Saturday, 31 December 2011

TOP 10 POSTS IN 2011

Here are the ten posts which received the most traffic on this blog in 2011. Thank you to all my readers, and Happy New Year!

Nigella's Crustless Pizza

Don't Make These!

Rock Shandy

Terribly Clever

Easy Saturday Supper - Lamb Mechoui


The Best Chocolate Tart

Marmite Spaghetti

Cheat's Mango Sorbet

Nigella's Buns

Friday Supper: Steak & Leffe Pie

Guests posts invited for 2012. Please contact me via the comments box on this post, or Facebook or Twitter (@crosseyedpiano) if you would like to contribute.

Friday, 30 December 2011

FRIDAY NIGHT PUDDING: TIRAMISU

A classic Italian dessert which has, like Black Forest Gateau, Crepe Suzettes, trifle and profiteroles, become something of a cliché. Done badly, it is sickly, cloying and claggy. Done well, it is light and fluffy, a pillow of marscapone and egg whites over a coffee and liqueur-soaked sponge base.

I have to confess to a real fondness for Tiramisu, and I often order it if I see it on an Italian restaurant menu. The best I've had was at Ca'an Mea, a wonderful and eccentric restaurant just outside Badalucco in Liguria (more here), where it was, inexplicably, served in an enamel chamber pot. My friend Nick also makes a mean version.

The word "tiramisu" literally translates as "pick me up" and it was invented within the last 50-odd years. It is traditionally made with "savoiardi" or Boudoir biscuits/lady fingers, eggs, sugar and mascarpone cheese. It's lighter than a cheesecake, or a trifle. There are countless variations, using panettone or other yeasted breads, different cheeses, with or without eggs. Nigella Lawson has a "white" version, using white rum and crushed meringues. I had planned to make my version for dinner tonight using leftover Madeleines purchased in France last week, but when I went to use them, I discovered someone (who shall remain nameless) had eaten them all. Instead, I used Pain d'Epice (a French spiced cake made from an enriched yeasted dough). Once I had soaked it in a mixture of black coffee and Amaretto, I reckoned it would taste pretty authentic!

Tiramisu is quick and simple to make. Ideally, make it in advance so that the cheese/egg mixture has time to set. Here is Nigella's recipe for White Tiramisu, and a link to Delia Smith's more classic version.

Happy new year!
White Tiramisu (serves 6)
  • Box of shop meringues
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 90g caster sugar
  • 325g mascarpone
  • 160ml white rum, such as Bacardi
  • 200 ml full fat milk
  • 18 savoiardi or as many as needed
Choose a dish about 10cm deep, suitable for holding 9 savoiardi in one layer (a glass one looks nice). Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and mousse-like. Fold in the mascarpone gradually and then beat until incorporated. Whisk one of the egg whites (you don't need the second) until firm and fold into mascarpone mixture. Mix the rum and milk in a soup plate and dip the biscuits in the mixture just long enough for them to soften. Lay about 9 moistened biscuits in the dish and spread over about one-third of the mascarpone mixture. Sprinkle with the meringue crumbs. Dip another 9 biscuits into the rum and milk as before and then arrange them on top of the meringue crumbs. You may need a little more or less of each part; remember that with trifle the point is to make the layers, and the dimensions of the dish will determine how much you need of each of these layers. Spread over about half the remaining cream, cover with clingfilm and refrigerate. Put the remaining cream in a closed container and refrigerate also. Leave for a day. Before serving, smooth the remaining cream all over the pudding and decorate with a final scattering of meringues bits.

A bowl of raspberries makes a good accompaniment.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

COQ AU VIN

A classic French dish cooked for an old friend from university, who happens to be half-French and lives in Nantes.

Our get-togethers, which are infrequent, sadly, but always filled with chat, laughter, music and food, begin around 6pm with an "apero" (aperitif), usually something fizzy, sometimes tarted up into Kir Royale with the addition of Crème de Cassis or Crème de Mure. I made Coq au Vin (which is literally "chicken in wine") because I wanted a dish that could be prepared in advance and left so that Anne and I could get on with catching up on the last 18 months. Also, Coq au Vin is definitely a dish that benefits from being allowed to rest so that all the flavours can meld together.

I had intended to serve brown bread ice cream but forgot to pre-freeze the bowl of the ice cream maker in time. So, for pudding we had soft amaretti biscuits (not homemade), Madeleines purchased from Carrefour in Les Gets, and Charbonnel et Walker truffles. Oh, and more wine....

Coq au Vin is stupidly easy to make, and is one of those useful dishes that can be made elegant or rustic, depending on your mood/dinner party guests. Use tiny button mushrooms and baby shallots for an elegant version.

I use Delia Smith's recipe, which, like all her recipes, is pretty fail-safe. I also use chicken thighs (bone in) as I find breast meat tends to dry out and become stringy. I served the Coq au Vin with fluffy mashed potato. I chucked a couple of garlic cloves in with the spuds as they were cooking, and we ate the leftovers of the Christmas dinner - maple parsnips and spiced red cabbage. A bottle of Gamay from Savoie went very nicely with the food, thank you.

Nigella Lawson includes a variant on this classic dish in one of her cookbooks, the Alsace version, Coq au Riesling. It's light and perfect for spring. You can find the recipe here.

We didn't manage to polish off all the garlic mash, so I'll probably make fishcakes from it for Friday Night Supper.....

Sunday, 11 December 2011

WINTER WARMER: VENISION SAUSAGES BRAISED IN RED WINE

Venison, or rather its living original, deer, has been "in the news" lately as the YouTube film of Fenton the Dog chasing deer in Richmond Park has gone viral. Possibly one of the funniest things on YouTube at the moment, and an example of that particularly English form of schadenfreude, it is also a warning to dog owners, to keep their hounds under control when around deer in the park.

I live not ten minutes walk from Bushy Park, a lovely expanse of open space between Teddington and Hampton Court, and the park has many deer, of different varieties (as well as the famous Bushy Park parakeets, and green and spotted woodpeckers). Autumn is the rutting season and sometimes if I wake in the night, I can hear the deer grunting and bellowing.

Venison is a lovely alternative to beef, and is better for you as it is leaner. It has a rich flavour, but not over-poweringly gamey, and it also makes delicious, rich sausages. Sandy's, the fishmonger in Twickenham, sells wonderful, homemade venison sausages, but you can usually find good ones in Waitrose or M&S. This recipe is a classic Delia (from her Winter Collection book), and is a perennial favourite, particular amongst men, I find (perhaps it's the nod to school dinners or what Granny made that appeals?). It's a proper autumn or winter dish, hearty and heart-warming, especially when served with a mound of fluffy mashed potato, or baked potatoes slathered with butter. It's stupidly easy to make, and can be prepared well in advanced, or even made and then frozen. I can do no better than direct you to Delia's own website for this recipe.  The juniper berries are essential and a classic companion to venison, lending a pleasantly ginny kick. Tonight, I'm going to serve it with baked potatoes and Ottolenghi's Best Mash.

Meanwhile, here's Fenton the Dog (and his angry owner) in action in Richmond Park....



Sunday, 20 November 2011

FAVOURITE THINGS NO. 6: PASTEIS-DE-NATA

PORTUGUESE CUSTARD TARTS
I  first discovered these delicious little confections at the old café at the Victoria & Albert Museum. A friend and I used to visit regularly for exhibitions or simply to drift around the galleries, taking in the treasure trove of decorative art from Medieval metalwork to swords of the Samurai. Our visit would always begin with coffee and custard tarts at the cafe. Imagine our disgruntlement, then, when the café was taken over by another franchise, tarted up (forgive the pun) and relocated in a different part of the museum. Despite offering a fair to middling patisserie counter, the Portuguese Custard Tarts were no more.

Fortunately, my disappointment was short-lived, as a local café, which I frequent with girlfriends for coffee after school drop off (for those friends with kids still at primary school) and before the gym, now stocks them. They are just as delicious as the ones at the V&A, and a perfect small cake to have with a big mug of coffee.

