Wednesday, December 05, 2007

In search of perfection.

Ish.

Thinking more and more about the theory and thought behind how I cook.

This perfection thing is tricky. Thinking about the difference between a good commercial kitchen, and a talented home chef is perhaps useful.

Lets put aside the more obvious things. Dedicated staff, equipment. Budget. Prep chefs. These are all limitations that the home chef has to overcome.

Repetition. I'm guessing a starter chef in a busy restaurant will cook up, say, Moules marinieres more times in two services than an average home chef will in a year.

Repetition, and the necessity for consistency, several hundred times over. The same, dish, exactly each time. Physical memory I guess. And that precise knowledge of how exactly everything should be. Prep mapped down to seconds to act in concert with several other stations working to plate simultaneously. Everything has to be exactly just so. A chef standing at the pass whose job is to throw anything not exactly just so back to your station. Night after night after night.

Just being in a place where people are repeating the same dish, and finishing to a high level, over and over. Their repetition imprints on you, if you have time to watch. After three hundred times watching, and a couple of smart questions, you can probably plate something similar yourself.

Cooking in a team, with shared expertise. Even a small kitchen has a pastry and dessert chef, a prep chef, and often people with particular expertise. One cook makes up the bread every day. Another specialises in seafood. One more has a background in French or Spanish cooking. Another has experience with butchering meat. The kitchen is a walking, talking, sweating swearing, collective Larousse. And someone, somewhere will have the answer to your question. In every honest cookbook I can remember, chefs talk about either a formative kitchen, or a formative group of colleagues with whom they ate , slept, dreamt, talked, fucked and cooked food. Shared expertise, and shared inspiration. Fergus Henderson and Giorgio Locatelli knocking around London after hours resurrecting the art of offal in their heads.

I think the only answer for the home chef is a something like the San Sebastian Sociedade Gastronómicas (Txokos) - private dining clubs where members (normally men) cook up elaborate lunches for one another. There is a similar, though much smaller movement happening in the UK. A bunch of like-minded people sharing expertise, ideas, facilities, and palates to develop their skills in a wonderful environment. A tough thing to introduce though. San Sebastian has food as central to it's culture, and the clubs have been running for generations. And, unlike other places, groups of friends are likely to share that interest. It's about the best way I can think of for a home chef to replicate the kind of competitiveness, and constructive/destructive criticism that forms the core of a kitchen education.

Amongst the best chefs, there's also a....precision, and a depth of knowledge, that lots of home chefs don't posess. Protein strings. I know for a fact I could fill a book with my ignorance on the issue. But excellent chefs understand cooking, often, at the chemical level. How exactly heat works. Whats happening when eggs bind a recipe. Oxidation. The physics of cream. Or simple enough sounding ideas like never have more than one layer of meat browning in a pan. The temperature olive oil smokes at, and what to do with that information - let your mushrooms hit the pan just before. Keep your griddle pan as hot. Let meat rest for as long as it cooks. Never shuggle or move fillet fish in a pan. How to pick out a poultry oyster. And which part of the chicken liver really is the bile sac? It all looks an off colour to me. I've been mangling chicken livers for years with that one. What exactly is happening at any given moment with the glutens in my pasta dough.

The last time I tried to break down a large joint of meat was utter carnage.

Hence Knife Skills, and the Elements of Cooking. And after that McGee.

At the moment my cooking flows, re technique, from a sense I have picked up. I cook from experience, optimism, the occasional slavishly dedictated reproduction of a new recipe, and variations on a theme. Change one thing and note the difference. Change the next. In a rudimentary and limited sense, trying to replicate the repetition of a working kitchen.

I'd like to understand whats happening in my pans and pots at that fundamental level that means you can see it all happening in advance in your head. So I can understand what I smell. It's a lack I can't really even begin to describe really. I just know, however, that I see something very different happening on my stovetop to whatever it is that Heston Blumenthal sees. I can't even begin to think about food in that depth, to understand it so profoundly. And I'd like to.

It's the next stage for me. That and cooking outside Italy.

Random noise.

Always an interesting site. Just hit the search button. Shows closure and improvement orders served over the last several months to food outlets around the country. From those fine people at the FSA. Look up and embarass food service outlets in your area with awkward questions.

Michael Ruhlman has started up a new blog to complement his just released book, the Elements of Cooking. I've got a copy of that and Knife Skills winging their way across the channel to my grubby little mitts. Reviews of both will be posted when read and digested.

Mr Ruhlman's blog is well worth having a look at, with some interesting ideas floating up in the comments. Short entries covering cooking theory, and some more in-depth analysis in the comments.

Funny. But true. Shooting Stars skit from early on. I never really got the Nigella Lawson thing. Give me Isabel Allende talking about watching a man cook any day.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Baked leeks, with bechamel.

Simplicity itself, lifted straight from the encylopaedic pages of the Silver Spoon. Measurements will be vague, imprecise, and guesstimated wherever included.

I'm a lover, not a baker.

Ingredients.

A packet of leeks. My packet of leeks contained three.

For the bechamel

Milk

Flour (very circa 60g)

Butter (again, circa 60 g)

Nutmeg

Salt

Black pepper

Cheese (Emmental and Parmesan), grated.

Breadcrumbs.

Bring a saucepan to the boil. Top and tail the leeks, and strip off the outer leaves if necessary.

Boil the leeks in lightly salted water for about 10 minutes.

Drain the leeks, and leave them aside for 10 minutes. In a sauce pan, melt a little butter, and gently saute the leeks. Place the leeks in a greased oven dish, and using the saucepan, make a bechamel (see below)*. Flavour the bechamel with a little grated nutmeg, black pepper, and sea salt. For this recipe I used circa 60g each of flour and butter, and an unknown quantity of milk.

Pour the bechamel over the leeks. Sprinkle with the grated cheese, and then the breadcrumbs.

Slap in a preheated oven, uncovered, at gas mark four for about 20 minutes, mid shelf. Check regularly. Remove when the topping is golden.


*For a quick Bechamel, gently melt a knob of butter, say 50g, and when that melts, add in roughly the same amount of sifted plain flour, whisking continually over the heat. Preheat some milk, so that it can be added warm.

Gradually, whisking continually, add the milk little by little (to avoid lumps), allow the sauce to bubble slightly - the bubbling releases and activated the thickening starch, and allows the sauce to come together(if the sauce doesn't bubble, it will thicken up unexpectedly when you reheat it). Add enough milk - gradually, - until the desired thickness is achieved. Normally until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon, but for certain sauces I make it thicker, and certain, thinner. This can then be flavoured with whatever the hell you want. Just black pepper and salt. Mature blue cheese. Gruyere. White wine. It's good for lasagne too.



It should look a little something like this. Sweet tasting slicing of wintry deliciousness. I've also added dry white wine to the bechamel for this dish, and it has worked well. A good stilton instead, lightly added, would underscore the sweetness of the leeks well. Bon appetit.



Memories, mk2

I'm at the circular table, sitting in the two tone cream and burning orange kitchen, my chair jammed up against the corner. The smallest space. Being the youngest I could most easily wriggle into it. My fathers 3/4 pint mug filled. A plate of toast. Pots of Fruitfield marmalade with slivers of zest. Everyday orange juice. A lifetime of sqeez. It's faintly powdery taste remains with me. In the seventies, they never manage to make it taste entirely reconstituted.

It's the sense of abundance from my mothers kitchen that remains with me. Cone shaped plates of food, heaped high. That generous sense of ampleness, with more to come. And always enough for another person. Friends would sometimes be staggered, especially in my college days, by the physical size of the meals we had.

Pork chops with apple sauce. A kidney still attached on my fathers plate, slightly shiny and chocolate redbrown. Heaps of potatoes. Processed peas. Yorkshire relish. I still can't eat potatoes, boiled or mashed, without a generous dollop of yr.

