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Archive for July, 2009

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It is the eve of our family garden party. Forget Henley, Ascot or even Bestival. For me this is THE summer event by which all other summer events will be judged and found wanting. This year my dad is even putting up a gazebo.

 

Unlike most people I relish the prospect of a large family event. It brings together many of the things I love: food in vast quantities, flowing booze and my family.

 

 

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Years of seething resentment, suppressed emotions and bizarre complexes combined with a good spread makes for a fantastic day out. This year my little sister’s boyfriend will be attending for the first time and this only make me more excited. How will we come across to this outsider and will he have as much fun as me? Unlikely considering he will be surrounded by mainly hostile faces some of whom look and sound strangely similar to his girlfriend.

 

I have been put in charge of nuts, cocktail sausages and mayonnaise. Quite a strange remit. Almost as if I was an afterthought. I shall probably bring that up tomorrow.

 

 

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This is based on a recipe from the Barefoot Contessa. I often get confused and call her the Barefaced Contessa which is clearly a much better name. She must be kicking herself for going with Barefoot.

 

To make these nibbles select a mixture of nuts, I used roughly 700 grams of cashew and almonds. Melt 90 grams of butter to make a glaze and add 2 tbsp of brown sugar and cayenne pepper to taste. You’ll need plenty of pepper to cut through all the sugar so don’t be a wimp. Cut up about 2 large handfuls of fresh rosemary very finely and add this to the glaze. Coat the nuts with the mixture stirring thoroughly.

 

Annoyingly the nuts could not all fit in one jar.

Annoyingly the nuts could not all fit into one jar.

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Yin-Yang Salad

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I haven’t posted in a whole week. A combination of engagements and laziness ensured I made nothing but noodles for a few days in a row. I eat my noodles with soy sauce and absolutely tons of ginger; it’s not a recipe many people could handle. Things are returning to normal now and a week of food preparation is staring me in the face. My sister is visiting from university this weekend and she will expect to be force-fed to levels not witnessed since that film with Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman. There is a huge family party on Sunday to which my mother will expect me to deliver a dish or two, as will every other woman in my family. I predict with absolute certainty that there will be too much food.

 

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Today is Monday though and before I have to resume familial duties I was in the mood to wander round the shops after finishing work. I popped into Jamie Oliver’s Recipease on the Northcote Road and was briefly tempted by an offer to make two pizzas and get a bottle of wine for £10. A bargain indeed and one I will definitely try before the promotion finishes in September. I didn’t fancy pizza though so instead found some reduced steak in the supermarket and decided to recreate a salad my aunt had made at a recent meal. Since this salad has no name that I am aware of I have taken it upon myself to christen it and describe it to you.

 

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This salad provides the balance of yin-yang. It is a salad which is concurrently masculine and feminine and so has the potential to bring harmony to households up and down the country whilst fulfilling governmental 5-a-day objectives.

 

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Beetroots are purple and their juice is almost pink. Pink as we all know is the favourite colour of the quintessential pony-loving, pony tail-wearing girl. Beetroots bring femininity to this salad as do the tender green shoots of rocket and lettuce which stop the whole thing looking too bloody. At the other end of the sexual spectrum this dish contains big hunks of steak, streaked red in the middle and charred on the outside. The dollops of horseradish are hot and frankly messily dolloped over the plate like underpants littered across the bedroom floor.

 

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I baptise this dish Yin-Yang Salad. I doubt very much this is its original title but it is what it will be called henceforth.

Serves 2 women or 1 man

 

Ingredients

 

1x rump steak

4 cooked beetroots

Some mixed leaves (rocket, curly lettuce, spinach)

1tbs horseradish sauce

1tbs crème fraiche

Parmesan cheese

Salt & peper

A little oil and vinegar dressing for the leaves

 

Fry the steak for a couple of minutes on each side. Leave to rest for 10 minutes then slice into thin strips.

 

Cut the beetroot into rough quarters. Mix the beetroot in a bowl with the steak strips and season.

 

Mix the crème fraiche and horseradish, make a larger quantity if you think you’ll need it. Season this with plenty of black pepper.

 

Dress the salad leaves. On a plate or serving dish assemble the various components of the salad in either a feminine or masculine fashion. I went for salad leaves first, beetroot and steak second, slivers of parmesan third and finally the horseradish mix.

 

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I have always held a vague notion that popcorn is a low-fat snack, I must have read it in a magazine. Despite this knowledge I have never really taken to it in or outside the confines of the cinema because I find the kernels annoying and why would I waste my time with popcorn when there is a vast, kaleidoscopic world of nibbles ripe for the picking?

