Thursday, 21 July 2011

O is for... Oven baked oysters


There are few things that irritate me more than people who describe seafood as tasting "like the sea". Tasting "of the sea", ever generous spirited that I am,  I might allow (just), but "like the sea"? Why on earth would anyone ever find such a description appealing? It's like when food bores describe lamb as tasting like grass. Now I'll admit to having eaten a handful of grass or two in my time (as an experiment to prove it wouldn't make me sick, despite my mother's insistence that it would. I wasn't sick. But I did feel a bit queazy for a while afterwards. Still... Victory was mine!). And I'm here to tell you, grass tastes absolutely nothing like lamb. Flavour-wise and texture-wise, lamb and grass are polar opposites on the taste spectrum. Likewise, and thankfully, seafood does not taste like the sea. If it did, it probably would make us all sick, as everybody knows what salt water can do (especially if your ears, like mine, held witness to the results at school when waiting outside toilet cubicles which contained the sad, pretty young skinnies who sipped from flasks of the stuff all day long in the hope that it would aid them to getting skinnier still). Sea water is revolting and unless you are of a particularly demented nature, you won't want anything on your dinner plate to taste like it. I think people use the expression to mean that the seafood tastes fresh, as if it has only just been hauled out of the sea. Fresh is definitely a good thing in relation to seafood, otherwise you yourself might begin a similar relationship with the toilet bowl as those poor little sixth formers locked in toilet cubicles. 

Oysters are particularly frightening to anyone who has been put off seafood by others insisting it tastes like the sea. I've only had fresh-pick-them-off-a-plate-of-ice-prise-them-open-and-shove-them-down-your-pie-hole-oysters once, and they did taste a bit like sea water. Cold, fleshy sea water. I was advised to squeeze a lemon wedge over the top and add a dash of Tabasco and, though marginally more tolerable, they still tasted like cold, fleshy sea water - only this time with the addition of lemon and Tabasco. Although I'm sure raw oysters have a texture and flavour you can grow to love with practice, I'd rather find tastier morsels to spend an arm and a leg on instead. 

Baked oysters on the other hand, I have a lot of time for. They have a velvety texture with a sweet, salty and delicate flavour. They are, however, an absolute bugger to open. Especially if you don't own a special oyster knife (I don't) and don't eat them often enough for it to be worth buying one (I don't). 

To open them, you have to find the point where the two shell halves meet - no easy feat in itself - push your knife in with some force and then twist the blade until the shell pops open a tiny bit. Once you've done that (and well done if you've managed to get this far with a little paring knife) you need to slide the blade upwards into the shell to cut the adductor muscle which holds it shut. Please be very careful. It's very easy to lose your grip and plunge the knife into your thumb - as I did - or even to cut yourself on the oyster shells; they are much sharper than you'd imagine. I wish I'd bought some gardening gloves, or something similar, to grip on to them with and provide my hands with a bit of much needed extra protection. They took so much longer to open than I'd imagined that I was delighted that our guests were nearly an hour late. Thanks to Dolly and Olly for getting lost on their way, I had plenty of time to stab at the shells and bandage myself up afterwards for accidentally stabbing myself too. Don't be too put off by the dangers, they are quite delicious and very much worth the effort (and almost worth the bloodshed too).

Oven baked oysters

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 180°C fan

2 - 3 fresh oysters per person as a modest starter
1 - 2 garlic cloves, minced
2 oz. 50 g soft, unsalted butter
Flat leaf parsley, chopped
A few chives, finely chopped
A dash of Tabasco
A generous squeeze of lemon plus wedges to serve
Salt and pepper

Open the oysters as detailed above and discard the empty half shell, leaving each oyster on its remaining half shell. Mix all of the ingredients (except the oysters) together so you have a lovely flavoured butter. Simply blob a teaspoon's worth of butter on to each oyster, still in its shell and pop them on to a baking tray and into the oven for 5 minutes. Serve immediately with a lemon wedge.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

O is for...

