Friday, 22 May 2009

Absolutely infuriating...

A small rant. I shop locally, I love shopping locally and willingly do not enter a supermarket except in extreme circumstances. But I have to shop on a Saturday morning because I work. That's fine. I enjoy doing it, I shop in west Dulwich which is a particularly pleasant place to spend a Saturday morning and I adore seeing the same people, seeing the seasons change, etc, etc.

But I cannot support my local shops if they don't support me. I actually live closer to Herne Hill (in that it's one bus ride, rather than two - oh for a car...). Coming out of the station at Herne Hill on Tuesday evening (not my normal station but perfectly good when there's an unexplained fire on the train to Crystal Palace - best avoided at all costs. Right next to the station is a reasonable grocer's and a reasonable butcher's (and a fishmongers, but they've gone a ball of chalk, sadly). And they're closed. Now, I don't get home at some god-forsaken hour - this was about 6.30 - but they weren't open. And I couldn't help thinking on the bus ride home, what a bloody wasted opportunity. Just down the road in West Norwood are FOUR thriving supermarkets - thriving because right over their doors are huge signs saying 'Open from 7-11'. By so rigidly adhering to this traditional 9-5 policy, aren't local shops driving us into supermarkets?

Let's face it. You come out of the station, perhaps musing on supper, or perhaps not, but let's imagine this is the case. You know there's little in the fridge, you can't afford another take-out and right there is a butcher's and a veg shop. Wouldn't you think 'Aha - chops and salad for tea?' and perhaps be tempted to pop in and get something? But if they're not open, you think about where is open, and - inexorably, like a little train being pulled by a child - you're pulled into the supermarket, where you might still think 'hmmm chops and salad' but possibly by now, you're tired and want to go home and collapse and you think 'hmmm ready meal'. Do you see my point?

Now, MCD thinks - and he's probably right - that I live in a food bubble. That in my world and work we all shop differently to the majority, we spend all day thinking about small producers and local shopping and food and consequently we spend more time and effort than most in putting together a dinner and that a shop or two open on the way home would be fabulous. We could skip in - a la Nigel - and shop on a daily basis and with a wicker basket. Most people shop on a Saturday so why should shops open irregular hours if their customers are only there at weekends?

And yet, and yet... it's a specious argument. Surely if we're not given the choice, we will continue to head for the supermarket like blinkered ones? Surely they have to do their bit too to encourage our custom? People are lazy, they like familiarity - so why can't that familarity be extended to the independents? Just a late night once a week might be a start. Why do they have to make it so damn hard?

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Up, up and away....

The rocket is taking over. Oh my god. There has never been so much rocket grow so fast in the entire history of the world. Ever. As I mentioned it's a straight-edged variety rather than jagged and without that foul antiseptic taste supermarket rocket increasingly seems to have. I'm picking some every night - a small handful seems to be enough for both of us, but I discovered - with the leaves being so large - it wilts down a treat. Pictures coming soon - you will not believe the size of it.

So I thought, in my attempt to be a one-woman rocket-buster, tonight's dinner is Chicken Caesar Salad. I'm picking rocket and a few lettuce leaves from the garden, I found a chicory in the back of the fridge, I have some chicken thighs to roast and I'll make a dressing from anchovies, garlic, Parmesan, creme fraiche and lemon. But - and here's the crux of the matter - I'm going to toast some ripped up ciabatta in the tin with the chicken, moving it around the tin while the chicken's cooking so it will end up sodden with juices but also reasonably crisp. With a couple of glasses of white wine and the house to myself... Perfect.

And hoorah - this weekend we get the tomatoes. And melons. Who knew? They might grow, they might not, but Pa is certainly hopeful. Me - not so much. I haven't yet tracked down the sorrel-muncher, and I bet it loves melons.

PS: Toast the ciabatta for the last 20 mins of cooking, otherwise serious rescue operations will have to be instigated.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Broadly speaking...

It occurred to me the other day as I was shelling my first clutch of broad beans (sadly not own-grown yet but from the farm shop) that - if given the chance - I would really like to come back as one. They nestle in a furry pod, they're the most wonderful vibrant shade of green and they're a real harbinger of summer. Oh, and they're best culinary friends with the pig. The one thing - the only thing - to remember is to peel off that leathery white casing you get round them once podded - or more likely, tipped from the freezer bag. Make sure there's something interesting on the wireless because it's a slightly dull job - blanch them for a minute or so in unsalted boiling water, then squeeze out the outrageously green beans and discard the casing.

