I’m gonna eat that damn Axis of Evil!
Lola and I had lunch at Kumquat Mae (which I only just realised is a very bad pun, on a par with most hairdressers names), the Veggie restaurant on Abbeydale Road. I’d wanted to go there for the last couple of years, but somehow never made it until now. I wish I’d visited earlier.
I wasn’t going to have a starter, but ordered a bruschetta anyway, as I thought Lola might fancy something bready to fill her up. It was rather soggy with tomato juice, but none the worse for it. One slice of very nutty bread, griddled and dipped in olive oil, covered in tapenade and then heaped with loads and loads of chopped tomato. Alongside was a salad of lettuce and loads more tomato. It all tasted scrummy and really fresh.
For the main course, I had stuffed aubergine. A veggie staple-type food, which could easily have been really boring, but in this case was loaded with flavour. The stuffing was a ratatouille-type mix of meditteranean vegetables, but with sultanas and some nutty bits (I think ground nuts plus almond slices) in it, and tasty as hell (I’m not normally a big fan of ratatouille). It came with courgettes, new potatoes, carrots (cooked to perfection), green beans and salad of lettuce, tomato and olives. Lola nicked all of my green beans, and had a fair few potatoes and bits of aubergine as well.
I wasn’t going to have a dessert but… my willpower is so non-existent. Plum and pear crumble it was then, with cream. The crumble topping was very sweet, but none the worse for it. Absolute 110% comfort food, Lola and I ended up fighting over the last pieces. Gorgeous.
I had a complementary glass of white wine to go with the meal. It turned out that (I think) the guy who gave me the wine made it himself. It was gorgeous stuff… I don’t know what to compare it to, because I’m not an expert and it was fairly unlike most other wine’s I’d tried, but I asked him for more details and he said it was “just a basic vin de table” and then reeled of a list of grapes, before going into a rant about Gallo wines and the fact that they were riddled with chemicals and Gallo were a bunch of money grabbing bastards, something like that. I asked him if I could get some of the wine, and he took my phone number, told me it’d probably be the end of January. So I look forward to it.
Since diagnosing my Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and tracking down the causes, I’ve had to seriously rethink breakfast. For most of my life, this has consisted of either a bowl or five of cereal, or a slice or five of toast. Which probably has a lot to do with why I got IBS in the first place. So now that I know that wheat is the ultimate killer, and other cereals aren’t a great deal better, I’ve been forced to think about alternatives.
Initially I would drink fruit smoothies – bung a banana in the liquidiser with whatever fruit I could muster up, maybe a bit of yoghurt or soya milk, anything else I felt like putting in. And more recently, just a simple fruit salad, perhaps with some dates or dried apricots added, a dollop of yoghurt (preferably sheep’s) and some mint leaves. But with the coming of winter, I’ve got a little bored of that too (especially all that chopping).
Now that I’m eating meat, bacon and eggs is an option, although I usually only have it when I’m out – something about the cooking smells makes me feel queasy first thing in the morning (and for most of the rest of the day, as the extractor fan in our kitchen isn’t working). But mostly at the moment I’m eating apple. I’ve got Nigel Slater’s Real Fast Food and it has some wonderful, very quick apple recipes. Pan fried apple and cheese salad – fry some apple slices and walnuts in butter, tip them on top of a few salad leaves, crumble some cheese (cheshire or somesuch) on top, then deglaze the pan with lemon juice to make a dressing. Apple with orange sauce – zest and juice an orange, fry some apple slices in butter, remove the apple and cook a little brown sugar in the butter until it melts, then add the orange zest, juice and some cream. Cook until it bubbles then pour over the apples. Steamed apples with butter sauce – boil some apple juice (actually, I’ve been using cranberry) and steam apple halves over it for a few minutes, then whisk some butter into the juice to make a sauce.
Something I’m also getting into is soup – I’ve always considered it too boring and/or unfilling, except when I actually eat the stuff and I realise for a short while how long I’ve always been, then I forget again and avoid it like the plague. Apart from the fact that it’s bloody handy for using up whatever’s in the fridge, and it’s a fairly safe way of being inventive with food, it’s nice coming up with new combinations and trying things out. So recently we’ve had a green vegetable soup courtesy of Marlene Spieler (again) and an artichoke heart soup (ditto), and I’ve also been touring the local cafés sampling what they have to offer (it’s filling, cheap, and again interesting to see what variety is out there). Vittles’ mushroom soup was excellent, if a little bit salty. Hercule’s leek and potato wasn’t quite so good, and also rather salty. I’ve just been checking my recipe books for weird and wonderful soup recipes, I have millions, and of course there’s always the Soup Lady. I see an interesting future in soups.
…I now have a large vat of very tasty smelling duck stock. Lots of soups in the days to come… anyone got any suggestions? For lunch today I think I’ll have a Swiss (Schwyz)-style rice and chestnut soup (OK, it’s supposed to be beef stock, but waddya think I am, a fucking masochist?)
