Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Steamed broccoli with soy and ginger

Some vegetables are definitely sexier than others. Asparagus has to be the sexiest vegetable ever (and not just because it is divine dipped in hollandaise sauce, or melted butter, or aioli..). Aubergine isn't far behind. At the other end of the scale you have Brussel sprouts and boiled cabbage, guaranteed to remind you of school dinner purgatory (if you are my age or thereabouts, that is. I understand that current school-leavers are more likely to remember turkey twizzlers or potatoes in the shape of dinosaurs). Broccoli (calabrese) is probably nearer cabbage than asparagus on the scale of sexy, trendy vegetables. It isn't hated as much as sprouts, but nor is it craved; you don't see it much on restaurant menus (unlike its upmarket sibling, purple-sprouting broccoli); it is just a bit boring, really, which is a shame because it packs such a nutritional punch. I happen to like it, as long as it isn't cooked to death - mushy broccoli is a crime against food.

Tonight I made another dent into my freezer-store of fish by cooking Bill Granger's caramel salmon with rice, to go with Jamie's steamed broccoli with soy and ginger, which sounds so healthy as to be saintly (ginger, in my view, being a great immune-booster; this does not mean to say that it is) and yet tasty too. For the fish, first, I simply briefly pan-fried cubes of salmon, and made a sauce with red onion, garlic, lime juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, and fish sauce. For Jamie's dish, which is meant to be my focus here, I dry-roasted sesame seeds and fried some slices of garlic, laying aside while making a sauce with lime juice, soy sauce, sesame oil and ginger.

The broccoli was delicious; the soy sauce, ginger, sesame, garlic and lime lifted the broccoli from its usual position as boring side-dish and gave it real 'zing', to borrow Jamie's description. This is definitely one to make again if you like Asian dishes, which I do, or even to go with a simple meat dish.

The fish was also lovely - simple but very tasty indeed. Mmm. A very good Tuesday night dinner, that even sounds healthy (steamed broccoli with oily fish...) but is really incredibly flavoursome. I'm still licking my lips...

Monday, October 30, 2006

Incredible baked lamb shanks

I've been away for the weekend, hence the apparent gap in my cooking project (other people were cooking for me, which is both nice and odd). I decided to celebrate a return to the kitchen with a lamb recipe to treat Simon, because he loves lamb - and he had been so compliant with the mussel experiment. So: 'incredible baked lamb shanks'. I have cooked with lamb shanks quite a lot, mainly because we became semi-addicted to a recipe from Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Heaven (the first book where he tried to cater for the common people like me) which involved braising lamb shanks in reduced white wine, stock, the usual vegetables (carrot, celery, onion, leek, garlic), herbs (thyme and rosemary) and star anise, before serving with creamy parsnip puree. I haven't made this recently: it seems designed for a wintry Sunday afternoon's cooking. Jamie's recipe also involves carrot, onion, leek and garlic, plus thyme and rosemary, but is very different. Jamie's lamb shanks are stuffed with a sage, thyme and rosemary butter and baked on a bed of the above-named vegetables, all wrapped into a foil parcel with white wine.

I nearly went wrong with the foil parcel. Jamie says 'tear off four arm-length pieces of tinfoil and fold each in half to give you four A3 sized pieces of foil'. Now, I was using my husband's arm as a vague measure, but even so, once folded, the paper was A4 not A3. I think. (Paper sizes are confusing: I have always found the fact that A3 is bigger than A4 off-putting). Anyway I simply didn't fold the foil I had cut, but cut another piece the same size and managed the double thickness that way; it worked fine.

I also nearly had a query about the amount of butter stuffed into the shanks - 150g for four. Which would mean about 75g for two. Which is a lot of butter. However, this sort of cooking isn't an exact sort of science, like baking; it allows for a bit of experimentation (or so I think). So I just made up the amount of butter that looked sensible for my two shanks but didn't make me fear for our arteries. I'm definitely not a member of the food police (you know, these people who go on and on about salt and fat, amongst other things - and usually live on those horrid artificial cardboard ready meals that promise reduced salt, low fat, no flavour...) and I didn't weigh my butter; I just used what looked right for my shanks.

Mmm. Baking the shanks in foil with white wine means that they sort of braise and bake at the same time; they are both beautifully tender and deliciously sticky round the bone like roasted meat, so you get the best of both worlds. And the flavour of the meat really does, as Jamie promises, come out here. He suggests serving this for a dinner party and I think it would be a fab meal for friends - these rustic parcels would be fantastic at the table, simply served with mash and greens, not least because after you've made up the parcels then you're free to leave them to bake for ages so you don't have that last-minute 'guests-are-here-and-I-need-to-talk-to-them-but-what-if-I-burn-the-dinner' moment. (I have those a lot. I tend to be over-ambitious, not because dishes are difficult but because there is a lot of last-minute fussing, and then I have a drink and talk too much and everyone's got a slightly well done dinner).

I served this with mash and peas (no peas on the photo; Simon took it before we had plated up the peas)

Autumn comfort food. Yum.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Quick mussels spaghetti in a white wine and basil oil broth

I imagined that this dish - the first in the pasta section - would have to wait until I was home alone, because Simon has always rejected mussels, whereas I love them. I can't go to France without craving moules-frites (all those garlicky, winey, juices to dip the mussels and salty, golden chips into - heaven in a bowl) with crisp, cold white wine and crusty bread. Unsurprisingly I also like spaghetti with clams or with mussels, although I rarely eat either because Simon would always have turned his nose up had I suggested cooking them, and because I wouldn't order seafood in the kind of cheapo Italians I usually end up in, for fear of food poisoning. However yesterday a break-through occurred - Simon, he who hated mussels without tasting them, suggested this recipe. I was both delighted and worried - knowing it's someone's first mussel experience does hike the pressure up somewhat. Still, it gave me a chance to buy and cook mussels, which was an exciting Thursday night prospect.