... Olympia cocktails with okra orbs, followed by oven-baked oysters, then octopus carpaccio. Next up we ate ox cheek olives followed by a main of oolong and orange rolled ostrich with oregano and oyster mushroom orzotto served with stuffed onions. Pudding was olive and chocolate fondants with olive oil ice cream. Next up was a cheeseboard of Oxford Isis, Ogleshield, Ossau-Iraty-Brebis and Oxford Blue with home-made oatcakes. Lastly we ate orange truffles with organic coffee. 

O night was an intimate affair. Richard and I played hosts to only two guests: scientist, naked cyclist and Bunsen burner enthusiast, Olly Crawley, and the talented and hilarious (and very tall) writer, Dolly "Hannah" Alderton. Dolly writes an excellent blog called Dolly Does. which documents her experiences doing things she's always wanted to try. You can read about her experience of O night here. Richard made origami birds as table decorations and, as always, made a cracking O themed mixtape including the likes of Roy Orbison, Official Secrets Act, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Only Ones and Beth Orton


With only four people to cook for, I found myself developing a fairly laissez-faire attitude to the preparations. I got up late and hung about in my dressing gown drinking endless cups of tea while fannying about on Facebook. Every now and then, Richard would wander in, panic-faced, telling me what the time was.  After Richard's talking clock routine failed to budge me, he politely suggested I might want to think about getting the fuck on with something. I responded with a casual shrug, puffing my cheeks with air before slowly releasing it and mumbling a pathetic "yeah, s'pose" in reply. Three "yeah, s'pose"s later, I dragged myself through the shower and attempted to psyche myself up to deal with the enormous plastic tub containing the octopus. But before I get on to that particular adventure, first things first: cocktails and okra orbs.


Olympia Cocktails

It's always nice to have a cocktail with a cherry in it, if only for its retro appeal. Olympias are well balanced in flavour with the sticky sweetness of the cherry brandy cut through with the sourness of  lime and an added warmth from the subtle spiciness of the dark rum. Because they are so well balanced in flavour they are dangerously gluggable and we all ended up reaching for seconds from the shaker. Olympia cocktails = a hit!






1 part cherry brandy
1 part lime juice
1 and a half parts dark rum
Cocktail cherries


Shake all the ingredients (minus the cocktails cherries) over ice and strain in Martini glasses. Garnish each with a cherry and serve.

Okra Orbs

I have already let you in on my patent rejection of the catarrhal charms of okra. With their oozing, viscous centre, they remind me of pea pods who are suffering a horrible cold; all crisp skin with phlegmy innards. The appeal of okra (if really there is any) has always been wasted on me, but I wondered if this sorry little vegetable might just about redeem itself if I coated it in batter and deep fried it. It seems a sensible enough idea - what doesn't taste better after being battered and deep fried? But, alas, okra remained as snotty as ever. And possibly more so. Dolly and Olly seemed to approve, but I'd rather these horrid little ladies fingers crawled away in the opposite direction to my dinner plate, never to return. Failing that, save okra for Halloween parties, where all food is deliberately revolting anyway, so these gruesomely snotty horrors would at last find their natural habitat.


I attempted to round off the cut edges to make them "orb" shaped, but once battered they looked more like little logs. I'm going to stick to calling them orbs because of the pains I took to chisel them into shape and as punishment to the okra for being so slimy.

I made the batter with cornmeal, because I thought the yellow colour would look attractive against the green. If you can't find cornmeal, substitute it with fine polenta, or, failing that, plain flour will do.

5 oz/ 125 g cornmeal
1 oz plain flour
2 eggs
9 fl.oz/ 250 ml cold fizzy water
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper
A generous grind of black pepper
As much okra as you can stand, washed and cut into pieces
Sunflower/ vegetable or rapeseed oil for deep frying


Heat about 3 inches of oil in a heavy wide brimmed saucepan until a single breadcrumb sizzles when you pop it in. Place the cornmeal, 1 egg, the cayenne, salt and pepper and fizzy water in a large bowl and mix loosely. Lightly whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl and dunk the okra pieces into it before tossing them in the flour. Throw the okra into the batter and carefully place them in the hot fat. Leave them to cook until slightly brown (just a couple of minutes) and carefully remove them with a slotted spoon. Drain the okra on kitchen paper before serving with an extra sprinkle of sea salt.



