Sunday, 28 July 2013

Roast Duck with Blackcurrant Sauce

Last week Z and R went on a play date with some of Z's mummy friends.  There is nothing unusual about that.  They tend to meet up regularly, especially during the school holidays when playgroups aren't running.  What was a little peculiar was their choice of activity.  They avoided museums, galleries and soft play gyms and opted instead for a bit of foraging.

We got the free food bug from watching River Cottage.  Every time Hugh returned home with a trug full of berries, leaves or mushrooms, we pondered how easy it would be to do the same.  We assumed that it was easier for him because he lived in the countryside.  Living in inner-city Leeds, we felt like we would never be able to access nature's bountiful harvest to the same extent as Hugh could.  But even living in the concrete jungle there is free food to be had.

The odd thing is, once you get your eye in there is food everywhere.  Blackberries, cherries, sloes and apples hang freely in most verges and laybys.  Churchyards groan with fruit.  Public parks are littered with edible goodies.  The odd thing is, the more you forage the more you find.  Z and her friends were on a mission for cherries and cherries they found.  They also found Blackcurrant bushes heavy with fruit and tonight's menu was formed.

Z cooked all of the blackcurrants in a little water the day she picked them so that they could be used in either savoury or sweet dishes later on.  Today, while a couple of duck breasts were pan roasted, I made a sauce using some onions, reduced red wine and chicken stock, and finished it with some of the blackcurrant jam.

The meal was finished off with sautéed potatoes and spring greens, steamed and tossed in melted butter.  The combination of the fatty, rich duck and the sweet, sharp blackcurrant sauce is one that is hard to beat.  I know duck can be a bit expensive but when you can serve it with free food it becomes much easier to justify.

The rest of the jam was sweetened with honey and turned into ice lollies in the hope that this recent hot weather hangs around a bit longer.  The cherries were turned into chocolate cake and cherry brandy.  The cake didn't last long, but we'll have to wait until Christmas for the brandy.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Friday Night Take-away - Chicken Vindail

I got into cookery at university.  It was my first time away from home, fending for myself.  It was also the start of the Celebrity Chef boom of the mid 90's.  My parent's generation had had Floyd, The Galloping Gourmet and Food and Drink but we now had Oliver, Rhodes and Fearnley-Whittingstall.  Jamie and Hugh in particular got me excited about food and if it weren't for them I wouldn't be the person I am today.

It was the perfect storm.  New exciting chefs on shiny new programs at the same time as I was able to spend vast amounts of time watching the telly.  These days however I spend less time watching the box and when I do, the food programs all too often fail to make me want to cook anything.  The recent trend of cooking competitions with celebrity spin-offs do little but annoy me and certainly never get my culinary imagination fired up.

There has been one gem for me recently.  Amongst the Masterchef's and Come Dine with Me's shone Rick Stein's India.  I'm a big fan of Stein's.  I've liked, with few exceptions, everything that he has done.  I know that some people find his delivery to be condescending and vaguely annoying, like a broken toenail or Morrissey, but I like him.  More to the point I have really liked this latest series.  I make curries quite regularly but I've got into a rut, using the same spice mixes and sauces so discovering new combinations and methods has been inspiring.

I bought the cookbook which accompanies the series a couple of weeks ago.  I was going to wait until Christmas, but impatience got the better of me.  The fist thing I turned to was Saag Paneer.  I'm happy to tell you that Rick agrees with me on how this is cooked.  I then started to look for a recipe for tonight's meal.

My first choice was Chicken Vindail.  It comes from Chennai and is a quick cooked chicken curry similar to vindaloo in that the sauce is finished with vinegar.  Because the vindail was essentially chicken and sauce, I decided to cook a side dish too.  I flicked through the Vegetable chapter of the book and chose Poriyal, a dish of peas, carrots and beans finished with coconut.

The poriyal was so fresh and fast to cook that it may well become my standby side dish.  I replaced the peas that the recipe called for with some home grown broad beans just to make it even fresher.  The vindail was, without a shadow of a doubt one of the best curries I have ever cooked.  It was possibly one of the best I have ever eaten, at home or in a restaurant. 

The meal devoured, I went back to the book and started tagging recipes for future use.  Normally a good cook book will get three of four tags but Stein's Curry now has eighteen tagged recipes for future cooking, not including the two from tonight that we'll definitely cook again.  I can't remember the last time I was this inspired by a TV program or cookery book.  I feel a lot of curries* in the near future.

*curry being the adopted generic term used to cover all Indian cookery.  The closest translation for curry means gravy which neither of these dishes had.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Salmon Baked in Prosciutto

I've heard an awful lot of chatter about it now being too hot to cook.  We don't really do summer that well*.  If it's not a barbecue with cremated burgers then it's a sad salad or a limp sandwich.  Well I can't stand it any more.  It's not too hot to cook.  It may well be too hot to spend time stood over a hot pan stirring, but that isn't the only way to cook.