This dish is, Jamie says, 'real fast cooking'; this is true, except that my mussels (admittedly naughtily bought at Tesco) seemed to be more bearded than most, so cleaning them took me forever. Once cleaned, however, the cooking was very simple indeed: cook spaghetti (only I used linguine) and meanwhile, make a basil oil paste with basil leaves anchovies, lemon, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Cook the mussels in white wine in a preheated pan, toss everything together, and serve with chopped chilli and extra basil leaves.

The end result is appealing in its vibrant colours and flavours - lemon, chilli, basil. Unsurprisingly, I found it absolutely delicious. Simon - well, he ate the whole bowl happily. Jamie has converted my mussel-hating husband to mussels! What an unexpected outcome of this project and what better testimony to the power of Jamie's book? I am less scared, now, of broaching the subject of clam chowder (which had been another sticking point); Simon is an ideal guinea-pig for most dishes because he is very unfussy and eats almost everything, but clams, mussels, oysters, have always been a no-no. Clam chowder, here we come (but I had better wait a couple of weeks)...

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Pork chops with apple and sage

Looking at this recipe gave me a sense of deja vu: I am sure Delicious magazine published a version of it as one of 'Jamie's quickies' (they came in small cut out card form) last year, and I tried it, and it was delicious. I subsequently mislaid the card and so I was eager to see this one, which I don't think is the same but is quite similar. I love pork chops, apples, and sage, not to mention the optional blue cheese (when is optional cheese ever just an option?). So: tonight I finally made the dish.

I made regular cuts along the fat of the pork chops and then fried them in a hot pan to render the fat out and crisp the chops up. I then transferred the pork from the pan and placed on an oiled baking tray, browned segments of a Cox's apple in the pan the pork had been in and then placed the apple wedges on top of the pork, before adding sage leaves and topping with the 'optional' cheese (Jamie suggested strong cheese; I went for Stilton). The baking tray went into the oven for 5 minutes.

Simon's chop, on a bed of mashed carrot:

I served this with the braised cabbage I described in the previous post. A very very tasty and comforting dinner to ward off the rain that was battering on our windows...

Oh and I nearly forgot. Yesterday we had friends over as a sudden impulse (a casual midweek affair, no planning, no fuss) and I decided not to cook from Jamie as we had The Great Fish Store to use up (remember I bought enough fish to fill the freezer last week...). So we had Delia's plaice with parmesan crust, which I didn't take a picture of because it would have looked sad, with salad and red cabbage and then Nigella's store cupboard choc orange cake, only I replaced the marmelade in it with chestnut puree (recipe courtesy of the baking experts at Nigella.com). Mmm. I must say that this easy-as-can-be cake is immeasurably comforting - if Jamie's lemon drizzle cake cheered me with its pure lemony hit, this cake is calming, gentle, the sort of cakey equivalent of Sunday night television. I can wholeheartedly recommend it: it almost makes itself, it smells divine, and it is genuinely heart warming: an unpretentious, but incredibly comforting, mid-week chocolate cake.

Braised white cabbage with bacon and thyme

Suddenly when I typed the title of this post I found myself wanting to laugh. How on earth could I ever expect anyone to read a post about white cabbage? It would be a cure for insomnia, like people writing about their dental hygiene or their house-cleaning routine (I don't have one so don't expect me to write about it - you are safe here..). However. Jamie has a whole set of vegetable recipes, centred around what he perceives to be the most popularly used vegetables in the UK: potatoes, peas, carrots, onions/leeks, cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, courgettes, butternut squash. He may well be right - I use all the above, but I am also an avid aubergine-gobbler; I love sweet potato as an alternative to white potato; I adore fennel; I often cook pak choi and mange tout and sugar snaps and green beans/runner beans, plus asparagus in season. I can't pretend to know what veg most people cook because when people tell you what they're having for dinner, often they either forget to tell you about the veg or (spooky possibility) they don't eat veg. I love vegetables and I like finding new ways to cook them. Hence this recipe, which attracted me because I am partial to bacon and to thyme and because I had half a mammoth white cabbage waiting to be used.

For this dish, you simply bring stock, bacon and thyme to the boil in a pan on the hob, add thinly sliced cabbage, boil furiously and then simmer gently until the cabbage tastes nice. Easy as can be.

So it was very nice. I'm not going to rave about it - white cabbage is hardly on the same scale as chocolate cake or even rack of lamb. But I will cook it again because it is so easy and yet gives the humble white cabbage fantastic flavour that it sadly sometimes doesn't have. Result!

Roast rack of lamb with potato and cauliflower dauphinoise

Another admission: I've never cooked a rack of lamb before (though I have cooked individual cutlets). I think it is partly for financial reasons (Simon is always accusing me of sharing my grandmother's 'carefulness with money' (apart from when it comes to buying books and shoes) allegedly characteristic of her Yorkshire background (although I am not saying that Yorkshire people are stingy). Partly though I like the cheaper cuts of lamb: slow-roasted shoulder, braised shanks, and so on. For this recipe I did buy a rack and I didn't complain about the cost.

The lamb part of this dish is basically simple: brown the rack in a pan on the hob, sprinkle over chopped rosemary, and roast in the oven.

The dauphinoise is the interesting part, because it has cauliflower in which adds a nice twist. My dauphinoise was even more unusual because I was using oddly shaped potatoes - Jamie says they are best for dauphinoise when waxy, and mine were waxy, but they are sort of kidney shaped and narrow; they don't produce the kind of slices that I can get out of my habitual Maris Pipers. Anyway. I layered unconventional-appearing potatoes with chopped cauliflower and thyme, poured over hot milk and cream infused with garlic, bay leaf and nutmeg, and baked with the lid on in the oven until the potatoes were soft. Then I added Parmesan and removed the lid and let the top layer brown.

