Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Aubergine Salad with Walnut & Yoghurt

This salad is a bit of a stunner - and definitely good for the transition from summer to autumn but I think it might enter the repertoire permanently.

It started with an aubergine. Actually it started a couple of weeks ago with a different aubergine. We were at the Canton Arms one Sunday for a quiet beer and the sharing of a couple of starters while we read the papers. I love those kind of Sundays! That day one of the dishes was a particularly awesome salad of cubed aubergine dressed with mint and yoghurt and maybe tahini. Seriously gorgeous with thick slices of warm bread. Didn't have the recipe - should have asked.

Usually I move on to new cravings but that salad stayed with me - the creamy freshness of the dressing worked so well I found myself wondering about it in idle moments. I had one attempt where I roasted the cubes in a little olive oil then dressed it cold with yoghurt and garlic, walnuts and mint which was good but not hanker after it memorable. Missed the spot.

Friday I had some lovely little lamb chops that needed an accompaniment to make them supper. Thought I'd have another shot at the salad but there was next to no mint in the garden. There was, however, loads of dill, my new herb of love. Added here and there it has been one of the flavours of our summer. Cut a generous amount then set about making a new dressing. Also decided to steam the aubergine just to see what it would be like.

Aubergine Salad with Walnuts & Yoghurt

Steaming the aubergine gave it a lovely delicacy of texture - like little pillows of joy - but roasting would also work well

Serves 2 generously as a side dish

1 medium sized aubergine
1 clove garlic, peeled and roughly chopped
1/4 tspn salt
2 tbspns walnuts
1 tbspn chopped dill
100ml plain yoghurt
25ml olive oil
Salt and pepper

Cut the aubergine into 2cm cubes. Put them into a perforated steam tray, season lightly, then steam at 100C for 15 minutes. If roasting, put them into a roasting tin with a little olive oil, season then cook at Gas4/180C/350F for about 20 minutes until they are cooked through.

Using a pestle and mortar crush the clove of garlic with the salt to make a paste. Add the walnuts and dill and keep pounding until you have a rough paste. Add the yoghurt and mix well then drizzle in the oil, still mixing with the pestle till it is all combined. Taste a bit to check for seasoning then add the required salt and ground pepper.

Let the aubergine cool slightly then fold it into the dressing. The flavour develops if you let it sit for about half an hour.

It was perfect with grilled lamb but it would work well with chicken or fish or as part of a meze platter. Thoroughly addictive!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

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

A small hiatus in the blog - had a glamorous time in Dorset at Summer Lodge, where the salted butter has a few granules of salt on top, and the unsalted butter is formed into a perfect golden tomato. Had to check it wasn't actually tomato butter. *cough*

So this week I have things to plan around. Sunday is food chain so Saturday night will be something fairly fuss free. Am tossing up between chicken curry - I have curry sauce in the freezer - and sausage sandwiches. Both simple but went for beef and marrow burgers with salad. Sunday night a simple roast, thinking pork with cauliflower cheese - I have cheese sauce in the freezer - and roasted sweet potatoes. Easy peasy and a lunchbox delight due to some overindulgence on the wine front after food chain dinner was slightly undercooked (but the crackling was perfect). Monday I think steamed tofu and cabbage and rice - I have cooked rice in the freezer which returns to perfect with a few minutes steaming made a pork and paprika stew with refried potatoes both marfona and sweet. Tuesday we are out to see Faust at the Young Vic - very excited. Quite brilliant - go if you can. Wednesday I quite fancy dal and fritters or stuffed baby aubergines intended the dal but discovered about 7pm we had no red lentils so the crisis on the catering front was resolved with a fine spinach omelette and garlic potatoes, Thursday I think noodle stir fry - had the steamed tofu, cabbage and rice we didn't have Monday. Friday omelette and salad. Because I love omelette and salad. But having had omelette once we will have noodles stir fried with shitake and cabbage. Which I also love.

On the bus I decided what I'd really like for dinner was neither curry nor sausages but some of the fab beef and marrow burgers they've been making through the summer at the Ginger Pig, only to discover they didn't have any. Woe. Did have beef and marrow bones so bought that, with Charlie telling me to put the bones into warm water for a few minutes then PUSH! And hey presto, I had marrow. Also bought a piece of pork leg, as there was no pork shoulder left, all sold Friday apparently. I blame Hugh Fearnley Whittinstall for extolling it's virtues on Channel 4 this week. Spent £21.03

Then to Ted's veg for potatoes, cauliflower, parsnips and carrots - £3.40

Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50

But Isle of Wight tomatoes had no corresponding garlic which is a blow, now that Booths is gone there is such a gap in my shopping plan at Borough.

Milk and pasta from Neals Yard - £6.60

Bread from Flour Power - £1.10

Then straight back on the bus! Spent a mere £33.63 but there will be other costs in the week

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cheese & Chocolates

A recent blogger evening in the delightful surroundings of La Cave à Fromage in South Kensington was a revelation. Pairing chocolate and cheese Louise, from the Chocolate Consultancy hosted a tasting with Tiago from La Cave to make some interesting connections and a couple of quite amazing pairings.

