Wednesday, December 12, 2007

White Onion Foam

White onions are striking looking things - at their peak they are glowing white bulbs with gleaming skins. They have a higher water content than brown onions giving them a milder flavour - they are good raw if you like raw onion. They cook beautifully but store badly - the extra moisture gives them a tendency to rot.

This easy dish is quite simply brilliant whne warm with roast beef or cold with sausages - we had it both ways this week. I'm sure it would also work well with roast chicken.

White Onion Foam
About 500g white onions, peeled and thinly sliced
A large knob of butter - about 40-50g
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter over a gentle heat and fry the onion slices till they are transparent - about 30 minutes. Let it cool then with a blender stick or in a blender whizz till smooth. Season.

Warm it through before serving with a roast but it works really well cold with sausages and salad.

It is so good that everyone who eats this will think you are brilliant!

Garlic and White Bean Soup

Garlic is one of those miracle vegetables that is as close as you can get to a guarantee a dish will be good. I use vast quantities of the stuff.

Before it ever reached the kitchen it had been imbued with all manner of extraordinary properties throughout history. Garlic was worshipped by the ancient Egyptians, chewed by Greek Olympian atheletes and was (is!) thought to be essential for keeping vampires at bay. It can lower your cholesterol, cure your cold, get rid of acne and repel mosquitoes. It is a powerful antibiotic to which the body never builds up a resistance and is effective in protecting the body against damaging free radicals.

On top of such utter fabulousness it is an amazing thing to cook with. Depending on how you use it, it offers many variations on the flavour it adds. Raw crushed into salad dressings it is hot and pungent, boiled it is soft and gentle. Slow cooked in the oven with nothing but a dash of oil it squeezes out of its skins a rich and creamy paste. It is essential in stir fries and pasta sauce, and adds unctuousness to slow cooked stews. It fills the house with a glorious smell welcoming all who come to eat.

A wonderful thing, no? And it's not even expensive.

The following recipe is definitely a winter soup, it is creamy and filling and will protect you from the cold winter world outside. (And vampires.) It is an adaptation from one in Sundays at Moosewood.

Garlic & White Bean Soup
1 1/2 cups of cannellini beans, soaked overnight
4 pints water
1 whole head of garlic
In a little bit of muslin tie up 2 sprigs rosemary, 2 sprigs of thyme, 1/2 tspn fennel seeds, 4 cloves and a bay leaf - makes it easy to get it all out again
1 cup diced potato
1 cup finely chopped onions
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup chopped carrot
100 ml of double cream
1 cup chopped parsley

Place the soaked beans in a pot with 2 pints of water and the head of garlic and bouquet garni in the muslin and simmer, uncovered, for one hour. Add the chopped potato and continue to simmer for another half an hour.

In a separate pan sauté the onions in the olive oil until translucent. Add the carrots and sauté for another 15 minutes. Add these to the bean with another two pints of water and simmer for another half an hour.

Allow to cool overnight.

Remove the bouquet garni and the garlic. Throw away the herbs but squeeze out the cloves of garlic into the soup. Purée the soup until smooth. Warm through, add seasoning and cream. Just before serving stir through the chopped parsley.

Perfect winter food. This makes enough for 8 generous bowls - if you don't fancy it two days running it freezes very well for an easy dinner another day with some crusty bread and perhaps a salad.

Monday, December 10, 2007

And this week ... I bought

Borough Market on Saturday was fairly calm early on - most intensity seemed to be with people ordering wonderful things for xmas - then looking uncertain about when to collect their goodies. Tuesday xmas means an exceptionally full fridge for half a week if you go the Saturday option. Last year was gridlock from about 8am so I understand the hesitation.

Started at Ginger Pig and told my sad tale of bad sausages bought the week before - not a problem at all for the young man serving me. He was all apologies and replaced them without question - 9 fat fresh cumberlands for 6 bad steak sausages - as the man no longer fancied trying the steak variety. We had them grilled on Tuesday night and then cold in lunchboxes for a couple of days and they were very good indeed. I may never know what they are like! With a couple of pork chops itended for Monday night but ended up in the freezer - it was only £5.40

Went to Furness for mackarel but they had none - cheap!