Yum. This is much nicer than normal dauphinoise, which I sometimes find borders on sickly. The cauliflower adds crunchiness and a depth of flavour. And it can be counted as one of our five a day whereas potato can't. It is really easy, looks good; would be great for entertaining. A winner. Oh, and the lamb was yummy too...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Roasted chicken breast with creamy butternut squash and chilli

Last night, Simon went out to a gig so I was home alone. I say this not to invite sympathy, because being home alone occasionally has its merits. You can eat when you feel like it. You can linger in a too-hot bath with a bath bomb and a good novel, and not worry about what time dinner will be. And you can watch repeated re-runs of Trinny and Susannah from the days when their advice really counted without irritating anyone. But it does mean you don't feel like doing a proper roast just for you - and all the same you don't want to make Sunday night even more miserable by eating a meagre sandwich. So. Jamie's dinners for one to the rescue! I have seen him leave one-person oven-cook dinners for Jools on old episodes of the Naked Chef, in foil parcels, and been torn between thinking 'ooh how sweet' and 'ugh why doesn't she learn how to cook?' But it has to be said that this sort of arrangement is useful when making dinner for 2 people eating at different times, as we were (Simon ate before he set off ridiculously early to his gig; I like to centre my evening around dinner so wanted to wait), and there are four incredibly easy roasted chicken breast recipes for one in Cook with Jamie. Of which I picked the one that appealed first: chicken breast with creamy butternut squash and chilli.

The recipe was very simple: toss half a deseeded red chilli with the picked leaves from a couple of sprigs of marjoram, a chicken breast (skin on) and a pinch of salt and pepper. Place the chicken breast and flavourings into a small baking dish or tinfoil tray, with very fine slices of butternut squash. Drizzle double cream over the squash and season the whole dish with grated nutmeg and salyt and pepper, before drizzling with olive oil and cooking for 25-35 minutes in a preheated oven.

The result is very good: deliciously creamy slices of squash, crispy chicken skin and tender breast meat, all infused with the chilli and marjoram. Very nice indeed - a sort of TV supper, a home-made equivalent of a ready meal, a pizza or a takeaway with none of the preservatives, additives or other spooky stuff, and bags more flavour. There are three more roasted chicken breast recipes- I am looking forward to trying them for another home-made TV dinner evening...

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Jamie's Nan's lemon drizzle cake

A confession: I have never made lemon drizzle cake before. I am not sure why. Partly it is that until recently I baked quite seldom and saved my baking days for Nigella's chocolate cakes and brownies. Most of my baking, in fact, has come about after reading Nigella. Anyway, seeing a picture of Jamie's nan's lemon drizzle cake inspired me, not least because the recipe is entitled 'My nan's lemon drizzle cake'. I have a particular affection for grandmother-cakes, probably because my grandmother, now 91, has always made cakes for us. I went to see her yesterday and again she had made a cake - a walnut cake, this time. I had taken her some plum and vanilla cake, so we swapped. Nana's cakes are usually orange, walnut or more seldom chocolate. They are light, airy, tea-time cakes that go down a treat with a cup of tea. Nana's oven is so old and unpredictable that I don't know how she has such a successful record of cake-baking (her legendary Yorkshire puddings are even more surprising). But as far as I know, she simply doesn't have failures. I wondered if Jamie's nan is similar and that made me want to try her cake.

So: I creamed sugar and butter, beat in 4 eggs, and added ground almonds, poppy seeds, and self-raising flour. I baked the mixture until a cake skewer came out clean.

Then I poured over a lemon syrup made of lemon juice and caster sugar, before leaving it to cool. Once cool, I mixed icing sugar with lemon juice and zest and effectively poured it over the middle of the cake so it would drizzle down the sides.

By the time the cake had cooked and cooled and the icing had set I was dying to try it. And it is a perfect Sunday afternoon cake, worthy of grandmothers everywhere - and the rest of us too. It is incredibly light and lemony, with a real zing.

It was only after I'd made the cake and re-read Jamie's blurb that I realized that this recipe didn't come from his nan - it was the cake he used to make for his nan and her whist-drive team. So where I had imagined this recipe being passed down through the generations, in fact it is Jamie's own. Which makes me wonder: didn't Jamie's nan bake? Every term that my brother and I went off to university in a car packed full of books and clothes and CD players, Nana made us a cake, and I don't know what my brother did with his, but I always cut mine open and shared it with my neighbours with a cup of tea while we caught up on the gossip - and before we started on the wine. I'm not sure I'll ever bake like Nana, but I am certainly trying.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Grilled fillet steak with the creamiest white beans and leeks

I never, ever buy fillet steak. Partly because it is expensive, partly because I accept the received wisdom that rump, although tougher, is tastier - Jamie himself recommends rump over fillet in one episode of The Naked Chef. I bought fillet today in order to make this recipe, because I had leeks and creme fraiche waiting to be used, and because it sounded like the right sort of indulgent Saturday night fare. This dish is simple: fillet steak, seasoned, patted with olive oil, and griddled until medium-rare, then sliced. Served with creamy white beans and leaks: I sweated leeks, garlic and thyme, in a little butter and olive oil until soft, added white wine and butter beans; simmered briefly; added a little creme fraiche, parsley and olive oil.

The steak was meltingly tender - beautifully medium-rare - and so soft that the knife slid through it like butter. The butter beans and the leeks were soft and creamy and complemented the fillet steak beautifully. Mmm. I made a green salad with lemony dressing which we ate after the steak and beans, which was also delicious.

