Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Pan Boxtie

Boxty on the griddle,
Boxty in the pan,
If you can’t make boxty,
You’ll never get a man.

Squeeze your grated potato dry in a clean cloth

It was St Patrick's Day last week - but you knew that, didn't you? Patrick, a man sainted for ridding Ireland of snakes. I was a (possibly impressionable) Australian schoolgirl when I learned that fact and I was blown away with admiration for a man who could rid a whole country of snakes. Australia after all has 140 varieties, 100 of which are poisonous though only 12 of them are likely to inflict a wound that would kill you. Wow!  I thought. Respect.

It is undoubtedly a reason to celebrate Irish food, and the more of it I sample the more I think, Wow! I had some fine smoked salmon from Burren, an award winning Irish smokehouse and fancied trying something new to go with it.

During the Famine of the 1800's in Ireland people lived pretty much on potatoes and buttermilk, and interesting ways with potatoes became a necessity. Boxty was one result, a poorhouse bread. I found this version made by Darina Allen, and fell in love with the simplicity of the language and the method. Her recipe comes from Granny Toye and you can almost hear the passing on of skill from one generation to the next.

Crisp and golden boxty

Pan Boxty

Good hot, warm or cold you could add a few chopped herbs for an untraditional variation

Serves 4

6 medium potatoes
a handful of white flour
butter, for frying

Scrub the potatoes well, but don't peel. Line a bowl with a cloth. Grate the potatoes into the cloth, then squeeze out the liquid into the bowl and allow it to sit for about 20 minutes until the starch settles. Set the potatoes aside.

Drain off the water and leave the starch in the bottom of the bowl. Add the grated
potato, a handful of white flour and some salt.

Melt a nice bit of butter on a heavy iron pan and pour in the potato mixture. It should be 2–2.5cm (¾–1in) thick. Cook on a medium heat. Let it brown nicely on one side before turning over and then on the other side, about 30 minutes in all, depending on the heat.

It's much better to cook it too slowly rather than too fast. It should be crisp and golden on the outside. Cut the boxty into four farls and serve.

This made a gorgeous supper Sunday night with the smoked salmon, a handful of watercress and a generous dollop of sour cream.

We had the leftover boxty next morning with a fried egg for a fairly lush brunch!

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Spring Picnic

Snow Edgware Road this week

I do love a challenge occasionally, keeps the mind attuned and the reflexes sharp. So when I got an email from Sopexa Marketing asking if I'd like to participate in a blogger challenge organised by BIVB to match Chablis with take away food I thought hmmm, could be interesting.

I pondered the characteristics of Chablis - it's steely minerality, the lack of oak making it elegantly bone dry rather than luscious, a wonderfully austere wine for our time of austerity. Made entirely of Chardonnay grapes it is grown in vineyards in the northern part of Burgundy in limestone soil formed in the Jurassic era from the fossils of small oysters. As Andrew Jefford says in The New France: "It smells of smoke and stone and winter air; it tastes as quick and fresh as a chill, pebbly stream tumbling off a dark, rain-draped mountain. Do you doubt the influence of soil on wine flavour? If you do, buy yourself a bottle of chablis."

So far so fabulous. But taking the specific brief to match to takeaway things suddenly got a little more challenging. My undoubted favourite takeaway place is Green Valley, just off the Edgware Road, a positive cornucopia of all food Middle Eastern. I worked nearby for a while, and on occasional sunny Fridays the office would decamp to Hyde Park for wonderfully decadent picnics. We'd buy takeaway tubs of hummus and tabouli, smoky aubergine moutabal, olives, warm falafel, shards of spicy lamb shawarma and plenty of flat bread. It was the first time I ate heart of palm and it was here I discovered mujadarrah - the surprisingly delicate combination of lentils, rice and fried onions. There would be wine, too, not vast amounts but a glass to enjoy as we ate and chatted. I could see how a chablis might work well with this kind of food, its warm spicing working well with the minerality of the wine. Not the lamb perhaps, but the falafels and salads seemed like a possible.

Though we are but a week from spring, the weather is far too poor to be conducive to being outside. The idea of a picnic was simply wrong - rain, cold, snow, wind, no, thrice definitely no. And yet the idea niggled at me as things went from bad to worse... somehow, I thought, I might have a picnic, surely I could have a picnic, really I must have a picnic....

Dammit I will have a picnic! I dug out the picnic rug and set off for Green Valley.

