Monday, April 30, 2007

The meal after the Sunday lunch before

I’ve always been quite excited by the prospect of creating something new, fabulous and of course extremely tasty from a previous meals leftovers. Obviously the main criterion is that the original meal must have been pretty fine in the first place otherwise it’s rather an uphill struggle. I remember attempting to resurrect some smoked gammon that started off way too salty (a poor purchase I have to admit) and all the subsequent attempts to revive it produced more and more salty dishes. Big mistake!

But this time I had the remaining chicken from Sunday lunch, some bacon, another elderly leek and a couple of new potatoes that I thought might be for composting but they were just salvageable. Often the re-imagined meal isn’t as attractive as the original was but it’s all about taste - think corned beef hash, bubble & squeak or a shepherd's pie. Not that shepherd's pie isn't a wonderful thing but the mash potato topping can disguise a multitude of sins. I have always been partial to a fish pie, cottage pie or shepherd's pie. I guess the irony is that a dish that was probably first created to use up leftovers of cod, beef or lamb respectively is now a real gourmet treat with the finest fresh ingredients and not a way of reworking the Sunday joint. A quotation I've seen attributed to several people on the subject is "The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found." I don't seem to have any childhood traumas of the same food be re-presented for several meals, I've certainly never had to endure an infamous turkey curry (not that wild horses would have made me eat it!) so I don't feel oppressed by a few second-hand fridge inhabitants, instead I see it as an exciting challenge.
This time is was everything in the big sauté pan for the second meal, finished with a touch of double cream to ensure it remained moist and of course served with the ever-present
mâche curling gently at the edge of the plate. Not a bad rehash at all!

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Sunday best

The good thing about working late in the City on a Friday is that if you time it just right you can catch the fabulous Porterford Butchers as they're scrubbing down for the night and grab some meaty treats at bargain prices to enjoy over the weekend and/or to squirrel away in the freezer. This time they gave me a great deal on some sage and onion sausage meat stuffed chicken breasts and I thought this would a make prefect proper Sunday lunch with all the trimmings.

The only problem was that there was no indication on how long to cook it for so I had to rely on my probe thermometer. In fact it's probably the first time I've really used it and I even had to replace the battery before I could get it to respond properly, but it really saved the day on this occasion. I googled the ideal internal temperature for a chicken breast which turned out to be 77oC and set this as an alert on my temperature gauge, inserted the probe into my plump stuffed chicken breast and closed the oven door on the probe cable. The chicken took exactly 50 minutes at 180o C before the alarm started bleeping so I am guessing that is the optimum cooking time for my chicken.
I didn't have the traditional trimmings for a roast chicken but in the bottom of my fridge I had a couple of now somewhat old new potatoes, some ageing flat Portabellini mushrooms and one barely alive Organic leek. I didn't need to worry about a gravy as I don't really do gravy; possibly a certain other D's predilection for just the worse sprout-water, meat-free gravy coloured liquid ever bread was dipped into. But that's another story. Let's just say that gravy avoidance is probably in my genes!
At least I had a new tub of perky just-arrived-from-France mâche, and with that along with my geriatric vegetables I thought I could whip up some new Sunday lunch trimmings to accompany the chicken. And it all turned out pretty well. The chicken was moist and juicy and perfectly cooked with a pleasing little taste of sage in the sausage meat and its bacon topping crisp, the elderly sautéed vegetables and potatoes turned out surprisingly delicious and it was possibly the best Sunday best I've had for a long time.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