Then to Wild Beef for eggs - scrambled for supper Monday night - £1.50

Gorgonzola as the last gasp of a huge feast on Sunday then as snacks and finally with spinach as a pasta sauce Friday night - from Gianni at Gastronomica - he really wanted to sell me some mozzarella as well but I had no use for it and it would be sinful to waste such wonderful cheese - I suspect he probably managed to sell the lot in any case - £6

Fortunately Applebees had some mackarel - cured and served as the start of the feast on Sunday - so bought two big fat ones that the monger then skinned and filleted for me - £7.80

Apples from Chegworth lunches - £1

Coffee from Monmouth - no more cup of excellence which was wildly expensive but was indeed an exceptionally good coffee so a little dark roast colombian instead - £8.50

Two more apple strudel from the cake stall next to the Olive Oil Company because they were so good last week as dessert it seemed worth doing it again this week - Sunday dessert - £5

More trouts eggs Sunday lunch from Inverness Smokery - there was no Orkney Rose this week - and also bought shortbread and whisky marmalade as english xmas gifts for our french neighbours. I couldn't resist a half leg of blackface lamb - for the freezer - so it was £22.80 the lot

Needed white onions white onion foam to go with roast Cote du Boeuf Sunday and I know they don't sell them in Booths so I bought them at Turnips - an expensive £1.50 for 3 made to seem even dearer as one of them had started to rot...

Brindisa for another jar of lovely chickpeas for the cupboard - looked to buy some dried white beans there but they were £12.50 a kilo. I am sure they are extraordinary but I didn't want to find out that they were irresistable and find myself having to use them for all my white bean needs so stuck with the chickpeas at £2.75

Booths for veg - lots of potatoes both pink fir boiled with lunch Sunday then as salad in lunches Monday, Tuesday and yukon gold yet to be eaten, carrots lunches and salad Tuesday, garlic soup Sunday and the other half of the soup in the freezer, beans Sunday feast, celery, fennel lunches and salad, and peppers lunches - only £5

Milk, bread, clotted cream and a serious chunk of Montgomery cheddar Sunday's excess!- the only one they export to France - from Neals Yard - £18.70

Almond croissant and a toasty loaf from Flour Power - £3.20

So all together I spent £89.15

This time last year we were mostly eating (a lot!) red pepper hummus and taramasalata - and we've had a lot of the hummus since. A serious treat is daube of duck with prunes or carbonara with prosciutto and a slightly lighter dish is grilled pork and noodle soup, always a favourite.

Whatever you choose to eat over christmas I hope it is utterly fabulous and made with love. For myself I'm off with the man for a little break - normal service will resume in another year.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Chickpea & Roasted Vegetable Salad

This is a really good dish for lunch boxes as well as working well for the cooler weather. The chick peas make it substantial and add a creamy undertone to the whole thing. The ones I used for this were seriously posh ones from Brindisa - big fat pale yellow balls of joy. They are a much better choice than pasta for this because they are more robust and don't tend to collapse the way pasta does. Slow roasting the vegetables gives them a concentrated sweetness that is lovely to taste.

Chickpea & Roasted Vegetable Salad

2 medium onions, peeled, halved and the halves cut in to quarters
6-8 garlic cloves, flattened with the flat of a knife but unpeeled
1 aubergine, cubed into 2cm pieces
2 courgettes, halved lengthways then cubed to the same size as the aubergine
3 peppers, chopped roughly the size of the courgettes
2 large tomatoes, cubed again into 2cm pieces
2-3 bay leaves
3-4 sprigs of rosemary
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
660g Jar of El Navarrico chick peas if you can get them - or 2 tins of the usual

Drizzle a little olive oil over the base of a low sided roasting pan, scatter over the herbs and garlic cloves then add all the vegetables, piled up if you need to - they will collapse as the moisture from them evaporates. Season and then drizzle the lot generously with olive oil - the oil becomes the dressing for the salad, full of the sweet roasting flavours, so don't stint. Put the tray into a medium/gas5 oven and roast for about 90 minutes, turning every 30 minutes or so. They are cooked when the edges of the veg are starting to caramelise and the volume has reduced by about half.