I wanted to make these lovely tarts but every recipe I found seemed overly complicated, and required far too many eggs for my liking. Then Lovable Jamie did his '30-Minute Meals' series and included a quick recipe in an episode featuring that other Portuguese classic Piri-Piri Chicken. I'm not sure one could comfortable make the chicken, the tarts and the smashed sweet potato with Feta in 30 minutes: you would need to be very well-organised, but I did have a go and was pleased with the results. Find the recipe for the tarts, together with the rest of the recipes, via this link



Wednesday, 16 November 2011

FAVOURITE THINGS No. 5: JERUSALEM ARTICHOKES

No relation to the more sophisticated Globe Artichoke, these knobbly roots make a delicious, nutty winter soup and are great with potatoes in a gratin, or even as a pizza topping.

My father used to grow Jerusalem Artichokes, and when I was little, I liked to help him dig them up. We'd shake the dirt off them, place them in a colander and take them in for my mum to turn into something delicious. They are neither from Jerusalem nor are they artichokes, but they are easy to grow and push out all sort of lush green growth up top while the gnarly roots develop underground. Their flavour is nutty, strangely redolent of oysters and the merest hint of soil. When pureed, their texture is an unparalleled silkiness. Peel them if the skin is really tough; if not - and these days they come helpfully pre-washed - keep their skins on for added flavour and roughage.

Treat them as you would potatoes: boil them or roast them, slice them and put them in a gratin with lemon, and cook until their skins are crisp and their innards are soft and sweet. But my favourite use for them is in soup. Chop a small onion and fry it until soft. Add a punnet of chopped artichokes, season and cover with water, with a little vegetable stock. Cook until the artichokes are soft and then puree. Add a spoonful of creme fraiche or double cream for added creaminess - not really necessary but it lends a certain sophistication! Sometimes I add parsnips, which makes the soup sweeter. The only down side are the well-documented unsociable after-effects...... I'm not sure I would eat this soup and then teach piano afterwards!

Sunday, 13 November 2011

BIRTHDAY SUPPER WITH FRIENDS

To celebrate my entry into "middle middle age", I cooked a Thai-inspired supper for good friends. My son cleverly sourced gyoza (Japanese dumplings "like we have at Wagamama, mum!") and spring rolls in the oriental supermarket in Kingston, and I bought prawn toasts from Waitrose. The only canape I made myself was Chinese pancakes filled with smoked salmon and cucumber and, as we found, a rather too generous helping of wasabi.

The main course was Thai green curry and green papaya salad, fragrant and lime-infused, simple yet delicious. But the culinary piece de resistance was undoubtedly pudding - Indian ice-cream or kulfi - served with homemade brandy snaps.

I remember making brandy snaps as a child with my mother. I loved the way the mixture spread and bubbled in the oven, taking on a lovely burnished chestnut colour as it cooked. We'd take the sheet of mixture out, let it cool for a few moments, before shaping the brandy snaps on a wooden spoon. They are very easy to make, bar a few dicey moments when I burnt my finger on the baking sheet! If you don't want to go to the trouble of shaping them, leave them flat; they are just as delicious! I used this recipe from the BBC Food website.


As for the kulfi, this is definitely a cheat's version. Kulfi is traditionally made with milk that is slow-cooked until its volume is decreased by half and its lactose and fat content is increased. Fortunately, tinned condensed milk saves a great deal of time, and the only other ingredients are double cream and flavourings, in this case ground pistachios and saffron. With such a simple base, you could easily add other flavours, such as rosewater or almonds, mango or even avocado. This recipe comes from the Ocado website:

Ingredients

  • 1 pinch Saffron Threads
  • 60g Pistachios
  • 450g Condensed Milk, can
  • 300ml Double Cream
Soak the saffron threads in 1tbsp boiling water in a small bowl for 2 minutes. Chop the pistachios roughly, reserve a few to scatter on the top, then continue with the rest until very finely chopped.

Tip the condensed milk into a bowl, and add the nuts. Stir in the saffron threads and liquid.

Whip the cream until it holds its shape, then fold it into the milk mixture until well combined. Divide the mixture between the holes in the ice-cube tray, and place in the freezer until frozen. Once completely frozen, place the ice-cube tray in a freezer bag, and store in the freezer until needed.

To serve, remove from the freezer, pop the kulfi portions out of the ice-cube tray, and serve on plates, sprinkled with the reserved chopped pistachios.


I used Nigel Slater's Green Thai Curry recipe, and you can find the recipe for Green Papaya Salad in an earlier post on this blog - here.

Monday, 24 October 2011

GREAT STORE-CUPBOARD FINDS No. 10: BLACK GARLIC

Black garlic is the new foodie trend to hit the supermarket shelves (I found it in my local Tesco), though it has been a staple of Asian cuisine. It will either be short-lived, and will disappear as mysteriously as it appeared, once the furore has stilled, or it will become as ubiquitous as sun-dried tomatoes and preserved lemons, now crucial components of any good cook's store-cupboard.

Black garlic is made by fermentation and the process results in molasses-black garlic cloves which have a deep balsamic sweetness while retaining the tangy flavour of garlic. The fermentation process leaves the cloves soft and melt-in-the mouth, rather like dried fruit. In health terms, it has twice as many antioxidants as raw garlic, and in Taoism is said to grant immortality. A thoroughly good ingredient, then.

In cooking, it lends depth and pungency to a stew. I chucked a clove into my Chicken Cacciatura last Saturday, and the friend who came to dinner spotted it - or rather he noticed an interesting deep garlicky flavour. If you like garlic, but can't bear its acrid bite, or its unpleasant after-effects, try black garlic for a new taste experience.

More on black garlic here

MONDAY SUPPER: NORTH AFRICAN LAMB WITH CHILLI, GINGER & CHICKPEAS

This recipe for a warming, fragrant lamb stew, comes from Jamie Oliver's very first cookbook The Naked Chef. He looks incredibly young on the cover, but a quick check of the copyright page confirms that this book was published in 1999, when Jamie was but a lad, and had just burst onto the scene with his first tv series. I remember enjoying it very much: he was refreshingly laid back yet entirely enthusiastic about food and cooking and I loved the simplicity of his recipes. I still do, and regularly return them - because they work. And they are easy to make!

I still have a lot of time for Jamie, though I got a bit tired of seeing his gurning face on the Sainsbury's adverts (he seems to have severed his relationship with the supermarket to concentrate on other projects), because I feel he truly believes in what he does, with passionate commitment. And his recipes remaining interesting, tasty and easy to construct.

This lamb stew is redolent of a tagine where ingredients are cooked slowly with spices to allow all the flavours to develop and deepen. The addition of chickpeas add some bulk, while the aubergine gives it a sweetness. I usually serve it with couscous, and a dollop of harissa on the side, but you could quite happily enjoy it sans couscous as it is quite filling. Just the thing for a gusty October day!

Serves 4-6

1 400g tin of chickpeas, drained
2 large firm aubergines, cut into cubes, sprinkled with salt and set aside
salt and pepper to taste
10 fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, or a 400g can of plum tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
grated nutmeg to taste
4 neck of lamb fillets, cut into 2 inch pieces
4 tbsps olive oil
4 medium fresh chillis, chopped (or less if you don't want the heat)
2 tbsps grated fresh ginger
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 tsp vinegar
fresh flat-leaf parsley and coriander, chopped
couscous

Heat the oil in a heavy casserole (Le Creuset) and brown the lamb pieces. Add the spices, ginger, garlic and chilli and give everything a good stir. Then add the chickpeas and tomatoes. Check seasoning.

In a separate pan, fry the aubergine pieces until slightly brown and then add to the lamb. Add the tomatoes and vinegar and give the pan a good shake. Turn the heat down to a gentle simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about an hour, by which time the tomatoes will have melted to a sauce and the aubergines will be sweet. Check seasoning.

Serve with couscou and garnished with parsley and coriander.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

TORTA VERDE

Literally, "green tart", this is a regional speciality of Liguria (my current foodie obsession), where it is sometimes also called Torta Pasqualina, or Easter tart. It bears more than a passing resemblance to the Greek spinach and feta pie spinakopitta.


