Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Great British Chefs and Action Against Hunger


Pascal Aussignac's grilled lamb with ratatouille.

I'm going to break from the alphabetical write-ups just this once (or more if I like, it's my blog) to tell you about an amazing charity. Please keep reading, it won't be as boring as that might sound. Promise.

Action Against Hunger provides live saving assistance and restores self-sufficiency to millions of people all over the world. You probably know from reading this blog that I have quite a passion for food and eating, and as a reader of this blog (regular or otherwise), I'm guessing that you do too. Action Against Hunger/ ACF International are a global humanitarian organization committed to ending world hunger, working to save the lives of malnourished children while providing communities with access to safe water and sustainable solutions to hunger. Now that sounds like something we could all get on board with, doesn't it?

A few weeks ago, I won the Nom Nom Noms - a Masterchef style competition for food bloggers held at the wonderful Cookery School on Little Portland Street in aid of Action Against Hunger. Amazing companies have donated prizes to a raffle that YOU CAN ENTER HERE. For just £10 you could win a set of Wusthof knives worth nearly £700 or a Cuisinart food processor worth £300. There are restaurant meals, hampers, equipment and other food-related goodies galore. Last year, Richard and I won a meal for two at The Avalon and a Brindisa paella kit. Not bad for £20's worth of raffle tickets. Please donate a tenner (or more, if you want to increase your prize-winning chances) so that you can be entered into the draw to win a fabulous prize while giving money to a fabulous charity.

And, while you're at it, why not download the Great British Chefs Summertime app. Not only is it full of 105 delicious recipes from 21 of the top chefs in the UK, it also boasts some of the most beautiful food photography you'll ever see. You get all of that for £1.99 and ALL PROCEEDS GO TO ACTION AGAINST HUNGER. Aren't the people at Great British Chefs a lovely bunch?!

I made Pascal Aussignac's grilled lamb rack with ratatouille, just one of the fabulous recipes on the app the other day and I'm looking forward to making more.

This is my food photography. The photos on the app are much lovelier.


I’ve always loved ratatouille, from first tasting it on a family holiday in France, to making it in my first Home Ec class at school. So in love with its charms, ratatouille was an absolute staple of mine as a student. It was simple, rustic, cheap and nourishing and I could make a big vat of it that would last over three or four days. Perfect on top of a jacket potato or turned into vegetable lasagne, ratatouille is a versatile beast. I liked it best served simply with roast chicken or, even better, a lamb chop. So, naturally, I leapt at the chance to try Pascal Aussignac’s recipe for ratatouille with grilled rack of lamb as soon as possible.

My partner’s family came over for Sunday lunch to celebrate his mum’s birthday, which felt like the perfect excuse to give it a go.  I doubled the quantities to allow for the extra guests and set to work peeling, roasting and chopping. This is certainly not your average one pot rustic fare. This recipe requires a lot of processes and a lot of pans, but don’t let that put you off from having a go. I really loved the idea of oven roasting the tomatoes first, but I ended up adding a few extras than the recipe states. I adore tomatoes and, because of this, I tend to buy them in bulk whenever they’re on offer. This often means I have to use them up unexpectedly quickly, after discovering the ones at the bottom of the bowl are suddenly “on the turn”.

In fact, I am such a tomato-head that rarely a day goes by during tomato season when I don’t gobble up at least one or two as part of my lunch. Tomatoes contain lycopene, which, studies report, acts as a natural sunblock for your skin – good news indeed in the glorious weather we’ve been having. The amount of lycopene increases when the tomatoes are cooked (so tinned toms and ketchup do the job too), which is bad news for people following raw food diets, but fantastic news for my ratatouille.

The only other tweak I made to the recipe was to chop up the sage and chuck it back in the pot when I reheated it, as it seemed a shame to throw it away. I also cooked the lamb for slightly longer, as our guests preferred their chops blushing pink rather than ruby rare. I made some crunchy roast potatoes cooked in duck fat (well, it was a special occasion) to go with it.

The combination of intensely aromatic and garlicky ratatouille with soft, juicy lamb is a real winner. I might try oven roasting all the veg next time to save on washing up, as the weather’s too nice to spend much time elbow deep in hot soapy water. Either that, or see if I can offload the dirty dishes onto some other sucker. I’d rather be sitting outside, sipping a Bloody Mary.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

S is for...


Singapore Slings with sweet and sour shrimp spring rolls followed by scallops and crispy Serrano ham on puréed salsify and sorrel sauce. Next up,  I served smoked salt and Szechuan pepper squid with samphire salad and saffron mayonnaise, followed by succotash and socca bread. Next, we ate sweetbreads and Sauerkraut followed by seared springbok steak sashimi with spring onions, soy and sesame.  The main meat of the day was squirrel, stewed with sage and sherry and served with sautéed sweet potatoes and spinach. Something sweet was needed after all that savoury, and the sugar hit started with a shot of satsuma and Sauternes soup, followed by strawberry soufflé with strawberry semifreddo, strawberry sorbet and star shaped sablé biscuits. Back to savoury for cheeses beginning with S. I served up Serra De Estrela, Soureliette, Selles Sur Cher, Shropshire Blue and Stinking Bishop with sunflower seed soda bread scones.  The finale of this sizeable supper came in the shape of star anise sponge sandwiches and spoonfuls of sea salt caramel.



I may not be known for my restraint when shaping a letter-themed menu, and I've talked before about Richard having to reel me in sometimes, but it's never my intention to see guests go home so stuffed they feel sick, it's just that I sometimes get a bit carried away and on S night it was easy to. There really is a superabundance of foodstuffs starting with the letter S and it really is no overstatement to say that S night's spread was especially substantial. We kicked off the evening with Singapore Slings and sweet and sour shrimp spring rolls, while the CD player belted out the likes of The Smiths, The Sugarcubes, Sonic Youth, Sophie's Pigeons, Scissor Sisters, The Sisters of Mercy, Steps, The Shins, Sir Mixalot (we like big butts and we cannot lie), Snivelling Sluts, Silverfish and Sinatra. Guests brought a pleasingly excessive amount of wine, from Sancerre and Sauvignon Blanc to Saint Emilion and Sauternes and that was all before the scotch hit the table.

