Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Running Order

This is how to make rack of lamb with crisp new potatoes, carrot and parsnip mousses and green beans to serve in one hour and twenty minutes.

Start Scrape and parboil potatoes. Peel and chop 2 cloves garlic. – 15 minutes

10 minutes Peel and dice carrots and parsnips – 10 minutes

Parboil carrots with cardamom for 20 minutes.

Parboil parsnips separately – 15 minutes

15 minutes Top and tail beans, simmer – 10 mins

20 minutes Chop bacon and sweat – 5 minutes

20 minutes Drain potatoes and saute in duck fat – 30 minutes

22 minutes Chop spring onions, drain carrots and parsnips, make puddings with egg and tbspn butter, stir in spring onions Boil kettle for bain marie – 5 minutes

27 minutes Seal lamb, fat side down – 3 minutes

30 minutes Roast in oven – 15 minutes Plates in to warm

40 minutes Carrot puddings into bain marie and into oven for 20 minutes

40 minutes Make crust with 2 tbspn almonds, 1 tbspn chervil and tarragon – 4 mins

45 minutes Coat the fat side of the meat with the crumb mix and cook for 10 minutes

55 minutes Season cooked lamb and set aside.

55 minutes Remove bacon, deglaze pan with 125ml wine, bubble cognac.

1 hour Whisk in 30g butter - 10 minutes

1 hour 5 min Finish beans in a little olive oil – 2 mins

1 hour 10 Potatoes onto plate, topped with sliced lamb, drizzle of sauce across, carrots and beans onto plate, delicate ziggerzagger round the outside edge

It works.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Carrot and Parsnip Mousse(s)

Here is the last element of my Cuisine Cup dinner - individual puddings of carrot and parsnip, studded with spring onions. Made in little ramekins, they are beautiful - a bright orange splodge on the plate and a gentle mouthful of delicate sweetness when you try them. They are also really easy to make, and not particularly temperamental so your timings can be out by five or ten minutes and these will not spoil.

Carrot & Parsnip Mousse

3 large carrots
3 large parsnips
3 spring onions
1 egg
1 tablespoon butter + a bit extra for greasing the ramekins
Freshly ground black pepper

Peel and chop the carrots and parsnips into rings about a centimetre thick. They need to be cooked separately - so if time is more pressing than the amount of washing up you create, simmer them in two pans of salted water till they are tender. Fifteen minutes for the parsnips, twenty for the carrots. Or cook them one after the other in the same pan if you have started a little early.

Meanwhile clean and chop the spring onions - whites and the first centimetre or so of the green - into rings about a quarter of a centimetre thick. Grease the inside of four small ramekins with butter.
Drain the vegetables and put into one pan. Add the egg and the buttter and a generous amount of black pepper and process with a stick blender till you have a smooth purée. If you don't have a stick blender you can use a blender or food processor.

Stir the sliced spring onions into the vegetables.

Spoon the mix into the ramekins then put the ramekins into a baking pan. Half fill the pan with boiling water then put it into the oven on a middle shelf at Gas 4/180C for 20 minutes. If you are making them to go with the rack of lamb they cook quite happily on a lower shelf at Gas 6.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Crisp New Potatoes

Went to France last weekend and had lunch one day in the local café. All the usual lovely things and all things duck - speciality of the region when you go to the Gers. I had the magret because I love magret and was expecting it to be served with chips. But no - it was served with new potatoes that had been cooked in stock and so were delicately flavoured and quite amazing.

With the cuisine cup ingredients listing three different types of new potatoes to be used and a requirement that one garnish for the lamb be potato based I thought of these little delights of last week and wondered about adding the joy of duck fat. Cook the potatoes in stock till they are fluffed all the way through then crisp them in a pan on a gentle heat till golden.
Crisp New Potatoes

750g waxy new potatoes, small as you can find
500ml stock or water
2 cloves garlic sliced
3 tablespoons of goose or duck fat
Salt and pepper

No need to peel them but scrape any scraggy bits of the potatoes. Leave them whole if they are tiny or halve if needs be. You want them to be about the size of a walnut. Parboil them in seasoned stock with the garlic slivers. After about 15 minutes drain them.

Heat the fat in a heavy based pan and add the potatoes and garlic. Cook on a gentle heat for about half an hour turning occasionally till they are crisp and golden all over. Sprinkle with a little crystal salt to serve.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

I was chosen by l'Atelier des Chefs to be a contestant in Cuisine Cup at their new shop in Welbeck Street, looking for a winning amateur cook. The competition was scheduled for Sunday - to be accepted I had to submit a recipe with the prime ingredient being 800g Norwegian salmon fillet. Spice crusted salmon fitted the bill. Not knowing much about the actual contest I assumed it would be at a domestic level, amongst a group of good local cooks.