 

No, if I had settled on popcorn as my nibble of choice then I would never have experienced the wonders of a bag of Walkers worcester sauce flavoured crisps. I certainly wouldn’t have known the simple pleasure of grissini dipped in mustard, sundried tomatoes filled with cheese and crostini with tomato puree. All these nibbles were conjured up on a whim using ingredients lying around my kitchen and most importantly they were made with a total disregard for calorific content.

 

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Still, I have put on a bit of weight since starting this blog and as I wandered up the Rice and Pulses aisle yesterday I spied a bag of popcorn kernels and succumbed. One bag of kernels cost me 70 pence. When one compares that to Sensations the financial benefits of popcorn become apparent.

 

I added some spices and butter to the popcorn because plain popcorn is just too depressing. Even with a butter glaze this is still like celery calories-wise compared to a parma ham bundle.

 

To make some spicy popcorn heat a saucepan on the hob then add a glug of cooking oil. Add the kernels, about one handful per person. Do not make the mistake I did and throw in a quarter of the bag. You will also need to consider the size of your saucepan, which I did not, otherwise you will end up with an overflow of popcorn.

 

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Place the saucepan lid firmly on the pan and let the kernels pop away. Keep shaking the pan all the time to ensure nothing sticks to the bottom. Once the popping has subsided the popcorn is ready.

 

In a small saucepan melt some butter then add a spice mix of your choice. I used the rub I had made a few weeks earlier which included brown sugar. Heat the sauce until the spices and any sugars have dissolved then drizzle this glaze over the popcorn making sure to thoroughly stir the corn.

 

The result is a nibble that, whilst still vastly inferior to the crisp, could give a mini cheddar or a plain grissini a run for its money.

 

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Sorbet and flower 

 

Rosie and Ellie’s Salad Club is a food blog I have been following for a while and when I read about their secret supper, a four course meal served in a sitting room in south London, I was desperate to reserve a table.

 

So Felicity, Philippa and I made our way to Brixton on Saturday evening, undeterred by the mist-like rain and excited to find out what was for dinner. We were quickly relieved of any apprehension with a warm welcome. We were made to feel at home and throughout the evening the service was fantastic.

 

There were some wasabi peas and a complimentary beer when we arrived. Even if you loathe wasabi peas it is impossible not to nibble on them in a masochistic fashion if a bowl is sitting in front of you. 

 

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We started with a beetroot soup served with sour cream and dill. At the last minute Rosie and Ellie decided to serve this warm rather than chilled because of the terrible weather. This was a good call as I had arrived with soaking wet shoes and although the soup wasn’t able to repair the damage to my pumps it did warm me up.

 

A salad of fennel and roasted onions was dotted with capers and pine kernels. I adore fennel so my opinion on this salad is perhaps unbalanced but I thought it was delicious. Some raisins might have been a nice addition, or is this further evidence that I am becoming obsessed with the holy trinity of raisins, pine kernels and capers?

 

Shredded lamb, served with mint yoghurt and tabbouleh was very fresh and zingy but balanced and made substantial by the melt-in-your-mouth lamb. Ultimately this dish came down to the fantastic meat which had been marinated for 24 hours before cooking. It was divine.

 

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Sorbet was a lovely end to the meal. I like having a set meal that has been carefully considered not only because all the flavours complement one another but also because the person who devises the menu acts with the necessary restraint that perhaps I don’t at 10pm after a few glasses of wine when suddenly a sticky toffee pudding can seem like a very good idea.

 

The mango and rosewater was by far and away my favourite sorbet. I didn’t know how rose would compete with mango but it actually worked very well. I think the rosewater restrained the mango a little which gave a more refined floral taste than your standard mango sorbet. It was very good.

 

Our evening drew to a close with coffee and singing from The Rooftops, a harmonic quartet. They were like the Puppini Sisters without the full-on 40s gear, which is a good thing. 

 

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At the start of the evening there were a few journalists and photographers milling around. I was expecting to spend the whole evening a violent shade of red which is my involuntary reaction to the camera but they were very discreet and agreed not to film us. A lady from Grazia asked us a few questions one of which got me thinking: were we dining in a secret restaurant because we found normal restaurants boring? Well, I’m only 26 and I haven’t quite had enough of restaurants just yet. I could understand AA Gill feeling a tad jaded and searching for the next dining-high, I however am still easily thrilled by a mid-week visit to Pizza Express. I certainly don’t find the illegal aspect exciting, I am a big fan of all things legal and if I thought there was any chance of the Met conducting a late-night raid on the Salad Club I would steer well clear.

