Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Five Things I Ate This Week

Loving this summer we're having, it's good as a bought one. So I thought I'd share five things I made this week that fit the summer theme and were utterly gorgeous to eat.

 There was spinach pie - I had some small bits of cheeses to use up, along with a few spring onions, lots of eggs and half a bunch of fresh dill. All I needed was spinach and filo. Pleased to say that I discovered that reheating in a small pan with a little olive oil re-crsiped the pastry next day for lunch. 100% yum.

 Went to see Liola at the National - a delightful production - so I made salami sandwiches topped with cucumber, peashoots and greens from my garden. Doesn't get fresher than that! Enjoyed them as a picnic on the theatre terrace overlooking the Thames with a glass of wine and a packet of crisps. All made for an enjoyable evening.

 This is the very definition of garlic chicken! I boiled potatoes with garlic and olive oil, then mashed them as the base for chicken I fried with garlic, bay leaves and sherry and served a side dish of roasted Amalfi lemons, banana shallots and garlic. Inspiration came from Jose Pizzaro's book - and it was a great mid week supper

 Continuing the Spanish theme this is a white gazpacho, made with cucumber, avocado and yoghurt with an intense underlying flavour from ginger, coriander and sherry vinegar. I loved it, the man was not convinced.

He was however utterly delighted with home meade pizza - and so he should be! I made this beauty - my first ever successful pizza - with dough topped with buffalo mozzarella, spicy salami and marinated mushrooms in a very hot oven, then topped with a sprinkle of greek basil. We ate it double quick, then ate another. Friday night at its best.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Crocodile Steaks

Never smile at a crocodile
No you can't get friendly with a crocodile
Don't be taken in by his friendly grin
He's imagining how well you'd fit within his skin

My mother used to sing that to me when I was a kid. She spent her working life teaching five and six year olds and her spare time coaching them to be brilliant in Eisteddfod, with the result being that her face took on such a wonderful animation when she sang these kind of songs, and hearing her sing this one in particular made all within earshot squeal with terrified delight.

Crocodiles are ancient creatures, possibly around even at the time of the extinction of the dinosaurs, and as they move so smoothly between water and land you can almost see evolution in progress. I've seen them in the wild as well as in zoos around the world and mostly they are very still, so you'd hardly notice them at all. I was intrigued by them at Berlin Zoo on a long ago visit and stood watching a group of them for 20 minutes or more. I swear none of them moved a muscle apart from an occasional blink. Then it was feeding time and a keeper stood on a bridge above them and threw down hunks of meat - there was an immediate frenzy of thrashing limbs and snapping jaws. I was on the other side of a glass wall and I was TERRIFIED. Others may claim to imagine handbags and shoes when they see them but me? Nooooooo. I'm way too busy making sure I'm not smiling.

Recently I went to a food and wine pairing with wines from Touraine in the Loire, with the talented winematcher Fiona Beckett hosting the evening. Matching half a dozen dishes  with two wines each it was interesting to compare not just the wines but also the way they changed with the food. With sole goujons and chips - apparently sauvignon blanc has been voted a great wine pair with one of Britain's favourite dishes - I liked the grassy freshness of  the Domaine Guenault, Famille Bougrier 2011 on first sip but was surprised at how much it brought out the flavour of the food. I was too quick with my quaffing to follow Fiona's suggestion of trying it first just with the fish then adding lemon juice and trying again but with the lemon there was a proper balance of the wine's acidity with the citrus. Might have to move on from my go to pairing of beer and chips!

Over the course of the evening the assembled group of invited bloggers tried a variety of reds and whites with different foods. I am always a bit uncertain about how to make the matches but Fiona was both incredibly knowledgeable and quite reassuring. She makes the point that as you cook you taste, and the choice of wine is simply part of that tasting process rather than, as I tend to think, a separate activity. Wine can obviously improve the experience of food, and she explained that the way food is cooked is usually more relevant than the base ingredients, so the strong flavours of the smoked venison with a red wine reduction we had towards the end of the tasting really needs the robustness and slight funkyness of the Henry Marionnet, Vinifera 2010, a great balance of  flavours of food to wine, and my favourite wine of the evening.

The last wine of the night was lightly chilled Domaine Paget Sparkling Rosé, a wonderfully unsweet slightly berryish richly pink glass of fizz. After the evenings tuition we were invited to make our own matches with a brilliant array of berries and fruits, brimmimng bowls of chantilly and mascarpone, piles of pretty biscuits and an assortment of chocolate in various forms. I laid out an attractive selection plate and set to with gusto. Though I'm not really a fan of white chocolate it was okay with the wine, the raspberries were a better match, I liked the sharp tang of the lime segments though you wouldn't do a lot of them!

It is part of developing what Fiona describes as a palate memory - honed by trying wine and food in different combinations and different situations and remembering what you like. The last element to successful matching is just being appropriate - a cheap simple wine is a quaffable match to a plate of pasta, a wildly expensive rare vintage is the obvious starting point for an entirely different menu, the wine determining the food in this instance.

In the end my dessert of choice for the rosé was probably the simplest food on my plate - juicy slices of nectarine with a light grind of black pepper - the rich sweetness of the fruit and the tiny prickles of heat was a great match for this rosé, sumptuous enough to match the bubbles and wonderfully clean after taste - refreshing on a surprsingly hot summer evening.

At home on the weekend my cousin and her husband were visiting from Australia and they came to visit with their son and his wife, the lovely J&M - a perfect excuse to chill the pink bubbly. I paired it with mostly savoury things and I loved the way it matched the richness of the guinciale in particular.

There was also a bottle of Morrison's Touraine Sauvignon Blanc, 2011, that was paired on the tasting night with a prawn and noodle salad and it worked well with the chilli and seafood. Once home I went round and round wondering what to match it with, settling briefly on something lemony and chickeny then deciding  there must be something better. Watching Celebrity Masterchef the other night the contestants were given crocodile as one of  the mystery ingredients, to some consternation it has to be said. The man grinned with delight and said how come we never have crocodile? For me it was the eureka moment.

I'm not sure if crocodile is technically seafood or land creature - fish or fowl? - but it is definitely a white flesh that is more robust than delicate and extremely lean with it. I bought a couple of tail fillets - pieces you understand, not whole tails - from the Exotic Meat Company at Borough (they do mail order) and marinated them for a few hours before flash frying them. I made a bowl of fresh cabbage salad and added a tablespoon of  toasted desiccated coconut and served it all with plain basmati.

Marinated Crocodile Steaks

Serves 2

2 crocodile steaks from the tail - though thinking about it if it's not the teeth then crocodile is mostly tail
Juice of 1/2 lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small green chilli, thinly sliced, deseeded if you don't like it too hot
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon unflavoured vegetable oil

Put the crocodile steaks into a flat bowl, mix the juice, olive oil, chilli, ginger, garlic and salt until well combined and pour over the meat. Rub well into both sides of the flesh then cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours.

Warm the vegetable oil in a fryng pan over a high heat. Add the steaks and cook for 3-4 minutes on each side till lightly crusted and cooked through. Serve with rice and cabbage salad and a chilled glass of sauvignon blanc.

I'm delighted to say the wine worked a treat with it all, really bringing out the flavour of the meat and making for a great end to a really enjoyable weekend.

Have to include this photo of the handsomest dog in the world - Eddie came along for the excitement - and was definitely intrigued by the rosé!