Saturday, 30 April 2011

NOT THE ROYAL WEDDING SUPPER

My republican stance was quickly toppled when Kate Middleton stepped out of the limo, and we all caught the first glimpse of The Dress. She looked lovely, and the dress, with its unmistakable nod to Grace Kelly's wedding dress, was divine, understated and elegant. I watched the entire ceremony, and hung on until the moment of The Kiss, or rather The Kisses, before sloping off to the kitchen to prepare a celebratory supper. It was supposed to be a "Not The Royal Wedding" supper, but in the end, we toasted the happy couple, and watched the highlights on the telly before sitting down to dinner.

The main course, lamb in a honey glaze on giant couscous, was my version of something we ate at The Bull on Easter Saturday. I used shoulder of lamb as it lends itself to slow cooking. Before marinading it, I made slits in the underside of each joint and slipped in pieces of garlic. I made a simple marinade from honey, lemon juice and cumin, plonked the lamb on some sprigs of fresh rosemary in a Le Creuset casserole, and poured over the marinade. And forgot about it until 6pm, when it went into a hot oven for 2 hours. (Keep an eye on it, as the marinade tends to caramelise quickly.)

Honey roast lamb with giant couscous
Giant couscous, sometimes called Israeli couscous, or Moghrabieh, is readily available in supermarkets (M&S, Waitrose) or specialist food suppliers (e.g. Merchant Gourmet), and is a great alternative to ordinary couscous or pasta. You can use it in the same way as soup pasta, and it makes an excellent base for Middle-Eastern salads and other dishes. And, like ordinary couscous, it carries other flavours very well. Cook it according to the instructions on the packet, drain and then rinse in cold water, to keep the grains separate. I roasted aubergine cubes and chunks of red onion until soft, and added these to the couscous, with a pot of sunblush tomatoes (from M&S). I added some cumin and chilli and a little grated lemon zest, and a good slug of fruity olive oil. Just before we were ready to eat, I carved the lamb and laid it over the couscous, covered the whole lot with tin foil and put it back in the oven to warm through. Finally, I garnished it with pomegranate seeds and chopped fresh coriander. At the table, it was greeted with enthusiastic oohs and aahs, and my friend Sarah (an ardent royalist) said, "I love coming here for dinner and I love your food", a wonderful compliment. We ate the dish with Belazu Rose Harissa and Ottolenghi's Yoghurt Sauce.

Not the Royal Wedding Cake!

For pudding, we had Nigella's Lemon Polenta Cake, which I renamed Not The Royal Wedding Cake, simply served with a nice dollop of creme fraiche. Afterwards, I played some Liszt, not the best idea on 4 glasses of wine, but I doubt my guests noticed any of the muffed notes (surprisingly few, given the intake of alcohol!).


Merchant Gourmet Giant Couscous

Franz Liszt - Sonetto 123 del Petrarca

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

A CHEFFY SUPPER FOR TUESDAY NIGHT

Weeknight suppers are not normally a time when I hone my cheffy skills, but, inspired by dinner at The Bull on Saturday evening (see earlier post), I fancied trying to recreate, at home, the main course I had there: fillets of bream on white risotto with fresh pesto and breadcrumbs.

In many ways, this is not a cheffy dish at all - just quality ingredients imaginatively combined. Which to me is the essence of good food, whether it is cooked and eaten at home, or at a fine gastropub in deepest, darkest Dorset.....

I didn't have bream, nor did I have time to visit the fishmonger as I was working in Kensington this morning. Instead, I defrosted two seabass fillets. Sea bream and seabass are similar in flavour and texture and one can therefore be substituted for t'other, if need be. I always have risotto rice in the cupboard, ditto parmesan and all the other key ingredients for risotto, and there's usually a bag of homemade breadcrumbs (stale homemade foccacia whizzed in the Magimix and then frozen). I would have made my own pesto, because life really isn't too short for that, but again I was constrained by time: when I got home from work, I had to turn into my alter ego, and teach piano to my keen adult student who is addicted to Michael Nyman at the moment. Thus, with the theme tune from 'The Piano' still ringing in my head (dah de dah de dah dah daaah, etc), I set about making a white risotto, i.e. white onion, white rice, vegetable or fish stock, grated fresh parmesan.