Green Valley's shop window - how seductive is that?!

Nuts and Dates, take as much as you need
This is undoubtedly one of the great food shops of London. They have a large butcher's counter, a bakery for flat breads, an enormous rotisserie cooking dozens of chickens and two slowly rotating swords - one of spiced lamb shawarma and one of chicken. They sell a vast array of wonderful ingredients and you are free to buy as much or as little as you need.

What an array!
 And then, at the back of the shop, there is this extraordinary salad counter, literally piled high with wonderful fresh food, dozens of trays of beautifully made offerings. They sell the lot by the end of each day, tomorrow will always have a new selection.

How to choose?
 I resisted the temptation to buy some of everything - but only just! I decided a vegetarian feast was needed - gorgeous crispy falafel, aubergine dip, tahini sauce, vibrantly fresh herb tabbouli to match the zing of the wine. A pile of bread of course and olives, hummus too. And baklava too, to finish, it's gorgeous nutty syrup crispness simply irresistible.

Still pretty bleak at Hyde Park Corner
 Perhaps spring was watching, as the sun did come out briefly, but not with any warmth.


Chablis - it was a great accompaniment

 What a lovely spread we had, who could ask for anything more?

The makings of a fine falafel roll

Dinner - with Masterchef on the tele!
 It has to be said the man was a little surprised to find dinner served on a rug but with the heating on and the curtains closed it might have been spring outside!

Nice Pick For A Picnic!
 The Chablis worked very well with the spread of food, we particlarly enjoyed the zing it brought to the party.

Here's hoping spring arrives here soon...

In the meantime you can find Green Valley just off the Edgware Road at 36-37 Upper Berkeley St  Marylebone, London W1H 5QF
You can find Chablis at all good wine merchants.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Oaty Fruit and Nut Breakfast Squares

Phwaaaaaaah! It's cold out there. It's the middle of March and it's snowing. I'm not thinking salads and barbecue I'm desperately wanting porridge.

I do love porridge, the comfort of big bowls of steaming hot oats with syrup and  cream, or brown sugar and butter, even granulated sugar and milk should not be underestimated. My mum would make them for us in winter in Australia - possibly didn't require a huge stockpile of raw oats! - but I recall that start to the day with a warm fug of pleasure. It was my dad who taught me to dot the top with brown sugar and butter, a habit the man still views with a kind of fascinated horror as he adds milk to his bowl.

Started eating hot porridge with serious intent in my first London winter, easy, cheap, healthy and a good way to come to terms with how short the days were, how little light was available, how cold the wind was. But even then it was only weekends and holidays, like everyone breakfast has to be quick and simple, requiring neither time nor attention from me. To make anything beyond coffee is simply too much faff. It's not that I think we're too busy for breakfast it's just too daunting a prospect to be that coordinated straight out of bed. Truth be told I am not a morning person....

Week day breakfast is really the least interesting meal of the day round ours. There might be cereal and milk, or, if I've got it together over the weekend, rhubarb with yoghurt. Two things in a bowl, eat, go. But Sunday, knowing that cold was coming, I wondered about trying something new. I had a fresh pack of Flahavan oats, an Irish brand that I discovered at a tasting with Bord Bia a while ago, that are wonderfully creamy thngs, so good in fact I once gave a kilo pack and a wooden spoon to a friend for Christmas - what can I say, some people are hard to buy for. At least it was a surprise.

I also had a Nigella recipe for  breakfast bars, about which she says 'they are just like milk and cereal in bar form, so there's nothing to stop you nibbling at one with your morning coffee at home every day. If you are not a morning person, believe me, they will make your life easier.' 

I didn't have a lot of the exact ingredients but did have similar.

Oaty Fruit & Nut Breakfast Squares

397 grams condensed milk  - ie one standard tin

250 grams rolled oats (not instant)

75 grams desiccated coconut
100 grams dried apricots, roughly chopped
125 grams Mixed Seeds (pumpkin, sunflower, sesame)
125 grams natural unsalted mixed nuts – peanuts, brazils, almonds and walnuts

Preheat the oven to 130°C/gas mark 1/2, and oil a 23 x 33 x 4cm baking tin, or use a throwaway foil one.

Warm the condensed milk in a small pan over a low heat.

Meanwhile, mix together all the other ingredients and then add the warmed condensed milk, using a rubber or wooden spatula to fold and distribute.

