Tuesday, July 12, 2011


The Gorgeous C gave me a copy of Ottolenghi's Plenty - a cornucopia of vegetarian fritters, salands, cymbal crashes of technicolour spices erupting luridly across the page and splashig happily onto this gastronomic troubaors palette.

Loved Ottolenghi the cookbook, and spent the beginning of the year pumping winning dish after winni9ng dish out of his pages and onto the plate. Some gripes about cooking times, especially for meats. But the spicing balance is excellent, original, and, occasionally, inspired. A dionysioan whilrwhind of turmeric, verdancy, and light.

I haven't cooked much from Plenty yet, but I did try a version of his paella dish, having had a half kilo of paella rice knocking about Hispanically in the back of the cupboard.

I can never find good paella, that exemplar dish that drives me to greater heights in attempts to suopersede or replicate it. Most of the paella I've had in Ireland tastes of rerheat. That damp and dank lack of care that lies like a vaguely bland blanket over badly cooked food.

You know the type. The keynotes are dampness, that slight edge or warmed up mildew, the notes of dulled down dumb tastes, the limp and limpid flavour notes. I've found nothing worth emulating. So, with paella, it's like cooking in the dark 9which, now I come to think of it, sounds like a lark. A flesh scorching electric hob based scarred for life kind of lark. But a lark).

Here's the recipe (adapted for my pantry). Pics to follow when I dump from the camera.

Olive oil. glugs.
1/2 Spanish Onion, diced finely.
1 red and 1 yellow pepper, sliced.
1/2 a fennel bulb, in strips (sadly lacking from our shelves)
2 crushed garlic cloves.
2 bay leaves.
1/4 tsp smoked paprika.
1/2 tsp ground turmeric.
1/4 tsp cayenne.
150g paella rice.
100ml medium sherry ( or, in the sherry impoverished environment of the casa K, sry white wine)
1 tsp saffron.
450ml boiling stock.
200g shelled broad beans (or, in our case, peas)
12 mini plum tomatoes, halved
5 smnall grilled artichokes (or, Lidl's finest for the economy chef)
15 halved olives (who can afford Kalamata in these hairshirt times)
parsley, roughly chopped.
lemon wedges to serve.

Gently fry the onion for five.
Add the fennel, if you have it, and the peppers, and fry on medium for 5.
Add the garlic, and fry for one.

Add the bay leaves, turmeric, paprika, and cayenne and stir well. Add the rice, and stir for 2 minutes, then in with the wine, and bring it to the boil.

Add the stock and two pinches of salt. Leave on a minimum heat and gentle simmer for 20 minutes, or until the liquid is mainly absorbed by the rice. Don't stir. You'll want to stir. I'll want to stir. Saint Augustine would want to stir. The Buddha would want to stir. Even though all stirring is suffering. But none of us should. Apparently. If we do, Thor gets to pull the wings off an angel or something.

If you are using the broad beans, pour boiling water over them, nd let them sit. Drain them, cool them, and pop them out of their skins. I used peas, which I just heated in hot water.

Remove the pan from the heat. Taste, and adjust seasoning. And, not really stirring much (I went for a gently patting type of affair, which was vaguely satisfying in the way of fuflfilling my stirring complusions - "I'm going to stir you good you dirty little minx...gah...." etc etc), add everything else except the parsley and lemon.

Cover it tightly with foil. Which will hurt. As frying pans get notoriously hot when used for the ourposes of frying. An tin foil doesn't provide quite the impermeable barrier innocent souls might trust in. They deflect surprisingly little radiation.

Leave for ten minuttes. Uncover, test for warmth, and serve, with a sprinkling of parsley. Exhort your eaters to lemon it enthusiastically - the lemon really stands out here.

I quite liked the dish, but, it did laclk some oomph. I would have chosen a better stock 9 I think a good veg or chicken stock would have given a great base note here) and the fennel was really missing - that sharp and aniseed freshness with the msllest or crunches would have done it the world of good. More salt - 2 pinches seems measly - and a touch of black pepper.

It was fresh, moreish, and wholesome. The peppers were well coooked, and the texture of the paella was interesting. The liquor was....ok. But the spicing was...well, I think I'll ramp up the measures.

All in all though, a keeper, andd set, with variations, to become a casa K theme.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Coq au vin

Unfotunatley no pics for this unexpected return to form post, but we'll plunge on regardless. Full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes.