The fish fillets should be lightly dusted in flour and pan-fried just as the the risotto is nearing readiness (i.e. very slightly al dente, with a creamy finish). The other constituents of this dish can be prepared in advance: take approx. 2 tbsps of breadcrumbs and lightly fry or toast in a little sunflower or olive oil in a non-stick frying pan. To this, I added a tbsp of cooked prawns - optional, not essential, but rather a nice addition (in the version at The Bull, the breadcrumbs were mixed with brown shrimp). When you are ready to serve, start with a generous serving of risotto, sprinkle with the breadcrumbs/prawn mixture and top off with a seabass fillet and a nice dollop of slick, green pesto. A quick grind of black pepper, et voila, dinner is served!


Since I am 'on the wagon' during the week, this delicious supper will be served with Lidl sparkling water. Oh well.....!

Michael Nyman, soundtrack excerpt from The Piano

Monday, 25 April 2011

DINNER AT THE BULL

I have written before about this fine 'dining pub', and Easter Saturday brought a welcome return, this time for dinner. The pub is in the village of Wimborne St Giles, which is near to Blandford Forum, where my in-laws live. That is as much as I can tell you, for it truly is in the middle of nowhere. Driving through the sun-drenched countryside, which could have come straight out of Thomas Hardy or Wordsworth (sheep grazing quietly, lambs gambolling, daffoldils daffing and so on), it could have easily been an evening in mid-summer, so glorious was the weather.

The Bull is tastefully decorated, inside and out, in muted Farrow & Ball greens, and is elegantly furnished from India Jane (the owner of The Bull has a connection with this upmarket interiors shop).  There is a snug area with comfy leather sofas and glossy magazines, and a conservatory extension, with a view over the large garden. At 7pm, there were families in the garden, enjoying a drink in the fine evening sunshine, and a few dinners inside, though the place quickly filled up. The staff are welcoming, and it was particularly flattering that the pretty, dark-haired young woman behind the bar (who is also marshalls all the waiting staff) recognised us. Armed with menus, we strolled through to the conservatory where our table was waiting for us.

The Bull specialises in robust, homely food, made with local ingredients. I have never had a disappointing nor mediocre meal, though I have come out of the place thoroughly overfed! Reading through the dinner menu, I longer for a 'tasting menu' - because I wanted to try a bit of everything. It all sounded delicious, and it was hard to decide. In the end, I opted for Parma ham with deep-fried aubergine, rocket and olives as a starter, and white risotto with bream, breadcrumbs and homemade pesto as a main course. My companion, meanwhile, selected smoked trout with new potatoes and horseradish, followed by honey-roast shoulder of lamb with Israeli couscous (giant couscous) and roasted vegetables. We had a glass of Cloudy Bay sparkling wine as an aperitif - because we were celebrating.

The first course arrived quickly and both dishes were delicious, beautifully presented and not overly fussy. But the star of the show was the bream with white risotto: simple, in the use of only a handful of ingredients, yet utterly wonderful. I decided there and then I would recreate the dish at home, with seabass. My companion's lamb was sweet and succulent, with Middle Eastern flavours, perfectly cooked. Another dish to inspire Demon Cook in new cooking adventures....! To go with our food, I had a glass of Touraine, while companion chose a Cote de Mount Ventoux. A glass each was sufficient.

We didn't really need pudding, but, as my father always says, "just because you've had the main course, doesn't mean you can't read the menu again!". The puddings, of course, were irresistible, and, unable to resist, we had vanilla pannacotta with fresh fruit salad, and nougat parfait. Very naughty, but very nice.

The Bull is open for lunch and dinner every day, and there are rooms available, if you want to stay the night. Special events, such as wine-tastings and local food festivals, take place throughout the year. The Bull's sister pub, The Anchor at Shapwick, is also worth a visit, for more "pubby" food. It is located close to Badbury Rings, Wimborne, and Kingston Lacey.


The Bull Wimborne St Giles
The Anchor at Shapwick

Sunday, 24 April 2011

SIMPLE PLEASURES - An Occasional Series

No. 1 Tomatoes on Toast

Not bruschetta. Ooh no, this snack is far less sophisticated. I really love this simple, two-ingredients (give or take a few) dish, and it is something I quite often eat for breakfast, especially if I've got that "morning after the night before" feeling. It shares the same comforting, nursery mouth-feel as beans on toast.

The nutritional value of tomatoes is well known, and this dish is also low GI, which means if you have it for breakfast, you won't be reaching for the biscuit tin at 11 am. Aside from all that, it is just plain tasty. You don't need specialist ingredients: the cheapest, hardest supermarket tomatoes will do - the cooking softens and sweetens them - and the most bog-standard white bread is fine, though I prefer something more rustic or an artisanal sourdough. Or my homemade foccaccia, spiked with rosemary, drenched in olive oil, and lightly toasted.


