Thursday, 30 June 2011

Mango, coconut and cardamom cheesecake

This week Cinzia from Cindystar is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and I was lucky enough to pick up a couple of boxes of the most beautiful Pakistani honey mangoes. This is what happened to them.

O, Alphonso mango season. How cruelly fleeting you are. Just when I've become hooked again on your luscious, juicy, fiery fruits of joy they are barbarously snatched away from under my nose and I am plunged headlong into a pit of gastronomic despair, forced to pine away for the next year in anticipation of the next time I can suck the honeyed nectar from those orbs of liquid gold, forced to make do with green-skinned, string-fleshed supermarket specimens that take a lifetime to ripen and then are never worth the wait. Here I sit, quietly weeping in my pit of despair, a bowl of inferior mangoes sitting in my fruit bowl, dreading the inevitable moment when I slice them open to reveal pale yellow mush with the mouthfeel of garden twine, fit only for the smoothie maker. Oh, alas.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Spanish rice with cod cheeks

Maybe it's the result of several adolescent years spent keeping fish in a tank, but I always find it slightly mind-boggling that some fish can grow so enormous. Until a few years ago I was under the impression that tuna were tiny, and that you needed several of them, minced up, to fill a can. I'm not sure why; I suppose I identified them with the diminutive goldfish that I'd watch floating placidly around my aquarium every night. It wasn't until I read an article in the paper about a bluefin fish going on sale for some crazy price in Japan, complete with photo of the monstrous aquatic specimen, larger than the man who was attempting to fillet it, that I realised my mistake. The same goes for salmon - often presented in fillet or smoked form, you're rarely faced with a whole specimen and are lulled into a vague sense of thinking that a whole salmon is roughly the size of one of its fillets, as would be the case for something like sea bass. I once got a whole salmon from the fishmonger for a Boxing Day dinner; it had to go in the oven diagonally and even then barely fit on a baking sheet.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Super-healthy banana bread

Question 1. Looking at the above photo, what do you see?

a) Four bananas.
b) The kitchen bin's next mouthful.
c) A treasure trove of glittering gastronomic potential just waiting to be exploited.

If you answered c), you and I are one of a kind (this may or may not be a good thing, depending on your opinion of me). If you answered a) or b), shame on you - read on and let me change your mind.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Fruit picking at Medley Manor Farm

I finished my second degree a week ago today. After a very pleasant afternoon spent in the pub and dinner out with friends, I awoke the next morning full of anticipation, determined to spend the day doing nothing at all in celebration of the end of eighteen years of full-time education. Three hours later, I was bored out of my mind. I just don't do doing nothing. I had grossly over- (or perhaps under-) estimated myself in planning my days of freedom. I decided I would go and buy myself a completely new wardrobe. I had forgotten that I hate clothes shopping and am ultimately a jeans and T-shirt kind of girl. I decided I would laze around in bed all day. I had forgotten that I am a morning person and the thought of sleeping in past nine thirty disgusts me. I decided I would take a day off exercise. I had forgotten that I am nursing a fairly intense endorphin addiction and find being kept away from the swimming pool for more than 24 hours cripplingly painful. Ultimately, I was at a loose end, desperate for something to distract me from crushing, post-dissertation boredom.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Riverford dining at Jacobs & Field

Last week I went to Jacobs & Field in Headington for an evening of eating hosted by Riverford Organics. For those of you who haven't heard of either, Jacobs & Field is a lovely little deli/cafe in Headington, about 15 minutes by bike out of Oxford, and Riverford Organics are one of the biggest suppliers of organic vegetable boxes in the country. They deliver fruit and veg (around 47,000 boxes a week) from their various farms around the country to your door, and their Devon Farm is home to the award-winning Field Kitchen restaurant, where chef Jane Baxter dishes up all sorts of exciting creations using the vegetables as the main ingredient. When I first signed up to the veg box scheme I got a free copy of her cookbook, and I love its simple approach to making the best of good-quality fruit and veg. The Jacobs & Field evening, organised by Jake Swinhoe, who supplies boxes to Oxford, was a chance to sample this sort of cooking, using the best of Riverford's produce, in an informal setting.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Lemon sole with caramelised fennel, lentils and salsa verde

Now that the time is approaching when I will have to leave Oxford for good, my thoughts have turned to my freezer. Well, actually, my thoughts have turned to a sense of impending doom, devastation and heartbrokenness at the thought of leaving my lovely room, this lovely city, and my lovely friends. However, in quasi-Freudian style I am transferring all those worries, too large and emotionally incapacitating to deal with in one go, onto my freezer, which is at least a tangible and vaguely solvable problem. Namely, there is too much stuff in it. The other day I told a friend what was in my freezer, and they suggested I should post the list on Facebook as evidence that I am "the most middle class person ever". 

