30 August 2011

"In at the Deep End" by Jake Tilson - a Review

I think it was when I read “Loving and Cooking with Reckless Abandon” by Kevin Gould back at the start of the century that I first realised that Quadrille are publishers of exceedingly fine books – books that are not just informative but enticing, tantalising and just plain different.  I have reviewed a few of their books now and it’s always a pleasure.

Now I am reading, in fact have almost finished reading “In at the Deep End: Cooking Fish from Venice to Tokyo” by Jake Tilson.  It is an enjoyable book on many levels.  Ostensibly I suppose it is a cookbook containing as it does over 70 fish recipes, but it is also a wonderful collage of travel stories, doodles, information, photos, sketches reminiscences, jokes and apparently, if you go to his website, Jake will be uploading a podcast for each chapter to help set the scene.   

I say I am “reading” the book and indeed I am but also I indulging in a lot of flicking through because there is a so much  going on and I don’t want to miss anything, it is a visual delight as well as a good read and a useful cookbook. 

The story is that Jake Tilson was scared of fish so decided to confront his fears in a big way by tavelling to various particularly fishy parts of the world and cook local fish in each place.  For this reason some of the recipes use fish that is a little “out there” so to speak; mini octopus, cuttlefish, barramundi etc., but a savvy cook can deal with this sort of thing taking the idea and using what’s available.  Indeed this is the book’s message, or one of them  – eat local fish. (Another message, which ties in with the first, is of course make sure that what you eat is sustainable.)

Many of the recipes, however, do feature more “normal” ingredients, herrings, haddock, crab etc. and some of the methods and ideas are unusual.  In one recipe soft shell crabs are coated in raw egg and left for a while before cooking, apparently they eat the egg which makes them egg-like and custardy themselves when cooked.  A severe case of you are what you eat!

To be honest I haven’t cooked anything from this book yet but I wanted to post this um.. post for a couple of reasons.

  1. I want to get one last post in before the end of August and I am out tomorrow, and
  2. I don’t like having a book for too long before reviewing it.  I am delighted to have received this from Quadrille and anxious to let them know what I think of it.
Actually I thought I had a third reason but my computer just crashed and now I can’t remember what it was!

In the near future I shall, of course, be trying out some of the recipes and will be sure to blog about them – so keep in touch! 

Jake Tilson seems to be an enormously talented and multi-faceted man; he is not only the author of this lovely book, he is also the photographer, the designer and even the typographer.  All this and cooking too!   I had not heard of the guy before now (see how one suffers living in the Caribbean for many years) but see that he has written another book "A Tale of 12 Kitchens" (apologies Quadrille - I see it is not one of yours!) and after I've posted this I'm off to Amazon to see if I can get a copy. 

This big colourful wonderful paperback book is to be published by Quadrille Publishing on 5th September ISBN-10: 1844009750 ISBN-13: 978-1844009756

In other news I have been writing an article for Christmas and cooking and eating (Christmas fudge for instance) accordingly.  The weather is so appalling the mulled wine went down a treat!  

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26 August 2011

Quinoa again!

~  Menu  ~

Quinoa Stir Fry
Red wine
Nothing else!
Some while ago I wrote about what a revelation it was eating quinoa for the first time at my friends’ house – you might remember; their toaster caught fire and had to be hosed down in the garden.  Well the other day I spotted a bag in Nature Kitchen, the wonderful shop in St, Austell and snapped it up! 

I’ve never cooked it before but I read the instructions in my own earlier post (!) and it worked a treat. 

My New Year’s resolution this year was to follow the Up a Day Down a Day Diet which I immediately stopped doing!  Well I’m giving it another go, I know it works as I’ve done it successfully in the past.  If you read my relevant post you will see that every other day, at first, one is only allowed 500 calories and quinoa fits into this quite well a reasonable portion being about 150 calories.  This being the case a few days ago I had quinoa topped with a few dry roasted tomatoes and some herbs and spices and really enjoyed it.  A lot a flavour can really help when not eating much!