On the shelf


I'm just all of a dither, all these cookbooks that I had on pre-order at Play.com have been winging their way to me over the last few weeks and as I have unsuccessfully managed to instate an eighth day to enable me to dedicate to reading cookbooks, I've been flitting excitedly from one to another like a demented culinary butterfly!
So where do I start?
The Great British Menu Cookbook doesn't just have all the recipes we see them produce on the television for the chefs' attempts to get to Paris there's also another recipe in each section from all of the chefs and a few of these look particularly tasty, Richard Corrigan's Colcannon Soup and Nick Nairn's Mussell Bree for starters. There's also Jeremy Lee's Salad of Potatoes, Arbroath Smokie, Ayreshire Bacon & Soft-Boiled Egg, Galton Blackiston's Cromer Crab Tart, Mark Hix's Hot Spider Crab Pâté, Noel McMeel's rather verbose Smoked Eel Mousse with Boxty Pancakes, Horseradish & Mustard Grain Cream & Fresh Herb Salad, Galton's Rich Chocolate Mousse with Blood Orange Sorbet and many more including Richard Corrigan's Cranberry & Clementine Crumble with Stem Ginger Ice Cream.
Staying with the soup recipes the first recipes in Marcus Wareing's fabulous How to cook the perfect... are French Onion Soup, Leek & Potato Soup and Clam Chowder. I was lucky to win Silvena Rowe's Feasts at the Harvey Nichols Spring Fête and on first glance my eyes fell on Blinis and Smoked Salmon Potato Cakes with Garlic Cream.
Angela Hartnett's Cucina is a real "from the heart infused with her family memories" cookbook and I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in it. The White Onion Velouté at the beginning of the soup chapter is a great start and then immediately followed by the Creamy Mushroom and then Pumpkin Soup. The pasta chapter holds lots of delights with Tagliatelle with Summer Truffle, Tagliatelle with Peas and Parma Ham, Anolini, Crab Linguine and then there's some stunning risottos.
I've always been a fan of Trish Deseine but nobody does it better is just a fantastic cookbook, definitely her best. I'm utterly biased as I'm such a Francophile but within moments of lifting the cover for the first time I was thinking about splashing out on some truffles, Ripe Truffled Brie sounds sublime, Hazelnut, Mont d'Or & Cured Beef Quiche sounds amazing also. Then there's Pan-Fried Foie Gras with Overrips Figs and how decadent does Soft-Boiled Eggs with Truffle Butter Eggy Soldiers sound?
Marcus Wareing's first cookbook is a "calm down, be prepared and strive for perfection" sort of book, it's clean, precise and confident not homely and rustic like Angela's but equally as good in another way. In fact both Gordon Ramsay's protégés have produced impressive tomes in their first forays into cookbook writing but they couldn't be more diverse. The recipes seem deceptively simple but clearly display great meticulousness, I don't think Marcus can do something that isn't faultless. His Fish Pie looks tasty yet immaculate, the Fish Cakes exact, a perfect Beef Hotpot, Three-Pepper Steak, Corned Beef Rösti and Griddle Lamb Chop. He has two recipes for perfect mash, soft butter-enriched mash and velvety rich pommes mousseline. I was only saying D on my last trip to Cambridge how much I fancied having a go at Omelette Arnold Bennett and Marcus's version looks fabulous. This is an accomplished book and demand much greater studying.
Italian cooking has always been a little less refined but as Angela's book shows is ever bit as mouthwatering as an other cuisine. You just want to dip your fork into the Grilled Lobster, the Roast Chicken with Lemon, Thyme & Garlic will make you lick your lips and I'd be really happy if if any of the following were placed in front of me - Chicken Cacciatore, Veal Chops with Sage & Parma Ham, the classic Saltimbocca, Roast Leg of Lamb, Stuffed Rabbit Legs or Braised Beef in Red Wine.
And then there's Trish Deseine's how to cook more like a Frenchwoman cook book (though Trish is actually Irish) again with so many luscious sounding treats namely: Rosace of Scallops & Truffles, Baby Leek & Reblochon Pie, the unusual sounding Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts & Smoked Salmon, the equally curious but definitely worth a try Duck, Cep & Foie Gras Shepherd's Pie, the classic Bistro dish Bacon & Poached Egg Salad and an old brunch favourite Crocque Monsieur or (my personal preference) Crocque Madame. There's a chapter of old faithfuls, classic French dishes that would part of many a Frenchwoman's repertoire and recipes we've all heard of and then a whole chapter of some very intriguing new classics that will definitely worth exploring. And if all that wasn't enough there's a chapter on stealing from chefs, copying some of the star chef's signature dishes. The first one being an utter favourite of mine - la Purée de Robuchon, which I will get to finally taste in the potato flesh soon, but there's also fascinating Alain Ducasse Pizza au Chocolat and the revolutionary Hélène Darroze with her Landes Country Chicken Stuffed with Macaroni & Foie Gras and Black Truffle Ice Cream.
So I've got another stack of fabulous cookbooks to pour over, drool over, absorb and conjure up from and I for one cannot wait. There are other interesting books that I may have to add to my groaning bookshelves due out soon including the latest from Gordon Ramsay so I still really need that eighth day!

Oooh, by the skin of his teeth!

Richard Corrigan made it through to the final of the Great British Menu - but it was nail-bitingly close! They detested Richard's poached salmon but Noel McMeel's lamb was unfortunately tough, they weren't crazy about the 80's decoration on his dessert plate (hmmm, I am glad I was right on that count!) and I think overall they believed Richard's menu was "more Irish" than Noel's despite Noel currently actually working in Northern Ireland.
It's a shame that Richard's salmon was apparently so awful when he won last year on a simpler salmon dish that everyone admired so much. But I guess it proves that there's no guaranteed winner on the Great British Menu.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Make it three times, Richard!

It's the Northern Irish heat final tonight of Great British Menu and it's just got to be Richard Corrigan. Noel McMeel is just too smug and his food is just too poncy. Richard won last year and at Christmas so he can do it for a third time. Fingers crossed for tonight, I am holding my breath, I hope the judges aren't seduced by some 80's style chocolate painting on the plate. If there's chocolate on my plate I want to eat it not just admire it!
And if you want to know why Richard Corrigan? His Lindsay House restaurant is just a fantastic experience with fabulous food. And last but not least, he included champ in his menu to wow the French. Which, as you may know, works for me every time!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Staking your life on fifty recipes... or maybe forty four

When I started to read Julie and Julia, a book where Julie Powell takes on the not inconsiderable task of working through the whole of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cookery in a year - a mere 536 recipes in 365 days, I was seriously impressed by the challenge and her commitment. I haven't finished it yet but she does seem to be entirely unravelling in the middle, let’s hope it doesn’t end in a pool of beef marrow and her nemesis - rice. I wondered as I read, could I take on such a feat? I would say not as it is a supremely tough challenge and the journeys through aspic would put anyone off - possibly cooking for ever.

But I thought I might be able to take on a smaller devoted absorption of one particular cookbook.

