet it is most definitely creamy! The smoky flavour comes from the addition of caramel: it is amazing what depth this brings to the flavour.

4 egg yolks
130g plus 2 tbsps granulated sugar (I used caster sugar)
500ml full-fat milk
100g good quality dark chocolate (min. 70% cocoa solids)
40g best cocoa

Beat the egg yolks and 130g of sugar together until pale, thick and creamy. Meanwhile, bring the milk gently to the boil. In a separate pan, melt the chocolate (I do this in the microwave - on a low setting). When the milk has boiled, pour it over the egg mixture and add the chocolate and cocoa. Return to the hob and heat on a moderate heat until everything is smooth and amalgamated and beginning to thicken. Place 2 tbsps of sugar in a saucepan with 2 tbsps of water and bring to the boil. Make a caramel - and I mean caramel (as Nigella says "heat this until it's dark brown and molten. Live dangerously here....."). Pour this into the chocolate custard mix. Leave to cool and get your ice cream machine ready, if using one. Churn the custard mixture in your ice cream maker according to instructions and then place in the freezer. This keeps well, but I doubt it will last long!

Friday, 22 October 2010

CASSOULET

Cassoulet is a speciality of the Languedoc region of France, where white beans are cooked slowly with a variety of meat. Along with coq au vin and poulet au vinaigre, this is one of the few classic French dishes that I make fairly regularly.

Made properly, Cassoulet is a very fatty dish, but it is the fat that makes it so delicious. The beans become soft with slow cooking, while the meat (I use duck) is tender and succulent, and falls easily from the bones. It is a very comforting dish, entirely appropriate for a chilly evening in late October. It requires no other accompaniment than a good bottle of Burgundy.

When I was in my teens, I used to visit France quite regularly with my parents, and we always bought tins of Cassoulet from the supermarket back with us. Even the most bog-standard Monoprix version contained at least a few of the key ingredients: pork belly and Toulouse sausages. My mother would add duck or pork pieces to turn it into a really fine dish. I suppose this is a recipe that I learnt from her: I used to help her, spiking the onion with cloves and chopping the bacon rind. I have adapted Claudia Roden's recipe, from her book 'Mediterranean Cookery', one of my "desert island cookbooks". Preparing it for supper tonight, I made it at midday, after I'd finished teaching for the morning, and it infused my house with the most wonderful clove-scented fug, cosy and autumnal.

Don't be daunted by the long list of ingredients - this is simple one-pot cookery par excellence!

Serves 4

4 duck joints (leg is best)
125g pork rind, pancetta or streaky bacon, chopped. Or bacon smoked lardons, if you're feeling lazy!
1 medium onion stuck with 3 cloves, plus 1 medium onion chopped
2 x 400g cans of white haricot or Cannellini beans, drained
125g tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 125g tinned chopped tomatoes
1 large carrot, sliced
4 garlic cloves, crushed
a sprig of thyme
2 fresh bay leaves
2-3 tbsps olive oil, or lard, if you want to be really authentic
4 Toulouse or Cumberland-type coarse-cut pure pork sausage (Waitrose now do a Toulouse sausage)
2 tbsps tomato puree
Salt and pepper
200 ml dry white wine
Enough fine breadcrumbs to cover the top

I use a large Le Creuset casserole dish for this.

Start by seasoning the duck joints, and then brown them in a non-stick frying pan. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in the Le Creuset, or similar, and brown the sausages. Add the chopped onion and garlic, carrots, thyme and bay, and the clove-stuck onion. Pour the oil from the duck joints into the casserole. Then stir in the white beans, tomatoes and tomato puree. Check seasoning. Add the duck pieces and white wine and then cover with water. Bring up to the boil on the hob and allow to simmer, uncovered for an hour or so, or until the beans are tender or still firm. Meanwhile, set the oven to about 180C. Cover the top of the cassoulet with breadcrumbs and put in the oven until a golden crust has formed. Serve hot.

Variations:
  • Add 150g boiling sausage (preferably garlic), cut into pieces, during the last 10 mins of cooking on the hob.
  • Add 750g boned shoulder or breast of lamb. Brown it in the same fat as the duck.
  • Use goose instead of duck.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

LUNCH AT 202

After a rather convoluted journey into work today, thanks to the vagaries of the London transport system, and a couple of hours trotting through dictation and emails with My Old Man of Kensington, lunch with a girlfriend at '202' on Westbourne Grove in trendy Notting Hill seemed just about the perfect end to a somewhat mixed morning.

