Monday, 31 January 2011

Apricot and almond pancakes

Yet another take on the simple formula of the buttermilk pancake. Instead of my usual favourite, which involves chopped pears, this time I added chopped apricots to the batter. Rather bland and woolly when raw, even the briefest contact with heat turns an apricot into something wonderful. It works here; somehow the heat penetrates the fruit despite its swaddling of buttermilk and flour, and the result is delicious. 

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Banana and salted pecan caramel ice cream

I think that if I had lived in the age where they still taught Home Economics to girls at school, I would have come top in my year, simply based on my uncanny ability to never throw out a banana. I just can't do it. I see a bowl full of withering, blackening bananas as a huge goldmine of untapped potential. The possibilities are almost endless. Banana cake is my favourite (and has appeared on this blog a couple of times), but equally good is a smoothie made with any combination of fruits and a ripe banana or two. The fun doesn't stop there: ripe bananas mashed into pancake batter give a fluffier, slightly sweeter pancake that is ideal with a compote of poached blueberries or apricots, and ripe banana sliced into porridge is great with cinnamon and berries. Having tried and tested all these possibilities, however, it was time to attempt something else. I'd been sent some samples of Billington's sugar to try out, as well, and it seemed appropriate to try out a recipe that combined three different types. This ice cream is the (sublime) result.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Mallard with quince and star anise

There's no more valour in that Poins than in a wild-duck ~ Henry IV, Part I

Most of us associate roast duck with the large, very plump birds bred for the table. Their thick layer of fat keeps their meat delicious and moist, and can also be crisped up delightfully for dishes such as duck confit, or Chinese crispy duck pancakes. The mallard, however, is a very different specimen. It is, essentially, the duck that you will probably have fed in the park as a child. Though still retaining that characteristic layer of fat, it is much smaller than farmed ducks, with much denser, gamier meat. It is also much leaner, meaning it has a tendency to dry out if simply roasted. However, it has its advantages: its strong flavour means it works even better than farmed duck with typical duck-friendly ingredients, especially fruit. As the quince season is drawing to a close, I figured it would be a good idea to make the most of this excellent fruit by pairing it with the dense, dark meat of a wild duck.

Monday, 24 January 2011

Orange and ricotta pancakes with poached rhubarb

I believe January rhubarb is nature's way of cheering us up. Christmas is over; consequently, we're all in debt, and far too fat. The skies are grey, the nights draw in early, and it's cold. I believe the best form of medication for such a state is admitted via the mouth, and nature seems to agree with me. She has provided us with this delightful ingredient (technically a vegetable, but treated like a fruit), guaranteed to awaken you both orally and visually from your January torpor. Those almost neon-pink stems can't help but cheer one up.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Sea bass with fennel and orange

A variation on the mackerel and blood orange from a few days ago. I think perhaps it's that annual January craving for food that is fresh, colourful, healthy and has a bit of a kick to it that keeps me lusting after the combination of fish and fruit. Odd, seeing as I'd normally say those two ingredients shouldn't be put together, except perhaps in the instance of mackerel with rhubarb. However, I tried a Gordon Ramsay recipe for sea bass with fennel and orange once, and my new Michel Roux cookbook has a nice recipe for sea bass with citrus salad, so my idea of pairing the delicate fish with a salad of fennel, pomegranate and blood orange does have sanction from people who know about such things.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Chocolate crêpes with caramel pears and praline

Pancakes, to me, normally mean brunch. I tend to make thick, pillow-like cakes that you can pile high and adorn with gleaming drizzles of maple syrup or honey. As you sit down to eat them, there's always that brief pause where you have to decide whether to try and cut down through all the pancakes, and eat a mouthful containing multiple layers, or eat them one by one. However, a recent skiing holiday in the Alps put me in mind of the famous French crêpe, wafer thin and designed to provide an envelope for all sorts of delights: the simplicity of lemon and sugar is hard to beat, but you can go all out and opt for fillings guaranteed to replenish those calories lost through skiing: chocolate and banana, chestnut purée, chantilly cream. I thought pears, caramelised in butter and demerara sugar, would be a perfect filling, and chocolate also leapt to mind as an ingredient possessing a perfect affinity with the sweet, grainy fruit.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Roast mackerel with blood orange salad