Singapore Sling




Invented some time before 1915 at the Raffles Hotel in Singapore*, this cocktail tastes like fruit juice but packs a  hefty punch. You have been warned.

Per person

1 measure of gin
1/2 measure of cherry brandy
A splash of Cointreau
A splash of Benedictine
3 measures of pineapple juice
A squeeze of lime
A dash of grenadine
A dash of angostura bitters
Soda water

Shake everything except for the soda water with ice, pour glasses and top with soda. 



*Info from Wikipedia.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

rooibos tea with rum truffles.



I'm no fan of rooibos or red bush, or whatever you want to call it. It tastes like sticks to me and smells like the discarded water from boiled peas. I'd rather go thirsty than suffer this appalling drink, but others find it refreshing for some reason. Richard always drinks it post-caffeine curfew after 6pm, which I've always found strange, as he usually has such excellent taste. You probably like it too. Everybody else seems to. Feeling that perhaps it was time to concede defeat and bow down to majority rule, I served rooibos to the R party alongside rum truffles. I went thirsty.

Rum truffles

50g dark chocolate, finely chopped
50ml single cream
1 tsbp light muscovado sugar (optional)
A forkful of dark rum
A knob of butter (to help set the forkful of rum)

Melt the sugar into the cream over a gentle heat, stirring until it has fully dissolved. Stop stirring and scald the cream before pouring over the chopped choc. Leave to stand for one minute before stirring in with a rubber spatula until you are left with a smooth, glossy ganache. Add dark rum to taste - try to restrain yourself from going too overboard or else your ganache won't set. Stir in the butter until it's melted and leave to cool completely and set. You can pop it in the fridge to speed things up if you like. Roll teaspoon sized balls between your hands before rolling in sifted cocoa and serving.

R is for... Rachel, Red Chester Thomas, Reblochon and Roquefort served with rye bread and raisin relish


Cheese

I didn't have time to go into town to visit the usual suspects - Paxton & Whitfield or Neal's Yard. Instead, I went to the end of my road to a recently opened little canopied delicatessen with no name. They sell all manner of freshly made breads, pastries, cakes, meringues and tarts and also sell a good range of cured meats and some nice cheeses. If you want to find this unnamed Streatham gem, look no further than Streatham Hill station. Literally. You'll have gone past it of you do. Or, if you're coming up from Brixton, jump off the bus outside the station and it's just across the road.

Rachel is a semi-hard goats milk cheese (top right in pic) from Somerset. It has a firm texture and, although quite subtle in its goatiness, it has a mild and lingering sourness.

Reblochon (bottom right) is a French cows milk cheese made in the Alps region of Haute-Savoie. It has a washed rind and is smear-ripened and is delightfully gooey with a slight nuttiness. Famous for its starring role on tartiflette (hold on to your hats, the recipe will be coming at you with the letter T. Watch this space.), it needs no potato to hold its hand to make a lasting impact on a cheeseboard.

"Red Chester Thomas" (bottom left) is what it read on the label, but it was a label that was sort of in between two cheeses - this one and another one. I asked for Red Chester Thomas, so I assume that's what it was, but I've looked up Red Chester Thomas and have found absolutely nothing to suggest it exists, not even a foot note. We thought it tasted exactly like Red Leicester and, now that I've googled Red Chester Thomas to within an inch of its life and have been left wanting, I think it probably was Red Leicester after all, or at least that Red Chester Thomas is pretty much unidentifiable from Red Leicester. 

Red Leicester is a hard cows milk cheese made in, er, Leicester. It's all right, but not one of my great favourites. If I'm honest, I've always thought of it as Cheddar's slightly less attractive cousin. I wouldn't turn my nose up at it, if it happened to be under it, but I probably wouldn't rush to replace it, once the last slice had been scoffed, either.

Roquefort (top left). Hmmm, Roquefort. I am particularly partial to a bit of blue, and this classic cheeseboard stalwart didn't let me down. Creamy, crumbly and tangy, this ewes milk semi-hard French cheese packs the perfect pongy punch.

Rye Bread

We didn't take a picture of this for some reason, but it was very nice. I'd make it again. And now, thanks to my pains in typing up the recipe, you can too. Good.

7g sachet of fast acting yeast
450-500ml lukewarm water
400g wholemeal rye flour
1 tsp salt

Pop the yeast and 100ml of the water in a large mixing bowl with 50g of the flour. Mix it all up, cover in cling film and leave in the airing cupboard, or somewhere warm, for 6-8 hours or overnight. Add the remaining flour and enough water to make a soft dough. Knead for a few minutes until soft and slightly sticky, then cover with cling film and pop back in the airing cupboard for an hour or until the dough has doubled in size.

Knock the air out of the dough by punching it. Knead again for a minute or so and work it into a nice shape - I just made a casual round lump of bread, but you can do as you like. Plonk it on a baking tray lined with baking parchment and cover it with a clean tea towel before popping it back in the airing cupboard for another hour.

Preheat the oven to 220°C (200°C Fan)

Dust the bread with flour and bake for 30 - 35 minutes, or until nicely golden with a hollow sounding bottom.

Raisin Relish

This is less a recipe and more a list of ingredients that I chucked in a saucepan with no particular thought for measurements or accuracy, before fiddling about with the balance of flavours until I was happy - too sweet, add more vinegar, etc. This had onion, grated apple, raisins (obviously), butter, soft brown sugar, salt and red wine vinegar in it, and that's about as specific as you're going to get out of me on this one, until I decide to make it again with closer attention to detail.




Saturday, 30 June 2012

R is for... raspberry and Ricotta roulade, roasted rhubarb, rhubarb sorbet and raspberry coulis

Raspberry and Ricotta roulade, roasted rhubarb and rhubarb sorbet with raspberry coulis


You can't beat a meringue roulade. It's light, fluffy, sweet, moreish and really bloomin' easy. If you are one of the deluded masses who think these crisp, white pillows with marshmallow insides, are so fiendishly complicated that they should be left to top patisserie chefs, get your whisk out and have a rethink. Meringue is easy. So easy, in fact, that it's always my dinner party pudding of choice when I can't really be bothered to make anything else. I'll make a pavlova when I want to make something fast, but have time on my side and I make a meringue roulade when I want an easy dish that's quick to the plate. If you're scared of rolling a roulade because you've heard they take immense skill and years of practice, take a word of advice from me. Ignore the scaremongers, they're talking nonsense. If you can roll up a sleeping bag, you can roll up a roulade. It's just a bit smaller and stickier. Delicious results with almost no effort? Sounds like a win-win to me. 

