Saturday, 26 February 2011

Saturday Night Spaghetti

"The Right Hon was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say ‘When!"’  PG Wodehouse, Very Good Jeeves (1930) Jeeves and the Impending Doom.
I always struggle to know what to put on the table on a Saturday evening so often fall back on that perennial favourite of spaghetti with lots of fresh vegetables served on the side.  My favourite things to do with spaghetti are as follows;
-        Mixed with a green pesto, grated parmesan cheese an extra drizzle of olive oil, grated black pepper and a runny poached egg on top. This is especially good with broad beans.
-        Red pesto mixed with added crushed toasted walnuts (I do mine dry in a non-stick frying pan).  This works nicely with watercress on the side. 
-        Anchovies’, garlic fried in olive oil and mixed into the pasta with parsley, lemon juice and chilli flakes.  The children eat this without the chilli. 
I usually buy my pesto from the lovely Natasha at Seriously Italian. They have a fantastic range including; sage, walnut, wild rocket, basil.  I tried to make it myself once, first with a pestle and mortar and then in a food processor.  The consistency was totally wrong and no amount of meddling could right this wrong.  Definitely leaving this one to the experts for the time being!

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Cauliflower & Fennel Soup

“Tread softly, because you tread on my dreams” W.B. Yeats (He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven)
A wilting cauliflower had been pulled from the back of the fridge and left on the kitchen island. My husband walked into the kitchen and asked ‘what are you going to do with that?’; I replied; “cheesed, souped or curried – you decide”.  He asked for soup and I after a quick visit to the book shelf, I found what I thought would be the perfect soup for him, in Jane Grigson’s English Food.  This is favourite book of my husbands and the recipe she gives is from Scarista House on the Island of Harris. My husband and I ate here about five years ago on a very happy holiday.  You cook the chopped cauliflower and fennel with an onion in a little oil until the onion is soft.  Then add water and simmer for ten minutes.  Add cream (I used milk) and the juice of a lemon.  I knocked up a wholemeal loaf of bread (Doris Grant loaf, incidentally also recorded in Grigson’s English Food) and was very satisfied with this lunch offering.  I tasted a spoonful of the soup and thought it rather good, though it did need seasoning.  Cauliflower soup usually punches above its weight, and I thought the fennel and lemon gave it lightness and, dare I say, sophistication. 
Unfortunately my efforts were in vain; my husband thought it “disgusting”, “too thick” and complained that you couldn’t even taste the cauliflower.  I’ve frozen the remainder in individual cups for me to digest, alone.

Lemony Curdy Pudding

“The proof of the pudding is in the eating” W. Camden, (Remaines Concerning Britaine, 1614)
As a Sunday treat, I made a lemony curd pudding.  My Mum used to a make a version of this, far superior to my own. It was one of those dishes that didn’t come out to my satisfaction, but paradoxically, was very popular with the family.  So popular, that a silence fell across the room while they ate it.  When I commented on this, G4 (girl, 4 years) responded “that’s because we love it so much Mummy”.    My husband even liked it and he doesn’t have a natural affinity with desserts.    For that reason, I make no apologies but note the reasons for my dissatisfaction: it was made without due care and attention either side of my husband’s monkfish dish and between bathing the kids.  I didn’t have time to monitor it in the oven and left if for 45 minutes on a low heat as my oven has a tendency to cook very quickly. 
However, it was great fun to make as it involves whisking egg whites into white peak; one of my favourite kitchen tasks.  The kids love watching them turn like it’s some magic trick.  They also helped beating egg yolks (2), with 2oz of SR Flour, caster sugar, and butter adding lemon peel zest and lemon juice.  The whisked egg whites are then folded into the cakey mixture.  After piling into a buttered oven proof dish, it is put into a roasting tray filled half with water.  The result is that the bottom half of the dish stays a curdy, custard consistency, while the top half rises a little and bakes like a cake.  As I was doing it quickly with the kids I didn’t put much lemon peel or lemon juice in.  Husband thought this fragrant and subtle.  I was also disappointed as the curd lower half looked a little like scrambled egg, which I don’t think it’s supposed to.  This didn’t put anyone off.  B2 (boy, 2 years) started crying briefly with frustration when I told him he had to wait for his portion to cool down before he could eat it.
This was done from memory from a Jamie Oliver recipe.  I'll reference it later ....

.....  Lovely Lemon Curdy Pud from Jamie Oliver's Happy Days with the Naked Chef, 2001.