This dinner was another grade A dinner, and best of all, it was incredibly easy. I think I could get used to fillet steak dinners...

Friday night off - curry night!

This post is something of an aside, since I didn't cook anything from Jamie's book... but it has some relevance, because I am becoming very familiar with the contents of Jamie's book and I feel that he has missed out something vital - a curry section. Chicken tikka masala, as we all know, was invented in Britain and is practically the nation's favourite dish. But how many people actually cook their Friday night curry? I ask this not to blame anyone for ordering a takeaway - I write as someone who actually gets cravings for takeaway curry. But I also love cooking and curry is easy and rewarding to cook - you can be lazy about measuring precise quantities, you can make it almost from the store-cupboard, it tastes fantastic. So. In the last few months I have been experimenting with curries. I love Jamie's herby, fresh Thai green curry from The Naked Chef; it might be inauthentic but it has such amazingly vibrant flavours. I also love Gordon Ramsay's Malaysian curry from The F Word. I love Pete's lamb curry from Jamie's second book; I love a selection of choices from Vicky Bhogal, Madhur Jaffrey, and so on. But the last few curry nights have seen me repeatedly cook from Tom Norrington-Davies' brilliant book Cupboard Love, which the lovely Ilana is cooking her way through. Ilana is a star because she isn't afraid to admit when she doesn't like the kinds of food we are all supposed to like if we want to be taken seriously as foodies (Stilton, red wine, pancetta, that sort of thing). She has a funny, compellingly honest style of writing that uncannily echoes that of Tom N-D in Cupboard Love. Anyway, I had read about Ilana's curry nights and they made my mouth water. So I tried Tom's chicken tikka, with masala sauce - the sauce is to die for and I am sure it is what has made me cook chicken tikka masala three times now, despite being someone who would never order chicken tikka masala in an Indian restaurant. Man could live by that sauce alone. But it does go well with the chicken. This time, after seeing a stunning pic on Ilana's blog, I also made Tom's aloo gobi, albeit with more gobi (cauliflower) than aloo (potatoes) because I had cauli to use up. And it was very nice indeed.

Thank you Ilana for introducing me to Cupboard Love Curry Night!

Friday, October 20, 2006

Schnitzel with watercress and spiced apple sauce

Hmm, schnitzel. I tend to associate Jamie with funky pasta dishes and vibrant herb-strewn Thai dishes, not with schnitzel, which to be honest somehow evokes school dinners for me. I hated school dinners with a passion I barely recognize now. I was an extremely picky child and I couldn't bear being forced to eat up mounds of lumpy mashed potato and gristly meat, not to mention the stodgy mass of rice pudding that came after. Apparently, I used to hide and cry before school, not to avoid school, but to avoid school dinners. In my defence, the whole dining room stank of over-boiled cabbage, and we were effectively force-fed - if you didn't clean your plate then scary dinner nannies would want to know why. I think. I stopped eating school dinners a year or two after I started school; I must have been six at the most, and I don't really remember, and I have probably demonized the whole experience in my head.

Anyway. Schnitzel. I have moved on from then but I don't recall ever eating schnitzel, never mind cooking it (although I have cooked food in breadcrumbs - mainly fishcakes). But the picture looked inviting and I thought I would give it a go. Basically, I seasoned and crumbed batted-down pork escalopes and fried them in olive oil; the crumbs didn't fall off as I had feared, and didn't even burn too much (OK so they did have teeny dark patches...). They were served with the spiced apple sauce, which was absolutely delicious - a mix of cooking and eating apples, cinnamon, orange juice and zest, sugar, nutmeg and cloves. They tasted like a non-alcoholic mulled wine and feel totally right for the autumn. The watercress I just washed and dried and tossed onto the plate with a squeeze of lemon.

It was delicious! I can feel myself becoming a convert to Schnitzel. I loved the tender meat inside the crunchy breadcrumbed exterior and the sweet, cinnamony hit of the apple sauce, against the bitter cool watercress. It is a dish of contrasts: soft and crunchy, sweet and bitter, and the combination is perfect. Another dish I feel myself returning to as the nights grow colder and darker...

Savoy cabbage with Worcestershire sauce

Jamie describes this vegetable side-dish as one of the simplest and most delicious Savoy cabbage recipes he has come across; a pub-classic. It was certainly simple: in short, you slice the cabbage, stir-fry it in olive oil briefly, add Worcestershire sauce and keep stir frying until soft; add butter.

Hmm. His looks a lot greener than mine. This may be because his recipe included the outer leaves of the cabbage and I'd already eaten those in another side dish earlier in the week. OH well. Apart from the slightly odd appearance of my version (I appreciate it looks worm-like, almost, in my picture), it tasted good, but it is quite strong - you would have to like Worcestershire sauce (which I do). He suggests serving it with steak or shepherds pie - I think it would be really good with shepherds pie or any pie, really (I can't see it so easily with steak, but that might just be me). Anyway. Next time I shall ensure I have the whole cabbage at my disposal, just so that the picture looks a bit greener - but I will make it again, as it was an interesting, tasty side dish.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dinner lady carrots (and hake with pancetta..)