Friday, 8 July 2011

A to Z in 365 days: tick (part 2)



You can read all Alphabet Soup menus from O to T here. And here's a preview for the menus from U to Z.

U

Union Square cocktails (with umbrellas, of course) served with upma patties
...
Udon noodle soup
...
Urfa kebabs
...
Umbles with umeboshi and urd
...
Urney puddings and Ume wine upside-down puddings with "ugli" ice cream
...
U cheeses
...
Coffee with Uli Petataws

V

Valencia cocktails with Vacherin vol-au-vents 
...
Vichyssois
...
Venus clams in Vermouth with vermicelli
...
Venison in Victoria sauce
...
Veal rack with salsa verde, vichy carrots and verdura with vinaigrette
...
Verbena and violet verrines
...
Vanilla and Valrhona varenyky in vanilla and Valrhona velouté
...
V cheeseboard
...
Vin Santo with vanilla truffles

W

White Russians with wild rice and Wensleydale balls
...
Whelks and winkles in wood ear and wakame broth served with warm wholewheat walnut bread
...
Wild boar and water chestnut wontons and wildebeest wontons with a watermelon, Worcestershire sauce and white wine vinegar dipping sauce
...
Wigeons braised in white wine with a walnut and watercress salad
...
Welsh wagyu wellington with a warm potato salad and watercress pesto
...
White Lady sorbet
...
White chocolate and wasabi waffles with white chocolate and wasabi crème anglais topped with wattleseed ice cream
...
W cheeseboard 
...
Whisky and whiskey worms with coffee

X

Xylophone cocktails with XO xian choi balls
...
Xavier soup with xavier dumplings
...
Xarém with Xoriatiki
...
X marks the spot for Xanté! Xanté! Xanté!
(a pudding based on the pear brandy, Xanté: A Xanté moussed with a Xanté, xylitol and chocolate cake base topped with a Xanté jelly "X", served with pears poached in Xanté and xylitol and Xanté ice cream)
...
Xalwo with coffee

Y

Yale cocktails with yellow lentil patties with yellow pepper dipping sauce 
and Yorkshire puddings with yuzu
...
Yakitori
...
Yakisoba
...
Yassa with yams
...
Yangmei yoghurt cake topped with yangmei sauce and served with yuzu yoghurt ice cream
...
Coffee with yangmei truffles

Z

Za Za cocktails with Za'atar Mankoushe
...
Zhul'yen kurinyi V Kokotnisch
...
Zelnik with zingy tomato salad
...
Za'atar zebra with zyleone
...
Zabaglione with zaleti
...
Z cheeseboard
...
Zesty truffles with coffee

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A to Z in 365 days: tick



Last night, exactly 365 days after I launched my alphabetical mission, I dished up the letter Z.  Today, after 4 hours' sleep and the lingering echo of last night's Zalze, Zinfandel and Zubrowka vodka still thudding behind my eyes, I can't quite believe it's all over. Well, almost. The mountain of dishes in the kitchen is suggesting otherwise. 

It has been an amazing year. It has been an exhausting year.  I can no longer fit into most of my clothes and I have never done as much washing up in my life, but none of that matters because I've had some of the best nights of my life doing this project and I have become a better cook in the process. Right now, with teary overtired eyes and a sprained knee, sitting on the sofa alone in the flat, I feel like hurling my fist into the air and screaming "I've done it! I've gone and bloody done it!" But I didn't quite do it alone. 

To the ever wonderful, hilarious, gorgeous and greedy love of my life, Richard: thank you. For food shopping, for DJ-ing, for photographing, for chopping, for stirring, for the best salad dressings known to humanity, for washing up, for reaching things on the top shelf, for dishing up, for ironing tablecloths and for bleaching the wine stains out of them afterwards, thank you. But mostly, for your unwavering support, your faith in me and your faith in this project, thank you. 

