Thursday 30 July 2009

To The Royal Institution...

...with Jennie, for a lecture on the Antikythera mechanism. Fascinating. Bizarre. Evidence of technological sophistication in Greece in the first century B.C on a level that would normally be associated with Western Europe, one and a half millenia later. The implications are vast, since it suggests a serious re-think about how technologically advanced society actually was in ancient Greece, and that preconceptions hitherto about relatively primitive living conditions at the time could be fundamentally wrong.

As I've discovered I have been in my disdain until now for microwave ovens as anything other than a means of re-heating cold coffee. They do have other uses. Like making Hollandaise in no time at all, for example - as explained in the '70's by Madame Benoit (who had actually been a pupil of Doctor Pomiane himself, in her salad days). And her method works! A third of a cup of butter microwaved for a minute, then two egg yolks, a little salt and a squeeze of lemon juice whisked in, the whole thing microwaved again for 25 seconds, re-whisked....and voila! And all made from scratch during the time the asparagus is already plated and waiting to be served...

Tonight's dinner:

Egg-white Cheese Soufflé (yes, the egg-white mountain is with us once again).

Pork cutlets with mustard butter; lentils with lemon and coriander.

Apples baked with amaretti and hazelnut syrup.

Tuesday 28 July 2009

Recipe: Plum and Walnut Tarts

Finally, I've come up with a version of this recipe which works as I want it to!
Initially, the idea of walnut cakes with a fruit topping came from Roger Vergé - either apple or prune were his fruits of choice in the original recipe, but since I happened to have fresh plums to hand, the substitution was a no-brainer. Try as I might, and with whatever tweaks I thought might make a difference, I couldn't get Vergé's recipe to produce anything other than a flat and rather leathery result, rather than the light and delicious version that I had in mind. In the end, I gave up entirely on the proportions of his ingredients, and instead followed a standard Bakewell Tart method, but with walnuts in place of almonds. Success! A light cake base, with a beguiling flavour which lingers deliciously. Obviously, the fruit you use can vary widely - pear, apricot, peach, apple ...all would work equally as well.
For two.
Ingredients: 75g Butter, at room temperature; 75g Sugar (or equivalent volume Splenda); 75g Walnut pieces; 1 Egg; 2 sheets of Phyllo pastry, each 12" x 6"; 15g melted Butter; 1 tbs slivered Almonds; 17g Flour; four small plums, each stoned and cut into eight segments.
1. Brush Phyllo with melted Butter; cut each sheet into two squares and make two double layer tart shells in greased individual tart rings, sprinkling the slivered Almonds between the two Phyllo layers in each shell. (For full method see here.) Bake for five minutes or so in a 200 degree C oven. Remove from the oven, and reduce the temperature to 180 degrees C.
2. Cream the remaining Butter in a bowl with the Sugar (or Splenda); process the Walnuts to a fine powder and fold these into the mixture, then stir in the beaten Egg and fold in the Flour.
3. Divide the mixture between the two Phyllo shells, then arrange the Plum segments over the top. Bake twenty minutes in the 180 degree oven, then sprinkle with icing sugar and bake a further ten minutes. Allow to cool down, and serve while still warm.

Monday 27 July 2009

Dieticians, IMHO...

...belong in the eighth circle of Dante's Inferno. Along with 'Health & Safety' operatives, and those people who work in so-called 'security' at the airport. It's the circle reserved for The Fraudulent. Which probably requires little further explanation...but in essence, these are all groups of people who pretend a function which is effectively specious.