I bought the balti dish shown in the above picture at Nature Kitchen too; they have a small range of interesting utentsilly things.

The next down day I had quinoa topped with rich lamby red wine gravy leftover from the lamb shanks the night before, it really is a great vehicle for delicious sauces.

And today, an up day, I have had a small stir fry of a little leftover quinoa with other stuff that I had laying about the kitchen.  Interesting stuff, it was, as I am in the process of writing a Christmas article which includes braised red cabbage and toasted nuts.

Quinoa & Other Delicious Things Stir Fry

½ tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion
A tad of garlic
A cup (oops, I’ve gone all American) or thereabouts of cooked quinoa
Anything delicious and appropriate you may have available – eg. braised red cabbage, a few broccoli florets, 2 snap peas and some roasted nuts

~   Cook the onion in the olive oil a few minutes till softening.
~   Add the garlic and any other raw ingredients and cook till all rawness is gone.
~   Stir in the quinoa and the other ingredients.
~   Toss together over high heat till everything is heated through.
~   Taste and season just how you like it.

I think it is a shame that I had to get this old before adding quinoa to my diet – DON’T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!!!

When the little white curlicues show the quinoa is cooked.

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24 August 2011

“Simple French Cooking for English Homes” by X. Marcel Boulestin - a Review

~  Menu  ~

Trout and Asparagus Hash
A glass of secret white wine*

The other day I went on at some length about a wonderful book about to be published by Quadrille; “The Gentle Art of Cookery” which is out on 5th September.

Well, lucky me, I have another book in the Classic Voices in Food series; “Simple French Cooking for English Homes” by X. Marcel Boulestin - the X is for Xavier but he is generally known as Marcel Boulestin. 

I got stuck in a couple of days ago and found it to be a real treat.  Monsieur Boulestin has a great turn of phrase and lots of opinions both on cooking and otherwise.  In fact on page 2 under General Remarks he says …

“A good cook is not necessarily a good woman with an even temper.  Some allowance should be made for the artistic temperament.”

… and he gives some useful advice on the handling of servants.

The book, very much as the title suggests, is about French food towards which I had much the same attitude as the people for whom he wrote the book almost 100 years ago, that is that it is expensive and rich and laced with butter.  However reading the book in bed as Monsieur Boulestin himself suggests I found much to interest me and quite a bit that surprised me too.  His standard recipe for vinaigrette, for instance, includes a whole sheep or calf’s brain which must be where I have been going wrong!  Most of his ideas and suggestions are not nearly so far out.

I decided to treat myself to a classic French dinner whilst my real men were eating something British.  I chose Truites Meuniuère with Petits Pois and it was delicious.  

The way of cooking the peas very much reminded me of my youth!  When we had our first restaurant, the House on the Strand at Trebarwith in Cornwall, we used to cook our peas in a most appalling and pleasant way using a minimum of water and a large maximum of butter.  They were yummy, decadent and popular but really rich and cholesterolly and we stopped being so extravagant after a while – we didn't even add any healthy lettuce and onions as the French do.

As is often the way I couldn't eat the whole meal so kept all my leavings and the next day I fried them up with some asparagus I found in the fridge to make a hash.  I topped it with some roasted garlic mayonnaise, sprinkled with smoked black pepper from Nature Kitchen and Bob’s your uncle so to speak!  (American readers – don’t ask!) 

Marcel would have approved of this behaviour and perhaps this blog, at the end of the book he gives “A Week’s Menu ~ showing how to use up everything” explaining how consecutive meals use up the previous meal’s leftovers.

