Friday, May 28, 2010

I wanted ... I bought ... I made

This is my first attempt at steaming eggs in their shells - not perfect yet!

Bank holiday this weekend and already it is clouding over. It's not even lunch time Friday. Had a vague plan to talk Jaey and Marie into making barbecue for us Saturday but given the forecast is 14 degrees and raining they are coming to us for all things duck with magret and friton we brought back from France - great lunch with hollandaise asparagus to start and pruneaux to finish and lovely company all the way. Sunday I have my heart set on chinese supper with cold dressed beef tendon as my central dish made a big plate of crystal spring rolls after lunch out earlier. Monday I think rare roast beef with all the trimmings. Tuesday will be pasta spicy beef tendon, Wednesday I quite fancy lentils cauliflower curry and a couple of spiced salads, Thursday we are out at the theatre.

It was cold and bleak and ready to rain at Borough by 9 am. Bleuugh. Started at Ginger Pig where I asked John for a perfect piece of beef to roast. He nipped into the fridge and came back with a really stunning piece of rolled topside roasted Monday night then cold in lunches it was one of the nicest pieces of beef we've had for a while, also bought bacon as we'd decided to treat ourselves to a fry up Saturday morning and another Sunday- £21.30

From Booths I bought lots of cornish new potatoes, as well as King Edwards, courgettes, carrots, fennel, grapefruit and bananas - £6.50

Searched and searched and finally found some watercress for a beetroot and grapfruit salad for Saturday at Turnips - £1.95 - I thought it would have been abundant by now...

Asparagus, because it is irresistable, with hollandaise and friton as a starter Saturday - 2 bunches from the farm stall - £7

Eggs from Wild Beef - 2 boxes - £3

Olive oil loaf from Rhodes - £2

Strawberries from Chegworth - £2 - our first smoothies of the season Monday and Tuesday for breakfast

Milk, yoghurt and cream from Neals Yard - £11.20

Spent £54.95 but picked up a few more things in Brixton like sprouts and peppers and aubergine to round out the weeks needs

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Spring joy!

What grows together goes together. Asparagus season is May - June. Rush!

April/May is also the time of the new potato. Most famously the jersey royal but in fact there are many varieties, some of which are just extraordinarily wonderful to eat. Till I came to live in England I never knew how brilliantly potatoes grow here - and such a choice! They smell richly and delightfully of 'essence of potato' while they cook and then offer brilliant flavour and textures, running the whole gamut of ultra smooth wax to floury clouds - and everything in between.

The early varieties around at the moment are such a perfect match to our recently arrived and very welcome spring. Delicately flavoured flesh cooks best in water, either boiled or steamed. For me steaming is best, maintaining the lovely texture without diluting the taste one iota.

There's lots of tasty asparagus around - another veg the British do so very well - and it's early enough in the season for it to still be the most complete treat when it is cooked fast and simple. I had a big fat bunch from the market, plenty of new potatoes, and pea shoots in the garden, grown for the purpose of being served up as pea shoots, the ones intended for actually producing peas being entirely separate.

A perfect plate of food for Saturday night, needing only something to tie it all together, something delicate and special as the individual elements. What could fit the bill better than hollandaise? I have never made this brilliant sauce but am unfailingly seduced by it whenever I eat it. With such a delightful array of ingredients before me, the time had come to try this one at home!

Make the sauce first - this is a cheat version from the sainted Delia which was very good, though the real thing is marginally better, albeit far more temperamental and likely to split. Thought I'd try this one first to get a little confidence, and attempt the genuine article next time.

Delia's Foaming Hollandaise Sauce
2 large eggs, separated
1 dessertspoon lemon juice
1 dessertspoon white wine vinegar
110g salted butter
Salt and pepper

Begin by placing the egg yolks in a food processor or blender together with some salt, switch on and blend them thoroughly.

In a small saucepan heat the lemon juice and vinegar till the mixture simmers, then switch the processor on again and pour the hot liquid on to the egg yolks in a steady stream.

Switch off, then in the same saucepan melt the butter – not too fiercely: it mustn't brown. When it is liquid and foaming, switch on the processor once more and pour in the butter, again in a steady, thin stream, until it is all incorporated and the sauce has thickened.

Next, in a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks and then fold the sauce, a tablespoon at a time, into the egg whites and taste to check the seasoning. When you've done that, it's ready to serve or it can be left till later.

Dinner from here is easy peasy.

Scrub about half a kilo of new potatoes but don't peel them. All the vitamin C, and more importantly most of the flavour is in the couple of millimetres of flesh under the skin, so be a shame to lose it. Season then steam them for 15 minutes, either in a steam oven or over a pan of simmering water.

Snap the stems of a bunch of asparagus at the point where they naturally break. Either use the bottom section to make a stock or discard. Season the remaining spears then add them to the oven or steamer and steam for 3-4 minutes, depending on thickness.

