Saturday 28 July 2007

Time of Trial.....

Of course the challenge presented by the growing pile of as-yet untested books isn't limited to where they're going to live, and dinner menus this past week were significantly devoted to giving a few of the recipes a test flight, to see whether the books actually merited the bookshelf challenge anyway! The main publications under review were Moro (2), Richard Olney's Simple French Food, and The Chocolate Bible (Christine Macfadden's version, rather than The Chocolate Bible I've known and loved for many years by Christian Teubner).

From Moro, the highlight was definitely roast Skate Wing, closely followed by Lamb roast with Honey; Olney's contribution was a dish of Chicken with Fennel and Garlic, and something from his dessert section; and the Chocolate contributions were a Phyllo 'coil' of Chocolate with chopped dates and ground almonds, and some individual steamed Chocolate puddings with apple and Cranberries inside.

And the verdict? Moro got a definite and resounding thumbs-up. I like their style of cooking - in many instances the main ingredients are very little mucked around, and are cooked very simply, either baked or roast or grilled, and the interesting accents come from the addition of a well-flavoured sauce at the end. The Chocolate Bible got qualified approval - the recipes as they stand are a little too close to nursery food for my liking, but they provide an interesting basis from which to work thereafter. For instance, next time, I'll add some praline paste to the steamed puddings, to lift them to another level; and I'll adopt the chocolate-date-almond combination to be used in an entirely different way (the Phyllo 'coil' seemed deeply questionable as a presentation method - a kindly critique would say it looked like a worm cast; an unkind one might be rather more graphic....)

And Mr Olney? Well, there was a bit of a surprise. He's been on my hit-list for longer than I care to remember, and has been enthusiastically mentioned in passing over the years by many of the greats. I don't really know why it's taken me so long to get around to him......And, having now done so, I'm afraid the jury remains out. The Chicken dish - which read splendidly on the page - should have been great....but somehow wasn't. I excused it on the basis that the chicken was naturally rather flavourless. The dessert - Pudding Creme aux Pommes - was........odd. Bread pudding, with a layer of cooked apple over the top, effectively. Alright, if you like that sort of thing, I suppose. Frankly, I concluded, having looked through the rest of the rather slim dessert section, Mr Olney was not a desserts man.....So, I expect I'll give him another go...but maybe not just yet.....which perhaps speaks volumes.

Tonight's Dinner:

Tartes aux Moules (Pomiane version).

Pork Chops with Mustard Sauce, and Broccoli Puree.

Pommes Normande with Vanilla Ice Cream.

Wednesday 25 July 2007


Many years ago, I catered a drinks party at the Royal Academy - a private preview to the Summer Exhibition, I think. Several hundred people for Canapes and Pimms and Fizzy Wine. It was long before the Madjeski rooms had been opened for regular viewing, and I recall being somewhat in awe when I was given the Reynolds Room, in all its patinated gilt splendour, as our slops room, filled with towering crates of glasses, and strips of drugget, and dustbins filled with ice and bottles of Cremant d'Alsace.

As a decorative motif in the reception rooms, I had huge glass bowls on all of the side tables, lined with vine-leaves and then full of mountains of fresh cherries and bunches of grapes - all of which I'd got in industrial quantities from the bum-end of Covent Garden market at about four o'clock on the morning of the event. All went well, but I was left with pretty much the same industrial quantities at the end of the evening as I'd had at the start, and my scottish ancestry refused to allow me simply to ditch them. Even after all of the waiting staff had been given copious amounts to take away, as had the security people from the RA, I was still left with much more of the stuff than I had any idea what to do with. And so...... research was necessary, and the solution included the following recipe. Completely new to me at the time, I adopted it as a staple thereafter.

Ingredients: 1 kg fresh Cherries; 1 litre White Wine vinegar; 500g soft brown Sugar (light, not dark); 6 cloves; 6 Juniper Berries; zested rind of a Lemon; 1 tablespoon ground Cinnamon.


1. Discard any bruised fruit, and remove the stems from the rest. Rinse the fruit and dry it, before putting it into one or two kilner jars (depending on the size of the jars you have - the jar can be pretty well filled at this stage).

2. Combine all other ingredients in a large saucepan, bring to the boil, and then simmer for ten minutes.

3. After ten minutes, turn off the heat, and leave the mixture, covered, overnight, for the flavours to mingle. In the morning, strain the liquid and pour it over the fruit in the jar(s).

4. Leave in a dark place for a month.Then - over time - serve the fruit with aperitifs, as you might otherwise serve olives.

I guarantee none of your guests will know them of old, and they'll rave!

Monday 23 July 2007

Something is Going to Have to Go....

The new Chocolate Bible arrived this morning. And I have nowhere to put it. The shelves can take no more, and as it is, I can't find anywhere for Moro (2) that Jennie sent several weeks ago (splendid salads, an excellent recipe for roast Skate in a sherry-flavoured Buerre Blanc, and this evening's Lamb roast with Honey and Rosemary) as a thank-you after the recent Masterchef Weekend (completely unnecessary, JB, but what a fantastic addition to the collection!) and Richard Olney's Simple French Food, both of which - in the absence of a home for them in the bookcase - are already lodging uncomfortably on top of the jars of bottled cherries and pineapple-in-rum that line the kitchen windowsill!

It isn't something I would normally do, but the fact prompted me to make an inventory, with not entirely surprising results: 74 recipe books in the kitchen, a further modest nine in the book-stack behind my desk, and 44 or so scattered amongst the bookcases in the hall. Not a challenging prospect to find a good twenty or so for disposal, you'd think! I - naively - did, at any rate......until it came to the question of exactly which ones should go. Years ago, Nico Ladenis once said that the possession of a recipe book was justified if you found only one new recipe within its pages that subsequently made it into your repertoire....Well, on that basis, the process starts to become very difficult indeed! Elizabeth? Jane? Julia? No.....Michel? Bruno? Raymond? .......No. Willan? Stewart? (Don't sneer - despite the bad press and the questionable presentation, Martha is in fact very good!) Carrier? .....Nope. Hmmm. When it came down to it, all I could really come up with were a Nigel Slater, two Simon Hopkinsons, something by somebody called Donna Hay (it must have been a present) and Sonia Stevenson's not terrifically good book on sauces. Radical, it wasn't....

The Technical Department has a theory that I find it physically impossible to get rid of books. Which I know to be untrue, since at one point in the dim and distant past I can recall having owned a book by Delia called something tritely lyrical like 'One is Fun', or some such nonsense. Since I don't own it now, and I can't believe anybody would ever have wanted to pinch it, then it must have found its way into the Oxfam box at some point! Ergo....

And then I remembered that I hadn't included the bookcase in the outside hall, and I know for certain there are at least two different books on cooking from Chez Panisse out there, not to mention an early edition of the Tante Claire Cookbook and something by Joel Rebuchon.....

The task is hopeless.........! Until, of course, I think of all the bookshelves in Italy which are still waiting to be filled, and the fact that we have a truck going down sometime between now and the which a few boxes of books would be barely noticed as additional ballast.......

Tonight's Dinner:

Chicory and Walnut Salad, with a Sherry Vinegar dressing and Gorgonzola.

Lamb roast with Garlic, Rosemary & Greek Honey. Parsnips roast in Pork Fat and Mustard.

Raspberry Mousse.