Saturday 31 July 2010

Zuchinni Fritters with Broad Bean, Pea and Mint

Do you need any more reason to get yourself a little patch of garden than beautiful baby zuchinni and their flowers? Looking at them makes me miss my little allotment. Somehow I have left it at just the point when things will be coming into flower and fruit. 

Luckily these little beauties were waiting at the cottage in france...perfect for stuffing for a delicate, simple starter.

For this dish I used both the flowers and also the baby courgettes themselves. Where these courgettes were still attached to the flowers I left them on, but split the courgette up the middle to allow it to cook at the same rate as the flower.

For the stuffed flowers mix a large handful of mixed herbs - basil, tarragon and parsley - with a soft fresh goats cheese, and the yolk of an egg. Season well. Open the flowers gently and check for bugs, these can be dusted out with a pastry brush but try not to wash the flower unless it needs it as this may bruise it. Use a spoon to gently fill the inside of the flower, and close the petals around the cheese mixture. Whisk the white of the egg and dip the flowers and halved courgettes in this, then dip into a shallow bowl of sifted flour and dust off. Repeat this dipping and dusting again to get a good even covering. Heat a large frying pan with a good slug of olive oil and when it is hot add the courgettes, and then after a couple of minutes the flowers. Fry until golden brown, then transfer to drain briefly on kitchen towel.

These can be served on their own with a wedge of lemon, but I sprinkled over them shelled garden peas and shelled and skinned baby broad beans, as well as a healthy handful of chopped fresh mint. Wish a glass of chilled Riesling on the terrace this was perfect

Bordeaux, a little countryside, St Emilion, Caneles de Bordeaux

A long lost post from a trip to France just before easter. This window for a Macaroon store in Bordeaux reminded me of a cross between something dreamed up by Roald Dahl and Lewis Carroll.  I had to be restrained, and reminded that I'd already got my macaroon fix at Pierre Herme in Paris...

But aren't foie gras and milk chocolate macaroons exactly what the Mad Hatter ought to eat?

Rue des Remparts has some very overpriced, but beautiful, olive trees, along with my favourite place for breakfast: Pain et Cie. Wonderful bread and the best pralinee spread. Also, helpfully, the only place open for breakfast at 8am on a Sunday near the bus to the airport

Everywhere in Bordeaux, chocolate shops, cheese shops, flower stalls, and Baillardan, was readying itself for the easter rush, full of easter bells, and fish.

St Emilion, on the other hand, was readying itself to sell this years 2009 vintage. 

Sensible people avoid the wine shops in the town, which by and large seem to trap you with a tasting and a hard sell, and do their buying either direct from the Chateau, or through the Maison du Vin in St Emilion. L'Intendant in Bordeaux also seemed to be knowledgable, non-pushy and free of the uninflated prices some shops were charging.

We weren't doing more than a little buying this trip, so contended ourselves with replenishing our stocks of wines we know we like. Oh, and the second wine from Chateau Montrose, La Dame de Montrose 2004, which came highly recommended, and I couldn't resist. Time will tell if this was a sensible decision or just an expensive one. 

Sunday 10 January 2010

Pulled pork with fennel and citrus salad

There is only so much soup and stew I can eat, even when there is as much snow as there has been in Oxford (above is a photo I took of the rather wonderful headington shark, looking all the more surreal for its dusting of snow). Sooner or later I yearn for something fresh, with bite, and hopefully crunch. So today I've been adding to my gas bill by slow roasting a pork belly, dry rubbed with spices, ready to tear to pieces for dinner. With finely shaved fennel, celeriac, red onion together with glistening grapefruit and clementine segments, and a healthy dash of chilli and lime, it looks like just the thing for the new year. I hasten to add that nothing about this was traditional, or culinarily authentic, but it was just the kind of satisfying, interesting thing I want to cook more of

New Years Slaw

one bulb of fennel sliced as thinly as possible
1/2 small celeriac cut into very thin batons
one grapefruit
two clementines
one red onion thinly minced
chilli finely minced

For the citrus fruit peel them with a sharp knife, taking the white pith away as well as the skin, then use the knife to slice out the segments of fruit, leaving the bitter membrane. You'll be left with quite a bit of flesh attached to the membrane, use your hand to squeeze as much of the juice from this into a bowl. With this remaining juice, and the onion, chilli and salt, make a dressing for the salad.