202 is one restaurant which I visit regularly, and at one stage, I was going there at least once a month with my friend Sylvia who works close by. We worked our way through the delicious and varied menu, and then got bored, switching our allegiance to a branch of Le Pain Quotidien on Notting Hill Gate. The premises used to be a pub, as is evident from the frontage, while inside it is all pared-down shabby chic: bentwood chairs, marble-topped tables, a zinc bar, big oval mirrors redolent of a French bistro, and a view through French windows to a pretty courtyard garden hung about with clematis and palms. The restaurant is part of a Nicole Farhi clothes and interiors shop, and one can sit amongst beautiful, expensive things while eyeballing the rest of the clientele, an eclectic mix of Notting Hill Yummy Mummies (all flicked up blonde hair and Hunter wellies or Emma Hope pumps, and Prada bags), elegant Kensington dames, and petite gay men with their matching petite dogs. Women come in with intriguing bags slung over their arms, containing delectable purchases from one or other of the gorgeous shops on Westbourne Grove. On any lunchtime at 202, one may hear about ten different languages being spoken.

I perused the menu, which has just changed, thus giving Sylvia and I the perfect excuse to frequent this excellent restaurant once again to work our way through it, while waiting for my friend Sarah, who arrived fashionably late, dressed for the occasion most appropriately in designer jeans, a slouchy grey jumper, sequinned scarf and her trademark huge designer sunglasses. We ordered huge glasses of delicious dry muscat wine, and scanned the room for good-looking men, while plotting what shops we would visit once we had satisfied our appetites.

The menu at 202 is a lip-smacking mixture of fusion dishes (fish tacos, Thai crab cakes, Curry of the Day, lamb tagine, lobster and prawn linguine) and more gastro-pub classics such as burger and chips, hot dog and piccalilli, or haddock and chips with mushy peas. All the dishes are generous, and for those who prefer something lighter, the salads are also very interesting: figs, prosciutto and warm goat's cheese, fennel, pomegranate and feta, Caesar salad with prawns. Earlier in the day, you can have brunch: sunshine-yellow scrambled eggs on toast, with mushrooms, smoked salmon or maple-cured bacon, French toast, or crumbly Danish pastries. The coffee is good, the wine list imaginative. Even the mineral water is pleasing to the palate.

I don't eat out very often, partly because of lack of opportunity, and partly because nine times out of ten, I know I could cook as well, if not better, at home. Forgive my immodesty, but I know I could cook everything on the menu of 202, with a bit of thought and the right ingredients, but there is something about the ambiance of the place, the other diners, the irresistible people-watching, and the setting, which makes it a lovely place to lunch - especially with a girlfriend.

We both selected the fish tacos, on my recommendation. Sylvia had this when I ate at 202 with her last week (I had the lobster and prawn linguine last time - which was delicious, except there wasn't enough lobster!) and she declared it utterly delicious. She was right: it was. It was also enormous: two flour tortillas filled with tender marinaded fish in a light batter, on a bed of rocket leaves, and sliced fennel and onions. It was served simply with a tomato salsa on the side, and was bursting with fresh, piquant flavours. It was also very filling, and I managed to persuade Sarah afterwards, that a single espresso was all that was required. 202 does good puddings too: chocolate brownie with clotted cream, apple pie, rhubarb crumble.

Outside, Channel Four were filming their new docusoap, 'Notting Hill'. "Ooh look! We could be on the telly!" I said to Sarah as we veered towards Jigsaw, unable to resist a rifle through the rails of the new season's knitwear. We then did what we do best, after enjoying good food together: shopping!!!!

I found a recipe for fish tacos which looks similar to the dish I had a 202. It's from Rick Stein, who can be relied upon to cook up something good with fish. You can find it on the BBC Food website.

202 Restaurant

Sunday, 17 October 2010

RABBIT IN RED WINE - LIGURIAN STYLE

Molini di Triora, Liguria
Lovers of fluffy bunnies look away now.