The story behind tonight's dish is worth telling, I think (the fish, not the dinner lady carrots - which will be further down this post...). I am working at home a bit at the moment, which can mean peace and quiet, and can mean being disturbed endlessly by door-to-door salespeople and these infuriating people who do a postcode lottery and then always seem to choose mine as the source for their Terribly Important Government Survey. I am very good at getting rid of unwanted phone callers, mainly because I can't see their faces, but I have more trouble sending off the unwanted visitors who turn up at the door and attempt to emotionally blackmail me by insisting on the importance of their survey to the planet at large. Anyway. All this by way of a preamble to say that sometimes I just don't answer the door. Today, though, the doorbell rang mid-morning - i.e. at possible postman time - so I can't risk ignoring it, because if we miss a parcel delivery, in our area there is an inexplicable 48 hour delay before you are allowed to drive to a depot and ask for your parcel. The depot is constantly teeming with other people claiming parcels, a situation largely aggravated by the fact that the over-worked boy behind the counter can never find the parcels and by the fact that there is never anywhere to park at the depot. So I answered the door at high speed (an interesting habit of our postman is to ring the doorbell and then run away with the parcel, so unless you catapault yourself down the stairs he has gone before you even get to the bottom, and this in a small terraced house...) and it wasn't the postman at all, but a man bringing deliveries of fish fresh from the fish quay to our neighbours and prepared to offer me a deal too. He came from a shop on the fish quay; the trawlers arrive during the night; the fish is gutted and filleted and packed into trays, and then delivered. Since I am trying not to eat Tesco fish, but can't easily shop anywhere else for fish on a regular basis, I bought tray upon tray of lovely fresh fish, now occupying much of our two freezers. And tonight, I cooked some hake fillets that came as part of that delivery.

The fish recipes in Jamie's book are quite varied, but none for hake, and only one for an equivalent fish (cod) which involved overnight marinading. I wasn't about to marinade my fresh fish for 24 hours. So. I seasoned the fish fillets and wrapped them cursorily in pancetta, and fried them in olive oil and a knob of butter.

Where Jamie came in was in the carrot preparation. I decided to make dinner lady carrots from his book. This involves slicing the carrots as finely as possible, and layering them with a mixture of orange zest, parsley and garlic, plus knobs of butter, in an ovenproof dish. I forgot to keep adding the butter, but I don't think it mattered. When you've finished layering, you pour over fresh orange juice, white wine, and chicken stock. Cover with damp greaseproof and oven-cook for 20-25 minutes. He didn't say how they would come out - they came out in lots of liquid, very tender and very orange-flavoured; they were quite different, and equally hard to describe. I liked them. They have quite a strong orange taste and would need to be paired carefully with food, but they definitely worked here...

With the dinner lady carrots, we had the above-mentioned hake in pancetta (a recipe I vaguely recall from some TV show or another, and which is so easy as to not be a recipe, really), spinach, and potatoes. The combination seemed to work... and the best thing is that the fish came from the quay, the veggies all from the farm shop, so only the pancetta (and the garlic...) came from Tesco. I can pretend to be an ethical shopper.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Steamed Thai-style sea bass and rice

Sea bass is possibly my favourite fish. If not, it is certainly high up in the queue. I know that I am not alone in my preference, given that sea bass is one fish that is in danger of being over-fished. My defence in buying it this time was that I very, very rarely do, although admittedly it is a question of price as much as over-farming. Anyway. I found a lovely-looking sea bass in the fishmongers in town and asked the fishmonger to fillet it for me. I had been dying to try this recipe because I love Thai food, particularly infused with lime and coriander, and it looked, as Jamie said 'really fragrant and light' and 'exciting to eat'. Perfect after the rich belly pork - and also since I hadn't had Thai food in a while and I could feel a craving coming on.

So. I whizzed up coriander, ginger, garlic, chillies, sesame oil, soy sauce, lime juice and zest and coconut milk to make a sauce. I cooked the rice until just undercooked, drained it, then decanted it over a baking tray, pouring over the sauce and tossing to spread it evenly. I laid the bass fillets on top, then threw over some mangetout peas, covered the tray in foil and baked for 15 minutes. To serve, I scattered chopped spring onions, sliced chilli, and coriander leaves, plated it up and added a wedge of lime.

It was very delicious indeed. I must admit that steamed fish and steamed rice sometimes sounds a bit virtuous to me - light, tasty, but not a dish I would crave on a cold October evening when it has started to get dark earlier and you need the heating on. This was really different - the sauce infused the rice with so much flavour that to be honest the rice without the fish would still be a nice dinner. With the delicate fish and the hit of lime, chilli, coriander, plus the soothing coconut, it is a perfect dinner. He who eats my concoctions pronounced it 'yum' and 'lush' - OK so he's not trying to sound like Michael Winner (and thank goodness he doesn't LOOK like Michael Winner) - but you get the point. A grade A dinner, which honestly knocks any steamed fish and rice I've had before out of the league.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Fifteen Brownies!

The title of this recipe makes me think of fifteen little girls clad in unfetching brown dresses and bobble hats, with their untrendy brown purses clipped to a belt that hoiked the dress up from definitively sad to borderline acceptable. Well that was how I looked when I was a Brownie, a million years ago (or so it seems). Now they get to wear trousers and sweatshirts, and they probably don't have to do a House Orderly badge that involved becoming a household slave for a week (or getting your mum to cheat when she signed off what you had done) or a Hostess badge that involved making cups of tea and rounds of toast. I was a terrible Brownie. I was not even vaguely house-orderly; I didn't drink tea, and I'm not sure I even knew how it was made. I couldn't cook to save my life and I didn't care - I was a pre-teen career woman, or else a book worm, but one thing I certainly was not was interested in cooking, much less baking. I would rather have had a McVities half-coated milk chocolate digestive than a home-cooked brownie and while my grandmother baked in the kitchen, and my brother (not interested in cooking either, but desperate to please) followed her slavishly, I was probably elsewhere, reading.