The Gorgeous C and I cooked up a gnarly, mean, bitter and pugnacious old cockerel during the week, It's quite a thing to cook a thing you've killed. I'm not going to come over all Hugh Firmly Whippngboy about the whole affair, but it is a difficult thing to do.

We set about it seriously, thought it through, and tried to do it as quickly, humanely, and calmly as we could. That said, we killed him not beacause we had to, or needed to. We slaughtered him because he had become difficult to deal with, territorial, and, well, cocky.

And, having dispatched the feisty little cock, ( I almost used throttled there, careful, careful), it's different. I don't have the Huffingly Firmly Jumblestall cheerful solemnity about it. It wasn't sacred, or reverential, or cheerful. It was work. And grim work. And work with responsibility attatched. And work that needed to be done well.

Having plucked, gutted ( an unpleasant task, cutting the anus out of a creature, and inserting your hand inside it's still warm carcass - thanks the Gorgeous C) and stowed him in the fridge for three days, we settled on co au vin as a good way to use him up.

He was a three year old cockerel, free range, and likely to be as tough and stringy as Margaret Thatcher in the Kinnock years.

We looked up a You Barely Noticedatall coq au vin recipe, and follwed it, largely, to a t (minus the bacon)

The results were....terible. Abysmal. Unpalateable. The meat collapsed into juiceless dense nuggets of leather, unstrippable from the carcass. And unchewable. Terrible. Terrible.

I blame the 2.5 hour cooking time. My instincts told me it wouldn't be enough. But Huffers exhortations seduced me.

I salvaged the carcass and meat, stripped him by hand, and slow cooked what I salvaged at a gentle simmer over 6 hours - what I should have done to start with.

And he turned out wonderfully. An umami packed broth with nuggets of succulent leg meat that shredded happily in the mouth. That really deep down doing you good hit of healthful taste that earns the otherwise bland chicken broth it's place in the culinary hall of fame. So, here, for posterity, is my recipe.

For the broth base

A soffrito ( two stalk of celery, chopped, 2 smal onions diced fined, 2 carrots cubed) fried gently in butter and olive oil for 15 minutes. I added two fat and juicy cloves of garlic, crushed, and three fresh bay leaves, after five minutes, and a few pinches of salt.

After fifteen minutes, I ground out about 8 twists of black pepper, threw in the denuded and raw carcass of chicken, and all the scraps of meat I salveged from the carcass, and the bones. On top of that I poured 1 litre of vegetable stock, a half litre of dry white wine, and a healthy fist of bouquet garni, and set it on the stove, on the lowest heat I could, for 5 hours.

I fished out the carcass, added a little seasoning, to taste, and slurped him up with some buttered homemade bread.

A delicious death.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Pantry and Corkscrew, Westport, Co Mayo

Recently opened - circa two months ago - this narrow little gem sits just off the square in Westport, Co Mayo. We walked in off the street. Frankly, it just looked inviting, and the menu made all the right sounds. I ordered up a pork sausage casoulet, with apple and cider, topped with a thin strip of potato rosti, in place of that typical crucnhy bean topping so beloved by the French.

Absent from the dish were the beans, but the broth was delicately and sweetly flavoured with the owners own cider, a complex, earthy, sweet and layered taste. The sausages were from Newport, Kellys butchers, who have just won a prize from the Black Pudding Confraternity of Good Food Lovers in France - they took bronze for their black pudding.

The sausages were meaty, with that texture you get from low meal/crumb content, and quite subtly flavoured. An almost perfect match for the broth and cider. One quibble. The sausages were a little undersalted. And casoulet needs beans.

At 8.95, an absolute steal of a meal, and the best by a country mile that I had all holiday.

The Gorgeous C had a cheese salad - can't remember the cheese, but it was tangy and mature, salty, sweet, a fantastic product, with thinly cut slices of ripe fig, dressing and chutney, all of which married perfectly. Care had obviously been taken in designing the dish.

The chips were good, fluffly, hand cut, well cooked, but the homemade ketchup was marvellous. Notes of cinammon, coriander, and, frankly, I don't know what else. Superb.( though, again, in need of a little salt).

Frankly, a damned fine dining experience. Considering the place has been open only two months, when the menu is fine tuned, it's going to be great. Right now, with locally sourced and made ingredients, an artisan slant, good pricing, and thoughtful cooking, it's acomplished. It's a little jewel, well on it's way to being polished.

The Pantry and Corkscrew, Peter st, near the Octagon and Wyatts Hotel, Wesport, Co Mayo, tel: 09826977

View Larger Map

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Smoky Polenta Chips

Culled from the pages of last weekends Guardian, Ottolenghi's Polenta chips.

