Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Brunch for a summer's day

I love brunch. I think it's the slightly luxurious nature of it - that you have the time to spend late morning and early afternoon ingesting copious amounts of carbohydrate, and yet somehow it is OK because you're combining breakfast and lunch, so you're allowed to eat more than you normally would at either. Except I don't really do that, and end up having lunch a couple of hours later. I think it's in the nature of brunch to fill you up horribly, but temporarily, and once all that sugar has left your system, you are ravenous again. Either that, or I am just a pig. I do have a sneaking suspicion that the latter is the case. 

Monday, 28 June 2010

Food for when the sun comes out

Predominantly green, with a splash of colour. That seems to be a good rule for food that is still appetising even in the freak heatwave we are blessed with at the moment. I find myself deciding what to eat by choosing what is most colourful at the market stall (I am a big fan of these little tomatoes, I think they're called Santa, which are not round like a cherry tomato but oblong, and come in yellow and red), adding a lot of herbs, some sort of carbohydrate (couscous is my favourite), maybe some milky cheese (feta or mozzarella): lunch. 

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Steak salad, and a rhubarb and cardamom tart

I'm not really much of a carnivore, and I would never order steak in a restaurant - I find it far too predictable. Satisfying primal, yes, tearing at a slab of steaming flesh with my teeth, but this doesn't really do that much for me. I think it has something to do with being female; my instinct is perhaps more for gathering than for hunting. I always think, whenever customers order steak and chips at the restaurant where I work, why didn't you choose the swordfish with guacamole or the truffle risotto? Obviously, this is just a personal thing, because I have a desire to try anything and everything, and there's only so many variations one can find on a good steak. 

Friday, 25 June 2010

Cheddar and onion cornbread

I thought I'd share this with you because a) it is very tasty and b) it is possibly the easiest bread product you will ever make. I'm a big fan of the slow, lazy way of making bread, involving lots of kneading and proving, but sometimes only a home-baked loaf will do, and you only have an hour. Luckily, there are lots of breads out there that are not off limits. They often rely on a chemical reaction between buttermilk or yoghurt, and bicarbonate of soda, to make them rise, instead of yeast - soda bread is a good example, as is this corn bread. A blessing to the time-pressed, and just as good. They are often more crumbly and dense than bread that has risen slowly, better to eat with soup or as a sort of ploughman's lunch than for sandwiches. This, unfortunately, is quite dangerous - you end up breaking bits off to eat with pieces of cheese, and before you know it the whole loaf is gone. Oops. 

Marmalade Chelsea Buns

The Chelsea bun was apparently invented in the 18th century at the Bun House in Chelsea. I have a special affection for them because I live in a town home to a bakery famed for its Chelsea buns: Fitzbillies in Cambridge. For me, they tick all the boxes required for the perfect piece of confectionary: filling enough for that late-afternoon, pre-dinner hunger gap, squishy and fluffy in the middle yet crusty on the outside, sticky and delicious, and featuring cinnamon. I particularly relish the bit where the buns have stuck together during cooking and been separated from each other; it's doughy and soft as a feather. That said, my favourite bit is the middle, where all the sugar and fruit has concentrated together: I save that bit until last. They're a bit like those cinnamon swirl danish pastries: the fruity, sticky, spicy epicentre should always be the final mouthful.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Pasta with sausage, fennel and tomato sauce

Possibly the easiest pasta dish in the world that involves some modicum of preparation (I don't count things like stirring a jar of pesto into cooked pasta). It is also profoundly delicious, and this I think is largely due to the lovely Yorkshire sausages I used - get good quality ones for this. Italian sausages would be more authentic, so if you can find some nice ones use those. Take about 500g of sausages, take the meat out of the skins and crumble into a hot, non-stick pan. Fry, stirring and breaking up the meat, for a few minutes, adding a teaspoon or so of fennel seeds (or more if you love fennel seeds, which I do). Then add 2-3 crushed garlic cloves and fry for a couple more minutes. Add a generous glug of red or white wine (white is probably more summery), a can of chopped tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato puree and some chopped rosemary or thyme. Or any herb, really - oregano might be nice too. Simmer for 10-15 minutes until you have a lovely thick sauce (you might need to add some of the drained pasta water to loosen it a bit and ensure it coats the pasta). Stir through hot pasta - I used pappardelle for this, but any pasta would work really. It would also make a lovely filling for soft pillows of ravioli, but I had no time. Sprinkle with grated parmesan, black pepper, and torn basil/oregano leaves. Delicious.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Once upon a cake...