Anyway. Somewhere along the line I changed, although I am not sure why or how. And now I love cooking, and I find baking more therapeutic than cooking, although I cook more than I bake because it is more suiting to our life-style. One favourite of mine is Nigella's snowflake brownies, from Feast, which have white chocolate in them. They are truly divine. So I was interested to see if Jamie's could rival Nigella's. They aren't that different. Eggs, flour, butter, sugar, cocoa, chocolate - all brownie staples. Nigella puts white chocolate buttons in hers; Jamie suggests dried fruit and nuts in his. I went for macadamia nuts and dried cranberries, partly because they came in a handy sized mixed pack and partly because his alternatives -pecans and walnuts - I have put in other brownies, but I haven't previously tried with macadamias. I should note that in his live webcast to the world last week, Jamie tried to pretend that the inclusion of nuts and fruit in his brownies makes them healthy/healthier. Hmm. Nice one Jamie, but I'm not sure the government expect us to get our five a day through chocolate brownies, however many cranberries they might contain. In any case, Jamie doesn't need to bill these brownies as healthy because they are delicious - tasty is as good as healthy anyday. And today they did serve a noble healthy-ish purpose- they revived me with a blast of cocoa and sugar after a tedious morning at work. Which has to be a good thing.

Slow-roasted pork belly with fennel

Pork belly... for years the forgotten part of the pig, it is now making regular appearances on menus; along with lamb shanks and shin of beef, it is beginning to upstage the old faithfuls of sundried tomato and rocket. Or at least it is right up there with them. And rightly so, because slow-cooked pork belly is delicious: the crunchy crackling and the meltingly tender meat are a winning combination.

Jamie's recipe for the pork is fairly standard: rub it in fennel salt and roast it briefly in a hot oven to set the crackling off, then turn the oven right down and cook it slowly to tenderise the meat. But Jamie's recipe takes the fennel theme further: the pork is cooked on top of fennel bulbs tossed in thyme, olive oil and garlic. After an hour, add a bottle of white wine to the tray. The wine and the garlic, thyme and fennel make for a delicious sauce, which flavours the meat as it cooks. The meat emerges beautifully tender, the crackling sublime and the 'gravy' a winey, garlicky jus.

Apparently fennel is an acquired taste - in which case more people should try to acquire it. I love it, and it works fabulously with pork (Jamie has a recipe in Happy Days for a fennel and salami pasta dish which is also delectable).

As an aside, I'm making muesli tonight. Not a Jamie recipe. I've tried a few variations - from Nigella; from Tessa Kiros; from Bill Granger, the God of Breakfast and Brunch. This one is another variant from Bill - with dessicated coconut, oats, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, apple juice, and a bit of vegetable oil, plus dried blueberries. Some muesli recipes contain so much sugar that you might as well just have a doughnut for breakfast. Some might argue that life is too short to toast your own muesli and perhaps they would have a point, except that to make your own muesli you simply toss all of the ingredients bar the dried fruit together thoroughly, spread onto a baking tray, bake for half an hour, and decant into a jar, where you toss in the dried fruit to mix. How easy is that? and yet it is another way of making the kitchen smell wonderful, and making yourself feel like a domestic goddess, with minimal exertion and to maximum effect.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

All-day Breakfast Salad

An all-day breakfast salad doesn’t sound particularly inviting, to me anyway. I think it is the title – ‘all-day breakfast’ implies a greasy spoon cafĂ© serving flabby sausages; watery, undercooked bacon and cold, damp toast; eggs swimming in fat. My husband is however a devoted fan of the English fry-up and frequently complains about not being 'allowed' to indulge as often as he would like. In truth, I definitely wouldn't stop him - and I am not really one to stop myself - but I don't find fry-ups very appealing.

That said, the picture of the all-day breakfast salad in Jamie's book and the combination of ingredients did appeal. So today, I made Jamie's breakfast salad for lunch. I tossed fried bacon slices, black pudding and chunks of bread with watercress and baby spinach (as opposed to his suggested endive and cress) in a dressing made with English mustard, white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. Then I added two poached eggs, which Simon had poached because he is the household egg-cook. Usually he uses a poaching pan but today he was brave and just broke the eggs into simmering water; it worked, more or less, but was less aesthetically pleasing than Jamie's, which made him mutter but I thought he did a great job.

The salad was delicious - the flavours really work together, with the egg yolk running into the salad leaves and the dressing off-setting the bacon and black pudding. Another keeper. Simon, never one to miss an opportunity to grumble that I deprive him of a good fry-up, ate his with relish and pronounced it delicious, adding, gleefully, that is is a sneaky way that he can get a fry-up in the guise of a salad...

Jean-Christophe Novelli

OK, so this is supposed to be a blog recounting my cooking exploits with Jamie. But I reserve the right for the occasional off-topic aside - because if we are what we eat (which, as Saffy memorably told Edwina in Absolutely Fabulous, would make her a large vegetarian tart... and would make 'Dr' Gillian something disgustingly unpronouncable - both of which are perhaps not so far off the mark), then I am allowed to talk about food that I haven't made myself as well as my painstaking culinary efforts (and my occasional throw-it-all-in-a-pan concoctions).

Anyway I spent Friday and Saturday in London, on a work trip. The spin-off was that I got to spend Friday night with my brother and sister-in-law in Herfordshire. A brief introduction: my brother is two years younger than me, can cook, and has thankfully metamorphosed from the student who only used to wash a plate up when there were none left in the cupboard for his next meal. The house he and my sister-in-law live in is delightfully tasteful (my sister-in-law has unfailingly good taste - even in choosing my brother) and they are wonderful hosts (and I am not just saying that because they might read me). We went out on Friday evening to Jean-Christophe Novelli's gastropub venture in Harpenden, and the food was delicious. I had the most amazing serrano ham to start, with puy lentils, marinaded artichokes, and truffle oil. I can almost still taste that ham now - it bears no relation to the Tesco version of the same, even the Tesco Finest version. Then I had roast lamb with boulangere potatoes, which was also lovely, and finally an orange chocolate fondant with orange ice cream... and a Baileys on ice. I have only read one review of Novelli's pub, which complained about the uneven quality of the food and the absence of Novelli himself. Predictably there was no sign of the man himself on Friday night, which might even be a good thing. The food was delicious and the service carefully attentive. The only negative, as my sister-in-law commented, was the other diners, who seemed to be performing as well as eating. It was as though they wanted to be seen and heard - and they definitely succeeded. Thankfully, they didn't detract too much from the eating experience. Jean-Christophe may have been elsewhere, but his chefs certainly know what they're doing. Or that was how I felt, at least.