Ha! 8 of the 12 contestants came over from Paris for the weekend, including one guy who had been in last years competition... They were all very intense and focussed and chatty in French. Very clear we anglais didn't really stand a chance. Certainly I didn't because I hadn't focussed on every single detail of my first dish which was fixed to what I had submitted as my application. But I really enjoyed it, partly because there was no pressure. My weekly language class came in handy for the day - everyone there was french, everything was discussed in french and the results were announced in french... except for the single English contestant who made it through, 15 year old Luke who was announced additionally in English. And the good news is he was the winner in the second round and so will go to Paris in February for the semis.

My salmon was lovely - one of the judges told me after that I was very close to the top four so that was nice. But the winners made things like pan fried salmon toppped with meringue and avruga caviar and a lemon foam and marinated slices with pomegranate and peppers and crisped salmon skin with caremalised lemon slices on a wheel of polenta that was divided into eights with alternating segments of half yellow and half died black with squid ink. Pretty as a picture and way out of my league. Most particularly plated up and served inside an hour.

I found the process interesting. I was committed to the salmon recipe I submitted but could play with the second round dish which was rack of lamb and lots of other stuff on a list. I really enjoyed concentrating on that dish and developing the idea and cooking it twice in a week when I've never cooked rack of lamb before. Usually when I cook the aim is making good food and something I fancy, but this time it was to make good food using ingredients that someone else had determined within a set time so the combinations and techniques I used were down to me but when it was finished was critical. Different way of creating.

Although I cook a lot and also make a huge range of food with lots of new and untried things I seldom focus on one dish in this way and develop it after trying one way and thinking more about it. The dish I ended up with was a lovely range of flavours and textures and very pretty on the plate. And all of it timed to be served inside one hour and twenty minutes - which for me is often a miracle in itself.

I made a crust with ground almonds, tarragon and chervil and roasted it, then made carrot and parsnip mousses studded with spring onions and cooked new potatoes in stock with garlic then, when cooked, fried gently in goose fat for half an hour till they were crisp and golden and fluffed in the middle and then served the whole lot with a sauce made with white wine, cognac and finished with butter that was thickened by the almond that had fallen into the pan while the lamb cooked. And I was really pleased with myself because the second go round it was great. Seriously.

Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

2 rashers unsmoked bacon
2 tablepsoons goose or duck fat
1 rack of baby lamb
2 tablespoons ground almonds
1 tablespoon of chopped tarragon and chervil
1 teaspoon olive oil
125ml dry white wine
2 tablespoons of Cognac
30g butter

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.

Chop the bacon into little strips and sweat it gently in the goose fat in a heavy oven pan. When the bacon has softened put in the lamb, fat side down and let it take on some colour for a couple of minutes. Turn the meat fat side up, season generously and roast in the oven for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile mix the ground almonds with the chopped herbs and the olive oil and a grinding of black pepper. Take the roast from the oven then coat the fat side of the meat with the herb mix and cook for another 10 minutes.

Remove the meat from the pan onto a warmed plate and cover it with foil.

Remove the bacon pieces and drain off the excess fat from the roasting tin then put it onto a high flame on top of the hob. Deglaze the pan with the white wine incorporating any almonds and herbs that remain, add the cognac and let it bubble fiercely for a minute or two till it reduces slightly. Take it off the heat and whisk in the butter. Check the seasoning.

Slice the lamb into individual chops, arrange prettily on a warmed plate and spoon over some sauce. For me, lamb begs for garlic potatoes and the individual mousses worked a treat. The slight squeakiness of some simply steamed green beans rounded out the dish to perfection.

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday - though when I walked out the door and it was snowing I did wonder what I was doing. Really bitterly cold and icy winds - and all for a final prize of cookware.

Friday, November 21, 2008

And I wanted...I bought...I made

Bit of a funny week coming up with me being in a competition for Cuisine Cup Sunday so I need to practice my dishes - spiced salmon for the first round, and rack of lamb with garlic potatoes and a cognac sauce. So that's Saturday lunch and dinner! Am thinking as well I may buy some gammon and make ham for an easy supper Sunday and lunches in the week. Monday we are out to see the exquisitely tantalising Ferran Adria in conversation at Queen Elizabeth Hall - about which I am very excited. So dinner may well be a ham sandwich after. Tuesday I am thinking the chick pea dish we didn't have last week, Wednesday we are out but Thursday we are home and will have some pasta. Though I have a lovely nubbly celeraic in the fridge so perhaps it will be soup. Friday my brother arrives so we shall have bacon and eggs and toast and juice to combat jet lag for breakfast - I shall join him to be sociable, obviously. And then I think steak and salad for dinner followed by a selection of finest cheeses.