As some readers of my blog know, I used to own a rather wonderful and eccentric brown rabbit called Georgina, who had a voracious appetite for vegetable peelings (especially butternut squash and sweet potato) and who had a penchant for nibbling cables (specifically, the hi-fi and the Christmas tree lights). She was popular with my piano students and a reward for good work during a lesson was often feeding the rabbit. Fear not: Georgie does not form the constituent ingredient for this dish. She has gone to a lovely new home, with two of my students, brother and sister Magnus and Saskia, who lavish far more love, care and attention on her than I ever could.

This recipe comes from my big doorstep-sized Italian regional cookery book, La Cucina: the Traditional Home Cooking of Italy. There are many variants of this dish, using different meats, such as oxtail, or wild boar. In fact, when I was in Italy in September, I ate both venison and wild boar versions. Liguria is famous for its "wild food" for the terrain does not allow traditional grazing and one rarely finds beef on a menu. Rabbit, boar and deer are plentiful, roaming the mountain forests.

I have never been squeamish about eating rabbit, despite owning a few in my time. My grandfather kept rabbits all through the war, ensuring the family had fresh meat regularly, and he still kept them (for eating) when I was a little girl in the 1960s. Rabbit is a lean meat and very healthy. It has a pleasantly gamey flavour and lends itself to slow cooking (this ensures it is not tough). It's a nice alternative to chicken, and is fairly readily available in supermarkets these days as it has become fashionable again (I found it in my local Waitrose). A word of caution, though: some wild rabbit contains shot.

1 rabbit, jointed 
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
A couple of fresh bay leaves
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
Approx 1 bottle of good full-bodied red wine
A tsp of tomatoe puree
Salt and pepper

Oven 200C initially. I use a large Le Creuset casserole for this dish.

Dust the rabbit lightly with flour and fry in olive oil until lightly browned. Throw the rosemary sprig into the pan to draw out its flavour. Remove the rabbit pieces and rosemary, and fry the onion and garlic until soft. Return the rabbit and rosemary to the pan, throw in the bay leaves, add about half a bottle of red wine, and the tomato puree. Check seasoning. Bring to a simmer and then place in the oven, with a circle of greaseproof paper over the top, lid on. Cook for about an hour at this temperature, then check to ensure it is not drying out. I tend to add wine when needed - you want a sauce with this dish. Turn the oven down to about 150C and cook for a further hour or more, until the meat is tender and falling from the bones.

This dish is traditionally served with wet polenta. I use quick-cook polenta and follow the directions on the packet to make it. The trick for light, fluffy polenta is to keep whisking it. It cooks in a matter of moments and needs only some seasoning, a generous knob of butter and a good handful of fresh Parmesan. Leftover polenta tends to solidify, but it's good deep-fried the next day.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

DESERT ISLAND COOKBOOKS


HOW TO EAT - Nigella Lawson
HOW TO BE A DOMESTIC GODDESS - Nigella Lawson
MEDITERRANEAN COOKERY - Claudia Roden
MORO: THE COOKBOOK - Sam & Sam Clark
THE OTTOLENGHI COOKBOOK - Yoram Ottolenghi
THE NAKED CHEF - Jamie Oliver
THE SUMMER COLLECTION - Delia Smith
INDIAN COOKERY - Madhur Jaffrey


On the eponymous programme on Radio 4, guests are asked to select eight favourite or significant records. I have selected eight favourite or sigificant cookbooks. If asked to choose only one, it would have to be HOW TO EAT by Nigella Lawson, not just because it is cramful of very good recipes, but also because she writes so beautifully about food, and the pleasures of cooking and eating it. Since one is also allowed the Bible on the desert island, my cookery bible would have to be MEDITERRANEAN COOKERY by Claudia Roden. Long out of print, this wonderful cookbook is full of superb photographs of ingredients and dishes, and contains many classic recipes from all around the Mediterraean. It is one of those books I return to over and over again, like an old friend.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

CHOCOLATE MACAROONS

Did I mention my love of almonds? Oh, and chocolate too? Here two favourite ingredients combine to create deliciously rich, chewy macaroons. I have been meaning to make these ever since a friend brought a plate of them to my Macmillan coffee morning last month, at which all the guests immediately fell upon them, eschewing my chocolate brownies, forgotten cookies and M&S Battenberg cake. In the photograph, the espresso maker is a reminder of how well these biscuits go with a mug of good, strong coffee.