I've got food to report on too, but I've also got a deadline - Jane Eyre at 9. The Radio Times attempts to bill this as a cliff-hanger ('Reader, I married him' - which man does she marry, the magazine asks). Please. Who is there left who doesn't know the ending of Jane Eyre? Well, anyone out there who imagines she might marry St John Rivers (who, Radio Times reviewer, she hasn't even met yet in this TV adaptation), sorry to ruin this exciting denouement but she ends up with the grumpy Rochester. Who, in this adaptation, is less grumpy than flirty. I just hope that their reunion kiss is a bit more plausible than the one we saw in the previous episode last Sunday.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Papperdelle with a ragu of tiny meatballs...

According to Jamie, this is an easy crowd-pleaser. I chose it because I felt like making pasta again (we got a pasta maker a couple of months ago for our wedding, and we've made it three or four times before now) and because it looked like comforting October fare.

First we made the pasta - kneading really does release tension. It might do a better job if our work surfaces weren't that bit too high for me. Anyway. Then I made the meatballs - a mixture of minced beef, chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, egg, lemon and Parmesan plus seasoning. Rolling these teeny balls took some time too. England were losing noisily in the next room while I rolled what seemed like hundreds of little balls. Meanwhile the sauce had been simmering (tomatoes, garlic, balsamic, olive oil, basil, chilli); eventually I added the meatballs to the sauce.

Assembling the dish is easy: cook the pasta briefly, toss with the meatballs and sauce, add Parmesan, a knob of butter. Serve with basil and more Parmesan.

It was delicious. For some reason my pic doesn't look like Jamie's. Mainly because I didn't use a crinkle cutter to cut my pasta as he suggested - I used a cutter attachment on the pasta maker, to speed things up. I don't think it hurt the dish though - it was really good. A second batch of meatballs and pasta are freezing ready for leftovers next week. And I am off to watch Nigella on Who Do You Think You Are, secure in domestic goddess-mode (how can I not feel like that? making pasta, like making bread, makes me feel like a domestic goddess - although sadly I am not) and ready to plan tomorrow's dinner!

Pan-roasted salmon with broccoli and anchovy-rosemary sauce

According to Jamie, Brits aren't eating enough fish. His view was echoed in a recent episode of Food Uncut, where a short survey as to why British people weren't choosing to eat fish threw up the following results: it was seen as too expensive; too time-consuming; too complicated. The reasons people gave for not eating fish sounded like excuses and probably were. Why would salmon fillets be complicated or time-consuming? In some ways fish is the ultimate fast food. What is difficult, here at least, is finding it.

I read Joanna Blythman's eye-opening book, Shopped! The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets which really makes you think about where you shop and what you buy for all sorts of reasons. In terms of fish, supermarkets typically freeze it before defrosting it and plonking it on ice on the 'fresh fish' counter. They also transport it unnecessarily far. It is unlikely that supermarket fish will be so fresh that it doesn't smell of fish. The solution is to find a decent fishmonger. But that is easier said than done. In a working day, I would have to find a fishmonger nearish to work (in the centre of a city). There is one, to my knowledge. But I tend to have to go there towards the end of the day when there is hardly anything left. The sheer lack of real fishmongers in a city only a few miles from the sea is ridiculous, really. So I do often end up with fake-fresh supermarket fish.

Anyway rant over and back to Jamie. This recipe is simple: pan-fry the fish skin side down, then briefly roast it. Make a sauce of bashed-up rosemary, anchovy fillets, lemon juice, black pepper and oil. Boil some purple sprouting broccoli. I did everything the recipe asked apart from the broccoli - I used normal broccoli instead. This is because (again thanks in part to Joanna Blythman) I try not to buy veg at the supermarket and buy it in a local farm shop at the weekend, and I buy what they have, and they had locally grown broccoli but not of the purple sprouting variety.

The recipe was simple but very good. For people who don't like anchovies, you can definitely taste them; this isn't a recipe where they lend flavour but become almost hidden. I like anchovies so it wasn't a problem. And, I realize, in effect, I have almost had 2 helpings of fish in one go. Which is another bonus.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Proper blokes' sausage fusilli

Jamie describes this as 'blokey, gutsy yet simple'. Hmm. Blokey in food terms tends to imply meaty and hearty, beef stew rather than Caesar salad. I must admit that as the cold and dark nights draw in, I become increasingly attracted to what might be called blokey food - casseroles, chilli, lasagne, the kind of food that warms your soul as it soothes your stomach. Jamie also says that 'girls tend to like this as well'. Good. I am not one for sexual difference in cooking - I'm not the person who says 'just a salad' when everyone around me is eating lamb shanks or fish pie.

Anyway I liked the look of this because one of my winter favourite pasta dishes, courtesy of Jill Dupleix in an old edition of Delicious magazine, involves fusilli, sausage, fennel and chilli, just like Jamie's recipe. But where Jill uses tomatoes and red wine, Jamie uses white wine and lemon zest and juice. It was tempting to try it and taste the difference (to borrow a certain supermarket chain's somewhat annoying slogan). So I did. The problem was, hubby was still sneezing away and I have begun to feel exhausted, as though my body is fighting off his nasty cold with all its strength. I always feel like cooking but I didn't tonight. Nonetheless, I did. I made the sausage fusilli as planned, albeit with penne not fusilli since Jamie said it was substitutable and I had no fusilli to hand.

