Thursday, 30 December 2010

Happy memories of 2010

As we see out 2010 and look forward to 2011, I'm indulging myself with one of my favourite images of the year. This is a photo of one of France's naughtiest delicacies and, for me, the merest thought of it conjures up holidays. I'm a huge fan of butter and when it's seasoned with crunchy sea salt, it becomes a treat to cherish. I have to confess, I'm particularly partial to it spread on baguettes, along with Bonne Maman strawberry jam, although it melts deliciously over simply cooked vegetables and is ideal to use for frying.

Looking at this picture in the depths of winter, I can't help but find the summery packaging uplifting and my mouth is watering at the sight of the butter. Happy memories indeed.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Red cabbage with orange and spice

Red cabbage is one of winter's highlights. This beautiful vegetable costs very little and goes an incredibly long way – so much so that I end up freezing most of it. We love it with any type of meat and it is particularly good with game. This version includes orange and is fabulous with duck and I'm really looking forward to having it with our Christmas dinner, especially the gammon. Juniper would be another nice addition and would be particularly good with pork. It's also seriously wine-friendly (notably red Burgundy).

This recipe is based on one from a favourite cookery book, Leith's Cookery Bible (although orange isn't included in the original).

1 small red cabbage
1 onion, sliced (red onion also works well)
30g butter
2 apples, peeled and sliced
1 large orange, zest removed in large slices with a small paring knife
juice from the orange
2 teaspoons soft brown sugar
2 teaspoons wine vinegar or cider vinegar
a pinch of ground cloves
salt and freshly ground black pepper

The book says this serves six but, as I like to use a larger cabbage and ramp up the other ingredients, it can serve up to 10.

Start off by shredding the cabbage, discarding any hard stalks. Rinse well.

In a large heavy pan (a preserving pan is ideal), melt the butter and fry the onion until soft. Add the drained, but still wet cabbage, the apples, sugar, vinegar, cloves, orange juice and slices of zest; season with salt and pepper. Mix well.

Cover with a lid and allow to cook on a low heat for a couple of hours, stirring occasionally, until soft and reduced in bulk. During cooking, if the cabbage starts drying out, add more water. Check seasoning before serving – it may need more salt, pepper or sugar.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas pudding soufflés

This recipe is based on one by Richard Corrigan that appeared in Waitrose Food Illustrated (as was) and I think it must have been the November 2009 issue. I cooked these soufflés on New Year’s Eve last year and they went down extremely well. The recipe is sufficiently festive, but with a grown-up dinner party feel – a really useful dessert for this time of year (and quite manageable as it can be prepared in two stages). I made them again recently to use up the final chunk of last year's Christmas pud that had been lurking in the freezer. Again, the soufflés were fabulous.

9 eggs, separated
65g caster sugar
250ml whole milk
1 vanilla pod, split
15g plain flour
10g cornflour
150g Christmas pudding, crumbled
15g butter, softened, to line moulds
1 tablespoon icing sugar, to dust

Serves 8

For the soufflé base, in a large bowl whisk together three egg yolks and 50g caster sugar until thick and creamy.

Meanwhile, heat the milk and vanilla pod together in a pan until boiling. Whisk all the flour into the egg-and-sugar mixture before adding the milk, still whisking as you pour. Remove the vanilla pod. Pour this mixture into a large saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until thickened. Stir in the crumbled Christmas pudding and leave to cool – this can be done the day before if you refrigerate the mixture until you are ready to cook the dish.

To make the soufflés, preheat the oven to 240°C/gas 8. Brush eight 8cm ramekins lightly with butter. Chill for five minutes. Brush with more butter, then dust evenly with the remaining 15g caster sugar.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites to form soft peaks. Beat half the whisked egg white into half the soufflé base, then fold in the remainder of both mixtures. Spoon into the ramekins, smooth over the tops with a knife and cook for seven to eight minutes, until risen.

Dust with icing sugar (although recently, when these pictures were taken, I didn't bother).

The original recipe points out that at Corrigan’s restaurant, the soufflés are served with an Irish whiskey-flavoured ice cream. This prompted me to serve them with generous glasses of Baileys – absolutely gorgeous! You could also serve them with some good quality malt whisky with a splash of water (as suggested by Waitrose Food Illustrated). You can see from the picture below that I was tempted to try some treackly Pedro Ximenez with them, but ended up sticking with the Baileys.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Christmas treats

Need some last-minute Christmas gift ideas for food and drink lovers? Here is a selection of personal favourites.

Paul A Young chocolates
Whether it’s just a bar or a whole box of chocs from this gorgeous shop in Islington, your chocoholic friends or relatives will be delighted. The infectiously enthusiastic Mr Young constantly experiments with ingredients (sweet and savoury) and how they combine with different types of chocolate. The results are spectacular. As unusual as some of the chocolates may be, there is something for every taste. Personal favourites are the salted caramel truffle and his little bars in different flavours and types of chocolate. For serious chocolate lovers, you might want to consider treating them to a chocolate tasting.

