Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The ONLY* drink I shall be drinking from now on

I am a sucker for nostalgia. Anything that suggests a yearning sense of time passed immediately snags my attention. When I was living in Germany (I too have travelled) there was a tiny shop in Bad Nauheim called Zeitgeist. Over here it would have been too too kitsch; over there the oddities and collectibles were too tempting not to spend a couple of hours browsing through, if only for a misplaced sense of home. (Although how’s this for forethought: I bought MCD – at that time ‘just a friend’ – the most beautiful chess set, thinking one day he might use it to play with his children. It now sits in our dining room, awaiting MCD Jr’s no doubt keen involvement). The objects in there made me want to own them, to connect me in some tangible way to another time – most often the Twenties. I can’t be the only person who really quite desperately longs for a sepia-toned globe for a drinks cabinet? But then my ideal home is Eltham Palace and they have one, so you see where I’m coming from.

I am, as you see, quite suggestible. So when I read in Victoria Moore’s How to Drink about Negronis and their evocation of Florence and the Forties and palazzos et al, I think, That is the drink for me. I spent a very nice holiday pre-baby in Venice drinking 'lo Spritz – Prosecco with a dash of Campari -  at nearly every opportunity, so glamorous and quasi-Italian did it make me feel. A Negroni is like a supercharged injection of Sophia Loren-ness. I don’t think I could pass a Saturday night without one now. When I shall fit my dirty Martinis in, I don’t quite know.

Simply pour one part Campari, one part red vermouth and one part gin over a generous amount of ice in a tumbler. Drink whilst ensuring you are feeling card-sharp and endlessly, Dorothy Parker-style witty. This feeling will increase as you drink. I’m not one to caution against drinking, but one of these is a rocket. I haven’t dared have two yet.

*Apart from the afore-mentioned martinis, wine both still and sparkling, Bloody Marys and cocktails of all descriptions apart from sweet and creamy.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Mexican sunshine

God, Saturday’s weather was rubbish, wasn’t it? In fact, it was so rubbish, we got back from food shopping and were faced with something of a dilemma. MCD Jr was fast asleep in the back of the car; the rain was lashing down; we were shattered. We just couldn’t face getting out of the car; in fact we argued over who was going to get out and take the shopping in and who got to stay in to watch MCD Jr/snooze. In the end, we both decided passivity was the way forward and we all had a refreshing 45 minute snooze in the car - in the rain - on our drive. When we woke up it was still raining. But at least we could face the walk up the garden path.

We had planned a picnic in a local park for the weekend (more of which later), but for Saturday night I wanted to cook something a bit different. I had caught a glimpse of Tommi Miers’ Channel 5 show in Mexico where she put together a take on prawn cocktail and the idea inspired a complete Mexican feast. The recipe ideas are all taken from her book, so don’t think I’m suddenly revealing some authentic Mexican ancestry – I’m just copying.

We started with the prawn cocktail and this was sheer genius. One packet of cooked tiger prawns and one packet of those tiny queen scallops would probably feed 4, so I made this over two nights because it was so damn good.

Firstly make the sauce. It’s a bit like a Mexican Bloody Mary and is considerably enlivened by alcohol. (What isn’t, I ask myself?) Pour 250ml good –quality tomato juice into a measuring jug. Add the juice of 2 limes and 1 mandarin (or orange), a few good shakes Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco, a good squeeze of ketchup, salt and pepper and a shot of Tequila or vodka. Taste and adjust as you see fit, then refrigerate for at least one hour.

In little tumblers, arrange some diced cucumber, diced avocado and shredded Little Gem lettuce. Top with the prawns. Quickly fry off the scallops in a little olive oil for two minutes, tops then add to the cocktail. Pour over the tomato sauce and eat.

We ate this alongside guacamole, salsa and nachos – just a light starter. We followed with a derivation of Tommi’s chilli and tamarind-infused pork belly, only I used ribs, stuffed courgette flowers and a quick version of her smoky stuffed peppers. Here we go again.

Get the ribs going first. I tend to cook them in  a 150C oven for 2-3 hours so they are meltingly tender before the final baste. Make a marinade for them by combining 4 smashed garlic cloves, 1 cinnamon stick, 1 tsp cloves, 1 tsp allspice berries, 1 tbsp tamarind paste, 1 heaped tbsp chipotle puree (I happened to have some chipotle relish in the cupboard so I used that), 3 tbsp soy sauce, 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar, 2 tbsp brown sugar, salt and pepper. Coat the ribs thoroughly and cook as above, covering the roasting tin with foil and check them from time to time to turn.

While they’re cooking, make the peppers. Tommi makes a no-doubt delicious but slightly more time-consuming potato-based filling for this, but I frankly couldn’t be arsed so here’s my quick version:

Halve red or yellow peppers and de-seed. Place in a roasting tray. In a bowl combine: the chopped flesh of a ripe mango, 100g goats cheese, 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar, small handful oregano leaves, 1 crushed garlic clove. I stuffed the pepper halves with this and drizzled with oil, then baked for about 25-30 minutes until the peppers are soft.

The courgette flowers I have described before so just repeat. In fact, this time I didn’t even make a batter; I just separated the courgettes from the flour and finely sliced, then sautéed them both in a little oil.

