Thursday, February 26, 2009

Duck and cover

I was combing an unfamiliar supermarket for inspiration today and espied the butcher’s counter. Ideally I would prefer a nice independent butcher’s but these are almost extinct nowadays. The plump duck breast seemed to be calling me and being a butcher’s counter at least I could purchase a single one.
After the obligatory criss-cross scoring of the skin to allow the roast potato adoring duck fat to render and to crisp up the skin I pop the breast skin-side down into a hot pan. After about 10 minutes I drained off the fat (dreaming of future roasties) and flipped the breast to be flesh-side down in the pan for another 5 minutes. Removing the duck from the pan I added a healthy glug of Balsamic Vinegar and a squirt of runny honey (probably about a tea spoon). After it has reduced the duck was popped back in the pan and turned in the unctuous glaze. Then leaving to rest for a few minutes it was served with creamy leeks with bacon lardons. And it was good!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Living to eat or eating to live

I’ve been terribly delinquent in maintaining my blog for a while now. This is not because I don’t want to do it any more or have nothing to write about but I am just finding the overwhelming numbing effect of dealing with M being ill dulls my creativity and impedes my enjoyment of writing abut food.
It is not just M being ill but the horrible way her illness has manifested itself. M and I have shared so many fabulous foodie experiences, travelling all over Europe and the US, me avoiding her favourite tomatoes and goat cheese and she trying to pack in as much crab as possible and of course potato and vegetable dodging. But the cruellest of fates to befall any foodie diva, a ‘foodie diva en passant’ or a vicarious fine-diner is to not be able to eat any more and me regaling her with tales of feasting seems to be adding to the torment.
Every time I espy a recipe abundant in lobster, scallops or crab I immediately think of whipping it up as a surprise treat on my next visit and then I remember that only one of us is able to consume it.
It is not surprising that my attitude to food when I am with M has changed, I feel almost embarrassed if I enjoy a meal knowing that she can’t share it with me. I couldn’t dream of tucking into her much-loved mini Coquilles St Jacques (see above) whilst she looked on and even watching Masterchef together seem a little like teasing. And any meals I do have I feel it should be consumed furtively keeping the sights and aromas hidden.
I guess we can all be separated into two groups – those who live to eat and those who eat to live. Of course I live to eat, I spend much of my leisure flicking through food magazines and cookbooks, watching food programmes (occasionally contradicting the TV cook à la Gregory’s Girl), planning some future extravagant feast, writing up previously enjoyed banquets and also perusing farmer’s market and food shows, cooking up a storm and of course eating.
Those grabbing food carelessly as a necessary fuel to drive their entirely inedible life are very alien to me, and I feel they must be missing a crucial part of their lives.
So many of my social interactions are around a table, it doesn’t have to be lavish dining as sometimes it’s just sharing a bowl of hot salty chips or literally breaking bread but these times are the lifeblood of my existence. Some of my absolutely favourite memories resonate with glorious food and the wonderful people I enjoyed it with.
I cannot imagine having to be fed via a tube into my intestine and having to come to terms with maybe never being able to enjoy a meal again but M looks on the bright side and says how little of my dreaded washing up there is to do now.
Dearest M, I really hope they can eventually rebuild your stomach bionically and we can sit down at one of our favourite restaurants tables again. And in the mean time I will do my best to try a cultivate other obsessions we can share that you aren’t excluded from. But I also know you like hearing about my culinary exploits so when you're feeling stronger I hope you'll find plenty of tasty things to read - I better start hitting my blog again!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Some like it hot...

Stephanie wants us to add a little spice to this month’s blog party, and my first thought was urgghh I am not particularly a fan of spicy food but that’s possibly just my personal prejudice. I have always disliked curries of any heat and an abundance of chillies in any food but other spices I really do enjoy. Freshly crushed aromatic black pepper scattered over almost anything, a few scrapes of nutmeg makes a cauliflower cheese or egg custard sing, I love a little kick from some Dijon mustard smeared over meat before searing, hot cross buns cries out for mixed spice and cinnamon and finally ginger enrobed with silky dark chocolate has to be one of my favourite culinary marriages.
I was interested to read in Glynn Christian fascinating book “How to Cook without Recipes” that he agrees with me that the excessive chilli heat that some diners insist upon is an incorrect assumption that who you need it enjoy certain foods authentically. He refers to locals having a chilli-scarred tongue due to years of eating the hot food of their native cuisine as to them it doesn’t taste particularly hot. If I tried to keep up with my delicate northern England palate, I just find it much too painful and wouldn’t remotely get any pleasure from that meal. And even though I’ve enjoyed a warming hint of chilli in an autumnal butternut squash risotto or if feeling daring in a square of dark chocolate but that’s the extent of my tolerance. Glynn quotes Aerosmith’s Joe Perry talking in BonAppetit magazine on the subject - “I found a lot…bury the flavour of everything else. A really strong habanero flattens your taste buds. It’s like listening to really loud music all time. You don’t hear any nuance anymore”
But without resorting to my Masala Dabba (generally a double lidded stainless steel tin containing seven smaller stainless steel pots) for spicy dabblings as I don’t actually own one, I am sure I can spice things up a bit anyway.
Firstly it’s just after Valentine’s Day and I do love a heart shaped food so when I decided for some delicious canapés of peppered beef on rösti I thought I’d spice things up by cutting the rösti into heart-shapes - just to make it a little more challenging. The taste was unaltered but they made cute and tasty little nibbles.
Inspired by a Nigella recipe for some sticky gingerbread, I thought I’d reinterpret it into a sticky little mouthful. Nigella topped hers with a lemon laced icing whereas for some peculiar reason I felt that the super sticky gingerbread wasn’t enough so I scattered mine with cubes of even more incredibly sticky stem ginger. I think it will take a week to syrupy stickiness off my fingers by the stem ginger topped ginger cake was very good to eat.
My first thought of spicy drink was a Bloody Mary but though I know that a vodka-free version is a Virgin Bloody Mary I wasn’t sure what you’d call a tomato-free one, Mary perhaps? As I wasn’t sure that a Mary would set the world alight I went in search of some ginger cocktails. I’ve had some fabulously ginger-laced concoctions at Jewel and Lab in the rare occasions I indulge in cocktails in some trendy London bar. I found a great suggestion from Olive magazine for a Ginger Champagne, and as I had a surfeit of cubed stem ginger and some root ginger I thought I’d embellish it all a little – Ginger Fizz anyone?
So despite not being able to cope with food that it too hot, hot, hot (I’ve probably been traumatised by that scary green chilli on the Subway advert) I’ve managed to spice up my February a little. And if they answer the door to me, as I am rather late – their spicy contributions will be here.