A lot of people seem to think this is a match that simply cannot work. If your starting point is a couple of Snickers and a chunk of Cathedral City that is undoubtedy true. If, on the other hand, you begin, as we did, with a white goat's milk chocolate made by Askinosie and a bleu de Basque from the French Pyrénees a whole new experience begins. I have never come across a goat's milk chocolate before and though I'm not a particular fan of white chocolate I am a big fan of goat's cheese, so I was really curious to try this. At the first nibble it is lightly goaty, slightly grainy, definitely interesting. Next was a nibble of sweet crumbly creamy blue ewe's cheese. Having sampled the individual tastes it was time to try them together in the same mouthful. They made an interesting combination - the cheese almost sweeter than the chocolate but it was the hint of sour tang from the chocolate that is the last thing in my mouth.

Second combination of the night was the first of three Valrhona chocolates. Jivara is a milk chocolate, 40% cocoa solids with a light barley malt extract flavour - an ultra refined ovaltine. It was paired with that most fabulous of British cheeses, Montgomery cheddar. This elegant pale ivory cheese is made by hand in Somerset with unpasteurised milk and matured for around 11 months. I am always delighted to see it's crumbly fruity self, no matter the context. The chocolate and cheese combined worked really well - I had thought the chocolate might be a touch light but the balance of sweet/salty and smooth/crumbly was very good.

Halfway through and Louise introduces Valrhona Manjari with undisguised delight. It is the chocolate of her epiphany, the one that made her see what a complex thing it could be. First taste for me and her excitement makes a lot of sense. Made from cocoa grown in Madagascar it is citrussy with lime and perfectly roasted. Tiago matches it with tomme brulée. I am a fan of these ewe's milk cheeses and this one is new to me and decidedly special. Matured for 3-4 months before the rind is burnt for an intense flavour, strongest towards the outer edge. The separate elements were great but, as sometimes happens, they didn't go so well together. For me at least it was a touch too smooth but others rated it as their favourite.

Next is definitely the pairing I would choose. The Grenada Chocolate Co make a dark chocolate that comes in at 71% cocoa solids. Grown on the most famous spice island the cocoa trees have taken on their terroir. First chip of this in my mouth and it is all spice and delicate bitterness. The flavour goes through changes as it melts with almost wild peaks and troughs. As cocoa butter melts up to 300 flavour notes are gradually released (for context wine has 10 flavour notes) and with this chocolate I can start to understand. The matching cheese was a deceptively simple colline aux chevre - a goats cheese that is very fresh, ready in 24 hours, very light and sweet. These two together brought a blissed delight. It was a fabulous pairing, chocolate and cheese bolstered each other to make the combination more sweet sweet and more earthy than they are apart.

We ended with a crumbled scatter of Valrhona pure couverture - 100% cocoa. Very dry, chalky, intense and bitter. Though solid in the mouth it is almost powder. It was paired with a gratte-paille soft to runny triple cream cow's milk cheese, all pasteurised milk and double cream for a richly decadent result. I liked them together, the very bitter was good with the ultra creamy, but I wondered what the chocolate would be like with something like stilton. Already I am making new pairings!

The respective expertise of Louise and Tiago combined with their serious passion and considerable imaginations made for an unusual and engrossing night. If you fancy doing this - and I would seriously recommend it - more events will be held at La Cave from October 13. Book through louise@thechocolateconsultancy.com

Friday, September 10, 2010

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

We have one more cucumber to eat before I rip the plant out to make way for some winter veg planting and I'm planning to honour its fabulousness at lunch Saturday with some milky buffalo mozzarella and a scattering of pea shoots. Saturday night I think a steak is a serious contender. Sunday pasta bake, probably broccoli as I've not had broccoli for ages. Monday spicy chicken noodles with stock and chicken from the freezer, Tuesday fried green tomatoes as I despair of ours ever ripening, Wednesday steamed silken tofu, as I'm out early evening and it will be quick when I get home. Thursday we're off to Dorset for a fabulous weekend courtesy of team wholegrain. I won the prize for my fabulous shredded wheat fennel pasta.