Borough was spectacularly cold Saturday morning - waaaaaaa! Wore a big coat but forgot my gloves - stupid stupid stupid. Started at the Ginger Pig and bought a lovely rack of lamb - the second in a week as well as the second one ever. When I cooked it Friday night the chops didn't come out evenly and I was worried it would spoil my presentation in the competition if I made it that far. So I asked the butcher if he knew a way to cut them and he was really sweet and showed me the rack and the way it was smaller at one end than the other and so would always cut unevenly. Obvious once you know. Then, greedy as ever, I asked him to cut me a large piece of smoked gammon from what was an enormous piece. He weighed it and it was nearly 3 kilos in weight and £30 - I must have blanched. He was quite happy to cut me another piece from a smaller gammon which was about £20 in money - and someone richer than me will no doubt have bought the other piece. So my total was £32 - and a stamp on my ginger pig loyalty card

Then to Booths for carrots, cucumber, lettuce, mint, spring onions, tomatoes, and green beans costing £6.50

Furness for fish - a thick central fillet of salmon for £4 exactly

Eggs from a well wrapped up Lizzie - £1.70 they have gone up

Spinach from Tony's - £1.50

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £8.50

A jar of duck fat from the French market - £3

Cottage loaf and a chocolate brownie from Flour Power - £3

So I spent £60.20. Not bad. I already had some courgettes, parsnips, potatoes and a giant celeriac in the fridge from my foray at lunchtime on Thursday so plenty of veg. Also bought basil and tarragon, a large bunch of parsley and some tins of tomatoes and cannellini beans on Brixton Road

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Heston Makes a Fondue!

Strictly speaking this is not Borough connected but I wanted to share this with you anyway. A couple of weeks ago I went to an evening hosted by the Sherry Institute of Spain where the brilliant Heston Blumenthal spoke of the work he had been doing with them pairing food and sherry. I am fascinated by the way he approaches food as an overarching interlocking experience about taste and texture, scents and remembrance of things past to create pleasure but also delight. He really spreads joy about his food. My serious wish for my birthday was to be given his new Big Fat Duck Cookbook - and it was a wish fulfilled.

One of my favourites of the little dishes we sampled that night was this warm fondue of gruyere and cloves paired with fino. When my friend Andrea lived in Balham we spent many pleasant afternoons sat in her garden dipping hunks of bread into a lightly bubbling cheese fondue in the sunshine, gossiping about everything and nothing, sipping a cool glass of wine. Sampling this creation reminded me of those happy days - evoking such food memories is one of this chef's driving passions. If only we'd known to add a little ground cloves.

Friday, November 07, 2008

And this week I wanted...I bought...I made

Saturday night the lovely David is coming for dinner so I'm thinking roast - probably beef. Or maybe pork. Beef it was and a magnificent piece at that with a fabulous collection of salads Sunday maybe lunch out at the Oak in Clapham, okay but noisy and simple pasta tea that plan changed when Jaey and Marie came over late afternoon bearing champagne to celebrate her birthday so we all sat down to roast beef and salads from the fridge - dinner was ready in moments and just as fab as the night before. Monday grilled pork chops with mash and cabbage yes but with salad. Tuesday stirfry noodles a slightly unsuccessful chicken and peanuts and spicy cabbage. Wednesday I have french so it will have to be something simple and quick but we've run out of pork and beans so maybe omelette and salad properly french with spinach and fritons and ready in minutes. Thursday my sister hits town with her friend so we shall meet they were tired but full of stories of their travels so far. Friday I so don't know turns out the pack light plan didn't happen so my sister and her friend are spending a little quality time at the market this afternoon and bringing us a picnic supper as well as lots of suitcases to mind while they continue their sojourn.