There are a surprisingly, to me, large number of recipes and ideas in the book that I shall be trying.  They range from the simple idea of whisking a little extra butter into Béchamel before serving to his recipe for sausages.  The very next thing I shall do however is his Sirop de Café to see if it is better than mine. It may well be because he advocates adding rum which, unbelievably, I hadn't thought of!  Different flavoured syrups are really useful standbys in the kitchen and are far, far cheaper to make than to buy those expensive syrups for adding to coffee.  I often make vanilla syrup, coffee syrup, port syrup (for blue cheese) and, seasonally, mulled wine syrup.   Here’s a handy hint.

Handy Hint

The easiest way to clean a pan after making sweet syrup is to add a cupful of water and simmer till the syrup has dissolved into the water.  Use this to make a well deserved cup of coffee.

I shall be looking out for the two previously published books in the Classic Voices in Food series (Eliza Acton’s “Modern Cookery for Private Families” and Madame Prunier’s “Fish Cookery Book”) which both came out in April and am excited to read that  “Publisher Jane O’Shea said she sees this as an ongoing series and four more titles are already scheduled for 2012.”  Yippee!

“Simple French Cooking for English Homes” by X. Marcel Boulestin is a slim hardback volume to be published by Quadrille Publishing Ltd on 5 Sep 2011, ISBN-10: 1844009815
ISBN-13: 978-1844009817.

* Secret White Wine

I have for the past couple of years been drinking both a red and a white wine which I get from a famous supermarket store at under ₤5 a bottle.  They are excellent value for money, especially the red, and I have not found anything in their price category to complete.  I never let on what they are as sometimes they are sold out and I don’t want to encourage this situation.  The other day I was purchasing my weekly stock when I noticed that a) the white wine had gone up a little and b) it was nevertheless market as “half price” saying that it had originally been over ₤10.  I am gutted because soon it will be “full price”.  Fingers crossed the red doesn't go the same way.  My point is, however, isn't this a bit scammy?

Free Books!

By the way, Marcel Boulestin is not the only one to be a dab hand at the old cookbook malarky.  As you probably know I have written one real grown up book and several eBooks and the good news is that no one but two of them are Free!  Download "219 Cooking Tips & Techniques" and from that you can then download "Easy Ways to Pimp your Food".

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21 August 2011

Sautéed Blueberry Scones and a Sudden Tomato Tart

~  Menu  ~

Tomato & Boursin Tart with Fresh Thyme
Glass of Secret Red
Sautéed Blueberry Scones and Clotted Cream

I perused the contents of the fridge today and found some pastry scraps, 7 cherry tomatoes, about a quarter of a pack of Boursin a bit dried up round the edges and some blueberries that I remember shoving to the back in disgust because they were too sharp.  Lunch!

I rolled out the pastry scraps (which I had had the forethought to store correctly (see here for how to store pastry scraps, although it is by no means complicated, together with lots of ideas for pastry leftovers) into a rough rectangle, trimmed the edges and scored a 1cm edge round it.  The plan is to leave the border empty so that being puff pastry it will rise around the filling when baked and form a crust.   I spread the Boursin on the base, topped with sliced tomatoes, a little bit of finely chopped red onion and a few sprigs of fresh thyme, glazed the edges with egg, sprinkled with sea salt and baked in a hot oven 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6 till risen and golden – et wulla, as the Americans say!  

As behoves a sudden luncher I had no idea this was what I was going to eat today but it all came together rather well.

The blueberries gave me pause for thought for a moment; obviously they needing cooking with some sugar but equally obviously there weren't enough to make much once cooked.  I decided to sauté them (!) in a little butter and sugar till they started to burst and then have another think.  What I thunk was that when my real man got home from work he may well appreciate some scones for his tea so I made some using the squishy blueberry goo to replace most of the liquid in the recipe.  The resulting scones were a great colour with a light fruity taste and, as it happens, he was quite pleased to see them.

Basic Scone Recipe

This makes about six normal scones or four embarrassingly large ones.