Maybe I could work my way through Charles Campion’s Fifty Recipes To Stake Your Life On, which according to Gordon Ramsay is “a good culinary read” and Anthony Bourdain says, “exactly the kind of food I like to eat…” And they’re right, it is a great little book, and when I picked it up again after re-examining the Fiercely Barbecued Lamb which D and I cooked from Charles’ newer book, Food from the Fire, the idea formed. The first recipe is for Lardy Cake which sounds a fabulous reinterpretation of an old recipe. And the second recipe is for the lamb, so I thought I might be able to undertake my own Julie/Julia project, but then I was slightly thwarted by the third of the fifty recipes, Singapore Noodles, as I really am not a noodle fan. If I were Julie Powell I would shrug that off and tackle it anyway, as it would be a small consequence in favour of “the project”. If I got through the noodles it’s then Kidneys in Mustard Sauce, Dill Parsnips, Smoked Trout and Coriander Mousse (ah, the dreaded coriander), Strawberry Dessert Wine, Cup-of-Tea Cake and very excitingly the ninth recipe is Mash to Die For. Obviously with my predilection for mash, the prospect seems all the more exciting but after the noodles blip I’d also struggle through quantity of tomatoes in the Chicken Liver Bolognaise and the Sesame and Tomato Bread, the beans in the Three-and-a-half Bean Soup, the Stilton in the Stilton Sauce and the bananas in the Banana Tea Bread. Maybe I could do an abridged version with apologies to Charles Campion I could do “Forty Four Recipes To Stake Your Life On”. And obviously if I did try and emulate her quest I wouldn’t be going for a daily attempt, but maybe weekly is doable. So one down, forty three to go. Hmmm, how soon before I can try the Mash to Die For?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Possibly the best chocolates in the world?

Charbonnel et Walker's Pink Champagne Truffles had always held a particular allure for me, I'd been promised them on several occasions but had been teased by one of the small Champagne bars instead, delicious but for these perfect rose pink spheres of heaven - I had to wait a bit longer.
Whilst attending the various food events last month at Harvey Nichols, I was offered one of these heady orbs and was very impressed by how absolutely delicious they were. And then I was informed that they were the much coveted Charbonnel et Walker truffles but Harvey Nichols had repackaged them in their own style. And if packaging is remotely important to you, you really can't beat Harvey Nichols' packaging. This time we don't have a dramatically shot black & white photograph of a dark red lipsticked Italian femme fatale popping a truffle seductively in her mouth, unusually for Harvey Nix I may add. No instead we have a rather fetching totally plain pink mock croc box perfect for storing a few diva trinkets in afterwards.
But never mind the box, these chocolate are truly sublime - they were worth waiting for! Now I just need someone to buy me another box!

Monday, April 23, 2007

By George, dragon anyone?

Obviously as it's St. George's day I should do something suitably English to mark the occasion. We always say that we'll happily drink green beer, wear pints of Guinness felt floppy hats and generally partake in blarney a plenty on St. Patrick's day. As when I say 'we' I mean other people as I am more likely to think how can I incorporate champ into a meal or whip up an Irish stew. We'll happily have haggis piped in and tuck into mashed neeps on Burn's night, we'll plan some suitable Chinese New Year feast but we seem totally perplexed by St. George's day. It seems frowned upon to fly the St. George's flag, we'll make an exception for an important English football match but there's always a slew of stories banning this flag-flying in fear of some sort of incitement to jingoistic nationalism. It's all rather odd!
However today more effort seems to be abound with my favourite event being in honour of good old English humour by an attempt on the Guinness world record of coconut half clip-clopping in a "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" style! I think what particularly delighted me was the instructions to "leave your coconut halves at home as they will be provided for the event!". I believe over five and a half thousand people turned up in Trafalgar Square to smash the record. English surrealism is alive and well.
But what to eat on such occasion? St. George famously slayed dragons, so would you opt for a dragon burger? And if so, where does one get dragon from as St. George obviously did a good job as they seem to have been entirely eradicated. I thought about steak and kidney pie in lieu of a dragon but wasn't really feeling in a pie sort of mood. I pondered an English afternoon tea but was out of cucumber and scones so will save my tiered cake stand for another day. My first English asparagus of the season would be most appropriate but I couldn't lay my hands on any (I believe there's many a spear in Cambridge, but that's a little too far for me to shop) so that treat will have to be for another day.
In the end I plumped for one of my H. Forman's Lobster and Salmon Gourmet Fishcakes that arrived in my Ocado delivery today. The smoked salmon comes from Scotland but is smoked in London and the lobster probably comes from England so it will have to do. And as they're so delicious I don't mind shoehorning one in to celebrate any occasion. This time I only had one and made a little speedy creamy sauce finished with lemon juice and chives which complemented it very nicely. Okay no dragon, but lobster. That's got to be good!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Sunday salad

It's just beginning to tease us into believing that we're getting into a bit of salad weather. Not everyday, but we are experiencing the odd early salad day at the moment. Though as every true Brit knows, our weather is nothing if not random so tomorrow it may be snow or possibly a thunderstorm!
So whilst the sun is out and I still feel inclined to salads I thought I'd rustle one up. This was a particular "what do I still have in my fridge on the last day before an Ocado delivery?" sort of salad. I was inspired by Nigella's hot bacon and shaved cheese salad with the red wine vinegar drizzled into the pan to mingle with the hot bacony juices and then poured over the chosen leaves, but thought I'd add the last two remaining eggs to the mix. This time I splashed some balsamic vinegar into the bacon frying - pan, this spits a lot less and isn't so violent as when the red wine vinegar hits the hot pan and the balsamic also makes the bacon tinge pleasingly black. Normally when I makes such a salad, I make it an all-day breakfast/brunch salad and add slices of fried black pudding and cubes of sautéed potatoes, but the Old Mother Hubbard fridge that faced me couldn't divulge such treasures so simple it is.

