Saturday, 29 October 2011

Chicken stuffed with 'nduja and ricotta

Spare a thought for the humble chicken breast. Often sliced from the frail bone of that saddest of spectacles, the battery chicken, this piece of meat is so often maligned. It's hacked up and tossed into curries and stews where its fibres are abandoned to toughness and aridity. It's baked in the oven, the noble cook erring so much on the side of caution, so much against the notion of juices running anything but crystal clear, that it ends up possessing the texture of leather. There it sits on the plate, a sad, withered relic of that former chicken, perhaps oozing an unpleasant looking substance as evidence that it has been injected with water during packaging and processing. No amount of flavoursome sauce is going to disguise the mouth-puckering dryness of this overcooked piece of meat; no amount of chewing is going to render it anything more than simply satisfactory.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Fig, raspberry and hazelnut cake

If asked to give a list of the dishes/recipes I've cooked more than once in my life, it would undoubtedly be short and sweet. I reckon I could count said dishes on, if not one hand, then definitely two hands. A lot of people find it odd that I never cook the same thing twice. If something tastes nice, they figure, why wouldn't you make it again soon afterwards? I sometimes wish I could see things in this way, be one of those organised cooks who has a small repertoire of tasty and perfected dishes floating around in their head, who finds it easy to make a snap decision about what's for dinner (and, consequently, make a snap shopping trip in their lunch break or on the way home for the ingredients, rather than traipsing around endless markets and butchers for inspiration and then dithering over accompanying ingredients and the like for - sometimes - hours at a time). In fact, if I could add up the number of hours I've spent simply shopping for ingredients and wandering aimlessly around markets trying to figure out what on earth to buy, it would probably be roughly equal to the number of hours spent studying for my degrees. Terrifying.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Jordans 10% challenge & Jimmy's Farm

Last week I visited Jimmy’s Farm in Suffolk for the launch of the ‘10% Challenge’, a new campaign by Jordans cereals to get more people encouraging wildlife in their gardens. We are constantly faced with stories about the sad state of British wildlife; bees in crisis, butterflies declining rapidly; birds under threat. Jordans believe part of the problem is that there are not enough havens for such wildlife in our increasingly urbanized landscape. Between now and this time next year, Jordans is aiming for 10,000 gardeners to join the challenge and make at least 10% of their garden space wildlife-friendly. They estimate that, in acres, this space is equivalent to eighteen football pitches. Apparently there are 100,000 acres of garden in the UK; in the long term, Jordans hope that 10% of this would become wildlife-friendly, which is the rather impressive equivalent of 63,291 football pitches. As someone with no grasp of gardening but an earnest sympathy with the plight of bees, I went along to see what the campaign is all about.

Monday, 17 October 2011

'Nduja, octopus and fennel risotto

'Spreadable' is not a good look for a foodstuff. 

'Spreadable' generally indicates a deterioration in quality, some sort of tampering that has gone on with a once proud ingredient to reduce it to a sad, pliable fraction of its former self. Spreadable butter? Well, it's not really butter, is it? It's a weird butter/oil hybrid that comes in a tub. Spreadable cheese? Not to be confused with cream cheese, which at least has natural origins, spreadable cheese often comes in a squeezy tube like toothpaste and looks like the sort of thing you might seal bathroom tiles with.

One of the most disgusting things I have ever let grace my field of vision was a tub of 'spreadable bacon'. I found it, of all places, in the Home section of TK Maxx. Needless to say, it was in the Clearance aisle. I had a quick look at the ingredients before I rushed off to be sick in one of their designer handbags, and managed to infer that this hideous concoction was a sort of bacon-mayonnaise love child, the kind of thing Dante meant to put in his fifth circle of hell but forgot because one of his minions popped over with an espresso and wanted to have a chat about the Papacy.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Diwali supper club with Maunika Gowardhan and Tilda rice

Clockwise from top left: bainhan ka bharta on the left, haraa masala chicken in the centre; Maunika preparing the bengali bhapa doi; the bengali bhapa doi; candles to celebrate the Festival of Lights.
This week I was lucky enough to be invited by Tilda, purveyors of fine basmati rice, to a very special Diwali supper club. It was hosted by the lovely Luiz of blog The London Foodie, and featured an absolutely sumptuous menu devised by food writer and private chef Maunika Gowardhan, who also acts as Indian cuisine expert for the Tilda taste panel. Diwali, the Festival of Lights, falls on October 26 this year, and celebrates the Hindu new year. As with all good festivals, food is at the heart of Diwali celebrations, often involving elaborate feasts with plenty of sweet things, and incorporating lots of coconut, nutmeg, raisins, cardamom, nuts and sugar. As I'm sure you can imagine from that list, I was beside myself with excitement at the idea of eating home-cooked, proper Indian food featuring a few of those ingredients.