It's an actual good thing to do with that box of fast cook polenta we all have lurking amongst the skeletons in our larder. If, like me, you bought a box of the stuff in the vain and misguided illusion that the infernal goop was anything other than just about tolerable, and are at a complete loss with how to hoodwink your loved ones into polishing off the perfidious stuff, then this is the recipe. It's an actual good thing to do with the stuff.

And, it kinda mirrors Dhruvs cool fish and chip deconstruction on Masterchef.

Here's the skinny

375ml of vegetable stock

60g of fast cook polenta. None of that standing by the pot for two hours stirring a thick pot of corny goo with forearms as thick as intelligent design for me. No. Fast cook is the one.

60g of cheese. I used a smoked gubbeen, mixed with parmesan, grated, to good effect. Smoked cheese, smoky chips.

20g of butter.

Seasoning, to taste. I used salt, lack pepper, and a little pimenton ahumado - smoked paprika, which really picked out and underscored the smoky note with all sorts of interesting extra tastes.

Boil the stock. Add the polenta and stir. The polenta will spit like a trapped cat that hates you because you kick it. With boiling saliva. That glues stuff. By burning.

Spread the polenta out on a cling filmed tray, about 1.5 cm thick. I tried to trim and straighten all corners and edges, and I think it's worth the effort, bot in terms of presentation, and becuase it makes handling them easier.

Season, and mix in the butter and cheese, and leave to cool.
Then chill for 30 minutes

After 30 minutes of so, cut the polenta platter into chips - I went with a 1'5cm thickness, and breadth, and varying lengths. Next time, I'll form it better to get uniform length chips.

He recommends deep frying. Which I tried, and found frustrating and difficult - the chips broke up, or bound to one another, and were difficult to remove - the tongs was too indelicate a tool to use, and I may not have chilled my polenta enough. Also, deep frying, I think, would give that perfectly even colour and texture on all sides.

So I shallow fried, and here's what I'd recommend if you choose to do so too.

1.Do small batches - they reserve, drain and crisp up well in the oven while you wait.

2. In the pan, don't let them touch - it's easy for them to bind.

3. A good layer of oil, and a non stick, or really good cast iron pan are a must.

4. Don't flip them until the undersurface is nicely browned - they're fragile until the crust forms, and they leach liquid and make the oil spit if you break them. When the crust forms, it's much easier to flip them. On max heat, on a small ring, it was about 60-80 seconds.

5. I used a fork, and a thin bladed knife to gently flip them over. I found a tongs too rough.

6. Pain is a quick teacher. The first couple of oil spatters gave my flipping a fast learned speed.

I served it with a homemade ketchup, but I think next time I'll go with a mustard or garlic mayonnaise.

And it is a genuinely good recipe, that gives polenta a beautiful texture and taste. Wonderfully crunchy, with a nice quite soft and somewhat fluffy interior. Also, they don't seem to suck up tooo much oil....

It also strikes me that, as polenta is quite good at taking up other tastes, the variations on this theme are endless. There's lots of room for experimentation. Genuinely curried chips. Garlic, or maybe a chili and lemon version. Some duck fat mixed in, or pancetta fat with some herbs........

Ottolenghi's book looks cool (and from reports the restaurant is fantastic). It's on my to buy list. Interesting recipes - with the occasional one that does not quite seem to work, but stuffed with all sorts of savoury and sweet concoctions that are genuinely fantastic.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In search of cappucino perfection

La Boulangerie, on Dublins Chatham Row, off Grafton street, in the heart of the city. The service is good - imprecise, but with such warmth and welcome that the occasional wrong table can be easily forgiven. This is a nice space to spend time in.

Not because of the decor - marbletop tables, bentwood chairs, a little too close to one another, in a relatively charmless room, but with a full glass door wall looking onto the street.

Not because of the music, commfortibgly and familiarly bad as all French Pop really should be. It's bad in entirely the right and gallicly perfect way.
But because of the sevice. Quiet, friendly, a place that feels genuinely pleased to have you in it.
To the coffee. The presentation made me smile. A really nice touch that. The coffee itself. It's that milky style of cappucino, with none of the balancing bitter notes excellent cappucino needs. I didn't need suger - I normally take one for good coffee, two for bad, and three and a serving of self loathing for the IFI stuff. This needed none. Just a long, milky bland dairy sweetness, with a hit of cocoa, but nothing oif he dark and beautiful bitter heart good cappucino needs.
I'll be coming back, but not for the coffee.