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 bought some.

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!
  
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!

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.

recipes-for-quinoa

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.







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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*
Coffee

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.  


Truites Meunières 


This is, basically, trout fillets coated with seasoned flour and pan fried in a little olive oil.  Once cooked set the fish aside somewhere warm and wipe out the pan.  Return it to the heat and melt 20g butter per person and cook till it starts to turn golden, add the juice of a quarter of a lemon (and a handful of capers if you are that way inclined, I’m not), swirl about a bit to meld and pour over the fish.



Petits Pois à la Française pour Deux (2!)


2 spring onions finely sliced, on the diagonal if you can – much prettier
45g butter
1 little gem, or similar soft lettuce – shredded
300g frozen peas – petits pois being the best choice, obviously
120ml hot chicken stock (or hot water if that’s all you have!)

~   Gently cook the spring onions in the butter till soft.
~   Stir in the lettuce and as soon as it is wilted add the peas and the stock.
~   Bring to a boil turn down the heat and cook at a fast simmer till the peas are tender.
~   Taste and season and serve.

This 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.

Pin this perhaps?


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  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.



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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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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!
Coffee

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.


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5 August 2011

What's the Worst Thing you've ever Eaten?

The other day my friend Debbie asked me …

“What’s the worst thing you have ever cooked?” 

To which I said ...

“Moi!  Cook a bad thing!” 

She hastily amended her question to …

“What’s the worst thing you've ever eaten?” 

I think the worst thing I have ever eaten is:


Stinky Toe aka Pig Turd! 


This is the seed pod of the West Indian Locust tree and, the hard outer shell (the shape of a big toe so they say, apparently a really big big toe!) encloses a hairy, dry, grayish-yellow powder which smells strongly of sweaty feet.  Why, you may ask, did I eat one?  Well the girls in the kitchen dared me into it:


“C’mon, you’re interested in food, why won’t you try it?  We try white people food.”  

It is said that the stinky toe smells unbearable but tastes delicious.  I disagree, it is sweet-ish but has an unpleasant sulphurous taste and the texture is nothing like food.
I can think of nothing to do with leftover stinky toe although I have seen a recipe to make a drink from it which I shan’t bother to pass on.  Yuk! 

Fermented Fish in Thailand


The second thing and I don’t think I've actually eaten it, just chewed on the smell, is Pla Ra which is a type of fermented fish, often something called mud fish, popular in Thailand.   
Probably if I’d had some it would be No. 1 on my list.  The smell was enough for me; it absolutely stinks although some people must like it.  

I was back packing with a husband I used to have and once when we were on a train travelling to Northern Thailand some vendors came through the carriage with great baskets of fermented fish for sale.  Rory (I’ll call him that as it’s his name) lamented that we hadn’t got enough money to buy the lot – he wanted to throw it out the window!  I cannot find a picture that does it justice.

Camel Steak


I was served a thick slice of camel meat in 1971 in Tunisia.  The meat was dry and stringy and chewy and didn't have much flavour but, for all I know, it might have just been badly cooked.  What I mainly objected to was the huge vein in the middle of the meat, about ½” across and through which I could clearly see the plate.  Most off putting and in any case who’d want to eat a fine looking chap like this?


So come on – what is the worst thing you have ever eaten?  Please leave a comment so I that I can be disgusted but please just food, nothing else, not body fluids etc.  Remember this is a food blog and we must be hygienic!


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