So, take a couple of tomatoes, slice them, but not too finely, as they have a tendency to disintegrate in the frying pan, heat some olive oil in in a pan, and throw in the tomato slices. Meanwhile, toast a slice or two of bread. Season the tomatoes with seasalt, and a little sugar, if they are particularly bitter, or lacking in flavour. Cook until they are lightly browned around the edges. Butter the toast, and arrange the tomatoes atop it. A little fresh basil makes a nice, quasi Italiano, touch. Sometimes, I rub the toast with half a clove of garlic - as one would for bruschetta. A good grining of fresh black pepper is essential

You can also make this with whole cherry or baby plum tomatoes, as in the picture. If you don't like cooked tomato skins, skin the tomatoes first, by dropping them into a bowl of boiling water for a few minutes.

Friday, 22 April 2011

GREAT STORECUPBOARD FINDS No. 9

Tahini

Not exactly a new "find" as I've known about this ingredient for years, ever since I first started making my own hummous when I was about 14. Tahini is a smooth paste made from hulled sesame seeds and is a common ingredient in North African cooking. It is, of course, a constituent of hummous, but it is found in many other dishes, lending a warm, nutty flavour. It can be eaten instead of peanut butter on toast or crispbread, and a couple of tablespoons of tahini mixed with yoghurt, garlic and lemon juice makes a quick and tasty dip to have with pitta bread and crudites. Tahini made from unhulled sesame seeds is darker in colour and has a stronger flavour, which is not appropriate for some recipes which require a lighter flavour.

Tahini is a nutritional powerhouse, containing many B vitamins, as well as being a source of Vitamin A, and is high in calcium. It also contains potassium, magnesium, iron and phosphorous, and is a richer protein source than milk, soya beans, sunflower seeds, and most nuts.

I used to make my own hummous very regularly - it is dead easy if you have a blender, Magimix, or similar food-processing gadget - but some years ago, I discovered Yarden Hummous Extra, the smoothest hummous I've ever eaten, dressed with olive oil and toasted pinenuts. I have tried to recreate the texture of Yarden Hummous, but even lengthy pureeing in my Magimix cannot quite achieve its creamy smoothness. You can buy it in Waitrose and Kosher delicatessens.

For me, Tahini is associated with the summer, as I make a barbecue marinade for chicken with Tahini and smoked paprika (from the Moro Cookbook). Find the recipe here. It works equally well with other joints of chicken, and doesn't have to be barbecued, either!

Tahini is also an essential ingredient of Baba Ghanoush, that delicious Mediterranean dip made from char-grilled aubergine. The nuttiness of the Tahini compliments the sweetness of the aubergine. Here's a nice, authentic, and very easy recipe from Nigel Slater.

Yotam Ottolenghi, founder of the epoynmous deli and cafe chain, includes many recipes using Tahini in his oeuvre - unsurprising since he comes from Israel, where it is used in a huge variety of dishes, both sweet and savoury. A couple of his most interesting recipes below:

Fried cauliflower with tahini
Mushrooms with walnut and tahini yoghurt

More on Ottolenghi here

MY FAVOURITE THINGS No. 3

Chorizo

Chorizo is an Iberian pork sausage and flavoured with garlic and smoked paprika (pimenton), which gives it its distinctive flavour and deep orangey-red colour. There are several different kinds, ranging from a salami-type which is served sliced, as a tapa or in boccadillos (sandwiches) to a cooking chorizo, which is a fresh sausage and must be cooked before eating.

Once upon a time in the UK, you could only buy the sliced, salami type, but as our fondness for continental food has grown exponentially in the last 20-odd years, there are now many more varieties of chorizo available. For example, Waitrose stocks a premium-grade Chorizo Iberico, which is made from pork from the highly-prized Iberian pig, which feeds off acorns. It is very rich and flavoursome, and makes an excellent tapa with a glass of chilled fino or Cava.  Tesco now stocks cooking chorizo, which I use for paella, and similar dishes where a more traditional sausage is required. My son likes Spaghetti Carbonara made with fried, sliced chorizo instead of bacon. We also use it on pizzas and in salads, and I love it fried with scallops, as a take on 'surf n turf'. As a tapa, you often find tiny chorizo sausages cooked in wine or sherry. At the main market in Barcelona, there was stall after stall of charcuterie, with all kinds of chorizo on display, tied in jaunty bundles and hung from the roof of the stalls.