Speaking of beef, I tried a bit of steak last week. It was actually OK, nothing like the beef, though still not great as meat goes, a bit stringy. At the same meal, I had black pudding and apples – not a spot on the ones Mark had at South, and not a spot on the ones I’m gonna cook as soon as I get hold of some black pudding – and I had duck with winter vegetables: the duck was a bit tough, again not a spot on the one I cooked, but the veggies must have been ultra-fresh because I have never tasted such flavoursome and perfectly-steamed broccoli, carrot, cauliflower, turnip and brussels-sprout. The carrot had a flavour of brazil nut, gorgeous.
Ha! That got your attention, didn’t it. Well, I guess it’s not 100% true yet, but I am become increasingly keen on it. Meat that’s properly cooked, that is (it’s not hard to get right, but on the other hand it’s very easy to get wrong).
Yesterday I cooked my first ever bit of meaty meat – some lamb’s liver. I fried it in butter for a couple of minutes either side, which I reckon would have been perfect (I was guessing completely), but I was a little worried that it might still be raw in the middle, so I chucked it in the pan for a little longer. I shouldn’t have. It wasn’t too bad, still had a tinge of pink to the centre, but I reckon if I’d taken it out when my intuition told me to then I’d have been pretty much spot on. Deglazed the pan with a swirl of red wine and used that for the sauce. Ate it pretty much on its own, just a little salad in a side-bowl. I haven’t eaten liver since I was five or six – I remember it being my favourite meat, even though everyone else I know seemed to hate it. One bite and that old familiar musty blood/iron taste came back to me. A bit overpowering at first, but after a night of ruminating on it I started to love it again, in my mind at least. Gill won’t touch the stuff though.
Today I roasted a duck. A whole gressingham duck. First bird I have ever cooked in my life. I was very nervous, as I hadn’t a clue where to start, but I delved into a couple of recipe books, delved about online, and pieced together what seemed to be the best duck-cooking tips I could find. Chief among these was Nigella’s, to boil the duck first. So this morning I stuck the duck in our biggest Le Creuset casserole dish along with a load of boiling salted water. simmered it, covered, for half-an-hour. Then I lifted it out carefully (with a cradle of wooden spoons), wrapped it in a tea-towel to dry it off, and cooled it for the rest of the day (rather than stick it in the rather full fridge, I just carried it upstairs where, due to the ongoing building work, the heating’s been off for yonks and it’s barely above zero. I also put it near the de-humidifier, in the hope that it would suck out a little more moisture, something which I gather helps make the skin come out crispy.
I then started on the sauce – Delia Smith’s Confit of Cranberries. A gorgeous cranberry/orange smell permeated the house for the rest of the day.
This evening, I whacked the fan oven on at 220°C, gave it a chance to get fully up to heat, and put the dried duck (sprinkled with Maldon salt) in on a big tray, and started parboiling some potatoes. After 10 minutes I stuck them in with the duck. Another 40 minutes and the lot was done. I know I should have rested the duck for 20 minutes or so after taking it out of the oven, but I couldn’t be arsed. I started carving bits off it (something I cannot do to save my life) and tucked in. It was awesome, perfect – if I do say so myself (actually, Gill said it before me). The only time I’ve eaten better duck was when Guy had some Chinese crispy duck at Zen . The flesh was tender, not in the least dry (though a hint more pink would have been nice), and the skin was as crispy as anything that comes out of a Golden Wonder packet. Ate it with the potatoes and confit, plus some steamed brocolli and cabbage and a glass of red organic Rioja. And now, a couple of hours later, I’ve got that lovely warm ducky taste in my mouth that tells me that was a really good meal.
OK, so that Atkins malarkey lasted even shorter than I’d expected. I mainly bowed to social pressure – phoned Mark up and he said he refused to talk to me if I came to London and wouldn’t eat potatoes dauphinoise. Fair ’nuff. Also, I was feeling shit, carbohyrate-shortage headache was coming on, and I was too weak to push Lola up the hill in her pushchair. OK, next stop paleolithic diet. Another one that makes kinda sense.
This isn’t going to work. I can’t stand meat.
OK, let me clarify. I quite like thin pig-like meat – I’ve had bacon, prosciuttio-like wild boar, and salami, and I find all of those quite palatable. Pork chops, on the other hand, just make me think of pig fat. Anything made of cow tastes absolutely disgusting. The Venison I had at Juniper was good, but those sausages left my mouth cloyed with grease all night and I couldn’t contemplate anything similar again. The thought of chicken makes me retch, partly because of the tray-load of chickens that Greta burnt in our house earlier this year, the smell of burnt chicken fat is almost as strong in my mind as the piggy version, partly because chicken seems less meat and more mass-produced factory product. Other poultry I could probably handle quite well – the pheasants we had last Christmas weren’t bad, and I’m quite tempted to try goose and quail. Lamb I imagine is quite nice, but again a bit too meaty (=brown) for me and reminds me of picking strands of mutton from between my teeth when I was about three years old.
