JOANNA'S FOOD: family cooking, from scratch, every day

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Seafood party dish served at inaugural lunch

How about this? The complete menu, with recipes, for yesterday's inaugural lunch. I'm slightly appalled at the "winter vegetables" selection - asparagus, carrots, baby Brussels sprouts, wax beans - half of which probably had jet lag. But this seafood starter sounds like a good dish to make ahead when you're having a dinner party. (Although I suspect some of the seafood will need substituting for better sustainability.)

Seafood Stew

for 10 servings

6 (1 Lb) Maine lobsters
20 medium size Sea scallops
36 large shrimp, peel, cleaned and tail removed, approx. 2 lbs.
10 (1 oz) pieces of black cod
½ cup small dice carrots
½ cup small dice celery
½ cup small dice leek
½ cup small dice Idaho potato
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground white pepper or black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 quart heavy cream
1 cup dry vermouth (can be made without)
10 (5 inch) puff pastry rounds


10 (3 ½ inch) terrines/ramekins or serving dish of your choice


1. Bring 1 gallon of water to a boil; poach lobsters, then shrimp, then black cod and last scallops. After seafood is cooked, remove from water; reserve water and bring to boil.
2. Cook all vegetables in liquid that was used for the seafood, remove vegetables when tender. Allow the liquid to continue to boil until only 1qt of liquid remains. This will be the base for the sauce.
3. Bring seafood liquid back to a boil and add the vermouth and heavy cream and reduce by half,
season with salt, white pepper and nutmeg to taste. You have reached your desired thickness when the sauce will cover the back of a wooden spoon. Set aside to cool.
4. Cut Maine lobster, shrimp and scallops into bite size pieces.
5. Pre-heat oven at 400 degrees.
6. Fold seafood and vegetables into cool sauce, being careful not to mix too much as this will break up the seafood. Scoop mixture into terrines or ovenproof baking dish of your choice.
7. Cover terrines with puff pastry rounds, brush them with egg wash and bake them until golden
brown about 8-10 minutes, allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving. You can cook this 2-3 hours ahead of time and keep warm at 150 F degrees.

*All seafood can be substituted with other favourite options of your choice and availability.

Here's the link to the whole inaugural meal, with recipes - there's a rather good cherry chutney for duck breasts, and a lovely recipe for cooking sweet potato with molasses. Thanks to Lifehacker for showing me the way in the first place.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Anchovy sauce for broccoli

This is seriously good, seriously unphotogenic, a wonderful winter alternative to salsa verde. We've eaten it every night this week.

It's particularly good with broccoli, goes well with roast lamb, with lentils. If you make a stiff mix with only a little olive oil, then you can use it to spread on toast (a sort of homemade Gentleman's Relish without the butter). If you make it with plenty of olive oil, then you can use it as a salad dressing for bitter winter leaves. It's also good as a dip with carrot and celery sticks.

For years I've bought Waitrose own-brand anchovies in little tins which come in a black cardboard box. Last summer there was a supply problem, so I began to buy Connétable - lovely silvery fish with a much milder flavour.

This recipe is enough for two or three evenings - it keeps for ages in the fridge, although you may want to stir in a little more oil second/third time round. The very last scrapings from the bowl are good added to gravy or a stew.

Anchovy sauce

5-6 cloves of garlic, peeled
a tin of anchovies
a splash of red wine vinegar
olive oil

Put the garlic and fish into a food processor - I use my Magimix, but a mortar would do. When they're smooth, add the vinegar, blitz, and then add olive oil glug by glug until you get the consistency you're after.

Spoon the warm-ish sauce over broccoli as soon as it's drained and serve hot.

Inspiration for this came from Fergus Henderson of St John.

This time last year, I was blogging about Lady Westmoreland's Soup - possibly the most frugal soup in the world. See what you think!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Egg and bacon tart

I made a classic bacon and egg tart at the weekend (aka quiche lorraine, but I'm English). Utterly delicious, but the pastry - well, it wasn't as good as it could or should have been, and I need some help, as this has always been a weak area in my cooking.

