Sunday, 27 June 2010

A GARDEN PAELLA


The hot weather has brought out the backwoodswoman in me, and for the last few days I've been enjoying a Ray Mears-type relationship with the barbecue. I do not need to don khaki clothing for this, nor erect a shelter, for I already have one, in the form of The Cabana (also known as the Loggia, Stable, Garden Hut Thing, Summerhouse etc). The Cabana, originally erected to house a hot tub and/or pizza oven, was built last summer, in pouring rain, by Hugh, a rather brawny and strangely philosophical brickie. I had about three days enjoying it before the weather turned and I had to wait almost a whole 'nother year go by before I could sit out in it again. Now it is resplendent with beaded curtains, a heater, iPod and speakers and basketwork bull's head a la Picasso. It's a pleasant place to enjoy a chilled glass of something as if affords a view back into the garden, towards the house. Occasionally, its serenity is disturbed by the rabbit, or cat, Lulu, who does amazing jumps from the back wall onto the garden table.

The heatwave means that I want to spend as little time slaving over a hot oven, and as much time idling beside a flaming barbecue, prodding something interesting while imbibing a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio. It has been a long-held ambition of mine to cook a paella over the coals, traditional style, and tonight, after watching England's utterly shameful performance in the World Cup, I lived the dream - unlike the England football team.

Unlike some families, where the man takes charge of the barbecue, caveman-style, the fire is definitely my domain. I can light a decent fire, get it going and keep it going without any assistance, thank you, Ray. I do not bother with traditional barbie fare of pink sausages and suspect burgers. The other night, for example, I roasted a whole marinaded chicken. Need I add that it was delicious?

So, back to the paella. There is only one crucial ingredient for paella and that is smoked paprika, which is widely available these days thanks to the Sainted Delia. This wonderful spice gives paella its distinctive smoky fragrance and flavour and without it, well, it's just not a paella. Even a fish paella needs this kick to give it an authentic flavour.

I chopped half and onion and half a red pepper finely, sliced 2 cooking chorizos, stripped the rest of the chicken carcass of meat (making a stock from the bones), and defrosted some king prawns. Paella is a wonderful dish as you can basically chuck in whatever you like, and each region of Spain has its own specialities.

Here are the quantities for a basic paella to feed 4 as a main course:

7 tbsp olive oil
120g cooking chorizo, sliced
1 large green pepper, finely chopped
2 large spanish onions, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
250g calasparra (paella) rice - or use risotto rice
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
900ml hot chicken stock
1 lemon in wedges
salt and pepper

Fry the chorizo in the oil and then add the onion, pepper and garlic and cooked until soft and sweet. Add the rice and stir to ensure all the strands are coated in the oily mix. Then add the stock, bring to the boil and let simmer for about 20 mins, or until the rice is cooked. At this point, you can add additional ingredients, such as prawns, chicken livers, mussels, beans, peas..... Serve with lemon wedges. Cooking over an open fire is not obligatory, but it is fun!

FOOD IMITATING LIFE....... or ART?

Friday, 25 June 2010

THE BEST GARLIC SAUCE


Not aioli. No, this is better (in my opinion) and healthier too as it does not contain eggs or that much olive oil. Taken from the first Moro cookbook, it's delicious with grilled meats and fish, or just smeared on a slab of good bread. Or, as I did earlier, licked from the bowl of the food-processor.

The garlic is poached in milk which gives it a wonderful sweet flavour, not at all strong.

For 4

3 garlic bulbs
enough milk to cover the garlic in a small pan
3 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2-3/4 tbsp sherry vinegar
sea salt & black pepper

Break up the garlic bulbs, discarding any woody roots. Put in a small pan, skins on, cover with milk and simmer until the garlic is soft. Drain away the milk, reserving 6 tablespoons, and pop out each clove of garlic into the bowl of a food-processor. Set the motor running, add the milk, olive oil, salt and pepper and sherry vinegar and blitz until you have a smooth puree. Check seasoning and serve. Keeps well in the fridge for a day or so.

ROCK SHANDY


Another heatwave, and more warm summer evenings in the cabana (garden hut) to enjoy. When it's hot, I crave Greek salad, Tabbouleh, a smear of Tzatsiki or Taramasalata on pitta bread, long-marinaded meat cooked on the barbecue with a piquant dip. To go with the food that always speaks of the Mediterranean, a chilled glass of white wine or Prosecco is wonderful. But sometimes I don't want an alcoholic drink, so I turn to a fantastic non-alcoholic cocktail: Rock Shandy.

