Friday 27 April 2007

Staples in Store...

Anthony Worrall Thompson was banging-on on the radio yesterday about the sorts of things every half-decent cook should have in their store-cupboard (I wasn't entirely concentrating, but I think it was in response to a shock-horror attention-grabbing declaration by Marco Pierre that stock cubes are in fact the greatest thing bread....) It caused me to ponder, and consider what things in practice I do consider essential, and would always have to hand. As follows:

- Stock, for sure; there are always several litres of the chicken variety in the freezer at any given moment in time, but for beef I rely on a concentrate, and I always have tubs in the fridge of reconstitutable fish stock powder (for some reason, no chicken carcase can leave the kitchen without having been turned into stock, but I clearly have no such strong feeling about fish skeletons......I have no idea why)

- Anchovies. For adding to stews, for the tops or bases of savoury tarts, to be melted in butter for simple fish sauces, for Tuna Tartare.......for a million things!

- Boyajian Citrus Oils. Already blogged elsewhere. Wonderful and supremely versatile stuff.

- Dried Porcini. For risotto, for pasta sauces, to be added to practically any meat dish, or to add (reconstituted) to any fresh mushroom dish, to give it an appropriate kick.

- Lardon Sauce (see the recipe section). Gives a kick to any grilled or seared fish; I always have a pot of this in the fridge, and one batch keeps happily for several months at a time.

- Prunes poached in Cinammon and Red Wine. Again, there's always a pot of this is the fridge, for serving with almost any kind of Ice Cream, or as the base for a Cream Posset, or to go with Chocolate takes no more time to make a large quantity than a small quantity, so it makes sense to store a decent sized batch for use over time.

- Egg white. Ok, I don't choose to have this, it just happens as collateral damage after making yolk-heavy sauces and custards. The fact remains, there's always a pot of egg white sitting in the fridge, which means I'm never without the wherewithal to make egg-white-only cheese or chocolate souffles.

- And- of course - Chocolate. In industrial quantities. And always Felchlin. I've bored for England on this subject elsewhere, so ......enough said.

Tonight's Dinner:

Beef and Porcini Strudel.

Cod Fillets with Mushrooms, served with Broccoli.

Lemon & Cinammon Rice Pudding (with thanks to Jane Grigson)

Thursday 26 April 2007

Recipe: Cherry Tart

For Two.

Ingredients: 2 sheets Phyllo Pastry, each 12" x 6"; approximately 30 fresh Cherries (the darker the better!); 30g Butter; 2 tablespoons Plain Flour; 2 tablespoons Sugar (or Sweetener); 1 tablespoon Cherry Liqueur of some description (I use Vedrenne Creme de Griotte, but in practice any strongly flavoured spirit will suffice).


1. Pre-heat oven to 200 degrees C.

2. Prepare two individual tart shells, using the Phyllo and Butter (melt the Butter and brush the Phyllo sheets with it; cut each sheet into two squares, and use each pair of squares to form a double-layer tart shell, tucking the edges and corners in as you go, to create a neatly round shell). Blind-bake 5 minutes in the pre-heated oven; then remove the baking weights and bake a further two minutes or so, thoroughly to brown and crisp the base of the shell.

3. While the shells are baking, stone the Cherries into a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the Flour and half of the Sugar.

4. Divide the Flour/Sugar mixture between the two shells, spreading it evenly. Pack the stoned Cherries on top, forcing as many into each shell as you can manage in one tight layer. Sprinkle the remaining Sugar over the Cherries, and sprinkle the liqueur over the top.

5. Return the tarts to the oven and bake for 25 - 30 minutes, until the Cherries have visibly collapsed and are oozing with juice and the pastry is a rich dark brown. Remove from the oven and leave to cool somewhat before serving.

Best served warm.

Wednesday 25 April 2007

Kitchen Pedantry.....

The Technical Department produced for me the other day a copy of Julian Barnes' 'Pedant in the Kitchen', which I polished off practically in one sitting, and heartily recommend to anybody kitchen-focused in any way. He lauds the greats: Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David; Pomiane (of course) along with a few that I would have distinct reservations about (Nigel Slater, for instance, and Simon Hopkinson) and even shamelessly admits to an ongoing relationship with Delia! Stories of recipes that don't work (and never could have, on examination) ring all too true, along with titivated photography and incompetent editing. On average, I found myself guffawing aloud approximately every ten pages, which I think is pretty good going.....

With apologies to Mr Barnes, he doesn't come across as a very confident cook, and what he describes as 'pedantry' seems to me to be nervous over-reliance on direction from others and a lack of confidence in his own judgment. Which is what you can only get from lots of experience, Mr B. In reading the 'Pedant' I was repeatedly reminded of James Hamilton-Patterson's 'Cooking with Fernet Branca', which again I would highly recommend - even despite the uncomfortable awareness that creeps up in the course of reading that in fact the person he's making fun of is anybody in danger of taking cooking too seriously ......i.e You, Dear Reader! From the outset, reference to bizarre ingredients (Otter in Lobster Sauce, for instance) causes the raising of a quizzical eyebrow, but it is only as we proceed through 'My own recipe for fishcake - a bit tricky to ice properly' and 'Terrine of Jack Russell - hellish beasts to bone' that the penny conclusively drops. And for the true pedant, the fact that by the end of the book, measurements are given in precise fractions of grammes, of degrees and of minutes, should provide a welcome basis for confidence!

Back into the Kitchen, Mr Barnes - get practising!

Tonight's Dinner:

Beef Salad, with Mache and Rocket leaves, in an agrodolce dressing

Seared Salmon Fillet, with Lardon Sauce, served with Endive and Leek sweated together in Butter.

Cherry Tarts.

Tuesday 24 April 2007

Recipe: Celery Braised with Cheese & Pancetta

For Four.

Ingredients: 1 head of Celery (if in the UK, use organic Celery, it has vastly more flavour; in Italy, standard Celery will be fine); 30g Butter; 1 tablespoon Olive Oil; 1 small Onion; 100g diced Pancetta; 2 cups of Chicken Stock; seasoning; half a cup of freshly-grated Parmesan.


1. Cut the Celery stalks away from the base, and remove any leaves (reserve for use in a salad or a vegetable stock); using a swivel-head peeler, remove the stringy outer surface of the Celery stalks, and cut them into 3" lengths.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C.

3. Finely dice the Onion. Heat the Butter and Oil together in a saute pan (something broad and shallow with a lid), and gently saute the diced Onion and the Pancetta for several minutes. As soon as you can smell the aroma of the Pancetta cooking, add the pieces of Celery, and stir around in the pan to mix with the Onion and Pancetta. Leave to cook gently for about five minutes.

4. Add the Stock to the pan. Raise the heat until the stock just starts to bubble, then reduce to a simmer. Cook, covered, until the Celery is tender - it should take about 25 minutes or so.

5. Once the Celery is tender, remove it to a buttered oven dish. If any Stock remains, boil to reduce it to nothing, stirring constantly, then spoon the Onion and Pancetta mixture over the pieces of Celery. Season to taste.

6. Sprinkle with Parmesan, and place in the pre-heated oven for fifteen minutes.

Excellent with any roast meat, but particularly good with Veal or Chicken.