Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Asparagus and Duck Eggs

Some time last year we had lunch at the endlessly fabulous Canton Arms and were a bit puzzled about one of the starters - home cured guanciale with fresh peaches. Didn't know what guanciale was, or how to pronounce it so I pointed to the menu and asked the waiter. It's lovely, he said, pork and a bit like pancetta, made from pig's cheeks - only different. Gave it a try and wow, it really was good.

Next time I was at Gastronomica I asked if they had any - except I mangled the pronunciation so severely they didn't  have a clue. Tried to explain it but that didn't really help so we had finnochiana instead - they'd taught me already to pronounce that!

A few months later, again at the Canton, there it was on the menu again. We were sitting up at the bar and the owner, Charlie, was serving. Couldn't resist, I pointed to the menu and said how do I say this? He laughed and said he wasn't entirely sure himself but he always calls it 'gwan Charlie! It tasted just as good as the first time. So the next time I was at Gastronomica I tried it - do you have gwan Charlie!? It worked, I was understood - and then told how to pronounce it properly. Turns out the 'gwan bit is pretty accurate but the rest is chi-arlie. Bought some immediately, thinking wrapped around grissini it would be a fine treat. But it was a little thick for that, so I abandoned it to the freezer.

This week is the third week of asparagus season, one of my favourite times of the year. Bought a lovely bunch from Chegworths and some duck eggs for dipping. Then I remembered the guanciale and this elegant dish was born.

Asparagus and Duck Egg

1 bunch fresh asparagus, the base snapped off and discarded
a dozen thin slices of guanciale, or parma ham or pancetta
2 duck eggs

Heat a ridged grill pan for a few minutes till quite hot. Put a pan of water on to boil.

Wrap the meat around the asparagus. When the water comes to the boil, carefully put the eggs in using a slotted spoon. Make a note of the time, they need 6 minutes. As soon as the eggs are on, lay the asparagus in the hot pan. After a couple of minutes, turn the asparagus so that the meat crisps all over.

Remove the eggs from the boiling water, put them into pretty egg cups and cut the top off. Strew the asparagus about artfully. Dip the hot spears into the hot egg yolk. Finish with some crusty bread.


Monday, May 20, 2013


I know it's spring because we had the first strawberry smoothies for breakfast on the weekend, and they were pink glasses of frothy fabulousness.

The defining food for the week though was this wonderful top rib roast that I cooked Sunday. Well I say cooked, but in many ways I simply warmed it up. I was taken with the idea of slow cooking it, John at Ginger Pig had said low and slow was best. When I googled for it the first thing that came up was Heston and his suggestion to cook it in the oven for 4-6 hours. At 65C. And I couldn't resist! Actually I was out for the afternoon so I left the man in charge of the thermometer with instructions to take the meat out when it got to a core temperature around 55C.

He kept a neat list of where it was at....

We wapped it out at 6.30, then sealed it all over in a really hot pan, then left it to rest for an hour. It was wonderful, richly flavoured, really juicy and tender. Made a perfect Sunday dinner.

Lots left over though, so as well as lunches thought I'd get a bit creative for dinners.
 I figured it would make a brilliant thai style beef salad so marinated slices and chopped up lots of  crisp and crunchy things and tossed the lot together for a very pretty bowl of food 

Still had plenty left - it had been over 2kg when I bought it - no I don't know why I decided to buy so much!
thought it would make for a fine curry - it did, with cucumber raita and coriander chutney

And the rest of the curry is in the freezer for a fabulously quick dinner one night soon  

We had two lunches out this week, came down to one to love and one to avoid.

 This pretty bowl of veg was part of a disappointing tapas collection at Boqueria on Acre Lane, which was a shame, had been looking forward to it, made a (totally unnecessary as it turned out) reservation and everything. It was so empty when we arrived the man thought it was shut. This was okay, but underseasoned and very thin on flavour. It was part of a menu that was a special advertised as being the food of the Roca brothers. Ha!

If the veg had too little flavour this puckered pea puree had way too much and all of it horrible, it tasted the way bad fish shops smell. Guessing the Roca brothers don't serve anything like this, either.