The mountainous landscape of Liguria does not lend itself easily to cultivation and so this tasty vegetable tart tends to be made with whatever is available at the time. I've eaten it made with spinach or chard, potatoes, onions, and leeks. In the village of Molini di Triora, where I have stayed each time I've visited Liguria, you can buy a slab of freshly made torta verde for breakfast, or enjoy it as a canape (stuzzichini) with an early evening aperitif. It has a thin, crisp pastry and a layer of vegetable filling within. The pastry is very simple, just plain flour, olive oil and water, and the trick is to keep the whole ensemble thin - about 2 cms including filling and pastry.

Here's a rough recipe: you can of course vary the filling, according to taste and availability of ingredients. The key is to keep it green!


Pastry
400g plain flour (pastry flour)
5 tbsp olive oil
water

I use my Kitchenaid food mixer with the dough hook. Put the oil and flour in the bowl of the mixer and set the motor running. Add enough water to form a soft, elastic dough. Knead in the mixer, or by hand, for about 5 mins, then turn out onto a board and knead for a minute or two longer. Then divide the dough into 6 equal-sized balls, cover and leave to rest.

Filling

2 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and finely sliced
1 onion, finely sliced
approx 500g fresh spinach or chard (or frozen spinach)
Fresh oregano, chopped
1 tub of ricotta
1 egg
Approx 4 medium sized waxy potatoes (Charlotte), pre-cooked and sliced
Salt and pepper

Fry the onion and leeks until soft. Add the spinach or chard and cook until wilted. Add the chopped oregano. Remove from heat, allow to cool, and add the ricotta and egg. For a more cheesy flavour, add some freshly-grated parmesan. Check seasoning.

Oven 180C

To prepare the tart, roll the six pieces of dough together to form a very thin pastry. Brush a non-stick baking tray with olive oil and lay the pastry in it. Place a thin layer of the vegetable/ricotta mixture on it and then a layer of potatoes. Top with more vegetable mixture and then bring the overlapping pastry up to form a top to the pie. Brush with olive oil and bake until golden and crisp. Carefully lift the tart out of the baking tray and cut into small pieces.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

FOCACCIA

Mel and Sue (Picture credit: BBC)
The Great British Bake Off on BBC2 has proved a surprising culinary hit, it appears, with viewing figures the highest for any cookery programme in recent memory, outstripping the pneumatic Nigella and the comely, doe-eyed Sophie. Certainly, I have enjoyed the few episodes I have caught. Maybe it is the cosiness of the subject - baking - that makes it so popular. We can almost smell the aroma of bread baking or a banana loaf straight from the oven. The presenters, Mel and Sue, are engaging and entertaining, with a nice gentle tongue-in-cheek take on the proceedings. I'm less keen on the judge Paul Hollywood who can be cutting and harsh in his comments, and who seems rather impatient with a bunch of (mostly) women with floury hands trying to turn out perfect petit fours to please him.

I happened to catch the bread episode a few weeks ago as this is probably the element of baking that interests me the most (I'm not a great cake or patisserie maker). When I stopped full-time work to have my son, I decided that one thing I would do while I was at home was learn how to make bread properly. It took awhile to perfect my loaf, but after some experimenting and tinkering - and the purchase of a heavy-duty Kitchenaid food mixer - I arrived at what I considered to be a pretty damn fine method resulting in an Italian-style loaf. Now bread making is just something I do each week, like practising the piano and teaching other people's kids how to play the piano. It's second-nature, and I rarely measure anything. I use the same method for any kind of loaf, unless I am making something really special, like Stollen, which requires a little more attention.

Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry
Thus, I was all prepared to crow and shout with horror at Paul Hollywood's focaccia method on The Great British Bake Off, but I was also willing to stay the course to see the results at the end. He recommends a wet dough to give the bread its aerated texture. Some of the contestants were very successful, others less so - and they were the ones who received the full curl of Paul's discerning lip. The next day, I set about making focaccia to his method. It's a little disconcerting at first, to have the bowl of the mixer filled with a sticky mess, but keep at it and it gradually takes on a characteristic silkiness that indicates it is nearly ready.

I tend not to put fancy toppings on my focaccia: the most fancy you're likely to get in my house is chopped fresh rosemary, or some black olives, or occasionally sun-dried tomatoes. I usually top it off with olive oil and Maldon sea salt.

When I was in Italy recently, I watched the cafe owner in Molini put the finishing touches to her focaccia (sea salt and sesame seeds, which is Ligurian style, apparently) before taking the big trays of bumpy dough up to the village bakery. There was one 'secret' thing she did to the dough, which I am not prepared to reveal until I have tried it myself, but the clue is steam - and not the tray of boiling water in the bottom of the oven, as Paul Hollywood recommends (which does work to produce a good crust).

You can get Paul Hollywood's recipe from the BBC website here (downloads as a PDF file). I don't use sachets of dried use, as I prefer Dove's Farm Quick Yeast (use 1 tsp to 500g strong white bread flour), and I make my bread entirely in the food mixer, except for the knocking back after proving, and shaping. You need a large, shallow baking tray for focaccia as the loaf should not be too deep. In Liguria, you sometimes see focaccia with a tomato, garlic and olive topping, but more often than not, it is kept simple, with oil and salt.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

LONG WEEKEND IN LIGURIA


A welcome return to a favourite place, Molini di Triora, a "miniature Bethlehem" which clings to the side of a mountain some 20 miles inland from Sanremo and the Italian Riviera.

The gorge at Loreto, near Triora
The road from Taggia, on the coast, snakes up the Valle d'Argentina in a series of hairpins and unnervingly blind corners (especially if you meet the Triora-Sanremo bus coming the other way!), through hamlets, villages and small towns, past olive groves and terraces growing almonds, walnuts, beans, tomatoes. There's no room for traditional pastures in this mountainous landscape and so the locals make do, growing fruit and veg wherever they can. Almost every garden has sunflowers, bean canes, zucchini and tomatoes, while the woods offer good "wild food": mushrooms, rabbit, boar and deer.
Sign to mushroom hunters at Loreto

The region is famous for its food - and rightly so. Its capital, Genoa, is the city of pesto, that slick pungent green sauce made from pounded basil, sharp pecorino cheese and pine nuts. On the way up to the village, torn, flapping posters advertise food festivals: stokafisso (salt cod) in Badalucco, chestnuts in Andagna, funghi in Triora and snails (lumache) in Molini. There are hand-painted signs directing you to olive oil sellers or to small-holdings selling 'produtto tipico' (local produce) such as dried porcini mushrooms, bottled fruits and vegetables, cheese, cakes made from chestnut flour, and grappa.

Bought at Sanremo market
The Argentina river carves its course right through Molini: sit outside at the Bar Regina del Bosco (Queen of the Woods) and you can enjoy a stunning view down the valley while sipping an early evening apperitivo. With your drinks you'll be served nibbles - stuzzichini - of cubes of focaccia, tomato bruschetta, local ricotta, salami and olives. At the Hotel Santo Spirito, there is no menu. The Patrona brings plates of hot and cold antipasti, then the lightest pasta, followed by carne, usually a rich stew of meat (venison, rabbit or boar) cooked slowly in red wine with rosemary and juniper berries. The vino rosso della Casa is ruby-red, made locally, fruity and fragrant.

Focaccia rising in cafe in Molini


On the first morning, while having breakfast of coffee and torta verde, I watched the cafe owner put the finishing touches to two big trays of focaccia before she delivered them to the village bakery (which is open 7 days a week) to be cooked. Later, in Sanremo, a handsome riviera town, full of belle époque elegance, designer shops and a bustling port, I wandered the aisles of the market: piles of knobbly green and red tomatoes, bunches of yellow courgette flowers (for stuffing), shiny purple aubergines, bags of deep crimson sun-dried tomatoes, oils and vinegars, huge porcini mushrooms, small mountains of pine nuts, rough  wedges of Parmesan and snow-white mounds of ricotta. I bought cloudy olive oil, sun-dried tomatoes (unbelievably sweet), Limoncello and a hunk of parmesan. Lunch, taken at a pavement restaurant near the casino, was fritto misto - mixed seafood dusted in flour and deep-fried. Simple yet delicious.

