Thursday, 29 March 2007
Googling Rachael Ray suggests that the American public are pretty divided in their opinion of her. I have to confess that when I shortlisted her I had no idea of her public persona. I was therefore somewhat taken aback when Stuart produced Guy Food. The blurb reads as follows: Rachael says, 'Guys who cook are hot! Step into the kitchen with these Top 30 meals with guy appeal. This collection of greatest hits features simple recipes with big flavors, perfect for date nights, game nights, or just hangin' out'. Throughout, Rachael exhorts her projected male reader to be 'hot' in the kitchen, to find his soulmate (or just a date) through simple but tasty manfood that can appeal to girls as well. It is indescribably tacky. The book even looks tacky; it's an annoying shape and size. Still, far be it from me to look a gift horse in the mouth (actually, I imagine I would look a gift horse in the mouth. I'd never look a gift cookbook in the mouth though) and I was entertained as I read through Rachael's recipes. I also tried one -the inside-out bacon cheeseburger with green onion mayo. It is a basic burger but inverted; the cheese and (cooked) bacon are inserted inside the burger, which gives it an interesting taste and texture.
OK, so the book is unbelievably tacky but the burger was delicious. Actually, all the recipes look kind of tempting, once you've got past their annoying presentation. It is the kind of food people actually want to cook and eat; nothing too tricky, and a good mixture of recipes (spicy food, lots of different burgers, pasta, meat dishes). I'm still not sure about the whole Guy Food thing - it seems to be billing its recipes as both perfect to cook for a romantic date with a dream woman and as the sort of food that might go down well on a lads' night out. I'm not sure that these two categories are necessarily similar and I can't see why this is 'guy' food in particular (apart from the relatively high content of meat recipes, which food writers seem to associate with men). But if the concept bombs, the food doesn't. I can't say I'll be rushing to order more of Rachael's impressive list of publications (unless anyone out there thinks I'm missing something), so
I have no idea if this book is representative of Rachael's other books or if this one is a one-off... Still, one thing it does teach me is not to judge a recipe by the cookbook cover, or I'd never have tried this simple but tasty inside-out bacon cheeseburger. Oh dear. Even the name of the recipe is a bit, ahem, tacky.
In other news, we're going out with friends for dinner tonight, to a nice dining pub. I am salivating already. Oh, and it's got cold again, so it's a good thing that I didn't end up seduced by the sandals the other day.
Tuesday, 27 March 2007
The recipe couldn't be easier: cook pasta as usual; meanwhile, shred a head of spring greens. Fry pancetta in oil until it crisps up a bit; add chopped garlic, the shredded greens and grated Parmesan and stir; cook until the greens are wilted and toss with the pasta. Serve with black pepper.
This pasta had lots of flavour but still managed to taste clean and zingy, somehow; it felt like a dish that could usher in the beginning of spring. I altered the recipe marginally in that I added some cooking water from the pasta to add flavour and I also grated Parmesan for the table. I would definitely make it again. It doesn't have the depth of flavour of Jamie's original but it is lighter and more vibrant somehow; it works really well.
On a nonfoodie note, the weather seems to be changing at last; the skies were blue all day today and the sun was surprisingly warm when I went shopping at lunchtime. The shops were full of spring clothes, in lighter shades than the wintry colours that have been dominating the racks. It still doesn't seem to be prime sandal-buying season yet though - the choice of summer shoes is not yet (I hope) in full glory. But for the first time this year, I could almost imagine taking off the high wedge black boots that have been imprisoning my feet for most of the winter, painting my toenails shell pink, and buying myself some pretty little summer sandals. OK, so we aren't quite there yet. Still - it feels a lot closer.
Sunday, 18 March 2007
Anyway for Valentine's Day, as reported a few posts back, Simon bought me The Fishmonger's Book, by Mitchell Tonks (a re-issue of his book Fresh).