So called because it originated at the Blackrock Swimming Club of Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Rock Shandy has a number of variants. The one I know and like is half lemonade and half club soda with a dash of Angostura bitters, a slice of lemon, and lots of ice. It's delicious and refreshing. According to Wikipedia, this version is popular in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Namibia. True Irish Rock Shandy is half lemonade and half fizzy orange juice. Yet another version is half lemonade and half ginger ale. It's a great alternative to a "proper drink" or cocktail, and when I've offered it to friends who are driving, they are surprised at how nice it is.

I first came across Rock Shandy at a cafe called Raoul's in Notting Hill. It was so delicious that I started making it at home, but often if I asked for it in a pub, I was met with blank looks. However, at the Wookey Hole Inn in Somerset, a wonderful gastro-pub with an innovative menu and open-minded staff, the barman actually made a Rock Shandy according to my instructions, and the pub has subsequently included it on their drinks menu. Cheers, guys!

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A SUNDAY FRY-UP


Say the words "fry up" and one instantly imagines fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes, sausages, mushrooms.... the epitome of the "Full English" (breakfast). Jamie Oliver even devised a brilliant one-pan breakfast with all the above ingredients thrown in together to create a heart-attack special. Delicious - but to be eaten rarely.

My Sunday fry up was a bit different. First, it was not a breakfast dish: I'd had fried mushrooms and scrambled eggs for breakfast on toasted ciabatta, all washed down with a mug of redbush tea. I am economising at the moment, trying not to spend too much money on food each week, especially when both fridge and freezer are groaning with food following a recent delivery by Ocado. By being strict about not rushing off to Tesco or M&S when I need something, I find I cook more resourcefully. Today's lunch was the result of a bit of kitchen conjuring, and the memory of a tapas dish I regularly order at my local Bar Estilo.

Of course, frying does not need to be that unhealthy: I use a non-stick pan and only a small amount of oil. Some months ago, I invested in a deep-fat fryer, a piece of kitchen kit I had been resisting for a long time. In fact, it is jolly useful and the food comes out of it better drained of fat than I can ever achieve scooping things out of the wok with a slotted spoon. It makes brilliant chips and onion bhajis, and is a must for making tempura (which I do quite often). The oil is kept at the right temperature and you can close the lid, thereby avoiding the danger of being splashed by boiling oil. It's a bit of a faff to clean, but you can reuse the oil a couple of times if you strain it.

I am not such a food purist that I make my own tempura batter. I buy a ready mix batter from the special ingredients section of my local Tesco. The only additional ingredient is water, preferably chilled and preferably fizzy (soda water also works well). This results in a very crisp, light batter. You can coat all sorts of things with batter and fry them to create tempura, but my particular favourites are: courgette and aubergine batons, sweet potato half-moons, mushrooms, big prawns, and chunks of salmon. I usually serve tempura simply with a slick of wasabi and a puddle of sweet chilli sauce. Today, I used only half an aubergine, supplemented with some Halloumi cheese, that wonderful middle eastern cheese with the squeaky texture that fries so well, cut into cubes and dusted with flour. The aubergine batons were chucked into the batter, fried, and scooped out, and then in went the Halloumi cubes. The end result was delicious - served with mango chutney. Needless to say, it didn't last long at all......

Sunday, 13 June 2010

CHEAT'S MANGO SORBET

I am always on the look out for new or unusual ingredients, so when my local Tesco (a store which I shop in under duress: I don't like it, but it's ultra local and open late) started to stock Indian ingredients, I got quite excited. It's an indication of the demographic of where I live (a leafy, uber middle class suburb of SW London) that the local Tesco Metro stocks sun-dried, sun-blush and sun-drenched tomatoes, smoked paprika, preserved lemons, sprouted beans, goji berries (WTF?) and several shelves of genuine Indian products. Interestingly, the store continues to stock about 20 varieties of tinned tuna as well, which begs the question: is there really such a high demand for tinned tuna in Teddington? (answers on a postcard please).

When I spotted the large tin of mango pulp, with its garish Bollywood label, I knew I had to have it in my cupboard. Originally, I intended to make mango lassi with it, that lovely, creamy, sweet yoghurt drink which is often on the menu of your local Indian restaurant, but instead I made it into a sorbet.

