Monday, 31 December 2012

Food highlights of 2012

I began 2012 with a list of food-related New Year's resolutions. This was, I have to admit, largely because I knew I'd be far better at keeping a set of food-related promises than any other arbitrary, unquantifiable, scarily significant 'life goals' that I set myself. Every year I tell myself I will a) be more patient, b) not be horrible to my dad when he tries to talk to me in the morning and c) stop getting so irritated by slow people and/or children. It never happens. At least if I tell myself I will eat more cheese, this is an easily measurable and attainable goal.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Cheese and onion scones with pepper, paprika and nutmeg

In the heady rush of frivolous Christmas excess, there are several things that we suddenly, out of some bizarre and frequently misguided notion of 'tradition', decide we absolutely need in our lives, regardless of all restraining logic or common sense. The classic example is, of course, brussels sprouts, those contentious little green globes that, deep down, no one actually likes, regardless of how many innovative recipes you throw at them (although it has to be said that generally the amount of butter, cream and/or bacon used in a brussels sprout dish is directly proportional to how edible it is). There is also Christmas pudding, which alienates many eaters due to its sheer density, yet always features on the Christmas table, ready to languish and congeal for weeks later at the back of the fridge as we realise we'd rather finish our meal with a mince pie or a handful from the Quality Street tin. Even turkey, which we never eat the rest of the year round, complaining about its dry, tasteless nature; we still force it down, year after year, combining it with a sauce made from fruits we otherwise show a complete apathy towards - cranberries. 

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas!

I'd like to wish all my readers a very merry Christmas. Naturally, I hope your Christmas is full of delicious things to eat as well as happy times with friends and family. I for one have started my day with a delicious bowl of pear and cranberry baked oatmeal and a cup of spiced Christmas tea. There's a huge, majestic rib of beef sitting proudly on the worktop waiting to come to room temperate before it goes into a searing oven; there's smoked salmon in the fridge, to be eaten with butter, horseradish and soda bread; there are mini sausage rolls waiting to puff up and go gloriously golden in the oven, mulled wine to sip around the fire, and - of course - a huge array of vegetables waiting to be peeled. I'd better go and get back to the kitchen.

I leave you with a festive picture of my cat in the snow. It's not snowing here, just doing that standard British grey drizzle thing, so I thought I'd bring a little feline-based snowy joy into your lives.

Merry Christmas!

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Smoked sardines with harissa mango couscous

For those of us who can't afford those tempting 'winter sun' breaks at this time of year (a notion I generally hate and associate with terrifying mental images of lobster-red English bodies splayed out on the Costa del Vomit), there is a much easier way to capture a little of that summer cheer on cold, rainy days: cook your way to it. In the market the other day, I was transfixed by the sheer brightness and colour of the fruit and vegetable displays: vibrant glossy red and yellow peppers; jewel-like cranberries; luminous citrus globes; vivid, feathery fennel; bulbous gleaming aubergines; hot pink shards of rhubarb; marigold, bulgingly ripe persimmons; dusky pink's probably the most colourful and inviting I've seen the market all year, and it seemed very fitting that all this wonderful fruit and veg (admittedly, most of it imported), bursting with colour and flavour, appears at the time of year when we most desperately need it.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Pheasant salad with pear, chestnut, spiced seeds and rosemary salt

Isn't it just so annoying when you have four pheasant breasts in the fridge for dinner, but only three people to feed, so you have to come up with a way of using that leftover pheasant?

Yeah, I didn't think so. 'Leftover pheasant' is probably not the most likely thing you'll have in your fridge. If you do, though, we are kindred middle-class-food-lover spirits and should clearly be friends. However, should you happen to come across some pheasant breasts in the butcher, buy them on impulse, then stash them in the freezer while you figure out what on earth to do with them, this recipe is for you. It would also work if you happen to have roasted a whole pheasant and have some meat left over. Failing that, it would work with chicken. But humour me, and go with pheasant - we don't eat enough game in this country, and it's such a versatile and under-appreciated meat.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Orange and pistachio stollen squares

Christmas in the kitchen, for me, is a time to start searching for those 'definitive' recipes. Seeing as the annual festival of getting fat and eating too much with some exchanging presents in between generally involves cooking the same dishes every year - mince pies, Christmas pudding, a roast, cabbage, sprouts, Christmas cake, cranberry sauce - I've been on the hunt for the past few years for recipes for these things that are so good I'll want to just go straight back to them next year, rather than continuing to experiment. So far, Delia's braised red cabbage with apple, Levi Roots' tropical Christmas pudding and Fiona Cairn's Christmas cake recipes are all lucky enough to have made it onto this list. My mum's mince pies are also a staple, but I long ago accepted that they'll only taste right if mum makes them herself, so they're not something I can really recreate on my own.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Indian spiced grouse with roasted grapes

Of all the meats in the world, it is those that are dark and mysterious which intrigue me the most. While I do believe that literally nothing on this earth beats a good roast chicken, at the same time I have a love for and fascination with those darker, gamier, more interesting meats. Those that can be eaten rare and rather bloody, sliced into gorgeous glistening pink strips on the plate. Those that can more than cope with a heavy dose of spicing and flavouring to bring them to life. Those with an iron-rich tang that pairs so well with all manner of sweet and savoury ingredients. Those that unequivocally scream 'carnivorous feast' when you see them on the plate, red and juicy with a burnished outer crust and a tender blushing centre.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Chocolate and mandarin olive oil cake

What food would you find it hardest to give up? Sometimes, when I'm bored, I ask myself this. Because I'm gastronomically masochistic like that. I've frequently toyed with the idea of going vegetarian or even vegan for a month, just to challenge myself. In fact, I very nearly went vegan for Lent this year, until I realised that I was going on holiday to Italy slap bang in the middle of it. There's pretty much no point in going to Italy unless you're going to eat vast quantities of meat and cheese. Apparently they have some decent art and some Roman ruins and stuff, but we all know that the only reason to go to Italy is to gorge oneself on bread, cheese and meat, preferably all together in that excellent vehicle designed by the Italians to combine these things into one coherent meal: pizza.