Flash fried steaks, caramelised onions, pepper and salt. Pan drippings poured over boiled potatoes. Mushrooms done in the same pan.

Beef stew, food for days, finished off as a Saturday lunchtime soup. Sweet, the soup tinged orange. Bisto mixed with cornflour as stock. Sweet meet boiled gently for an hour and a half, falling apart on the spoon. The smell and taste and colour and warmth of the memory wells up through all my senses. I can taste the white pepper sweetness of it on my tongue. I can feel it heating me on a November afternoon. I can see the short nod my mother always offers after she has served everyone up. When she has checked each plate, each pot and pan, and everything in the kitchen is exactly as it should be. Plates heaped high, bowls filled. Ample food available. Thick brown bread cut and buttered. That short nod that signalled she was about to eat. That said "that's my family fed".

The metallic crack of the biscuit tin, and the slightly sickly slightly stale smell of custard creams. fig rolls, and rich tea.

Bicuits and cold milk before bed. Gently persuading my mother to up the pre bedtime rich tea ration, and regularly succeeding. My mother never can refuse to give food, of any description. To eat is to live, to feed is to love.

Sunday roasts which seemed to be the size of my childhood head. Boiled ribs, pink, and steaming and salty and delicious. Gammon steaks, grilled. With pineapple. Signalling the introduction of one more foodstuff into my diet. Two if you include the vague approximation of fruit as a foodstuff. Lamb chops, or rack, slathered with vinegary mint sauce fresh from a colmans jar.

The seemingly endlessly large jumble of washing up that followed, preceeded by the endlessly large jumbe of arguments about whose turn it is. Sunday tea. Cold cuts. Cheddar cheese with yr. Brown bread, butter, and dunnes pate. Thick slabs of everything. Jam tarts, or homemade appletart.

This is the stuff of my early life. These are the memories which still inform my own food. The feelings that I hunt down each time I sit somone down at my table. I have my own ritual of completion, much like my mothers, the same urgent sense of hospitality, no, more than that. That same sense of urgent care and pleasureable responsibility. That same sense of generosity and ampleness of spirit found in the hands of both my father and mother....

What are the tastes that have made your memories? Wagon wheels in your lunch box. Dairylea? Pleasantly plastic easi-singles in sand-filled beachside sandwiches? Fizzle sticks. Dib dabs....

Tell me. I'd like to know.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Memories.....

Reading Nigel Slater's post in this weeks Observer, publicising his new book.

Interesting idea - the actual, real food that characterises the British food identity, past and present. Jammie Dodgers, tea cakes - those glutinously addictive marshmallow and chocolate wafer domes. The perfect way to eat a kit kat. Obsessively. Keeping the tin foil perfectly unruffled. And nibbling off the chocolate sides in precisely the right order.

It made me foggily remember our first family visit to an upmarket restaurant. Blakes, of Stillorgan, then a wine red plush carpet seventies slice of steakhouse delight. Waiters in uniforms with red waistcoats. Velour. A rare fabric in my life, and one unfamiliarity convinced me expressed exclusivity. That curious working class feeling stuck with me for many years, far into my twenties. That sense of being fundamentally out of place I always tended to experience in anything above bistro level.

Dressed in my best, striped, pink green and white cotton grandad shirt, and a pair of subchinos. I was an odd shy child, and the dinner was, in part, I think, to commemorate something I had done. Or achieved. Or had done to me successfully.

It's curious how quickly the memory of a smoke filled restaurant at evening time has become nostalgic.

I do remember thinking that it was a strange way of celebrating, as I barely ate anything as a child, and became cantankerously close-minded in the presence of anything that wasn't mince stew. At my fathers instigation, (i.e he picked up the menu and ordered for me, checking with occasionally with me by saying "You'll like it") I ordered steak, through my somewhat optimistic proxy, fried onions, potatoes, with peas on the side.

And I remember liking the experience. I remeber it, perhaps, as the first moment when I bagan to expand my ideas of what was good to eat. When something, even something so simple, was capable of pleasantly surprising me. It took a good couple of years for my horizons to expand to anything like a reasonable degree. The memory of that journey in my life is filled with all sorts of pleasant nooks and crannies. Moments that stay with me, that remind me of things, that are filled with associations.

The smell of raw onion, and fresh mince frying on a pan, as my father pounded out more fresh, homemade hamburgers on a Friday or Saturday night to wean us off the frozen, corn husk and soya packed variety. With black pepper. Black. My mothers Dublin coddle, combining all sorts of things in an addictively warm and homely set of concoctions. I can remember the smell and taste of the very first one she cooked. Corn on the cob with fresh butter. Frozen peas. Frozen peas.

It got me thinking about the food that makes up or sense of ourselves in Ireland. But thats another post.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Post on the Guardian

For my own reference. Me mouthing off on the Guardian website, about this story.

It's Ode On a Grecian Urn.

And it's no trip through the daisies. It begins with a nascent classical rape scene, which has yet to happen.

And it arguably gets increasingly, and cantankerously bitter as it continues, meditating on death, the cold immortality of art, and the essential hollow fleetingness of all endeavour. Ritual, religion, sex and death. Tradition, youth and gods. Those daises you are tripping through too. All dust. All flesh is grass, eh?

Hey. Wait a second. It's a meditiation on sex,death, and human experience that's not written in a Hemmingway style?

Still. Take a look at the final lines and reflect, eh?

""Beauty is truth, truth beauty"---that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

And heres the kicker. And lets put this in muscularly masculine prose just for the sheer "I've got a set of testicles and I'm not afraid to swing them" hell of it.

Hell. Those last lines seem to be talking about aesthetics.

Which is not a million goddamn miles from talking about what tastes good. And it's bang on the money for what looks good. Aesthtics. How in the hell could that have nothing to do with good food?

These are lines that hook right into the mainline, and wrap themselves electrically around the base of the brain and sqeeze some truth into that reptilian little bugger that we all think with. They go right down into the cortex of the thing. Right down deep in that "three meals away from barbarism" place we all associate food and sex and death with. Because it's about those things. It's a beautiful and bitter little slice of profound human experience. And it's not always a pleasant thing.

There's a place for muscularly masculine writing. And there's a place for writing that has a refined sense of the aethetic. Above all there's for good, accurate, genuine journalism that gets it's facts right. (How do you feel about getting the title wrong? And did you read the poem before you used it to make a point?)

Too often, that masculine bent in prose is an excuse for the writer to celebrate themselves at the expense of their subject (I'm thinking of Anthony Bourdain's last several years of self-celebratory prose ripping it's publicity seeking way through whatever lies in his path. I'm thinking about Songs of the Doomed. I'm thinking everything Hemmingway wrote that he hadn't the guts to hate.)

Good writing is good writing. It's about truth. And whether poetic, masculine, feminine, childlike, whatever...it's got blood in it. It's got truth in it. And it's about what it's about.

Here endeth the sermon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A roving a roving a roving I'll go....

Note. Blogger keeps eating my tables, pictures, and formatting. For the moment, I give up. Pictures are missing, spaces magically appear, and my sanity patience and teeth are cracking under the strain of it all. I'll sort it out later.






















Unknown mushroomUnknown mushroom
Blackberry puree
Unknown mushroom
Guilder berries
Haws
Unknown MushroomRosehipsSloes




Above, the uncertain results of a weekends worth of foraging in the great Northwest. Pictured, several uncertain varieties of mushroom, as well as Haws, Guilder berries, Junipers. Blackberry puree, Sloe berries and Rosehips.

The Blackberries got made into sugar free jam, recipe courtesy of the Gorgeous C.

Ingredients.

925g of blackberries

285g of honey

Juice of half a lemon

3 heaped teaspoons of agar agar

1 1/2 apples, peeled and chopped up.