Of course, if you grow your own, catch them early enough and you won't need to go through this process. But if there's even a hint of white leather handbag, get squeezing.

Anyway you now have some viridian broad beans. What to do with them - eat with goats cheese or ham, make a parsley cream sauce...? All good. But if you've been there, done that, make a pesto. Take your broad beans - blanched or raw - and pound them in a pestle and mortar with a scrap of garlic, olive oil, a little Pecorino (for preference, but I did use Parmesan), a little chopped mint and a squeeze of lemon. I've left it vague, as the amounts you use are down to taste, as is seasoning. You could add some toasted pine nuts or parsley as well.

I served this spread on bruschetta, then topped with ricotta and a smidge of extra virgin. Lush with a glass of Prosecco with a little strawberry puree in the bottom. Ideal in warm early summer evening sunshine, pretty damn good in front of the TV waiting for Eurovision before dinner.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

A nice dinner - a weird lunch...

A word of advice if you're proud of your talent for using up leftovers - particularly when dinner one night becomes, with the addition of a few leaves and some tomatoes, lunch the next day. Thriftiness - in these bracing times - is only to be applauded. But beware - because what looks like promising thrift in the evening can sometimes turn out to be parsimony turned poison the next day.

For example - if you've roasted a couple of chicken thighs in the oven, then made an accompaniment of chickpeas warmed with sultanas, tomatoes, rosemary and watercress and tossed it in the warm chicken roasting juices with a squeeze of lemon - DO NOT, I repeat, just don't, throw any leftover chickpeas into a carefully prepared tuna and borlotti bean salad you've made for lunches for the rest of the week. It's a little known fact, but here it is, just for you so you don't have to test it yourself, tuna and sultanas just don't go. At all. I'm not sure if I don't feel quite ill. (And I now have to spend some time tonight laboriously de-sultana-ing my tuna salad for tomorrow).

Just thought I'd say...

PS: You might however keep said chickpeas to accompany the lamb chops you might be serving tonight. Now that would have been intelligent.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Another thing of beauty....

A quick update on the old veggie garden. Those at the back are broad beans (thank God they freeze), potatoes have come through and have been rather professionally 'earthed' (We still have no idea what we're doing - is this right? Have we earthed too high?), then the onions (nope still no idea when they're ready), then easy-pick rows of rocket, spinach, lettuce and the rather weedy weeds in the middle are the undoubtedly ill-fated cavolo nero.

But we're rather pleased with it. The rocket is of the straight edged variety rather than jagged, which made us somewhat doubt what we had planted, but those lettuces look almost professional!
And on the right next to some rather delicious clematis are our runner beans - as you'll see from the length of the canes, they have aspirations.

Friday, 8 May 2009

A rather nice thought for the day...

Did you know that the word 'polite' comes from the jewellery trade? When diamonds or jewels are said to be cut and polished to their absolute flawless best, they're said to be 'polite'. What a lovely thing to aspire to be - a flawless, polished diamond when you're being polite.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

A thing of beauty...

I just wanted to exclaim over these fabulous 1920s coupe champagne glasses I bought for Pa for his birthday in a few weeks. My obsession with all things Bright and Young continues. I even went to the Cecil Beaton exhibition in St James (The ladies were indeed painted to the eyes); fabulous, and rather a private viewing, but none the worse for that. Devastatingly no postcards to be had, but I did get a catalogue and devour the images all the way home again, particularly the ones of Nancy Cunard and Gwili Andre - helped distract me from the grimness of Elephant and Castle as I passed through.

The Veg Garden - the saga continues

So MCD has planted out the cavolo nero seedlings - it's rather peculiar. Some of them have simply panted once, gasped for air and thrown themselves sideways on the soil in seeming despair at leaving the sunny harbour of the kitchen windowsill; some have taken it bravely on the leaf and stood up a little straighter, putting their stems into it with all their might; one has lost its head completely - why? how? - and a few haven't quite made up their minds. Such vacillation in the veggie garden.

However the lettuce is looking rather ravishing, as is the rocket, but my sorrel has been mysteriously - yet not completely - munched, which is terribly irritating - the leaves aren't even big enough to use yet - and can i find any slugs or snails...? none to be seen.