A very rustic quiche

My local Waitrose was having a promotion on French cheeses and it seemed rude not to try a few of their proffered samples. I really enjoyed the Pié d'Angloys which is a creamy little number created by Cistern monks and Germain Langres from the Champagne Ardennes. They also were giving out a booklet with a few recipes for sharing some of France's delicious cheeses and one in particular caught my eye.

Le Rustique Quiche Normande
to share with 8
Prep: 5min Cook: 50min
1 Le Rustique Camembert 250g
2 medium onions, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
7 tbsp water
100g bacon, chopped
200g short crust pastry
- Stew the onions in a pan with the olive oil and water over a low heat until the onions soften
- in a frying pan, cook the bacon for 5 minutes until golden.
- Roll out the shortcrust pastry until 5mm thick
- Cut out a circle slightly larger than the the Camembert, and place onto a baking tray
- Slice the Camembert in half horizontally and place one half on the the pastry.
- Cover this half of the Camembert with the onions and most of the bacon
- Then place the other half of the Camembert, rind side down, on top.
- Mould the pastry around the edge of the cheese and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180c for 40 minutes.
- Garnish with the remaining bacon and share with friends

Naturally I made a few tweaks, I used my remaining leeks instead of the onion. And even though I thought I'd got the bacon about right there seemed lashings of it so either I should have crammed more inside the two halves of the Camembert; which would tricky it was rather abundantly overflowing already, or used less. This was very tasty though I am most intrigued how you could have shared it amongst 8 people. I assume either they are not very hungry or there is plenty of other food for them to distribute. If I served this for 8 I would be accused only catering for Peter Pixie!
It seemed appropriate to serve this rustic quiche on one of the white French china plates and a black 'bon appetit' placemat purchased on our last trip to Lille. All in all, very French and très délicieux and if served with a green salad and maybe some new potatoes to dip in the gooey centre, I could have eked it out more.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Tiger-striped chicken

I hadn't used my griddle pan for such a long time but catching an old Nigella Bites episode and hearing her mentioning how much she liked her tiger-stripes on a great hunk of steak got me to dust it off for my chicken breast. I can see why she such a fan of the tiger-striping, it does give an ordinary (but happy) chicken breast a pleasing appetizing appearance and, very importantly, a bit of extra tastiness. And perched on top of a good little pile of creamy leeks, a perfect simple little meal.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The king of fishcakes!

I spotted a fabulous new little treat in the chiller cabinet of Waitrose - H. Forman's Lobster and Salmon Gourmet Fishcakes. I guess I'd been particularly receptive to fishcakes after watching Jeremy Lee making his mouth-watering crab fishcakes on the Great British Menu on Monday.
I am a huge fan of H. Forman's salmon, they fish for their Scottish salmon in the River Tay and smoke it at their premises in East London. And most importantly, it's extremely tasty!

So with their legendary salmon combined with some plump lobster morsels, no breadcrumbs, the merest trace of egg and a little potato these could be extremely fine fish cakes. And they were, they're precooked so they only need warming in the oven for 5 minutes (or a microwave if you must) - fantastic fast food! Though even though I'm not crazy about heating them in a microwave it does mean I could enjoy these fishcakes at work should I have the urge, which I am sure I will - as I don't think I can ever persuade them to install a six burner range and double oven in our little kitchen!
The large flakes of moist salmon and delicious chunks of lobster with just the slightest of coatings (probably just lightly floured and pan-fried) all accompanied with a nice, crisp green salad - really the king of fishcakes. Probably next time I'd only serve one because they are lusciously plump and I only managed two as I had to forego lunch today, so was pretty hungry. And I am also delighted to see that I can add some to my next Ocado delivery, that makes them doubly convenient and attractive. It suggests on the packet to enjoy with a Champagne sauce, that sounds a good idea. Or maybe a light lemon sauce would go down well, the salmon fishcakes of Gary Rhodes that I admired so much on my first visit to City Rhodes (sadly no more) was served with a sublime lemon butter sauce. Well we'll see how I am inspired next time.

Braveheart!

I am so pleased Jeremy Lee triumphed in the Scottish heat of Great British Menu. I was totally on tenterhooks watching it tonight. His winning menu is:
- Crab cakes and mustard mayonnaise
- Scottish seafood broth
- Fillet steak, pickled walnuts and horseradish
- Shortcake layered with raspberries and cream

Jeremy had reduced his crab cakes to be more reasonably petite for a four course menu and also swapped his enormous seafood salad to a slightly smaller broth. I was surprised how unimpressed the judges were with his fillet steak but each to their own!
When Matthew Fort described Nick Nairn's Cranachan dessert as "repellent" and Oliver Peyton said "ill-conceived " and "the worse thing he has ever eaten!" I was worried they'd still put him through and this awful dessert would join the last two finalists' desserts which they had also severely criticised.
They were extraordinarily disgusted with Sat Bain's Raspberry sponge with black olive and honey puree, fresh raspberries and goats' milk ice cream (though I was delighted and not surprised, and not just because I detest goats' cheese but because it sounded awful!) and they seemed to think that Bryn Williams' strawberry soufflé was a dreadful idea.
Next week the fabulous Richard Corrigan is up against a new pretender Noel McMeel to the Northern Irish crown. Being a huge fan of Richard Corrigan's sublime food I know where my vote lies!

What's in my basket?

