Monday, 29 November 2010

Black risotto with scallops and lemon

There's something pleasing about the contrast of colours in this dish. It helps if you get scallops with the lovely coral roe attached (not only do they look beautiful, the roe tastes good as well). Yellow lemon zest, bright green parsley, and fleshy orange discs against the charcoal of the risotto make a satisfying ensemble. The risotto is just a basic recipe, using finely diced celery along with the onion, and fish stock and lemon juice instead of chicken. Squid ink gives it its dramatic colour, and makes for a much more interesting dinner than your average risotto. Just pan-fry some nice scallops in lots of butter, and sit them atop the mound of rice. It's comforting enough to be a good dish for when you find yourself in Oxford when it's minus five degrees, but zesty and lemony enough not to cloy, which scallops sometimes can.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Teriyaki chicken, Nigella-style

Whilst I love Nigella Lawson's cookery books, I'm not sure I can say the same for her TV shows. Or at least, not her current one, Nigella Kitchen. Whilst I am definitely someone who revels in the beauty of food, I find Nigella's mini odes to whatever ingredients she is using rather tedious. It's an avocado, Nigella, not an array of "jade cubes". We can all see it's a lovely-looking trifle, but do we really need our attention called to "how beautiful these juicy beaded blackberries look glinting darkly out of that pale billowing duvet of cream"? Every single ingredient is preceded with a comment beginning "I love..." - it might be the "peppery heat of ginger", or the crunch of pine nuts, or the sound of a chicken's backbone breaking (I found the manic smile of satisfaction on her face as she crushed the poor bird before braising rather disturbing), but cooking for Nigella is not just cooking: it's an excuse for waxing rhapsodical about every ingredient under the sun, with a lustful enthusiasm that makes me feel slightly ill.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Pear tart with ginger ice cream

Juicy pieces of slightly grainy pear, suspended in a light sponge scented with nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves; soft and pancake-like in the middle, and crunchy on the outside. I could happily eat this and no other dessert for the rest of my days. The beauty of it is that you can use rock-solid supermarket pears, and they will soften to a beautiful sweetness in the oven. The other bonus is that it contains no fat, so you can eat as much as you like without feeling guilty. Well, within reason I suppose. And I am by no means a reasonable eater when it comes to anything sugary.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Two ways with pumpkin and squash

I found something wonderful at the farmers' market a couple of weeks ago. A big wooden table groaning under the weight of about ten different types of pumpkin. There were big, blue-grey crown princes, the aptly named Turk's Turban (I'd never seen one before, but it does actually look like a turban - it's the most amazing-looking vegetable - google it), some Halloween-esque large golden varieties, and then several baby squashes. Given that I have never strayed beyond butternut squash in any recipe calling for pumpkin, I thought it would be a good time to give them a go.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Of fish and fruit

Yes, I have been making more sushi. I feel like I'm on a bit of a sushi roll right now ( pun intended) and finally found some sushi-grade mackerel in the fishmongers so was keen to do something with it. I made mackerel makisushi, filling the nori-wrapped rice with mackerel, soy sauce, cucumber, pieces of pickled ginger, and some sesame and nigella seeds for texture. I also made mackerel nigiri sushi, with strips of raw mackerel laid out on top of the rice. The seeds idea came from some M&S sushi I had recently, where the rice wasn't wrapped in seaweed but instead in a coating of these little black and white seeds. They go really well with the Asian flavours and add a more interesting base note than soy or wasabi would alone.

An exciting prospect

The other day I received an email from CSN stores. For those who haven't heard of them, they're a group of online stores selling everything from bedroom furniture to kitchenware and lighting. Obviously it is the kitchenware that excites me most, given my love of kitchen gadgets (both gimmicky and useful). I've been given the opportunity to review some of their products, which I am very excited about, so watch this space...