Raspberry and Ricotta Roulade

Raspberry and Ricotta roulade with raspberry coulis

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan) and line a 9 x 12 roulade tin with baking parchment

4 large egg whites
200g/8oz caster sugar
Pinch of salt
Half a tub of Ricotta
Half a small pot of double or whipping cream
A punnet of fresh raspberries

Whisk the egg whites with the salt to stiff peaks. Keep whisking and gradually, a little at a time, add the sugar. You should be left with a stiff, glossy meringue. Spread the meringue out gently in the roulade tray and pop in the oven for 12-15 minutes, or until lightly golden and crisp on the outside. Leave to cool completely in the tin - it doesn't take long. Then lay out a big sheet of baking parchment and upturn the roulade on to it. Peel off the used baking parchment. 

Whip the cream and whisk in the Ricotta. Spread the Ricotta cream over the roulade and then scatter over the raspberries. Using the baking parchment to help you, roll it up. Transfer it to a serving dish and sift over some icing sugar. Slice to serve.

Raspberry Coulis

I know strawberries are big business right now, and the nation is going mad for the Wimbledon berry of choice, but strawberries are not the only fruit. I, for one, think a sweet but slightly sharp and juicy raspberry is hard to beat. 

A punnet of raspberries
Icing sugar to taste
A squeeze of lemon

Pulse the raspberries with the sugar and lemon and then pass the whole lot through a fine sieve. Taste for sweetness, adding more if required. Drizzle a generous slurp over each slice of roulade.

Roasted Rhubarb

Roasted rhubarb


I am a real sucker for a stick of rhubarb. Fragrant and tart, soft and yielding. I like a fruit that's not too jammy, something with an edge of mouth-puckering sourness to counter the sweetness. I know others find the tartness too much, but I was brought up on gooseberry fool, rhubarb crumble and blackcurrant tarts, and find that level of "picked from the garden" sharpness comforting and homely. Rhubarb needn't be confined solely to crumbles though, it makes a delicious accompaniment to pork and the forced rhubarb of winter is excellent for flavouring gin to make pretty pink presents for Christmas. 

Rhubarb, trimmed and cut into 3" pieces
1-2 tbsp caster sugar
The scraped out seeds of a vanilla pod
The zest and juice of 1 orange

Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C Fan)

Mix all the ingredients together and roast for 20 - 25 minutes. Leave to cool before serving.

Rhubarb Sorbet

Rhubarb sorbet


This rhubarb sorbet hits the spot - sweet, tart and refreshing. It is a recipe from the brilliant David Everitt-Matthias' Essence, one of my all time favourite cook books. I wasn't entirely sure if the rhubarb and raspberries would be fighting for attention on the same plate, but I actually thought they complemented each other beautifully to make a really fresh, pretty pud'.

1 kilo rhubarb, finely chopped
250g caster
30ml liquid glucose
100ml water
1.5 leaves of gelatine
Lemon juice, if needed


Put the rhubarb in a bowl, sprinkle over the caster sugar and cover in cling film before popping it in the fridge to macerate overnight. Strain off the juices and reserve for later. Chuck the rhubarb in a saucepan with the liquid glucose and water and cook for 5 minutes, or until soft.


Soak the gelatine in cold water to soften for about 10 minutes. Squeeze out the excess and add to the hot rhubarb, stirring it until it's completely dissolved. transfer the rhubarb into a blender to purée. Add the rhubarb juices and blend again. Taste for acidity, adding a squeeze of lemon if needed. Strain through a fine sieve and leave to cool. Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze following the manufacturers instructions before scooping it into a Tupperware box and popping in the freezer. Move the sorbet to the fridge 10 minutes before serving to soften it slightly.

Friday, 29 June 2012

R is for... Rose petal jelly-topped rose mousse

Rose mousse topped with rose jelly
If you'd been threatened by your teachers as many times I have*, that they'd wash your mouth out with soapy water for using rude words, maybe you'd feel the same way as I do about flowery food. Why would you want to spoil some perfectly delicious dish by squirting eau de Granny's handsoap all over it. I can handle a little splash of orange blossom in something pistachio-y, but if you chucked lavender in my chocolate cake, I'd find it hard to forgive you. Luckily, Richard shares my disdain for floral food (though he loves a floral shirt), but I know we're in the minority. Given other people's enthusiasm for petals in their pud', coupled with the very important fact that rose begins with the letter R, it seemed churlish not to include them on R night's menu. 

Although I was rather pleased with their prettiness, the taste made me long to reach the bottom of the glass as quickly as possible, which, luckily, was fairly swift, as I'd made them in shot glasses. Richard was even less enamoured than me, and after grimacing his way through to the last mouthful, he declared that the rose mousse was even more awful than the olive fondants. Luckily, not everyone felt the same way. Others lapped them up, apparently finding them "delicious', "light" and "refreshing". So, if you like roses in your food, this one's for you, otherwise, hold out for the next course - it gets better...


Rose petal jelly topped rose mousse

Enough for 8 double shot glasses and a bit extra

1 large egg, separated
25g caster sugar
250ml double cream
2 leaves of gelatine, soaked in cold water for 10 mins
3 tbsp rosewater
A few drops of pink or red food dye
2 tbsp water
Unsprayed rose petals

First, make a custard. Place the egg yolk and sugar in a bowl and whisk together thoroughly. Heat 100ml of the cream to scalding point and pour the hot cream onto the eggs. Whisk together and pop it back in the saucepan over a low heat. Whisk constantly until the custard has slightly thickened and transfer to a cold jug. Stir through 1 tbsp rosewater, taste and add more if you must, pop some cling film over the top to prevent a skin forming and leave to cool completely. 

Melt 1 pre-soaked and drained gelatine leaf in a splash of boiling water and stir it through the custard. Whisk the remaining cream and fold it through your custard. Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and fold through before tinting the mousse pink with food dye. Pour into shot glasses and leave to set for about an hour.