I love the changes to Ocado. And my favourite is that you can now review what's in your basket in tiny pictures. I don't know why I like this so much but I do think very visually. When I'm planning a special meal, I find it really useful to picture how a menu will work together and generally draw a tiny sketch. This scrappy sketch is pinned up next to my timings and also helps me not forget something as I'm more likely to spot an element is missing from picture than a list. Perhaps odd, but it works for me, so maybe this view of my Ocado shopping basket does the same thing for me.
This is the little drawing I made to prep for the picnic feast we had for the Jools Holland Picnic in the Park last year. I'm just a pictorial person I guess!

Go Jeremy go!

I'm on tenterhooks! I've been watching the battle of the Scots on the Great British Menu this week and even though I have no objections to Nick Nairn, I really want Jeremy Lee to win. I am a massive fan of his work at Blueprint Café and also think he is hugely entertaining in front of the stove and front of house. I think Jeremy deserves Paris and they will love him as much as I do.
It all happens tonight! Will Jeremy find scallops that are less "enthusiastically sized" or will he still "absolutely hate them"? Will his shortcake still resemble Hobknobs? Will Nick get his Cranachan to taste of whisky and honey as he intended? And will Oliver, Prue and Matthew enjoy Jeremy's crab cakes as much as we all do? Watch Great British Menu on BBC2 tonight to find an answer to all these questions and many more. I can't wait!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

No hamper required!

When Stephanie suggested a picnic theme for her monthly blog party my first thought was this was an excellent excuse to get the hamper out. And I need little excuse, I can assure you! I've been inordinately partial to a wicker hamper since I was a little girl. I remember having a tiny hamper and various toy crockery items (possibly where another obsession started!) that I would place inside before having some sort of pretend meal. I was also extremely intrigued by miniature food - especially Hovis. Hovis is a brown loaf that comes in the usual loaf size (which never particularly interested me) but you could sometimes get tiny loaves, well rolls really, but fashioned to look like petite loaves (and these I really liked). I guess you were to split them in half and treat like a normal roll but I was particularly keen on slicing this loaf ever so carefully and buttering each minute slice before topping it with something like Dairylea cheese triangles. And to ensure that I'd get the requisite amount of Dairylea on each slice I'd make a tiny hole in the foil triangle and squeeze the cheese out like a dinky icing bag. I guess all that explains so much now. Whatever it all means I've been left with a deep love of hampers both wicker hampers with red and white chequered cloths and picnic goodies and boxes or baskets filled with all manner of intriguing jars, packets and bottles. I adore Harvey Nichols' hampers and always pour over the new catalogue each year. One year I even treated myself to one.

When I decided to upgrade to a fabulous wicker picnic hamper from Harrod's, I made a wish list and no doubt checked it twice. I knew that I wanted a tan leather interior with elegant white china plates (definitely not plastic!) and one with a full lid that is fastened with leather straps. I found one with the perfect interior but shock horror; it had yellow and blue plates – very IKEA but not me! Fortunately Harrod’s has a myriad of china so I rounded up all the likely candidates and checked they fitted in the leather straps inside the lid – vital! The winner was Wedgewood “Strawberry & Vine” which has pleasing strawberries, leaves and flowers in relief around the rim, and just screams some sort of al fresco sat on grass food eating activity – perfect! Over the years I’ve gathered a big red and white chequered tablecloth to lay on the grass, red napkins, spikes to sink into the soft ground and hold the wine glasses, lanterns on long crooks, waterproof backed fleecy blankets and a variety of picnic chairs. Basically should a picnic style event arise, I’m ready!

So with all that in mind I had no problem deciding how to serve my picnic canapés but what to make, that was harder. Really I'd just need a fabulous loaf of bread - we had the stunning Jamie Oliver baked with Parma ham, hard boiled eggs and mozzerella at our last picnic, some perfectly ripe Brie, a variety of pâtés, potato salad (entirely mayonnaise free), bunches of grapes, a savoury tart perhaps and strawberries. But for a canapés-at-home sort of picnic I had to think a little harder. I started off with M&S tuna pâté as most picnics can be enhanced by a generous knife-ful of this spread on a soft white roll. But how do I shrink it down, what about serving tuna pâté on a slice of crunchy cucumber? It goes excellently with cucumber and this would be a two bite nibble that would be easy to hold. Scotch eggs always used to be a picnic favourite, there are tiny ones but these are scarily filled with mayonnaise and that’s just wrong! Instead of maybe making my own with quail eggs, I got a full sized one and cut it into wedges and frankly they look better for it. One of the best things about serving picnic canapés and not actually preparing this food for a picnic is that I can served things hot. I have been known to remove a tasty leek tart from the oven and ask someone to carry it carefully to one of the open air concerts with the steam rising as they walked. But generally it’s not very practical. And barbecues are absolutely prohibited in my local park.

Another crucial picnic element is smoked salmon, we had mini smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels last time so this time I made salmon, cucumber and chived cream cheese spirals by spreading the salmon with the cream cheese with a liberal sprinkling of chives, layered with long strips of cucumber pared with a peeler and then rolling up. They looked very pretty but were going to be messy to consume so I got the idea of securing the spirals with my as yet un-christened art deco penguin cocktail sticks (as D had already said with them being penguins, I should only really use them in conjunction with fish!). I’m fairly sure that Penguins are partial to krill and squid, I’m not so sure about salmon though. Anyway the cocktail sticks looked great and were an ideal delicate way to eat the spirals

And as I could serve hot canapés I decided to serve just baked from the oven dough balls split and filled with hot crab gratin. Another fine couple of bites!