I really love chorizo, and can quite happily munch through a packet of sliced chorizo if it is in the fridge. My son, who as a very small child loved salami and olives, hummous and tzatziki, is also addicted to it. I always have a packet in the fridge, and often buy a whole chorizo sausage at Lidl, as a standby for whenever I feel like making a paella (which is quite often!).

A handful of recipes containing chorizo:

Paella
Chicken Basque
Chorizo Braised in Red Wine
Scallops fried with Chorizo
Chorizo and Chickpea Soup

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

SUPPER AT TERRE A TERRE

Terre a Terre is a Brighton institution. I didn't know this, of course, when I visited the award-winning restaurant for supper last night, but immediately on arrival I could tell this was a very popular and well-loved eatery, busy at 8pm with families, couples, friends.

I was in Brighton for the night to visit an old chum from university, someone who I met 25 years ago, and haven't seen for at least 15 years. It was thanks to that organ of social networking, Facebook, that Emma and I reconnected last year, after years of not being in touch. Our evening started in Emma's flat on Royal Crescent, with a lovely view over the sea and the pier, and a bottle of Cordon Negro, and a healthy dose of Victoria Wood/Joyce Grenfell impressions, and re-enacting the tea room scene in 'Brief Encounter', before strolling along the seafront to the buzzing trendy centre of Brighton for our supper. We hardly stopped talking, except to draw breath, and soon those 15 years had melted away and it was as if we had met onl the day before - the mark of true friendship.

Born 17 years ago, as a BYO restaurant with 30 covers, Terre a Terre is a vegetarian restaurant,
but don't let that put you off. This is no dreary lentils-and-tofu affair, hung about with macrame pot-holders and staff in Birkenstock sandals. The menu is witty and imaginative with dishes such as 'Wonders of the Weald' , 'Hot Broth Bun', and 'Better Batter and Lemony Yemeni Relish' (trying saying that quickly on half a bottle of Cava!). The food has a 'fusion' vibe - sushi, noodles, Indian spices - and is beautifully presented, making it hard to resist tucking in as soon as the tapas plate hits the table. For £36, you can have 'Tapas a Verre', which includes a selection platter of tapas, and half a carafe of very pleasant wine - excellent value, as the tapas serving is generous and varied.

I can't remember exactly what we ate (blame the Cava), but everything I tried was delicious, bursting with intense and intriguing flavours. At no point did I long for a rare steak or a fillet of seabass. This is not a vegetarian restaurant, rather a restaurant for people who love good food.

Refusing the pudding menu, and thus eschewing the 'Moorish Mouthful' and the 'Nuts About Chocolate Fondant', we ambled back to Emma's flat to finish off the Cava and demolish a box of Lindt Lindor chocolates. We listened to Kate Bush and Goldfrapp, reminisced about our student days, and indulged in the odd Joyce Grenfell impression. I fell asleep to the faint sound of the sea, and was woken at 6am by sunshine and seagulls.

Terre a Terre
Acorn Antiques featuring Mrs Overall
Joyce Grenfell - 'Nursery School'
'Brief Encounter' - final scene

Friday, 1 April 2011

FRIDAY SUPPER: STEAK & LEFFE PIE

For the uninitiated, Leffe is a wonderful Belgian beer, originally brewed at the Notre Dame de Leffe. The beer is creamy, sweet and flavourful. It is also very strong! Of course, you don't have to use Leffe for this recipe - any "ale" will do, though a real ale will offer greater depth of flavour. I didn't want to buy a 4-pack of Guinness because I knew I would want to drink it, so instead I bought a 75cl bottle of Leffe Brun, the dark variety which has full, sweet taste, and the same delicious creamy finish as the Blonde variety.

With the light evenings, sunny days and milder weather, I suppose I should really be cooking spring lamb, or something light, but Nick, my regular Friday night dinner companion, likes robust, wholesome food - and so do I, if truth be told. I also wanted something I could make in advance. The filling is adapted from Nigella's steak & kidney pudding recipe, and the pie crust is simply bought puff pastry. I could have, should have, made my own pastry - but, hey, life's complicated enough, ain't it?