With the arrival on our shores in recent years of French macaroon maker, Laduree, macaroons have gone from the bakery staple of large discs cooked on rice paper, with a lurid cherry or whole almond plonked in the middle, to elegant oversized petit fours. Each year, Laduree creates a new flavour. My favourites are salted caramel, liquorice (an all-black macaroon), rose and pistachio.

These macaroons are rather rustic in shape and flavour compared to their soignee Gallic cousins, but they are no less delicious. I like the randomness of their shape, though I did try quite hard to make them roughly the same size. I would serve these as a pudding at a supper party, sandwiched together with whipped cream, but a chocolate ganache would be lovely too. The recipe is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's (with some additional tips from The Ottolenghi Cookbook) and I admit I was surprised to see it credited to him: it seems somewhat out of character.

Makes 24 (12 pairs)
125g icing sugar
3 tbsp cocoa
165g ground almonds
3 egg whites
55g caster sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract


For the chocolate ganache
100g plain chocolate, chopped into small pieces
100ml double cream

Heat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2. Line two baking sheets with parchment. For those who strive for same-size biscuits, dip a 4.5cm circular biscuit cutter or small glass into flour, and use it to mark out 24 circles on the parchment set about 3cm apart

Sieve the icing sugar and cocoa into a bowl, and whisk in the almonds. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until foamy, then gradually whisk in the sugar until the mixture is stiff and glossy. Stir half the almond mixture into the egg whites, then add the rest, along with the vanilla, and fold until just combined.

Transfer the mixture to a plastic bag and cut a 1cm hole in the bottom. Ottolenghi tip No. 1: secure the baking parchment to the tray with a small amount of mixture under each corner. Pipe on to the baking sheets using the flour circles as your guide. If you feel life is too short to make your own piping bag, place neat dollops of mixture on the sheet (about a teaspoonful and a half). Tap the sheets hard on a worktop to eliminate air bubbles. Ottolenghi tip No.2: Leave the macaroons for 15 mins before cooking to allow them to set slightly - this will prevent them spreading while cooking.


Bake until the macaroons feel slightly firm, about 12 minutes. Ottolenghi tip No. 3: They are done when they come away from the baking sheet easily with a palette knife. Remove, allow to cool slightly, then transfer on the parchment to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl. Warm the cream in a small saucepan until barely simmering, pour this over the chocolate, leave to stand for two minutes, then stir until the mix is smooth and cool. Spread some ganache on to half the macaroons and sandwich together with the remaining ones. Refrigerate, covered, until you're ready to serve.

NIGELLA'S CRUSTLESS PIZZA

This comes from Nigella's latest book 'Kitchen', which accompanies her new TV series, in which the Voluptuous One bounces around her fairy-light-lit kitchen, pouting at the camera and batting her eyelashes at raw prawns. It's hot viewing in my house: my son has been glued to the last two episodes. He assures me he is only interested in the food.....

Despite Nigella having become something of a parody of herself, and never forgetting that the term "food porn" was coined after all the finger-sucking in her first TV series, I remain a huge fan of hers. Like Lovable Jamie, she always displays immense enthusiasm for food and is no apologist for ingredients such as butter and cream. Her dishes are imaginative, fun, not overly fussy, nor difficult to make. I've just spent an hour watching Masterchef: The Professionals which is a sort of foodie version of The Apprentice. None of the food which was cooked on the programme appealed to me: I'm not keen on those cheffy, "classic"dishes such blanquette de volaille, and the marinaded grapes with sesame crisps and boozy cream looked most unappetising, despite its elegant presentation.

I decided to try a dish that was advertised as "a fast and easy supper" as I wanted something quick to put before my son when he came back from whatever it is he does with his mates after school. It's basically a deep-pan pancake with a pizza-like topping. It took 5 minutes to prepare and 30 to cook = 35 minutes from raw ingredients to plate. I'm afraid I can confirm that a hungry twelve-year-old does not regard that as "fast and easy". However, he ate it very rapidly and went back for seconds, and pronounced, through a large mouthful of cheese and chorizo, that it was "good". Which is praise indeed for a kid poised on the cusp of teendom!


Serves 2-4, depending on appetite!

1 egg
100g plain flour
salt, to taste
250ml full fat milk (I used skimmed, because I never keep full fat milk in my fridge)
butter or oil for greasing
100g grated Cheddar cheese
50g Chorizo or Pepperoni slices (or bacon lardons, or a scattering of corn, baby tomatoes etc)

Oven 200 C

1 x round ovenproof pie dish approx. 20 cm diameter (but please don't go out and buy one
 specially....!)