I'm not alone in my thinking, either. If you look online for references to Dr Jean Munro, for example - the dietician who supplied all 'the science' in Raymond Blanc's 'Blanc Vite' - the breadth of negative criticism is quite breathtaking. And I heard another one recently, who's comments displayed a level of witlessness which was really quite depressing, given that she too gloried in the title of 'Doctor'. This one was called Judith Bryans; she's on the payroll of The Dairy Council, and was speaking on Radio 4 about the quality of British cream. Cheerily, she wittered that the average weekly consumption of cream within the UK is less than 30 ml per head of population. Quite apart from anything else, given that 30 ml represents less than two tablespoonsful, this is a pretty depressing image. But in practice, and more importantly, it's an entirely silly figure to quote - completely irrelevant and worthless. It has the same validity as though one were to divide the total consumption of cigarettes in the UK by the UK population, which, since so many people these days are non-smokers, would almost certainly produce a wonderfully healthy average. Which of course is a total nonsense for those people who are on sixty a day, with incipient lung cancer.

And in case anybody might think from that last riff that I'm anti-cream, then nothing could be further from the truth. British cream is wonderful stuff. Incomparable. Fantastic. Nowhere else in the World have I found cream to compare...not in the States, nor in France, and certainly not in Italy. In this household - please note, Dr Judith Bryans - average weekly consumption per head is around a litre (mousses, sauces, posset, parfaits...) and no sign of any ill effects whatsoever. No, what I'm railing against is the sheer lack of intelligence in play in the sort of comments which are produced by these people, and to which an entirely spurious validity is given by the fact that they have 'Doctor' in front of their name. To be taken with such an enormous pinch of salt that they are rendered in practice and on any level whatsoever unpalatable!

Tonight's Dinner:

Ratatouille with Poached Egg.

Grilled Rump Steak, with Anchovy Sauce; Green Beans.

Sunday 26 July 2009

Recipe: Duck Legs braised in Red Wine

There's more to Duck Legs than merely confit - which I love, but from time to time a change is welcome, and as an alternative this dish is excellent. Adapted from a recipe by Paula Wolfert - a food writer worthy of great respect, but who seems to have dropped from view these days - this is a dish which will have nostrils twitching as it cooks, and is every bit as delicious on the plate as those aromas promise in advance.
Since it seems almost impossible to find boiling fowl these days - in London, at least - then this is effectively a contemporary version of Coq au Vin, where the duck meat is sufficiently robust that it doesn't fall to pieces in the course of cooking - which is what inevitably happens when following a traditional Coq au Vin recipe, but having to use a roasting chicken instead.
For two.
Ingredients: 2 Duck Legs; 125g Lardons; 2 tbs Duck Fat; 2 cloves Garlic, minced; Salt & Pepper; 1 tsp dried Thyme; 1 medium Onion; 1 tbs Red Wine Vinegar; 1 tbs Dijon Mustard; 3 fl oz Red Wine (Merlot or something similarly four square); 5 fl oz Duck Stock; 2 medium Carrots.
1. Heat the Duck Fat in a small frying pan; sauté Lardons for five minutes or so, until slightly crisp, then transfer them, using a slotted spoon, to a casserole that can be used both on the hob and subsequently in the oven.
2. In the same frying pan, brown the Duck Legs in the fat, about four minutes on each side, until well-coloured all over. Transfer these also to the casserole, and sprinkle them with Garlic and Thyme; season generously.
3. Thinly slice the Onion, and cook in the frying pan for several minutes until it has visibly wilted, then add to the Duck Legs and Lardons.
4. Deglaze the frying pan with the Vinegar, then stir in Mustard, add the Red wine and boil down to reduce by half. Add this to the casserole, along with the Duck Stock.
5. Place the casserole over a low flame, bring to the boil and then reduce heat to simmer for about five minutes. Meanwhile peel and quarter Carrots, and add these to the casserole at the end of the simmering period. Put the lid on the casserole, then transfer the whole thing to the oven, pre-heated to 150 degrees C. Cook for one and a half hours.
6. Remove the Duck Legs from the casserole and keep warm; try and retrieve the Lardons, as well, and put these with the Duck Legs. Strain the other ingredients, pressing down in the sieve to extract all the good flavours, then discard the Onion and Carrots and use a fat strainer to remove the fat from the liquid. Reduce the remaining sauce for several minutes over medium heat until it is a good coating consistency.
7. Serve, with a spoonful of sauce over each Duck Leg.