I'm serving this homely pie with braised red cabbage and maple roasted parsnips. There's a nice bottle of rose wine a-chillin' in the fridge - Nick will bring the red to drink with the meal. For pudding, it's flourless chocolate brownies AND Forgotten Cookies. A veritable embarrassment of culinary riches!

Steak & Ale Pie
Serves 4, generously

2 tbsps plain flour mixed with 1/2 tsp mustard powder
1 kg stewing steak, cut into 2 cm pieces
25g butter
2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion chopped
150g flat mushrooms, peeled & roughly chunked
150ml beef stock
150ml real ale, Leffe Brun, or stout
Good dash of Worcestershire Sauce
500g ready-made puff pastry

Oven: 150C. You will need a medium-sized pie dish

Warm the butter and oil in a casserole. Dust the meat with flour and fry in batches until browned. Remove and set aside. Fry the onion, then add the mushrooms and fry them briefly, adding more oil if needed. Return the meat to the casserole and add the stock, beer and Worcestershire Sauce. Bring to the boil, scraping the floury bits off the bottom (this will help thicken the sauce). Cover with a lid and cook in a preheated oven for 1.5 hours (checked occasionally to make sure it does not dry out). At this point, you can leave the meat overnight and assemble the pie the next day.

Put the meat in the pie dish. Roll out the pastry so that it is slightly bigger than the dish (remember puff pastry shrinks in cooking). Top off the pie with pastry and brush with milk or egg to create a glaze. Cook in a hot oven until golden brown and puffed up. Eat.

CHICKEN BASQUE

When I put "chicken basque" into a Google image search just now, amongst the many pictures of the dish itself, was a cartoon of a chicken wearing a corset (or basque). Ho ho.

Eating this dish, you'd probably want to loosen your stays, if you were wearing them. Redolent of paella, with its fragrant, smoky rice, peppers, chorizo, and olives, this simple but very tasty dish is easy to make and a great standby for Sunday lunch or casual suppers with friends, as it can be easily doubled up to feed more. It's from Delia Smith's 'Summer Collection', and when the book first came out, to accompany the Sainted Delia's tv series, I made this all the time. And so did my mother-in-law. In the 'Winter Collection', she offers a Moroccan take on the same theme, with chickpeas, olives and preserved lemons, but I think the original Spanish-style dish is better. Do not be daunted by the long ingredients list: this dish is an easy one-pot meal. It can also be assembled in advance.

Two key ingredients give this dish its distinctive flavour: Spanish smoked paprika and chorizo (which is also flavoured with smoked paprika). Smoked paprika used only to be available from specialist retailers, or on holiday in Spain, but both Tesco and M&S stock is as part of their upmarket ingredients range. It was Delia who made it popular - just as, in the past, she made liquid glycerin a kitchen must-have when she used it for her Chocolate Truffle Torte (from her original Christmas book).

Here is Delia's recipe, virtually verbatim. Reading it now (I made it from memory last night, as I do with so many recipes), I realise I omitted the sun-dried tomatoes in oil. To be honest, they are not essential, but they definite add to the Mediterranean theme of this dish.

Chicken Basque
Serves 4

4 chicken legs, or thigh joints (bone in, skin on)
2 red, yellow or orange peppers (or a mixture), deseeded and roughly sliced
1 large onion, peeled and cut into slices roughly the same size as the peppers
2 large garlic cloves, peeled & sliced
150g chorizo sausage, sliced, or a packet of ready-sliced chorizo, cut into strips
50g sun-dried tomatoes, drained of oil
1 tbsp tomato puree
1/2 tsp smoked paprika (hot or sweet)
225 ml brown or white basmati rice (measured in a measuring jug)
275 ml chicken stock or Marigold vegetable stock
170 ml dry white wine
1/2 large orange, cut into wedges
50g black olives (pitted if you prefer)
salt and pepper
2-3 tbsp good olive oil

Season the chicken pieces and fry in a non-stick frying pan (if you do this, you shouldn't need any additional oil) until the skin is crisp and brown. Set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a large casserole dish (Le Creuset is ideal) and fry the onions, peppers and garlic until slightly browned at the edges. Then add the chorizo and smoked paprika. Stir in the rice, ensuring it has a good coating of oil, add the tomato paste and sun-dried tomatoes, and then place the chicken pieces over the vegetables. Pour over the stock and white wine. Add the orange segments and olives and bring up to a simmer. Cook on a low heat with the lid on until the rice is done (approx 40-50 mins if using brown rice). No accompaniment required, though a green salad would be perfectly acceptable.