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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Food books of the decade?

The Guardian has made a list of the best food books of the decade. Interesting overview, and, of course, there's always room for a few more decent cookery books (especially if I cull some of the second-rate ones).

Some are staples here ... Fergus Henderson's Nose to Tail Eating; Michael Pollan's two food books, In Defence of Food and The Ominivore's Dilemma; Elisabeth Luard. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's Meat is much consulted here, although I'm not so keen on Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. Like Jay Rayner (never thought I'd write that!), I'm more likely to read Moro than cook from it, and wouldn't ever bother with Heston Blumenthal's cookery books, because foam is not my thing (although I like dipping into Harold McGee, who might have started the trend for techno-cooking, or whatever it's really called).

There are a few I own, but which I haven't properly used for one reason or another. These deserve another chance: Culinary Pleasures by Nicola Humble; Salt A World History by Mark Kurlansky; The Taste of Britain, by Laura Mason and Catherine Brown.

These are the books from the list that I don't have that may be hard to resist:

  • British Regional Food by Mark Hix
  • Trifle by Helen Sabiri and Alan Davidson
  • Forgotten Skills of Cooking by Darina Allen
  • Food in Early Modern England by Joan Thirsk, recommended by Tom Jaine, which makes it doubly alluring
  • The Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook by Fuschia Dunlop

PS just ordered three from Amazon; two of them were cheaper than the postage, which I find irresistible, no wonder my house is so cluttered

Friday, December 25, 2009

Happy Christmas

We've been snowed in for most of the week, so Christmas has taken us a little by surprise ... not many decorations, not much shopping. But all the family is here, there's plenty of good homemade food, and we've had time to enjoy doing not very much. A six-foot igloo was built, and then collapsed in the night in a rainstorm before anyone had a chance to take a photograph. Lots of laughter. Happy days.

So ... a very happy and peaceful Christmas to you. xx Joanna

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and lemon

We're snowed in here, so it's been a day of quiet pleasures: a walk round the wood, a little photography, some bird watching, a game of croquet in the snow, and Horatio is building an igloo which he plans to sleep in (shades of his father, for those with long memories). I had time to make a complex three-stage recipe, which in the ordinary way I wouldn't have bothered with: the most delicious brussels sprouts with caramelised garlic and crystalised lemon peel. So good that they'll be made here again and again.

Actually, this is a recipe you can make ahead: two of the three stages could easily be made the day before. And if you don't like brussels sprouts, you could leave them out and just have the caramelised garlic.

The unusual combination of flavours is the brainchild of Yotam Ottolenghi, and his recipe appeared in the Guardian on Saturday.

Best-ever brussels sprouts

4 heads garlic, cloves separated and peeled
olive oil
balsamic vinegar
caster sugar
1 lemon
600g sprouts (I used around 400g)
1 chilli, finely chopped (or a little chilli jam)

Put the garlic cloves in a pan of water and blanch for three minutes. Drain. Fry the garlic in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil; put them on a high heat and keep turning them until they are golden. Then put in a few drops of balsamic vinegar, a tablespoon of sugar, 90ml water and a pinch of salt. Simmer until there's virtually no liquid left (about five minutes).

Make julienne strips from the lemon peel (you can either use a potato peeler plus knife, or, if you've got it, one of those hole-y implements that make fine strips of zest). Put them in a small pan with a tablespoon of sugar, and the lemon juice made up to 100ml with a little water. Cook until the syrup is reduced to almost nothing (about 15 minutes).

Trim and halve the sprouts. Fry them in olive oil (in batches) at a high heat for about five minutes. Don't stir them more than once or twice, otherwise they won't char.

Stir everything together in a bowl (Ottolenghi specifies a chopped chilli, but I didn't have such a thing, so stirred in a couple of teaspoons of chilli jam). You may need to add more oil. Eat hot, or at room temperature.

PS Ottolenghi strew his dish with shaved parmesan and basil leaves, but I didn't; we don't have out-of-season basil leaves at this time of year, and the parmesan seemed to me to be over-egging the pudding. Unbelievably good without.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Lemon pots

My sister brought Meyer lemons from her garden in California. It's impossible to buy a Meyer* lemon here, so it was a wonderful gift - they have a scented taste quite unlike other lemons. So, something special. But my sister's only here for a few days, and I don't want to spend them chained to the stove.

These little citrus pots take moments, although you'd never guess. They're rich, so tiny quantities - a shot glass would work well, if you don't have ramekins (which, in truth, are too big; I half-fill mine). Perfect. So there was time for a walk by the river in the snow, even though we were nine for dinner.

Lemon pots

75g sugar
300ml double cream
one lemon

In an ordinary saucepan, melt the sugar in the double cream. Add the juice of a lemon and pour into tiny pots or shot glasses. Put them in the fridge, and by the time the cream is cold, it will have set. I generally use the zest, too, because I value the sharp taste over a truly smooth appearance.

* Just before my sister arrived, David Lebovitz, who used to be Alice Waters' pastry chef at Chez Panisse, posted interestingly about Meyer lemons, with a recipe for lemon curd

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Feeding of 5k in Trafalgar Square

Lunch was an elegant protest in a flurry of snow in Trafalgar Square. Delicious fruit smoothies, vegetable curry, all the fruit you could find. Supermarket waste. And all of it would otherwise have ended up in landfill. Not even composted.

This lovely fruit made thousands of smoothies, full of goodness. Why don't supermarkets TRY selling less-than-perfect fruit, and see what happens? Why don't they give the rest to homeless charities. And COMPOST whatever's left.