You'll have seen Mitch on various cookery programmes, typically grinning widely and enthusia
stically as he raves about cooking and eating fish. I am perpetually on the look-out for new ways to cook fairly standard fish, as most recipe books include fish that I am simply unable to find. Also fish is a good weekday food because it is simple and speedy to prepare and cook; it would be an even better option if there were more fishmongers around. This book is endorsed by Jamie and Nigel and begins with the premise that the best seafood dishes tend to be the simplest, which sounds like a mantra for home cooking. Mitch begins with guides to buying, preparing and cooking fish, before launching into a series of appetising r
ecipes divided as follows: 'favourites', 'pasta and rice with seafood', 'easy everyday seafood', 'easy food for guests', 'special occasions', 'eating outdoors' and 'side dishes'. Recipes like 'fried swordfish Milanese style with wild oregano and anchovy', 'linguine with scallops, artichokes and walnuts','haddock with creamed leeks, runner beans and chervil', 'sea bass with roasted whole garlic, rosemary and chilli', all sound extremely appetising. Not every recipe is accompanied by a photo; those that are make you crave fish as you read. It will be a particularly good book in the summer; many of the recipes have a Mediterranean vibe and will feel appropriate in the warmer months here.
For now, though, I tried poached plaice with cider and onions, from easy everyday seafood: characteristically simple, but I'd never poached fish in cider before. It was good; the cidery juices that were left to pour over the fish were very tasty and worked well with the plaice. As suggested I served with haricot beans dressed with thyme and olive oil, and - not as suggested - some purple sprouting broccoli.
2 fillers of plaice
25 g butter
a glug of olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, crushed
500 ml dry cider
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs fresh thyme
small handful fresh parsley, finely chopped
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed pan and add the olive oil. Add the onions and cook slowly for 10-15 minutes so that they gently brown and melt but do not fry. Add the garlic, cider, bay leaves and thyme and simmer for 5-6 minutes. Add the fish and, with the liquid barely simmering, allow it to poach for 6-7 minutes. Lift the fish fillets out and place them on a serving plate. Add the parsley to the pan, turn the heat up and reduce the liquid by a third. Season to taste.
Place a pile of onions on top of each piece of fish and spoon the juices around. Creamy mashed potato, haricot beans dressed with thyme and olive oil, or buttered cabbage with just a bit of shredded smoked bacon are great with this.
Wednesday, 14 March 2007
I've tried to rank Nigel's books in my head before (OK I'm sad. I occasionally do rank cookbooks in my head, mainly when I can't sleep. I rarely manage it) and I never quite manage, because I'm attached to all of them in quite different ways. Real Cooking is perhaps the least aesthetically pleasing, the least outwardly appealing, but its recipes are simple and hit the spot. The fish recipes (like grilled fish with lime leaves, Greek baked fish, roast fish with Indian spices and coconut) are fabulously easy and delicious; I recommend all of them. Nigel is always good with pork and sausages, so no surprises that that section is particularly satisfying (although the recipe for pork chops with chicory inevitably makes me think of Julian Barnes's unpicking of it in The Pedant in the Kitchen). The Moroccan lamb shanks with aubergine are delicious, ditto the unglamourous slow-cooked Italian style aromatic lamb. One of the easiest lamb dishes, though, is Lamb Chops with Marsala. I love Marsala, having first been introduced to it by Nigella and then Delia, and subsequently I keep a bottle to hand for deglazing pans in which stuffed chicken breasts have been cooked. I hadn't paired Marsala with lamb until Nigel's easy-as-can-be recipe caught my eye.
I am not going to type out the recipe because it barely warrants the effort; basically, saute lamb chops briefly in olive oil until browned but still pink inside, remove from pan and pour away most of the oil, add Marsala, scrape at the crusty goo on the bottom of the pan and let bubble. Pour the sauce over the chops. Mmm.
This is really easy but very good, nonetheless; a good weeknight dinner. This time I altered it and used lamb leg steaks, which worked just as well. I served it with garlicky Italian-style roast potatoes, mashed carrot and spinach. Sometimes it's worth going back to the old favourite books, discovering what you may have missed or forgotten, particularly when, like me, you own far too many cookbooks and risk neglecting some. Nigel, at least, should not be forgotten.