I decided as I’d been thinking about strawberry jam sandwiches recently I’d try and miniaturise this old favourite but I couldn’t have anticipated how much mess you can make with a few rounds of bread and jam. It was the cutting of the finished sandwich into smaller squares where it all went wrong. Obviously I should have cut the bread first, I should have learnt from my old Hovis slicing days, and then made the sandwiches. But it was too late. The best I can do is deploy another new set of cocktail sticks and impale each jammy cube to eat, this time the cocktail sticks are topped with shiny red cherries.

For the final sweet treat I turned tochocolate brownies, topped with a Chambord soaked raspberry, which is always a good thing on any occasion. And the obligatory drink/cocktail? Well it’s a picnic so it’s either a refreshing glass of rose or the quintessential English summer drink – PIMM’S and lemonade. And of course served as it should - with plenty of ice, fruit and cucumber.
A perfect picnic!

To check out all the other treats laid on the red and white tablecloth and lighting the citronella candles to keep the insects away, click here...

An original honourable mention!

I had been really impressed with some of the entrants in March's "Does my Blog Look Good in this?" food-blog friendly photographic competition. There were over seventy photos to peruse this time. I had already looked at the winners at the beginning of the month but was delighted on revisiting Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity that I'd got an honourable mention for originality for my picture of the inaugural unveiling of my new black Epicurean chopping board. What a fabulous surprise!
And I do so love to be original!

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Well I didn't want to waste it...

I thought I might as well use the remaining wild mushroom and Parmesan topping from Gordon’s mushroom topped steaks recipe last night to have some luscious extravagant scrambled eggs. It worked very well and I had the satisfaction of not wasting any of the fabulous mixture.

Apparently I was addicted to scrambled eggs as a baby then I wouldn’t eat them for many a year though I'd happily cook them for others and now I just love them. Especially when they’re this good!

Friday, April 13, 2007

A beefier Gordon

Ever since I first spotted Gordon Ramsay whipping up his mushroom topped steaks on the F Word I had been salivating at the thought and I did get to eat one of these fine beasts for the first time on my ‘birthday take 1’ last year. And I’d been meaning to give it another go ever since.

When I spotted the recipe again in Gordon’s Big Brunches recipe cards it inspired me to immediately seek out a plump fillet steak. I’m not entirely sure it’s a brunch dish and I could argue against quail in a piquant dressing or truffle-dressed scallops for brunch but I guess I wouldn’t really say “no” if I were presented with either at any time of day. In fact there are some great recipes in this little box – brunch or no brunch – and many I’d be happy to tuck into morning, noon or night.

But finding myself a proud possessor of a pile of wild exotic mushrooms, a few choice new potatoes, some healthy sprigs of rosemary from D and MC’s garden and a fillet steak there was only one thing to do.

Gordon Ramsay's Mushroom-topped steaks

Ingredients for 4 servings:
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
4 tbsp olive oil

100g mixed mushrooms (shiitake, oyster), roughly chopped
100g chestnut mushrooms, roughly chopped
2 tbsp chives, finely chopped
4 tbsp double cream
1 large egg yolk
4 fillet steaks, about 180g and 4cm thick
3 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
500g new potatoes, scrubbed
5-6 tbsp olive oil
few sprigs of rosemary
8 garlic clov
es, skin on and lightly crushed
knob of butter
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Method:

Preheat oven to 220°C/Gas 7.

Place the new potatoes in a large pan and fill with cold water to cover. Add a generous pinch of salt, partially cover with a lid and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a skewer. Drain and refresh under cold, running water. Halve the potatoes and pat dry with kitchen paper. Set aside.

To prepare the topping, gently sauté the shallot and garlic in 1 tablespoon of olive oil for about 5 minutes until nicely softened. Add a further 2 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the mushrooms over a high heat, stirring frequently, for about 7 minutes until browned and cooked. The mixture should be quite dry. If necessary, tip it into a sieve to drain off any remaining liquid. Remove the garlic clove and transfer the mushrooms to a bowl, allow to cool.

Whip the cream until softly stiff. Fold in the mushrooms along with the egg yolk, herbs and a tablespoon of the grated Parmesan, then season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Season the steaks all over with salt and pepper. Heat a large non-stick frying pan until you can feel a strong heat rising. Cook the steaks for about 2-3 minutes, turning them to seal all over. Remove from the pan. Put the steaks on a shallow baking tray. Pile the mushroom mixture on top of the steaks and dust with the remaining Parmesan. Cook in the oven uncovered, for about 5-7 minutes until the topping is bubbling and golden.

Meanwhile, finish off the potatoes. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan and add the garlic and rosemary, followed by the potatoes. Sauté over a fairly high heat, until the potatoes are golden brown - stir throughout to prevent them sticking to the pan. Add a knob of butter towards the end of cooking, season generously with salt and pepper.

When ready, serve the steaks with the sautéed potatoes.

This is a stunning recipe and stands awfully proud on those tantalising concentric circles of the Royal Doulton Gordon Ramsay plate – can I give a dish three forks?

Monday, April 09, 2007

Do Carluccio's do meat?

When I suggested Carluccio's as a thank you for driving me back home LLcT actually heard Gaucho's and started dreaming of plates and plates of meat. When I had to shatter his illusions and explain that Carluccio's was a great Italian which even though I'm sure does a fine line in meat it's more famous for fresh pasta and mushrooms, he was visibly disappointed. But he needn’t have worried as we were all very well catered for.