The base of this sorbet is egg whites, heated with sugar, and then beaten into a stiff meringue. The flavourings are folded in afterwards before the whole lot is churned in an ice cream maker and then frozen. I got the basic recipe from Casa Moro, the second cookbook from the eponymous restaurant by Sam & Sam Clark. In the cookbook, it forms the foundation for the most delicious frozen yoghurt, so good it's hard to believe it's not more calorific or naughty. I think it's the natural sweetness of the mango, coupled with its exotic, perfumed flavour, that make this sorbet so delicious. It's lovely at the end of a meal on a summer's evening, and the meringue base gives it the most gorgeous, melt-in-the-mouth texture.

Making ice cream takes a little forward-planning, especially if, like me, the bowl of your ice cream maker needs to be frozen in advance. An ice cream maker is not essential for this dish, but it does ensure a lovely, creamy consistency. Otherwise, freeze in a plastic box and take it out and beat it vigorously from time to time.

850g mango pulp (available in tins from Indian stores) or use pureed fresh or tinned mango.
2 egg whites
125g caster sugar
Grated zest of 1 lime

Mix the egg whites and the sugar and heat over a low flame until steaming hot but not boiling. Remove from the heat and whisk until the mixture turns to meringue and forms stiff peaks. Add the mango pulp and lime zest. Check for sweetness. If too tart, add more sugar.

Pour the mixture into the bowl of the ice cream maker and churn accordingly before committing to the freezer until properly set.

A FRIDAY NIGHT SUPPER


I apologise in advance: I forgot to photograph Friday's supper and by the time I remembered I meant to photograph the meal, we had greedily gobbled it all up, wiped our plates clean with homemade foccacia, and glugged several glasses of Campo Viejo Rioja Reserva. All that remained was an empty tagine, the bone from the lamb shoulder joint and some burnt on bits - not exactly photogenic, but certainly evidence of a meal enjoyed by all!

I have mentioned my good friend Nick before on this blog. He comes to supper most Fridays when I rise to the occasion and try to produce an interesting and delicious meal. Sometimes his wife Jacky comes as well, when she's not travelling. In fact, it was Jacky who suggested I start blogging about food.

Last Friday's supper was my take on a dish I had for lunch the previous Sunday at The Bull Inn, Wimborne St Giles (see earlier post In Praise of the Gastropub). I do like butter beans, and I really like slow-cooked lamb. How to combine the two? The recipe below is the result....

I much prefer a shoulder or half-shoulder of lamb for a dish like this. It lends itself to slow-cooking, become ever more succulent the longer it is cooked. It comes with a nice layer of fat which helps to keep it moist - and I love the layer of crisp fat with soft, flaky meat underneath it. As usual, I used my tagine for this dish, but a Le Creuset-type casserole dish would do fine - just remember to check it from time to time to make sure it doesn't dry out.

I served this with Salsa Verde which added a nice piquancy. Gremolata would also work well. It's a big enough dish not to need any accompaniment, apart from the aforementioned focaccia, but some sliced, fried courgettes would go well, or a lively green salad. The white wine in the sauce makes it lighter and more summery.

SLOW-COOKED LAMB WITH BUTTER BEANS

1 half-shoulder of lamb join, weighing about 1 kg or just under
2 x 400g cans of butter beans, drained
1 medium onion, chopped
a generous sprig of fresh rosemary, thyme, marjoram or oregano - or a bouquet garni made from all these herbs!
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
2 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped
a good lug of olive oil
a good lug of dry white wine
3 tbsps chicken or beef stock - or a Knorr stock sachet

Over 200 C for first half hour, then about 150 for another 2-3 hours.

First make small slits in the lamb with a sharp knife and stuff with garlic slivers. Set aside while you assemble the rest of the dish.

Pour a lug of olive oil in the bottom of the tagine or casserole dish, add the fresh herbs, and then arrange the chopped onion, garlic, and tomato over it. Give everything a good stir and season with salt and pepper. Then add the stock and white wine. Put the lamb on top, skin side up, and season. Place in the oven, uncovered, and cook until the lamb is browned and crisp, then cover, turn the oven down and cook for at least another 2 hours, adding the butter beans about halfway through (they should not go mushy in the cooking). The meat should be falling off the bone and the sauce nicely thickened, the butter beans retaining their shape. Check seasoning. Serve with good bread.

Monday, 7 June 2010

CANAPES AND CONVERSATION

It was my turn to host our bi-monthly bookclub meeting tonight. The bookclub, which was formed nearly five years ago, when my friend Cathy and I decided to "break away" from another club (where we got fed up with certain members texting each other across the sitting room and no one spending much time talking about books), comprises 11 enthusiastic readers, who are also keen foodies. The combination of books, conversation, wine and food seems just about perfect, and each meeting is an opportunity for the host to provide interesting canapes and nibbles to accompany the book talk. It got a bit out of hand for a while, when the food verged on the competitive and we started having a proper sit-down supper, which tended to preclude serious conversation about what we had read, so, as bossy Chairwoman, I suggested we revert to the canapes, and start a little earlier in the evening to give us plenty of discussion time.