Monday, 12 March 2007
Simon bought me a little book last week in WHSmith called 'Everyday Wok and Stirfry', a small £3.99 book with 100 recipes in. It's a surprising little gem: it has soups and curries as well as stirfries, and the recipes aren't at all samey. Some of the recipes (like fish with pine nuts or kara-age chicken) are quite different from what you'd expect in a wok recipe book. Anyway tonight we tried a simple traditional stirfry: pork with peppers. It was delicious: fillet of pork, sliced and stirfried with red and yellow peppers, spring onion, ginger, chilli oil and chilli sauce, fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice, and served with rice noodles and parsley.
I had never cooked rice noodles before without ruining them - in truth, I gave up on them years ago - but these were really good. The dish had lots of flavour and was pleasurably easy to eat as well as to cook! Which was really needed today, because the last couple of days have been professionally and personally tough. A colleague died this weekend and the workplace has become a space of tears and disbelief. I spent yesterday screaming and then having emergency dental treatment, which hopefully means an end to my toothache (and related moaning), although the emergency dentist just stopped the pain; my real dentist (who I am starting to doubt...) takes over again on Wednesday. Just to warn anyone fed up of my dental stories not to read me on Wednesday or Thursday... Anyway, self-pity aside, and back to food, because I can't write about real life without descending into meaningless cliche. Stirfries are comforting because they invigorate as well as satiate; they offer interesting depths of flavour but don't weigh you down. And they are unbelievably easy to cook, even when nothing could be further from your mind.
Pork with Peppers
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp chilli oil
450g pork fillet, sliced thinly
2 tbsp green chilli sauce
6 spring onions, slived
2.5 cm piece fresh ginger, sliced thinly
1 red pepper, sliced
1 yellow pepper, sliced
1 orange pepper, sliced
1 tbsp fish sauce
2 tbsp Thai soy sauce
juice of 1.2 lime
4 tbsp chopped parsley
cooked flat rice noodles, to serve
1. Heat both the oils in a wok. Add the pork in batches and stirfry until browned all over. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.
2. Add the chilli sauce, spring onions and root ginger to the wok and stirfry for 1-2 minutes. Add the peppers and stirfry for 2-3 minutes.
3. Return the meat to the wok, stir well and add the fish sauce, soy sauce and lime juice. Cook for a further 1-2 minutes then stir in the parsley and serve with the rice noodles.
Saturday, 10 March 2007
When I saw this bargainsome Olive book (£4.99 for 101 recipes, in the compact format of the Good Food books that everyone knows), I felt it would be a crime not to buy it (and I had a Borders token). I should say immediately that it is very different from the delicious. book I bought recently too. Where the delicious. book is large, elegant, and covers a range of recipes, the Olive recipes are shorter, simpler and definitely geared towards weeknights (although there's nothing to stop you from cooking a speedy meal at the weekend either). That appealed to me because I have an incurable desire to cook new dishes every day of the week, even when I'm exhausted and have no time. This can lead to tears at bedtime, as I don't do 'tired in the kitchen' very gracefully. (I don't know how most food bloggers cope. Do they never slump exhaustedly onto a sofa and watch mindless television, or read a trashy novel? Is every waking moment devoted to the discovery and invention of new recipes? Do they eat at midnight? Rest assured, I am not that person. To start with, I'm never still up at midnight.) A book that enables me to feel I'm trying something different while not delaying our dinner and not transforming me into Grumpy Old Woman in the Kitchen, is definitely a good thing. (That was probably why I raved so much about Jo Pratt's book - it fit my life so perfectly)
So: 101 Smart Suppers. 'Smart suppers' sums up the Olive approach to food: simple, but always smart and stylish. There are a lot of shortcuts in Olive, which some foodies would despise; I have to confess to an occasional desire to cheat. Anyway, the book covers soups, salads, poultry, meat, fish, seafood, veggie, and desserts; dishes include clams with linguine, crisp seabass with Vietnamese vegetables, chilli lamb cutlets, chocolate pots with cherry compote (the usual Olive-style recipes, really), and none looks prohibitively tricky or scary. These recipes aren't groundbreakingly different; they are just modern, mainly fast food with a stylish edge.