From a ship to a fairy palace in one simple step: my blog. My dear friend Laura's mother spied the naval cake on here, and having had no luck in procuring a birthday cake for her daughter's 21st (yes, you did read that correctly, 21st...I know the cake may suggest otherwise) asked me to make one. Laura requested a "fairy palace". For 60 people. I had two days.

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Summer in a bowl

There must be some sort of chemical reaction that accounts for the immeasurable improvement that comes when you cook fresh apricots. They go from woolly and blandly peachy to fiery, flavoursome bundles of joy. These, simmered in a splash of orange juice with some star anise, cloves and orange flower water have been my breakfast for the last week. I intend to try them out on top of a tart filled with cardamom-infused creme patisserie, or on top of a sort of sticky-toffee-pudding type cake, made with lots of dates. Because they become so sharp and zesty when cooked, they need some sort of blandly sweet accompaniment. Not that they necessarily need any accompaniment - I've found myself eating them from the bowl with a spoon. Good with ice cream, too.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A feisty fish and a sexy salsa

I have made this several times, and every time I eat it I wonder why I don't make it every day. Then I remember why: because if I bought fresh swordfish for dinner every day, I would be bankrupt. It also works with tuna, but again, bankruptcy is imminent if one makes a lifestyle choice to live off fresh tuna. Unfortunate, because fresh tuna and fresh swordfish steaks are two of the most delicious piscine ingredients (albeit ones that are hard to eat with a clear conscience - get yours from somewhere reputable and committed to sustainability, or risk depriving the seas of these truly beautiful creatures). Much denser and meatier than a delicate fillet of something like cod or seabass, or even salmon, they are at their best (I think) when seasoned, rubbed with oil and slapped on a smoking hot griddle pan. Or even better, a barbecue. Given that in my house a barbecue is about as rare as a British barbecue summer, I got a little bit overexcited at the prospect of cooking swordfish on the barbecue for the first time this weekend.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Banana pancakes with orange-poached apricots

My friend Charlie has a talent of which I am incredibly jealous. He is a sort of homing pigeon for supermarket bargains. Pretty much everything I ever see him taking out of a Sainsburys bag has some sort of Reduced sticker on it - a leg of lamb for £3, a beef joint for £2...I don't know how he manages to procure such amazing gastronomic bargains. I can never find anything good reduced in Sainsburys - all I ever seem to come across is bacon, and I don't even eat that much bacon. Either that or I spy that flourescent yellow, excitement-inducing label, my heart performs a sort of jubilant leap, and inwardly I cry "FINALLY, here is my long-awaited fillet steak for 10p!!!", but upon a closer look it's only something like a bag of grapes reduced from £2.50 to £2. So imagine my delight when Jon and I took a trip to the giant Sainsburys in Maidenhead, and I discovered a punnet of organic apricots for 60p (down from something ridiculous like £3). OK, so it's not quite fillet steak, but given that I am a fruit-ingesting fiend, it was possibly even more exciting.

Friday, 11 June 2010

A biscuit is worth a thousand words

It was our Schools Dinner a week or so ago. That is, a lovely free dinner provided by college in the handsome surroundings of the SCR, and a chance to say goodbye to the tutors who have put up with us for the last three years. Obviously, it seemed appropriate to give some kind of gift. My gifts are always food-based, and I figured some nice biscuits would not go amiss - who doesn't like biscuits? I always think a home-made present is much nicer and has more soul than something from a shop, especially if it's taken some amount of effort to produce. I thought it might be nice to combine my twin passions, literature and food, in present form.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