Thursday, 11 November 2010

A cheeseboard partner

The Merton Time Ceremony a couple of weeks ago, involving copious consumption of port, instilled in me the craving for a cheeseboard. Gruyere, Brie, Oxford Blue (of course), oatcakes, grapes, figs, and a jar of Tracklements Crabapple Jelly, which I was lucky enough to receive a sample of in the post. I've never tried crabapple jelly before, but I am a convert. It's a bit like quince cheese - sweet but sharp enough to go perfectly with both meat and cheese. Crabapples are inedible raw, being very sour tasting - a bit like quinces. Apparently Tracklements get local schoolchildren to help collect the crabapples from nearby fields for the jelly. I rather like this idea. I also have a soft spot for the company seeing as they were the first to introduce onion marmalade to the world (in 1999), which is one of my all-time favourite condiments. The jelly would be lovely in sandwiches (particularly, I imagine, roast pork or possibly pheasant) but I can confirm that it is very good trickled over an oatcake onto which you've placed a large chunk of blue cheese.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Seared duck breast with figs and red wine

There are few culinary events more rewarding than slicing a perfectly cooked duck breast into thick slices. The way the knife meets resistance as it hits the golden, crispy skin, flecked with crunchy pieces of dried herbs; the springiness of the grainy meat underneath; the way the pink juices pool in the centre of each slice, promising a mouthful packed with flavour. It looks beautiful fanned out in slices across a mound of creamy mashed potato. Duck is definitely one of my favourite meats; it's gamey and rich in flavour but lacking the dryness that is characteristic of some game; there's a wonderful contrast in texture between the crispy, fatty skin and the moist, rare meat; and it is strong enough in flavour to partner fruit, which goes perfectly with its richness and guarantees a good meal, in my opinion. 

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Pear, cinnamon, hazelnut pancakes with maple syrup

Working on a Sunday is much more bearable when preceded by a swim and a mountain of pancakes. These are some of the best I have ever made. While I love the French-style crêpes that I used to make when I was younger (my mum bought me a special crêpe pan, and I had endless fun swirling the mixture around to fill it, then flipping the paper-thin pancake over with a palette knife), I prefer thick, fluffy, American-style pancakes for brunch. I think this is mainly due to greed, but also the enjoyment of dolloping a thick spoonful of batter onto a pan, hearing it sizzle, waiting a couple of minutes, and flipping over something with a satisfying seared crust on the outside and a thick, pillow-like, doughy softness in the middle. If each bite also contains some form of fruit, even better.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

A much-needed autumnal dose of sweetness and spice

Again, more dishes that have autumn written all over them. Not just in their golden and caramel colouring, but also in their rich stickiness and sweetness. I see no reason for not including fruit in two out of a meal's three courses, particularly when the cold weather comes around and you need the sugar to revitalise your spirits. 

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Sushi: a second attempt

There's something rather beautiful about a lovely, fresh, raw fillet of salmon. I think it's the startlingly vivid coral colour with its creamy marbling of fat, or possibly the way a sharp knife slices through it with no resistance, as if it were butter. The same goes for tuna, beautifully dusky pink and almost translucent when sliced thinly. The two fish need nothing but a blank canvas of sticky sushi rice to enhance them. 

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Another birthday cake

This is one of the most delicious chocolate cakes I have ever eaten. I don't feel too cocky for saying this, because it's not really down to any skill of mine - I think the goodness is the result of an entire block of butter, four bars of chocolate, 300g of sugar and five eggs all mixed together. In an enormous bowl that I had to buy the other day because I realise I only have one mixing bowl. I felt a little like a witch stirring some nefarious brew, watching the egg whites dissolve seamlessly into the thick, treacle-like blackness.

Monday, 1 November 2010

A birthday cheesecake

I just had to include pictures of this because I think it looks so lovely. It's a raspberry and lemon baked cheesecake, made with ricotta, eggs, creme fraiche, honey and sugar. The only thing missing is a dusting of icing sugar, which I didn't actually possess at the time of making (this has been swiftly rectified with a trip to Tesco, and I now possess a kilo of the stuff). I made it for a friend's birthday...she has yet to tell me if it tasted as nice as (I think) it looks!