catch up

September 24, 2009

I’ve had a bit of a busy week.  Amongst other things, after an overly long and somewhat enforced summer break,  I’ve gone back to work, which is frankly a bit of a shock to the system, no more days spent pottering, cooking & eating, unfortunately it’s back to the grind;  but needs must. Hence haven’t had any time to write this but thankfully have still found plenty of time to cook & eat.

I also hosted another Open House Dinner last Friday, on the menu this time round was watercress soup with home made walnut bread, roast lamb with garlic & rosemary, boulangere potatoes & ratatouille with puy lentils followed by apricot tarte tatin & vanilla ice cream. Delicious wine again came courtesy of Tengreenbottles; Stroblhof Pinot Bianco & San Giusto Chianti Classico. My guests were great fun &  hopefully enjoyed themselves and the food as much as I did.

We’ve also eaten braised beef in a light broth with root vegetables and savoy cabbage, a truly hearty autumnal supper; had delicious steak & handcut chips at the pub, a great takeaway curry plus I cooked an impromptu birthday dinner of prawn pad thai & green chicken curry for a friend who had neglected to make any plans for his birthday, spaghetti with amatriciana sauce, a courgette, pea & feta fritata and a lot of chocolate & biscuits plus the odd piece of cheese on toast.

Now I just need to get back into rhythm of working, cooking & writing and normal service will be resumed.


Monday – Fail

September 15, 2009

My diet yesterday consisted mainly of tea & chocolate cake which pretty much distracted me from thinking about proper food, plus had a busy day doing nothing in particular & then just at the point I should have  been thinking about dinner before going out, friends turned up out of the blue and then I was late & nothing had been shopped for or cooked & I needed to be somewhere.

The somewhere was the inaugural meeting of the Brighton Belles WI. It turned out to be  a record breaking first meeting with around 50 young & funky women in attendance. Yes there will be wholesome cake & jam making in our future and probably also a lot of networking plus as the membership already includes a writer of erotic fiction and a renowned sexpert there will inevitably be plenty of fabulous filth too. Watch out world if we ever do a fundraising calendar.

The meeting was in a pub and after a couple of post WI drinks, necessarily outside so we could indulge in cigarettes, I was starving & freezing so decided to go home & in search of food. I knew there wasn’t a lot on offer in the fridge and didn’t much fancy chips or a burger from ‘kebabs r us’ so went to scavenge in M&S at the station instead. They have a selection of tempting treats but I needed instant stodgy gratification so microwaveable macaroni cheese was the answer.  I could easily have made it myself for a fraction of the price and it would have been significantly tastier but it wouldn’t have been ready in 3 1/2 minutes. Sometimes you just have to give in to these things tho to my credit I did get a salad pack as well in a vague attempt to have at least a small proportion of my 5 a day.

Not a good food day but c’est la vie, will try harder today

Sunday – Butterflied Roast leg of Lamb & boulangere potatoes

September 14, 2009

I’m obviously a glutten for punishment (as well as a glutten) so have signed up to do another Open House dinner. The local lamb is so good at the moment I thought I’d put it on my menu and although I’ve cooked it this way many times before I figured having friends over for lunch would be the perfect opportunity for a bit of a refresher. The lovely Bramptons butterflied a leg for me so all I had to do was douse it liberally in garlic & rosemary butter.

Boulangere potatoes as I understand them are basically dauphinoise but using stock instead of cream, although I have read recipes that involved frying the potatoes first but that was some strange american idea. My way is exactly the same as daupinoise but with the addition of some finely sliced onions, plenty of butter & meat stock (homemade from the lamb bones, it makes a fatty stock but in this instance that’s fine) and then baked in the oven for about 40 minutes before cooking the lamb for another 40 minutes or so directly on the rack above them so that the juices from the meat drip into the potatoes.

Served with ratatouille with puy lentils. Went down a treat for lunch so hopefully my dinner guests will enjoy it.

Saturday – Peach Salsa/Sausage casserole

September 14, 2009

Saturday dawned with a surprisingly mild hangover  but resulted in a very slow start, late late breakfast/lunch fry up got us going a bit and then on to the job for the day, making peach salsa.

We are blessed with a peach tree in our garden and after some judicious pruning by a tree surgeon last year it has yielded a bumper crop which are actually edible (last year they were full of starch & horrid). They’re still not the best for eating straight off the tree and as the nicest salsa I’ve ever eaten was a peach one. I thought we should give it a go. Cue much peeling chopping & boiling.

I’ve dabbled in jam & pickle making and made huge batches of marmalade every year with my grandparents and made many fresh  & cooked salsas and even green tomato ketchup last year but this was my first attempt at a properly cooked & bottled salsa.

Once the salsa had bubbled in the pan for ten minutes or so I ladled it into my hoard of Bonne Maman jam jars still hot from sterilising in the oven, gently replaced the lids & then boiled them in a water bath for another 10 minutes. Which theoretically means they’ll keep on the shelf for a year or so but to be honest I don’t think they’ll last that long as we’re two jars down already (it’s delicious if I say so myself).

Whilst making the salsa I made a simple sausage casserole  for supper with some of Bramptons Butchers award winning sausages. In this instance the garlic & tomato ones, browned &  chucked in a pot with onion, pepper, mushrooms & tinned tomatoes, then into the oven for a couple of hours & served with crusty bread for a tasty stomach lining supper before a night out with the girls.

By the way I love Bramptons, a proper butchers. The meat is fabulous & they’re always handy for hints & tips. They had beef shins when I was in the other day & I haven’t stopped thinking about them since. Definitely on the menu soon.

