Sunday, June 29, 2008

Learning to love broad beans/Five spice quail

I've always had a tricky relationship with broad beans.
I've always known that I am supposed to love them. They are, after all, one of the real delights of summer. I've always loved the idea of broad beans. I even like the look of them prior to cooking - who couldn't fall for that lovely furry nest that protects and encloses them?

I remember that as a child, broad beans were proffered as a real treat. I was supposed to feel lucky to have the greying shrivelled up things nestling upon my plate.

Trouble is, I didn't feel too lucky. In fact, I felt distinctly unlucky. What had I done to deserve such horrible vegetables? Why couldn't I just have peas instead?

Ever since, I have shunned the broad bean. It has had no place in my kitchen. Until now, that is. Just recently I had something of a eureka moment. I was a guest at a lunch party and upon picking up the menu, my heart sunk somewhat. I forget what kind of fish was being served, but I can remember all too clearly that the seasonal sauce was broad bean-based. I thought that I could perhaps politely push the offending beans to one side or hide them under a bit of discarded fish skin. When the dish arrived, however, I was surprised to see how bright and pretty the broad beans looked. None of the wrinkled greyness I had come to loathe. The verdict? Delicious, of course.

What had happened, you see, is that the chefs had peeled the beans after cooking them. A thankless task, they may have grumbled as they peeled enough broad beans for 200-odd people. But I, for one, am hugely thankful. I have at long last discovered the joy that is a fresh broad bean. Before I get all evangelical on the subject of the peeled broad bean, allow me to demonstrate the obvious. Which of the below looks more tempting to you?

The grey wrinkly thing with its tough skin, or the lovely bright green thing? I rest my case.

I was having a bad day yesterday. The sun was shining, it was the weekend, I'm off on holiday next week - what on earth could be wrong? I was stuck inside working. And today, I'm stuck inside working too. It is my own fault, of course. I've been foolish enough to book a week's holiday and we all know what that means, don't we? Desperately trying to fit two weeks' work into one to make up for the week that we'll miss. This time I am determined to get it all done before I go so that I can properly relax and enjoy myself.

To make up for the bad weekend, I decided to treat myself to a really special meal in the garden. Unusually for a Saturday, it was just me, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from making an effort. At six thirty, I took myself outside with a glass of wine and set to work podding the beans and topping and tailing gooseberries for dessert (more on that later). I felt suddenly completely summery - there is something about podding beans or shelling peas outdoors that seems timeless. The epitome of English summertime. I then made a marinade for a little quail that I'd picked up at the butcher and sat back with the papers and a little plate to nibble on: parma ham and manchego cheese drizzled with a little honey. Heaven...

As for the quail, I followed a Nigel Slater recipe from The Kitchen Diaries. It worked out rather well. He suggested 2 quail per person and he is probably right (I find he is about most things), but I was happy with just the one seeing as I had the cheese and ham to start and gooseberry crumble for pudding. He also comments on the fact that one should not be polite when eating quail - a knife and fork will not get you far. Pick it up in your fingers and nibble away at those bones.

To go with the quail, I roasted some butternut squash in the same tin and then made a lovely side dish of broad beans with pancetta.
Food, Glorious Food indeed!

Take a look in
The Kitchen Diaries for the original recipe for the quail. He serves his with spinach which might be nice next time. You'll find it there on page 169. And if you still don't have the book, then you really must go out and buy it. I've said it before and I shall be certain to say it again. I really think it is my favourite cookery book. Or possibly even my favourite book full stop.

Anyway, here is my version with the quantites changed somewhat. Underneath, you will also find my recipe for the broad bean side dish. Both are easily doubled or tripled!

Nigel Slater's roasted five spice quail with butternut squash

Serves one

Ingredients -

1 or 2 oven-ready quail
1 1/2 heaped teaspoons of five spice seasoning
half a teaspoon of hot chilli powder
1 small clove garlic
juice of half a lemon
1 tablespoon of oil (I used vegetable, Nigel suggests groundnut)
flaked salt

Half a butternut squash - peeled, seeded and chopped into 1 inch chunks

1. Finely chop the garlic and place in a bowl with the seasoning, chilli powder, lemon juice and oil. Season with a little salt. Pop the quail into the bowl and rub all over with the marinade. Pop to one side for an hour or so.