Saturday we took a walk to Victoria, a place that is pretty much a wasteland for decent food to try a new place I'd read about. A Wong. They make individual dim sum and I love that you can order them one at a time. For some reason there is a horse, akimbo, outside. 

A tiny bowl of Chengdu street style tofu, gloriously silky 

We did share an order of mu shoo pork pancakes 

Everything else was single serves - we have to go back so we can both eat our way through the entire menu. And also go in the evening for the tasting menu, it also sounds brilliant.

Love A Wong big time!

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

A Tale of Two Chicken Dinners

Sometimes it is necessary to have dinner on the table sooner rather than later. Sometimes if the day has been a busy one that seems like an inordinate challenge. Wanting to eat NOW sometimes gets in the way of good food, from scratch looks way too slow/difficult/ridiculous when you can stick something in the microwave for however long. No chopping for that. Not much pleasure either. Definitely no certainty about what exactly it was you just ate.

Not really talking horsemeat here - though the extent to which no one has been - or apparently ever will be - accountable for that is really depressing. I'm talking about the 5,000 plus additives that go into processed food. The front of the package for a Tesco Classic Chicken dinner offers Succulent chicken in a savoury gravy with roast potatoes, baby carrots, peas and a pork stuffing ball - and really, who wouldn't be tempted?

Flip the box over though and I had to wonder what precisely is being stabilised with disodium diphosphate? Indeed what is - precisely or even vaguely - disodium diphosphate? The list in full reads  Cooked Chicken Breast (25%),Roast Potatoes (24%) ,Water ,Carrot ,Peas ,Pork Stuffing Ball ,Cornflour ,Chicken Stock ,Butter ,Yeast Extract ,Wheat Flour ,Sugar ,Salt ,Caramelised Sugar ,Sage ,Thyme ,White Pepper ,Cooked Chicken Breast contains: Chicken Breast ,Corn Starch ,Roast Potatoes contains: Potato ,Sunflower Oil ,Dextrose ,Pork Stuffing Ball contains: Pork ,Wheat Flour ,Onion ,Pork Fat ,Vegetable Oil ,Potato Starch ,Herbs ,Salt ,Pork Bouillon ,Pork Rind ,Onion Powder ,White Pepper ,Black Pepper ,Stabiliser (Disodium Diphosphate) ,Yeast ,Chicken Stock contains: Water ,Natural (Flavouring) ,Chicken Fat ,Salt ,Cornflour ,Sugar ,Pork Bouillon contains: Salt ,Milk Sugar ,Maltodextrin ,Vegetable Oil ,Yeast Extract ,Sugar ,Onion Powder ,Celery Extract ,Sage Extract ,Pepper Extract ,Turmeric Extract - for one chicken dinner? Cheap though.

My favourite bit though is the cooking instructions - For best results cook from frozen. Remove outer packaging and pierce film lid several times. Remove stuffing ball and potatoes. Then it's 12 minutes in the microwave - returning halfway through to replace the previously removed stuffing ball and potatoes or 50 minutes in the oven. So even with a frozen ready meal you're looking at 50 minutes for conventional cooking. Imagine what the peas are like...

So, the other night I wanted fast and fabulous and definitely not much faff. I had some nice little pieces of chicken - thighs and drumsticks, bone in, skin on - thinking a salad would be good. But this spring is not yet sprung and it was bloody freezing out. Didn't have enough veg in to make a proper roast dinner but I did have some main crop potatoes and plenty of garlic, as always. I warmed a little olive oil in a roasting pan and crisped the chicken skin over a high heat till it was lovely and golden then added the peeled diced potatoes and some whole crushed cloves of garlic and put the pan into the oven at about 200C.

Thirty minutes later, after simply basting a couple of times, the chicken and potatoes were cooked through and wafting lovely smells into the kitchen.

While it cooked I simply washed some lettuce and made a simple salad with chopped red pepper and sliced cucumber. Didn't need dressing. I served the hot chicken and potatoes alongside and sat down to a very fine supper indeed - 35 minutes after I started. Only used the one pan, too, so cleaning up was very quick.

The whole experience was just so conducive to feeling better - well fed and cared for, rather than harrassed and guilty. Would recommend...

DISCLAIMER I didn't buy or eat the tesco one