Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Roquefort salad

I’m in the butcher’s with D from work, stocking up after a weekend away. At the cheese counter my eye wanders from my usual Cambozola to a rather inviting looking half round of Roquefort, and before I know it there is a slab sitting on the scales looking ripe and pungent.

On my walk home from the office I muse upon one of my favourite food memories. About seven years ago, I was in Paris having a miserable time trying to understand a relationship that was breaking down there and then, in what is supposed to be the world’s most romantic city. After a morning earful of venom, reciprocated with vicious sarcasm, I struck out on my own to wander around a gloriously sunny Paris. At Beaulieu I stopped at a cheap bistro for lunch - a Roquefort salad and large carafe of rose wine. The meal had a rustic simplicity and beauty, and I found that I could suddenly articulate what was slowly occurring to me that morning walking around Paris – that everything was just beginning, not ending. The vino might have helped a bit as well.

I had a go at recreating that salad. Got somewhere near, but it has been seven years:

Roquefort Salad:

Ingredients (zen as usual – the quantities below will feed a hungry bloke):
100g of Roquefort cheese
A handful of walnut halves, bashed up.
A small shallot
A few handfuls of watercress
Mustard (you can get away with French mustard here, but colmans will do the job as well)
White wine vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil
A small pear (conference seem to be good at the moment)
Some cherry tomatoes, halved.
Black pepper (you don’t need salt as the cheese is pretty salty)

Toast the nuts in the oven to bring out some of the sweetness, and set aside.

Slice the pear in eighths and sauté gently in the butter for five minutes or so until they are colouring slighty.

While the pears are cooking, roughly chop the watercress and toss in a bowl with about 80g of broken up Roquefort (save the remaining 20g to have on crackers after the pub one night) and the cherry tomato halves.

To make a dressing, press the small shallot through a garlic crusher, and mix with a healthy slosh of olive oil and vinegar. Mix in about half a teaspoon of mustard and a grinding of black pepper.

Remove the pears from the pan and drain quickly on kitchen paper. Toss while still hot with the watercress salad, nuts and the dressing so that the cheese is melting slightly.

If you’re entertaining you might want to tidy things up a bit by layering the ingredients on the plate, and thinning out the dressing a bit so that it can be more successfully ‘drizzled’ on the plate. Either way - serve with copious amounts of wine.

A weekend in Wales.

I know, I’ve been slacking again, but its been a week or so of quick bites and general business. There was a nice warming bowl of chilli last week, but chilli is chilli.

A weekend back in Wales is more promising. My favourite chef is Jiffler Senior, and we’re having a few guests this week so he will no doubt be trying something daft out on us.

Arriving home after a day working in Cheshire we sat down to a huge plate of spaghetti carbonara – cooked fairly classically – which barely touched the sides. The mushrooms had dried out a bit and gave the carbonara sauce a bit of intensity.

The main event came on Friday night though with five mouths to feed. Despite feeling slightly battered by bad weather in Snowdonia, we got a bit creative in the kitchen and started by blanching shredded celeriac before mixing it with a thin, homemade, garlicy mayonnaise. The flavours here were remarkably subtle, and sat beautifully with ribbons of quality parma ham.

The main course was an altogether more robust outing. A combination of a French recipe stolen from Rick Stein, and given a Tuscan twist by the younger Jiffler. It started as a basic ragu-type sauce thickened by cooking very slowly with lamb shoulder and a generous amount of red wine. This was then left overnight, before the addition of a couple of tins of lima beans and some gentle heating. At the last moment we stirred in some finely chopped garlic and parsley and served it up with giant penne, to much critical acclaim.

I was somewhat disappointed that the traditional cheese and biscuits had to make way for some posh ice cream with crushed up almond biscuits.

A visit to Wales means a night out in Bangor on Saturday with 3s. This time we have the pleasure of our friend H, who has travelled down from Manchester to celebrate getting a new job.

These night outs always follow an amusing arc, bending towards drunken oblivion on a slippery dance floor, and Saturday was no exception. The Fat Cat is fully booked, so we take a chance at getting a table in the Harp. Previously I’ve praised the Harp as having the finest pub food in Bangor. Since then its been taken over by new management, who it seems have stripped the love and creativity out of the menu.

The three of us order burgers, with 3s opting for the ‘Mega burger’. They arrive huge, and freshly cooked. The mega burger is not so much a burger as a mixed grill in a bap, with burger, bacon, cheese, egg, onion rings, and a live octopus all spilling out on to the plate.

The company is good, and the conversation irreverent and intelligent. The food was sufficient to provide fuel for the next 8 hours of drinking without us feeling too greasy, but the Bangor pub grub crown has been snatched back by the Fat Cat.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Mrs Jiffler's Blog

Mrs Jiffler has finally entered the blogosphere:http://seneblog.blogspot.com/

She's in Dakar, and will be keeping us posted on all things Senegalese. I'm rather concerned that she's been surviving on a diet of donuts though... I should be joining her soon to sort this out.

She reckon's Experimental Jifflings is 'Wacky'. Clearly she can't identify gonzo food writing when she sees it.