2. Pre-heat oven to 200C. Drizzle a little oil into a roasting tin and pop the squash in 5-10 mins ahead of the quail. Push squash to one side and then place quail in the tin too, with a little of the marinade drizzled over the top. Rub a little more salt into the skin to help it crisp up and roast for 25 minutes until the skin is nicely browned.

Broad beans with pancetta
Serves one

Handful of freshly podded broad beans
Heaped tablespoon of chopped pancetta
1 dessert spoon double cream
1 dessert spoon freshly chopped curly parsley

1. Boil broad beans for 5-10 minutes depending on size. Drain and rinse in sieve with cold water. Peel and discard those wrinkly grey skins!

2. Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta (no need for any oil). When this is cooked and crispy, add the broad beans, cream and parsley. Season with pepper (no salt - pancetta is very salty). Heat through and serve.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Braised little gems

Summer, it seems, is finally here. We are half way through the first week of Wimbledon and there's not been a spot of rain. Is this a first? It is not super hot, but the sun is shining and there is a gentle breeze in the air. English summer at its best...

I've always been intrigued by recipes for cooked lettuce. To me, the joy of lettuce is that it is crisp and fresh. Cooking it seems all wrong. I imagine something flabby and stringy and not even vaguely pleasant. You'd think that I'd leave it at that. But no. The idea has been playing on my mind lately. The recipes usually involve peas. And anything involving peas is good, is it not?

My curiosity got the better of me and so it was that I found myself braising some Little Gem lettuces on Sunday night.

What have I been missing all my life? It was superb. I'm totally unable to explain why soggy lettuce should taste good, but trust me; it does. Actually, it wasn't soggy at all. It retained a pleasing crunch. And it was perfect with a bit of simply grilled fish. This comes thoroughly recommended.

Braised Little Gems with Peas and Spring Onions

Serves 2 (easily halved, or doubled)


2 small Little Gem lettuces, outer leaves removed
1 mug of peas (frozen is fine)
5 spring onions
200ml chicken stock
2 tablespoons creme fraiche

1. Chop the lettuce into strips and the spring onions into thin slices.

2. Melt a knob of butter in a non-stick frying pan and then add the spring onions. Fry until starting to soften. Add the lettuce and the peas and stir to coat in the buttery oniony juices.

3. Pour over the hot stock and bubble away for ten minutes or so. You want most of the liquid to evaporate (you can always pop a lid on the pan if it disappears too quickly).

4. Just before serving, add the creme fraiche and stir to combine. Heat through and season with pepper. Taste before adding any salt - the stock is usually pretty salty.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Blueberry and raspberry muffins

Recently, I was reading
an amusing post on the differences between cupcakes and muffins. The brains behind Cakespy weighed up the evidence and even conducted an experiment. You've got to admire someone who take the issue of cupcakes so seriously. For me, the key difference is that a muffin is much, much larger than the traditional cupcake. While we're at it, let's be a little more British about the whole thing and give them their proper name: fairy cakes. A fairy cake is, in my mind, small. It would have to be, after all, as how else would the fairies stay so slender?

In these times of
swanky cupcake boutiques, the cup/fairy cake has got a little on the large size. I think that this is perhaps where the confusion lies. I think that if we were to be true to both species we would certainly bake them in different sized tins. But what do I know?

Anyway, this is a diversion. I know of course, that there are different methods involved in cupcake and muffin bakery. And here I am led neatly to my inability to create the muffin of my dreams. I blogged about this
before. More than once. My disappointment stems from my failure to achieve proper 'muffin tops'. Big puffy tops is what I'm after - muffins shaped somewhat like a rather fat mushroom. Such shapely muffins sadly elude me. I've decided that perhaps it is time to admit defeat and instead enjoy the slightly less puffy creations that usually appear.