225g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
a pinch or two of salt
 50g cold butter or margarine
80ml milk or other wet thing such as sautéed blueberries

~   Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/180ºC fan/gas 6.
~   Stir together the flour, baking powder and salt. 
~   Add the butter or margarine and “rub in” with your fingers until a breadcrumb texture is achieved
~   Stir in the sugar.
~   Add the milk and/or other liquid and mix in, by hand is easiest, till you have a soft dough. 
~   Add a little more milk if too dry or a little more flour if too wet – you need a soft but not sticky dough. 
~   Lightly knead just a few times to bring the dough together.
~   On a floured surface press or roll the dough out to about 2 cm thick and using a cookie cutter cut into rounds.  Or you could cut into squares or wedges which are easier and more economical on time: no re-rolling.  Rounds are traditional in the UK, wedges seem to be the norm in the US
~   Transfer the scones to a greased baking sheet, brush their tops with a little milk and bake in the oven till risen and golden – about 20 minutes.
~   Transfer to a cooling rack for a few minutes.

Serve slightly warm with clotted cream and jam for a traditional cream tea or, of course, with whatever you fancy.  They’re your scones.

This is one of what I have come to call my "genius" recipes, ie. recipes that can be varied considerably to create all sorts of delicious things. This one is so flexible I wrote a book about it; The Secret Life of Scones.

The same recipe can be used to make lots of different scones both sweet and savoury plus griddle cakes, dumplings, doughnuts, crisp biscuits, cheese straws, pie crusts and quite a lot more, for instance ...

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16 August 2011

Salt and Pepper - not back to basics!

~ Menu ~

Peppered Steak Salad
Glass of Red
Vanilla Ice Cream & Fresh Strawberry Sauce

We had steak for dinner last night; my real men had steak and chips whilst I had half my steak as Bulgogi. I kept my other half for lunch today as I had a cunning plan – good old Peppered Steak Salad, with a twist.

I realise that to many people Peppered Steak Salad my not be “good old” but it’s something I’ve been cooking for 20 or 30 years now, originally devised to use up steak trimmings (similar to leftovers!) it became so popular people tended to order it even if it wasn't on the menu!

Peppered Steak Salad

Steak trimmings cut across the grain into strips about 5mm thick
Freshly ground or cracked pepper
A little olive oil
Salad leaves.
Double Cream

~ Cut the steak across the grain into strip about 5mm thick.
~ Toss salad leaves in a little vinaigrette to coat.
~ Season the steak with a little salt and then with plenty of black pepper as this will be a dominant flavour in the finished dish.
~ Sear the steak in a hot pan which will be enough to cook it so set the steak aside whilst finishing the sauce.
~ Add 1 tbsp or so of brandy to the pan (carefully and if using gas do this away from the flame) and then about 50ml of cream and simmer for a minute or so till thick.
~ Arrange the steak on the salad and pour over the sauce.

I haven’t eaten this for quite a while as it was getting a bit samey for me but I have to say it was delicious. The twist was I used smoked pepper which I got in Nature’ Kitchen in St. Austell (the place I’ve been banging on about for a while now!). It added an extra nuance of flavour that would also go really well with bacon, blue cheese, smoked haddock etc. I rather fancy making smoked black pepper butter for topping steak or perhaps tossing with new potatoes. How say you?

Nature Kitchen sells an inspiring range of salts and peppers.
The salts have also got me thinking.  I have always liked to sprinkle a little crunchy sea salt onto pie crusts (savoury ones mainly) before baking – how about some Sage & Onion Salt on chicken pie or Tomato & Olive Salt on the edge of pizza crust?. Similarly a scattering of coarse salt can really lift a salad.  Speaking of which …

Whilst in Nature Kitchen I also picked up a tad of lemon pepper and have just had haddock rubbed with said pepper (it is quite tumericky – turmeric not only tastes good, incidentally, it has some amazing healthy benefits), baked with asparagus and served with a dollop of roasted garlic mayonnaise, new (ish) potatoes and a little salad suitably sprinkled with lemon salt.  I love eating!