Method. Pick through your blackberries, discarding any that are rotten. Add the chopped apples. Puree them, and add the honey. Separately, juice the lemon, and add the agar agar to it, an mix. Reserve.

Heat the blackberries, stirring enthusiastically and constantly. Have some in the background to critique your stirring technique almost as enthusiastically. Allow to boil. The stirring is important as it guarantees an even boil, so all the mix pasteurises. Add the agar agar mix, and stir, returning to the boil. Immediately, pour into sterilised jars - to sterilise jars, boil them in water, and remove them just before jarring, allow to dry off, and use.

Lid the jars tightly, and turn them upside down. Let the jars cool. Keep them at below 7 degrees celsius, and use within ten days of opening.

It tastes fantastic, missing that heavily artificial sugar taste I'm used to. This acually tastes primarily of fruit. The jam we got was quite runny, so perhaps more agar agar next time.

The weekends foraging was interesting. The chestnits I posted about last time are almost ready, browning on the trees. Apparently, the last week in September is the best time to harvest. They are not quite ripe - but will ripen in the bowl - and the squirrels haven't finished off the crop.

For Rosehips, (centre, 3rd row) late September is good for picking, after the first frost. Typically hips are made into syrup, normally using 1 to 1 gugar and hips, and the syrup is used on desserts, and as a basis for juice. Choc full of Vitamin C. This year, however, there are too few Rosehips on the bushes to make picking worthwhile. A standard syrup recipe can be found here.

For Haws(2nd row, 3rd picture). Well. Amongst the most bounteous of hedgerow fruits, apparently, normally they are made into syrup or jelly. This recipe will have to wait. It's in a book Leitrimwards. Suffice to say it's of the quince jelly type, served after dinner with cheese. As a filler, HFW has a recipe in the Guardian, good for Rowan, Elder and Hips too.

Ditto Guilder berries (2nd row, centre).

Finally, sloes, (3rd row, 3rd picture). Sloe gin or sloe wine. These should be harvested in October/November, again, best after the first frost. Sloes are the driest tasting fruit on the face of the earth. Even thinking of eating one makes my mouth contort in fur covered memory.

More to follow as and when. I'd be curious about harvesting haws, as there are so many. And I'm especially curious about this, another HFW special from those good people at River Cottage. Blackvberry flavoured whiskey. A fine thing.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

On a mission from dog.....


Above, photographed is the final course of the dinner cooked for the Gorgeous C's departure from these rain sodden shores.

From the top......

Pan fried scallops, with a ginger, lime and olive oil dressing, sprinkled with chives.

Insalata Caprese, a firm favourite, made with organic tomatoes, and Mozzarella di Bufala. Black olive bread on the side.

Grilled Cep Salad, with a lemon and olive oil dressing, and mixed greens.

Boiled globe artichokes, with a lemon and butter sauce.

Pan fried sea bream, with black olive paste, on a bed of boiled asparagus, with a balsamic dressing.

Scallops.
For the dressing, heat 200ml of oil. Saute a half a very finely chopped shallot until soft. Grate in a 3/4 inch cube of fresh ginger. Stir for 60 seconds on the heat. Remove. Let it cool. Squeeze in roughly the juice of 1 lime, and the zest (mix and taste repeatedly. the lime should be present, and not overpowering). Season with salt and pepper.

Trim the red coral from the scallops, leaving just the luscious eye. Heat a skillet, add a teaspoon of oil, and fry off the scallops until just browning on both sides. Not more than 90 seconds say, on either side.

Place on a heated plate - as large a dinner plate as you can conscientiously muster. Drizzle with the now cold dressing. Black pepper and chopped chive the plate for presentation. Perfection.

Insalata Caprese. Enough said.

Grilled Cep salad. I used dried ceps, as the ignorant moron epsiloning his way around the market wouldn't let me near the mushrooms. Bizarre. But it looked like he though I was going to steal them. I guess he felt he couldn't catch me with the knuckle dragging friction co-efficient going on.

Hey Temple Bar moron. If you're reading this, I'm surprised that you are literate.

Anyway. On a griddle, of, preferably, a barbecue grill, cook the mushrooms. Rub a serving plate with a cut lemon. Arrange your mixed greens. For 200 mls of Olive oil, mix in the juice of a lemon, and some zest, and a pinch of salt in a jar. Lid the jar, shake like a bastard. Arrange your ceps on the serving plate with some mixed greens. Drizzle the lot with the oil. Serve.

Artichokes. Boil for 45 minutes. Drain. Melt a little butter and mix in a little lemon - taste, and adjust as necessary. Plate each artichoke, and drizzle with the butter. Leave top rest for 20 seconds - the butter should drain onto the plate. Strip each leaf from the artichoke, and nibble off the soft pull at the leaf base. Dip in the butter as you do. When you get down to the small leaves, cut off at the base - about 3/4s of the way down, at the ridge. Squeeze lemon on the bottom bit, and nibble off the pulp, leaving the rough fibres still attached to the stalk.

Pan fried Bream.

For the black olive paste. 2 anchovy fillets. Black pepper. A tiny amount of salt - which may not even be necessary. Deseeded olives - the best you can buy. 2 cloves of garlic. a squeeze of lemon juice. Olive oil. Half a chili - optional. Blitz everything, except the salt, and olive oil. remove to a bowl. Add oil to attain your desired texture. For this dish I used very little.

Fillet a whole bream. Do this by making a vertical cut from top to bottom perpendicular to the head, until you hit the backbone. Talk off the tail, and fins. from the head - which should still be attached, slip the knife under the flesh so the knife blade comes flat against the backbone. Slide the knife down the bone to remove the fillet. It should stay in one piece. Repeat on the other side.

Boil the asparagus in lightly salted water for 5 minutes, using an asparagus pot with lid - the tips should be steaming, not boiling.

While that's happening, add 2 teaspoons of sunflower oil to a skillet, heat, and ass the fish, skin side down. Don't touch it for a minute. It should sizzle, and begin to curl. Smooth it back down onto the pan with a fish slice after 1 minute. Soak up the excess fat that drains from the fish with some paper towel. Flip it when the flesh turns opaque about two thirds the way up the fillet, and remove the pan from the heat. Let the fish finish in the pan for two minutes or so. Mix uo a balsamic vinaigarette - I like about a 2 to one mix in favour of the balsamic.

Drain your asparagus, and toss in the vinaigrette. Lay out on a serving plate, and pour over the last of the drerssing. Lay the bream, skin side down on top of it. Spread some paste (less than I used) on the Bream, and serve.

Damned fine.

The 30th birthday post will follow, when I nab the photos. Far too busy, and bolloxed on the day to photo myself.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Sing ho for the life of a bear.....

To business. Cooked up by the Gorgeous C....wild Irish mussels, in tomato sauce, with homemade tagliatelle.
In a word, superb.

Wow, that was weird. Formatting wise. Still. A double dish of sunlit deliciousness, eaten under the blazing sun of an all too rarely idyllic countryside.





Recipe. For the pasta, at least.

One of these is dead handy. In both life, and pasta making. This is an Imperia model, with slightly imprecise blades on the spaghetti cutter, annoyingly. Bought from Habitat. Still. Shiny and nice.

for the pasta dough

Roughly, 1 egg per 100 g of doppio zero pasta flour (Giorgio Locatelli recommends 500g of flour, 3 large eggs, plus two yolks, in the UK, a little drier in London than here methinks) - available from the best of Italy, or any good food store . In Irelands humid climate, I tend to use less egg than this. Make a volcano with the flour, sprinkle with a little salt, and crack the eggs into the well of the volcano. Using a fork, gradually break up the eggs and incorporate flour, a bit at at time, caving in the sides of the volcano as you do.