For tonight's menu I decided to cook a dish that I first heard about at university.  The recipe comes from back in the days when Jamie Oliver worked in a restaurant and lived in a flat.  Before he was married, while he was still naked**, young Jamie shared a recipe for salmon wrapped in prosciutto.  It was possibly one of the first "foodie" things I ever cooked and I've been cooking it ever since.

It's not a cheap meal but it is an easy one, especially if you don't want to be spending time in the hot, hot kitchen.  The secret to the simplicity of the dish is that it all gets cooked together.  Salmon wrapped in ham, green beans and cherry tomatoes are all roasted together in olive oil and lemon juice.  To bulk the meal out I've started adding some parboiled potatoes as well.

While the food is roasting for around half an hour, you're free to sit on the patio with a glass of chilled fizz and enjoy summer.  By the time the fizz is gone, the salmon is ready and you have a plate full of hot tasty summery food without a flaccid sandwich anywhere in sight.  Yes it's hot at the moment but that is no excuse not to eat good food, not in my house anyway.

*we don't do seasons very well at all. It would probably be better is we just had slightly over-cast mild days 24/7 but we'd only complain about that too.
**it wasn't him, it was the food.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Chicken Calabrese

This is neither the time or the place to talk about illness.  It's not a heath blog it's a food blog*.  however my state of poorlyness this weekend has prompted Tonight's Menu.  This weekend was the hottest of the year so far and we had plans.  We had planned to visit a friend in Wilmslow for a barbecue and a session drinking his home-brew.  Everything was put on hold and I went back to bed at around 12:30pm on Saturday.

There I stayed, feeling sorry for myself, until the following day.  On Sunday I continued my convalescence on the sofa.  This was no bad thing as I got to watch the Wimbledon Men's Singles Final and the highlights of the German Grand Prix.  I also got to watch some food programs, which was one of my favourite pastimes before R turned up and wrestled the control of the telly from my grasp.

One of the shows I caught was Saturday Kitchen Best Bites.  I was still dozy and uncomfortable so I wasn't really paying attention but one recipe grabbed my attention, Spicy chicken calabrese with olive oil mash.  It looked like such a vibrant, colourful and most importantly tasty dish that I made a mental note to cook it soon.  I didn't realise it would be this soon however.

With me out on my back, Z took over the shopping and meal planning duties for the week.  She was planning on me being out of action for a couple of days so tonight she was going to cook chicken thighs with some leftover courgette and chick pea stew for herself.  However, I'm feeling well on the road to recovery and wanted some proper food to get me back into the swing of things.

The Calabrese is a stew of chicken and peppers and has one special ingredient, 'nduja, which is a spreadable, soft salami.  I'm not sure about eating 'nduja on toast as a snack, as was recommended on the program, but its uses as an ingredient seam endless to me.  Sadly I do not have any spreadable salami, so I had to improvise.  I added smoked garlic, hot paprika, crushed fennel seeds and oregano to the stew. 

The finished dish was delicious.  I served it with soft parmesan polenta instead of the recommended mashed potato, but only because we didn't have any spuds in the house.  I limited the amount of chilli in the dish to better suit my weakened constitution, but as summer stews go this was a winner.  I'll admit that the 'nduja would probably add some depth of flavour to the dish but it was certainly not a flop with out it.

I have a feeling that dishes similar to this will be popping up on our weekly meal planner quite a lot this summer.  There are very few ingredients so with a little imagination the recipe could be used with most meats, fish, or even made as a vegetarian dish.  I will defiantly be eating polenta more often as it only took 5 minutes to cook.  I'll also be on the lookout for spreadable salami, if you see any let me know.


Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Black Pepper Tofu

A little while ago I was lent a copy of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi.  I was told by many people that it was their favourite cookery book, filled with superb recipes that I would love cooking.  This news filled me with joy and I was salivating at the prospect of some vegetarian Middle-Eastern food inspiration.

I'll be honest, my excitement died down pretty quickly.  I don't know what it was but none of the glorious recipes made me want to cook them.  Yes the dishes all sounded great.  If I'd been offered any of them in a restaurant I would have been more than happy.  But, as with so many other cookery books, Plenty would have been destined to loiter, unused, on our book case, if it was ours.  Because it was borrowed however, we were determined to find a recipe that we liked the sound of and wanted to cook.

One of the recipes that we'd picked out was for Black Pepper Tofu and, as we had half a block of tofu left over from making Pad Thai, we thought we would give it a go.  The recipe was simple enough.  Crispy fried tofu was added to fried onions, chillies and garlic.  Sweet and light soy sauce were added next along with some sugar and the key ingredient, ground black pepper.  A handful of spring onions was all that was needed to finish the dish.

I have never been so glad that I hadn't added more black pepper to a dish in my life.  I had reduced the quantities of the pepper and the chilli but the dish was almost unpalatable.  The first couple of mouthfuls were great but, unlike the peak and trough heat that you get from chillies, the black pepper was unrelenting.  Every mouthful needed to be washed down.  It's fair to say we won't be cooking this again, but we still have a couple more recipes from Plenty to try before it is dismissed totally.