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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Israeli couscous

At the café where I eat lunch, the salad buffet often includes an offering using something called 'Israeli couscous', farinaceous balls with a diameter of around 3 or 4 millimetres. It has a mildly nutty flavour and a wonderful springy texture, and it goes very well with roast vegetables. The people who work in the café have not been very helpful in telling me about how it is made or where I might get it, but I am determined to track it down!

Menu inspiration

Scrub the Irish stew. Who needs beef and guinness stew? We're having fish pie for the diplomatic piss-up, sorry, reception.

The problem with stew is that, although it is a one-pot meal, and theoretically it should be relatively easy to eat it with a single implement (essential if there isn't enough room for your guests to sit down!), the gravy is just too runny. It also has the disadvantage for a smart dinner that the meat tends to stick in your teeth.

So fish pie it will be. This has the added advantage that I've cooked it before so that we don't have to have several trial runs. Instead I can concentrate on the rhubarb tart.

This afternoon the idea of rhubarb jellies seemed very seductive - little shimmering jewels of tart pink jelly would be a wonderfully light ending to an otherwise rather heavy meal - but the idea of guessing how many people would turn up and investing in glasses for it is too daunting.

The current menu is as follows:

Oysters, cocktail sausages, smoked and fresh salmon rillettes on cucumber and cherry tomatoes stuffed with herbed cream cheese.
Fish pie; leek and pumpkin gratin; apple, beetroot, celery and walnut salad; tabouleh; carrot and feta salad
Rhubarb tart; possibly apple tart as well?
Coffee and home made chocolate fudge.

STOP PRESS! It has just occurred to me that the jellies might not need to be served in glasses - instead I could make them in little metal moulds (I already own at least 12 of these) and turn them out onto dessert plates. Then we could decorate them with a green herb, some icing sugar and thick cream. What herb would taste nice with rhubarb?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Setting up

Hello. Hello? Hello? Is there anybody out there?

No, I thought not. And that's something of a relief. If you're going to make a fool of yourself in public, it's definitely better if everyone ignores you until you're used to the feeling.

I've read dozens of blogs but still don't feel I know the rules, so I'm just going to make up my own.

Ok, here's the thing: I really like food. I eat out as often as I can, I read every foodie book and recipe book that I can get my hands on. I talk about it all the time, and spend long hours lying awake at night thinking about what to cook next. I love going to really grand restaurants where even the waiters are scared of the sommelier, but probably my favourite restaurant is a very basic Thai café in a remote part of East London where the chef-proprietor is just passionate about Thai food.

And I love cooking. That's my problem, because I cook much more than I could possibly eat on my own, which is expensive and quite wasteful, because I'm single and share a house with one not very greedy friend. Not only is it wasteful, but I don't have enough fellow cooks to talk about the process of cooking with. I want to swap recipes, talk about problems I've encountered and get ideas from other food fanatics.

Hopefully this blog will help me find like-minded people who will share their experience, recommendations, recipes and ideas with me.

Ok, deep breath. Press 'publish post'. Now we're cooking with gas!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Irish stew

I have been asked to cater a pre-St Patrick's Day party thrown by an Irish diplomat. She is holding it in her home and around 30 people will be present, including her boss, so it has to go well.

The current plan is to serve oysters and Guinness to start with, accompanied by some other finger food for those philistines who don't like oysters, then an Irish stew as the main course. I've never cooked Irish stew so went for a trial run. Given that English lamb (even very good, very expensive meat bought from the farmers) tends to be tender at the expense of flavour, I used mutton. The flavour of the stew is wonderful: aromatic, meaty, the slight greasiness of the mutton cut through with the sharp warmth of white pepper, and the vegetables were soft without disintegrating, but the meat is almost all incredibly tough. Some scraps of meat are as they should be, falling apart and only just resisting the teeth, but these scraps have to be winkled out from the corners of the bones. They are only accessible if you didn't mind using fingers, teeth and cutlery in a satisfying but undignified scrabble.

That's fine for me on my own, but I don't think it will be appropriate to ask the Irish Ambassador, twenty-odd senior political journalists and various members of parliament to perform this feat while standing around making polite conversation. It's a pity, isn't it?

The conundrum is how to make an Irish stew that is edible with a single piece of cutlery but that has all the flavour that comes from stewing mutton on the bone. Or should I simply change the menu and serve something else, such as beef and Guinness stew?

It has to have some Irish reference, and should be seasonally appropriate. I'd also welcome suggestions for what to serve alongside for variety and vegetarians, as well as ideas about dessert. Is rhubarb tart enough, and does anyone have a good recipe for rhubarb tart?

Please help!