Eventually, the mix becomes thick enough to mix all the flour together. Working it into an elastic dough, as it begins to come together, stretch the top of the dough slightly, and pull it back towards you over the rest of the dough and press it in with the heels of your palm. Turn the dough often. Add flour as required, or, if the dough is too dry, dip your fingers in a bowl of water, and continue mixing. Repeat as required. After the dough has initially come together, work it with your palms for as little time as you can - too much stretching will break up the gluten.

Roll out the dough, to maybe a 1 inch thickness, and then clingfilm it, and allow to rest for 1 hour. Alternatively, cover it in a damp teatowel for the same time.

Cut up your dough into quarters (if using the Locatelli amounts), and roll it out into oblongs on a floured surface.

Your pasta machine should have two rollers with adjustable width - 1-5, 1 being the thinnest. Pass the dough through, dropping a setting each time you feed it in again.



For an extra smooth and perfect dough, double the pasta sheet back on itself twice, lengthwise, and pass through the same process, and, finally, redouble it twice, rotate the sheet 90 degrees, and pass it through again.

On the final pass, it's enough, for tagliatelle, to stop at the thinnest setting

Et voila.





For the mussels, clean them off with a good butter knife - something a little sturdy. The ivory handles silver service types that grannies are always laden down with seem to do the job properly. Simply, while holding the mussel in your left hand, cleanly chop at the base of any barnacles with the blade of the knife, carrying through and away from the mussel to make a clean lift. Quite gently, otherwise you'll crack open the shell of the mussel. Cleaning mussels is a lot like a good relationship. You gotta follow through when you're cleaning off the barnacles. I mant to stop at follow through, but it made no culinary sense.

This is extremely important. Extremely. Not doing this can kill your guests. And embarrass the hell out of the chef. If kept in water, any mussels that are open while submerged. Discard. They are dead, and busy building up toxins sufficiently virulent to ruin your day. After cleaning, put em back in water, and any that are open when you go to cook them, discard. Finally, any that don't open when you cook them. They're dead too. Discard em. If in doubt, throw it out. This batch was excellent, and we kept them all, but other batches I've ditched 30% from.

Each mussel will probably have a little straggly thread like clump poking out of the shell. Grip, and pull it out - easy to do by pulling upwards along the shell, following the shell opening, as it were.

Clean em, and plop the fresh and succulent little blighters in some water. Cook em up however you want.

The gorgeous (polkadotted) C did this with em....

Blogger ate my post, also known as....a rovin a rovin I'll go.

For no known reason, blogger ate my post. Again. Still. Whats time, effort pain and sweat between former friends.

Third time lucky eh. Eh?

Through gritted teeth....

Above, two photos culled from wild ramblings in the great Northwest. First, a clutch of hopefully luscious hazelnuts mere metres from the door of the gorgeous C. Due to ripen sometime in Autumn, a careful eye will need to be kept to beat out the birds and squirrels for at least part of the crop. Recipes for sugar praline, hazelnut chocolate, cakes, mousse and also sort of delectables are connecting in this raddled addled happy head of mine.

Second, wild strawberries lit up with their electric ripe red in the fertile hedgerows of Leitrim. An amazing taste, wild and intense, and so concentrated as to be almost artificial. Reminded me of chewits, bizarrely.

Finally,

a single almost ripe, wild raspberry. Perfection waiting to happen.

More to follow. If I can ever work out the hideous machinations of this infernal software. God may be in the detail, but the devil is in the code. And he seems happy to play dice with his universe.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Glenlivet



Just a quick note about this particularly fine bottle of Scottishly amber and alcoholic ingenuity. It's a 15 year old bottle of The Glenlivet (not the French oaked version, I'm afraid), and a fine thing. It's a Speyside single malt, and a good, solid representative of the breed.

We cracked into this at work, at the end of a wearying week, with a somewhat informal tasting. About 10 people in total, with me wittering on quite knowledgelessly about single malts, Speyside characteristics, master distillers and the elegant architecture of the rounded finish.

I had been working quite hard. And I skipped breakfast and lunch. I was entitled to blather drunkenly.

It comes from the Glen of the Livet, and is fiercely proud of it's tradition and provenance. And trademark, sharing the valley with two other distilleries.

Still.

The tasting was without water, though a little water is often added to Glenlivet to open up the taste and aroma. But I'm nothing if not a purist. An arrogant, annoying, vindictive, and pretentious ponce of a purist. But a purist nonetheless.

It's quite a gentle whisky, quite sweet and comparatively syrupy in it's fifteen year old expression, with the taste developing from an initial burn to gentler notes of honeyed cinnamon and a little pepper. Other tasters have reported hints of lemon. Oddly, and, for, entirely unexpectedly, there's also quite a strong initial taste of butterscotch. The vanilla taste comes through more cleany, and develops in the aftertaste, underscored by the peppery taste and sensation creeping backwards over the tongues,which mellows a little too quickly for this age of whisky. At the very end it leaves with a slightly hazelnut kiss goodbye.

It's a fine thing to have in ones house. Shared in the staffroom amongst ten teachers at the end of a working week, it did fine service, ans met with universal acclaim. From whisky drinkers, from fine wine drinkers, from people who rarely if ever touch the stuff, and confirm bacardi breezer fans. All in all, a fine whisky to gently introduce almost anybody to the world of fine whisky. Nicely rounded and non threatening. Quite the opposite of how I felt to the guy who mixed his with a can of coke.

I had a wee dram with my father, in thanks to the gift of it from him. And a fine drink it was to toast an even finer man with.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Done and dusted,

Todays post, a recipe for baked Chicory, and fried aubergines, is brought to you by the letter C, the number "more than my goddamned life savings you sonofabitch", and a stack of drunkenly inappropriate behaviour.





Still, lets cut to the meat of this thing. Todays recipes are for Baked Chicory, and fried Aubergines.

Baked Chicory....

This dish was first cooked for me by a beautiful and quite cracked Swiss woman. Theres versions of it in the Silver Spoon, and its common in the North of Italy, in France and Switzerland. The Italian version uses parmesan, and the Swiss uses Gruyere, which, I think, is better.

Ingredients

Chicory, two pieces, stripped of the external leaves (reserve these, and chop up as a salad for the aubergines if you want.)
4 slices of ham. I used a traditional style Irish unflavoured baked ham, but prosciutto is perfectly good here - though a little delicate for the baking process.
About 300 ml of homemade Bechamel sauce.*
Gruyere, or parmesan.
A little olive oil, or butter.
Black pepper, nutmeg, salt and pepper.

*For a quick Bechamel, gently melt a knob of butter, say 50g, and when that melts, add in roughly the safe amount of sifted plain flour, whisking continually over the heat. Preheat somer milk, so that it can be added warm.

Gradually, whisking continually, add the milk little by little (to avoid lumps), allow the sauce to bubble slightly - the bubbling releases and activated the thickening starch, and allows the sauce to come together(if the sauce doesn't bubble, it will thicken up unexpectedly when you reheat it. Add enough milk - gradually, - until the desired thickness is achieved. Normally until the sauce will coat the back of a spoon, but for certain sauces I make it thicker, and certain, thinner. This can then be flavoured with whatever the hell you want. Just blackpepper and salt. Mature blue cheese. Gruyere. White wine....

This is the basic ingredient list for the simplest form of the dish. You can augment the Bechamel by adding white wine or vegetable stock in the oven dish.

Wrap your chicory in two slices of baked ham, or three of prosciutto. Preheat your oven to gas mark 4. Grease an ovenproof dish, with your butter or oil. Wrap the chicory in two slices of baked ham, or 3 of prosciutto. Normally I wrap the first slice so it overlaps at the top, and the second so it overlaps at the bottom. Lay the chicory in the greased dish, pinning the ham on with the weight of the chicory (lying on top of the overlapping ham).

Pour your bechamel over the chicory. Grate some nutmeg, some black pepper and grind some salt on. If using parmesan, grate on now, if using gruyere, pop the chicory in the top of the oven for 7 minutes, remove, and cover the top of the chicory with slices of Gruyere, and pop back in the oven.