They couldn't give these grapes away fast enough. No stalks, so no good to the supermarket, apparently. Daft world: I spent a few minutes earlier in the week taking grapes off their stalks to put in a sauce. But even if they don't want to sell them, they should at least PUT THEM IN THE COMPOST.

Then on to Heywood Hill to pick up a book they'd found for me; and a walk round Shepherd Market. Heywood Hill really is the most life-enhancing shop, laid out a little like a library in a private house, and full of well-chosen books, both old and new. Always lots you want to browse, some you want to buy. Nancy Mitford used to work there; now there's a helpful young man called Ben, and a bevy of girls in the room at the back.

And home, to find the house looks like this:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Plums in muscovado

Breakfast this morning: yoghurt with stewed plums. Bliss. The plums were slightly past their best, but fully revived with a little muscovado sugar. So much flavour there's no need for spice. 20 minutes, covered, in a moderate oven.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Fooproof Yorkshire pudding

I've never been very good at making Yorkshire pudding. Years of cooking on an Aga meant that by the time the meat was perfectly roasted, there wasn't enough heat left for the puds. Years of pudding failure = deep-seated belief that my Yorkshires would always be a flat soggy mess.

But now, I have a foolproof recipe. I first came across it when I was cooking on the Miele stand at the BBC food show; we made the batter into toad-in-the-hole. Yesterday, I made a huge ballooning effortless Yorkshire. Eggs. The secret is eggs. Lots of them. Not quite Mrs Beeton ("take 2 dozen eggs"), but I reckon this method uses at least twice the usual amount of eggs, so of course it's not going to remain pancake-flat.

I've just spent a merry morning looking up recipes for Yorkshire pudding; Hannah Glasse, Jane Grigson, Elizabeth David, Mrs Ruffell, Michael Smith ... they're all more or less agreed on two eggs to half a pint of milk and enough flour for a pouring cream consistency. But here's an interesting thing: Yorkshire pudding is merely a parsimoniously thin version of batter pudding, one of the earliest dishes in English cookery - think thick Yorkshire pudding. Truth to tell, this would be a batter pudding if you chose too small a tin.

I got a lot of complaints last night about serving this with lamb. I think it's a shame to forego something so deliciously eggy for the sake of a tradition which is almost certainly invented. Next time we'll have it with roast chicken.

This is Jane Grigson's tip about what to do if there's any left:

On roast-beef Sundays, my mother's father, who had reached heights of power and respectability in the Bank of England, forgot what was due to his position and remembered the ways of the Northumbrian farm at Old Bewick which his family had come from. The roast beef went back to the kitchen after the main course, but the Yorkshire pudding remained to be finished up with sweetened condensed milk. I do not know how my grandmother took this - she prided herself on her desserts - but my mother shared his delight in the crisp and sticky pudding. When she had a home of her own, and a family, she passed his taste on to us who only remembered him, in spats and spectacles and pin-striped trousers, from old photographs.

Foolproof Yorkshire pudding

equal quantities by volume* of:

plain flour

Mix the flour into the eggs; when there are no lumps, slowly mix in the milk. Season: you'll definitely need salt; you could add chopped herbs. Let stand for half an hour.

Heat fat in a roasting tin, pour in the batter, and roast for 20 minutes in a very hot oven (200C).

* last night I used four eggs which came to the 200ml mark in a jug (that volume of flour weighed around 100g). The tin I used measured 25cm x 35cm, and the result was a crisp and thin Yorkshire; a smaller pan would give you batter pudding with these quantities.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Tasty fat-free mushrooms

Mushrooms, like aubergines, soak up oil if you give them the chance. Here's a way of locking in taste without using any fat at all.

Put equal quantities of wine* and stock** in the pan - just enough to stop your mushroom slices burning. Add a few drops of Worcester sauce, or soy sauce, or balsamic vinegar. Put the pan on a medium heat. Watch and stir. The mushrooms will exude their juices after a few minutes; turn up the heat and boil off all the liquid. Watch them carefully; they are ready when the last of the liquid evaporates. Delicious.

* red or white is fine; I sometimes use Marsala, which gives a strong flavour to the mushrooms (not great at breakfast)

** I've always got stock in the fridge, either chicken stock, or Fergus Henderson's fabulous trotter gear. If you don't go in for this sort of thing, just use bouillon

Related links

Foolproof recipe for fuss-free chicken stock
Jellied pork stock - easy to make, keeps for months in the fridge, adds depth to everything it touches

Sticky spare ribs

Fabulous sticky ribs last night. Easy, you just need a bit of time. As it was a last-minute decision, I didn't marinade the meat, and it didn't seem to make any difference. We made proper pigs of ourselves.

Sticky ribs
for 4-5

1.5kg pork ribs

6 tbsp redcurrant jelly (or whatever jelly is to hand)
2 tbsp honey
2 finely chopped cloves garlic
1 knob of grated ginger
2 tbsp soy sauce
chilli jam to taste (I used a tsp or so of a v hot mix)

Stir up the marinade ingredients, then coat the meat. Put everything in a roasting tin. Leave for an hour or the whole day if time allows.

Cover the tin with foil and roast at 170C for 45 minutes. Take the tin out, turn the meat over, turn the oven up to 190C, and roast uncovered for 45 minutes. Baste once or twice if possible. When they're done, switch off the oven and leave them for 5-10 minutes, otherwise they'll be too hot to handle.