Mackerel is a fine fish. Every time I eat mackerel I wonder why fish like sea bass and even cod are so highly prized (and highly priced), while the humble mackerel sits on the fishmonger's slab with its £7 per kilo price label, glistening invitingly and watching all those more expensive specimens bought and paid for. Not only is it delicious, it is also beautiful. I think it's something about the smooth firmness of the silvery body; it's not scaly or slimy like a sea bass or sea bream, just plump and almost metallic looking with a firmness of flesh that those other fish lack. I feel healthy just looking at a fresh mackerel on ice, let alone eating one.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Thai-flavoured squid

A fine way of cooking something that is so easy to get wrong. Squid must either be cooked very quickly, or very slowly, if it is not to turn to rubber. This stir-fry takes the former approach. Fry some chopped lemongrass, red chilli, garlic and ginger for a couple of minutes. Add some shredded spring greens and cook until almost soft. Add rings of cleaned quid and some chopped spring onion and cook for another minute or so. Splash on some dry sherry and a couple of teaspoons of sugar and let bubble for a couple of minutes. Serve with rice or noodles - I used Japanese udon noodles from the "world foods" aisle in Tesco. Squeeze over some lime or lemon juice to serve, and some chopped coriander if you like.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Wild mushroom tortellini with prosciutto crisps

While cooking something from scratch is always satisfying, I think there is no food group that is as satisfying to produce yourself as the humble carbohydrate. It is perhaps because carbohydrates are so cheap and abundant in the shops that no one really bothers with the effort of making them anymore; you can buy pretty decent artisan loaves, fresh pasta, biscuits and muffins almost anywhere these days. However, it is amazing how something so simple and easy to make can be elevated to something so sublime when made yourself. Take stuffed pasta, for instance. This is one thing that is never as good in the shops. Supermarket ravioli, to me, tastes the same no matter what flavour it purports to conceal within its envelope of dough. Cut a supermarket raviolo open, and you are faced with an unidentifiable, greyish mush that appears the same whether the pasta supposedly contained four cheeses, meat filling, or spinach and ricotta. Which brings me on to another point: the fillings of supermarket ravioli bore me to tears. The advantages of making your own pasta are many, but the chief benefit is freedom for the imagination to roam wild. So wild, in fact, that mine stumbled across some wild mushrooms.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Pheasant roasted in spices

I normally pot-roast pheasant, but having obtained some rather fine specimens from the butchers in Yorkshire, I thought I'd give the roasting treatment a go. While pot-roasting normally guarantees moister flesh, it does mean you lose out on a crispy skin, and the whole thing becomes rather flabby and messy. Not so with this recipe, which involves coating the pheasant skin with a mixture of spices and pomegranate molasses, then stuffing it with a cinnamon rice pilaf and roasting until crispy. I normally use game with very English ingredients like bacon, apples, cider, cabbage and chestnuts, but fancied a change from the usual. I've also been inspired by all the delightful recipes in Game: A Cookbook, which I received for Christmas, which made me realise there are all sorts of foreign recipes out there that will work beautifully with our home-grown produce (the wild boar prosciutto, pheasant tagine, venison curry and confit of rabbit are particularly tempting).

Spiced orange and walnut cake

This is a recipe from the beautiful cookbook, Saraban: A Chef's Journey Through Persia, which I received for Christmas. Written by Greg and Lucy Malouf, it's a detailed account of the chefs' journey through Iran, and an exploration of Persian cuisine. With its marrying of fruit, vegetables, meat and spices, this has to be one of the world's most exotic and wonderful cuisines, and the book does it justice: it's illustrated throughout with beautiful pictures and interspersed with accounts of the chefs' travels. Almost a coffee table tome, if it weren't for the fact that the recipes are so mouthwatering. I came across this orange and walnut cake when I was trying to find a dessert recipe to make last night. 

Monday, 10 January 2011

Fig and hazelnut loaf

Think of Christmas food, and you invariably imagine roast turkey, cranberry sauce, sausagemeat stuffing, clementines, nuts, dried fruit, mince pies, Christmas pudding, panettone, and all those other festive staples. Cheese probably doesn't spring instantly to mind, yet there always seems to be a glut of it kicking around during the festive season. We were fortunate enough to be in possession of at least seven different types of cheese this year: the inevitable Stilton given as a gift; Wensleydale to go with the Christmas cake; Wensleydale with mulled cranberries; Applewood smoked cheddar, and about four other types of cheddar with various flavourings. I'm sure there is something else lurking in the fridge that I've forgotten to mention.