Thursday, 18 November 2010

Two quick suppers and a lazy one…

The soup:

Sweat one sliced onion in some olive oil, then add a clove or two of chopped garlic and half a pumpkin (depending on quantity desired), deseeded, but not necessarily peeled. I should add that if you use a butternut squash you might want to peel that because the skin can be a bit tougher. Cook the vegetables for 10 minutes or so, allowing the pumpkin to soften a bit, then tip in a can of tomatoes and around 400-500ml vegetable or chicken stock. Season with some salt, pepper and chilli flakes until the pumpkin is completely tender. Whizz with a hand-held blender or similar until smooth. At this point you may want to let it down a bit with some more stock as it can thicken up withe pumpkin. Tip in a can of cannellini beans and reheat, then serve in deep bowls, marvelling at the bonfire glow of your supper.

The pasta:

Sweat one onion in a pan with some chopped garlic. (All winter recipes seem to start like this, I find). Add a chopped aubergine and a tsp of dried oregano, put on a lid and allow to sweat/fry until the aubergine is tender. Stir in around 400g pork mince and stir until cooked through then add a can of tomatoes, some chilli flakes and seasoning and a tbsp of tomato puree and simmer until the sauce is thickened to your liking. Add more oregano if you want then tip over penne pasta or even spaghetti and sprinkle with Parmesan.

The Sunday supper:

Disclaimer: This one does not involve a can of tomatoes.

Finely chop some rosemary leaves with salt and press into the skin of two duck legs. In a large casserole, brown the duck legs, allowing the fat to render out, until crisp and bronze of skin rather like some 70’s ST Tropez goddess. Add a chopped leek and soften in the duck fat, then some chopped pumpkin and some halved waxy potatoes. Throw in a glass of red wine, put the lid on and simmer very gently for around 45 minutes, but keep checking it. The pumpkin should soften into the sauce and the potatoes should be completely tender. Check the seasoning and serve with some sautéed greens, cavolo nero for preference.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Westow House, Crystal Palace–The return…

It’s not traditionally somewhere you might take your 6 week-old son. Westow House at the junction of Anerley Hill and Westow Hill is locally known as The Meat Market: weekend nights are out of bounds unless you’re under 25 and of a certain persuasion and so far I’ve only been there twice, both times after about three vodka, soda and limes too many… and that was enough. It’s a shame because the interior was built for lingering weekend afternoons on the sofas, perhaps someone daringly tickling the ivories in the corner (as opposed to something more animate…)

But… but… Westow House has now been taken over by Antic Pubs, who also run Jam Circus in Brockley amongst others, and d’you know, it’s quite a change of pace. There’s now a menu of classic British pub grub-ness – think burgers, fish & chips, Ploughman’s and so on – and the vibe, particularly during the day, is one of calm and cosiness. Weird.

We’ve now been en famille twice in a week. Yes, twice. It was that good. Given that men have gone to the moon in spaceships with less technology than the pram we are toting, we’re always on the lookout for somewhere a little more spacious and you cannot get into Domali for love nor money on a weekday lunch for other buggy-toting mothers. We’d heard rumours of a sea-change at The Westow and ambled over for a gander.

Of course, being a Tuesday lunch, it was deserted apart from a man in the corner reading a paper, but he didn’t look as if he was going to start a riot so we settled ourselves in with a pint of rather good cider and perused the menu.

At £10 for a choice of four dishes from what they’re ludicrously calling the Tapas Menu, it was a bargain. NB: if they’re not Spanish dishes, let’s call them something else. Starters, maybe, or Small Plates, or Grazing or Snacking something-or-other but for the love of all that’s holy let’s leave the tapas nomenclature where it belongs. Anyway. Breathe… So we shared a wedge of a good meaty pork pie with personality-full piccalilli; a dish of tiny little sausages with a grape mustard and apple sauce combo; a bowl of hand-cut skin-on chips; and a thick slice of properly-made Welsh Rarebit that was so delicious I claimed a good three-quarters of it and let MCD have my chips. It was perfect – filling, good value and most importantly, it all tasted great.