Heres where it gets tricky. If not using gruyere, take the chicory out every 10 minutes of so, and braise a little with the bechamel to stop the ham burning. If you don't, it will.

Total cooking time should be around twenty minutes for small chicory, and it will retain some crunch. For larger heads of chicory, add more time, and cover with foil for the first 15 mnutes of cooking.

To finish, sprinkle with either gruyere or parmesan, and if necessary, quickly brown the topping under the grill.

Beautiful.

The second recipe is from Yotam Ottolenghi in last weeks Guardian Summer Salad supplement. Quite a lot of his recipes seem to be badly described, difficult to follow, and the quantities he gives are sometimes off. But hell. This one works quite well.


Ingredients

2 aubergines, 2 eggs beaten, breadcrumbs.

For the dressing
150g Greek yoghurt
100g sour cream (which I decided to leave out)
12 radishes, finely grated, and squeezed till just moist.
1tsp English mustard
2tbsp dijon
2 tbsp of good honey
2 tbsp of olive oil.

For the salad.

Leaves (I used rocket, some radish leaves, he recommends chard), juice of a half lemon, and black pepper.

Mix the sauce ingredients together, and season to taste. I added more mustard as I quuite like the slightly sour bite cutting throught he cooked aubergine. Cut the aubergines into 1.5 cm slices, or thinner. Too thick and the texture will be wrong. Lightly salt these acidic little buggers and leave them in a colander to sweat. About 30 mins. Tamp them dry - a little slat still on em is fine, but the juice is quite sour, so soak it up.

Dip the slices in the beaten egg, and then coat them in breadcrumbs, and pop them in hot oil to shallow fry, for 2 or 3 minutes each side. Remove 'em and leave 'em on paper towl to dry and cool.

Lay out the salad, and drizzle it with the lemon juice and grind some pepper over it. Lay out the cold slices, drizzle heavily with the sauce, and serve.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Feels like winter. Chocolate and chickpeas then.

First off...

thirty steps to chocolate connoisseurship, from the Guardian. Scroll down about a third of the way to hit the thirty steps.

I cooked up a wintry chickpea soup today, to cope with the terrible weather. This one is taken from "Made in Italy", and adapted slightly to my pantry.

To make the base, you'll need, a chopped stalk of celery, a sprig of Rosemary, some sage leaves, 2 bay leaves, and about 250g of chickpeas. If dried, soak them overnight and drain, if canned, wash thoroughly before use. 4 cloves of garlic, crushed.


Put everything in a pot, cover with about twice the amount of water as chickpeas, splash in a little olive oil, and bring to the boil. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes. Fish out the herbs, remove the chickpeas, and reserve the cooking water. There's no need to add salt at present.




Next, you will need about 150g of chopped pancetta (you can use streaky bacon if you are stuck, I used my home cured bacon), another stalk of finely chopped celery, and two finely chopped onions - 1 red. Heat up a skillet, add some extra-virgin olive oil, and gently fry off all of the above until they are soft. Should take 5-10 minutes. Add about two thirds of the chickpeas to this mix, and blitz them in a food processor until they are finely ground. Add the reserved cooking water to get the consistency you need - I added about 200ml to get a fairly thick soup.



To finish - fry off some small cubes of pancetta until golden brown. Chop up some rosemary and sage. Reheat the soup mix, and taste and adjust for seasoning. It should be quite salty already, from the pancetta. and plate it. Sprinkle with the cubed pancetta, the reserved chickpeas, and the herbs. Generously drizzle with olive oil. Grind some pepper. Serve with a plain bread, and olive oil on the side.


An authentic taste of Northern Italy, and a soup hearty enough to ward off the winter chill. Food for the soul, eh?
Sorry about the formatting. I have learned to hate blogger.
And thanks to Laura over at eat drink live. Check out her well formatted and photographed soup for a fantastic borlotti bean recipe.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Coq à la bière....


Taken from the Le Gavroche cookbook, courtesy of Michel Roux Jnr. A hearty, hale, robust, honourable way to present a chicken. Northern French style, peasant cooking at its robust best. If you time it right, and buy enough beer, you can also be quite drunk by the time you, and your guests, start eating.

Ingredients....

Circa 200 g button mushrooms
Butter
1 chicken, preferably free range, organic, and yellow.
1 Bottle of beer (33cl).
1 1/2 tablespoons of brandy. Or so. ish.
200ml double Cream.
50g of chopped shallots.
1 teaspoon of brown sugar
Olive oil
1 ceramic/metal Dutch oven (I used a deep ovenproof frying pan)

Preheat your oven to Gas mark 7. Lay your chicken on one side, and drizzle with a little olive oil, and dot with butter. It's absolutely central to get the best bird you can buy. Unfortunately, I just work for a living, so I picked up a 9 quid free range chicken.

Put the chicken, on its side, uncovered, in the oven. It'll take about 40 minutes to roast. Every 10 or 15 minutes, remove the bird from the oven, baste with the juices, and change its orientation, first resting it on its other side, and finally resting on its back.
Remove from the oven, and let the chicken rest, on a plate, on its breast, so the juices percolate to the breast. Cover with some foil.

Drain off most of the fat from the chicken dish, and put it on the hob. Add some butter - the dish should be hot enough to melt the butter easily, turn on the gas, and sweat the shallots until translucent.

Add the mushrooms, and cook for about 6 minutes. Add the brandy, and deglaze the pan by scraping it thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Cook until the pan is almost dry, and then add the beer. Reduce by half. If you bough a 50 cl bottle, add quite a lot of the beer. Drink the rest while reducing. If you have had the foresight to buy more, crack them open. The complex part is done.

Add the double cream, and reduce until it is a thin, saucelike consistency.

At this stage, I normally joint the chicken roughly, place it in a serving dish, and pour over the mushrooms and sauce. If I am drunk, I get someone else to do this. Serve with...well, potatoes, mashed or roasted are fantastic. And a bottle of Erdinger.

Roux recommends a bitter beer. Personally, I've tried quite a couple. I'd avoid beers that are too hoppy, or cheap. They can leave a metallic tang aftertaste. A good quality German beer or French beer seems to work best.

Organic Food.....

Re working for a living. The price quoted at me for a good quality organic bird was €15. Shallots, organic shallots, clocked in at 7 times more expensive than from the Italian shop down the road. More and more, I'm hearing people, buyers, cooks, growers, and gardeners talk about the near impossibility of viable organic growing. Because of the difficulties inherent in certain crops, or with fertilising, or with the incredible expense at point of sale. Despite the market growing at a rapid rate, year on year, it seems likely to remain the preserve of those with a budget for what is, essentially, a luxury food.

That and the fact that there are some gougers about, and it'll be a while yet before it can impact he mainstream in any definitive way.

Pity that. When grown with care, it's amongst the best you can buy.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Random mutterings of an unkempt mind....

A form of perfection. A curiously zen sense of food.



Linked from the blog of Michael Ruhlman. Must check out his book, Charcuterie. Any recommendations pro or con are entirely welcome. See edit. Below. I get to look like a complete moron, and kinda cool at the same time.



Still aspiring to be a simple craftsman here, I gotta admit. And it's a noble ambition.


Speaking of which, as my cooking continues, and I become more at ease with what I do, my food becomes increasingly characterised by simplicity. Reading recently about sushi chefs, and Japanese knives has inspired me to investigate another aspect of that simplicity.


It strikes me that simplicity is a function of excellence. The more unashamed one is of ones ingredients, and the deeper ones knowledge is of the marriage of suitable tastes and textures, the greater one revels in the simplicity of excellence. This is not, of course, the only way. I once read that French food, as inspired by the Escoffier school of cuisine, was so complex, ornate, and heavily flavoured out of fear of the base ingredient. French cuisine is in part inspired by a desire to camouflage the base tastes, and hide their essential inadequacy from the eater.