Rinse the pea shoots taken straight from the garden or bought at the market.

Arrange all the elements attractively on a plate, drizzle with hollandaise.

You need nothing more than crusty bread and a deliciously chilled white wine.

Friday, May 21, 2010

I wanted...I bought....I made

This weekend we are mostly having sunshine. Don't care what next week brings.

I think we'll have a cold supper Saturday - I fancy a fish terrine could not have been more disappointing - I bought a good piece of cod from Devon fish, put it in the processor with egg whites, made a smooth paste, then added the cream and turned the processor back on which - obviously I now realise - made the cream turn to butter thus ruining the dish, I was gutted at such a stupid mistake as the lot went in the bin, I HATE wasting food because my pea shoots are thriving in a bucket outside the kitchen door and I want something interesting to go with them for the first - and obviously every - meal we make with them. Asparagus too, to make the most of it finally had the asparagus with new potatoes and hollandaise and the first pea shoots and it was a delightful supper. Sunday I hope it will be too hot for roast so salads, leek and cauliflower with butterbeans again with spiced roasted chicken, a perfect match, Monday is theatre, Tuesday is the man's birthday so we are out for dinner to a glamourous awful Korean restaurant, Wednesday pasta risotto with chicken and peas and stock all from the freezer and a garnish of my pea shoots, Thursday stir fry burgers and salad and Friday an experiment to see if I can steam eggs in the shell as a dressing to asparagus omelette and salad.

Blue skies, light breeze, full sun. All this on a Saturday. Wah!

Confusing start to the Market - didn't need to go to Ginger Pig, though I did wave to Charlie as we walked past, and couldn't think for a second where to go first. Wanted fish so went to Devon fish where I bought a lovely piece of cod that the monger filleted for me. Was really distressed to discover that this was to be there last day at Borough - seems that the Trustees are adamant that they must sell Thursday, Friday and Saturday which involves a 400 mile round trip each day. But certainly Thursdays and mostly Fridays is about tourists at the market, not shoppers or people looking to buy fresh fish so Saturday they have a good trade but Thursdays they make about £40. The Trustees seem so intent on only catering to the tourists with scant regard to the producers or to those of us who use the market to do our shopping - the two groups who have made Borough a viable Market over the last decade - that now we are losing a good sustainable source of fish. Madness. Protest to the Trustees or soon the market will be only for tourists buying flapjacks. Anyway - the fish was £7 and after all that I ruined the terrine, all I made was an inedible mess

While I was busy chatting the man discovered a stall selling plants nearby which had cucumber plants - I have been seeking one or two for weeks as my seedlings don't seem to be sprouting sadly. Grew some last summer and they were a real delight - you can actually see them get bigger almost daily. £2 for 3 seemed a bargain.

Then to the asparagus people where this week I bought a bunch of seriously thick choice stems for £3.90 and had the pleasure of a free sample of their lovely cream of asparagus soup and a delightful Saturday supper
Next it was eggs from Wild Beef for hollandaise amongst other things who were at that moment in full sun - not ideal for selling fresh meat so the drapes were up over half the stall to keep it all cool - £1.50

Over at Ted's Veg they had lincolnshire new potatoes at £3.50 a kilo, plus I bought radish, cucumber, onions, carrots and leeks - £8.20

From Gastronomica I bought a plain rocchetta - £5.50

Smoked salmon from muireen - £5 - Sunday breakfast treat

Coffee from Monmouth - £10

At Neals Yard I bought milk, cream and yoghurt - £8.05 which made me realise they don't automatically price everything at something 95 pence

From Bill & Tony I bought 4 lemons £1

That was the lot - and still the sun shone - spent £52.15

Monday, May 17, 2010

Chicken & Leek Pie

Made this the week before last as an experiment. It's still so bloody cold in London - I planted seeds out a month ago which, after a momentary sprouting, are now dormant. Soon to be dead I fear if the sun does not return. Yesterday there was a massive hail storm, night time temperatures are all in single figures and day time feels the same most days. Grrrrr.

Even if it's not as cold as it was in February bbq weather it ain't. So I wanted the comfort and pleasure of a pie but one that was not as dense and rich as a beef pie would be. I'd been thinking about poaching chicken and the simple method that I learned from Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail, where the poultry is brought to a simmer with leeks and carrots and things then immediately taken off the heat, covered and left to cool completely. Result - deeply flavoured succulent flesh. Using this as a starting point meant that, though a pie would take two days to make, neither day would be particularly time consuming, and pie could be had mid week. Joy.

Though the market is not yet full of the bounties of spring - no mountains of courgettes or sweet fleshy tomatoes - there are fine leeks and carrots and celery and the first of the new potatoes, all of which promised a certain delicacy if added to my pie and a variety of fine flavours. It was possibly a little more work than I had at first anticipated, but served up, it has everything you could wish for on a chill spring night.