In praise of porridge

We had our breakfasts--whatever happens in a house, robbery or murder, it doesn't matter, you must have your breakfast. 
~ Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone

He is right. I have always felt breakfast to be the best meal of the day, or at least I have since I discovered porridge. Although, really, it is odd that I even like porridge. Given that I hate milk and yoghurt and anything with a sort of unchewable consistency, porridge should really be something that I loathe and detest. However, it is something I would happily eat at every meal and look forward to every morning.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Cranberry and oat loaf

Baked from a recipe by Dan Lepard, baking guru extraordinaire, in the Guardian magazine a couple of weeks ago. I love baking bread, though it is usually something I decide to do once pre-lunch hunger approaches, and seeing as it usually takes a good few hours to sort out all the kneading, proving and baking, I invariably have to wait until tomorrow's lunchtime to enjoy it. In future I resolve to become more organised and start baking first thing in the morning. I have a feeling this is not likely to happen anytime soon, however. Still, there are few things more satisfying than taking a home-baked loaf out of the oven. I've been eating this one with some Sussex Gold blue cheese that I bought at the Real Food Festival, some slices of Cox Orange Pippin apple, and today with some leftover venison carpaccio and Fortnum & Mason game relish. It would also be nice toasted and buttered for breakfast. Next endeavour will probably be rye bread, to eat with smoked salmon.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

A monumental Masterchef menu

Finally the time had come to cook something from the Masterchef cookbook. Three things, in fact. After a leisurely hour spent poring over the truly delicious delights within its hallowed pages, I settled on three courses from the cookbook of champions. And it was a tough decision - starters like tian of crab with coriander oil, Dorset apple soup with walnut scones, goats cheese fritters with apple salsa, smoked mozzarella ravioli with tomato cream, Roquefort cheesecake with roasted tomatoes...kept vying for my attention, as did multiple main courses and a plethora of inviting desserts. 

Monday, 7 June 2010

A braised pheasant for a rainy day

Summer seems to have disappeared for now, so pheasant, apples and blackberries seemed like quite a fitting combination for dinner.

Friday, 4 June 2010

The joys of summer

Nothing that will set the world on fire, but I thought the colours in this salad just looked too lovely not to photograph. I figured that forcing myself to eat the aforementioned garlicky carrot salad for several days in a row, despite not enjoying it at all, was not a very nice prospect and something that Epicurus would have been ashamed of (not to mention that the sheer power of the garlic in it was positively antisocial). So I am sad to say I threw it out (unusual, as I try never to throw any food away, and am normally successful), and made this instead. A good idea. It's just red, yellow and orange peppers roasted until black and skinned, then sliced and mixed with chickpeas, couscous, fresh basil and a handful of pumpkin seeds, and then some feta. Simple, but one of the most delicious things I have had in a while, and also nicely summery. 

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Some other recent gastronomic endeavours

I've had a couple more Ottolenghi moments recently. The above was a starter from his new book, Plenty. It consists of slices of butternut squash, covered with olive oil, cardamom and allspice and roasted until soft, and then sprinkled with lime juice, lime slices, and a lime, tahini and yoghurt dressing. Sounds a bizarre combination, but it does work, and is indeed a very refreshing way to start a meal, as Yotam himself remarks.

Les petits coquelets

I suppose it could be considered slightly morbid to think of these little poussins as cute. There is something rather sweet about the French name, "coquelet". I have been wanting to cook with them for a while now, but have only ever seen a couple on display at the organic butchers in the Covered Market, and I have usually needed at least four. However, when I enquired yesterday it turns out they have a lot frozen, and I ended up with five little baby chickens in a bag. I intended to cook something meaty for dinner, but it was far too summery for beef or lamb (despite my recent yearning to make a tagine). Poussin seemed just right - summery like chicken, but not as overwhelming as a huge roast chicken.  I always think it is much nicer to present people with a whole animal on a plate: that's why I love cooking pigeon, partridge, whole fish with the heads left on. It looks more impressive and feels much more generous, somehow. Plus there is the fun of picking your own little carcass, if you are a manic carnivore like some of my friends.