Make the jelly by stirring together the remaining rosewater and water and adding a little dye to prettify. Melt the remaining leaf of gelatine with a splash of boiling water and stir it through. It shouldn't be hot unless you overdid it on the "splash", in which case, leave it to cool before pouring a little puddle of pink jelly over the top of your pink mousses. Position a rose petal in the jelly before leaving them to set in the fridge.






*No threats were ever carried out, which is probably why my potty mouth is still very much intact.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

R is for...Rosemary-crusted roast reindeer with red currant reduction, röstis and red cabbage



I have already given you my tuppence-worth about the ethics of eating reindeer meat, but now to the taste. Reindeer is mildly gamy and iron-rich. The meat is meltingly tender, full of flavour as well as light on the waistband. Reindeer meat is lean. So lean, in fact, that its calorie and fat count is lower than a skinless chicken breast. I finely chopped an enormous bunch of fresh rosemary and mixed it through with salt and pepper. Next, I laid a large sheet of cling film on the worktop and created a square of rosemary in the middle, then I rolled the reindeer up in the rosemary like a Swiss roll and popped it in the fridge until an hour before I cooked it. As it's so lean, don't be reserved with the butter. Preheat the oven to 180°C. I simply heated some butter and oil in a skillet and seared the outside (make sure you don't burn the herbs) and then transfer it on to a baking tray and pop it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes. Let the meat rest before carving it into delicious, ruby discs. I served it with a simple ruby port and redcurrant reduction. 



Just in case the rice and pasta of the previous courses wouldn't be enough to sate the carbohydrate hunger of my guests, I slung some extra starch in their direction with the main course. I've never been shy about expressing my deep and unflagging enthusiasm for the humble potato. To me, they will be forever entangled with the words comfort and home. Smash and bash them with milk and butter and you have soft, velvety mash, parboil them and chuck them in bubbling goose fat in the oven and they transform into roast potatoes so good, they'll bring a tear to your eye. And all that before we even mention chips, crisps, gratins, gnocchi or röstis. I love a good rösti. Crunchy and buttery on the outside, soft and yielding in the middle.




To serve 8 (or 4 greedy) people, simply peel and grate 4 waxy potatoes. Submerge the grated potato in cold water to wash off the excess starch. Drain the spuds and squeeze out any excess water by squashing the potato between two clean tea towels. Heat a generous knob of butter in a pan and form small patties of the potato gratings in your hands, before pressing the röstis into the hot butter to turn golden brown. Cook the rösti for about five minutes on both sides, it should be cooked through and crispy on the outside. Season generously and serve with reindeer and steamed and buttered red cabbage. You can make the red cabbage more Christmassy, if you like, by slow cooking it in a saucepan with onion, grated apple, a few spices and a generous slug of port. 





Saturday, 23 June 2012

R is for...Reindeer




Some people who have taken an interest in the menus of Alphabet Soup have thought nothing of me serving up crocodile or ibex, but have balked at the thought of anyone eating reindeer. I served reindeer again for a pre-Christmas dinner party and it went down a storm with our guests, but when I mentioned it during a shoot for my new book (*clang*), it made a couple of people uncomfortable. One in particular thought it was a "brutal" step too far. He slowly shook his head and tilted it with concerned sympathy at me, before asking, "why did you feel you needed to do that?". I must admit I was genuinely surprised by the reaction. Perhaps it's because I've had so much positive feedback about this project and the lengths I've gone to to source unusual, alphabetically appropriate ingredients, that I wasn't prepared for hearing anything different. But it did make me sit up and reassess. Memories of the drive down to Devon for family holidays came flooding back, when we would roll down the windows to shout, "Mint sauce!" at fields of sheep. I've always thought that was a funny, perhaps even charming, story, but was this, in fact, an early indication of my natural heartlessness.  

The uncomfortable judgement I felt that day stayed with me for some time and made me question my motives. Should I be judged as insensitive for some of the choices I've made for the sake of this self-imposed culinary mission? Had I become inured to the strangeness of what was on my plate, or indeed, who had died to make its way onto it? Was this all just some savage stunt, in which greed and novelty had thrown my moral compass off-course? And were some people right to view this project as a callous attempt to shock? Was I being deliberately perverse?

In truth, it didn't even enter my head that reindeer might be an unpalatable idea to anyone. It's beautiful, wild Scandinavian venison that is entirely organic, having lived a happy life roaming  pesticide free land. OK, the carbon footprint might be an issue for some, but food importation is so much more of a complex issue to unravel than that. When I asked the company I bought it from, how the reindeer made its way to Britain, I was told that the wild meat was processed (i.e. cut up and packaged) locally, before being frozen and shipped to the UK. In terms of animal welfare, it seems a no-brainer that eating reindeer is a more ethical choice than battery chickens, who are fattened up so quickly that their legs buckle under the weight of their own unnaturally bloated breasts, leaving them able to do little more than sit in their own filth until they are sent down a conveyor belt to their untimely deaths. Little research is needed to uncover some terrible truths behind the transportation of livestock for days on end in disgusting conditions and I, for one, find the idea of eating an animal who has led a carefree life in their natural environment an easier mouthful to swallow than a bite of a bacon sandwich made from intensively reared pigs. 

Is the issue with eating reindeer less about ethics than emotions? The images from childhood of red-nosed Rudolf and his chums pulling Father Christmas along in his sleigh, so that we could all wake up with present-filled stockings at the end of our beds on Christmas morning, are richly evocative. I can fully understand and appreciate that the magical charm we attached to them as children along with the carrots we left out for them on Christmas eve, are enough to make the idea of serving them up for lunch an abomination too far for many.

I see reindeer meat differently. I am as struck by their elegant majesty as the next person, but neither am I immune to the charms of all other doe-eyed deers, wide eyed cows and snuffling pigs. I am a meat eater and, as such, although I try as much as possible to ensure the flesh on my plate has come from a good and happy place, I tend not to anthropomorphise my Sunday roast. I don't think this makes me brutal, I think this makes me honest. Reindeer meat is low in fat and rich in iron. It is a brilliant source of protein and also happens to taste wholly delicious. I have read the arguments against eating meat, but I have decided not to tread the path of vegetarianism. Instead, I try to source my meat carefully and as ethically as possible, which is why I will be serving and eating reindeer meat again.