As we perused the menu, we tucked into a a tin of savoury bread and D and T enjoyed the plump olives. I started with one of their blackboard specials Torta Pasqualina which was a savoury tart filled with spinach, egg and artichokes.

D wanted calamari but they had none left so instead went for the arancini di riso siciliani - the deep fried risotto balls filled with either melting mozzarella or a meat ragù. I'd always wanted to try these but had been put off by the whole deep fried nature of them and I definitely don't mean this in a “healthy my body is my temple” sort of way but in a “big scary chip pan on fire in a confined space” sort of way!

Aranchi are generally recommended as the perfect dish to make with leftover risotto or even good enough to make risotto for it. Though I admit I have to admire the fact that you can make two fabulous and yet totally different dishes from the same pot of risotto. It has the sort of minimalist appeal that I very occasionally strive for.

Wild horses wouldn't persuade LLcT to partake in such evils as risotto as he just wanted a big meat fix. This was achieved by ordering a plate of Parma Ham for starters and then a double portion of Beef Carpaccio for his main. Meat heaven!

I think we felt that we should redress the meat balance and D opted for probably Carluccio’s signature dish – Pasta con funghi - their own egg pappardelle with fresh and wild mushrooms. I am sure Antonio would be delighted with her. I went for the tortellini all ‘emiliana which is small filled parcels in a ham and cheese sauce. And everything was just as it should be, the risotto balls were delicious, I only tried the mozzarella one as the ragù one looked suspiciously tomato-y and I would definitely have these again especially if someone else is doing the deep-frying bit.

My savoury tart was vibrant, dense and just felt like spring in every mouthful. Carluccio’s do a very fine pasta and these two were no exceptions and the meat went so fast that I can only assume that it was satisfactory.

D finished with some mixed berries in an elderflower jelly which looked so sweet and I would absolutely try that at home. I just had the strawberry ice cream which was pleasingly strawberry-y and rounded off everything nicely. A perfect end to our Easter feasting.

Carluccio’s do what they set out to do serve delicious, authentic, fresh and seasonal Italian food in a buzzy environment, two Italian forks for them.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

An Easter egg-travaganza

I had great fun decorating the table for Easter, I get to get out the pastel egg garland (some of which I’ve removed and threaded with silver ribbon to adorn the napkins) and the table is strewn with a positive clutch of pastel yellow chickens which no doubt will turn up again for many months. And to finish off I fill a few ramekins with Cadbury’s Mini Eggs. I notice the Cadbury’s Mini Eggs seem to have gotten a little more vibrant this year; they’ve lost some of their pastel-ness. But even though the yellow is definitely more yellow, they still taste great. Edible table decorations are a good idea as there is generally less to clear up and if there is, everyone is happy to help. I wouldn’t recommend the eating the chicks though; they’re plastic and not so nutritious.

And the table decorations were only part of all that fun! There was a mouth-watering butterflied piece of salt-marsh lamb to cook.

I had been thwarted by the unhappy bunnies available at this time of year but when we swapped our plans for lamb we couldn’t have anticipated such a stunning exponent of lambness as MC had got a perfect salt marsh lamb from Mr. Knibbs - lamb heaven! Despite LLcT’s reservations, salt marsh is not at all salty, they graze on the salt marshes nibbling the sweetest most untouched pasture and therefore making the sweetest lamb imaginable. And we had a great treatment in store. We’d consulted Charles Campion’s Food from the Fire and fallen upon the following magnificent recipe:

Butterflied Leg of Lamb

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced thinly
Leaves stripped from 5 large sprigs of fresh rosemary
2 tbsp dried oregano
2 tbsp black molasses
100 ml Balsamic
250ml red wine
100ml good olive oil
25ml walnut olive

This recipe is an update form the Fiercely Barbequed Lamb in Charles Campion’s “Fifty Recipes to Stake Your Life On”, Charles says his recipes evolve on each airing and in previous version he uses brown sugar instead of molasses and Worcestershire Sauce rather than Balsamic. I think the Balsamic was an inspired idea and fortunately D had some that wasn’t our beloved Belazu (but still good) that we were happy to use. The aroma coming off the marinade was fabulous and that was even before the lamb hit the smoking barbecue.

The marinade is made up and then rubbed and squished in to the lamb before tying up in a bag and leaving to marinate. The flavours could be left to mingle overnight or for at least 4 hours, we went for the second option. One of my utmost favourite accompaniments with lamb (who am I kidding, with most things!) is Gratin Dauphinois as I always think the creaminess really complements the lamb. And for the tasty crunch of green we plumped for a vibrant Savoy cabbage. MC was in charge of turning the now darkened fleshed lamb over the hot coals and we finished off the vegetables. This was a stunning meal, the lamb really was just incredibly tasty, the juiciness of the meat and the crispy bits outside with the gorgeousness of the marinade - truly sublime. It’s very rare enjoy I don’t enjoy a good Gratin Dauphinois and this was a great Gratin Dauphinois and the Savoy cabbage was crunchy and a perfect foil.

For dessert I’d been keen to introduce the Serious Food Company Hot Chocolate Fondants (from Waitrose) to others. I think this dessert is deliciously chocolaty, trouble free and comes in the dinkiest espresso cups and I do like to spread a little espresso cup action around. I think they went down well.