Whisk together the egg, flour, salt and milk to make a smooth batter. Grease the pie dish. Stir half the grated cheese into the batter before pouring it itself the dish. Bake for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven and arrange the Chorizo/Pepperoni/bacon etc on the top and scatter over the rest of the cheese. Return to the oven and cook for a further 2 to 3 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbling. Serve cut into slices.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

A VIEW FROM THE FRIDGE

Here is a typical snapshot of the contents of Demon Cook's fridge, today, Sunday 10th October.

Top shelf:
  • Two Pizza Express Sloppy Giuseppe pizzas. I quite often make my own pizzas, if I'm feeling energetic enough, but for those times when I am not, Pizza Express pizzas are the best from the chiller cabinet in the supermarket. They cook quickly and largely retain that "freshly made" flavour.
  • In the white bowl is Ottolenghi's yogurt sauce, made quickly to have with a chickpea and sweet potato dish which I made for lunch today. I think there is also a packet of Chorizo slices lurking up there too. I like to keep a pack of Chorizo or Serrano or Parma Ham as this is a useful standby for quick snacks and paninis
Next shelf down:
  • A wedge of Waitrose aged Manchego cheese. I was going to make canapes from this - slices of Manchego with membrillo (quince paste) to serve to my dinner guests last night, but in the end I never did.
  • The white bowl contains pimento-stuffed olives and chunks of Manchego
  • There is also a packet of Havarti cheese slices: I love this slightly sweet, nutty cheese from Denmark on a Dr Karg pumpkin and Emmental crispbread. 
  • President spreadable unsalted butter: I have a terrible weakness for French butter and I've always liked the unsalted variety. I rarely buy any other brand. This is delicious spread on toasted sourdough with a light slick of Marmite. French butter is churned in a slightly different way to English butter which is what gives it its distinctive, smooth flavour.
Next shelf down:
  • Six-pack of Czech beer. I don't drink beer very often, and this was bought for the dinner party last night. I might have a glass later on. In the summer, there is nothing nicer on a hot day than a cold glass of continental lager. My favourite is Leffe.
  • Belazu Smoked Chilli Jelly: delicious spread thinly over a slice of cheese or on top of toasted goat's cheese.
  • Belazu Harissa: I've always loved Harissa, that piquant chilli condiment from North Africa. This is the best one I've found: the rose petals provide a great balance to the heat of the chilli.  It's obligatory with any Greek or Middle Eastern dish I might make, such as Kelftiko or a meat tagine. Stir a generous teaspoon into a dollop of Greek yoghurt for a delicious dip.
  • Mango chutney: good with cheese, and my sweetcorn fritters.
  • A jar of shop-bought pesto is lurking behind the Belazu relishes.
Bottom shelf:
  • Free-range eggs. I always have eggs in the fridge. One of my favourite breakfasts is a lightly-boiled egg with Marmite soldiers. I am also very fond of scrambled eggs and omelette (for which one egg is not en-oeuf!!)
  • Greek Yogurt: this thick creamy yoghurt is great for breakfast, with a handful of granola or nuts and honey. I also use it a lot in curries to make the sauce, and for making dips and condiments to accompany Middle Eastern dishes.
  • Chocolate pudding: I had some mixture left over from the Chocolate Raspberry Pudding cake I made, so I poured it into two ramekins. My son ate one for breakfast yesterday!
  • Truffle paste: an Italian condiment made with white truffles. A teaspoonful added to fried mushrooms creates the most intense mushroom flavour. I use it sparingly to make pasta sauce.
  • Creme Fraiche: bought to serve with the aforementioned chocolate cake. What's left will be used to make lemon linguine.  
  • Activia Fig Yoghurts: This is my weekday breakfast - rather boringly!
Vegetable drawers:
  • The top drawer always contains garlic cloves (which I buy in packs of 10 on Kingston Market), green and red chillis and packets of fresh herbs, usually coriander, flat-leaf parsley and sage.
  • The bottom drawer is home to onions, red and brown, new potatoes, and various other vegetables such as butternut squash, red peppers, aubergines and courgettes. To the left of the veg drawers, the bottle rack contains a bottle of Australian sparkling something and, behind it, a bottle of Limoncello, brought back from my recent trip to Italy.
  • Fridge door
  • At the very top of the fridge door is the cheese store, which always contains a wedge of fresh Parmesan, and packs of Feta and Halloumi cheese, which are always useful for making quick lunches.
  • I always have jars of olives, capers, caperberries and thin green peppers, 'lazy' foods such as jars of chopped chillis, garlic and ginger, and a lonely jar of apricot conserve.
  • Dove's Farm Quick Yeast: this is my breadmaking staple, a fast-acting dried yeast which ensures perfect results almost every time. You only need a teaspoonful per pound of flour.
  • Fresh ground coffee: I'm not a great coffee drinker, preferring tea (my favourites being Lapsang Souchong and Redbush) but now and then a good cup of coffee is what I need. Coffee keeps better in the fridge, or, better still, the freezer.
  • Caesar Dressing: I do not buy ready-made salad dressings as a rule, as I prefer to make my own, but I love Caesar Salad and a shop-bought dressing is easier than homemade.
  • Three-fruit jam: made by a friend. 
  • Satay paste: not sure how long that has been there. I don't cook eastern or oriental foods that much, but I like to have the ingredients, just in case....
  • Teriyaki sauce: this makes a great marinade for chicken.
  • Chilli Dipping Sauce: perfect with tempura and spring rolls.
  • Barbecue sauce: now that summer is over, it's probably time to ditch this!
  • Passionfruit juice: bought in lieu of peach juice (which seems impossible to buy here) to make Bellinis. Not as good as the real thing!
  • Skimmed milk: I have been drinking skimmed milk since I was about 10, and find semi-skimmed and full-fat milk far too cloying and rich.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