And it was very nice. But not more than that. I wonder if I didnt brown the sausage meat enough-mine looks anaemic compared to his. Or perhaps Italian sausage might taste better here than Cumberland (he suggests both options). Or maybe the meagre amount of parsley I had (remember its space was invaded by our resourceful mint plant) wasn't enough. Or maybe my cold has begun. Certainly it was tasty - good sausage, wine, chilli, pasta, lemon, oregano, Parmesan and butter tends to be. And I would make it again. But I wouldn't make it every week; I think I prefer the tomatoey hit of Jill's red version. Maybe though Jamie is right and to borrow the words of the Yorkie advert, this recipe is just not for girls! I will have to ask hubby, as a 'proper bloke', what he thinks...

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Roast forerib of beef with beetroot and horseradish

Sunday - roast dinner day. Well it was in my childhood. Once I reached an age to decide for myself, I went years without a roast dinner. As a student I didn't have an oven for three years, and then doing a PhD I did have an oven but a temperamental one with an attitude problem, two spiral staircases below my attic room. I rediscovered roasts when I finished studying, finally, aged 26, and started work. There is something immensely comforting about a Sunday roast when work looms on a dark Monday.

Anyway Jamie's recipe for forerib of beef with beetroot and horseradish caught my eye. It is meant to serve eight, but I did some complicated and probably erroneous divisions, cut down the amount of everything and made it for two of us with enough for leftovers. Basically, it is a forerib of beef, rubbed with a mixture of lemon zest, rosemary, anchovies and oil, roasted with beetroots that have been boiled and then marinaded in thyme and marjoram, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. The horseradish cream is grated fresh horseradish with lemon juice, creme fraiche and marjoram or parsley. I went to locate our parsley in the garden and it had been colonized by the over-excitable mint, while the marjoram appeared to have been eaten by the fennel. So my herby creme fraiche-horseradish was herbfree! Anyway it tasted good.

The creme fraiche and horseradish mix:

The beef was delicious.

The beef was beautiful, the beets were amazingly flavoursome and I love the lemon juice in the horseradish cream sauce. It made me happy on a Sunday evening, even while my husband sneezed away with a monster cold in the background and I felt I was battling to ward it off. I hope all that fresh horseradish has scared away any lurking bugs...

Jools' Saturday afternoon pasta

I was always going to end up cooking this tuna pasta dish because it reminded me so strongly of one of my student dinner staples, the dish I used to make when I had run out of money or had nothing in the fridge. And although now I eat so much better than I did then (sometimes then I did without dinner as such and had rounds of Marmite on toast and cups of tea, and then the kind of red wine that glues itself to your throat), I do occasionally, usually when feeling premenstrual, tired or grumpy, have a nostalgic urge for the kinds of food that I used to eat. In other words, I still occasionally eat tuna and pasta. So when I saw this recipe, at first I wondered why Jamie had written a recipe for a meal any student could knock up in an instant. And then I realized that it isn't just tuna, pasta, onions and tomatoes, as it was in my repertoire (sometimes with handfuls of frozen peas or sweetcorn tossed in; sometimes with sliced courgette - courgettes being pleasingly cheap) - it has cinnamon, lemon juice and zest, and chillies in, as well as jarred tuna in olive oil (as opposed to tinned tuna in spring water) and plum tomatoes.

I am pleased to report that it was very easy indeed but equally delicious. I can see it coming out again when I am feeling nostalgic, even just to remind me that I have moved on...

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Best ever shortbread

Jamie says this is the best ever shortbread. I have a confession to make. I can bake cakes, puddings, pastry, bread. For some reason, though, I am not very good at making shortbread. I've tried a few recipes. First I butchered one of Delia's - probably because I couldn't find the requisite semolina flour. Then I ruined a batch of Bill Granger's - in my defence, I still think his had too much butter in. I did manage to make shortbread a couple of times, but it was never quite right and I never knew why. Hmm.

Anyway I made this shortbread on Sunday night, in the ten minute gap between washing up and Jane Eyre on television, while my husband ranted away in the background about mad people baking at night and messing up the kitchen. And it was easy as can be - so easy that even shortbread-challenged me managed to make it and still watch Jane Eyre save Rochester from burning to death in his bed. I didn't have the required square cake tin (I can feel Lakeland calling me) so I made it in a round springform tin. It worked - crumbly, buttery, really and truly the best shortbread I've tasted, never mind made. I took pieces in for colleagues, who raved about it too. So this shortbread could become a habit.

Cooking with Jamie

I could have called this 'Confessions of a cookbook addict'. Or 'Kathryn discovers yet another cookbook'. I am a fickle cookbook owner; one catches my eye and imprints itself on my brain until I give in and buy it, and then spend a couple of days (woefully not long enough to justify the original expense) lusting after it, and then another catches my eye, and the cycle continues. In my defence, I'm not a food-porn type who buys books and salivates over images and doesn't cook anything. I do cook from all my books, some more than others.

Anyway last week I bought Jamie's new book. And that was it. Coup de foudre. Again. Not with Jamie, you understand, but with the book. I won't read it at night the way I do Nigella's How to Eat or Nigel's Kitchen Diaries - their writing is as comfortingly seductive as a bowl of steaming soup on an gloomy November evening, or as dazzlingly desirable as a mojito as the light fades on a warmish July evening. Jamie is different. Jamie is fun, silly at times, and often irreverent. His recipes are inevitably simple but gutsy. And the new book is no exception.

So - in the full knowledge that I am very likely to find another must-have cookbook within the next few days/weeks/months (well one can hope) - I have decided to cook my way through with Jamie.

Watch this space...