I made these on Friday as I was off to a wedding on Saturday and we had a long car journey to get there. I felt certain we would need sustenance. Little did I know we'd also be digging into them on return to our hotel at one thirty in the morning. The perfect midnight snack. This is my newly-found favourite muffin recipe that involves no scales, just an ordinary kitchen mug. Brilliant. I just used the recipe for the
kiwi fruit muffins from the Abel and Cole cookbook and changed the fruit.

Blueberry and raspberry muffins
Makes 12


1 egg
1/2 mug milk
2 tbsp oil

1 1/2 mugs plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 mug caster sugar

1 mug mixed raspberries and blueberries

Butter for greasing and sugar for dusting

1. Pre-heat oven to 220C and grease a muffin tray (or line with muffin cases). Mix all the wet ingredients together in a bowl (excluding the fruit).

2. Sieve the dry ingredients into another bowl and then gently mix the wet into the dry. Do not overmix - it doesn't matter if the mixture is a bit lumpy.

3. Add the fruit and again, mix through very gently.

4. Fill the muffin cases about half-full and then dust with a little sugar. Bake for about 25 minutes and then remove and cool on a wire rack.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Mediterranean chicken

Food shopping for one is something of a challenge. I've said it before and, no doubt, I'll feel the need to say it again. I like a little rant every now and then you see. My gripe, I'm afraid, lies with those little town centre supermarkets that are oh-so-convenient for stopping in on the way back from work. Particularly if you live in London. I do try hard to be a good little food shopper. At weekends, I go to the farmers market and the local butcher. I buy things in small, individual portions. I try to plan for the week ahead. In reality though, this is difficult and leads to waste. The week rarely goes as planned - I find I'm out a couple of nights or it gets to Wednesday and I don't really feel like the lamb chops that I'd planned.

I prefer to shop on a more regular basis - buying what I need or fancy when I need it. As I don't get home much before seven, this rules most of the local shops out during the week. Instead, it takes me to
those dreaded town centre supermarkets that I mentioned earlier. Convenient in that they are open late they are, convenient in terms of stocking the things you want to buy they are not. Allow me to elaborate. Last week, I ventured tentatively into one such store in order to buy a chicken breast, a courgette, an onion or two and a potato or two and a tin of tomatoes. I came out with four chicken breasts, three courgettes, 12 onions, eight potatoes and four tins of tomatoes. What can I say, other than that by the end of the week I was sick of courgettes and chicken.

When over half the London population live alone*
, I am unable to understand why these places insist on selling everything exclusively in large multi packs. It just leads to so much waste.

On second thoughts, I understand perfectly well. They make more money that way.

I know what you are thinking (did I mention that I count mind-reading amongst my many varied talents?). You are wondering why I didn't freeze the extra chicken breasts. Here I have to admit you have a point. I also have to admit to being rather disorganised - I never remember to get such things out of the freezer in the morning before heading off to work. And I could hardly freeze the potatoes, onions or courgettes, could I? (Please don't get all clever on me at this point and tell me how I could have cooked and mashed and frozen, or chopped and frozen in ice-cube trays or what-have-you. It sounds like a marvellous idea for those with plenty of time on their hands. Like most of us, I don't fall into that category).

So. Instead, I've been eating a lot of chicken and courgette dishes over the past week. The first of these is a favourite of mine. I think the original recipe concept came from a Leith's book belonging to my mother. I make it slightly differently each time, but the basics are below.

All the flavours make me think of the strong flavours of Mediterranean holidays. Or Italian holidays for that matter. Chicken cooked in a lovely herby ratatouille-type sauce and then topped with mozzarella grilled until all stringy and lovely. Sometimes I throw olives into the sauce towards the end of cooking, but on this occasion, I made a black olive mash which was rather good.

I've actually made this twice recently - hence some of the photos show lots of chicken breasts and the finished article shows just one lonely piece of chicken! Here is a recipe for four. If you want to make it for one, I'd be inclined to make the same amount of sauce. You can then use the remaining sauce for pasta. Or, if you are more organised than me, you could freeze it for another time!