Rabbit and Chorizo Risotto

No actual rabbit bits in this recipe, but the stock from Christmas eve’s feast provides enough of the flavour to make this risotto a bit different:

(once again, this is a zen operation – adapt depending on how many you’re cooking for)

Rabbit stock (if you don’t have much you can top it up with white wine, or water)
Risotto rice – I used carnaroli this time
A small onion, or shallot, chopped
Chorizo sausage, chopped into half slices (semi-dry is fine, or fresh if you can get it)
A pinch of cayenne pepper – if using a mild chorizo, otherwise you can leave this out
A bit of courgette, finely sliced.
A bit of butternut squash chopped up into small cubes.
A healthy chunk of butter
Grated parmesan cheese

Heat the butter and start frying the onion and the chorizo. Once the onion has softened and the chorizo is imparting a bit of colour to the butter, throw in the rice and let it coat in the butter. Add the squash and spices and stir a few times.

Add the stock in a bit at a time with a ladle, stirring gently and allowing the rice to soak up the liquid before adding more stock. Keep doing this until the rice is fat and tender. About halfway through, throw in the courgettes and stir. At the end, add the parmesan, and stir it in until it is melted and creamy.

I had a pleasant surprise with this risotto, as the squash disintegrated slightly and became part of the stock, giving a creamy texture and a sweet flavour which was very more-ish in the same way as a good rice pudding. With this in mind, I enjoyed eating this out of a bowl with a spoon…

Duck with quick orange sauce

Asdas in town is knocking out two decent sized duck legs in a plastic box for £2.10. Normally I’m fussy about meat in plastic boxes, but this semi-bargainous treat appeals to me on some level. Its in the basket and through the checkout before I have chance to think it through.

Anyhow, it seems appropriate as a Friday supper, and as the oven warms up I scan the fridge for something to put alongside them. Mash seems like the obvious choice, with the remains of the wholegrain mustard thrown in, and I decide to get a bit cheeky with a lo-fi orange and ginger sauce made from orange juice out of the carton.

The meal satisfies, but the oven is being a temperamental shite. For some reason its only cooking at furnace–like temperatures, so all of the fat that I’m collecting as it runs off the duck is burning, producing acrid smoke that fills the kitchen and makes my eyes water. The skin crisps up nicely but the meat remains partly cooked on the inside and requires all manner of fussing and re-timing. I’m beginning to suspect that the oven is haunted by the ghost of a miserable old bastard.

The recipe is as follows:
Two duck legs (one each will just about do, or two if you’re hungry like me)
Orange juice
Salt and pepper
Colman’s Wholegrain Mustard
An obedient oven.

Rinse out the duck legs and pat them dry with kitchen paper. I like to rub them with some salt before they go in the oven on about 190 degrees (or about 600 degrees in my oven). I like to cook them directly on the oven rack, placing a terracotta dish or similar vessel on the rack underneath to collect the fat as it runs out (don’t put this on the bottom of oven as you will have all sorts of problems with burning). The fat is good for roast potatoes in the same way as goose fat, or if you’re feeling decadent one Sunday morning, you can use it to fry eggs.

Those with well-behaved ovens can leave the legs for about 40 minutes, or until the juices run clear, as they say. Its worth keeping an eye on the collected fat, perhaps emptying it into a jar once or twice to stop it smoking.

Mash is as per usual, but I recommend the addition of wholegrain mustard to this one for a little bit of heat.

To make the lo-fi orange sauce, peel a piece of ginger – about half as big as your thumb, and press it through a garlic crush. Pour a large glass of orange juice into a small frying pan, add the ginger and a couple of large pinches of sugar. Over a low heat allow the mixture to gently reduce, stirring occasionally until you are left with fragrant syrup of a gravy-like consistency.

Lay the duck legs on top of the mash and pour over the orange sauce. You could pop a few steamed green beans, or peas on the side if you feel like it.

So-so Sushi

Its been a week of random ‘Do you fancy a pint?’ moments, which is always good. An invitation to half price sushi and some beers in London with a couple of old mates from Guyana appeals, despite meaning a school night trip into London.

Meeting in the Porterhouse in Covent Garden, M and I discuss our latest culinary experiments and failures. M was famous for his shark curry, and as the inventor of the pink Russian cocktail. I’ve been meaning to do his Basque chicken for a while. K joins us for another couple of pints of Porterhouse red and we move on to Yo Sushi near Trocadero for a bite to eat.

Yo Sushi currently has a half price meal offer that requires you to print out a personalised voucher from the internet. M goes under the name of ‘Sinclair Le Geyt’, while K and I play safe with our real identities.

I’ve enjoyed Japanese food before, and rather like the whole conveyor belt experience. M and I order a jug of Sake, which is hot. creamy and smooth, but goes down as quick as my first coffee of the morning. A mistake that became apparent the following morning.

The busy conveyor belt brought an array of colourful dishes, which went beyond my limited Japanese food vocabulary. I tucked into a few plates of sushi, sashimi, hot fried rice, and those funky little rice rolls with sesame seeds on. I probably hit the wasabi and ginger a bit more than I should have, but nevertheless enjoyed a bit of variety and watched the assembly line at work.

Not sure I would have been too pleased with my bill if I was paying full price mind. My appreciation of Japanese restaurants and sushi in general is partly down to the generally calm arrangement of things and a sense of artistry in the food. Yo Sushi was sadly lacking on these fronts, as we watched the mass prepared fish portions being assembled in front of us, along with plenty of nudging and shouting from the staff.

Post nosh we retired to a nearby pub populated mostly by theatrical types. A couple of pints of Timothy Taylor’s slipped down easily in good company, and the train back to Hemel passed by without anybody eating a smelly burger in my carriage.