Chicken & Leek Pie

Day One
1 free range chicken cut into six, about 1.5kg in weight
2 carrots, unpeeled and chopped
2 leeks, chopped
1 onion, unpeeled and halved
1 whole head of garlic, cut through widthways
2 sticks celery, chopped
2 bay leaves
a bundle of thyme, parsley and rosemary
20 or so whole peppercorns
sea salt

Place the chicken and all the ingredients down to the sea salt in a large pot, cover with cold water and bring to the boil. As soon as it boils cover it with a lid, take it off the heat and leave it to cool, which takes about 6 hours.

I then left the chicken in the broth in the fridge for the day before making

dinner next night.
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tbspn olive oil
2tbspns plain flour
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp salt
4 carrots, peeled and cut into rings
2 sticks celery, chopped – save the leaves to chop and add at the end
About 1 litre of chicken stock from the stock the chicken was poached in
30 leeks, washed and sliced
200g peas, frozen is fine
Meat from the poached chicken
Small bunch chopped parsley + chopped celery leaves
1kg new potatoes, thinly sliced, but don’t rinse
olive oil

Take the cold chicken from the stock, strip all the meat from the bones and put it to one side. Over a high heat, reduce the stock that the chicken was cooked in by about a quarter.

Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the onions and garlic till translucent – about 10 minutes. Add the chopped carrots and celery and stir for a couple of minutes to coat in the oil.

Mix the flour, cayenne and salt together and stir into the cooked onion mixture over a low heat. Cook gently for five minutes or so till the flour has lost its rawness.

Add about two thirds of the hot stock and stir the veg through it. Simmer, stirring, until the stock is smooth and has thickened.

Add the leeks and peas. Cook till the stock comes back to a simmer. Add the reserved chicken and more stock till you have a good consistency for a pie filling. Check the seasoning and add more if needed.

Stir through the chopped parsley and celery leaves then turn off the heat.

Pour the chicken and vegetables into a pie dish,then top with overlapping slices of potato. Brush with olive oil and season with a little salt and pepper.

Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes till the potatoes are a little crispy on top but soft underneath.

Let it sit for a few minutes then serve onto large plates, with some crusty bread perhaps to mop up the juices.
You could gussy it up with a little cream or white wine in the sauce or perhaps some asparagus when the price comes down a little, but just like this it is a fine pie.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Penne with a cream and fennel sauce

The joy of this dish lies in its simplicity. Poach sliced fennel in milk till it is falling apart, rough it up a little further with a fork, add cream and lots and lots of black pepper and serve mixed into pasta with a sprinkling of Parmesan and finely chopped fronds. No onion, no garlic, no parsley, indeed no herbs at all. Rich, comforting, palely beautiful. Good cold for lunch. A perfect straddle for this uncertain weather. The unalloyed brilliance of Anna del Conte.
Pasta with Fennel & Cream
4 large fennel bulbs
90g unsalted butter
300ml full-fat milk
300ml double cream
90g freshly grated Parmesan
700g penne or shells
Cut off and discard the tops and any wilted or bruised parts of the fennel. Reserve the green feathery leaves and wash and chop them coarsely. Cut the fennel bulbs into quarters and then into wedges about 5mm thick. Wash thoroughly in cold water and dry with kitchen paper.
Heat half the butter in a large heavey sauté pan until ti begins to foam. Add the fennel and sauté for 5 minutes. Add the milk and sprinkle with salt. Reduce the ehat to very low, cover the pan and cook until the fennel is tender, about 30 minutes, stirring from time to time. Add a little jhot water if the fennel gets too dry.
When the fennel is very tender break it up with a fork to make a coarse purée. Stir in the cream and season with lots of black pepper. Cook over a very gentle heat for 32 minutes, stirring very often, then blend in half the Parmesan. Cover the pan and set aside off the heat.
Meanwhile cook the pasta in plenty of boiling salted water until done. Drain, then immediately return it to the pan in which it was cooked. Toss with the remaining butter and with the sauce.
Serve at once sprinkled with the reserved fennel fronds and the rest of the Parmesan on the side.

Friday, May 07, 2010

I wanted...I bought...I made

Also made szechwan pepper and spring onion oil

This is a funny week - I have food chain Sunday and we are off to France for the weekend Thursday so simple is partly the order of the shop, or v v quick at least. Saturday night we are out as well so I'm thinking, despite the weather, I shall pretend it really is spring and go for asparagus, parma ham and new potatoes pre theatre. Sunday I think fennel pasta as I still have fennel from last week. Monday I'm meeting the lovely Vicki early so I shall have grilled pork chops with new potatoes and cabbage for quick and good had steamed eggs and cabbage with rice, Tuesday some risotto was the pork chops, wonderful cornish new potatoes and steamed cabbage, Wednesday maybe sausage sandwiches or cheese, something easy going out for cinema and dinner, easiest option of all!.