The runner beans have gone in today, wigwammed into a bucket - apparently we can't go wrong with those, they're child's play, easy-peasy - we shall see.

A new way to roast chicken, no damnit, the only way...

Take a big fat free-range chicken and smother it in goose fat, a lot of salt and some black pepper. Heat your oven to 150C and pop it in for at least 2 hours, when the skin should be golden and crisp, the flesh unbelievably meltingly tender and succulent, and the cries of joy as you bring it to the table bordering on the worshipful.

I served this, after a starter of mussels and clams mariniere, with a simple dish of roasted tomatoes, roasted asparagus, great great baguette, garlic mayonnaise and some little new potatoes par boiled, then smashed and roasted with rosemary and a bit more garlic. Oh and a few bottles of red. And then a few more....

Kentucky Fried Bunny - seriously, try it....

I loathe fast food. I loathe it in and of itself, i loathe how it purports to be the affordable alternative to 'real' food, I loathe the advertising, the plastic crap, the targeting of children and those living adjacent to the poverty line, the garish colours, the flavour combinations (even the fact that I have to write 'flavour combinations' makes me gag). You get the picture.

What I find most satisfying is simply to make my own - from burgers to kebabs, pizzas to hot dogs and even - if you can bear it - fried chicken. Loads nicer and doesn't get that peculiar leathery texture that the most famous brand seems to acquire an approximate 8 minutes after buying. This weekend - after a particularly French brasserie-esque meal - more about that later on the Saturday, Sunday felt like a day for dinner in front of the TV, eaten with our hands. But chicken I had none; well, I did, but it was remains of a roast for which I had plans, so I dug out a rabbit I had in the freezer, followed the same method as I would for chicken and, reader, it was F.A.B. I'm posting the recipe below - please please try it, adapt it and make it again and again. Even with chicken, if you must.

1 rabbit (I happened to have farmed; wild would benefit from the same treatment)
1 pot buttermilk + 100ml milk or 300ml milk
120g-ish of plain flour
Cayenne pepper or chilli powder
English mustard powder
1 egg, beaten
Salt and pepper

Join the rabbit. It's dead easy with a big knife, cutting off the 4 legs and then chopping the saddle straight across into 3 or 4 pieces. If you feel squeamish about this, by all means get your butcher/boyfriend/husband/Pa to do this, but I like a bit of butchery, I must say...

Cover the rabbit pieces in the milk or buttermilk/milk combination. The reason to do this is two-fold. It tenderises the rabbit now and results in a moister finish after frying. (I nicked the idea from Nigella - it works a treat for chicken too). I left it about 30 minutes, then I tipped both bunny and milk into a saucepan, brought it up to the boil with the lid on and left it simmering until the meat was cooked through. Took about 20 minutes, but just keep testing. You want no hint of pink.

When the rabbit is cooked, lift it out of the pan. Admittedly at this point in time, it's going to look a god-awful mess, but nonetheless, set the rabbit pieces on a draining rack to cool and soak your pan in washing up liquid and water! (That's very important - it's a bugger to clean, that pan, if you're not prepared.)

While the rabbit's cooling, mix the flour with the cayenne, mustard powder, salt and pepper in a freezer bag or such like. How much you use is up to you - how fiery you like your coating - I go for the idea of something devilled, so I used 2 tsp cayenne and about the same of mustard. Once the rabbit has cooled to about room temp, dredge it in the flour, dip it in the beaten egg, then dredge it in the flour again and place back on the rack, while you do each piece. You might find the flour seems to wear off or disappear a bit - just shake over some more, that's where the crusty bits come from.

Now obviously, you could deep fry this, but I don't have an electric fryer, I didn't have enough oil to put in a wok, so I just heated about 1 cm vegetable oil in my sauteuse (deep sided frying pan) and when sizzling, added the rabbit in batches, turning them when golden brown and deliciously crusted. They're not cooking through at this point, you're just making them look gorgeous, so they are done when they look appetising to you.

We ate this with a squeeze of lemon and some chips, some aioli (garlic mayonnaise - our current addiction) and a tomato-chilli salsa, which i made from some left-over roasted tomatoes, plus 1 fresh, some chill, worcester sauce and a squirt of ketchup for luck. It would be good with some spicy potatoes a la patatas bravas, like the Spanish, or I fancy the way the Greeks do their chips, with a light scattering of Kefalotiri cheese, if you can find it.

Never did a bunny meet such a good end.