The problem was that I was afraid of putting in too much water (which causes shrinkage), so I think I didn't put in enough, and so it didn't come together into a smooth paste, but was a sandy mess that had to be pressed into the tin. It was short and delicious, but only held together because I coated it with egg white after blind baking - essential for a custard tart, but I used the whites of two eggs rather than one.

Does anyone have a foolproof method for making shortcrust pastry? Or some tips? I'd be really grateful.

In the meantime, here's the recipe for the egg and bacon filling .... the simplest ingredients creating more than the sum of their parts. Not sure why we always give the French credit for this, because it's a classic of English cookery too. (Although Elizabeth Ayrton says in The Cookery of England that the 18th century English version had a pastry covering. Too rich, I think, for modern tastes.)

for a 23cm / 9" tin

6 rashers of smoked bacon
300ml double cream
2 eggs and two yolks
mace is the traditional flavouring, but I don't have any

Cut and gently fry the bacon - it's important to use smoked bacon, even if you normally buy unsmoked (which we do), otherwise the tart will taste insipid. Don't overcook it, you want soft pieces, not crisp ones. Spread over the bottom of the cooked pastry case (which, when ready, should have been brushed with egg white and given a further minute or two in the oven). Whisk the cream, eggs and yolks, pepper, and pour over the bacon.

Bake at 200C for 15-20 minutes, then, when it's brown but not burnt, turn the heat down to 160C for 10-15 minutes. Leave it to rest for five minutes before serving.

Related links

Two ways to make pastry without using butter - which I find much easier, as well as lighter eating
Shaken hot water pastry
Olive oil pastry

Friday, January 09, 2009

In praise of stock

Not sure why making stock is such a problem for so many people. It takes moments of your time, and makes everything taste better. So much better, that I got one of my children to eat lentil soup AND ENJOY IT.

There's no doubt that making stock satisfies my inner 40s housewife: when there's no stock in the fridge, I arrange the shopping and eating so that I can make some straightaway. I never freeze it: if there's a glut, then we eat risotto or soup, the two biggest consumers of stock.

Recently, I've been making Fergus Henderson's highly flavoured "trotter gear", a stock made of pork, garlic and wine, very good and cheap to make. But my mainstay is chicken stock, made with the carcass of a roasted chicken, although I sometimes use raw chicken wings. Either way, I use a lot of vegetables, and lots of different ones to give a depth of flavour: peppercorns, herbs from the garden, mushroom stalks - whatever there is.

There's no real recipe - you need to make it a few times to feel your way to the stock you like. But here are some of the things I wish I'd known when I first started to make stock, three decades ago.

  1. Put in plenty of halved onions, but don't peel them - the skins will colour the stock
  2. Use stalks and peelings - my stockpot generally contains parsley and mushroom stalks, carrot peelings, celery leaves. DON'T put in potato in any form, as the starch will cloud the stock
  3. Use loads of vegetables - three or four onions, three or four carrots. Their flavour will shine through, saving you time later when you're making soup or risotto
  4. Put in a handful of whole peppercorns, they add depth of flavour without heat. I'm currently using a mixture of pink, white and black peppercorns.
  5. DON'T put in anything with a very strong flavour, unless you need it in the dish you will make with the stock - I'm thinking of cabbage, cloves, chilli
  6. Don't cover the carcass with water - the stock is always better, always more like to jell if the water comes 2/3rd of the way up.
  7. No need to boil it to death - a gentle simmer for no more than two hours gives you great flavour. Strain it when it's hot, and get it into the fridge as soon as you can. A conical sieve is the best tool here, but I used an ordinary colander for 25 years.
  8. If you've got no stock, use water instead

The more flavours you put into your stockpot, the more flavour there will be in your stock - the less flavour you need to put into your weekday cooking. Frugal food that makes your life easier. The lentil soup I made yesterday was cooked in very strong stock, and tasted of carrots and chicken. Utterly delicious, utterly unsuitable for a vegetarian. But there's a good link below if you'd like to make vegetarian stock.