Fritto misto for lunch in Sanremo

Dinner at Ca'Mea, just outside Badalucco, was just as memorable second time around. You arrive, you are seated and almost before you have unfurled your napkin, the first of 12 courses arrives: tomato bruschetta, raw mushrooms sliced over raw steak, baked cheese, mushrooms with cream and potatoes, mushroom risotto, mushroom tagliatelle, the tenderest tiny lamb cutlets. All washed down with Ca'Mea's own red wine. Pudding is a choice of fruit with ice-cream or tiramisu, which is not some fluffy pumped up version with soggy sponge, but is stiff and creamy - and served in an enamel chamber pot. The bill for two? 70 Euros.

Porcini and other funghi at Sanremo market
Drive further up the mountain and turn left just below Triora. Continue to Loreto where you get a fabulous view of the gorge. There's a trattoria here, an unprepossessing little place on the roadside with plastic tablecloths and strip-lighting. As at Ca'Mea, there is no menu. Course after course comes from the small kitchen: homemade salami, cured beef, tiny lacy pancakes filled with mushrooms, polenta with venison stew, rabbit with porcini mushrooms, sliced and dusted in polenta and deep-fried. The 10-course lunch took two and a half hours!

Aubergines at Sanremo market
Courgette flowers at Sanremo market



Practicalities:
Fly to either Nice or Genoa and hire a car. Nice is closer, but a more frenetic entry point, plus it can take up to 2 hours to collect your hire car. There is a good autostrada along the coast. Exit at Taggia and follow the signs for Triora. There is only one road up the mountain!

Monday, 26 September 2011

AN EASY TAGINE FOR EARLY AUTUMN

Here's a simple yet flavoursome tagine that is easy to make and delicious to eat. It's perfect for early autumn, with its sweet and smokey hints of cumin, saffron and turmeric, yet light too. Quick to assemble, it can be put in the oven and forgotten for an hour. It even makes its own sauce while cooking. Serve with fluffy couscous or rice, and plenty of chopped fresh coriander. A tagine cooking vessel is not essential - though it does lend a certain authenticity to the dish!

Simple chicken tagine
1 chicken thigh (bone in) per person
1 large onion, finely sliced
About 1 tsp chopped fresh ginger, or bottled ginger. Or failing both, ground ginger
1 tsp cumin seeds or ground cumin
1 tsp chilli flakes or harissa paste
A couple of garlic cloves, chopped
A couple of carrots, cut into batons
A tin of chickpeas
Salt & pepper

Optional extras:
Half a preserved lemon, flesh removed and finely chopped
A handful of dried apricots or dates, chopped
A handful of olives
Chopped, fresh coriander

Put everything in the tagine (or Le Creuset type casserole dish), splash on some olive oil and some water. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a hot oven (200C) and cook for about an hour. About 10 mins before serving, I like to add couscous to the dish (quantity per person according to packet), put the lid back on and leave to steam on the stovepot before serving. Remove the lid and you will find a whole meal in a pot.

I like to serve this with a generous dollop of Bezalu Rose Harissa paste.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

SIMPLE SATURDAY SUPPER

In anticipation of my forthcoming long weekend of gastronomy in Liguria, I cooked Italian sausages and polenta for supper last night. Italian sausages are made from the ham/bacon parts of the pig (i.e. different to traditional English pork sausages), and are often seasoned with fennel or aniseed. The very high pure meat content makes them particularly delicious. They are stupidly easy to cook, and are traditionally served with lentils on New Year's Day in Italy (recipe here). Because I was serving them with fluffy polenta (also stupidly easy to make, despite the 'food mystique' which seems to surround it), I made a rich tomato sauce, spiked with fresh chilli and garlic. The sausages were baked in the oven, while the polenta was bubbled and whisked on the hob 5 minutes before serving. I use instant polenta - just follow the instructions on the packet and be aware that polenta has a habit of expanding during cooking!


To make the tomato sauce, fry a couple of cloves of peeled and sliced garlic and half a fresh red chilli, finely sliced, in olive oil until soft. Add a tin of tomatoes and then wash the can out with water and add that. A little tomato puree only adds to the depth of flavour. Season with salt and pepper, some chopped fresh rosemary or oregano, a dash of balsamic vinegar and about a teaspoonful of caster sugar. I also added a spoonful of M&S Fire Roasted Tomato Sauce from the Terribly Clever range (it's been advertised on telly a lot lately). Simmer until the sauce reduces, then set aside until you need to serve it. It only needs heating through.

In the region of Italy near the top end of Lake Garda, where I had a holiday a few years ago, the polenta is served with a big slab of Taleggio or Gorgonzola cheese across the top of it (the heat from the polenta makes the cheese melt) and then a rich venision, wild boar or mushroom stew is spooned over it. I always add lots of grated fresh parmesan and butter to my polenta. Put a mound of yellow fluffiness on a plate, place the sausages on top and spoon over the tomato sauce. Eat.

We had freshly baked rosemary focaccia (I have perfected my version of this, thanks to some advice about keeping the dough wet from The Great British Bake Off on BBC2), and for pudding Laverstoke Park Farm coffee ice cream and chocolate amaretti biscuits.

You can buy Italian sausages in Italian delis. Girasole on Teddington High Street keeps them, though I had to charm the owner to sell me two packs yesterday (he wanted to keep one back for himself, for some reason). You can also get them in Giuliano's in Kingston or Fratelli Camisa. Incidentally, Girasole also occasionally stocks the most wonderful frizzante red wine from Lazio, which should be served chilled. Unfortunately, there was none to be had, not even for ready money, yesterday and Noble Green Wines on Hampton Hill High Street drew a blank too, but it's worth looking out for. I will be drinking something similar next weekend, no doubt: a local vino rosso from the lower slopes of the mountains around Molini.

The dining room at the Hotel Santo Spirito, Molini di Triora


Molini di Triora

Saturday, 24 September 2011

CHOCOLATE AMARETTI BISCUITS

I've sent Other Half off to Twickenham to buy buffalo milk coffee ice cream from Laverstoke Park Farm shop. This ice cream really does have to be tried to be believed. It is truly the most deliciously creamy and wonderful ice cream I have ever eaten - and I'm not normally a fan of shop-bought ice cream, even the most upmarket kind. Its strong coffee, almost espresso, flavour makes it a wonderful accompaniment to a rich chocolate cake or chocolate brownies. To ring the changes, because I am always making chocolate brownies as a pudding when people come round for supper, I've made chocolate amaretti biscuits. These are not those crunchy almond biscuits you sometimes get with a cappuccino in your local Italian cafe. No, these are amaretti morbidi, or soft amaretti, and I have blogged about them before, in a different form (Sour Cherry Amaretti). People often think that such sweetmeats are difficult to make, but they are not. In fact, I knocked out these biscuits in 5 minutes (not including cooking time), and they are great if you've got some egg whites left over. This recipe, very slightly adapted, comes from Nigella Express

2 eggs whites, beaten to soft meringue texture
175g icing sugar
200g ground almonds
30g cocoa powder

Oven 180C. Line a baking sheet with baking parchment or Bake O'Glide.

Add the almonds, icing sugar and cocoa to the beaten egg whites and stir well. You will end up with a rather sticky mixture.

To make the amaretti, dip your hands in a bowl of water and form a ball about the size of a walnut from the mixture. Place on the baking sheet and flatten very slightly. Repeat until you have used up all the mixture. These amaretti do not spread much in cooking. Cook for about 10-15 mins, until the surface is slightly cracked. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack. Dust with icing sugar for that extra-cheffy look!