And if anyone was still hungry, you could always eat the mini-egg table decorations. And if you get bored (or just liked to interact with the table decorations), you could always line the little pastel yellow chicks in rows or separate all the Siamese twin chicks that were still attached to their siblings. In fact most of the chicks were in fact two if not three, so throughout the meal the number of little chicks grew and grew until there was a veritable chicklet carpet over the table.

What more could you want, an extremely tasty meal and fun to boot!

The Easter bunny cometh!

I’d really set my heart on an Easter bunny though admittedly the Easter bunny I had in mind was in a mustard and creamy cider sauce. However, despite Nigella having a rather intriguingly named recipe for Hot Cross Bunny in her Feast cookbook (though as it’s a curry I would personally never make it!) it seems that it’s a terrible time of year for rabbit. I can only assume that they’re busy delivering the chocolate Easter eggs to all and sundry (!) or as the purveyor of fine bunny meat said – you don’t want to eat them when they’re breeding as the flesh is all milky. Though surely rabbits breed all the time don’t they?

Hmmm, so I have to console myself with getting D this rather fetching chocolate bunny from the Chocolate Alchemist instead. She’s got me a mug for Easter, a lovely black a white be-hearted one that can live in my Cambridge pad! And in honour of it being Easter Sunday I drink the chocolate tea in it from Teapigs (those of the very fine silk tea temple), which is slightly unusual but also rather nice! They recommend having the chocolate tea with milk or cream but that is never going to happen. Ever!

If I can’t have a hot cross bunny I’ll have to make do with a hot cross bun in its place, though I’d almost forgotten how good a toasted (it has to be) hot cross bun dripping with butter is. Happy Easter to everyone!

Saturday, April 07, 2007

The first barbecue

So the barbecue is dusted off for the first time this year. We are planning a great hunk of lamb for tomorrow but LLcT is has other commitments and is adamant that we can’t have some sort of meat feast without him being party to it. So we have a pre-barbecue barbecue tonight. D is shocked to find that I’ve never knowingly made burgers so we decide to make some Guinness and beef burgers from Charles Campion’s Food from Fire cookbook. And we’ll accompany these with the last of the Jimmy’s Farm sausages.

Making the burgers was great with all that squishing together of the ingredients, all very satisfying. But I was surprised as to the amount of spring onions in the recipe, unless we just had special extra large spring onions. I know that MC seems to have a particular passion for spring onions at the moment but the burgers looked more green than anything else. We made enough for two each for tonight and squirrelled away a second batch in the freezer. We prevaricated over what sort of potatoes to serve with the burgers and sausages, but then MC put in a particular request for wedges so we hit google until we found something that looked interesting.

Rosemary Potato Wedges

4 'Yukon', purple or red potatoes
8 to 12 springs fresh rosemary
4 teaspoons [20 ml] minced garlic
1 teaspoon [5 ml] paprika
1/2 teaspoon [2.5 ml] ground white pepper
1/2 teaspoon [2.5 ml] salt
Any desired fat [to grease foil]

  • Preheat barbecue until coals become grey, almost white.
  • Cut 4 square 6” [15-cm] each pieces of foil.
  • Using a pastry brush, lightly grease the centre of each foil square.
  • Well scrub then cut each potato into 4 wedges.
  • Arrange 4 wedges potato into the centre of each greased piece of foil.
  • Lay 2 or 3 rosemary sprigs over each cut potato.
  • Then sprinkle each with 1 teaspoon minced garlic.
  • Evenly sprinkle each with paprika, ground white pepper and salt.
  • Tightly secure each foil parcel.
  • Barbecue bundles over medium-hot coals turning bundles from time for 20 to 30 minutes, until potato pieces are tender to the fork.
  • Remove from heat and unwrap potato wedges (a rather bizarre instruction, as are you likely to open them or serve whilst still on the barbeque?)
  • Serve immediately, garnished to with sour cream etcetera.

Fortunately D and MC's garden is positively awash with rosemary so there's no problem there. We serve our potato wedges with one of our favourites – half fat crème fraîche turned vibrant green with a good stirring of fresh pesto. And all accompanied by the obligatory pile of verdant mâche.

Everything turned out perfectly; the burgers were juicy and not overwhelming spring oniony as I feared. Jimmy’s Farm sausages were really dense and porky, extremely fine sausages clearly from very happy pink and black Essex porkers.

And the potato wedges were tasty also, a good new barbecue potato recipe to add to the collection. I think the only changes we made were cutting the potatoes into more than than for as a quarter would have made them way too chunky and black pepper instead of white. As you don’t liberally cover them with oil, they’re quite dry so they worked very well dipping in the pesto crème fraîche sauce.

A very good first airing for the barbecue this year, and firing up the barbecue didn’t bring the rain on or anything. Maybe that’s only my family tradition for barbecues! I recall when just a conversation about grilling some juicy meat over some hot coals would provoke thunderclouds. It was always considerably more effective than a rain dance if the garden wanted watering!

A bit of Chelsea in Cambridge

I’ve heard a lot about a particular Cambridge institution and that’s the world renowned Chelsea Bun from Fitzbillie’s. They are famously sticky, possibly the stickiest bun ever. You really need to eat one in close proximity to a good source of ablutions unless you delicately eat yours with a knife and fork – which somehow doesn’t seem usual for bun consumption!

I do agree they are worth their reputation, they are not just extremely sticky but curranty with a dark and spicy hint of peel. But I don’t think you could ever eat more than one!