Wednesday, 20 June 2012

R is for... Rabbit ragù ravioli


"What," I hear you cry, "is the difference between ragoût and ragù? (except, of course, for enabling you to use different types of fancy accented Latin over the letter u)". Well, it's simple really. Ragoût is French for a slow cooked stew and ragù is an Italian meat based sauce commonly served with pasta. It's usually made from minced or finely chopped meat, which has slowly cooked down with vegetables and liquid - stock, passata, wine. Ragù is basically what my mum (and probably your's) would call Bolognese sauce, but we can't allow you to use that name here, especially today of all days, when the letter "R" is on the menu.

I bought the rabbit from Moen's of Clapham, my favourite London butcher's by a mile. Not only are they incredibly skilled and knowledgable, but they are unfailingly helpful and irrepressibly jolly. They boned the bunny for me, then bagged the bones for me to take home for my stock pot. Rabbit is quite a subtle meat, so be generous with herbs, seasoning and wine. I popped the bones in a large pan filled up with cold water, an onion, carrot, a couple of sticks of celery and a leek all cut into chunks, along with a scattering of peppercorns, a few sprigs of rosemary and thyme, and a couple of bay leaves to make stock. I brought the water up to boiling and then turned the gas down and left the stock to simmer for a few hours. It can be used for Richard's Roquefort and rocket risotto and various other bits and pieces from R night's menu.

Rabbit ragù ravioli 

For the rabbit ragù
1 rabbit, boned (you can ask your butcher to do this for you, but ask to keep the bones for stock)
3 rashers of smoked back bacon, chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
1 large carrot, peeled and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 large glasses of red wine or, even better, ruby port
2 level tbsp tomato purée
A sprig of thyme
A couple of bay leaves
1 pint of rabbit stock (or, if you haven't made it yet, chicken stock)
Salt and pepper

Place the onion, celery, carrot, bacon and garlic in a large saucepan with a generous glug of olive oil and lightly sauté until soft. In the meantime, finely chop the rabbit meat, including meat leg, kidneys, liver and heart into small pieces and add it to the pan. Stir it all for a few minutes to brown the meat. Add the tomato purée and stir again for a couple of minutes before adding half the port, stirring to deglaze the pan. Once the first glass has evaporated, toss in the second and leave to reduce by half. Add the stock and herbs and leave to simmer for about an hour and a half or until the sauce has thickened and the meat is tender. Season to taste and take the pan off the heat and leave the rabbit to cool completely.

Pasta

200g '00' pasta flour
2 whole eggs or 4 egg yolks
A pinch of salt

Sift the flour and salt together and make a big mound on your worktop. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs. Whisk the egg a bit with a fork, or your fingers, and start to incorporate the flour into the egg. Ditch the fork and start bringing the dough together and knead for about 10 minutes. Use the heal of your hand to stretch it away from you and folding it over and repeating this action. You'll be left with a beautifully silky and elastic dough. Wrap it in cling film and leave the dough to rest for about 20 minutes, before rolling out.

Ravioli

Pasta dough
Extra flour, for dusting
Semolina
Cold rabbit ragú

If you have a pasta machine, use it. Otherwise a rolling pin will suffice, though you'll have to put some real elbow grease into getting it thin enough. Cut the pasta dough in half and wrap the half you're not using back up in cling film. Flatten it with your hand until it's about half an inch thick and put it through the pasta machine at the widest setting. Fold the two ends inwards and put it through the machine again. Repeat this another couple of times, dusting the dough with flour if it starts to get sticky. Repeat this with each setting, 3 or 4 times, dusting whenever necessary, until your pasta is 1 - 1.5 mm thick.

place the long sheet of pasta on a flour dusted surface and trim off the rough side edges and cut the sheet in half. Cover one half of the pasta with a damp cloth to prevent it from drying out. 

Place a heaped teaspoon of filling in the centre of one end of the pasta strip, leaving a 2 inch margin from the edge. Repeat, leaving about 2 inches between each mound of ragú. Once you have got to the end, brush around the mounds with a water dipped pastry brush. Lay the other half of the sheet of pasta over the top. Cup your hands and press gently around each mound of ragú until each is tightly sealed all the way round. Cut the ravioli to shape, either with a knife or a cutter and place on tray generously scattered with semolina. Repeat with the whole process with the second half of the dough. You can cook the ravioli straight away, or pop in the fridge for a few hours until needed. 

Once ready to cook, boil some generously salted water in a large saucepan before plunging in your ravioli and cooking for 4 - 5 minutes, or until they have risen to the surface. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and serve simply, with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a crack of black pepper and a little Parmesan, if you like.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

R is for... Richard's rocket and Roquefort risotto




Richard is, unquestionably, the reigning king of risotto. I have never tasted risotto as delicious as his and so, in our gaff, risotto-making is almost exclusively his domain. Don't get me wrong, I make a mean risotto, but I'm big enough and ugly enough to concede defeat on this one. I will always come in second in the risotto race, and second just isn't good enough. For this particular dish on R night's menu, I passed the apron over to Richard, who very conveniently also begins with the letter R.

Risotto really does HAVE to be good. There are no variances in flavour or texture in the entire dish, so when risotto isn't great, it can be a painfully dull dining experience, with mouthful after mouthful of the same bland and tiresome gloop. At its best, risotto is a flavour-packed and comforting bowl of hugs, full of warming, homely charm. At its worst, risotto can resemble a tragic block of cement in a bowl. This is usually when it's either been overcooked or, worse, reheated. Leave your leftover risotto for arancini and I'll leave Richard to the risotto.

Over to Richard...

Richard's Roquefort and rocket risotto 


I was only making a small bowl for each person, so this was probably about the right amount for two if serving it as a main.