Friday, 23 September 2011

FAVOURITE THINGS No. 4 PADRON PEPPERS

Padrón peppers hail from Spain (pimientos de Padrón), which is where I first tried them about 20 years ago while on holiday in the hills of Andalucia, north of Malaga. They were served simply: fried in olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt. Most are sweet and mild, about every one in twenty is fiery and spicy. They are often served as a tapa. For many years, I could only buy them at Garcia and Sons, a Spanish supermarket down the grotty end of Portobello Road in W11, but recently Waitrose has started to stock them (presumably because they have become fashionable amongst middle-class foodies thanks, doubtless, to some TV food "sleb"). As they are seasonal produce, Waitrose will not always have them, so when they do, I always buy several packets. We often have them as a tapa with chilled white wine (or very cold fino sherry), or as an accompaniment to a Mediterranean or Indian meal. I have also recently come across a recipe for Padrón peppers in tempura batter on the Cook Eat Live Vegetarian blog, and the cafe next door to Garcia's does a tortilla with peppers and chorizo, which I'm going to make later as a light supper dish.

Friday, 2 September 2011

FRIDAY SUPPER: RABO DEL TORO

Oxtail with chorizo and Rioja

I saw this dish being prepared in an episode of Rick Stein's recent, excellent tv series on Spain and its cuisine, though I had read the recipe in my copy of Casa Moro: The Second Moro Cookbook by Sam and Sam Clark, and thought I would like to make it. Seeing it being made convinced me it was my kind of dish: slow-cooked, aromatic and hearty.

The dish originated in Cordoba where it was made from the tail of a bull recently killed in the corrida. It is often served in bars near the bullrings all around Spain, and was apparently a favourite dish of writer and bull-fighting fan Ernest Hemingway. Like all good stews, it benefits from being made in advance, if possible. Despite the long list of ingredients and two stages of preparation, it is very easy to make.

I have always liked oxtail and remember eating it fairly regularly as a little girl. It fell out of favour during the 'BSE Years', but has come back into vogue with the popularity of "forgotten cuts". It definitely lends itself to long, slow cooking. Eventually, the bone marrow seeps into the sauce, creating a lovely silky texture. I have a friend who likes to suck the marrow out of the bones if I serve a dish like this, or Osso Bucco. To spare her blushes, she will remain nameless......

Oxtail is available from the butcher's counter at Waitrose or from a proper butcher. I bought mine from Laverstoke Park Farm butcher's shop in Twickenham, a new foodie addition to the area (Twickenham also boasts a good fishmonger), and a very welcome one: the shop sells a fine selection of meat, including buffalo meat from Laverstoke Farm, but also deli items, pies, and the most fantastic ice-cream, made with buffalo milk.


Rabo del Toro - serves 4-6

Stage 1
3 tbsp olive oil
1.5kg oxtail
1 carrot, cut into chunks
1 stick of celery, cut into chunks
1 onion, quartered
5 black peppercorns
4 cloves
2 bay leaves
4 springs of thyme
2 cloves of garlic
1 bottle of Rioja
10 parsley stalks
sea salt & black pepper

Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper and fry until well browned. Remove from the pan and drain off any excess fat. Add the carrot, celery and onion, and fry for about 5 mins until slightly coloured. Then add the aromatics (peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves, garlic, thyme) and cook for about 5 mins. Return the meat to the pan, pour over the Rioja and add the parsley. Cover with water. Bring up to a simmer then cook on a low heat for about 2 hours, or until the meat can be easily pulled away from the bone. Transfer the oxtail to a bowl or suitable container and strain the juices through a sieve over the meat. Set aside or, if making the day before, put in the fridge.






Stage 2
2 tbsps olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 medium carrot, finely diced
12og cooking chorizo, cut into 1cm rounds
2 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/4 tsp hot paprika, or dried red chilli flakes
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, ground
1-2 tbsp tomato puree

On the day of eating, remove as much fat as possible from the chilled oxtail. Heat the oil in a large saucepan. Add the onion and carrot and cook for about 10 mins until slightly caramelised. Then add the chorizo and fry for 5 more mins. Now stir in the flour and add the paprika, chilli, fennel seeds and tomato puree. Add the oxtail and its stock to the pan and check seasoning. Bring to a simmer and cook for 15 mins. Serve with mashed potato, or in true Spanish style, with fried potatoes.






This recipe is from Casa Moro: The Second Cookbook. More on Rick Stein's tv programme and accompanying book here.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

YO! TEMPURA!

Tempura is a Japanese dish consisting of various kinds of fish, vegetables and shellfish coated in a light batter and deep-fried. But you knew that didn't you?

Tempura is quick to prepare and make, and is a brilliant supper dish for weekdays. I particularly like aubergine batons, king prawns, squid and sweet potato done this way. If I'm at Yo! Sushi, where, if dining with my son, I can be guaranteed to spend no less than £40 on a lunch which is basically self-service, I usually order the soft-shell crab in tempura. You can make your own tempura at home. You don't need specialist equipment, though a deep-fat fryer is useful; otherwise, use a deep frying pan or saucepan filled with vegetable or sunflower oil. The only other proven tricks are to use ice-cold water, preferably fizzy or soda, to make the batter and not to beat the batter too much - it should be lumpy as this encourages air bubbles to form and keeps it light and crispy. Keep the pieces to be fried fairly small and fry in batches - to quote from the film Julie Julia, "don't crowd the mushrooms!". I usually serve tempura with sweet chilli sauce and a dipping sauce made from soy sauce. Because the frying process is somewhat labour-intensive, I do not reommend making tempura as a main course for more than 2 people. It's important to serve it as soon as it's done, otherwise the batter can go soggy.

Jamie Oliver, in his own inimitable way, has a good recipe for upmarket tempura on his website. He even makes his own batter, the pukka chap, but I buy a ready-made powder and just add water

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

TERRIBLY CLEVER

National treasure Marks & Spencer is following in the footsteps of that other National Treasure, the Sainted Delia, and has launched a range of "cheat's cooking" ingredients and ready-made sauces. I am not usually a fan of such products, preferring to make my own sauces etc, but I have to admit I'm a recent convert to this range. If you're in a hurry, or don't enjoy cooking, this is ideal for knocking up a quick yet flavourful meal. The ingredients pots are helpfully sold alongside "real" ingredients such as chicken breasts, prawns, noodles and fresh herbs. I am particularly partial to the Green Thai Curry Paste, which, when combined with a tin of coconut milk and some diced chicken or salmon, makes an authentic-tasting Thai curry, almost as good as the one I made from scratch with ingredients purchased from my local Asian supermarket. The Red Thai paste is also good: a teaspoonful with prawns adds a wonderful piquancy, and needs only some noodles and fresh coriander to complete a simple lunch dish. Last night, I tried the coconut sauce, straight from the pot, as a relish to Teriyaki salmon. It had a nice balance of flavours, the sweetness of the coconut offset by the sharpness of lime and ginger.

The range extends to other ingredients, such as a base for chocolate mousse ("Just add cream"), stuffing, flavoured breadcrumbs (to coat chicken), and the now-infamous coating for roast potatoes.

The range was launched nearly a year ago, but has only recently appeared in my local M&S.

Worth a try

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

HOME SMOKING

It's the holidays for me now, a 7-week break from piano teaching, so this week I've decided to have a clear out and a tidy up. I started with the kitchen drawers, at the back of which I found a 'Savu Original Food Smoker Bag', an ingenious 'device' which hails from Finland. I can't remember where or when I purchased it, but I suspect it came from somewhere like Lakeland, which offers a million kitchen gadgets and gizmos you think you can't live without. The Food Smoker Bag is just what is says on the packet - a foil bag containing natural raw wood "specially selected from Finnish forests", which, when heated, creates a delicious smoked flavour. You put the food in the smoker bag, seal it up, place in a pre-heated oven and cook. The end result is a pleasantly smoked flavour. It's particularly good for fish.

There are, of course, more sophisticated ways to achieve a smoked flavour, the most obvious being the barbecue (note: a 'proper' barbecue, with coals, not the ersatz gas variety). Skye Gyngell, chef at Petersham Nursery, has a method for tea smoking in her book A Year in My Kitchen. It helps to use a flavoured tea such as Earl Grey, Jasmine or Lapsang Souchong. I've done this a few times, but it does tend to smoke out the kitchen, which causes my smoke alarm to go into a veritable paroxysm of bleeping and flashing, but the food does have a lovely delicately smoked flavour. Read more about the method here.