CHICKPEA AND ANCHOVY CROSTINI

This is ripped off from something my friend Jacky served me recently; she in turn had ripped it off from a dish she ate a Polpo, a Venetian restaurant in Soho. If you do not like the idea of anchovies, don't worry: the flavour is very subtle, but I would argue it is essential to this dish. Choose a good bread for these crostini: I like to use a chewy sourdough or French country-style bread from Waitrose, and rather than toast the bread slices, I put them in the oven, turned it off and left them to dry out for an hour or so. The chickpea topping can be made in advance and set aside. Its texture is rather like hummous, but its flavour is quite different, though with the underlying nuttiness that comes from the chickpeas.




400g tin of chickpeas, drained of liquid
2-3 anchovy fillets
A pinch of salt
About 1 tbsp of olive oil
A small bunch of fresh basil, torn - for the garnish

Put all the ingredients in a liquidiser and whizz to a smooth puree. Spread onto the prepared bread slices and garnish with fresh basil.

CHOCOLATE RASPBERRY PUDDING CAKE

This "pudding cake" is one of my dinner party stand-bys - though I haven't made it for a long time, preferring Middle Eastern inspired pistachio or walnut cakes, or my trusty Tarte Tatin. It comes from Nigella Lawson's first and best cookbook 'How To Eat', and, as she herself says in the preamble, it is almost more effort to type out the recipe than to make the cake. A little gentle stirring and pouring is really all that is required

  • 185g self-raising flour (or 185g plain flour and a tsp of baking powder)
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons creme de framboise or similar liqueur
  • 95g caster sugar
  • 95g muscovado sugar
  • 250g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids minimum)
  • 185ml of strong espresso coffee + 185ml water OR 2 teaspoons good instant coffee made up with 370ml hot water
  • 2 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 250g raspberries (or more if using well defrosted, frozen raspberries) plus extra for decoration
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter a 22cm spring-form cake tin and line the base.

Melt the chocolate over a low heat with the butter, sugars and coffee. Sift the flour and cocoa powder together into a large bowl. When the chocolate/butter mixture has melted, pour over the flour and mix well. Then add the eggs. Do not panic at this point if the mixture is rather slurpy: it's meant to be! Pour the mixture into the prepared tin to about a depth of 2 cms and cover with raspberries, then add the rest of the mixture. Cook for about 40 minutes until the surface is slightly cracked and the cake gives only slightly to the touch. Do not test with a skewer: the middle should be moist and "puddingy" and the cake will set further as it cools. I serve this with creme fraiche. It is delicious the day after, warmed up in the microwave.