Butter
2 cups of risotto rice
100g roquefort (at least to start off with)
A bag of rocket
1 medium onion
Garlic
Parmesan
Up to a pint of hot stock (rabbit stock in this instance, as that's what we had, but normally I'd use chicken)
Up to two glasses of white wine
Salt and pepper


Saute the onion, chopped very finely, until it's translucent. Add the garlic, either chopped up small or mashed into a paste, and allow it to cook slowly but not brown. Chop up most of the rocket finely - leaving the best-looking leaves to stick on top of the finished dish - and put it in the pan, Add the rice and stir to get the grains coated in butter. Add about a quarter the stock and a glass of wine, and cook the mixture slowly. Soon, the rice will start to get glutinous, and you'll need to stir it, and keep stirring, to stop it sticking to the bottom. Keep gradually adding stock and wine as the rice absorbs the liquid - and don't feel you need to use the full amount.  After ten minutes or so, the rice will be a bit too al dente to eat: at this point, crumble the roquefort into the mixture and stir to melt it through. Season to taste, remembering that roquefort is a salty cheese, so play it safe. You may want to add more roquefort too. I usually do, but you don't want to overpower it. By now the rice should be ready, a lovely balance between bite and gloop. Put the risotto in bowls, or as we did for a starter, custard pots. Put a few shavings of parmesan and a few rocket leaves on the top of each pot, along with a drizzle of olive oil and a grind of pepper. 

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

R is for... Razor clams with remoulade, razor clam broth and radish and radicchio salad dressed with raspberry vinegar and rapeseed oil



Razor clams are possibly the rudest of all shellfish. These little blighters like to stick their tongues out at you in a slow and casually antagonistic fashion. Aside from enjoying giving you the bivalve equivalent of a fingers up, they're also wily too. Razor clams are rarely seen in supermarkets and you often have to ask for your fishmonger to get them in specially. This is not because they are an unpopular purchase for seafood lovers, far from it, it is rather because they are so damn difficult to catch. Special razor clam hunters in the Orkney Islands are known as spooters. Tom Norrington-Davies, chef/owner of Great Queen Street,  describes the practice thus:

"When full moon tides expose vast flats of wet sand, those with the know-how head for the beach with trowels or clam-diggers. The trick is to walk slowly backwards through the sand. When they detect footprints, the clams descend but leave behind a shaft of air. It is the sudden emergence of one of these holes that alerts the spooter, and a quick dig should be enough to catch the poor wee beastie."

Their sparsity only adds to their specialness. The flavour of razor clams is both sweet and salty,  similar to scallops but a little richer and with a texture more like squid. Like all clams, they're best eaten on the day of purchase and absolutely must be alive when you buy them. The fact that they like to wriggle out of their shells before retracting like a slurped up string of spaghetti makes identifying their freshness pretty easy, but if you're not sure, just give the shell a gentle tap and the clam should react. They take next to no time to cook, and can become quite rubbery if left in the pan for too long, so  it's best to start on your remoulade first.

Remoulade

Remoulade is a delicious French mayonnaise-based sauce and very similarly to its British cousin, tartar sauce, creates a marriage made in heaven when paired with fish or seafood. 

2 egg yolks
Approx 350ml rapeseed oil
A splash of vinegar (I used white wine vinegar)
A squeeze of lemon juice
A good couple of handfuls of herbs - I used flat leaf parsley, tarragon and chervil, finely chopped
A handful of cornichons, finely chopped
A tablespoon of capers
Salt and pepper

Place the yolks in a bowl and give them a quick whisk. Slowly, drop by drop (I find this bit painstakingly dull, but I am quite impatient, especially when hungry) add the oil, whisking all the while. You may find it helpful to place your bowl on a damp tea towel to prevent it slipping. Once you've added about half the oil, you can start sloshing it in with a bit more abandon. Don't go overboard though, you don't want it to split now that you've come so far. Once you've got to a decent, mayonnaise-y consistency, add a little lemon and/or vinegar and seasoning to taste. Then, chuck in your herbs, cornichons and capers, stir it through and bosh. You're ready to go.

Radish and radicchio salad served with raspberry vinegar and rapeseed oil dressing.

The bitterness of the radicchio was balanced beautifully with the sweetness of the raspberry vinegar and the dressed salad was a glorious jewel-bright red, adding to the temptation of this dish. In terms of the recipe, you'd struggle to make this simpler. Wash, dry and slice the veg. Next, whisk together 2-3 tbsp of raspberry vinegar with 6 tbsp of rapeseed oil, season and dress the salad. 

Razor clam broth

A knob of butter
A handful of razor clams (1 to 2 per person)
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
A large glass of dry white wine
A large glass of water
2 bay leaves
Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a wide shallow pan and add the onion. Stir the onion until soft, but not brown and add the garlic. Stir again for a minute or so before chucking in the water and wine with the bay leaves. Bring to the boil and leave to simmer for a few minutes while you prepare the razor clams, by simply rinsing then under cold water and discarding any dead ones. Add the clams to the pan and pop on the lid. After a couple of minutes, the clam shells will open. Carefully remove the clams from the pot with tongues and place them on a chopping board for later. Leave the razor clam broth to simmer while you prepare the razor clams with remoulade.

Preheat the grill.

Remove the clams from their shells, do not discard the shells though, you will need them to serve the dish in later. Cut the diggers off the clams - these are the dark bits at one end. Next, use kitchen scissors to slice up through the middle and check the insides for sand. Remove any dark bits - these will be the intestines. Give them a little rinse under the tap if they're sandy and chop the clams into small pieces. 

Mix the clams with a generous few dollops of your remoulade and fill your saved shells with the mixture. Pop them under the grill for a minute or so. 

Serve alongside an espresso cup of sieved razor clam broth and the raspberry-dressed salad. Classy.





Monday, 6 February 2012

R is for...

... Rusty Nails with Romesco and red pepper rice rolls, razor clams with remoulade, razor clam broth and radish and radicchio salad dressed with raspberry vinegar and rapeseed oil. Next up, we had Richard's rocket and Roquefort risotto, followed by rabbit ragù ravioli. The main course was rosemary-crusted reindeer with red currant reduction, röstis and red cabbage followed by a pre-pudding of rose petal jelly-topped rose mousse. Pudding was raspberry and Ricotta roulade, roasted rhubarb, rhubarb sorbet and raspberry coulis. Next, we had a cheeseboard of Rachel, Red Chester Thomas, Reblochon and Roquefort served with rye bread and raisin relish and finally, rooibos tea with rum truffles.