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Pear, gooseberry and elderflower cobbler

This week Chris from Mele Cotte is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and it's the turn of the gooseberry to hog the limelight.

When I start to see gooseberries at the market, I get almost as excited as when I spy first season rhubarb at the market. I feel quite similarly about these two fruits: they're underrated, quintessentially British, and great fun to experiment with in all sorts of recipes, both sweet and savoury. They both work well with mackerel, they both make great jam, and they both add a pleasing tartness and vibrant colour to creamy or baked desserts. One of the classic partners for gooseberries is elderflower; I often wonder who first came up with this idea, but it does work: the elderflower gives a pleasing fragrance and sweetness to what can be a very sharp berry. It also helps to mellow the rather unpleasant aroma of cooked gooseberries; they taste great, but always smell a bit weird, rather like ripening tomatoes. After receiving a box of gooseberries in my organic veg box last week I decided to try them out in a cobbler, my favourite hot pudding. It may be June, but it's pretty damn cold: I'm not abandoning my cobbler in favour of a fool or a sundae just yet.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Cheese tasting with Davidstow and Nathan Outlaw

This week I was lucky enough to be invited to a wine and cheese pairing evening with two-Michelin-star chef Nathan Outlaw, organised by Davidstow Cheddar. If you watch Great British Menu (and if not, why not?) you'll perhaps know of Nathan as I do - talented chef, lover of all things piscine, and pioneer of sea buckthorn, a coastal shrub with very astringent berries that formed part of his locally sourced menu on the programme. Naturally, I was thrilled at the invitation. Nathan has been working with Davidstow Cheddar - Davidstow being just down the road from his award-winning restaurant - to produce a series of recipes using their cheese, a couple of which I've tried recently. The purpose of this evening was to sample some of these recipes, try a range of Davidstow cheeses (including several exclusive varieties not for sale in the shops) complemented by a range of wines (chosen and discussed by Guardian wine writer Fiona Beckett), and hear a bit more about the production of Davidstow cheese from cheese grader Mark Pitts-Tucker.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Thai fish curry with mango

It sounds odd, and perhaps the product of me taking my love of fruit in savoury dishes to an extreme, but this combination of fish and mango really works. It's not that surprising, actually, as I have long been a fan of mango salsa with swordfish or tuna. I have to admit I was sceptical when I saw Delia's recipe for a Thai fish and mango curry, but I was so intrigued I had to have a go myself. I was rewarded with the second-best homemade curry I have ever eaten, and something I can't wait to try again. 

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

British Hen Welfare Trust: happy hens make for yummy yolks

I often think about what exactly it is that draws me to food and food writing. Obviously, there is the fact that I am a glutton, greedy to sample anything and everything that can possibly pass my lips on this planet of ours. There is also the creativity that comes with cooking; I've always loved all sorts of creative acts - drawing, painting, writing, music - and food is perhaps the most unselfish creative act there is, in that it brings not only happiness to people but also fulfils one of the most basic physical human needs. What makes me love not only cooking and eating food, but also reading and writing obsessively about it, is the way it is fundamentally and inextricably linked with so many other things. Just look at the way the credit crunch brought about a huge change in the way people cook and eat, the way Jamie Oliver started extolling the virtues of back-to-basics cooking in a way that made people think twice before reaching for the phone to dial an expensive takeaway. Or the way our concerns with environmental sustainability have impacted on food, prompting a huge rethink in the way we catch and consume fish. Or the way food is so closely bound up with national identity, yet at the same time crosses cultural boundaries like nothing else; it is often said that the British national dish is now curry, a fact certainly evident from the dishes that have made the final of Great British Menu recently: coronation chicken, Indian spiced sea bass, masala-spiced monkfish. Food is not just something to be eaten as fuel; it is bound up with a whole host of sociopolitical, economic, and ethical concerns. When you hear the words veal, cod, bluefin tuna, farmed salmon, you are no longer listening to a list of appetising things for dinner, but a collection that invokes a whole host of issues that go far beyond the plate.

Monday, 13 June 2011

Peach and redcurrant cheesecake

You know that classic saying, "When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?" I would like to propose a new version: "When your moronic housemate leaves the freezer open all night, defrosting that beautiful punnet of redcurrants you bought at the farmers' market months ago and were saving for a very special dessert, calm the boiling torrent of rage threatening to engulf your very being and spur you on to unsavoury actions involving placing him inside a large block of ice from which there is no escape, and make redcurrant cheesecake". Unfortunately, I'm not sure it's a pithy enough aphorism to catch on. 