 

Perhaps all the other diners at secret suppers are epicurean thrill-seekers but I was there because I am attracted to something that is individual, homely and motivated by passion rather than profit.

 

I don’t think my generation have had time to get bored of restaurants but we might need to reassess where we dine. Our parents may have come to accept high prices for mediocre food as the norm but we’re going to have to find an alternative because it’s looking like there isn’t much money left. I could dine for £20 in many restaurants in London but what Rosie and Ellie have done is offer something of value.

 

 

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Hopefully secret suppers aren’t a fleeting craze to be leapt upon and destroyed by journalists and PRs wearing unusual spectacles. If this does happen, and there’s a 99% chance it will, then these evenings will be the hot ticket for a few months until something new comes along like dining in a disused warehouse or eating according to the turning of the tides. And that would be a great shame because Rosie and Ellie’s Salad Club was one of the nicest restaurants I have been to for some time.

 

Coffee

 

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Those of you who enjoy the odd chocolate cookie may like to know that I re-attempted the chocolate caramel cookies from an earlier post. These were vastly improved by using an entire square of Cadbury’s caramel per cookie. Last time I tried to be frugal but this cookie is only worth making with an entire square.

 

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I find that with the size of the square of chocolate this recipe actually makes about 20 cookies, not 30 as the recipe states. These cookies need to be eaten on the day they are made, ideally warm from the oven. They are delicious and I speak as someone who doesn’t really like chocolate that much.

 

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Sustainable fishing is a hot topic at the moment, mainly amongst the ever increasing number of people who dedicate a lot of time worrying about what less well-informed people are eating. As with many of these issues there is an important message at the core of the matter: sustainable fishing is essential if we want to ensure that future generations can not only enjoy a bit of cod but also live in a world which vaguely resembles the one we know. Any movement though, however sound its central principles, risks evangelism when the prescription becomes more important than the principles. We should make every effort to enjoy sustainable fish but surely our efforts should be focused on attacking the supermarkets who stock cod over pollack and the companies who supply the shops rather than attacking the consumers who are trying to balance an ever increasing list of ethical demands along with the traditional concerns of cost, convenience and taste.

 

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Maybe I am just worried because I love tinned tuna so much, it is a store cupboard essential. A delicious tuna fish curry can be made in 15 minutes with just tinned tuna, tinned tomato, curry power and an onion. It is cheap, tasty, easy to make and it is rare that I don’t have these ingredients in my cupboard. My mother once told me that when she first met my father as a single man living in Poole, his cupboards were filled with tin upon tin of tuna, like a John West sponsored Warhol print. I have inherited this tuna-hoarding trait.

 

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The recent renaming of pollack to Colin tells us that not only does Sainsbury’s seem to think many of us possess the sensibilities of a character from a Georgette Heyer novel, scandalised by the most tenuous of references to a body part, but also that perhaps some of us are a bit squeamish when it comes to fish. I can understand this squeamishness as someone who finds the thought of swimming in deep waters terrifying.  When I do take to the waves I spend most of the time yelping as unimagined horrors (seaweed, probably) brush against my legs. Caitlin Moran wrote a very funny piece that sums up this fear better than I ever could. Having said that, I do think the people who avoided ordering pollack because they were worried their request could be misheard as ‘bollock’ should sort themselves out.

 

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Ray is a fish which shouldn’t cause too much confusion, although it does rhyme with gay which might upset the same people who couldn’t bring themselves to order pollack. It looks just like skate and can be cooked in much the same way. It’s cheaper than skate but how sustainable it is in’t clear. The Greenpeace website states that ray is not sustainable but I bought this ray from Waitrose which is identified as the best supermarket, along with M&S, for stocking sustainable fish. I’d be interested to know if I was doing the right thing eating this or not. Here is a simple recipe, my measurements are probably not spot on as I made this up and didn’t weigh anything. The idea is to have a concentrated tomato sauce with lots of capers, raisins and pine kernels so you may need to reduce the amount of tomato you use.

 

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Ray with capers, raisins and pine kernels

 

Serves 2

 

Ingredients

 

2 ray wings

2 tsp capers, rinsed

1 tbs raisins

2 tsp pine kernels

1 tin of cherry tomatoes

1 tsp brown sugar

1 tbs cider vinegar

Plain flour

Salt and pepper

1 tbs olive oil

Small piece of butter

 

Soak the raisins in hot water for 5 minutes.