Meanwhile, if you're feeling lazy, by all means invest in a Savu smoke bag. They are inexpensive and apparently have a long shelf life, and since I purchased mine, several new "flavours" have been released, including Alder and Hickory Smoked. Given the erratic nature of our English summers, the smoker bag, or the tea smoking method, seem good alternatives to enjoying a proper barbecue in the sunshine.  I defrosted some nice fat salmon steaks after I'd unearthed the smoker bag. I'll probably serve them with a simple yoghurt and dill dressing and some new potatoes for a vaguely Scandinavian twist....

Monday, 25 July 2011

HIDDEN GEMS

As my mother-in-law frequently, and correctly, points out, I am very lucky to live close to the heart of the best city in the world, and have access to all it has to offer, should I desire it. There are specialist food shops, markets like Exmouth Street and Borough, wonderful food halls and a myriad of other retailers purveying wondrous delicacies. Yes, I am really very spoilt.

However, what I do lack is Olives et Al, a wonderful small specialist retailer which started out 18 years ago selling olives, and has since developed into a company which supplies oils and vinegars, pestos and tapenades, wonderful snacks, and other lovely foodie goodies. From humble beginnings, the company now has a well-stocked and friendly factory shop on the edge of Sturminster Newton, a small town in Dorset, where I stayed on my wedding night. Despite living in a leafy suburb of London, which has several good delis on its high street, I cannot buy Olives et Al products locally, so whenever I am in Dorset, I like to call in at the factory shop and stock up. This is fairly easy to organise as the shop is on a small trading estate which is also home to a good bike shop which Other Half likes to visit (to get his fix of "spoke sniffing").

Today I visited Olives et Al on the way back from Shepton Mallet, where we had lunch at Kilver Court, the latest addition to Mulberry founder Roger Saul's empire: a 'designer emporium' with a farm shop and cafe run by Sloaney young men and women with flicked up blonde hair and nice accents, yar. Compared to the designer outlets I visit in and around London, Kilver Court was rather disappointing - and very expensive for what it was - but for I can see that it could become a retail oasis for the moneyed of Dorset and Somerset. It's housed in part of the old Babycham factory, and there are attractive gardens to visit, as well as the Mulberry factory shop, just up the road, which is full of over-priced bling handbags.

Olives et Al is a whole lot less pretentious than Kilver Court, and is run by enthusiastic people who obviously care about the products they are vending. It's definitely worth a visit if you're in the area. I have blogged previously about some of the great dining pubs I have discovered in Dorset too - it's a county that values its local producers and farmers, and this is reflected in its foodie outlets, from pubs to specialist food shops. I am sure other counties can boast similar attributes, but Dorset is the place I know best after London and my manor, Teddington, and retailers like Olives et Al deserve our support.

More information about Olives et Al here
The Grand Dorset Chilli Festival
The Bull Inn
The Anchor Inn
The Museum Inn

Sunday, 24 July 2011

AAAAAAAGA SAGA

I'm enjoying a mini break in darkest Dorset (well, Blandford Forum, to be precise, an almost perfectly extant Georgian town, the result of a fire in the 1700s and an extensive rebuilding programme masterminded by the Bastard Brothers. I kid you not.). Apart from having to contend with two dogs - and I'm not good with dogs - who bark ceaselessly just before 9am every morning when it's walkies time, I also have to face off the Aga every time I want a cup of tea or a piece of toast.

I've blogged, and grumbled, before about the Aga. For someone in possession of a 6-burnergas hob atop a professional-style modern range oven, I find the Aga quirky and unsophisticated to cook on. It has only two 'settings': hot and not hot. It loses heat very quickly if one of its lids is left up, and if someone has been using the hot plate before you, you have to wait at least an hour for it to heat up again, just to make a cup of tea. Making toast is a feat in itself: turn your back on it, and it's scorched beyond recognition before you know it. Then you have to prise the burnt offering off the bespoke Aga toasting rack. I usually resort to bashing it with a wooden spoon or picking away at it with a knife.....

People who own Agas absolutely love them, and rave about them, to the point that I wonder if they are simply trying to justify the expense of buying and owning one. "Ooh they are wonderful for slow-cooking" Aga owners croon. Yes, but how about a stir-fry or a flash-fried steak? Their comforting heat and attractive retro look are also much vaunted. In my parents-in-law's previous house, a large, rambling and generally very draughty 17th century farm house, the Aga was a focal point: come back from a cold, wet dog walk and hitch your bum on the Aga rail while you warm up and dry out. Four of us could comfortably loll against the Aga rail. It was also the place where family announcements were made: "hatchings, matchings and despatchings", as my grandfather used to say. Although I actually announced my engagement in front of the (equally hot) Yotel fire, while my parents in law were watching 'Murders in the Rue Morgue' (some bodies had just been discovered up a chimney at that fateful moment).

A few years ago, on holiday on the Balmoral estate thanks to a friend with Royal connections, I had to endure a week cooking on a Rayburn, a sort of cousin to the Aga. It was very old and very quirky, and had only an extremely hot setting and OFF. It took me and the other guest who had volunteered/been volunteered to cook several days to get the hang of the thing, and then it would still catch us out. We did, however, produce a procession of fine meals for 12, from my West African Groundnut Curry to Nick's famous Sausage Casserole. We also made pizzas and cakes, and by the end of the week, I was quite sorry to say goodbye to the Rayburn.

I think if I had to live with an Aga full time, I would probably be able to adapt my cooking style and tastes to suit it, and eventually we might rub along quite happily. But in general it just frustrates me with its lack of refinement. Nor could I live off slow-cooked food forever (much as I like it, especially in the winter). Fortunately, one of the stipulations of my mini break is that I don't have to do much cooking (beyond suggesting dishes and occasionally assembling them), and so I have left the Aga's mistress in charge of its dubious charms - and am enjoying some delicious slow-cooked food as a result......

Saturday, 16 July 2011

EASY SATURDAY SUPPER - LAMB MECHOUI

First, apologies to Demon Cook fans and followers for the lack of posts recently: I have been exceptionally busy in my other life as a piano teacher, with end of term concerts, paperwork (to ensure I get paid next term!) and various other piano admin. The end of term is nigh, at last, and I can look forward to a rest and lots of therapeutic cooking and piano playing (mine - and other people's at Prom concerts this summer).

Now, for tonight's supper. When I asked Other Half what he fancied for dinner, he said "Moroccan style lamb chops, grilled" which I instantly translated at Lamb Mechoui. Hailing from Morocco, mechoui is whole lamb, spit-roasted over the embers of an open fire, basted with a mixture of butter, saffron, cumin, salt and paprika. Translating this to a more domestic setting is simple enough: swap the whole lamb for chops. The spice mixture remains the same. I sometimes do this on the barbecue, which probably lends a more authentic flavour to it, but otherwise I just whack the chops on the cast-iron griddle. Keep the accompaniments simple - some good bread and/or a Moroccan or Greek-style salad and perhaps a yoghurt or garlic sauce.

This recipe comes from Casa Moro, the second of the trio of books by the chef-owners of Moro in London's trendy Hoxton. Worth a visit, if you can face the drive across London.....

Serves 4
2 tbsps whole cumin seeds, freshly ground
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
1/2 tsp hot paprika
1 tbsp sea salt, roughly crumbled
12-16 small lamb chops (rack chops) depending on size
40g butter, melted

Mix the spices together in a bowl. Just before you are ready to cook the chops, brush them with melted butter and dust liberally with half the spice mix. When cooked, serve immediately with some of the remaining spice-salt mixture on the side.

Instead of chops, you could cover a whole shoulder of lamb with the mix and roast it in the oven (or on the barbecue) at 160C for 4-5 hours until the meat is falling off the bone. Keep basting the meat with the buttery, spicy juices that collect in the roasting tin. Serve with extra spice-salt on the side.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

SIMPLE YET ELEGANT SATURDAY SUPPER

Eight for dinner tonight, and I wanted to make something simple and elegant. One of the guests does not eat meat, so rather than make a dish especially for her, everyone will have fish.

I've got a bit of a "thing" for Thai food at the moment, ever since that glorious (and somewhat boozy) supper at Caroline's last month, and my discovery of the local Asian supermarket. Perhaps it has something to do with the change in the weather, for the better, that I crave bright, fresh flavours, rather than sultry stews and slow roasts?