I think I’m gonna have tofu stir-fry for dinner. Breakfast was a big salad with feta cheese and soft-boiled egg. Think I need to get some salami and some nice ham.
So, I said I was going to write about the Atkins diet, so I will. Y’see, Gill’s back on it and, as I can’t beat ’em… yeah, me too. Today at least. We’ll see. I need to lose a couple of hundredweight before Christmas.
Anyway, before I tell you about that, here’s what I made for our last pre-Atkins feast…
Continue reading Atkins and Mango Lime Tart Stuff
It’s been a long time since I got carried away with cooking, as regular readers may have noticed. There have been many reasons for this – I go through cycles of enthusiasm for cooking anyway, and for the last couple of months Gill’s been on an Atkins diet, something I’ve been meaning to blog about but never got around to. And I don’t know how to cook anything Atkinsish, other than fish, which we both got sick of within about a week of her starting the diet.
Anyway, she decided to come off the diet today (but go on a low fat one from tomorrow… another cooking opportunity foiled), and I’m trying to work out what I’m going to cook for the family when we’re all in Wales this Christmas. So I returned to The Vegetarian Bistro (recently, as I’ve tired of all my other recipe books, I’ve only grown more and more enamoured of this one) for inspiration.
So tonight, for one night only, we have… hmm, perhaps I ought to give them their proper French names, just like the Queen did when she wanted to piss off George W… OK, so firstly, Gratin de pommes de terre Côte d’Azur avec fromage de brebis. Take some potatoes, boil them whole for 15 minutes (I love potatoes boiled whole – they come out with such a nice texture compared to chopped water-logged ones) then rinse with cold water and allow them to cool off. Meanwhile, saute some onions until just browning, then add some minced garlic. Slip the skins off the potatoes and slice into 5mm rounds. Put a couple of layers of these on the bottom of a casserole dish, then spread some of the onion on top, then some chopped tomato, herbes de provence, sugar, salt and pepper. And repeat a couple of times. Finish up with potatoes, then top with some more tomatoes mixed with saffron. Pop the cover on and stick them into the oven for half-an-hour. Take them out and grate some cheese on top – the recipe says pecorino or another old sheep or goat’s cheese, but we made do with something Swiss and Emmental-like. Cook uncovered for another 15 minutes. The saffron gives everything a lovely warm flavour, pure comfort food.
And to go with it… Broccoli au sauce roquefort. First toast some cashew nuts in a little butter, until they have brown flecks on them. Put them to one side and saute minced shallots in oodles of butter, for about five minutes, then add garlic for a few seconds, then tip in some white wine. Boil rapidly for a few minutes until the wine reduces, then season with nutmeg, pepper and cayenne. Add crème fraîche and heat until it boils, then set aside. Steam some broccoli until it’s just done, then re-heat the sauce and crumble in some roquefort (well, we made do with dolcelatte, they don’t sell roquefort in the shop near us). Squeeze in a bit of lemon juice, then spoon some sauce onto plates, put the broccoli on top, and sprinkle with cashews.
And that’s what we had for tea. I could really get into this cooking lark again.
Mmmm…. just cooked a scrummy crusty Persian Pilaf for lunch, courtesy of Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian.
There are a few such pilafs in the book, and I’ve been eyeing them for a while but put off by their seeming complexity. But this morning I just went for it and… it wasn’t so bad. Basically, you just need to almost cook some basmati rice, then a layer of this goes in a large non-stick pan on top of some melted butter and water. Build a layer-cake of rice and whatever else you’re putting in the pilaf (in my case this was green lentils and sultanas), finishing with rice. Cover the pan tightly, cook for four minutes on medium-low heat, turn the heat to medium-high for four minutes, then take the lid off, pour a pre-infused mixture of melted butter, boiled water and saffron over the top of the rice, put the lid back on but this time with a tea-towel underneath it (mind you tuck those ends up… don’t want to go starting any fires!), turn the heat way down low and cook for another half-an-hour.
When it’s all done you need to get it out upside down – the graceful way would be to cover the pan with a plate and then invert it, but if you’re like me you’ll probably just end up digging out chunks – what you end up with is a kind of ricey gratin, nice casseroley bit underneath and gorgeous golden-brown crust of rice on top. A crust like that is worth killing for! I was surprised that mine came out looking absolutely perfect, even though I was a bit lax in following Madhur’s instructions, and was all out of butter so I had to use Olivio instead (yeah, lost a bit in flavour there, no doubt). And finally in the case of the particular recipe I was following, you sprinkle some crispy onions and butter-fried dates on top. Oh, and then don’t forget to eat it.