I tried chicken wrapped in parma ham first, which is no surprise to anyone who knows me because chicken wrapped in parma ham is a bit of a Kathryn-speciality. I have tried it in so many ways, with so many different stuffings. I like most of them. This is my sort of food, which I can make without trying too hard. Here is the Olive version, stuffed with roasted peppers and aubergines (both from a jar), served with rosemary potatoes and purple sprouting broccoli.
It was very good - neat, tasty food, that makes the most of the sometimes dry and tasteless chicken breast. It was a good start to the book, because it was ridiculously easy but it came out looking and tasting good. I like this kind of food that you can produce after a trip to a deli, or even Tesco; it might not win any prizes for originality, but it works very well even on a Monday night, when the working week stretches endlessly ahead and you just want to collapse in front of the television.
CHICKEN WRAPPED IN PARMA HAM
chicken fillets 6 skinless
roasted peppers 1 jar (about 440g)
char-grilled aubergines 1 jar (about 200g)
Parma ham 12 slices
rosemary 6 sprigs
baby fennel 6, to serve
Heat the chicken to 180C/fan 160C/ gas 4. Put the chicken fillets on a board, skinned side-down. With a small kinife, make a 'pocket' in the fillet by cutting along its length; if there is an extra bit of fillet attached then fold this back and make your cut under it. Be careful not to cut all the way through.
Fill each pocket with a slice each of pepper and aubergine. Lay 2 slices of Parma ham out flat, slightly overlapping, and put a sprig of rosemary in the middle. Put a fillet on top of the rosemary and wrap it with the ham. Repeat with the remaining fillets.
Lightly oil a baking sheet, put the chicken on ot, and cook in the oven for 35 minutes. Serve the fillets whole, or, for a more glam look, cut each one in half at an angle, and serve drizzled with the cooking juices. Serve with baby fennel steamed for about 8 minutes or until tender.
Tuesday, 6 March 2007
I should say here that I love lamb shanks. This was my third opportunity to eat them this autumn/winter and I was eager for the recipe to work. It looked delicious - daube style, according to my Larousse Gastronomique, means braised in red wine and stock and seasoned with herbs - and like all slow-cooked dishes, after an initial effort you're free to do something else. The recipe is below, but here is the outcome:
Images of braised food can rarely capture just how good they taste; this dish was no exception. It was utterly full of flavour; the meat melted in the mouth and the sauce was rich and tasty. My third attempt from delicious. and a bit different from the other two, this is a sort of simple French-style dish and I think I'll try it out on my francophile parents-in-law next time they come to visit. I certainly wouldn't sacrifice it to a dog.
Lamb shanks French daube-style, from delicious.: 5 of the best,
60 ml olive oil
120g mild pancetta, chopped
2 large onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves, crushed
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
12 Frenched lamb shanks [Frenched means that the meat is cut away from the end of the bone]
1 75 ml bottle red wine
600 ml tomato passata
20 ml beef stock
1 bouquet garni
1 kg desiree potatoes, peeled
200 ml milk, warmed
50g unsalted butter
2 heaped tbsp wholegrain mustard
1 heaped tbsp dijon mustard
Preheat oven to 17pC/325 F/ Gas mark 2.
Heat 20 ml of the oil in a large ovenproof casserole dish over a medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the onion, garlic and carrot and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the mixture starts to colour, remove and set aside.
Toss the lamb in the seasoned flour. Heat the remaining oil in the casserole dish, add the lamb and fry for 2-3 minutes until lightly golden all over. Set aside. [Note: I would reverse the steps and do the lamb first then the vegetables - it involves less effort in moving ingredients in and out of the pan!]
Return the vegetables to the pan, add the wine and bring to the boil for 2-3 minutes, then add the passata and stock. Season, then add the bouquet garni. Bring back to the boil, then remove from the heat, cover and place in the oven for 2 1/2 hours. Remove and set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mustard mash. Put the potatoes in a pan of cold, salted water, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes until just tender. Drain and mash, then, using a wooden spoon, slowly beat in the warm milk and butter until smooth and creamy. Season with salt and pepper and stir in both mustards.