The flipside of this is, in part, that French food is almost unparalleled in its ability to render the often, in other traditions, assumedly unpalatable, quintessentially delicious. In part, a function of necessity. French peasant cuisine was predicated, for a few hundred years, on consuming the entire beast, entrails and all, from the necessity of poverty. Trust French style to make such a delicious virtue of such a necessary vice.


The soul of contemporary Italian cuisine is quite (though not universally) different. Predicated on ingredients, where, often, simplicity and knowledge, and care are the cardinal virtues. It's often a cuisine of enhancement, where the base ingredient is highlighted, its defining tastes enhanced, contrasted, and elevated to be the central tenet of each dish.


In Italian cuisine the ingredient is supreme. In French cooking, the ingredient is often the beginning, the tabula rasa, the chef is the thing. The ingredient the stage for their skill.

I need to deepen my experience and knowledge of both.


But Japanese cuisine is beginning to intrigue me. Its increasingly becoming apparent to me that I entirely do not understand it. Hearing, and watching, Rick Stein (Rick Stein and the Japanese Ambassador, BBC, 2006...link to Guardian article) working with....well, watching really....a sushi chef work, it struck me how utterly ruthless high Japanese food is in its dedication to perfection. Stein was utterly awed by - and quite frank in his sense of inadequacy to replicate - the expertise so carefully displayed. We often speak of effortless expertise. But for this sushi chef, no such thing was possible. Concentration, precision, poise, balance, and an essential centredness were etched into the arch of his body, the swift soft cut, how he held himself, and remained utterly in the moment and of the place that he had to be.


Everything about him was utterly dedicated to one thing. Perfection. The design of the knives,with one cutting edge only, to minimise damage to the fish. The precision, the delicacy, the unbelievable quick and spectacularly detailed knife work. I saw him cross hatch a piece of tuna into diagonal centimetre cubes, and remake the fillet as one piece on a wooden board, intact.

Sushi simplicity seems to be of another order. Ruthless dedication to perfect ingredients. Effortful expertise. Concentration, thought, and precision. Simplicity achieved through force of will, through purposeful, consuming, concentration. Simplicity that it can take years to achieve.

Be here now.

Hell. These are the ramblings of an enthusiastic amateur, the rumbling sound of my slowing down mind thinking out loud.

PS. Link - Chef Masa assesing ten expensive knives.

Link - A brief rundown on single bevel knives, and knife types.

Edit: Being the complete moron that I occasionally am, and with a tendency to bash out late night screeds when I'm way past making any kind of sense, I got the name wrong. Michael Ruhlman. Michael. Not Mark. As pointed out to me in a recent mail. From one Michael Ruhlman. Who recommends buying the book.

And he's right.

Monday, June 18, 2007

I had a job in the great Northwest, working as a cook for a spell......






Pictured, left to right.....Mixed Green Salad, Panzanella, Ravioli with a wild mushroom crostini, Pepperonata. (am utterly hating bloggers inability to wysiwyg
pics at the mo...)

Pictured above, a quick sample of some of the food made for the recent
birthday celebrations of the Gorgeous C. With incredible luck, the weather broke
from torrential rain, to clear blue skies, and a gorgeous sun that lasted from
afternoon through to sunset. Beautiful, allowing us to dine al fresco in the
gorgeous valleys of the great northwest.

Not pictured - the gorgeous C. homemade pesto, homeade ovendried tomato pesto, potato and chilli salad...

A fantastic weekend, filled with chilled Bellinis, friends, and beuatiful weather.

Recipes...

Mixed Green salad.

There is a recipe for this in 12, by Tessa Kiros, but I went with what I had in the larder. 2 apples and one pear, cored and sliced, and reserved in acidulated water - water with a spot of lemon juice, to avoid discolouration.

Roast some pine nuts - until they just hint at turning brown. Normally I do this on a cast iron pan, and then spill them out into a cooled dish to halt their cooking. Chopped fresh walnuts, skinned. I dumped about half the walnuts as too bitter. Broad beans - podded, and then stripped of their bitter, outer waxy skins. Raw. Fresh (the pods should be shiny, flexible, and wet if you snap them open). Delicious. Roughly ripped/chopped lettuces - I think I went with Kos, Iceberg and.....sorry...can't quite remeber. These were all mixed together, and then doused with a balsamic vinigarette - 1 to 1, and served immediately.

Panzanella.

A kind of Tuscan bread salad, quite simply made using two or three day old bread. My version screwed up somewhat badly - I used the wrong kind of bread, and overtoasted it, as it was fresh. Still, heres a rough and ready version...

Dice some 3 day old ciabatta, and roast quickly, drizzled with some olive oil and fresh thyme in a 180 C oven on a roasting tray. While thats roasting - for no more than 10 minutes - roughly chop some tomatoes - about halt a kilo - into quite small cubes, salt them lightly, and leave them to drain in a colander - 30 minutes or so is good.

Roughly chop a single small red onion.

Mix the bread, tomatoes, and red onion in a salad bowl. Make up the salad dressing - roughly 3 parts olive oil to 1 part red wine vinegar, and sprinkle over the salad. Serve immediately.

A little black pepper, and its ready.

Some recipes call for chopped, raw garlic, and chopped capers in addition, or roasted peppers.

Ravioli (recipe here), with just butter and lemon, and filled with spinach, nutmeg, black pepper, and the best of friends homemade goats cheese. Superb.

The crostini are simply made - some crusty white bread, rubbed with raw garlic and grilled over wood coals. Then drizzled with olive oil. Beforehand soak dried porcini in warm water for 20 minutes. Remove - reserving the water for stock, and sqeeze dry. Heat butter and oil in a cast iron pan, and flavour it with dried chilli and thyme, some salt and pepper - I use quite a bit of salt. Cook up for as long as necessary on a low heat - I cook for 12 to 15 minutes to really concentrate the flavour, and tip out onto the grilled bread. Drizzle with olive oil and then parmesan. I mixed in some standard field mushrooms to bulk it all out. I forgot my stock of dried.


Pepperonata.
Simple dish, requiring garlic, dried chilli, salt. black papper, roasted peppers (3), 1 large tomato, and diced onion. I also, occasionally, add white or red wine.

Roast your peppers - or singe over a roaring gas ring, or a grill/bar-b-q. Skin them. This is important, although its perfectly possible to make without skinning the peppers, but the intense sweetness is diluted if you don't(I didn't). Cook the peppers for longer if your are not going to skin them. Saute the finely chopped onions in some olive oil until the are just shy of lightly browning. Add some chopped garlic - 2 cloves is about right - finaly chopped, and heat sharply for 60 seconds, tossing in the oil. Add a little salt, and mix in your slice roasted peppers, cover, and put on a very low heat, stirring often for 20 minutes (30-35 if not skinned). Add a roughly chopped tomato, and stir it in, and leave, covered, on a low heat, for 20 minutes. Add a little red or white wine about 5 minutes into this is you like - a very small amoint will suffice. Uncover, mix once more, taste, and season with salt and pepper. Shred in some fresh basil. Serve.

A superb meal, sunwashed, and in the company of friends. The taste of food and heat and light and sun still linger with me, the memory of it sweeter than stewed peppers and sweet basil. Sweeter than the hyper chocolate madness we inflicted on the later cake, Sweeter than peach cocktails, and sparkling chilled prosecco.



Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The time has come to talk of many things....

Quick link to the cookery section over at Project Gutenberg. Fine people, and a great idea. Some oddities, odds and ends, and plainly weird and wonderful texts available for free download. (The Australian Project has a separate, less comprehensive, but annotated page here. With pics.)

Highlights include Mrs Beeton's "Book of Household Management",and The Presbyterian Ladies' Aid "Recipes Tried and True".