Monday, 4 October 2010

DE-STRESSING MONDAY SUPPER


I've had a fraught day! And it's all Bob Crow's fault. Yes, he called a Tube strike and made my journey home from my Monday job in Notting Hill a supremely convoluted affair. It was all right going into work this morning: the District Line was running from Wimbledon to Earl's Court and, thanks to a neat App on my iPhone helpfully called 'London Bus', I was able to find out which bus would take me from Earl's Court to Notting Hill Gate (it was the 328 to Golders Green, for those who are interested in such minutiae). I left work at 12 noon, after a fight with the laptop which, after downloading a new bit of software, decided to stop working and refused to restart, despite some very stern words from me. I took all the typing home with me in the end, and set off for Earl's Court (on the 328 again, this time heading for Chelsea/World's End). Because I was on the bus, I had to forego my usual Monday lunch of Pret A Manger's deluxe sushi box, and had to buy a slimey pasta salad from M&S instead. When I got to Earl's Court, I marched through the small picket line ("Comrades! We demand the RIGHT of every man AND woman..." etc etc) only to find that the Wimbledon service had been suspended (damn those striking workers!!). Back on Earl's Court Road I joined the patient queue at the bus stop as a great phalanx of people waited stoically for the no. 74, which arrived promptly, though already three-quarters full. This bus was headed for Putney Bridge, and I 'enjoyed' a 40-minute ramble around the less salubrious backstreets of Fulham. From Putney Bridge, I took the 85 to Kingston, whereupon, I decided to have a pause, buy some leeks and vermouth, before taking the 281 (Hounslow) to Teddington.

Before
After completing all the typing, emails and other bits of admin I'd brought home with me, I fed the cats (who have a habit of circling my legs like marauding sharks when they are hungry) before embarking on supper. Generally, I find cooking a very therapeutic activity: I like to chop and fry and stir while listening to the 6.30pm comedy on Radio 4, and then get my nightly fix of The Archers at 7pm. I'd left a nice chicken out to defrost before I left for work, so I spatchcocked it (i.e. cut it down its back and flattened it out a bit). I parboiled some Charlotte potatoes, chopped leeks and onions, and arranged everything on a baking tray, chucked a handful of unpeeled garlic cloves and a sprig of thyme into the tray, and drizzled a good lug of olive oil over the whole lot. On top of this pile of veg went the flattened chicken, which I seasoned with lemon juice, and salt and pepper. The whole lot went into the oven just as the theme tune for The Archers ('Barwick Green') came on air. After about 30 minutes, by which time the onions and leeks, which had crept out from under the chicken, were caramelising slightly, I poured some white vermouth over the bird. After an hour, it was done - and then I did a very naughty and Nigella-ish thing and ate some of the delicious salty-crispy chicken skin, at the risk of scorching my sensitive fingertips ahead of my piano lesson on Wednesday, when I hope to play Debussy in a "caressing" way! (I know that Nigella does this because she admits to it in her book 'How to Eat' in the recipe Roast Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto - the chicken-skin-eating, not the Debussy-playing.)

After
The vegetable mixture for this roast chicken dish is drawn from Josceline Dimbleby's recipe 'Chicken With Last Lick Sauce'. I won't repeat the rather twee origins of the title "Last lick", but the sauce is a delicious addition and turns the dish into something rather special. I didn't make the sauce tonight because a) I'm supposed to be on a diet (ha ha) and b) I couldn't face going out again to buy the extra ingredients. Instead, I made Moro Garlic Sauce (see earlier post), which seems to go with just about anything meaty.....

'Last Lick' sauce
300ml double cream
300ml milk
6 cloves of garlic (peeled but whole)
about 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary (can be left on the stem)
can of anchovies (no need to chop)
about 8 sundried tomatos cut into very thin slices.

Put the cream, milk, garlic, rosemary and anchovies in a pan. heat and bring to the simmer. simmer lightly for about 30 minutes stirring occasionally. After 30 minutes pour sauce into a sieve that is over a bowl, push through the now very soft garlic (the anchovies will have 'melted'!). This bit can all be done well in advance and just when ready to serve, mix the sauce with the sliced tomatoes and reheat.

Carve the chicken, and arrange with the vegetables. Pour over the sauce. When you eat this, you will understand why it is called "last lick"!