Drain and wash the chick peas and put them into a large bowl. Tip the hot vegetables over the top scraping in the oil from the pan. Try and rescue the herbs and the garlic and bin it if you can. Mix it all together then check the seasoning. Add salt, pepper and perhaps a dash of balsamic vinegar till the combination is perfect.

This made enough salad for both of us for lunches for four days - with some cold chicken and stuffing for the first few days and on its own on Thursday and it remained good to eat. Lots of flavours and textures and a good salve for lunchtime hunger.

Monday, December 03, 2007

And this week ... I bought

We arrived early - on the dot of 9 - and the market was blissfully quiet. I think some people save up going to fill up on treats for christmas leaving the regulars a bit more space in early December. Works for me.

Started at Wyndhams for chicken carcasses to make stock and I did Saturday afternoon - £2

Then to the Ginger Pig and bought a big chicken for a spectacularly good lunch on Sunday with cold leftovers in lunchboxes for a few days after that, some steak sausages for a change - we've never tried them and they were a complete disaster as when I opened the bag on Monday night they were rancid - they stank and had to go straight in the bin outside, not happy, and some unsmoked oyster bacon -some in the freezer and some in barley stuffing in the chicken and some draped across the breasts to keep the bird moist as it roasted - £25.40

This week's one off stall outside roast was organic smoked salmon - tried a bit and it was very good so bought a pack - which is now in the freezer as we had far too much for dinner Saturday night and it will be special another day - £4.50

Eggs emergency omelette Monday night and coarse ground mince into the freezer from Wild Beef - £9.25

Dolmades - as a snack before lunch Sunday and olive oil soap as the man is fond of it - from Taste of Turkey - £5.50

Chocolates for a treat - £2

Last chance slice of seldom seen goose for the year lovely sandwich for Saturday lunch - £3

Apples lunches and juice to keep us going while we shopped from Chegworth - £2.80

A couple of massive apple strudels - warmed through for dessert with clotted cream on Sunday and just divine - from the cake stall next to the olive company - £5

Then we bought some oysters - we are going to France for xmas and it is traditional round us to eat oysters for xmas day so the man decided we should practice here first which is enormously sweet of him as he doesn't like them at all but knows my passion for them - a dozen small natives - we managed to shuck 10 out of 12 very successfully and I shared them with Georgia as an appetiser before lunch on Sunday - for £5

More fish to continue our odyssey - this time from Shellseekers where we got a dressed crab and some sweet fresh prawns devoured by the man on Saturday night as I'd been to a cooking class in the afternoon and couldn't eat another thing so it worked out well as he was a little jealous that he hadn't come with me and then he was delighted he didn't have to share! - £8.30

Chickpeas - posh ones in a jar - for roasted vegetable salad for lunches for the week - from Brindisa - £2.75

Booths for veg - potatoes, carrots - roast, fennel - meant for salad with fish but still in the fridge, sugarsnaps, clementines lunches, parsnips, spring onions parsnip and spring onion pudding, garlic and pine nuts red pepper houmous - £6.50

Scotch egg from Ginger Pig for brunch - £3

Peppers, aubergine and a couple of zucchinis -t o make my lovely roasted veg and chick peas for lunches - from Tony - £2.30

Bread and milk and clotted cream from Neals Yard - an exact £8

Almond croissant and another little cottage tin loaf for excellent toast - £3.20

A total of £98.50 - not sure where it all went!

This time last year we were mostly eating spiced beef and bali salad - highly recommended for a touch of sun in winter