Theres also a history of crisco. But my sense of decency won't let me link to it. Mother of jabbering buddha.

Here is a list of online medieval cookbooks, in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese........

I particularly liked ANEVV Booke of Cookerie, by Thomas Gloning, 1615.

To sowce a Pigge.
SCald a large Pigge, cut off his headand slit him in the
middest, and takeout his bones, and wash him in two orthree warme waters. Then
collar himvp like Brawne, and sowe the collarsin a fayre cloth. Then boyle them
verytender in faire water, then take themvp and throw them in fayre water
andSalt vntill they be colde, for that willmake the skinne white. Then tace
apottle of the same water, that the Piggewas boyled in, and a pottle of
whiteWine, a race of Ginger sliced, a coupleof Nutmegs quartered, a spoonefull
of<>whole Pepper, fiue or sixe Bayleaues:seeth all this
together, when it is coldeput your Pigge into the sowce-drincke,so you may keepe
it halfe a yeere, butspend the head.



Class stuff, and a terrifyingly expensive recipe for the time. Can't wait to start scalding that whole pig. Beats my home cured bacon into a cocked hat.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Baked beans on toast.

I cooked up a batch of cannelini beans in tomato sauce, a rough and rude take on salsice fagioli. And not that crudely processed Heinz like super smooth sauced concoction those swine in Dunne and Crescenzi have taken to foisting upon their poor clients.

Without the salsice, its a fine thing nonetheless, and perfect for heating up cold souls on the wintry days of an Irish spring. Good for the heart. Good for the soul. And a reminder of sun in the taste of the thing. Which taste rolls off my tongue like the words that cannot entirely do the recipe justice. But hell. Such is life. Welcome to the human race, in the words of wiser, deader men than me.

But to the meat of the thing. A recipe, heavily adapted from several sources - Tessa Kiros's Twelve (nice interview in this link), Locatellis' Made in Italy, and the ever present in my cooking Carluccio.

You will need....

A Gogol Bordello cd. (Failing that the Breeders, and enough enthusiasm to make up the chaos. Rigoletto will fit the bill finely if neither is available.)
The gorgeous C. (for which, of course, no substitute is possible)
A rake of gorgeous C relations planning to deluge suddenly upon the house in a hungry horde of mouths. (Another, entirely unique and welcomed phenomenon)

Also

Italian spicy sausage. Taste of Italy do a fine batch of the things from Negrini. Fine, herby, meaty fat filled little blighters.
Two tins of organic whole tomatoes, or a half a kilo of skinned tomatoes.
One can of cannelini beans, or circa 250g of dried beans, soaked overnight.
Sage leaves, 10 (though fresh rosemary or oregano make an interesting, and perhaps more robust, alternative)
2 undeniably fresh cloves of garlic, crushed under a chefs knife.
Sea salt.
Black pepper.
Olive oil, for frying and to drizzle when serving.
Parmesan.
Bread to serve with.

To skin the tomatoes, if using fresh, boil up a saucepan of water. Cut a small cross in the skin of the base of each tomato, and drop them into the boiling water, a few at a time. After 30 or 40 seconds, plunge the tomatoes into cold water, and the skin should start to wrinkle, and be easy to just shrug off. For this dish though, good quality whole tinned tomatoes are fine. Organic seem to be particularly excellent. I used Biona, and the strong fresh scent of tomato filled up the kitchen in seconds.

Heat some olive oil in a cast iron pan, or a large saucepan.
Pop in the garlic, and saute. Do not let it brown. Really. Add most of the sage leaves (though I tend to use oregano or rosemary), and some salt. Be careful not to burn them. Dump in the tomatoes after 30 seconds or so, and higher up the heat until the tomatoes begin to bubble, stirring briefly, and then lower down the heat.

Leave for about 20 minutes, without stirring. Then....

In another, cast iron (no skimping here) frying pan, heat up some more olive oil, and fry off the sausage quickly, browning lightly. I generally use four. This recipe is fine without them, as a vegetarian option. Fish out the sausages before they are cooked through. With a superbly sharp knife, cut them up into thick slices, maybe an inch apiece, and dump into the tomato sauce to finish off for about 12 to 15 minutes, at a low heat. Avoid stirring too much.

Finally, if using canned cannelini beans, open em up, and wash them out in the tin under running water. Most varieties only need to be reheated in boiling water - they come precooked. Some don't, and may need cooking for longer. Check the can. In which case open them up earlier in the recipe. If using dried, cook them first, as they need about 1.5 hours. When the beans are cooked, add them to the tomato sauce mix, and cook for a further five minutes on a gentle heat. Avoid stirring, except to mix in the beans.

Taste for seasoning.

Add the remaining herbs, on top, without mixing - roughly chopped, and serve, with a small amount of grated Parmesan. Drizzle with a little extra virgin.

Ideally the tomatoes should still retain some texture, they should still be chunky. If necessary bulk out the sauce with some reserved chopped tomato at the end.

A good accompaniment is ciabatta bread, rubbed with raw garlic, and toasted briefly in a gas mark 4 oven, or straight and plain. The fact that its a third of the price of the somewhat processed crap being served up in that unfortunately voracious city centre eatery only adds to the taste.

I'm looking for suggestions for a herby vegetarian sausage, homemade, to replace that earthy Negrini taste. Any suggestions are welcomed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Giorgio Locatelli

Over on the right hand side of this raggedly designed webpage, in the links section, is a link to Giorgio Locatelli's webcasts for the UK Observer. They ran a series of 6 podcasts, with Locatelli talking his way through classic Italian recipes as he cooked them, live, with an Observer reporter chatting away happily to him in his kitchen.

For the record, we've got him working his way through bagna cauda, artichoke salad, monkfish with walnut and capers, steamed hake with parsley and garlic, veal with artichoke and potatoes, and spaghetti with tuna meatballs.

The sense of conviviality he talks about as centrally important in his life, cooking, and restaurants, shines through as he enthuses about the food he is cooking. Its a contagious entusiasm, sparkling with a warmth and intelligence that translates perfectly onto the plate.

Each podcast is available for download, with an accompanying recipe sheet, and its worth it to listen to a relaxed master at work, narrating each dish, its origins, its ingredients, and his thoughts on preparation, origin and ingredients, wrapping up each recipe with anecdotes about Italy, and London, and weaving food so naturally into life thats its as much a pleasure to listen as it is to taste. He's the best Italian chef in London at the moment, and seems almost entirely himself in the kitchen. I'd heartily recommend him. And the podcasts are just perfect.

Lorraine over at Italian Foodies has just posted his broccoli soup recipe from Made in Italy, and is a fan. AA Gill gave him the only five star rating he has given to date, as testament to both his food, and principled ethos in terms of food and staff.

Finally. Four words. Swedish chef. Pure genius.

Not to mention.....

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Kim-chi restaurant

To the left is one of four starters from Dublins Kim Chi Restaurant. Located at the top of Parnell street, and recommended to me as an authentic taste of Korean cuisine, we chose it as a late night venue for a fond farewell to a work colleague.

The starter pictured is the rainbow roll, Korean style sushi comprising eel, prawn, salmon and tuna sushi rolls, with a dab of wasabi, and soy sauce on the side. The tastes cut through our drunken palates, cleanly, and crisply. The unexpected and gently building heat of wasabi combining terrifically with the pleasant purity of the sushi tastes.

We also had (pictured right) a starter of blocks of rice, daubed with wasabi, and a butterflied prawn, topped with roast, shredded sweet potato, with a side of pickled ginger and wasabi. The prawn had quite an amazing texture, fleshy and firm, and an unusually intact taste. The shredded sweet potato was addictively sweet, and the ginger the perfect side to cleanse the palate for another uncomplicated taste of simplicity.