This recipe is from the Sainted Delia, her 'Summer Collection', a book I return to fairly frequently, as it does contain a lovely selection of summery food (the homemade lemonade recipe is hard to beat). Like many of the dishes I cook, this can be easily made in advance and set aside until you are ready to cook. For a starter, I'm doing my take on Chinese pancakes: instead of crispy aromatic duck, I'll fill them with a mixture of crab meat, flavoured with lime zest, lemon grass, ginger and fresh mint, and thinly sliced spring onions, cucumber and baby corn. I've never made this before, but the crab mixture smells delicious, as it happily steeps in the fridge..... Audrey is bringing the pudding.

This recipe is for two, but it's dead easy to double, or treble, up the ingredients. Find filo pastry in the freezer at the supermarket.


Delia's Thai Salmon Filo Parcels

2 thick-cut salmon fillets
4 sheets of Filo pastry
1 tsp fresh ginger, grated
1 clove of garlic, crushed
1 tbsp fresh coriander, chopped
1 small spring onion, finely sliced
grated zest and juice of a lime
1 oz butter, melted
salt and pepper

Delia says: "First of all, in a small bowl, mix together the ginger, lime zest, garlic, coriander and spring onion, then stir in the lime juice. Now melt the butter in a small saucepan, then lay 1 sheet of filo pastry out on a flat surface, brush it all over with some of the melted butter, spread another sheet of filo on top and brush this lightly with melted butter as well. Now position one of the salmon fillets near to one end of the filo, season it and sprinkle half the lime and herb mixture on top (picture 1). Next, fold the short end of pastry over the salmon, then fold the long sides inwards (picture 2), roll the salmon over twice more and trim any surplus pastry (it's important not to end up with great wedges of pastry at each end). Wrap the other piece of salmon in exactly the same way and, when you're ready to cook, brush the parcels all over with melted butter, place them on a lightly greased baking sheet (picture 3), and bake in the oven for 20-25 minutes or until the pastry is brown and crisp. Serve, garnished with sprigs of coriander and wedges of lime to squeeze over."

I'm serving this with boiled new potatoes and a salad garnished with edible flowers (available from Waitrose and M&S).

Picture 1. Place the salmon at one end of the pastry sheet....

Picture 2. Fold over the short end and the sides of the pastry

Picture 3. Place the parcels on a prepared baking sheet

Friday, 1 July 2011

THE FISH FINGER FILES

I've borrowed the title of this post from the back page of the Waitrose food magazine, where each month a celebrity reveals something about him- or herself through a series of food-related questions.

Who taught you to cook? I am largely self-taught, and have always enjoyed experimenting and tinkering with food. I learnt the tricks of pastry-making from my mother ("keep it cold"). I hated domestic science lessons at school because everything had to be so tidy, but I still use the basic roux sauce recipe that I learnt in school.

Is there a dish you've never really mastered? Less "mastered" and more "attempted". I haven't tried Baked Alaska yet, nor Beef Wellington, though neither is particularly daunting for me. Watching 'Masterchef: the Professionals' last winter taught me a lot: food that appears complicated is not always what it seems. Often, it is in the construction and presentation of a dish, rather than the actual ingredients or cooking process.

Do you eat breakfast? Yes, I do, but I'm not very good in the mornings and tend only to have a bowl of yoghurt and a cup of tea (Redbush or Lapsang Souchong). At the weekend, I do like breakfast in bed, preferably lightly scrambled eggs with fried mushrooms. A proper "full English" is mandatory when camping.

What's your biggest food vice? Chocolate and cheese. I love a good, runny Camembert or piquant Gorgonzola spread on some chewy sourdough bread. I don't buy cheese that often because I will just graze off it if it's in the fridge. Ditto chocolate!

Favourite TV supper? Chakchouka (see previous post). Quick, tasty and fairly easy to manage off the knees!

Any food you really can't stand? I can't see the point of oysters, and I detest celery. Oh, and all dried fruits, particularly raisins, currants, sultanas. Can't stand Christmas food either.

Favourite kitchen gadgets? My trusty Kitchenaid mixer and my Ikea garlic press.


Whose food writing do you admire? I've always liked Nigella Lawson's writing on food, long before she became famous, when she was food writer for Vogue. Also, Nigel Slater, who, like Nigella, shows a healthy disregard for fussy food fads. Sometimes you just gotta use double cream and butter!

Favourite cookbooks? How to Eat (Nigella Lawson), The Ottolenghi Cookbook (Yotam Ottolenghi), Moro (Sam and Sam Clark).


Favourite restaurant? My own kitchen! I rarely eat out, but some memorable meals have been at Petersham Nursery (Skye Gyngell) and a couple of gastropubs I've discovered in the wilds of Dorset. The 12-course tasting menu at Ca'n Mea in Liguria last September was amazing, not least for the sheer volume of food: I'm going back there this autumn for another round.


Signature dish? 'Fran Bread' - my focaccia is hard to beat and very popular with supper guests!


What will you be cooking tonight? As I'm on my own tonight, I'll probably make spaghetti Carbonara, or maybe cook myself a nice piece of steak....

Thursday, 30 June 2011

SIMPLE SUPPER - CHAKCHOUKA

Also known as 'Tunisian Eggs', this is a popular and regular supper dish in my house. I've been making it for years, ever since I discovered those delicious Middle Eastern spicy lamb sausages called mergeuz. I used to buy them at Harvey Nicks food hall, until I discovered my local fishmonger (Sandy's in Twickenham) sold their own, homemade version (along with a great selection of other sausages, including boerwoers, venison and cajun - great for barbecues!). I have also found merguez sausages at the Whole Food Market, Kensington, and in various Middle Eastern delis and supermarkets on Goldborne Road (good for Middle Eastern ingredients generally).

Chakchouka is a popular breakfast dish in north Africa, and there are several variants. For vegetarians, you can of course omit the sausages. I love the eggs which are cooked on top of the ragu of tomatoes and peppers, and I sometimes add slices of Halloumi, that squeaky Middle Eastern sheeps' milk cheese. I serve Chakchouka with fluffy couscous and no Middle Eastern supper would be complete in my house without the obligatory jar of Belazu Rose Harissa.


Chakchouka for 2
6 merguez sausages
1 large red or orange pepper, or 2 small ones
1 400g tin chopped tomatoes
A little Harissa paste or chilli
1 tsp ground cumin
Salt & pepper
Olive oil
2 eggs
Harissa and chopped fresh coriander to serve

Heat the olive oil in a large, deep frying pan and brown the sausages. Deseed the peppers and roughly slice. Add to the sausages, and cook until they soften. Add the cumin powder, chilli/harissa paste and the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer. If the ragu gets too thick, add some water. Check seasoning.

Just before you are ready to eat, break the eggs over the top of the ragu and continue to cook until the eggs are set (I like mine just done). Serve with fluffy couscous, or flat breads, and lots of harissa and fresh coriander, if liked.

Monday, 27 June 2011

MY SUMMER SPECIALS

As London broiled on the hottest day of the year (so far), and those of us who had to use the Tube today cursed the lack of air-conditioning, my foodie thoughts turned to long, cold drinks and light but piquantly-flavoured dishes. In between these foodie musings, I was doing my 'other' job, as a music reviewer for Bachtrack.com, enjoying a lunchtime Schubert recital in the relatively cool Wigmore Hall. When I got home, I had to teach, an extra lesson for a student, not one of mine (though soon to be, officially), who is taking her Grade 2 exam next week. The heat made her sloppy and forgetful, and when I sat at the piano to play through the aural exercises, the keys felt sticky, in all senses of the word. After she left, I downed half a pint of Diet Coke, a drink I normally eschew, but sometimes it's surprisingly refreshing. Then I wrote my review for Bachtrack; by the time I'd tried - and failed - to think of a snappy title for the article, it was 7pm, so I went to the kitchen to prepare supper while listening to 'The Archers'.