I'm not terribly good at canapes: what I mean is that I don't like fiddling about with small morsels when I could be making a big slow-cooked something-or-other. However, I now have a few standbys which I wheel out on a regular basis and which seem to go down well. I tend to supplement my own creations with bits and pieces from M&S, which can always be relied upon for good falafels, olives, stuffed vine leaves and interesting dips. The following are what I served to the bookclub ladies - and the parma ham wrapped mango was so popular, I will definitely make it again. Oh, and by the way, the books discussed were An Education by Lynn Barber, The Girl on the Landing by Paul Torday, and The Believers by Zoe Heller, an interesting and varied trio of books which provoked lots of lively exchanges. Afterwards, when the canapes and book-talk was exhausted, I produced a plate of Forgotten Cookies (see earlier post) which were greeted by lots of oohs and aahs of delight, and then gave an impromptu recital on the piano.

Manchego and Membrillo
A classic Spanish tapa, and one I always select when I'm in Spain, where plates of crumbly shards of sharply-flavoured cheese are often accompanied by pink tongues of sweet Serrano ham and rustic bread. Manchego comes in young, aged, and very aged varieties - the more aged, the sharper the flavour. It's a matter of taste, but I prefer a sharper flavour. Membrillo is a quince paste and is wonderful with cheese. Slice the cheese thinly (remove rind if preferred) and then top off with a sliver of membrillo.

Mango wrapped in Parma Ham
This is adapted from something I ate a while back at a summer drinks party - melon wrapped in Parma ham. I had to make it with mango because I couldn't get a ripe melon. Slip in a fresh basil or rocket leaf before wrapping a small slice of mango (or melon) in Parma or Serrano ham. Grind over some fresh black pepper, if liked. I have to say this was a real success, so delicious that I ate about five pieces while I was making it!

Cheese Crisps
So easy you wonder why you didn't make them sooner! Heat oven to about 180C. Evenly spread a non-stick baking sheet or Bake-O-Glide with 200g of grated cheese such as Gruyere, Parmesan, Cheddar or similar and cook for about 10-15 mins until the cheese is bubbling and just beginning to crisp up around the edges. Remove from the oven, leave to cool and then break into bite-size pieces. A brilliant accompaniment to Champagne.

Mozzarella with Sun-Dried Tomatoes
Another winner, for its sheer simplicity and tastiness. Slice a ball of Mozzarella into rounds and top off each slice with a sun-dried tomato. Use buffalo Mozzarella for a more luxurious flavour.

Meat platter
Easy-peasy: choose Chorizo, good salami (Milano or French saucisson), Parma or Serrano ham and arrange nicely on a pretty plate.


Sunday, 6 June 2010

IN PRAISE OF THE GASTROPUB


I have just returned from what can justifiably be described as a "slap-up lunch", at a country gastropub called The Bull at Wimborne St Giles, Dorset. This is the sister establishment of The Anchor at Shapwick (near Kingston Lacey), also in Dorset. Both are what I would call "finds". Dorset seems to be quite well off for interesting country pubs, which have been gentrified and gastro'd and turned into good places to eat for dinner or Sunday lunch. Both The Bull and The Anchor seem to have undergone their transformations fairly recently, for the paintwork (all muted Farrow & Ball colours) and interior decoration are new and fresh, understated and quietly stylish in the country style. Both places have spare interiors, scrubbed tables, fine linen napiery, and excellent menus.

It seems to me the main feature of the Gastropub is a menu offering robust, hearty dishes made with fresh ingredients, locally sourced. Often the menu will include traditional dishes with a twist, and a cheeseboard featuring local cheeses is always to be looked forward to.

Today I ate scallops with black pudding and bacon, belly of pork with butter beans and green sauce, and meringues with custard, rhubarb and hazelnuts, all washed down with a pleasantly sharp Pinot Grigio. My son, who at almost 12, is beginning to develop a reasonably educated palate (living with me helps!) chose the roast beef, which was pink and succulent, with red cabbage, parsnips and carrots. There then ensued a contest to see who could eat a teaspoon full of English mustard, and then horseradish. I won, of course. I am not afraid to eat spicy or hot food, and my son was impressed that I didn't even break into a sweat.