Mediterranean chicken
Serves 4


4 chicken breasts, skin removed
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fresh chopped tarragon
olive oil
1 large onion or 4 shallots
1 courgette
half an aubergine
1 tin chopped tomatoes
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp thyme
1/2 pint chicken stock
Small bunc
h basil
4 slices of mozzarella

1. First make the tomato sauce. Chop the onions and sweat in a little olive oil. When translucent, add diced courgette and aubergine. Season well.

2. Once vegetables are starting to soften, stir in tomato paste and cook for a minute or so. Add tinned tomatoes, sugar and thyme. Stir and then add around half of the stock. Simmer for 15-20 minutes - top up with stock as necessary. You want a pouring consistency but not too watery.

3. Whilst the sauce is bubbling away, prepare the chicken breasts. Pre-heat oven to 180C. Finely chop garlic and tarragon and spread all over chicken with your hands. Add salt and pepper too.

4. Heat some olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and then add the chicken. Brown for a couple of minutes on each side, then set to one side.

5. Place chicken breasts into an ovenproof dish. Taste the tomato sauce and adjust seasoning if necessary. Pour over the chicken breasts and cover with foil. Bake for 25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the sauce bubbling.

6. Pre-heat grill to high. Place slice of mozzarella over each chicken breast and grill until melted and bubbling. Garnish with basil.

For black olive mash:
Mash cooked potatoes with olive oil and lots of chopped black olives. Season with pepper but go easy on the salt - olives have plenty of salt already!

Notes - Vary the sauce according to what ingredients you may have to hand. Add red peppers, different herbs, black olives etc. Or use a different cheese. I actually used Parmesan as I had no mozzarella. It wasn't quite as good, but it worked fine.

* This is one of those great statistics that I once read and now cannot remember where I read it. Or find it through the usually trusty google search. Perhaps I just made it up. I have found something that states that 30% of people lived alone in the UK in 2001. A significant minority indeed. Likely to be more in big cities. Not only are we bad for the environment, apparently we like to feed ourselves exclusively on ready meals. What a sad lot we are made out to be!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Refreshing still lemonade

Whilst I invariably am able to find something to offer friends to eat when they drop by, my flat is a less attractive proposition for the thirsty. Working in the wine trade means that I am always able to pour them a glass of wine but I find (inexplicably!) that mid-morning or mid-afternoon wine does not always seem to be people's beverage of choice. The same applies for the drivers, the pregnant or any others who fall into the non-alcoholic beverage category.

When not drinking wine, I drink water. I very rarely drink anything else. I hate squash (it tastes so artificial) and, whilst I do love freshly squeezed juices, I find that many other drinks come in sizes too big for the single person. I can't get through it all quickly enough and I hate waste.

Whilst I am happy drinking glass after glass of water at home, it has recently come to my attention that perhaps guests might prefer something a little more... interesting! My key issue with most soft drinks is that they are terribly sweet or strongly flavoured - I find the sweetness prevents them being refreshing and the strong flavours can interfere with whatever food you may be eating.

The one drink that I do love, however, is a proper homemade lemonade on a hot day. The still, cloudy stuff with its pleasing balance between the tartness of the lemons and the sweetness of the sugar. So refreshing on a sweltering summer's afternoon!

Last weekend when it was particularly hot and sunny, I decided to make a jug for a friend who was passing by for lunch in the garden. The recipe is my mother's and is more of a lemony water than a strongly flavoured lemonade. At first I was disappointed (I'd had my suspicions when I noticed the recipe contained just one lemon) but as the afternoon wore on, it really grew on me. It was subtle but totally reviving in the heat of the sun.

If you want a stronger, more lemony drink, then simply add more lemons. For each lemon, up the amount of sugar by 2 tablespoons. For an interesting twist, you could also grate some ginger into the jug and leave to infuse for a few hours prior to straining.