Got to Borough remarkably early and it was bliss. Practically empty but all the stalls were set up so all was quiet and calm. At the Ginger Pig I bought some pork chops and a pork steak still in the freezer will make paella next week for £11.80

Parma ham from the Italian ham and cheese stall from a young guy who was standing perfectly still at the back of the stall looking down almost as though he was having a quick nap! Turns out he was reading the paper... £5

Onions and green pepper from Ted's Veg -£1,50

Asparagus perfect Saturday pre theatre supper simply steamed and served with parma ham and crusty bread from a temporary stall that comes each year - £3.50

Eggs and sausages freezer from Wild Beef - £5.50

Then I went on a hunt for new season potaoes - Ted only had the generic variety, Booths had small duke of yorks but they were sprouting, Turnips had cornish new - a particular favourite of mine - but they were £8.60 a kilo but surprisingly not studded with diamonds, veg man out the back had Jerseys for £2 a bow but there were only about 6 in the bowl till finally I bought cornish new from Secretts for £3 Sometimes you have to work hard for your desires!

At Neals Yard I bought milk, cream and yoghurt - £7.70

A baguette and a cottage tin from Flour Power - £2.60 - and I was back on the bus!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Meatloaf with Peppers and Parmesan

This is a fabby little loaf that I made for our lunchboxes this week. As I'd already opened a jar of piquillo peppers to make some red pepper humous I wanted to use the rest of them soon as. It is criminal to waste such fine things. It chimed with my recent purchase of Anna del Conte's book Amaretto, Apple Cakes and Artichokes, a truly fabulous collection of some of her best recipes. When your starting point is as high as hers, the presentation of the best is really something to enjoy. If I say this recipe particularly caught my eye I'd be lying - I plan to try pretty much all of them at some point, it is simply that this one is first.

Meatloaf with Peppers and Parmesan

500g lean minced beef
250g lean minced pork
50g finely grated parmesan cheese
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 eggs
Either 3 multi coloured fresh peppers, grilled and peeled or half a jar of roasted piquillo peppers
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for greasing the pan

Mix the meats, cheese, garlic and eggs till it is all combined. Use your hands - it's easier and quite delightful in a squishy kind of way. Season generously - this will be eaten cold, so it needs more seasoning than it would if hot.

Grease a 1 litre loaf tin then put half the mixture in the bottom. Pat it down firmly to avoid air holes. Arrange the peppers in a layer then cover them with the rest of the meat mixture. Pat down firmly and then tap the tin heavily onto the work top a couple of times to settle the loaf. If there are air holes it will break up when you slice it.

Heat the oven to gas 4/180C. Put the loaf into the centre of the oven and cook for about an hour. It will shrink away from the sides.

Take the pan from the oven, drain away the juice that has collected in the bottom, then let the loaf cool in the tin. Wrap it in foil and refrigerate.

And that's it. Five minutes prep, delightfully Italian flavour.

I made a bowl of cannelini bean and fresh herb salad and we had baby plum tomatoes and radishes for colour for a proper lunch time treat all week.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Rice Paper Wraps

I have been eating versions of these little rolls for years and I have yet to get over the delight. They are cold - this still strikes me as amazing, not sure why. The translucent wrappers make the contents mysterious and beautiful and incredibly tempting. They always appear to be filled with treasure. Wrapped tightly they don't spill anywhere but rather are perfect for dipping into little bowls of sauce. They have the most extraordinary texture - the wrappers offer a very slight resistance to being bitten and then the filling is mostly raw and so is crunchy and slippery and soft cut through with generous amounts of herbs, in this case coriander and tiny speckles of heat from finely chopped chillies. Simply gorgeous.

Rice Paper Wraps

1/2 chinese cabbage, very finely shredded
2 cups bean sprouts, rinsed and picked over to lose their stringy tails
1 red pepper, deseeded and finely sliced
4 spring onions, topped and tailed then sliced into thin ribbons
1/2 large cucumber, peeled then sliced into very thin batons
1 large ( because they are milder) red and green chillies, sliced into thin rings
Serious handful of coriander leaves
1/2 cup raw peanuts, toasted till golden then roughly pounded in a pestle and mortar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon salt
24 rice paper wrappers

Mix all the ingredients, except the wrappers, in a large bowl.

Fill a flattish bowl with hot water then soak a sheet of rice paper till it softens - a few seconds. Lay it flat on a board, put a line of filling down the centre, then fold over first one edge then the other, and finally the ends to make little parcels.

Put a piece of damp kitchen paper onto a plate and put the finished roll on top. This will stop them drying out. Keep making rolls and adding them to the plate till all are done.
Refrigerate for an hour or so then serve with your favourite dipping sauce.

Seriously summer on a plate.