Friday – carluccio’s & cocktails

September 14, 2009

Out for dinner with a girlfriend & her teenage son. The teenager got the final choice on the venue so Carluccio’s it was. Busy & noisy on a Friday night, it might now be part of a big corporate chain but it’s safe bet for filling tasty food without completely destroying the bank balance.

We shared a pile of starters, all good & tasty though a bit heavy handed on the rocket for my taste. Mains were hearty & filling although I ended up feeling somewhat carbohydrate deprived after my pollo milanese as Carluccio’s serve theirs with a paltry side salad rather than the more traditional spaghetti napolitana. It did however leave more room for cocktails.

The teenager bailed to go do teenage things so his mother & I moved on to cocktails at Valentinos. Can’t remember them all but the espresso martinis were particularly good… the rest of the night’s a bit of a blur.

Thursday – salade nicoise

September 14, 2009

Been a bit heavy on the meat this week so felt the need for some salad action, also had green beans that needed eating so nicoise was the obvious choice.  I love nicoise, it reminds me of the long hot summers of my childhood on the riviera when it was my default setting for lunch, often squashed into large white buns, pressed & chilled to make pain bagnat which is without a doubt my favourite sandwich ever.

Lots of crisp leaves,tomatoes, cucumber  onion topped with boiled new potatoes, green beans, hardboiled eggs, olives, capers & flaked canned tuna ( personally, though I loved fresh tuna I don’t think it should be part of a nicoise). Dressed with vinaigrette and on the side, dough balls. In the style of pizza express & using up some more of the pizza dough sitting in the fridge in a ziplock, just rolled up some little balls & chucked them on the pizza stone in the oven  for mere minutes then soaked in garlic & parsley butter and left in a low oven to keep warm & absorb the butter. I very much doubt that’s how pizza express do it but it was a successful experiment as they tasted delicious.

Wednesday – Seven Dials

September 14, 2009

The boy’s birthday so out for dinner. Seven Dials is our neighbourhood fine dining hang out, just a short stagger from home and we’ve always enjoyed meals there, including an afternoon treat one time of rabbit stew whilst perched on a stool in the kitchen talking about Russian beer with chef/proprietor Sam Metcalf,  so it was a safe bet for a quiet birthday dinner a deux. It wasn’t exactly busy but Wednesday night mid credit crunch & that’s not really a surprise & certainly no reflection on the restaurant.

An amuse bouche of white onion soup with truffle oil was delicious and some fine crusty bread & salty butter took the edge off while we tucked into a bottle of well priced Viognier. First courses were smoked pork rillettes with gooseberry compote for the boy and chicken liver parfait & brioche for me. Both were excellent but if I was going to be at all picky then I’d mention that I thought the parfait was a little heavy on the pork liver but that’s just me being difficult!

An intercourse palate cleanser of sorbet & champagne was fabulous, though I probably ruined the effect by going outside for a cigarette.  Main courses were duck & lamb, both cooked perfectly and with plenty of veg.

No room for pudding though the Valhrona chocolate option looked tempting. Just a coffee for me and home for a very reasonable £70 for some really excellent cooking. Can’t recommend the place enough.

Tuesday – pizza

September 14, 2009

Made pizza dough properly for the first time ever. The only time I’ve actually made pizza from scratch including the base was sometime in the early 80’s and it was a Delia Smith recipe from my grandmother’s copy of St Delia’s cookery course (which I still own & reference on a fairly regular basis, can’t beat her all in one sponge recipe), don’t remember the actual pizza recipe but will get the book out & look it up at some point, but do recall it being like a bready quiche filled with ratatouille & not much like any pizza we’d recognise or want to eat now.

Thankfully I am the proud owner of a kitchen aid so thankfully didn’t have to knead the dough, just chuck everything in & let the dough hook take the strain while I made tomato sauce. After the dough had proved I had a lovely big bouncy ball of goo. Then discovered that I’m definitely not a pizza chef, really haven’t got the hang of rolling out a base so that it was round so just went with any old shape, doused in tomato sauce & with assorted toppings, onion spinach & mozarella for me, tomato, spinach, capers & anchovy for the boy. Kinda wonky but tasted great.

Still have dough to use, must practice my rolling technique!

Monday – coq au vin

September 14, 2009

Chicken and red wine, really is there anything more perfect?

Floured & seasoned chicken pieces (good free range chicken), browned in oil with bacon and sliced onion (if I was doing this for a fancy dinner they’d be baby onions or shallots but for a Monday night supper just sliced onions), chuck in some sliced mushrooms & a couple of bay leaves, cover the lot with red wine and just simmer for as long as you’ve got until the chicken’s tender & the sauce has reduced & thickened a bit. Served with green beans & crusty bread; perfect!

Everyone has their favourite way with coq au vin. I like to flambe the chicken & bacon in brandy before adding the wine but didn’t have any so didn’t bother & it really  wasn’t lacking for this. Likewise ideally I’d put in a fresh bouquet garni but my herb basket is looking a bit bare so bay leaves did the job nicely. To be honest so long as the chicken’s good & the wine is drinkable it’s all good.

Sunday – roast at the pub

September 7, 2009

Up early  on Sunday so  went to the market & starving by lunchtime, would have taken too long to shop for & cook the needed roast so the only choice was to go to the pub. Luckily our local ( The Chimney House) is of the gastro variety and does a fantastic roast so off we went. It was it’s usual excellent quality, slow roasted pork belly for me, rolled lamb for the boy with plenty of delicious veg ( spinach, crushed peas, roast potatoes & carrots) plus a yorkshire pud. Their puddings looked tempting but we retired to the sofa for an afternoon with papers & telly.

Come dinner time we were still pretty full from lunch  and still hadn’t shopped so it was all about snacking on cheese,  biscuits & pickles plus a nice crisp braeburn ( can’t wait for new season coxes tho)