Spread the mixture into the tin and press down with the spatula, fork or, better still, your hands (wearing disposable vinyl gloves to stop you sticking), to even the surface.

Bake for 1 hour, then remove from the oven onto a cooling rack. After about 15 minutes, cut into chunky squares and let them cool completely in the tin.

I am so very glad I made these, breakfast this week is new and different - grab just the one thing, eat and go!

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Duck with Asian flavouring

We had a house in south west France for a while, old old old thing made of stone and horse dung that looked out over miles and miles of sunflowers and fields of cattle known locally as Blonde Aquitaine. We went down for long weekends and the odd week here and fortnight there for a few years, doing up the house, adding showers and toilets and removing plaster to reveal solid stone walls and ancient beams. I learnt a lot in those few years - a smattering of  French, how to restore oak floors till they gleamed like glass and a myriad of ways to cook duck. We were in the Gers, the region that is famed for poultry, foie gras, garlic and Armagnac. I liked it a lot!

But until we stumbled upon Montreal du Gers I had never cooked duck, and indeed had barely eaten it beyond crispy duck with pancakes and hoi sin sauce at many and various Chinese restaurants. It is a lovely rich meat, particularly if you can crisp the skin, whilst maintaining a fairly rare interior. You don't need a lot but a small portion will bring you great cheer when it's perfectly rendered. We ate it all over the region, simply grilled with frites and salad, confited (of course!) again with frites and salad, slow cooked in casseroles with garlic, with wild mushroom sauces, flamed with Armagnac and once as a particularly fine carpaccio. My first couple of attempts to cook it myself were sadly inadequate till I bought Jeanne Strang's Goose Fat and Garlic and understood fully just how many mistakes I was making! I perfected the duck but have abandoned hope of making frites that fabulous...

We sold the house a little while ago and I began to hanker for duck dinners again, not so much the sauté but definitely that lovely rich meat and the divine crunch of skin. There really is nothing quite like crisp duck skin! I started buying an occasional duck breast (English) from Lizzie At Wild Beef at Borough, big and meaty though with a little less fat than their Gersois cousins. Good, though, especially with citrus and noodles and greens.

A few weeks ago Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall had some duck recipes in the Guardian and one in particular caught my eye. It involved marinating in a mix of juice, soy and ginger amongst other things then serving it up with hot chunks of pineapple. I love hot chunks of pineapple, they are the very essence of sweet sticky sunshine, seemed a perfect antidote to a cold bleak February Tuesday. How right I was....

Duck breasts with pineapple, chilli and soy 

A favourite quick duck recipe says Mr HF-W

Serves two.

½ large fresh pineapple
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp soft brown sugar (or honey)
3 garlic cloves, chopped
A golfball-sized piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
½-1 fresh red chilli (according to heat), deseeded and finely chopped
A few twists of black pepper
2 boneless duck breasts - or 1 large one
A little sunflower oil
2 spring onions, finely sliced

Peel the pineapple and cut off two 2cm-thick slices. 

Cut these into quarters and trim off the core. Roughly chop the rest of the pineapple and, with your hands, squeeze out the juice into a bowl.

Mix three or four tablespoons of the juice with the soy, sugar (or honey), garlic, ginger, chilli and black pepper. Make three or four slashes in the skin of each duck breast, cutting deep into the fat but not as far as the flesh. Put the breasts in the marinade and turn to coat. Marinate for a couple of hours, if possible, but even 10 minutes will do.

Heat the oven to 220C/425F/gas mark 7. Grease a frying pan with sunflower oil and put it on a high heat. Wipe the marinade off the duck and sear quickly all over, being sure to sear the skin. 

Put the breasts skin side up in an ovenproof dish into which they'll fit snugly. Tuck the spring onions underneath and pour over the marinade. Roast for eight to 10 minutes, until the skin is browned and crisp – at this point, the meat should still be pink.

Remove the breasts and leave to rest on a warmed plate. 

In a small, lightly oiled pan, fry the reserved pineapple slices, dusting them with a little salt and turning occasionally, so they brown. Strain the meat juices into the pan and reduce to a syrupy sauce, tossing the pineapple pieces to coat them. Put the duck in the pan and turn a few times to coat.

Slice the duck and arrange on plates. Spoon the sauce and pineapple over and around the meat. Serve with rice and steamed greens.

I know it's been some time since I posted - apologies!