The other day I bought a lot of strawberries to go in my Rumpot but sadly some of them were a bit mushy so I made an emergency ice cream ~ using my quick, easy, faff-free, egg free, real dairy ice cream without a machine method.  I had too much strawberry purée to go into the cream so I did three things:

  1. Swirled some more through the ice cream to make Strawberry Ripple,
  2. Froze a little as ice cubes,
  3. Ate the last little bit on top of vanilla ice cream. 
Simple Strawberry Ice Cream

500 g fresh strawberries
250 g sugar
500 ml double cream
200 g condensed milk

~   Mash or purée strawberries together with the sugar.
~   Whip the cream till thick and fold in the condensed milk.
~   Fold in the fruit sauce – if you have more sauce than needed do one of the above.
~   Freeze.

Here's one I ate earlier - the weather here's crap now!
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13 August 2011

"The Gentle Art of Cookery" ~ a Review

~ Menu ~

Oeufs Mollets à la Robert
Sippets of Toast
A Whole Cherry in Brandy enrobed in Dark Chocolate!

Please read more about lunch towards the end of the post because I have something else I want to write about first..

“The Gentle Art of Cookery”
Quadrille have sent me this bloody lovely book by Mrs. C.F. Leyel and Miss Olga Hartley which is one of their new series; Classic Voices in Food. It is a strange delight and I am grateful for it.

On the back cover of this edition is a quote by Skye Gyngell with which I entirely agree …

… every time I go into the bedroom I sit down, read a little more and do a happy grin.

Miss Hartley is not mentioned in the preface or anywhere else and my research has revealed that she was the first lady’s assistant, and nothing wrong with that, but I think Mrs. L is the brains behind the work.   The recipes are not for a completely novice cook, they are however very much after my own natural style of cooking; “some …”, “a bit of …”, etc. and are fine with me. 

The 20 chapters are quite diverse; some are devoted to a general food group such as meat or vegetables or to a specific ingredient such as the interesting section on chestnuts.  Other chapters are much more “out there”,  there’s a tantalizing chapter called “Dishes from the Arabian Nights”, a fascinating section of Flower Recipes,  and another on cooking with children (as fellow cooks, not as ingredients) in which she advocated having the little darlings join you in the kitchen.

I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that pleases me so much about reading The Gentle Art of Cookery, a mix of several things I think.  The writing is funny,  poetic – “sprigs of parsley freed from their stalks”, informative, opinionated, enticing, modern – using chilli vinegar for instance - and yet also redolent of the past; she asserts that a silver spoon should be used when making mayonnaise and there is much passing of stuff through sieves and stoning of raisins. 

Much more butter is used than would be considered healthy these days and Harvey’s sauce is a common ingredient.  I googled this and found it to be a little like Worcestershire sauce with anchovies, soy, cayenne, walnut pickle, garlic and vinegar.  Apparently it is still available so if I see some I’ll try it.  (I am still on the hunt for Marmite chocolate by the way, I haven’t wimped out!).

As I read through the book I fluctuate from “yuk” (Lemon Cream Pie using potatoes and an unusual spinach dessert), “hmm interesting” as in savoury custards and Yummy! It is from the latter section that I have decided to cook my lunch - there I’ve mentioned it, read on!

Oeufs Mollets à la Robert

Which are soft boiled eggs (she gives no instructions on how to mollet one’s oeufs but I lowered mine gently into boiling water and cooked them at a gentle boil, or a violent simmer, for 6½ minutes) peeled and served whole in a creamy onion sauce to which one has added “a wineglassful of white wine”.   Mrs. L said the dish could be served “with or without a wall of mashed potato round the dish” and I plumped for without, serving instead some sippets of toasted bread.

This was an excellent dish, rich and delicious, which I thoroughly enjoyed in a guilty pleasure sort of way.  If I was still cooking brunch in the sun I would definitely put this on the menu.

Incidentally and by the way, I had a little leftover onion sauce so added it to this evening's mashed potato.  This went down very well with my darling who doesn't usually go for "fancy food"!