Homemade lemonade
Makes enough for four people


1 large unwaxed lemon (N.B. it is important to use an unwaxed lemon)
2 tbsp caster sugar
6 ice cubes
1 litre water

To serve:

Slices of lemon
Ice cubes

1. Cut the ends off the lemon. Cut in half and pop into a liquidiser. Whizz for a few seconds to break up a little.

2. Add sugar, ice cubes and water to the liquidiser and put the top on tightly (!). Whizz on full power until fully blended.

3. Strain into a jug and add more ice cubes and slices of lemon.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Culinary failures: smoked salmon and boursin terrine

I've said it before and I'll no doubt say it again. When it comes to choosing my favourite food blogs, I tend to lean towards those of the regular experimental home cook rather than the all-singing-all-dancing blogs of the would-be food stylists. Sure, on occasion I can be sucked in by the glossy and polished. Much as I try to wean myself off, there are a
few such shimmering blogs that I simply can't resist. And occasionally comment on. Even though I know that my penny's worth will be lost amongst the hundreds of others that similarly worship at their altar of polished foodieness or addictive writing in one such case. But really, my real food blog love is reserved for those ever-so-slightly less perfect. Those who share their failures as well as their successes. We can't be perfect in the kitchen EVERY day. For me, a good food blog is as much about the writing as it is the food. I want to hear the story behind the dish. Even if that story tells of a dish that didn't turn out as well as expected. I loved reading about Wendy (of A Wee Bit of Cooking fame) as she journeyed her way from wedding cake disaster to wedding cake perfection. I found myself chuckling away as I read of The Phantom Chef's revolting goats cheese jelly. This is not because I take pleasure in people's failure, you understand. I just feel that these are people I can identify with. Whilst the vast majority of things that come out of their kitchen are perfection personified, there are the odd difficulties too.

All this preamble is to warn you that I am about the present a less than perfect dish. In my defense, I would like to tell you how delicious it was. It just didn't look as good as I'd hoped. What I had been planning, was one of those oh-so-pretty-when-sliced terrines that you feel awfully smug about slicing up at the table. The recipe came from a Christmas magazine supplement one year - I cannot remember which magazine or which Christmas. The photo showed a stunning terrine cut into a neat, firm slice with layers of smoked salmon, pretty green cucumber and creamy loveliness. It didn't look at all like this...

I remember that my mother made the terrine that Christmas. I recall that it was a little tricky to slice. But I seem to remember that it still looked vaguely akin to the picture. Smug smiles all round. I also recalled (too late)that I made the very same terrine soon afterwards for a dinner party and that I was disappointed that I couldn't slice the thing and that it looked all messy. Not a smug smile to be seen.

But as I say, I remembered this last fact too late. I remembered it upon slicing my latest effort. It was all soft and impossible to slice. The creamy filling oozed everywhere and ended up looking like a bit smoked salmony, cucumbery mess.

All is not lost however. It still tasted delicious. Plus I have theories for why it didn't quite go to plan. Firstly, in a rare health-conscious moment, I decided to opt for a low fat Boursin rather than the full fat beast. I've had a problem with using low-fat cream cheese in other recipes in the past. Next time (yes, I did say next time) I'll use the real deal. I'll also chill it for longer and weight it down with something heavier than a couple of packs of butter. Maybe this will help. Maybe it won't. Maybe I'll have to re-christen it 'smoked salmon and Boursin surprise'.

Smoked salmon and Boursin Terrine
Serves 8


80g Bousin cheese with garlic and herbs (or other brand of garlic and herb soft cheese, I guess)
200ml creme fraiche
2 tbsp freshly chopped dill
1 tablespoon horseradish sauce
600g smoked salmon
1/2 a cucumber
salt and pepper

1. Mix Boursin, creme fraiche, dill and horseradish together in a bowl, season and then cover with cling film and chill.

2. Line a loaf or terrine tin with cling film leaving plenty hanging over the edge and then line the base and sides with smoked salmon...

3. Halve the cucumber lengthways and scoop out the seeds with a teaspoon. Using a potato peeler, peel strips of cucumber and arrange half the strips on top of the salmon, lengthways.