R night began with a rather exciting development in the Alphabet Soup kitchen. The hob, which only had three working rings from long before I even moved in, got fixed. I asked the oven cleaner if he thought there might be something he could do about it and, within 15 minutes, he had worked his magic and given me an extra burner. I could have kissed him (I didn't), and I might have done a silly little dance (I definitely did) and it may just have been the best £45 I've ever spent. To be fair, the hob fixing was technically free, as the money paid for a full professional oven cleaning service which I am not ashamed of using because, frankly, I'd rather go without a few non-essentials for a while than have to clean the bugger myself. Life's far too short and I'm far too lazy for scrubbing.

R night played host to a lovely mixture of guests. We welcomed the talented poet and playwright, Richard Marsh and his girlfriend Tammy, a freelance reality TV producer, along with lead singer of the excellent band, This Sporting Life, Matt Hopkinson and his ravishing teacher and theatre-maker wife, Claire Davies. Finally, R night greeted theatre maker and newlywed, Alex Ferguson, alongside applied drama practitioner at the Young Vic, Lily Einhorn. Lily is also a newlywed. She just married Alex! Romance! I made their cake.

Richard Hurst made a wonderful R-themed playlist, including Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, Rose Royce, R.E.M., Diana Ross and Rihanna.

Rusty Nail

If you're partial to Scotch and you're partial to Drambuie, then the chances are, you'll be partial to these little lovelies. Warming, sticky and strong, perfect for cold Winter nights. They certainly hit the spot  on R night and paved the way for a resplendent and raucous repast.

We forgot to take a photo of the rusty nails on the night, so here is an image from The Edinburgh Reporter
Equal parts Scotch and Drambuie stirred over ice. Bosh.

Romesco and red pepper rice rolls

Romesco sauce is a thick, full-flavoured Catalan sauce that works beautifully with fish or, if like Richard you can't eat fish, it's also lovely with chicken. R night's rather eccentric use of Romesco was actually quite delicious, if a little on the messy side when it came to actually eating them.



for the Romesco

2 roasted red peppers, skinned and deseeded
1 thick slice of stale white bread
1 tomato
2 large cloves of garlic, crushed
A handful of blanched hazelnuts
A handful of blanched almonds
1 red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped
A couple of tbsp red wine or sherry vinegar
1 lemon
A good few glugs of extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper


First, skin the tomato. Simply score the top with a cross, plunge the tomato into boiling water, leave for a minute or so, then plunge the tomato into cold water. The tomato skin should be easy to pull off now. Toast the nuts in a dry pan until lightly golden, turn the nuts out onto a cold plate and leave the nuts to cool. Whizz the bread in a food processor until you have fine bread crumbs and transfer to a bowl. Blitz the nuts until ground - but don't overdo it and pop the breadcrumbs back in the processor with the nuts. Add the tomato, garlic, roasted peppers, chilli, vinegar, some olive oil and the juice of half the lemon with a generous pinch of salt and pepper. Whizz again until you have a nice thick sauce. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon and/or salt and pepper and oil if needed.

for the rice paper rolls

A packet of rice wrappers/ spring roll wrappers/ rice paper (available at Asian/Chinese food stores).
1 red pepper, deseeded and sliced into long thin batons.
Romesco sauce

Soak the rice paper in warm water until completely soft - it usually takes about 30 seconds. When soft, lift the rice paper out of the water and spread out on clean surface. Place a little pile of red pepper batons in the centre of the rice paper and blob on a nice amount of Romesco sauce on top. Fold the edges of the rice paper near the tip ends of the red pepper batons over. Take the piece of rice paper in front of you and fold it tightly away from you over the filling and then roll it up into a tight little sausage. Repeat until you've run out of rice paper or you get bored.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Q is for... Qumbe






Qumbe is a traditional Somalian coconut pudding I discovered while researching my menu and trying to find something (anything!) that began with the letter Q that Richard might not have heard of. I found lots of recipes that were largely the same - a toffee goo made up of coconut, milk, sugar and cardamom, then pressed down in a tin to set before slicing into squares. I wondered if it might taste similar to that 1980s staple of my childhood: coconut ice, which I never really liked to eat but was a popular treat with others in the Glass household, so I made it continuously until I got bored and moved on to something else. I'm pleased to report that qumbe is much more delicious than coconut ice and is strangely moreish, even if you have already eaten your weight in quesadillas, quail, quinoa and quaking pudding. 

Qumbe

This recipe is an amalgamation of lots of different recipes I found on the internet.

180 ml/ 6 fl.oz whole milk
100g/ 4oz caster sugar
100g/ 4oz desiccated coconut, plus extra for sprinkling
6-8 cardamom pods, pods smashed open and the little seeds ground in a pestle and mortar

Line a small square tin with baking parchment and sprinkle the paper with desiccated coconut.

Place the milk and sugar in a saucepan over a low heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved. Increase the heat and bring to the boil. Chuck in the cardamom and coconut and stir over a low heat until the coconut has absorbed all the liquid and continue to stir for around five minutes. Pour the coconut mixture out into the tin, press it down firmly and smooth over the top. Sprinkle over more desiccated coconut and leave the mixture to cool before popping it in the fridge for about half an hour to set. Turn out the qumbe and slice into squares and serve.

Monday, 9 January 2012

Q is for... Queen of Puddings (and Quaking Pudding) with a quenelle of Quark ice cream


Richard took me to Heston Blumenthal's The Hinds Head in Bray a few years ago and, although the famous triple-cooked chips were everything everyone said they were, it was the quaking pudding that really resonated for me. I found this recipe penned by the great man himself and followed it to the letter. TO THE BLOODY LETTER, HESTON! And (forgive me if I sound too much like Gregg Wallace here) although the flavour was the same comforting custard-y cuddle I'd remembered, this  pudding was less quaking and more total collapse. My quaking puddings resolutely refused to set and as such were a resounding flop. It was all the more annoying to later discover that Heston had published another recipe for quaking pudding all of three months later, which is COMPLETELY different. He'd clearly cocked it up the first time round and had to revisit the recipe to correct it. I wish I'd found the correction first, then maybe Q night would have been saved from a pudding of quaking soup. It wasn't all bad though. As is my usual wont, I couldn't decide which pudding to make out of quaking and queen of, so I did the only sensible thing and made both.