There are many other dishes I want to try but not many of them lend themselves to suddenness, no worries – the book is a keeper, I’ll get round to them.

Quadrille’s new edition of The Gentle Art of Cookery  is attractively presented as a sturdy, solid, reliable sort of hardback book, it isn’t illustrated, it just gets down to the lovely nitty gritty.  If you are interested in food and cooking, and presumably you must be, I urge you to buy this book!

Quadrille publish The Gentle Art of Cookery on 5th September 2011 ISBN-10: 1844009823
ISBN-13: 978-1844009824.  It is one of a series of four books; the first two Madame Prunier’s Fish Cookery Book and Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery for Private Families were published on 4th April.  Xavier Marcel Boulestin’s Simple French Cookery for English Homes will also be published on 5th September and I hope to review it long before that.

P.S.  For dessert, by the way, I had a delicious chocky as described in the menu above.  It was my birthday a few days ago and my friend Carol gave me a peaceful painting of boats to go in our new house plus (!) a box of chockies.  How kind she is.  The chocolates are from a new shop in Wadebridge called Choc-a-bloc and if this literally mouthwatering morsel is anything to go by they should do exceedingly well.

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8 August 2011

How to use Banana Leaves – part 2 (because I found some in St. Austell!)

Yesterday’s Lunch   ~

Spicy Salmon baked in a Banana Leaf
Rice ‘n Peas
White Wine Spritzer

I was in one of my favourite shops the other day – Nature Kitchen in St, Austell and was surprised and nostalgic to find banana leaves for sale.  I have written about them before – see here for a lovely recipe whether you have a banana leaf or not - so won’t go on at too much length here other than …

1.                  Show you this picture I took in our “part time garden” in the Caribbean of a baby bananas being born,

1.                  Tell you about today’s lunch

Salmon is not, of course, a tropical fish, something I was always eager to point out to customers in the West Indies who often asked “is it fresh”.   To my mind, incidentally, a fish that has been frozen onboard soon after catching is far preferable to one that has been kept on ice for days before it reaches shore.  Still, that’s enough of that. 

Having found the banana leaves in Nature Kitchen I was eager to use them but funnily enough hadn’t got any mahi mahi or wahoo to hand.  What I did have was a piece of salmon leftover from a larger piece I had cooked for dinner yesterday.  I had planned on making my delicious Mahi Mahi baked in a Banana Leaf with Tomato, Coconut & Green Chile mentioned above but was mortified to find I had run out of creamed coconut.  I did however, find a bottle of interesting Coconut & Rum hot sauce so decided to make something up.   I picked a little fresh coriander and pulverized it with some sea salt and lime juice then stirred a little of the hot sauce.  I then diced the piece of salmon and marinated it in the resulting goo for a hour or so whilst preparing the banana leaf. 

Earlier I wrote before about softening a banana leaf by heating it over flame but I am afraid I’m cooking with electric at the moment, not my choice, so had to do it another way.  I had heard that plunging the leaf into boiling water was a good alternative but being on the tired side I just placed it in boiling water and it worked fine.

I wrapped my marinated fish in the soft leaf, tied it with a strip of leek leaf and baked it for 10 minutes in a medium hot oven.  As you can see this is another non-recipe just a guideline but it’s only here to illustrate the banana leaf situation.   My lunch looked like this … 

… and I ate it with some rice ‘n’ peas I quickly cobbled together with some leftover rice.

Using banana leaves to wrap food is common in tropical countries and a lot nicer than foil, they contribute a light grassy, maybe slightly aniseedy flavour to a dish but as I tend to use a lot of chilli I don’t usually notice it!   They can be used to wrap foods, to line a pan or a steamer, to protect food (on a BBQ for instance ) and they make a fine serving platter.  To store them wrap in a plastic and keep in the fridge for a day or two or cut into usable pieces, wrap and freeze

In other news – we saw this the other day as people were pouring into Cornwall

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