Pulled Pork

Pork belly (not sliced)
fennel seeds
garlic bulb

Heat the oven to 200 oc
Score the rind on the pork belly (this helps the fat crisp nicely) and salt it liberally. Cut the garlic bulb in two and place at the bottom of a roasting dish. Rub the pork with the herbs and spices and place on top of the garlic, skin side up. Cook in the oven for 30 minutes, then turn the heat down to 160oc and continue to cook for at least another 2 hours, preferably 3.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Catching up

The month of September didn't seem to leave much room for blogging. There was a lot of sugar used in my kitchen on jams, jellies and preserves, and a lot of digging to do in the allotment. October too was spent knee deep in mud, and November work related panic set in. December was a blur of fairy lights, forced paperwhites, evergreen wreaths, hazelnut caramels and an awful lot of mulled wine. Not to mention munching on manchego with my mother's homemade quince paste, and too many mince pies, clementines and slices of italian chocolate christmas cake. Divorced parents means two christmases, a beef wellington with dauphinoise potatoes for one, and roast goose with chestnut and apple stuffing and roast vegetables for the other. Desserts ranged from a wonderful figgy pudding, citrus and ginger fruit salad, to chestnut pudding and, I think best of all, warmed preserved damsons with hazelnut meringues and in which floated clouds of whipped cream.

The upside of being so tardy here is that I can now give the edited highlights, the recipes and meals that have stayed with me not just on the day, but a whole three months later. Perhaps not the way blogging ought to be done, but here goes.

Much of the work related panic in November was due to us taking a lovely break in Bordeaux and the Dordogne for a blissful few days. We got there via Paris which was engineered by me as a way of stopping to stock up on Valhrona Chocolate from the wonderful G. Detou on rue tiquetonne. I also ogled chocolate shop windows and ate the most wonderful crepes which started an autumn love of caramel beurre sale.

I played owning my own castle in Monbazilliac, which sadly is likely to remain a long-cherished dream for decades to come. I'm particularly in need of a bread oven and an apple store, not to mention a cellar of vintage Bordeaux.

There were about a million clementines eaten over December in our house

And because our flat is tiny (or 'bijou') we had no christmas tree but instead a lovely jasmine plant decked with silver baubles, which smelt divine

Between the family we baked three christmas cakes this year, my mothers recipe, Nigel Slater's, and a chocolate Italian christmas cake from the River Cafe. The chocolate one certainly had its devotees, but doesn't really fit the british christmas cake tradition. Its excellent for those who don't like traditional fruit cake, and as a change for those who do. My mother's recipe won out in the taste tests, and not because its the one she makes every year but because it was considerably moister. Which is not to say that Nigel's wasn't excellent, but next year we'll be making my mother's and the River Cafe chocolate one. Two christmas cakes is enough for any household.

Of course the stars of the christmas meals were the goose and the beef wellington, but playing a decidedly important supporting role were two wonderful salads.

The first figs baked at 200 oc with translucent strips of pancetta wrapped around them and then, when the pancetta was crisp, nestled on top of frisee, rocket and baby chard. The dressing for this was the fig juices, some very good balsamic and extra virgin, and a little pepper (there being enough salt in the pancetta). It was the perfect christmas salad; light, and yet rich in flavour, the hot salty pancetta with the sticky sweet fig and the earthy leaves.

The second was a traditional celeriac remoulade. Previously I have always spurned this, as I have all other salads which involved mayonnaise . I think this must be a lingering reaction to the school salad bar, and I think it still tends to be the right reaction when presented with salad drenched in mayonnaise. But it turns out that homemade mayonnaise is not only wonderful to dip chips in, or turn into aioli, but also to turn the humble celeriac into a thing of beauty. Clearly, everyone except me knew this, but for me it was a revelation. So in the last week I've made celeriac remoulade three times. It takes patience (especially as I lack a mandolin) but my knife and emulsifying skills are improving.

One preserve I will be re-making next year was the bottled damsons. Nothing so simple (far simpler than jam) but nothing so good. All that they required was to make a simple syrup, in which was also boiled a cup of damsons, a clove and a stick of cinnamon. This was then strained onto the uncooked damsons, which had been rinsed and put in sterilised jars. The lids were put on the jars (as per the instructions of whatever preserving jar you use) and they were then heated in the oven at 180 oc for half an hour. Three months later they were delicious with cream and meringues, but I'm sure the other jars will make their way into fools, pies and be poured over icecream as the year progresses.


These little bulbs were only thinking of making an appearance at Christmas, but now are putting a concerted effort into flowering for the new year. The pine boughs around them, however, have been consigned to the recycling.

Monday 31 August 2009

Peach, Plum and Redcurrant Breakfast Bread

A yeasted open tart for the changing seasons. Everything locally grown and picked except the peaches (the weather just isn't that good). The dough enriched with ground almonds, the plums, red currants and peaches drizzled in home-made red currant jelly. Baked in the oven in the morning, and then scattered with fresh red currants and a little sugar. A warm slice of this with coffee, or cold with a little creme fraiche, makes a wonderful breakfast.