On P night, the guests were making predictions for Q's menu and the inimitable Chris Neill's offered suggestion was "a quenelle of some shit". So a quenelle of some shit or other it had to be, and what better shit to choose than another ingredient beginning with the letter Q. I went for a quenelle of Quark, which some might think is quite shit in and of itself, due to its staggeringly and saintly low fat content. It turned out not to be shit at all and, in actual fact, was rather delicious and cheese cake-y when transformed into lemon ice cream - the slug of cream probably didn't hurt it either.

Queen of Puddings

It's traditional to use breadcrumbs, but I think they taste nicer with brioche. If you take objection to  this alteration, by all means substitute the brioche crumbs for white breadcrumbs. I attempted to make just the right amount for two puddings, but, as usual, I over-estimated and ended up with three. I made these in custard pots, which I think are probably a little bigger than ramekins, so you might be able to get a fourth pud out of the same volume of mixture. 

300ml of full fat milk
75g brioche crumbs
A knob of butter, plus extra for greasing
50g caster sugar
A pinch of salt
The finely grated zest of half a lemon
A dash of vanilla extract
2 eggs
A pinch of salt
A couple of tbsp of raspberry jam (or whatever jam you fancy)

Bring the milk to the boil and take the pan off the heat. Stir in the brioche crumbs, butter, 25g sugar, lemon zest and vanilla and leave the mixture to swell for about 20 minutes.

In the meantime, butter your custard pots/ ramekins and place them on a baking tray and preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).

Separate the eggs and whisk the yolks into the cooled brioche mixture. Divide the mixture between your buttered dishes, flatten their tops and pop them into the oven for about 15 to 20 minutes or until set.

Melt the jam in a small saucepan and spread it over the set puddings. Whisk the whites with the salt in another bowl until stiff, then gradually whisk in the remaining sugar. Generously spoon a a mound of meringue on top of each pudding and fluff it up with a fork. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes or until the meringue tops are golden brown. Leave the puds to cool a bit before serving.

Quark Ice Cream 

(this obviously makes more than 2 quenelles' worth)

The zest and juice of 2 lemons
4 tbsp of caster sugar
1 tub (250g) Quark
125ml double cream

Place the lemon zest and juice in a saucepan with the sugar over a gentle heat. Stir until the sugar has dissolved and you have a light syrup. Leave to cool. 

Whisk together the quark and cream and add the syrup - A strained mine of zest because I wanted it smooth, but you don't have to. Mix it all together and pop it in the fridge for half an hour or so to make it properly fridge-cold. 

If you have an ice cream machine, then follow the manufacturers instructions. If not, pop the mixture in a tupperware box and stick it in the freezer, giving it a vigorous whisk every half an hour or so until it's set to stop any ice crystals forming.

Take the ice cream out of the freezer for 5-10 minutes before you're ready to serve your pudding to soften. Using two tablespoons, scrape a spoonful of ice cream back and forth between the two spoons until you have made a rugby ball shape. Plonk it on a plate next to your queen of pudding and dig in.




Friday, 6 January 2012

Q is for... Quince-stuffed quails with quinoa


Although I've said that all the dishes were kept secret from Richard on Q night, there were definitely no surprises here with quail, quince and quinoa. He may not have anticipated them all being served on the same plate, but if bets had been placed he would certainly have cleaned up with these three. But none of that really matters, and besides, there is hardly an exhaustive list of foods beginning with Q, so as far as predictions go, there was bound to be quite a high hit rate for accuracy. Despite the lack of surprises at the contents of this particular dish, it worked together beautifully.

I love the subtle gamey taste of quail, but I know plenty of people who can't be bothered to order it in a restaurant because they're so small and boney and it can get tiresome picking the carcass for the last remaining scraps of meat. I personally quite like carcass-picking, but I'd already decided to stuff my quails with quince, so boning seemed the obvious way forward. I'm lucky enough to have one of London's finest butchers only a short bus ride away from where I live, so I asked the lovely folk at Moen's to bone my quails for me. I didn't own a boning knife at the time (this year's Christmas changed that - thanks Richard!) and thought I might slice my hand off if I tried to use a chef's knife on something so tiny. Ready-boned, these were a doddle to stuff and a cinch to slice.



Unlike David Lynch, I've never been much of a quinoa enthusiast, but this was soft, mellow comfort food. It's the kind of food you crave when it's cold and dark outside and you're feeling tired and lazy. The kind of food that you can just spoon into your pie hole and lazily chew once or twice before it's ready for swallowing. The kind of food you could probably get away with eating if you didn't have teeth. Like mashed potato or rice pudding. I'm never going to be sent into a frenzy of pleasure or delight by eating quinoa, but it has its place and I think I've found it: lying under a quail stuffed with quince.

Quinoa

Serves 2

150g quinoa
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
A few spring onions, finely chopped
A bunch of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Salt and pepper
1 pint of fresh chicken stock
A glass of dry white wine
A knob of butter

Fry the onions, garlic and chilli in the butter until soft. Add the quinoa and the stock and wine, stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, pop the lid on and leave to simmer for 15 minutes. Throw in the parsley and stir through for a couple of minutes. Season to taste and serve.

Quince-stuffed quail

I bought the quince cheese (membrillo) as quinces weren't in season at the time of Q. I found a wonderful quince-centric company who were so passionate about their products when I rang, I ended up buying more than I'd ever intended. 

I've made my own quince cheese before and, aside from passing it all through a sieve, it's not tricky at all. Just chop up the quinces and simmer them in water for a couple of hours until very soft and pass them through a sieve. Next, place the pulp in a saucepan with an equal volume of sugar, add a squeeze of lemon and simmer for a few hours until it becomes very thick and a drop sets hard on a cold plate. Pour into oiled jars or pretty shaped dishes with lids so that you can upturn them straight on to a cheese board, or, in this case, into a quail. 

to serve 2

2 boned quails
1 packet of parma ham
2 tbsp quince cheese
Seasoning
2 tbsp Hot Quince Jelly (optional, as I said, I got rather carried away while quince shopping)

Preheat the oven to 190°C (170°C fan)

Simply place 1 tbsp of quince cheese in the centre of the boned quail, season and roll up the bird like a sausage. Wrap it in parma ham and place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the other bird. Heat the hot quince jelly in a small pan to melt and then brush it over the parma-wrapped quails. Pop them in the oven for about 20 minutes. Rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.