4. Spoon half of the cream mixture on top of the cucumber and smooth over. Top with 2 layers of smoked salmon and then the remainder of the cucumber slices.

5. Spoon over remaining creamy mixture and top with 2 more layers of smoked salmon. Cover with overhanging cling film, weight down and chill for at least 4 hours, or ideally over night.

6. When ready to serve, unwrap and turn out onto a flat surface. Slice with a very sharp knife and if you are lucky you should get a perfect slice with layers of pink, green and white. If so, smug smiles all round. If not, you'll get something looking a little more like this...

If so, grin and bear it. It'll still taste pretty good!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Rhubarb and ginger ice cream

Oh, would this rain just stop. I've had enough. I'd had enough last Summer. June is supposed to be all sunny and lovely. Not damp and grotty. I hate not knowing what to wear. It is warm but it is wet. Add to this the fact that I have a two hour commute to work and you'll understand that I am frequently ridiculously and inappropriately clothed. When I leave London at 7am it can be a bright and sunny day, yet when I arrive at Stevenage station it is frequently wet and cold. I get some funny looks in my summery dress and strappy sandals.

Last week in fit of Summer excitement, I decided to get out the ice cream maker. I was lucky enough to receive one last August for my birthday. Summer (or what there was of it) was coming to an end and I only got to try it out a few times. I'm not really a winter ice cream person, you see.

So, I was excited to give it a burst last week. Those of you who read my
previous post will not be surprised to hear that when entertaining I am not content to produce just one rather lovely pudding but feel the need to provide two. Just in case someone doesn't like the first offering. I couldn't bear for them to go without. Of course, usually, everyone wants a little of both. So much the better in my book.

I am more than a little obsessed with rhubarb. Really, I prefer the earliest forced rhubarb. A streak of pink during an otherwise bland winter season. But I'm prepared to give the later variety a whirl too. As long as it still has a bit of pink about it. Rhubarb (or rude-barb as I often feel the urge to call it) is just wonderful with ginger. I augmented my ice cream with syrup from a jar of stem ginger and added bashed up ginger nuts for added interest. The experiment was (modesty aside) a successful one.

If you don't have an ice cream maker, you can still make the stuff. You just have to have a little patience and keep whisking the stuff whilst it is freezing. For more tips, see
this advice from the master of ice-cream, David Lebovitz.

Rhubarb and ginger ice cream
Serves 6

Ingredients -

500g rhubarb (weight prior to trimming and chopping)
7 oz golden caster sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
15 fluid oz (425 ml) whipping cream
1 - 2 tbsp syrup from jar of stem ginger in syrup
8 ginger nuts ( or thereabouts!)

1. Preheat oven to 180C. Trim rhubarb (be sure to get rid of any poisonous leaves). Cut into 2 cm pieces and put into roasting tin. Sprinkle over sugar and lemon juice and give a good shake to coat. Pop into the oven to roast for 30 minutes.

N.B. It will seem like an awful lot of sugar, but remember that rhubarb is very tart. If you want, add less and taste later - you can always add a little more. Once you remove it from the oven, it should be tender and sitting in lots of lovely juice...

2. Pop the rhubarb in a blender and blitz, or use a stab mixer to blend to a fine pureé. Stir in the ginger syrup, cover with clingfilm and then chill in the fridge for at least half and hour.

3. Bash the ginger nuts into smallish pieces. Not so small that you have crumbs - you want the bits to be noticeable in the ice-cream. About the size of a pea is perfect. Easiest way to do this - pop in a plastic freezer bag and bash with a rolling pin.

4. When rhubarb mixture is cool, stir the cream in thoroughly and pour into the prepared ice-cream maker. Churn until you have a spoonable consistency (around 20 minutes) and then scrape into a container. Stir in the bits of ginger nut at this stage. Pop in the freezer until ready to serve.

Delicious with strawberries and crisp little biscuits. Or why not make a lovely strawberry purée to drizzle over the top. Delicious!

Other fruity ice creams I've made over the past year...

Damson ice-cream

Blackberry ice-cream

Orange ice-cream

Raspberry ripple ice-cream terrine