Use paper towels to dab off any excess fat that may have risen to the surface of the lamb shanks. Serve with the mustard mash.
Note: the shanks can be cooked the day before and refrigerated overnight. Spoon off any fat on the top, heat in a 180C oven, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes, until hot.
Monday, 5 March 2007
The premise of the book is simple and effective: it covers a range of categories (salads, cold and hot soups, eggs, boiled pasta, baked pasta, savoury tarts, pizzas, rice, vegetarian, potatoes, vegetables, white fish, salmon, chicken, beef, lamb, pork, stir-fries, casseroles, curries, sweet tarts and pies, cold desserts, cheesecake, ice-cream and semifreddo, hot puddings, pikelets and pancakes, big cakes, small cakes) and includes, for each category, five of the most popular or successful recipes from either Australian or British delicious. Given this background, we can have full confidence that the recipes are likely to work.
The book is beautifully laid out, with an image for every recipe; the photographs are almost all extremely appealing. The pages feel spacious; words and images are not clamouring for space. The food looks simple but stylish, the sort of food you want to cook.
The recipes vary, from comforting British-style food to the Australian sunshine food I associate with Bill Granger and Donna Hay; there are a lot of healthy-seeming recipes, but a good range of desserts too. They all look pretty straightforward; there are no endless lists of ingredients and a cursory read-through suggests that these are mostly pretty accessible.
I've tried a couple of recipes. One is the chicken with pesto and mascarpone, which I mentioned in an earlier post:
The chicken is stuffed with a mixture of pancetta, breadcrumbs, onions, parsley, Parmesan and egg, roasted, and served with a sauce made from pesto, white wine and mascarpone. It was delicious!
My second dish was a beef stirfry. I know stirfries aren't exactly foodie news, and like everyone else I lived on them and pasta when I was a student, because they were cheap and quick. I've made a few stirfries recently, in the interests of saving time after a long day at work, and realized two things: a) that I really like trying new stirfries out and b) that my Le Creuset frying pan doesn't do a great stirfrying job. Yesterday we bought a new, electric wok, in the Fenwicks household event so my stirfries will be much enhanced in future. Anyway this one I made in my frying pan... It was basically beef, rolled in peppercorns, five-spice and groundnut oil, stirfried and then roasted in the oven briefly, with stirfried spring onions, garlic, chilli, ginger, noodles , cashews and spinach, and tossed with a sauce made from soy, sugar, oyster sauce and sesame oil. It was easy and tasty - what you'd expect from a book that comes from a magazine like delicious. - without being anything particularly different. Good weeknight fare, anyway.
The cashews lift this dish, I think, mainly because I'm a bit of a cashew fan. The recipe said hokkien noodles, but I just used what we had in the house. I think the biggest compliment I could pay this dish, though, is that I hadn't stirfried for ages - thanks to not having a wok and just an expensive Le Creuset frying pan that stirfrying probably doesn't do any good to - and that I've made two since (blog report to come). This book may not contain the recipes I have taken to heart from delicious., but that's all to the good, really; it has recipes I may have missed the first time, for one reason or another, and it's nice to give them a try now.
Friday, 2 March 2007
Anyway onto the recipe: this is one I made earlier, to borrow the Blue Peter phrase, because this week has been a bit slow on the cooking front (I've had to cut corners to make as much time as possible for the aforementioned boring paperwork). This recipe is from the healthy section of In the Mood for Food, but it bears no resemblance whatsoever to what you might expect a diet dish to look like. It is, basically, lamb leg steaks served with pesto (made from almonds, mint, parsley, lemon, extra virgin olive oil, Parmesan and seasoning) alongside a mash made with tinned chickpeas, frozen peas, paprika and lemon juice and blitzed in a processor or roughly mashed. Hardly rabbit food...
This was delicious. Really easy, allegedly healthy but very tasty (so often, healthy and tasty don't go together). I served it as suggested with briefly roasted cherry tomatoes on the vine. Another dish I'd make again, not least because I liked the mix of colours and textures (how superficial am I...?). Thank goodness it's the weekend, and I get to cook properly again...