We ate this with mucho Margaritas and followed with chocolate tiramisu from Gu to which I might be a little bit addicted. Even though I don’t actually like chocolate very much. Go figure.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Some summery ideas

Not terribly sure if summer is planning on hanging around much longer; let’s face it – we’ve already had the Glorious Twelfth (and where is my grouse?) and we’re bombing towards the cornucopia that is September bounty, so I would suggest if, like me, you’ve barely opened a summer cookbook this season, just do it – barbecue in the kitchen, picnic in the lounge, dine al fresco in the rain – otherwise we’ll have gone from navarin of lamb to beef stew without so much as a by your leave.

Last night I made a pudding. It doesn’t happen very often, given I’m not that keen, but I had some delicious greengages waiting to be used and a sheet of puff pastry.

Divide the puff pastry into four equal parts. (Actually I just divided it in half, but we are big fat pigs and know no restraint, but for normal people a quarter would do.) Halve and stone the greengages and arrange within each quarter of pastry, leaving enough pastry to fold over and make an envelope.

Sprinkle the greengages with a good teaspoon of sugar and a little cinnamon. MCD had some raspberries with his too. Fold over the pastry and use the tines of a fork to seal around the edges. Make a slit in the top and carve your initials into the pastry. That's particularly vital. Brush with eggwash and bake on baking parchment in a 180C oven for around 20-30 minutes, or until puffed and golden.

Eat with creme fraiche or ice cream or any dairy product you have in. Apart from Cheddar.

I’m starting to run out of ideas for what to do with green beans and courgettes and marrows. Jamie’s tomato-based green/runner bean stew is particularly good, but I’m freezing bag-loads. As for courgettes I made a particularly good pasta dish the other night with the leftovers from a roast chicken and they worked well with it.

Based on Nigella’s Venetian-style chicken, simply cook penne-sized courgette pieces in oil with a couple of cloves of garlic until tender. Add in the pieces of shredded chicken, a handful of raisins soaked in warm water and a good slosh of white wine and a tbsp chopped rosemary. Simmer until the wine is syrupy, season and add a handful of toasted pine nuts if you have any.

Toss with cooked pasta and sprinkle effusively with parsley. It was rainy-night satisfying, especially with a pesto baguette along the lines of garlic bread.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Beans, beans, beans

Never, ever, EVER, turn your back on an allotment. Not even for 48 hours. For you can guarantee that the tiny sweet baby courgettes that looked like they might remain in nappies for days yet will, by the time you look again, have turned into sprawling, squawking monsters whose pliable adaptable nature you have missed and with which you can do very little.

Sarah Raven peels and roasts her marrows, cubed in a little oil, with aubergines and onions to serve with a curry. I would toss them in cumin and coriander and serve with yoghurt and make them the focal point. Other than that I can offer you very little other than Nigel’s excellent Thai-style pork mince alongside or simply to give them to slightly startled friends and family.

But the beans are much more docile. True, they swarm up and down the canes like gangbusters, but you can at least freeze them. Last night I made an outrageously good side dish with them. The only negative was that MCD ate very little of it and I could have given him less and saved more for lunch today. God Damn.

I made this with green beans only, but now the runner beans are kicking in, by all means use a mixture.

Top and tail a large handful of beans and cut into 2cm lengths or thereabouts. Boil briefly in salted water for 3 minutes and no longer.

Meanwhile drain a can of flageolet beans and leave over the sink. Drain the cooked beans through the sieve, simultaneously warming the flageolet (the THRIFT) and combining the beans and tip everything back into the pan.

Whisk up a dressing of 2 tbsp grain mustard, 1-2 tbsp red wine or other vinegar (but not a sweet one), salt, pinch of sugar, pepper and a tsp of honey. Whisk in good olive oil to emulsify and stir into the beans. Taste and correct the seasoning if necessary and serve while warm.

We ate this with Barnsley lamb chops and some spinach on the side. Or at least I did. MCD seemed to toy with a bit of plate. If you do have leftovers, like I managed to scrape together (alright, I cleaned off his beans – I’m not proud), you might eat them alongside something like a pork pie perhaps, or some nice cheese.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011


This is not a good week. I have been snowed under with a vast and seemingly unending recipe project, I barely see MCD Jr, my sister bought a fabulous puppy last week which died yesterday and my grandmother appears to be intent on joining it. Poor dog. So what with writing about food all day and mourning the loss of a dog and the absence of my son in the evening, I haven’t been much of a one for the stove.

However, out in the allotment, picking beans not quite as quickly as they are growing, I can’t help but be bowled over by the sunshine yellow of the best courgette flowers we have ever had. It would be a crime not to use them, so I came up with the following as I don’t deep fry (vats of boiling oil would not – I suspect – be my best friend).

Clean and wash very very carefully two courgette flowers (with small courgettes attached for preference). Snip out the stamens and dry on kitchen paper.

Whisk together in a bowl 4 tbsp ricotta, small handful of oregano leaves or chopped basil, a little lemon zest and juice, 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and salt and pepper.

Gently spoon the mixture into the flowers and press the flowers together to seal.

Make a batter by mixing 100g plain flour with 1-2 glasses of white wine. If it’s still too thick add a little water to make it the consistency of double cream.

Dip the flowers in and make sure they are thoroughly coated.

Heat 1cm depth of vegetable oil in a large frying pan and when hot enough, lower the flowers in. Fry for about three minutes until the underside is crisp and golden, then carefully turn over with the spatula to cook the other side.

Drain on kitchen paper and eat as an appetiser before an appropriately courgette-based main dish such as Jamie’s courgette carbonara from Jamie at Home.

This seems terribly downbeat – sorry. Back with the stiff upper next time.