The Eagle on Farringdon Road, claims to be London's first gastropub, established in the 1990s, when city pubs were still full of suits knocking back fizzy beer, and pub food was a curling cheese and pickle sandwich or the ubiquitous "ploughmans". It can boast some famous alumni, including Jamie Oliver, and Sam and Sam Clark, owner-chefs of Moro. When you eat there, it's easy to see how Jamie and the two Sams were influenced in their particular, and personal, styles of cooking, for The Eagle specialises in the hearty and robust. The first time I ate there, on a hot July evening, en route to a concert at Earls Court by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, I had grilled squid bruschetta with tomatos, rocket and coriander. It was fantastic, especially washed down with a pint of chilled continental lager. I "borrowed" some elements of this delicious combo to create my "hommage" to The Eagle, my Eagle Salad (sliced tomatoes, rocket, fresh coriander and thinly-sliced raw fennel). On another occasion, I ate an "onglet" of beef, which is a nice, fat pice of steak, shown a flame and then sliced to reveal its mouth-watering pinkiness within. It was served on a bed of those lovely mediterranean waxy potaoes, and a generous dollop of homemade aioli. Even better when accompanied by half a bottle of good Barollo.

The Eagle is near to The Guardian's offices and its clientele is an interesting mix of journalists and media-types, designers and city folk. It's a little off the beaten track and seems to be thankfully free of the beer-swilling city traders who might frequent other places closer to the trading floors. Its decor is simple and unpretentious: the chairs are old church chairs, complete with slots for hymn-books, and the tables are dark with old varnish. Upstairs is a small art gallery.

Many pubs will undergo a transformation, only to re-emerge as a "gastropub" or "dining pub" but somehow they don't always get it right. To me, a gastropub should be unpretentious, offering good but not showy food. It does not need plasma screens and Sky Sports, nor invasive music. It's a bonus if the staff are knowledgeable about the food and wine list, but not obligatory. Discreet, efficient service is all I ask for.

When I was a student, we used to frequent The Double Locks on the river Exe, on the outskirts of Exeter. Anyone worth their salt who has been a student at Exeter University, will know this pub. It used to offer (and may still) a full English breakfast with a pint of beer (the perfect reward after three solid days of Finals exams). It was also the place where I first tried brown bread ice-cream (see earlier post). In many ways, it was a gastropub before the term was invented and became fashionable. The Locks, as we used to call it, served the most fantastic garlic mushrooms with Stilton, and its lasagne was truly amazing, with a thick, herb-laced ragout and a layer of bubbling, creamy cheese. I nearly always had this with a pint of Wadworth's 6X. Fully tanked up on good food and ale, we would wobble home along the towpath in the dark. The Double Locks has a sister pub, The Turf, situated further along the Exe estuary in a beautiful location by the river and a appetite-inducing hike from the city centre.

Returning to those Dorset pubs, which are fine places and definitely worth a visit or three, I should also mention The Museum, at Farnham, near Blandford Forum. So-called because it was once the ad-hoc museum of the same Pitt-Rivers who set up the Pitt-Rivers museum in Oxford, it is a cosy place with an open fire in the winter (complete with slumbering labrador), hunting prints, dead things in cases and a room full of stag skulls. The menu is very fine, if somewhat overwhelming - the dishes are vast and I always come away from a meal at The Museum feeling faintly guilty at having over-indulged so much. That said, it is a fine place to eat, with cheerful Antipodean waiting staff. And the last time I ate there, I sat at the next table to the actor Michael Gambon.

The Eagle can boast its own cookbook, and there are plenty of guides to gastropubs around the UK, including a good one by Diana Henry. I have eaten at quite a few of them and they have been consistently good. Many also offer accommodation. My favourites are:

The Eagle, Farringdon Road, London EC1
The Pilot, Chiswick, London W4
The Anchor, Shapwick, Dorset
The Bull, Shapwick, Dorset
The Museum, Farnham, near Blandford Forum, Dorset
The Angel, Hindon, Wiltshire
The Wookey Hole Inn, Wookey Hole, Somerset
The Nobody Inn, Doddiscombleigh, Devon
The Double Locks, Exeter, Devon
The Turk Locks, Exe Estuary, near Exeter, Devon

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

WORD CLOUD



Demon Cook has been up and running for a few months now, so I decided to create a Word Cloud of the blog so far. Double-click on the image to have it displayed on its own screen.

You can see a gallery of others, and create your own, at http://www.wordle.net/