I'd also like to say a very special and heartfelt thanks to all my Alphabet Soupers who have gobbled up letters with me along the way. I really couldn't have done it without you and it wouldn't have been nearly as much fun if I'd tried. You all rock!

And lastly, to you (that's right, YOU): thank you for reading. Without you I might as well have been shouting in the wind. Please keep coming back.

The write-ups will keep coming, but for now, here's a sneak preview of the menus from O to Z.

O
(Read Dolly Alderton's write-up of her O experience here)

Olympia cocktails with okra orbs
...
Oven baked oysters
...
Octopus carpaccio
...
Ox cheek olives
...
Oolong and orange rolled ostrich with oregano and oyster mushroom orzotto served with stuffed onions
...
Olive and chocolate fondants with olive oil ice cream
...
O cheeseboard with home made oatcakes
...
Orange truffles with organic coffee

P
Prosciutto wrapped prunes, potato patties topped with paprika Philadelphia, and pesto, parma ham and Pecorino palmiers
...
Pea and pancetta potage
...
Potted pheasant and partridge with plum pickle and poppyseed bread
...
Pigeon, parsley and porcini pelmeni
...
Pork belly with pumpkin puree, pickled pears, roast parsnips and a Port reduction
...
Passion fruit and pink peppercorn parfait stuffed pineapple parcels
...
Peach pannacotta with pomegranate and Prosecco jelly, passion fruit and pomegranate pavlova with pomegranate coulis
...
Pine nut praline truffles and chocolate dipped physalis

Q

Q cocktail (the name escapes me for now) and quesadillas
...
Scotch quails eggs
...
Qotban
...
Quince stuffed quail with quinoa
..
Queen of Puddings with a quenelle of Quark ice cream
...
Coffee and qumbe

R

Rusty nails with red pepper romesco rice rolls
...
Razor clams with remoulade, razor clam broth and radish and radicchio salad dressed in raspberry vinegar and rapeseed oil
...
Richard'd Roquefort and rocket risotto
...
Rabbit ragù ravioli
...
Rosemary crusted reindeer with a redcurrant reduction served with röstis and red cabbage
...
Rose petal jelly topped rose mousse
...
Raspberry and Ricotta roulade with roasted rhubarb, rhubarb sorbet and raspberry coulis
...
R cheeseboard with rye bread and raisin relish
...
Rum truffles

S
Singapore Slings with sweet and sour shrimp spring rolls
...
Scallops and crispy Serrano ham on puréed salsify and sorrel sauce
...
Smoked salt and Szechuan pepper squid with samphire salad with saffron mayonnaise
...
Succotash and socca bread
...
Sweetbreads and Sauerkraut
...
Seared steak sashimi with spring onions, soy and sesame
...
Squirrel, sage and Sherry stew with sautéed sweet potatoes and spinach
...
A shot of satsuma and Sauternes soup
...
Strawberry soufflé with strawberry semifreddo, strawberry sorbet and star shaped sablé biscuits
...
S cheeseboard of Serra De Estrela, Soureliette, Selles Sur Cher, Shropshire Blue and Stinking Bishop with sunflower seed soda bread scones
...
Coffee with star anise sponge sandwiches and spoonfuls of sea salt caramel

T
(Read James Ramsden's review of T night here)

Tequila Sunrise cocktails served with tofu tempura and a tamarind dipping sauce and tripe tempura triangles with tentsuyu
...
Turkey teriyaki
...
Trompette de la Mort and truffle tortellini
...
A taste of tomatoes:

Toffee cherry tomatoes, tomato tartare, tomato and Tabasco granita, clear tomato soup, tomato and thyme tarte tatin
...
Tongue, tail, testicle and tarragon terrine
...
Thyme stuffed teal with Tartiflette, turnips and tayberry sauce
...
T cheeseboard of Le Trefle, Tomme Au Mare, Terschelling, Taleggio and Tunworth, plus a few delicious extras, including another Tomme, kindly brought along by guest, Olly Crawley. 
...
A trio of traditional puddings: tirimisu, treacle tart and tangerine trifle all served with a dollop of toffee ice cream and toffee sauce
... 
Turkish coffee or tea with tahini truffles


TBC...