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Monday, June 29, 2009

If the salt has lost its savour, wherewith shall we flavour the meat?

Happy Parisians sit in the street,
Talking of what they have ate and will eat

- that's me, or used to be.
I have always scorned people who were bored with food, uninterested, only treated it as fuel, not bothered about what they ate. Apart from one very brief period of trauma in my life, when I barely ate for about a week, and didn't regain my appetite properly for several months, I have always been interested in what I was going to eat.
Now, for some reason, I'm not. Not that I have lost my appetite, but food just doesn't seem very interesting. I get hungry, but I just eat the nearest thing there is that will satisfy the hunger.
My boss (I hope she doesn't read this) would be pleased, because I no longer spend half the afternoon at work dreaming about the evening's menu, but it's left my life feeling a little empty.
None of this is to say I've stopped cooking, but I just don't get enthusiastic about it at the moment.
Maybe it's the heat.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Pork chop but no pineapple

While discussing the limits and attraction of representationalism, Terry Eagleton asks: "Why do we take delight in an image of a pork chop which looks exactly like a pork chop?"
My answer is: "I'm not sure, but I take delight in a pork chop itself because it smells like a pork chop. And tastes like one."
Tonight we had a very simple supper - grilled pork chops with a sauce made of mustard and sour cream, courgettes and mushrooms fried in garlicky olive oil, and steamed rice. It took twenty minutes to prepare and cook, kept warm without detriment for a whole half-hour while I did a phone interview for work (stupid Americans, why can't they work normal hours?), and tasted delicious at the end of it.
But no pineapple. Who eats pineapple on a pork chop, apart from Professor Eagleton?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Lemon balm sorbet for Sybille

I made this last weekend, my first ever attempt at making sorbet. It was remarkably successful, given that it was done at the last minute, with no special equipment and a tiny and overcrowded freezer to make it in.

Darina Allen's Lemon Balm Sorbet

For four people; small, delicate servings

110g sugar
300ml water
1 large handful of lemon balm leaves
freshly squeezed juice of 1 1/2 lemons

Bring the water, sugar and leaves slowly to the boil, then simmer gently for 2-3 minutes. Allow it to cool, then strain into a freezeable container and add the lemon juice. Put it in the freezer.

After this, the instructions will depend a lot on your freezer. Mine left it still completely liquid after 2 hours, so I went to bed. In the morning, it was fairly solid, but I scraped it up with a fork until the ice was granita-textured, then put it back in the freezer. I did this a couple more times during the day - it never got as hard again - and it seemed to be quite a nice texture by the end.

Optional Twiddles:
I added a small slosh of elderflower cordial at the same time as the lemon juice, but that's just because I like elderflower in practically everything.
Darina Allen suggests folding in a stiffly beaten eggwhite when it is almost frozen, but a) I don't know how you know when that point will be without spending hours opening the freezer to check every 15 minutes and b) it seemed to work ok without.
Lemon verbena would work just as well as lemon balm.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Those seventies housewives knew a thing or two

Luckily it didn't occur to me till after the fact that the cheese fondue is surely the dish of the film The Ice Storm. It's one of my favourite films ever, but mostly because it makes you not want to do anything the characters do EVER.
Anyway, we were having people to supper on a weekend when the Accomplice was around, so I asked her if there were anything she would like to see on the menu - Cheese Fondue came right back at me.
Then the Man said his favourite dish recently had been the vaguely oriental salad with lamb chez M+K last week, so we decided to do a carnivores and adults only course of Thai beef salad - Tigers' Tears, it's always called in fancy Thai restaurants. Pudding occupied most of the decision-making time. Creme caramel? Since I learned how to do it without a pressure cooker, I have been longing for another opportunity to show off, but we thought perhaps after cheese fondue, a rich cream and egg pudding wouldn't be ideal. How about a veggie version of my favourite fruit jellies - little clear mounds of jelly with sparkling jewels of raspberries inside?
Well, that's what it looks like if you make it with gelatine and raspberries. With agar agar flakes and blueberries, it looks like a misshapen grey rubber ball and tastes not dissimilar.
So back to the drawingboard, or rather the windowbox. My one gardening success this summer has been a pot of lemon balm, which turned into delicious sorbet. Accompanied by strawberries, this turned out to be easy and delicious.
You may be thinking this sounds like an extremely odd menu - cheese fondue, thai beef salad, strawberries with lemonbalm sorbet - and you'd be right, but it seemed to work very well.
The cheeses were Cotherstone and Ardrahan - it took a good half hour of consultation and tasting to find suitable vegetarian cheeses for fondue - and I think I overdid the white wine in the sauce, but it was very nice nevertheless. Following instructions in the Joy of Cooking, I tore a loaf of bread into bite-size bits to dip in it. Steamed broccoli was also effective, as were teeny tiny new potatoes but nobody touched the beautiful red and yellow peppers I sliced to scoop up cheesy goo.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Posting boasting