Rock Shandy is one of my favourite non-alchoholic drinks. I discovered it some years ago in a trendy cafe in Notting Hill (as you do) and have subsequently ensured its place on the drinks menu of the Wookey Hole Inn in Somerset (the barman remembered me and made it for me - perfectly - the next time I visited). It's simple and refreshing and can be juzzed up with slices of lemon, or the sort of fruit salad you put in Pimms. In fact, its colour is redolent of Pimms, and on the strength of that, I've just decided to serve it as the non-alcoholic alternative to Pimms at my Summer Concert. It's easy to make - half soda water, half lemonade, dash of Angostura bitters, and a slice of lemon (optional). The ingredients should be cold. Add ice if liked (I don't - very cold drinks make my temples ache). Coincidentally, I blogged Rock Shandy exactly a year ago, though I can't remember what the weather was like then!

Another lovely, summery dish I often make at this time of the year, when there is a glut of strawberries, is Strawberry and Lemon Sorbet, which is my adaptation of a River Cafe recipe (I replaced raspberries with strawberries; you could use either, according to your taste). You need a food-processor to whizz the ingredients together, but an ice-cream maker is not essential: be sure to beat the mixture regular to stop ice crystals forming.

Strawberry and Lemon Strawberry
Serves about 6

1/2 unwaxed lemon, roughly chopped (peel, pith and all - just remove the seeds)
approx 200g caster sugar
400g strawberries, hulled

Whizz the lemon and sugar together in the food-processor, then add the strawberries. Check for sweetness and add more sugar if needed. Churn in ice-cream maker or put in a plastic box and freeze. Nice served with amaretti biscuits or cantuccini.

We had a barbecue last night, and sat in our newly-painted 'cabana' (also known as 'the Stable', 'Hugh's hut' and 'the Loggia'). With Buika's soulful, husky voice singing Mi Nina Lola and other songs from her album of the same name, we cooked chicken skewers and lamb shish kebabs, and roasted those long, thin Romano red peppers. It's the first time we've sat in the garden in the evening this year without needing fleeces and blankets. Today, I made the leftover red peppers into a pretty salad with crumbled feta and olives. Nigella Lawson has a very nice version of this - find it here.



Another simple salad, ripped off from The Eagle (London's first gastropub) is sliced tomatoes with rocket and fresh coriander. It's exactly what it sounds and is really tasty. A splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar is the only dressing it requires. When I ate it at The Eagle, it was as an accompaniment to bruschetta made with chargrilled squid. Utterly delicious!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

CRISPY AROMATIC DUCK - FRAN-STYLIE

Forgive the Jamie-esque title of this post: but I couldn't stop myself.....

Last week, I went to the new oriental supermarket in Kingston (near John Lewis) and purchased a shed-load of exotic ingredients which I will probably only use once before consigning to the back of the larder where they will moulder away with all those other curious condiments I bought thinking "that looks interesting" - such as lavender cordial from the south of France (never tried) and Italian fruits in mustard (also never tried). The herbs were so cheap at the Asian supermarket, that I made two vats of green Thai curry sauce, and then chucked the rest of the kaffir lime leaves away because they were turning brown. Of course, I should have dried them for future use, but there was Liszt to be practised and Schubert to be refined: sometimes it ain't easy being a cook AND a pianist....


I love crispy aromatic duck, that staple of your local Chinese restaurant. I don't actually eat it at my local Chinese restaurant very often because a) I don't go out to eat that often, preferring to cook at home; and b) I'm not that keen on oriental food. So I buy my crispy duck from M&S: it's definitely the best supermarket version, being both generous and tasty.

One of the things I purchased at the oriental supermarket was those little pancakes which go round the  crispy duck. At dinner at a friend's house a couple of weeks ago, she served her own take on Chinese pancakes as a canape: instead of crispy duck, she filled them with Parma ham, a slice of roasted red pepper, a couple of rocket leaves and a smear of Hoisin sauce, as a nod to the oriental original. The whole thing was beautifully tied with a chive stem. I copied the combo at home, replacing the rocket with basil, and nearly fainted with excitement at having created something so simple and so tasty. The pancakes come in handy 6-packs, so you can freeze them and defrost small quantities as you need them.

The method for cooking the duck comes from Nigella Lawson's 'Kafkaesque Duck' from her first book How to Eat. Basically, you steam the duck in a bath of water, scrape as much of the fat off the skin as you can, and then roast it in a hot oven. It results in deliciously succulent meat with perfectly crispy skin, though the steaming process does fill the kitchen with a rather pungent 'ducky fug' (do not try saying that quickly when drunk!). For my crispy duck, I steamed leg joints, rubbed them with plenty of salt and Chinese five-spice powder and then roasted them. The duck is still cooking as I write, so it remains to be seen what the end result will be like, but I have high hopes: it certainly smells right. The spring onions and cucumber, the obligatory accompaniments to the traditional crispy duck, are already prepared, and there's a nice bottle of Chilean red wine just begging to be opened......

You can find a more comprehensive recipe from Nigella Lawon here.

Friday, 17 June 2011

A HANDFUL OF THIS, A DOLLOP OF THAT....

I'm not very good at following recipes, except for things like cakes and pastry where the right quantities of ingredients are required for the special chemistry to work to achieve the desired end result, and often the best meals are the ones which are the result of chucking in a bit of this or a handful of that, and seeing what happens.

This is how my 'Asian-inspired seared beef salad' came about, and the subject of this post. I ate a rather delicious seared beef salad at Wagamama a few weeks ago. Usually, when I eat at Wagamama I have No. 40 ('Yaki Soba') or No. 42 ('Yaki Udon'), or, if I need something warming, No. 35 ('Kare Lomen' - prawns and noodles in a curried coconut sauce). But I'm on a low-carb regime at the moment (boring, I know, but necessarily), and it was a hot day, and I'd just walked along the river from Twickenham, so I opted for No. 67 Ginger Beef and Coriander Salad, marked "new" on the menu.

I'm a big fan of Wagamama, and have been frequenting its various branches since the very first one opened in a little twitchell off Great Russell Street, where I used to work for publisher Laurence King. For less than a fiver (this was way back when..... c1993), you could get a bowl of noodles and a cup of green tea, and on Fridays, Wagamama became the office canteen, as we all piled in there, boss included, queueing down the stairs until a table and benches became available. The decor of Wagamama in minimalist and the service is snappy: it's not the sort of place to linger with your lover as there are no intimate corners, nor muted lighting. But friends who have visited Japan say it is pretty close to an authentic Japanese noodle bar - and the food is great: cooked to order, flavoursome and interesting.

According to the menu, the Ginger Beef and Coriander Salad comprises caramelised red onions, red peppers, cucumber, carrot, mooli (white radish), beansprouts, ginger and fresh coriander, all tossed with the Wagamama "house dressing" (ingredients a closely-guarded secret, no doubt) and garnished with sesame seeds. The beef had clearly been marinaded in something gingery before being seared and then thinly sliced. It was rare in the middle, just how I like it. I photographed my meal, much to the amusement of my companion, so that I could remember how the salad was constructed.

Wagamama Ginger Beef and Coriander Salad
My Asian-inspired seared beef salad contained most of the same ingredients: I managed to find a mooli on Kingston market, and the other ingredients were readily available in Waitrose. I marinaded a nice piece of steak in Wagamama's teriyaki marinade (also available in Waitrose) and made assembled the salad, dressing it with sesame oil and togarishi seasoning (Waitrose). I seared the beef in my ridged cast-iron griddle pan and then sliced it and arranged it on the salad, finishing the dish off with lots of fresh coriander. It was delicious - if rather large.....

I would suggest any or all of the following ingredients for that "Asian inspired flavour":

Grated carrot and radish/mooli
Thinly sliced red peppers
Beansprouts
Finely sliced spring onions
Japanese pickled ginger 
Caramelised onions - easy to make yourself, or even buy ready made in a jar
Plenty of fresh coriander
Sesame oil
Lime juice
Nigella (black onion) seeds & sesame seeds to garnish

You could omit the beef, or use salmon, or teriyaki chicken. Experiment - as I did - and see what you like best.

My Asian-inspired seared beef salad