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Herrings, pomegranate, tahini

It's almost an empty phrase to say that a food combination "just works"; what does that even mean? Lots of things work, food-wise, but every now and then you come across a pairing of ingredients that leaps out at you. At a restaurant a while ago I tried a dish of chicken pâté with toast and a quince chutney. I'm no stranger to the combination of meat and fruit, but this was the first occasion on which it had tasted absolutely perfect to me. Normally I just enjoy fruit and meat because it involves two things I like; in this case, the two became more than just the sum of their parts; you could barely distinguish in that exquisite mouthful where fruit ended and meat began. Every now and then I come up with a recipe that pleasantly surprises me, when things I hoped might taste nice together in my head work out better than I thought. This is one of them.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Apricot and almond French toast

This week Yasmeen from Health Nut is hosting Weekend Herb Blogging, and I'm going to venture a post about apricots.

If you are a regular reader of this blog (and if you're not, explanations in writing please - there's a comment button at the bottom of this post), you will know that I have a strange and passionate fetish for apricots. Fresh ones, mainly, though I love to use the dried ones in all sorts of dishes, particularly savoury ones. Few things make me happier, culinarily speaking, than when the first of the season's apricots appear at the market. I feel reassured that for the next few months I will never be lacking in ideas for luscious, apricot-related confections. I read an old Telegraph article today - I think it was about berries - that at the bottom was asking people to send in apricot recipes for potential publication. Unfortunately it was dated 2001; I was devastated when I read the date, because I feel I am just the girl they need. It could have been my much-needed big break in the food-writing world. One glimpse of this apricot French toast, and I guarantee they would have hired me to extol the wonders of this gorgeous fruit. Preferably for a substantial salary. Though I could deal with being paid simply in crates of apricots.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Veal saltimbocca

I was forced into making this meal by my absolute cretin of a housemate who left the freezer door open all night, resulting in a lot of my prized, hoarded and expensive ingredients turning into a pile of bacteria-riddled mush. If you can sense a deep underlying streak of sheer rage in the previous sentence, you would be correct. I won't, however, bore you with an account of how I'd like to inflict upon him a slow and agonising death involving frostbite and salmonella. Instead, I will look on the bright side: I had to find a quick use for a packet of veal rump steak that had completely thawed into supple, cookable goodness.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

Bublanina (Czech bubble cake)

One of my favourite things about being fairly adept at cooking is the fact that I am able to recreate dishes I've tasted. While some people's memories of an amazing cake or meal they've eaten abroad remain exactly that - memories - I am quite thrilled by the fact that my obsession with culinary experimentation means that I am often able to at least come close to recreating something delicious I've eaten in a far-flung country, or at a nice restaurant. Of course, holiday eating I find often relies mainly on the context; obviously mussels will taste better if eaten in the glorious sunshine beside the sea in the south of France, but sometimes evoking those memories through taste can be a satisfying experience in itself. This was definitely the case when I set out to replicate bublanina, a Czech confection that - I think - translates as 'bubble cake' because of the way the batter bubbles up around the fruit.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Adventures with a KitchenAid mixer #5: confit garlic bread

A week or so ago I posted about a triple-garlic risotto using three new and exciting types of garlic procured on my culinary travels: wild, smoked, and elephant. I didn't use all of the smoked and elephant garlic, and it's been sitting in my fridge begging me to find a more interesting use for it than just disguising it in a sauce or stew. I remember the man at Borough Market telling me the elephant garlic is very good for roasting, which reminded me of the sheer goodness of roasted garlic: its flavour mellows, it becomes soft and gooey, and perfect for spreading on bread and eating with lashings of cheese. Suddenly the idea popped into my head of making a bread topped with roasted garlic; a superior version of the tacky supermarket garlic baguette, sliced and interspersed with fluorescent yellow butter and flecks of parsley (though tasting so damn good).

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Trout in a parcel

I think trout is a sadly underrated fish. You can tell, because it's cheap. You can usually buy a couple of nice, fat, rainbow specimens from M&S and get change back from a fiver. Like mackerel, trout is one of those fish that I feel we should be eating more of, but its low price tag would suggest that the masses have not yet cottoned on to its wonderful potential. When salmon is so much maligned of late for the problems it causes, after high demand has forced us into dubious farming and fishing practices, trout seems like a good alternative. It's cheaper, offers more culinary potential (you can bake and serve the whole fish, which always looks splendid and exciting, for not very much money per person...baking a whole salmon isn't exactly a viable option for the cook on a budget), and in my opinion is just as delicious. This is my favourite way to cook it.