Sunday, 31 October 2010

Quince sorbet

I know it is bad, but I do occasionally succumb to the allure of the impulse buy. The odd top or pair of trousers here and there. A new eyeliner. A very nice tweed-patterned scarf from Zara on Regent Street. An ice cream machine. Perhaps this last one isn't something you generally associate with impulse-buying, but then again, most people aren't as greedy and as gastronomically obsessed as I am. When the Arts and Humanities Research Council decided to fund my MA, I'm sure they intended the money to cover such necessities (thank you, AHRC). 

Pumpkin, bacon, chestnut and barley risotto

I think this is the quintessence of autumn. The contrast in texture between the nutty grains of barley, the fudgy interior of the chestnuts and the meltingly soft roasted pumpkin is just what one needs on a chilly October evening. I also just realised that this dish is quite appropriate, today being Halloween. The recipe is here, for those who wish to try it. You can use normal risotto rice if you like - it will take half the time - but I quite like the flavour and texture of barley.

Polpo, Soho

Tapas-style eating scares me. As someone who is, let's face it, greedy, I tremble at the notion of someone else being able to lean over and help themselves to any plate of food that I have my eye on (which, needless to say, is every plate of food). Fortunately, I think Polpo have come up with the solution: make everything on the menu sound so delicious that you simply have to order far more food than you can possibly eat, and therefore get a satisfying amount of each dish without someone else stealing it. 

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pollack with a Davidstow cheddar crust

My attention was recently drawn to the fact that Nathan Outlaw - one of Cornwall's biggest chefs, and also one of my favourite chefs (largely due to his appearances on Great British Menu) - has partnered with Davidstow cheddar and come up with a series of recipes designed to showcase this delicious cheese (which apparently won a gold award at the Nantwich International Cheese Awards). One of the first to catch my eye was the recipe for pollack with a cheese crust - very tasty for very little actual kitchen effort. 

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Rabbit, bacon, lemon and watercress dumplings

Normally when you buy rabbit (for cooking, rather than cuddling), it comes ready-skinned, wrapped up in a foetal position. At the end of the final Harry Potter book, there's an episode where Harry "dies" and has a strange dream in which Voldemort appears as a creepy flayed creature, curled up and whimpering to himself. I imagine him to look, at that point, rather like a rabbit from the butchers. So yesterday, when I went to the market and asked for a rabbit, I didn't really expect the butcher to return holding one by the scruff of the neck that could quite literally have been frolicking around in a field minutes earlier. I was slightly terrified that she was about to skin and gut it right there in front of me, but fortunately that process took place behind a nice screen. When done, and jointed, the fluffy little thing barely resembled a living creature. I therefore felt just about OK with wrapping it in bacon and putting it in a pan with some onions, white wine and lots of thyme.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Two seafood dishes, and a crumble

I'd never considered stuffing a squid before. How blind I have been, stumbling ignorantly through life armed with a knife with which to slice these delicate slippery tubes into calamari-style rings. Nigel Slater has opened my eyes to the beauty of squid stuffed with a mixture of breadcrumbs, parsley, lemon zest, chopped tomato and anchovies, and served with a red pepper, tomato and chilli sauce. There's something incredibly satisfying about slicing into the soft squid with its salty, lemony interior, with the kick of tomato sauce to bring it all together. It's also a good way, I would imagine, to get squid-haters to eat squid - it doesn't taste too fishy, and the squid loses that rubbery, slimy texture that it can sometimes have if cooked badly in rings. 

Monday, 25 October 2010

Chicken, orange and pomegranate salad

I always used to discount the humble roast chicken as not really worth bothering with. I think it's because I never really liked roast chicken as a child - I found the combination of it, its gravy (bisto-enriched, of course), and roast potatoes far too heavy and cloying, and that is how we usually had it in my house. Come to think of it, I'm not sure any of my family are really hugely bothered about roast chicken. However, take a lovely, crispy, bronze chicken and pair it with some slightly unexpected ingredients, and you have something beautiful. Shreds of leftover roast chicken are infinitely superior to those bland, skinless chicken breasts you can buy in packets at the supermarket, and the real added bonus is the cooking juice from the chicken. This will add huge depth of flavour to whatever you decide to do with it. It is for this reason that I have found roast chicken to be a perfect partner to rice and couscous salads: the juices soak into the grains and make them moist and tasty, and then you can add a whole host of other ingredients. 

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Lamb and quince tagine, and twice-cooked pears

If I ever find myself getting married, I hope it is a marriage like that of lamb and quinces: sweet, warm, rich, satisfying, perfectly balanced, slightly exotic, complementary to both parties, and never boring. (Just right with a bit of coriander; requiring a sharp knife; inedible when raw; only achievable during certain seasons - I think the marriage analogy falls down a bit here. Although I can tell you now that I refuse to marry anyone who doesn't like coriander). 

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Roast pigeon, celeriac mash, hazelnuts, blackberry sauce

A bit of a variation on yesterday's game and fruit theme. It's really just a series of vague ideas that I had put together on a plate, but I think it works quite nicely. You often find pigeon breasts together with hazelnuts in salads, and I quite like the idea of pigeon and blackberry, given that the pigeon probably nibbled on a few in its lifetime. Celeriac mash goes very well with game; I think it's something about the earthiness and slight sweetness of it that can match strong flavours.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Venison with blueberries

"Come, we have a hot venison pasty to dinner; come, gentlemen, I hope we shall drink down all unkindness." ~ The Merry Wives of Windsor

Possibly my ideal food combination: game, and fruit. Even better when "game" refers to a steak that has been seared to perfection on the outside and is still juicy and bloody in the middle. Deglaze the pan with some red wine, add a couple of teaspoons of redcurrant jelly and a handful of blueberries, throw in a sprig of thyme while it's bubbling away, and you have the perfect sauce for a venison steak. Sharp enough not to cloy, but sweet enough to deal with the rich-tasting meat. To go with it, new potatoes and jerusalem artichokes. I'm a bit obsessed with them at the moment, and their earthy taste and texture are perfect with game. I also discovered today that they are not that much of a faff to peel when armed with a super Y-shaped peeler: bits of soil in the mouth are now a thing of the past. There were going to be mushrooms roasted with them too...but in my excitement at deglazing a pan I forgot to put them in the oven. I'm sure they would have made the dish even better. But even so, this makes a very nice dinner. You might want something green to finish it off, like a watercress salad.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Autumn fruits and their perfect partners

I was going to start this post by declaring that I am a happier person when both figs and quinces can be found in the market. However, I realise that is not strictly true. I am, in fact, a more anxious person - anxious that their short season will be over before I can exploit them to their full potential. I've already devoted at least two whole posts to the magnificence of such fruits - they seem exotic and otherworldly, somehow, yet both grow quite happily on our own English soil - so will spare you the raptures. Instead, I will write about a meal that did actually make me a happier person, comprising as it did both figs and quinces and ticking another of the "things I want to try with figs and quinces" list. 

Monday, 4 October 2010

Smoked mackerel and jerusalem artichoke salad

The only time I've ever experimented with jerusalem artichokes involved making a rather unappetising soup. This was because they were from my Riverford Organic box and so knobbly that it was impossible to get all the soil off them. As a result, some of that soil went in the soup. Add that to the fact that my hand blender wasn't working properly, and the result was a vat of something grey with an unpleasantly gritty texture. I don't know who I was kidding when I put it in the freezer and told myself I'd defrost and eat it later. I did defrost it, but the only person who had the privilege of consuming it was the plughole.