For the bread dough:

400g strong white flour
70g ground almonds
325ml warm water
1/2tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
20g fresh yeast

About 1 kilo of fruit: I used a mixture of plums, peaches and red currants
1 tbsp red currant jelly

Mix the fresh yeast with the water and sugar and leave somewhere warm for 10 minutes to allow the yeast to wake up while you measure out the flour and almonds. Put the flour, almonds, salt and yeast mixture into a bread maker on the dough setting. Once the dough is made slice the peaches and plums into slices and mix with the red currant jelly. Roll the dough out into an oval and spread the fruit in the middle, skin side down. Heat the oven to 200 oc and leave the dough to rise again on top of the oven and away from any draughts. After 30 minutes, and when it is slightly risen, put the dough in the oven and bake until dark golden brown. There will be a little juice seeping out into the dough and the fruit will be beginning to catch on top, going a dark caramel. Take out of the oven, scatter over the remaining red currants and dust with icing sugar.

Wednesday 5 August 2009

Nothing is as perfect as the fruits of your own labour, and this little salad was the work of months. Some heavy digging to clear the ground, weeding and watering galore, and then a gap of months where we crossed our fingers and hoped. We planted these little tomatoes as tiny stalks in France in March, and then had to abandon them for the grind of daily life. How wonderful then that this neglect still bore fruit.

We planted poire jaune (yellow pear), tiger striped and moneymaker and baby plum tomatoes.

And the sun and occasional rain seemed to suit them...

The striped tiger tomatoes were probably our favourite: sharp and sweet all at the same time

And with produce this good cooking isn't needed: all these wanted was a little salt, pepper, olive oil and basil.

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Warm baby artichokes with broad beans and mint

Something of a hiatus I know, but somehow there hasn't been that much inspiring cooking happening in my kitchen recently. Sure, there were things I could have written about but they were all a bit so-so, even the ones there were beautiful photos of didn't taste all that great. That rhubarb and custard tart I thought would look so pretty, well, it turned out a little heavy. In part I blame the vegetable gap - there are only so many roots a girl can eat. But even that won't wash as we've had pretty little lettuce fronds and spicy rocket coming from our window boxes for the past two weeks, and the organic veg box is full to the brim of lovely bright chlorophyl. So I'm searching for cooking inspiration in my photos, and while searching I remembered all the cooking we did on holiday in France. Barely three weeks ago but already it seems like an age, and I don't think I shared photos or recipes. Best of all we've now caught up and broad beans are well and truly in the shops. In fact they are even growing in my window box.

My favourite is a dish of braised baby artichoke hearts with broad beans and mint. Every year I look out for the tiny little artichokes specially for making this, and it never fails to feel like spring when you eat it, be it as a side dish or a meal in itself.

a bunch of baby artichokes - at least two per person and the smaller the better. Really ideally no more than an inch and a half in diameter
a handful of mint
a handful of broad beans each - again the smaller the better.
shallots - one or two each
olive oil, salt and pepper
white wine

First up pod your broad beans, and if the beans themselves are any bigger than your thumb nail then you'll need to take the hard casing off them too. If on the other hand you can get your hands on immature broadbeans, about an inch or two long at most, then you needn't even pod them but can cook them whole like a french bean.
Now take a long impartial look at your artichokes. How beautiful they are, right? But you're about to get as close to gutting as you ever will with a vegetable.

First up chop off the top third to half of the artichoke. It may seem wasteful but these spiny leaves aren't good to eat. At this point you want to survey the state of the inside of the artichoke itself. If the inner leaves are pointy, or there a spiny hairs which form more than a soft down in the centre then your artichokes have reached a level of maturity not ideal for this recipe. You'll need to aggressively trim out the spiky leaves and the sharp hairs or you're dinner will be rather unpalatable. If you see soft translucent petal-like leaves then all is well.

Now use a sharp paring knife to cut of the outside green leaves. You essentially want to carve around the heart itself, removing the dark green fibrous leaves but leaving the base of them intact, which is a milky spring yellow.
Then chop each artichoke in half lengthwise. It will now look roughly like the one above. Keep each one in a bowl of water with a squeeze of lemon juice to stop discolouration.

Cop the shallots finely and cook them in olive oil until translucent but not browned. Add the artichoke hearts and a glass of wine and pop the lid on, letting it gently simmer for 15-20 minutes. When the artichokes are nearly cooked (they should still retain a little bit, like asparagus) add the broad beans. At the table scatter with mint,, and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.