This is boasting by proxy - I'm showing off about what fantastic cooks my friends are. Friends of ours, M and K, invited us to dinner last weekend. M has been on a diet (they're getting married in seven weeks) so he's been starving himself for a while. And so, as you can imagine, he spent a whole lot of daydream time planning the menu.

After copious amounts of champagne, we started with a lamb salad - herbs and leaves and tender slices of cannon of lamb; then caramelized quail halves with carrots and pine nuts; sweetbreads (mmmmmm yum!); watermelon and feta salad; guinea fowl and fennel salad.
At this point, M and K weren't sure if we needed another course - we might have politely said 'no, no' if we hadn't overheard K saying earlier to M "Don't you think you've sliced the bellypork a bit thick?"

So we finished up with the most delicious spicy bellypork on steamed pak choi. Mmmmm.
Technically it might have counted as an Atkins meal, which I've always thought was anathema, but it was delicious from start to finish.

I'd say it's going to be a happy marriage!

Monday, June 08, 2009

Smoothie stiffie

I like to be inventive with the odds and ends in my fridge - sometimes it's not even very difficult to work out what to do with some leftover blueberries and some rather elderly yoghurt. Smoothies for breakfast - what could go wrong?
So I whisked them up with my magic soup gun and laid the breakfast table while the Man was still in the shower. Since that can be up to 40 minutes before he is ready to breakfast, I went off to do various other household tasks.
When we sat down to eat our muesli and drink our smoothies, the drinks had completely solidified. Not just got a skin on, as I initially thought, but turned into rather nasty crumbly blueberry cheese.
Why would that happen?
So we had to start the day without any superfoods at all.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

How do you say it again?

Everything I've ever read about quinoa tells you how to pronounce it, so I'm not going to add my mispronunciation to the general melee.
I had always assumed it was horrible, or at least indigestible, just like all the other stodgy, worthy stomach-ache-inducing foods health fiends try to persuade one to eat. But recently Jane, a blogger whose taste I trust, said she had cooked quinoa for dinner just because she liked it.
That made it worth a try, so tonight I cooked quinoa and spicy tomato and mushroom sauce. The sauce was a little over-chillified and the Man is not keen on chilli mushrooms, so it wasn't an entirely successful experiment, but the quinoa itself turned out to be very nice. Flavour-wise, I couldn't rate it much higher than innocuous, but the texture was lovely - soft, nubbly seeds with crispy, crunchy elements.
The next stage is to try it out on the Kitchen Accomplice. If she likes it, it will be a valuable extension of our repertoire.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Creativity challenge

When I worked at Neal's Yard Dairy, one of my favourite dishes was Coolea cheese melted on Staffordshire oatcakes - this was easy to have for lunch given the ingredients were to hand and our only cooking equipment was a George Forman grill.
Ever since, I have a tendency to buy the oatcakes approximately every third time I go into the dairy. Unfortunately I don't have a grill at home, the Man is underwhelmed by the concept of pancakes and cheese for supper and the Kitchen Accomplice rejects Coolea cheese because it uses animal rennet.
So all too often, my lovely oatcakes sit in the fridge until I have to throw them out, unless I can delve deep into my creative impulses and come up with an alternative.
This is usually based on Cafe Paradiso's suggestion involving a rather elaborate artichoke and garlic paste, asparagus and Oisin cheese. I bypass a lot of that, delicious though it is, and just put some cheese, a vegetable such as spinach and perhaps some pesto in the roll.