Speciality sea salt
Maldon Salt is made up of the most beautiful little pyramid shaped crystal flakes and is perfect for sprinkling. This salt comes from the Essex coast and was prized by the Romans. Lovers of the West Country might be interested in Cornish Sea Salt that comes from the Lizard peninsular and has a really intense taste of the sea and more granular texture. I’ve also been a great fan of French fleur de sel, but a particularly favourite is smoked salt. Halen Môn from Anglesey in Wales is excellent with eggs, fish and poultry and the Maldon Salt people now offer a smoked version.

Since ancient times saffron, from the stigmas of the crocus flower, has been one of the world’s greatest luxuries and weight for weight more valuable than gold. Thankfully, a little goes a long way. Just a few strands of saffron add colour as well as delicious, aromatic flavour to sweet and savoury dishes. Even something as mundane as scrambled eggs can be transformed to five star luxury with a sprinkling of this precious spice.

Maple syrup
This is one the whole family can enjoy. I love honey, but it tastes a bit two dimensional alongside the complex butterscotch and caramel flavours of maple syrup. It’s such a treat and so versatile, and nothing beats pouring it over breakfast pancakes or yoghurt and fruit. Locally, Waitrose and health food shops are good hunting grounds. 

London smoked salmon from Forman and Field
This Billingsgate based family company developed the original ‘London Cure’ for smoking salmon. Two types of smoked salmon are available: a regular smoked salmon and a special wild smoked salmon and the prices differ dramatically due to the rarity of wild salmon. Many other delicacies are available, as are top-notch hampers and the company also offers gift vouchers. They also have a restaurant on their premises in New Billingsgate.

The Wine Society Lifetime Membership
The Wine Society, established in 1874, is run as a partnership, with each member owning shares. In order to be a customer you need to join and the £40 life membership fee entitles you to access a superb range of wine at extremely competitive prices. Members receive a regular newsletter and details of the Society’s frequent events. There is an enormous temperature controlled wine storage facility at their base in Stevenage if you want to lay down wines and don’t have the space at home. Furthermore, there is an outlet in northern France where cases of wine can be bought duty free.

Sample wines at The Sampler
This wine merchant is unusual as visitors to the shop can pay to taste small samples of 80 wines at any given time. They use special wine storage equipment that allows open bottles to be enjoyed over an extended period. Prices for samples start at 30p for fino sherry, rising pretty much as high as you like for rare, classic wines from great vintages and the selection changes every fortnight. To experience these wines you use a Sampler Card, credited to at least £10, and help yourself to wines that take your fancy. The Sampler also organises themed tastings; recent examples include wine and chocolate (£25) and Bordeaux 1996 (£75). Sampler Cards can be used as gift vouchers, as well as for sampling. There is now a branch in South Kensington as well as the original branch in Upper Street, Islington.

Lunch at Le Gavroche
You might have seen Michel Roux Junior on television (recently on MasterChef: The Professionals) and this is his restaurant – one of London’s finest. This is classic French, but with a light, contemporary touch. Dining here is the culinary equivalent to a ride in a Bentley – sleek, smooth and impeccably luxurious, yet if you can get down to Mayfair for their set lunch, for £48 you can enjoy three courses with half a bottle of wine, mineral water and coffee. Note: you need to book a few weeks in advance.

The Oxford Companion to Food by Alan Davidson
From aardvark to zuppa inglese, this makes for extremely enjoyable, informative reading, either looking up specific entries or randomly dipping into. It is beautifully written, witty and highly authoritative. Alan Davidson’s books on seafood are also well worth seeking out as, like this book, they are absolutely classic reference works.
£40 Oxford Companions

The World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson
Wine is all about geography and climate, so maps are central to understanding this complex subject. This comprehensive book is updated every few years and, along with the Oxford Companion to Wine (see below), is considered the benchmark work on the subject. It is a beautiful book and would appeal to anyone who loves travelling, eating and drinking.
£40 Mitchell Beazley

Oxford Companion to Wine
This encyclopedia, like the World Atlas of Wine, is regularly kept up to date and could not be more highly regarded. It is compiled by Jancis Robinson (co-author of the Atlas) who draws on her own considerable expertise and from a broad international team of specialists. Used together, these two books will comprehensively cover this enormous subject.
£40 Oxford Companions

How to Drink by Victoria Moore
For a more practical treatment of the subject of what we drink – wines, beers and spirits, cocktails, soft drinks, hot drinks, smoothies, juices – this excellent book by the Guardian’s wine columnist encourages you to get the most out of every sip or gulp. It’s an entertaining and informative read and should inspire you, whatever the season, weather or occasion.
£15.99 Granta