Feels like autumn is on its way - definite cool breeze Saturday morning for added chill at the bus stop. Even though we were early - not even nine o'clock! - there was a queue at Ginger Pig. Wondered idly about marrow burgers but went for steak when I got to the head of the queue. Do love a well hung rump. £16.67

Headed straight across the road to Monmouth for coffee while the man watched the weekly spectacle of a truck trying to turn into Stoney Street while hitting no parked cars - £11.50

Is no Booths - missing it badly - so off to Ted's Veg for potatoes, an enormous cabbage and some leeks - £3.80

Lizzie at Wild Beef was delighted to hear that Marie and Jon have a fine little boy called Teddy who will no doubt one day be taken to Borough - £1.50 for eggs

Bought both mozzarella and parma ham from the Italian stall - £11.90

And a hard sheepy cheese from Gianni at Gastronomica - £5 the hunk

Some pies from Mrs Kings - £5

Milk from Neals Yard - £1.90

Spent £57.27 in total

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Parsnip & Turnip Purée

On holiday last week we had dinner at a french restaurant in Bury St Edmunds - La Maison Bleue. The food was very good, particularly the side dish they served with the mains. The waiter set a steaming bowl before us and explained, in his very french way, zat zis was a purée of ze parsneep and ze turneep for us to share. And it was amazing - gloriously light, rich, creamy, buttery and delicately spiced with cumin. Eet waz true love for me on ze first mouth-ful.

Couldn't resist making it at home Sunday night to go with our lovely pork. It could not be simpler or more fabulous.

Parsnip & Turnip Purée

This will make enough for six servings so we had the leftovers in lunchboxes and it was as good cold as it was hot.

2 medium parsnips, peeled and diced
1 turnip, about the same weight as the parsnip, peeled and diced
50g butter
Scant teaspoon of cumin
150ml cream

Boil the diced parsnips and turnips separately in salted water till tender. I started early and did them one after the other to save washing up! Drain.

Melt the butter over a low heat in the bottom of the pan and add the cumin. Cook gently for a couple of minutes till the butter is fragrant. Add the vegetables back to pan and take it off the heat. Purée with a stick blender. Add the cream and purée again till all is light as a feather.

Serve with roasts - spiced pork for us this week, but also worked a treat with the monkfish I had at La Maison Bleue.

Steamed Crisped Aromatic Pork Shoulder

I think I have reached a perfection of pork.

I bought a piece of pork shoulder on the bone to roast last weekend, with cold for lunches in the week. Lovely bit of meat, huge expanse of skin, beautifully scored by the butcher at the Gigner Pig. Definite treat in the making.

Serendipity. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's column in the Guardian Saturday was for organic pork. There was a recipe for slow cooked spiced shoulder which sounded gorgeous right up to the point where he was describing the skin. I read 'you won't get any crackling, but you will get "chewling" – tender, chewable skin with a lovely, spicy flavour' and thought, can't be right. Read it again and, shockingly, that was what he was suggesting. Love pork. Love roast pork. Most of all love crackling. That incredible tasty shattering when you bite down, the lovely oily crunchy mouthful, the brilliant flavour of pig. There was no way I was settling for "chewling".

Have wondered for a while about steaming pork on the bone for the incredible moist tenderness that results but hesitated because I was worried there would be no crackling. Have tried it with lamb shoulder, steaming for a few hours, then finished with a quick blast in the oven which crisped the outside nicely. I have also slow roasted pork shoulder. Start hot, add liquid cover with foil and drop the temperature, then finish it uncovered on a very high heat which resulted in tender meat.

And lots of crackling :)

I figured I could translate this method to use the steam oven for the slow cook bookended by hot blasts in the gas oven. The result was wow! like you wouldn't believe.

Slow-cooked aromatic shoulder of pork

I did use HFW's spicing, which was lovely and dark and slightly sticky, but the method is mine. As was the crackling!

Serves six-plus

2.5kg piece of shoulder of pork, on the bone
5 large garlic cloves, peeled
5cm piece fresh ginger, peeled
2 tsp chilli flakes
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tbsp brown sugar
½ tbsp flaky sea salt
1 tbsp sunflower or groundnut oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp five-spice powder - I used ready made, HFW makes his own
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 glass white or red wine

Heat the oven to 230C/450F/gas mark 8. With a craft knife, score the pork rind in parallel lines about 1cm apart and to a depth of 0.5-1cm (or get the butcher to do it for you).

Grate the garlic and fresh ginger into a small bowl, and mix to a paste with the chilli, ground ginger, sugar, salt, oil and soy sauce. Mix a tablespoon of five spice into the paste.

Put the joint skin-side up into the steam oven roasting tin. Using your fingertips, rub just over half the spice rub into the scored rind. Rub the rest into the meat.

Roast the joint for 30 minutes, then remove from the oven.

Pour the glass of wine and a glass of water into the roasting tin, cover with foil and steam in the steam oven at 100C for 3 hours. When the steam runs out after a couple of hours baste the meat before refilling the water. Finish the three hours of steaming.

Heat the oven to 230C/420F/Gas 8.

Take the pork from the steam oven, remove the foil, and carefully drain the dark spicy liquid that has gathered in the bottom of the pan, leaving only a couple of tablespoons. (Keep it to use for stock in noodle soup or a rich pork stew.)

Put the roast back into the hot oven and firm up that crackling for 20-30 minutes. Take the pork out of the oven, put it onto a warmed plate, cover with foil and allow to rest for 20 minutes or so before carving.

Serve with lots of roast potatoes and we had a light cloud of spiced puréed parsnip and turnip for a great Sunday supper.