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.