Sunday, October 31, 2010

wild mushroom, hazelnut and parmesan tarts

I'm having a freezer clear-out at the moment and what do you imagine I should find in the bottom drawer? Yep - those PC dinners I made for BB before I left for Paris. One even has a note on it saying: I bet this is still here when I get back - next to the one that says: Don't forget to feed Flippo.

They all happen to be fish pie, so I'm not sure whether it was due to BB's aversion to bending down or the fact that he'd gone off fish pie for some reason. Guilty associations with Flippo (deceased), perhaps!

I thought it best not to ask.

Anyway - the day before yesterday I took out a piece of venison (shot by Roquin last month) and a bag of chanterelles (picked by me in July) and left the meat to marinade overnight in a little white wine with some chopped carrot, onion and a couple of bay leaves. Normally at this point I would reach for Anthony Bourdain or Elizabeth David for ideas on what to do next - which would invariably involve straining and browning and caramelizing - but this time I simply heated the whole lot up on the stove, added a little of my precious veal stock, a heaped tsp of tomato paste, some seasoning and placed in the oven on a very low heat for 3 hours.

Meanwhile, I made the pastry for the wild mushroom tarts and sautéed the chanterelles in butter, before adding some chopped hazelnuts and a generous handful of grated parmesan. Then baked in the oven for 15 minutes - voilà.

Well, at lunch yesterday, we ate in a pocket of silence, save for the odd small animal noise of contentment. It was the best meal I've cooked this year - and the most simple.

And now I'm having to justify three side-cars' worth of cookery lessons!

♫ Cook along to: Brian Wilson Heroes And Villains

Monday, October 25, 2010

the American dream and sweet & sour pork

Many of my childhood summer holidays were spent on the west coast of Scotland, in a place called Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan - the most westerly point of mainland Great Britain - where every day for a week, the six of us would squish into our little yellow Mini and bump six miles down a single track road until we hit the deserted beach at Sanna.

Here, we kids would leap into the dunes and race towards the sea while Mum settled in the soft white sand with Woman's Weekly and Dad rolled up his shirt sleeves and went to work under the bonnet of the car.

I'm thinking about the summer of 1976 in particular, when Candi Staton was singing about young hearts running free and the Bee Gees were telling us we should be dancing (yeah!) - when we had a heatwave in Scotland.

Imagine! Heatwave and Scotland co-existing in the same sentence!

When we weren't racing around under those high blue skies, panting in the heat, we were swimming in the sea or poking around in rock pools, collecting shells and dead sea urchins and writing messages in the sand - or just marvelling at our nut brown toes, thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1. The only time Dad ever ventured onto the beach, in his socks and shoes, was to help with the construction of our dam, which had to slope at a 30 degree angel and have a stone-lined slipway for controlled overspill. On one of these rare forays onto the sand, Dad pointed out over the turquoise sea and said: America is straight over there.

I dropped my bucket and spade and followed his gaze, open-mouthed, hoping to catch a glimpse of America, an alien land I'd learned all about from watching Starsky and Hutch, where they spoke with funny accents and called "chips" "fries" and the women had hair like an Alpine ski chalet.

That night when I flopped into bed and pulled the thin cotton sheet over my sunburnt body (thanks to Mum's liberal application of Ambre Solaire SPF1), I dreamed of going to America - and did so for many years to come.

Years later I did go to America - many times - and on the last occasion I had the best pork dumplings I've ever tasted, at Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown, New York. This restaurant is famous for them and as soon as you're seated, the waiter asks: do you want regular dumplings or crab? We ordered regular (pork) and a bamboo steamer arrived nestling eight plump pagoda-shaped buns containing little pork meatballs surrounded by a scalding meaty broth. They were utterly delicious.

I've never made pork dumplings, but the other day I made the next best thing: sweet and sour pork balls. This is based on a Ken Hom recipe.

Serves 4
450 g /1 lb fatty minced pork
1 egg white
4 tbsp water
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tbsp rice wine
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ green pepper, cut into squares
½ red pepper, cut into squares
4 spring onions, sliced on the diagonal
cornflour for dusting
groundnut oil for frying

For the sauce
150 ml / 5 fl oz home-made chicken stock
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
½ tsp salt
½ white pepper
1½  tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp cornflour, blended with 1 tbsp water
fresh coriander leaves to garnish

1. Mix the pork with the egg white and water using your hands then add the soy sauces, rice wine, sugar and salt and pepper. Shape into balls and dust with cornflour.

2. In a pan of boiling water, blanch the carrots and pepper until nearly tender (about 3 minutes). Drain and set aside.

3. Heat the oil in a wok and fry the pork balls until crisp and golden (3-4 minutes). Remove and drain on kitchen paper.

4. Combine all the sauce ingredients except the cornflour mixture in a large pan and bring to the boil. Add the carrots, pepper and spring onions, then stir in the cornflour mixture and simmer gently for 2 minutes. Add the pork balls and warm through and serve with chopped corander leaves.

♫ Cook along to: Rogue Wave California

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Azorean dreams and corned beef hash

It's normally around this time that I make my annual pilgrimage to Flores in the Azores to see my old friends Carol (aka Mung) and Neil.

But what with one thing (three months in Paris) and another (a trip to Scotland last month), I didn't think it fair to leave BB slaving away at the coalface while I disappeared off again on a jolly.

I'm sad not to be going this year. There's something about the peaceful rhythms of this tiny island, its savage beauty, the luminous sea, that makes me resolve to do - and be - something different.
Flores, Azores

But living in a little pocket of paradise bang in the middle of the Atlantic has its drawbacks; for one thing, you can't buy a tin of corned beef. The Mung and I have a great affinity for corned beef. In fact, it was over a corned beef and Branston Pickle filled roll that we first bonded, in a little caf opposite Edinburgh Sheriff Court not long after we met.

And we both agree that the tastiest thing to do with corned beef is corned beef hash with a fried egg on top.

Serves 2

tin of corned beef (the best quality you can find)
10 oz / 275 g waxy potatoes
1 large onion
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp grain mustard
2 eggs
2 - 3 tbsp oil for frying
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Cut the corned beef into chunks and mix in a bowl with the Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and grain mustard and set aside. In the meantime, peel and cut the potatoes into chunks and steam until nearly tender. Finely slice the onion. 

2. Fry the onion in the oil until soft and browned at the edges. Add the potatoes and corned beef, some salt and pepper and  heat through. Fry the eggs in a separate pan and serve on top of the hash.