So on Friday, we actually eschewed a pizza at Mediterranea (and that took some effort) and went again, this time going the main course route. MCD’s pollock and chips were bigger and better than the comparable dish at The Mansion in Gipsy Hill and I would say the same about my burger with Stilton, the only downside being they didn’t ask how I wanted it cooked. And just while I think about it, why fashion burgers so thick you can’t fit them in your mouth? Why not use the same weight of meat for a thinner patty that you don’t have to cut with a knife and fork, feeling like a poncy lemon as you do so? Just a thought…

We even had puddings. MCD’s choice of treacle tart with creme fraiche and blackberries was good, if not quite solid enough for my taste. The Green & Black’s chocolate fondant was perfectly cooked and would have been even better had it come with the advertised rum & raisin ice cream rather than vanilla. But again, we finished them both, rather at a trot as MCD Junior was showing signs of waking.

It’s a true revelation. Something approaching a gastropub in Crystal Palace and I can honestly say it’s all the better for it. Now all we need is to find out what’s going up instead of the Talon Salon…

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Green tomato ketchup–a reprise, and other stories

Ok, I’m back. A slightly longer absence than planned and much to write about. In fact, I’ve been putting off posting for a couple of weeks, having come over all shy. And then I thought ‘Bugger it’ and so here it is – a random post to get things moving and then normal service will be resumed…

So: green tomato ketchup. I did indeed get it made and I did forego the 350ml water and added the vinegar/sugar mixture straight in with the tomatoes. It made sod all difference to the end product as I simply reduced it down (within a magical 40 mins if I remember rightly) and whizzed it up. So clearly Jamie’s editors have made a slight recipe typo with that one. More importantly it need not take you 4 hours to make a jar of condiment.

Pumpkin cannelloni: I had a craving on Halloween for something using of the rubescent squash sitting on my work surface. Now that I can face pumpkin, squash, sweet potato and chorizo again (pregnancy hormones are strange bedfellows), I’ve gone a little squash crazy and the occasion seemed appropriate.

I roasted the wedges of squash with garlic and rosemary and a chopped up sweet potato for about 40 mins until caramelized and sticky. NB DO NOT add your garlic in at the beginning; it will just burn, so stick it in 20 mins before the end. Allow to cool then scrape the flesh from the skins into a food processor and whizz up with the roasted garlic, a good tbsp of ricotta, a handful of whatever herb takes your fancy (I used rosemary) and some lemon zest. Filling done.

I then pre-soaked some fresh lasagne sheets for a couple of minutes in boiling water to make them pliable. Remove from the water and brush with a little oil to stop them sticking. (Can I add at this point I was going to make the pasta sheets myself – got the machine out and everything – only to discover my pasta flour had weevils in it. Oh. My. God. And it went out of date 18 months ago, so I had to give that up. But I was going to.) Spoon balls of the pumpkin mixture along one edge of the sheet and roll up into tubes and place in a baking dish. I then spooned over a roasted tomato and chilli sauce before baking for 25-30 minutes and topping with Parmesan. I think a creamy sauce would be too rich, but conversely some ripped-up mozzarella or even Taleggio would be divine.

I’ve also dabbled with beef en croute (Note to self – cook AFTER feeding the baby, as if they hang around too long the beef will completely over-cook. A simply mistake, one I’m normally careful to avoid, but I’m still on a learning curve with the baby/cooking/timing issues…) which I served with a fabulous Madeira sauce. I added depth by stirring in the remaining tbsp of mushroom duxelles – the rest of which was lining the inside of the pastry – and the resting juices from the beef after it had been seared before wrapping in the pastry.

In surprise news, MCD has made a luscious chocolate mousse. There is a clear division in the kitchen: I’m not a pudding cook, although I will if pushed, but something about the precise mathematical nature appeals to MCD and his mousse was extraordinary. He substituted the suggested flavouring of Earl Grey tea with peppermint (given I can’t stand tea) and it was just a subtle wash rather than in-your-face After Eight madness. There may be more to come – we’ll see.