 

Season the flour and coat the ray in this mixture.

 

In a very hot frying pan add the olive oil and fry the capers and pine kernels for 30 seconds. Add half the tin of tomatoes and the brown sugar, stir. Add the raisins once they are plump and fry this mixture to reduce it down. Add more tomato as it reduces to stop the running dry. Season the mixture then pour it into a bowl. To this add the vinegar and leave to the side whilst you cook the ray.

 

Melt a knob of butter in the frying pan and fry the ray, it takes about 2 minutes on each side depending on the thickness. Just before the cooking time comes to an end add the tomato mixture back to the pan ensuring that it covers the fish.

 

Serve on its own as a starter, with some bread as a light lunch or supper and with some new potatoes or rice for a more substantial meal.

 

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Sausage rolls

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As a child the only sausage rolls I can remember eating were those made by my Grandma. Her pastry was, and still is, beautifully light and crumbly. The sausage rolls she served us were a thousand miles away from the flaccid lumps served in bakeries up and down the country.

 

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I’m not quite sure why these manufactured sausage rolls taste so awful. It’s surely a combination of the industrial pastry and the fatty sausage meat which sweats within leaving the pastry drenched.  These sausage rolls deposit a thin film of grease onto any surface with which they come into contact. Eating them is a sordid act carried out in private.

 

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No good can come from something which is so utterly unattractive. Kept lukewarm by a couple of halogen bulbs and served by a girl whose eyes are filled with despair, the small paper bag quickly turns translucent as the fat leaks out.

 

I’d like to say that this type of sausage roll typifies everything that is wrong with British food but that sort of Jamie Oliver hand-wringing drives me mad. I’ve had plenty of terrible croque monsieurs in France. Our sausage roll-failures are not a uniquely British problem but we do lack the confidence of the French in our national cuisine. Rather than accept that these mass-produced sausage rolls are a bad version of a beautiful thing, as the French man recognises the odd dud croque monsieur as an anomaly, as a nation we have come to regard all sausage rolls as junk food or, at best, an unsophisticated party snack for children.

 

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The sausage roll has been debased by mass-production and the fallacy that there isn’t a dish on earth which can’t be made in a factory, vacuum-packed and reheated in the microwave. Our taste-buds are the clearest indicator that this is a nonsense. Making a sausage roll at home is easy, inexpensive and the results are a reminder that the English make excellent, homely food. It may sometimes lack the refinement of French cuisine but it is just as inventive and it stems from the same historical traditions.

 

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To make sausage rolls all you need is some pastry and sausage meat. I have added sun-dried tomatoes and rosemary. In the past I have incorporated apple, raisins, all manner of herbs and sometimes nothing at all.

 

I may have completely undermined my above criticisms by using a ready-made puff pastry. In my defence puff pastry is tricky to make and if you are pushed for time there is nothing ostensibly wrong with using the ready made stuff. I always make my own short crust pastry because I don’t find the ready-made stuff as good but I can’t produce a decent puff pastry in a short space of time.

 

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Ingredients

 

500 g puff or short crust pastry

450g sausage meat

4-5 sun-dried tomatoes

1 small onion

Sprig of rosemary

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp brown sugar or honey

1 egg yolk

Grated parmesan cheese (optional)

 

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

 

Fry the onion in the oil until it turns translucent. Season and add the sugar or honey to caramelise the onions. Finely chop the rosemary, dice the sun-dried tomatoes and add this to the onions. Fry for another minute then leave to cool.

 

Once cool add this mixture to the raw sausage meat, mix thoroughly.

 

Roll out the pastry into a large rectangle shape. The pastry should be about ½ cm thick. Cut the pastry down the middle so that you are left with two rectangles (see picture). Divide the sausage meat between the two rectangles of pastry and form the meat into a long sausage shape down the middle of each pastry rectangle. The pastry can then be rolled up, the ends sealed and the whole thing brushed with the egg yolk.

 

Use a serrated knife to cut the sausage rolls to the size you want and place on a tray lined with greased parchment paper. I was making quite small rolls in the pictures for nibbles but there is nothing to stop you making larger ones. Before putting the rolls in the oven I sprinkled a little grated parmesan on top. The rolls take about 15 minutes to cook but it depends on your oven so just keep an eye on them, they are ready when the pastry is golden brown and the sausage meat is cooked.

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