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Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

I love a mix of tradition and innovation at Christmas; mingling fresh with familiar keeps things comfortably interesting (and interestingly comfortable if we’re lucky).   I apply this rule of thumb as strictly to victuals as visitors – and generally have as good a day as Nigella might shake her spatula at, even when suffering from the dreaded URTI currently doing the rounds.

A Christmas morning cocktail is one essential tradition but presents the challenge of tiptoeing that tricky tightrope of merriment over mayhem, and as I didn’t want this year’s first-ever goose to be cooked before getting stuffed, so to speak, I needed a milder-mannered solution than usual.

xmas-cincincins

Christmas CinCinCin

1 part Campari
2 parts fresh clementine juice (in 1-litre cartons from M&S)
2 parts Champagne

It’s a cinch: take your champagne glasses, pour an inch of Campari in the bottom, fill halfway to brim with clementine juice then top up with Champagne:  cin cin! – cin!!!

I’ve hardly re-invented the wheel but no matter; this fluteful of festivity is deliciously more-ish yet allowed me to stay roughly vertical all day.  It’s a seasonal triumvurate of Christmassy C’s;  Campari, Champagne and clementine juice.  Don’t be churlish about the Campari, it couldn’t be a cheerier colour and it needed using up besides.  Champagne speaks for itself but Cava could slip in without disturbing the alliteration.  When we ran out of Campari it turned into a CinCin – at least at my house, from which that vulgar term Buck’s Fizz is forever banned while its alternative Americanism, the Mimosa, is far too fey for us febrile few.  The Cincincin on the other hand, looks festive, sounds festive and tastes festive.  Hardly surprisingly, it makes you feel pretty festive too.  I wouldn’t turn one down on New Year’s Day either, but  in keeping with Plod tradition I daresay I’ll be mixing Bloody Marys again…watch this space.

Oh bum – it’s just been pointed out to me that Sam and Eddie Hart of Quo Vadis, Barrafina et al make something very similar with their not-quite-so-catchily-called Campari and Cava cocktail.  Do go ahead and follow their recipe if you like a complicated life…but if you just want a great Yuletide drinkypoo, stick with mine.

btw – if you too succumb to the nasty throat attack, try lying on your stomach with a hot water bottle between the shoulder blades: best achieved in bed with a comfy blanket and spouse at beck and call.  Couldn’t have done it without Mr T-for-Terrific so it’s a good thing I got him a cashmere cardie for Christmas: definitely an investment piece…

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Mmmm, yummy yum yum.  A brand new juicy cookbook from a great galumphing goofy guy with big heart, bold -not bolshy- bearing and a neat turn of phrase.  I shot to the online reservation page of my local library’s website and lo and behold picked up Valentine Warner’s hefty tome a mere two days later.   The writing is delightful, most recipes have an entertaining vignette to accompany and there are plenty of tasty morsels for tryouts.  As for this one, as there’s not much wild boar to be had (legally at least) on the Kent & Sussex border, pork had to be substitute in his deliciously different recipe.  A fine dish for a dim and damp winter night: the following is my adaptation and scaled-down version-for-two-with-leftovers-for-lunch of Valentine’s Tuscan original, which actually serves 6-8.
porkanchovyolive

Pork, Anchovy and Black Olive Stew on Polenta

500g boneless pork (shoulder or leg meat) in large-ish chunks
olive oil (or use anchovy oil from the tin)
1 large sprig fresh rosemary
4 cloves garlic, peeled
6 anchovy, fillets (use the whole tin if you’re opening one especially)
1 onion, diced finely
1 fennel bulb, diced finely
thick strips of rind of 1/2 lemon
2 large glasses big-boned red wine (preferably Italian)
1 cinnamon stick
1 TBS tomato purée
4 TBS niçoise olives

Heat a couple of TBS olive oil with the rosemary sprig in a heavy, preferably cast-iron pot.  When fairly warm add the garlic cloves and anchovies, stirring about so their flesh melts to a sludge.  Add the onion and fennel and cook covered for 10-15 minutes until seriously cooked through, only adding the juice from the lemon if it looks like drying out – which it probably won’t.

Throw in the pork (no need to brown it first!) and stir, then add the wine, cinnamon stick and tomato purée; stir again then tip the lot into a small slow cooker set to auto.  Cover and leave to bubble away for several hours (I’d give it a minimum of four) then toss in the olives, stir about and leave for another hour or two.

Serve over polenta with a scattering of gremolata if you’re not meeting clients the next day, just parsley if you are… and steamed spinach on the side.

Incidentally, this Tuscan method and flavour combination appears frequently now I come to think of it.  I have cooked lamb in just the same way, but never before with anchovies and now I wonder why not: they give such a wonderful rich, toothsome savour when melted down into the background, the very essence of umami.  Lemon peel and rosemary contribute their own pungent perfumes to an outstanding sauce, thickened only by softened onion and fennel, which now occurs to me is reminiscent of osso bucco – see? nothing new under the sun, yet new delights to discover every day.  It’s the miracle of cooking.

What to Eat Now by Valentine Warner

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One of my all-time favourite dishes is brandade de morue – salt cod whipped up with olive oil and mashed potato plus a wee hint or more of garlic and a scatter of parsley.  Much as I adore the taste, though, I’m not about to pack in my suitcase a whiffy hunk of dried North Atlantic cod just so I can then rehydrate it under a running cold tap for a couple of days before cooking.

pureeAuthenticity be damned in this instance and come to think of it, I don’t remember when I last peeled a potato to make mash – certainly not since discovering this wonder-product from Lidl: 99p for a four-pouch box.  If you’ve ever read the ingredients list on a packet of Smash and its ilk, the relative purity of this product will come as some surprise, for it reads thus: Dehydrated potatoes (97%), salt, emulsifier (E471), nutmeg, spices, stabiliser (E450i), preservative: sodium metabisuphite (E223), antioxidant (E304), Acid (E330).  May contain traces of milk: that’s it. 