My experiences of Indian cuisine haven't been anything mind-blowing, nor anything remotely approaching authentic. While I do enjoy a nice Tandoori chicken in our local curry house in Yorkshire, and while I did have a great experience at Anokaa in Salisbury when I was there for a weekend (including a wonderful duck and apricot curry and a delicious scallop starter), I'm pretty sure I have never sampled anything that a real Indian would recognise.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Spiced duck and quince salad

I'm starting to get a little bit cross with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He seems to have a knack for publishing pieces in the Guardian on topics that I have been on the cusp of writing about myself, or have already written. First it was the pig's cheeks. Obviously I was pleased that Hugh had helped to bring a highly underrated ingredient to the masses. But, dear readers, you saw it here first, on my blog, and here, in my article for lovefood. Then it was Hugh's charming little article on homemade cheese. Again, been there, done that (although I do concede that my efforts ended with ricotta and labneh, and I have not yet attempted homemade mozzarella). 

While I understand that it must be difficult for Hugh, a mere nobody who has yet to make it in the world of cookery and food writing, to come up with original ideas week after week, I would really appreciate it if he would at least credit me in his weekly Guardian articles for the effervescing fountain of inspiration that I constantly provide.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Five things I love this week #2

1. The new apple and elderberry jelly from Tracklements. This delightful and versatile condiment contains English apples and elderberries foraged from Wiltshire hedgerows. You see elderberries everywhere in our hedges, but there are few recipes around for them, which is a shame. I hope that this jelly will hopefully bring a very underrated wild fruit to the masses - perhaps they could be the next blackberry. I've been a keen and dedicated fan of Tracklements ever since I visited their factory in July, and really like this jelly. It's sweet enough to eat on its own spread onto some toast, but they recommend serving it with meat, particularly roast pork. I found another use for it, stirring it into the jus for a rather delicious pheasant dish I made a couple of weeks ago. It goes very well with game, its sweetness lifting the earthy flavour of wild meat.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Spiced butternut squares (and two Jane Eyres)

I went to see the new film of Jane Eyre at the cinema last night. The novel I enjoyed immensely, but, like several other Victorian novels, it was only truly brought to life for me by a TV adaptation (another example being the splendid TV adaptation of Dickens's labyrinthine novel Bleak House). The adaptation in question is the fairly recent BBC version starring Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson as Mr Rochester and Jane.

What don't I love about this version? I think it is possibly the best attempt to capture the spirit of a novel that I have ever seen, excepting perhaps Bleak House. None of this could have been done without the brilliant acting and the excellent script. What I think is really important about the BBC version is that it modernises the dialogue between Jane and Mr Rochester. Not much, barely even perceptibly, but it adds a level of banter and flirtation that isn't really there in the book, whilst still retaining the archaic feel of the speech. I love the bit where Jane, by now clearly smitten with the inscrutable Rochester, has to return home to visit her dying aunt. She must ask Rochester for her overdue wages in order to fund her journey, and there follows a charming exchange where he jokingly accuses her of being a "mercenary girl" and refuses to hand over all she is owed in order to ensure she returns to claim the rest. This exchange doesn't jar with the 19th-century setting, but it, to me, transforms Jane and Rochester into real people, the kind of people a modern audience can identify with.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Orzo with broccoli pesto and avocado

I know you've been waiting with bated breath after my last post, eager to discover what exciting things I've been doing with orzo, the rice-shaped pasta that I finally got round to locating and purchasing this week. I'm a little bit obsessed with it. I can't get enough of its delicious texture; comforting and starchy like risotto rice, but less chalky and more slippery. You can pile it in mounds on your fork (which is always a plus in my - greedy - book), each individual grain held together by a flavoursome sauce. It's great both hot or cold, as a risotto-like meal or in a salad instead of something like couscous or lentils. Perhaps the only problem is that it slips down a little too easily...and before you know it, you've eaten an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch. Oops.

A word of warning - if you do eat an entire ice-cream tub full of the stuff for lunch, a headache and the onset of intense stupor is fairly inevitable. 

Monday, 3 October 2011

Five things I love this week

1. This beautiful teapot from ProCook. It's made of glass with a little stainless steel mesh basket inside for the tea, and a polished steel lid. The idea is that you can let your tea brew to your preferred strength just by looking at it - it's always hard to tell in a china teapot how strong it is. This little pot probably holds enough tea for two people. It's small but perfectly formed, a simple design but one that looks rather stylish on the table. You can buy it here for £12, or there's a brushed steel version if you're not sure about glass and tea. I personally don't go in for those fancy tea glasses you can buy. To me, tea should be taken in a cup or a mug. It's not juice. However, I'm perfectly willing to accept a glass teapot when it's as pretty as this one.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Fig and raspberry galette

I was pretty excited to find my name in the Guardian this week. Food and wine writer Fiona Beckett, who also wrote the student cookbook 'Beyond Baked Beans' and has a website of the same name devoted to student cooking, featured me and Nutmegs, seven in the article 'A new generation of student cooks?' You can read it here if you're interested. 

I enjoyed both the article and - even more so - reading the comments underneath, to hear about others' experiences of the world of student cookery. Some of them sounded truly disastrous, and make my minor incidents (freezer left open, pan left full of used oil for days on end, rancid rotten fish smell coming from my sodden teatowel, washing up never done) pale in comparison.

Actually no. Nothing pales in comparison to that towel incident. Lord only knows what hideous atrocities were inflicted upon my poor teatowel to make it smell like that. Had it been left inside the festering innards of a dead whale for three months?