This starter was a similar dish, but without the sweet potato, and topped with eel and salmon, to be dipped in soy sauce, and wasabi, and followed by a slice of pickled ginger to cleanse the palate. A fantastic introduction, accompanied by complimentary soup in small cups. And the aesthetic effect of these finely balanced, well put together, quite minimalist plates was startling.

As we moved on to main courses, I entirely lost track of what we ordered. It was, after all, a farewell party. For my own main, I ordered the Bulgogi, a beef dish marinated in soy sauce, pear puree, sesame oil, and a host of other ingredients, and served with a side of freshly washed lettuce, still wet, some boiled rice, and some fermented soybean paste.

The trick is to spoon the beef mix into the leaf, then some rice, and finally spoon over some paste, and wrap the concoction up in the fresh leaf, then eat. Quite an interesting and divine leaf, each flavour distinct and somewhat separate, but working together fantastically to counterpoint one another. And the freshly washed leaf brought a texture and fresh taste that was absolutely perfect.

We also had a 7 shot bottle of sake, warm, and two other starters, for the princely sum of €115, including tip. An amazing price for a truly memorable meal. The service was exemplary, with staff genuinely happy, it seemed to our beer soaked selves, to explain any queries we had about authenticity, recommendations, and pronunciation. Tables have buzzers to summon service, and food arrived in perfectly staggered stages. An amazing price for what I am told is an authentic taste of Korean cuisine.

Add to this the general ambience, where, on Parnell street, the melting pot of Dublin, the bar and restaurant was populated by pleasantly drunken Koreans, Irish, Poles, Germans, co-existing quite happily in a chilled out, beer fueled slow and comfortable gorge, and you have a truly memorable experience, which restored my optimism in both our culinary scene, and Irelands current experiment with multicultural identity.

On the downside, the restaurant is tiny, and is part of a larger and noisier bar, which also shares the seating space, so the ambience is distinctly informal. That was fine for our crowd, but it is not a fine dining venue. The seating is quite cramped, and again utterly informal, closer to bar seating than restaurant, and the tables are far too small to easily support the massive amounts of food the kitchen will effortlessly usher out and into your life.

These are not really complaints, though, just qualifications. It is an informal place. Pick up some beers, soak in the food, the tastes, the smiles, and the sounds - it also triples as a music venues - and feel rejuvenated. Its good for the soul. I may well become a regular.

Kimchi (also known as the Hop House). At the top of Parnell street. Enter and enjoy. (sorry, no phone number - they appear to be unlisted.)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Raving. About Ravioli. I know. I know.

Well, I largely finished off the Juniper Berry cured pancetta from a while ago. I cooked up an Amatriciana with it, and finished off the last of it in some bacon and potato hash, with dried chillies and plum tomatoes. I think I favour the bay leaf cure thusfar. A nice, deep, sweetly subtle taste. Next up is the crushed coriander seed cure. And after that, I think I'll experiment. Black mustard seed. Fennel seed. Honey cured. The skys the bacon-based limit.

Consumed too quickly to photo, I'm afraid.

The next project was supposed to be some guanciale, air dried and salt cured pigs cheek. Its getting too close to summer for air drying though. And pigs cheek is difficult to track down. After 7 or 8 attempts, I finally tried Buckleys in Moore street, who will sell me an entire head, which I can take home and chop up myself. €5. Bargain.

Needing a break from the heart halting porkfest of death the last few weeks have presented, I wound up cooking for some Italian friends recently. A terrifying experience, as I cooked Italian food. Two Northerners, to be precise, a sommelier friend of mine, and someone I used to work with. As they talked about their plans to start up an import business - more of which, hopefully, i the following few months, I put the finishing touches to the ravioli I had prepared that morning, and served it up in a butter and lemon sauce, with some pate and pork rillette on the side. Beautiful. And it went down a treat. As good as homecooked Italian apparently.

To make the pasta dough.

1 egg per 100 g of doppio zero pasta flour - available from the best of Italy, or any good food store - is the recommended amount. But in Irelands humid climate, I tend to use less egg than this. I used about 350 g of flour, and 3 eggs. Make a volcano with the flour, sprinkle with a little salt, and crack the eggs into the well of the volcano. Using a fork, gradually break up the eggs and incorporate flour, a bit at at time, caving in the sides of the volcano as you do. Eventually, the mix becomes thick enough to mix all the flour together. Working it into an elastic dough, as it begins to come together, stretch the top of the dough slightly, and pull it back towards you over the rest of the dough and press it in with the heels of your palm. Turn the dough often. Add flour as required, or, if the dough is too dry, dip your fingers in a bowl of water, and continue mixing. Repeat as required. After the dough has initially come together, 10 minutes working it should suffice. Roll out the dough, to maybe a 1 inch thickness, and then clingfilm it, and allow to rest for 1 hour.

For the filling.

Spinach leaves.
Good quality ricotta.
Black pepper.
Fried pancetta cubes - small.
Fresh nutmegs.

Quickly wilt some spinach, circa 300g, in a little water - just the water used to wash the leaves - adding some sea salt. Drain in a colander for an hour, and allow to cool. Sqeeze out as much water as you can from the cooked leaves, and chop them roughly.

In a bowl, mix 250g of good quality ricotta - you have to go to a specialist deli for this - with some freshly grated nutmeg, some chopped and fried pancetta, and black pepper (the pancetta, or home cured bacon, should add enough salt). Mix in the chopped spinach, and add some egg to bind the mix. I normally use half an egg, lightly beaten just before adding.

Take your dough out from the fridge, and leave, wrapped, on the countertop for half and hour, to heat up. Flour a work surface with doppio 0 flour. Cut your pasta dough into quarters. cover three of the pieces with a damp towel, and roll out the fourth piece into a rectangular shape, about 1-1.5cm thick. Feed this pasta into your pasta machine rollers, starting at the highest setting. Pass though the machine once for each setting until you reach the thinnest. You should have a long, slightly oval shaped piece of pasta, partially translucent. Fold it over on itself several times lengthwise, until you can feed it back though the thickest setting, and again, run it through the rollers several times, dropping down one thickness at a time. Again fold it over, but this time, turn the sheet 90 degrees and pass it through the pasta machine from thickest to thinnest using this different orientation - this stretches the pasts in all directions. Refold along its length once more, and without turning 90 degrees, again pass though the rollers, from thickest to thinnest setting.

To make the ravioli.

You will need, a small spoon, a pastry brush, a pasta cutting wheel, and some lukewarm water. Flour a work surface, and lay out the by now several foot long sheet of pasta on your surface, Dot the pasta with small spoons of the filling. I tended to use a heaped teaspoon of filling, fitting the dots in rows of two halfway down the pasta. Lightly brush the channels between the fillings with water, and fold over the rest of the pasta, laying it lightly on top of the fillings. Working from the open top, press the upper sheet down on the lower, starting from the centre of the sheet, and moving out, trying to push out any air bubbles. Seal up the separate ravioli carefully, making sure there are no gaps, or trapped air bubbles, and cut using the wheel, or a scissors or serrated knife.

I'd suggest using them immediately, though if you do store them, lay them out in single layers. They stick very easily. To freeze, lay them out in single layers on a floured tray, in the freezer. When they freeze, you can bag them.

To cook, add them to boiling water (use a large full pot), and scoop out after three minutes - when cooked they change colour, and float to the top of the pot. Plate or bowl em.

For the sauce.

Juice of half a lemon.
Black pepper.
Butter(circa 200g).
Sea salt.
Fresh sage leaves(optional)(5 or 6 whole, two roughly chopped)

Heat the butter in a small saucepan, or cast iron frying pan. When the butter begins to froth add in whole sage leaves, and stir. Add the lemon juice, and some zest if you like. Grate in black pepper. Add salt. Taste, and adjust seasoning, and lemon as necessary. Take out the whole sage leaves. Pour over the pasta, and sprinkle with chopped sage leaves. Serve.