And before you start squealing in horror at the E numbers allow me to enlighten:

  • E330 = ascorbic acid = Vitamin C
  • E304 = ascorbic acid ester = Vitamin C+palmitic acid

The others are arguably possibly slightly dodgy, in that:

  • E223 can be an allergen, not recommended for consumption by children
  • E450i = disodium diphosphate, high intakes of which may upset the body’s calcium/phosphate equilibrium, so excessive use may lead to imbalance of mineral levels, which could potentially lead to damage to bone density and osteoporosis (drinking too much fizzy anything destroys your bones too)
  • E471 = mono and diglycerides of fatty acids; could be animal in origin or from genetically modified soya.

brandadefumee
I can live with that, especially when pretty much all you have to do is scald 250ml milk with 500ml water and sprinkle one sachet over the top for some pretty good pommes purées.  It’s definitely French-style though so don’t even think of using this stuff for fishcakes – for that you need the real McCoy! The consistency is purrrfect however, for a creamy brandade. I take a few fillets of smoked fish – here I was fortunate enough to have hot-smoked sea bass and cold-smoked haddock cruising around the freezer – and poach them in the milk & water with finely sliced garlic, a strip of lemon peel, bay leaf and a pinch of saffron.  I then remove the fillets, skin and flake them hot in the few minutes while the potato flakes do their magic in the hot liquid, then stir the fish back in with a fork to blend. Sometimes I shred them finely and actually whisk the mix to more closely approximate brandade but it’s not strictly necessary by any means.
smokyfishmash

Piled into a ceramic dish and finished off in a hot oven it’s a fantastically hearty meal for two on a cold night, accompanied by a woodcutter’s pile of steamed carrots and courgettes and a lightly oaked chardonnay.  Somehow winter doesn’t seem so bad after all…

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Don’t get me wrong here folks, I have huge admiration for Michelin-starred chef/restaurateur/TV presenter/cookbook author Richard Corrigan, with his salt-of-the-earth bonhomie, clear-eyed yet unjaundiced worldview and his solid, down-home cooking style.  But I did a double-take when I saw his latest publication, The Clatter of Forks and Spoons placed next to Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle – wouldn’t you?

roughandtumble1
It’s a terrific image so I don’t begrudge it at all – that’s my charity-shop-chic silver plate cutlery! – and Corrie’s text is so environmentally and politically astute, I can even find the recycling of a cover idea eco-fabulously forgiveable.  It’s almost a shame he couldn’t have borrowed the title too, but the rattle of battered flatware on a hard surface is even more gorgeously evocative of his writing.  Not a plain celebrity chef collection of restaurant recipe formulae, this book follows the current fashion, being a collation of discursive thoughts and memories, favourite dishes and discoveries: recipes sharing equal space with long tracts of text and a smattering of mood-evoking photographs; similar to Georgio Locatelli’s Made in Italy, for example.  To which I say hooray, by the way – who ever learnt anything about food or cooking from a mere recipe book?

On the other hand, I was going to recommend David Eyre’s excellent-in-parts Eagle gastro-pub-grub book – for its informative recipes but not its crummy index – until I realised it’s out of print and £95 – bloody hell! – so I’ll just be wiping the spills and splashes from my precious copy a little more assiduously in the future.  I will however, soon be sharing its best recipe: root vegetable & greens soup.  Prosaic-sounding, I know, but absolutely ambrosial, and to which I return time and time again: a soup apart.
Big Flavours & Rough Edges: Recipes from the Eagle
The Clatter of Forks and Spoons

And if you’re not into reading or cooking, sample Richard Corrigan’s hospitality at Bentley’s Oyster Bar 11-15 Swallow Street, London W1 (just off Piccadilly) – bliss – or scroll down and watch this captivating video of him talking about this book
.

His new place sounds pretty nice, too: Corrigan’s Mayfair 28 Upper Grosvenor Street London W1

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duck fat galoreFollowing the laziest roast crispy duck in history my duck fat jar runneth over … almost.  So it should see us through the coming winter unless we take it into our heads to make confit and, considering the mess involved, I rather hope we don’t.

Duck fat is by far the best medium for roasting potatoes or greasing Yorkshire pudding tins and it’s ever my fat of choice for browning winter casseroles or starting off any dishes from the Basque or Languedoc regions.   Now I know goose fat is supposed to be even better, but given the price of a goose you might as well resign yourself to buying a tin of it and forego the satisfaction of making your own.  But duck fat is different: easier to come by and a most inconvenient waste product to dispose of if you can’t be bothered to save it.  If prepared with a modicum of care and kept in a reasonably cool and dark place it will survive for yonks outside the fridge: I keep mine on a shelf in the garage.

Just pour off the rendered fat during and after roasting a duck plain and slow (eg 6 to 7 hours at 140C) and leave it to cool overnight in the fridge.  Lift the fat away from any stray juices lurking underneath then reheat it to liquify.  Any moisture will bubble away, so when its puttering stops strain the liquid fat through a sieve lined with a couple of layers of muslin or even kitchen roll into a sterilised preserving jar and seal.  Discard the brown bits!  Enjoy its golden glow fading to white as it cools then hoard and scoop out as needed with a clean, dry spoon.

Depending on size one easily-available Gressingham duck should render at least 250ml fat. If you do nothing else with it, use a couple of tablespoons for roasting potatoes and greasing your Yorkshire pudding tin: you’ll be glad you did.

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