Things I've made with stock in the past year or so ... apart from dozens of risottos, soups, gravies

Stuffed cabbage
Gravy - try this one with Delia's spiced orange chutney
Stewed broad beans
Braised lettuce
Chicken nosh
Rabbi Blue's meatballs
Braised mixed lentils
Poached barley with herbs

Links to stock on other blogs

How to make stock from chicken's feet
If you don't make your own stock, use water instead
How to make vegetable stocks

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How to stop mice and blackfly stealing your legumes

I have NO IDEA where these tips came from, they're just scribbled (in my writing) on a piece of scrap paper which has come to light in the great January tidy-up. Useful though, especially if they turn out to work.

1. To stop blackfly eating your broad beans in April, spray them with nicotine water, which you make by boiling loose tobacco in water. I suppose you could steal a couple of cigarettes off a passing smoker.

2. Soak your peas in paraffin for half an hour before planting. Anathema to mice, apparently.

No idea if these tips actually work, but now I can throw away the piece of paper, knowing that the information is still to hand (should I remember come spring).

The view from where I'm sitting

... a cup of lapsang souchong is on the way.

It takes a while to boil the kettle on the stove, so you have to start before you get thirsty. In the mean time, I'm tidying - and now that I've seen the picture, I'd better get cleaning, too - does anyone have any tricks for refreshing brick that don't involve paint?

I'm rather fond of this simple fireplace, it's in what was once the housekeeper's sitting room, built in 1918, when housekeepers were already rather thin on the ground. I do such housekeeping as goes on here (not much, not enough), so this now my study. We (or rather Lucius) installed the stove in November (also the lovely Delabole slate), and the room is now warm for the first time any of us can remember.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

A cold day - let's read some recipe books while the going's good

There's a deep frost here - the Mahonia has given up scenting the garden, which those yellow flower buds normally do pretty effectively in the weak winter sunshine. I'm planning to stay indoors as much as possible, and read Laurie Colwin's Home Cooking, a very ace Christmas present. And perhaps do a little more cooking from Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail. And trying not to get the cough which has been plaguing this house for a week or more.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Two families & their pasta

My boys are very keen on four-cheese pasta, just about the only ready-made food I still buy: tortelloni with a mixture of cheeses. Waitrose has sold an own-brand version for years, and that is what I've always bought them. Until this week, when it had vanished from the shelves, in its place a branded version made by Del'Ugo.

On the back of the unfamiliar new pack I found a letter from the owner of the business, Paul Ugo, about its history. And I realised that Paul's grandfather was the man my grandfather bought pasta from for three decades. Let me re-wind a little here.

My grandparents met in 1915 in Italy, both members of a Red Cross unit led by the historian GM Trevelyan which served the Italian armies fighting the vicious mountaineering war on the Isonzo front. My grandmother was a VAD nurse, my grandfather the unit administrator. Amongst other legacies of that terrible time, my grandparents were left with a lifelong love of Italy and Italian food (also the ability to talk in fast and fluent Italian when they didn't want us to know what they were saying).

Luigi Ugo arrived in London in 1921 aged 14, and began making fresh pasta by hand for restaurants. He opened a shop in Gerrard Street in 1929, which soon expanded so that he was able to import machinery from Italy to establish a small fresh pasta factory.

And so on Saturdays, my grandfather, on his way home from work at the British Museum, where he was Keeper of Incunabula, would walk to Soho to Luigi Ugo's shop to buy fresh pasta. When they moved to Oxford, they missed Luigi's shop - I remember them pining for it. Instead, they befriended the Italian proprietors of the Luna Caprese in North Parade - but that's another story of family connections, discovered at the school gate when my younger daughter was five years old.

PS the photograph shows my grandfather arriving at our wedding on the arm of my uncle, who is now about the same age as my grandfather was when the picture was taken

Friday, January 02, 2009

A New Yorker cartoon to cheer us all up

Just come back from the funeral of an old and dear family friend. Lots of people from my childhood were there, and the remnants of my parent's friends. I've chosen a cartoon at random from the New Yorker to cheer myself up ... not sure why it makes me laugh, but it does