At the Ginger Pig I bought a large piece of top rump - over 2 kilos in weight. The butcher compared two pieces for me - they were practically the same weight. So bought the first one for £27 - serious money for serious meat It was lovely roasted to just pink it served us well for dinner with guests both Saturday and Sunday and then for lunch till mid week

Then to Booths for potatoes for potato salad, garlic, a large bag of dried porcini for the pantry, fennel salad with carrots and celery already in the fridge, spinach omelette Wednsday night, zucchinis, plum tomatoes, dill and shallots all intended for a new chick pea dish that didn't happen so the zucchinis and tomatoes have had to be binned as we are away now till Wednesday but it can't be helped plus lots of dried fruit - apricots, raisins, blueberries and sultanas meant for compote but will have to be next week now - £14.50

At Furness my timing was bad - was being served as the bullet headed fat bloke decided to wash the floor and started shoving water at me with the fury of a man with a crab attached to his nether regions. Most odd. Hope it cheered his day - did nothing for mine. Did manage to get some prawns and after all that they went into the bin as they had been meant for Sunday night and then couldn't use them Monday either so too far away from the sea by Tuesday - £2.70

Then to the Gastronomica shop for tagliatelle in the cupboard - £1.50

Eggs for omelette and sausages for freezer from a very cheerful Lizzie back at Wild Beef after a few weeks away though bearing the bad news that egg prices will go up next week to cover the cost of feed - £5.50
Parmesan from the Gastronomica cheese stall - a lovely hunk for the fridge - £7

Then to complete the hat trick braesola from the last Gastronomica stall Saturday lunch and a little on toast for Sunday breakfast. Piled onto the top of their counter was panettone, more specifically chocolate panettone which we bought last year to find that it was utterly amazing. But when we returned the next week seeking more there was none to be had. They had sold their entire christmas allocation and there would be no more. When I fell on them with delight on Saturday the guy serving told me that last year their wholesaler had promised them more then sold the lot to a restaurant leaving them with a load of disappointed customers. So they have dealt direct with the manufacturer this year - so with luck they will be around for a few weeks yet. So that cost me £19 As fabulous as it was last year - we had it as dessert Saturday night with David who had been there the first time so was delighted with its reappearance, then more with Jaey and Marie and then for a couple of lunchtime treats

Then to Monmouth for coffee - a dark columbian roast - £8.50

Apples from Chegworth - £1.20

Peppers with some I had from last week roasted then dressed in basil oil from Tony - £1

Milk, yoghurt and bread from Neals Yard - £11.20

More bread from Flour Power, but no need for brownies - £1

So this week was expensive - £100.10 - but some pretty wonderful treats in there

This time last year we were mostly eating oxtail lasagne.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Steamed Aromatic Cod

Steam is what water becomes at 100C and if you have a pan that has a lidded steamer that slots into then it is a good way to cook - particularly delicate things. Steaming is the least intrusive of all cooking techniques – the color, texture and flavor of the food remain closer to what nature intended. Better still, steamed foods retain more nutrients and are lower in fat and calories than food cooked by other methods. Cooking this way brings about a subtle transformation in the ingredients you use. The steam can be scented with aromatics, which will in turn infuse flavour into the food as it cooks. It is a quick and healthy way to cook and I don't do it nearly enough.

So last Saturday night I was tempted by a recipe in Gordon Ramsay's Secrets to steam some cod. And it was marvellous.

It is very quick to make but you need to do a couple of things beforehand. First thing, wrap the fish in clingfilm and refrigerate it for the day. Then a couple of hours before you plan to eat, make the aromatic stock as it needs time to infuse. Then when it's dinner time, it's only five minutes away!

Aromatic Steamed Cod
2 cod steaks
1.5 litres water
6 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
10 cardamom pods
10 cloves
2 tablespoons pink or Sichuan peppercorns
large handful parsley sprigs
few large thyme sprigs
1 large bay leaf
3 shallots, sliced
1/2 head garlic
1 vanilla pod, split
1 lemon, cut into 6 slices
about 8 large lettuce leaves to line your steamer
few small basil sprigs
few tarragon sprigs
few rosemary sprigs
light olive oil to drizzle
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Check the fish for any bones, and pull out any you find with tweezers. Wrap the fish tightly in clingfilm and refrigerate for the day or overnight - this sets the shape.

Put the water into a large pan that has a steamer. Add all the spices, parsley, thyme, bay, garlic, vanilla and lemon slices. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Take the pan off the heat and let it infuse for an hour or two.

When ready to cook, unwrap the cod. Bring the aromatics water back to the boil. Line the base of the steamer with the lettuce leaves and scatter with the basil, tarragon and rosemary. Place the cod on top and season wiht salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil.

Fit the steamer over the pan of simmering water, cover and cook the fillets for 4-6 minutes. To test, check the flesh seems firm when pressed. Lift the fish onto warmed plates and serve with pilaff rice.

Afterwards, you can strain the solids from the stock and freeze it for another use, which would make for an ultra quick dinner.