Monkfish with Spring Onions, Sesame Seeds and Ginger Sauce

“I bear a charmed life”, Shakespeare (Love’s Labour’s Lost)
The kids and I love Monkfish, the meaty texture is reminiscent of chicken which makes it a good fish for fish wary young children.  My husband says it’s “not proper fish” (by which he means something oily and full of tiny bones), he’s happy to cook it though.    This is the second time he’s done this as a light alternative to a Sunday roast.
The fish is chopped and soaked in a marinade of ginger, caster sugar, soy sauce, lemon juice.  It’s then lightly fried (he used a wok) in sesame oil with garlic, root ginger and chopped spring onions.  A spoonful of dry toasted sesame seeds is added.  To me, this really lifts the dish.   We ate it with brown rice, mange tout and baby sweet corn.  The kids loved the fish but G4 (Girl, 4 years) wasn’t too keen on the rice.  I don’t normally give the kids brown rice, but the store cupboard is low.  The adults added dried chilli flakes to our dishes to taste.  Both the kids asked for a second helping of fish.
He adapted this from two recipes: Turbot with Spring Onions and Ginger Sauce (Leith’s Cookery Bible) and Oriental Steamed Fish with Ginger, Soy and Sesame (Delia Smith’s How to Cook, Book 1). 

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Arame, Broccoli, Carrot and Walnut Salad

Vice makes virtue shine:  T. Fuller, Gnomologia: Adagies and Proverbs, 1732.
I bought a packet of arame seaweed in a health food shop, oh months ago, and it’s been sitting in the cupboard and reminder of good intentions to try something different everytime I reach for a bag of dried pasta. It looks a little scary in its dried form and smells, well, reassuringly I suppose, of the sea. 
I soaked the dried arame in a sieve under running water, then placed the sieve in a deep bowl for 6 minutes to soften.  The shiny strands stuck through the sieve and had to be picked out.  Then I steamed small broccoli florets and carrot matchsticks for just 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile in the serving bowl, mix the following for a dressing;  25g (1oz) walnuts, lighted toasted and chopped (I toasted in a dry non-stick frying pan), 2 tsp sweet rice vinegar, 1 tbsp sesame oil, 1 tbsp light soya sauce, 3 tbsp apple juice.  Finally, add the arame and vegetables to the dressing, toss and serve. 
By now, there was a distinctly seaweedy smell across the kitchen.  I ate this for lunch with my ‘nosy parkin’ friend (who incidentally should be credited with mixing the dressing).  She assured me that she regularly eats seaweed and that the black slimy arame strands I was churning into the earth vegetables would be fine.  However, there was a silence as we first ate, eyes down and unsure of what beheld us.  After a couple minutes, not sure of myself, I asked tentatively; do you like it?  She replied “it’s growing on me and part of the pleasure is knowing that it’s good for me”.  That beautifully sums it up; there is some indulgence in its mere virtue.  By now the toasted walnuts definitely came through strong with the soya sauce and I was getting into my stride and beginning to enjoy it.  We both reached for seconds ...  but perhaps this was because we hadn’t prepared anything at this stage (though Spiced Parsnip soup did follow).  I ate it again, cold, the following day.  I will finish the packet of arame, but I am a slow convert.

Potato Floddies: the Home Front

Potatoes new. Potatoes old, Potato (in a salad) cold, Potatoes baked or mashed or fried, Potatoes whole, potato pied, Enjoy them all including chips, Remembering spuds don’t come in ships.   WWII Ministry of Food advertisement
I’ve been reading a lot about WWII cookery and rationing in Britain inspired by a visit last year to the Imperial War Musuem to see their exhibition ‘The Ministry of Food’). The two most sobering thoughts are that we didn’t starve (when so many did in central Europe) and that the nation was, as a whole, far healthier than when the war began.  While I’m not at the stage of putting my family on rations, there must be some lessons to be learnt from this era of austerity and some receipes worth revisiting. 
Reading through the exhibitions accompanying book by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall I can across a receipe for Potato Floddies.  Basically you grate potato, add spoonfuls of plain flour (I also added a tablespoon of oats) and mix to a paste like consistency.  The Floddies can be sweet or savoury.  I opted for the latter and so added to the paste some paprika and mixed herbs.  Then, heat some oil in a pan to shallow fry tablespoon size ‘pancakes’ of the mixture for about four minutes each side.  Fearnley-Whittingstall suggests dripping or vegetable oil; I used a light olive oil.  I’m sure they’d taste amazing with dripping, but it’s just not something that one has around these days.  My concern was whether the grated potato would cook in time suggested, and although my floddies were small, they probably did take a little longer.  I served with Heinz tomato sauce as a side dish with fish and vegetables.  My husband and son liked them but my daughter wasn’t persuaded to even try.
It is remarkably similar to what they were selling in a local farmers market with grated onion added (I’ll try that embellishment next time) and crème fraiche.  Daughter was happy to eat those, so worth revisiting at some point.    Fearnley-Whttingstall also says that they could be served with jam and clotted cream or lemon juice and sugar.
My reading list links: