25/09/2011

Green Tomato Chutney and why I love Nigel Slater

I appear to be on a roll with the blogging. This is, truth be told, the first time that I have actually had the chance to sit down and write things out. Life has been fairly hectic of late, but I have done an awful lot of cooking – and an awful lot of eating out at restaurants!

The one thing that hasn’t gone so well this year is the garden. To be specific, my tomato plants. The plants were gifted to me by one of my managers, and I looked after them carefully. The weather, however, decided not to cooperate. At one point the poor things looked like they had the dreaded blight, and no-one wants that. It was touch and go as to whether they needed to be binned, but upon further investigation it seemed that, for once, blight was not to blame. Damp weather was. Hardly any sun, quite high humidity and there you have poor, sad, yellowing plants with black blotches on the leaves. After some consultation with my manager, I stripped off as many of the damaged leaves as I could, fed the plants ferociously, and hoped. The weather didn't really perk up much, so I ended up with a lot of green fruit. My poor pots have also been invaded by armies of slugs this year, and I lost a lot of what ripe fruit I had to those slimy devils. 

Around the 9th of September, when it seemed that Autumn had swept her way into Essex trailing brown leaves, mists and gusts of wind in her skirts, I decided that chutney was really the only way to preserve what fruit I had left. Armed with rubber gloves, and a determined face, I wrestled the precious fruit away from the maws of juicy-looking well fed gastropods.

I ended up with around a kilo of green tomatoes and a few red ones. I set some of the green ones to ripen on the windowsill

First tomatoes
Homegrown San Marzanos

and then I did a web search for small batch chutney recipes. The internet did not fail me, in fact it led me straight to my beloved Nigel Slater where I read these words:

“I tend not to make gallons of chutney or jam or marmalade, but prefer to make smaller quantities, a couple of jars at a time.”

And that, dear reader, is why I love that man. Because I had a fairly small amount of tomatoes and only four jars. Thank you Nigel, you saved me again. (It’s not the only reason, obviously, Nigel’s writings just make so much sense.)

So. The tomatoes were prepped

Prepped

I rummaged in cupboards and found ingredients, hoiked out The Big Pan and off I went. I was a little nervous and kept faffing about. My Nan used to make hundreds of jars of chutney every year – green bean, apple, onion and beetroot, green tomato – so I was used to a kitchen overflowing with produce and a process that took days. I was absolutely delighted to find that it all went in one pot, and I could leave it on its own to simmer.

The pan of lovely things:

In the pot

The recipe from the website:


And my recipe. Yes, I tweaked as usual because I was using what I had.
1 kg green tomatoes, halved (will quarter them next time)
1 cup tiny cherry tomatoes, halved
400g white onions, roughly chopped
90g sultanas
150g dark muscovado sugar
150g Demerara sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp yellow mustard seeds
300ml white spiced Vinney vinegar

Put the green fruit, together with the onions, into a large stainless steel or enamelled pan with the sultanas, sugar, cinnamon, salt, mustard seeds and vinegar.

Bring to the boil, turn down the heat and leave to simmer for an hour, giving the occasional stir to reduce the risk of the chutney sticking.

Add the ripe tomatoes and continue to simmer until thickened. This took about 2 hours for mine, as the tomatoes threw out an awful lot of liquid. I also had to squash the tomatoes down a lot as green San
Marzanos seem to be incredibly resistant to cooking down, those little Italian rascals.

Spoon into sterilized* jars and seal.

Green Tomato Chutney


Yes, I know I said I have four jars, but three photographs better.

Thank you Mr Slater! Now all I have to do is wait a few months and then, cheese and chutney sandwich, you are mine.

*I sterilise my jars by running them through the dishwasher on 65º and then baking them in the oven for 10 minutes to dry them out thoroughly. A seal can be achieved by running the full jars through the dishwasher again on 65º. It’s a lot easier than dealing with jars and boiling water!

Thank you Harry Eastwood.

I have a beautiful cookbook. It is a treasure trove of stunningly written baking recipes, and they all utilise the wonderful abundance of vegetables. Now, before anyone turns up their nose, can we all remember a time when carrot cake was thought of as weird and not-quite-wonderful? I know I can, but now it is such a part of our dessert scene that most people actually forget that it has carrot in it, focussing instead on the lightly spiced crumb or the creamy topping.

So. This book is about baking gorgeously naughty cakes made with vegetables but it really takes it that much further. Each vegetable is used because it imparts a particular quality to the cake or scone made. Butternut squash gives body, aubergine a soft silkiness. Harry has written has little headings for each recipe.

Lemon and Lavender Drizzle Cake
Lemon and Lavender might be the flavours of Provence, but this is an English summer garden with the tinkling of china cups and saucers, the creaking of wicker furniture, and hats like straw mushrooms. (pretending it's still 1912.)

Pistachio Chocolate Cake
Courgette and chocolate are an unlikely match, yet they are strangely made for one another since they combine sensible shoes with dark flashing eyes. As ever, Courgette has pre-booked the taxi at the end of the night to take Chocolate home. And Pistachio stands for Party.

Plum Pudding
I don't like Christmas Pudding. Its ominous countenance makes me sit up straight and mind my manners when it's brought in. Instead, the ingredients in this pudding are mellowed by a touch of Jamaican Calypso music and a dose of rum. This pudding is lighter, swings her hips when she walks, but still provokes the tingle of Christmas in the air.

This lovely book inspires, and I admit to dipping into it every now and again simply because it is so pretty to look at.

Last week I made the American Vanilla Cupcakes. They use finely grated courgette and are very light, very sweet but even though the recipe absolutely works, they didn't quite hit the spot for me. They were almost too eggy, but then again I have a bit of Thing about too much egg in recipes. I will try them again, but use some ground almonds next time to give them a little more body.  However, not one to be put off, I decided to try again today and found a recipe for Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cupcakes. I had most of the ingredients, but I did have to make a few tweaks to make up for the things I didn't have.

They worked. Oh, they SO worked. So much so that I got very excited about blogging them so that other people can make them too. The cakes are that good that they do not need any icing. I will try a batch with the icing at some point but these are delicious, all on their nutty lonesome. Without further ado, the recipe. And a picture of grated butternut squash because it’s pretty.

Grated squash

Harry Eastwood’s Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cupcakes

100g unsalted peanuts (I used salted as it’s what I had but it works. Salt and sweet!)

3 medium free range eggs

200g light Muscovado sugar (I used 100g dark Muscovado and 100g golden caster)

200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash. (Yes, really. Squash.)

100g white rice flour

40g best quality cocoa (I used Green and Blacks)

2 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp salt (I only used an 1/8 as there was salt on the peanuts)

1 tsp cinnamon (my addition)

1/2 tsp mixed spice (my addition)

1 tsp vanilla extract (my addition)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350F/Gas 4 and line a 12 tin muffin pan with paper cases.

Blitz the peanuts in a food processor until finely ground. I then pounded them in a pestle and mortar to get them to a fine powder. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs and sugars for 5 minutes until pale coffee coloured and fluffy.

Batter and grated squash Batter

Next, whisk in the grated squash, then the flour, cocoa powder, salt, spices, baking powder, extract and ground peanuts. I used a spatula to make sure everything was combined.

Spoon the mixture into paper case lined muffin tins until they are 4/5 full.

Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.

Take them out of the oven and leave to cool completely before icing them.

Icing (I did not do this, which is why there are no photos of iced cakes.)

60g smooth peanut butter

2 tbs golden icing sugar, sieved

2 tbsp cocoa powder

pinch salt

5 tbsp boiling water

Mix the peanut butter, icing sugar, cocoa powder and salt with the back of a spoon to form a paste. Next, slowly and very gently incorporate the boiling water with a balloon whisk, one spoonful at a time. You will end up with a smooth and delicious paste. Ice the cupcakes when completely cold.

They rise beautifully, and they taste gorgeous. Slightly salty, sweet but with a caramel hint from the dark sugar. The peanuts are there, but not overwhelming – even though I am tempted next time to put just a wee blob of peanut butter in the middle. Or YE GODS Nutella.

Cakes 

Harry Eastwood's Peanut Butter cupcakes 

 Close up Recipe book

The words addictive and moreish can definitely be applied here.

24/09/2011

Albert’s Table, South Croydon.

I know everyone is saying “Croydon??” but bear with me on this one, okay?

At the beginning of September, Simon and I decided to go out for our anniversary dinner as we hadn’t managed to go on the actual day due to Life happening. Simon had been to Albert’s Table before, and said that we really, really had to go. Now, I am not one to argue with said chap about this sort of thing, because he does love his food so as soon as we hit East Croydon station, we hopped on a bus down to Restaurant Row. It is known as that because it is stuffed with restaurants, not all of whom last the year – or even the month in some cases – because there are simply so many of them. They have to be absolutely outstanding to last, and it is testament to Albert’s Table that it has been there for two years.

Where was I? Oh yes. We got to Albert’s at 6.30pm, but the sign on the door said ‘Closed’, so we pootled up and down the road, looking at what else was there. The Malcolm John restaurant, Fish and Grill, looked very nice, so we added that to the list of places to try at a later date, and then noticed that Albert’s had changed the sign, so we did the World’s Most Nonchalant Saunter across the road and tried to beat each other in through the door.

We didn't have a reservation, but they took pity on two poor souls standing in their soon-to-be-full restaurant looking hungry and smiling hopefully, and seated us with no problem at all.
The place is immaculate. A long room, with pale mushroom coloured walls, and elegant, comfortable seating. The tables are spaced out properly, so you don’t accidentally have your elbow in your neighbour’s soup when you stop for a breather between courses. Nor do you get to overhear the gossip from the next table, which was a problem I have had with Carluccio’s in Covent Garden. I believe I actually joined in with one conversation when they couldn't work out the menu and another when the chap was having girl trouble. Yes, the tables really were that close and yes, I may have written A Letter about it.

Albert’s has got the table distribution just right. Far enough away that nothing is intrusive, but close enough so that you can see what the next table’s food looks like, and add that to the list of Things I Want To Try Next Time, and there were a lot of things I Want to Try Next Time, because there will be a next time, of this we are both certain.

The photos on this post are a combination from my camera phone and Simon’s actual proper camera. Simon’s review is here:

He was much faster at getting it written up than me!

It took us a terribly long time to decide what we wanted to order. Luckily there was lovely, warm freshly baked bread and golden butter to keep us sustained. This is a sultana and walnut roll. There were also sourdough ones and spelt ones. I think we had one of each, just to check you understand.
Sultana and walnut roll

It isn’t a huge menu, but everything just looks so good. In the end I did my usual method of menu whittling, which is to choose things that I know I won’t cook at home. My first course was a Twice Baked Keen’s Cheddar soufflé with green beans and hazelnut oil. Simon chose a plate of deep fried sprats, with watercress and tartare sauce.

My soufflé was utterly gorgeous. It looked like a mini Yorkshire pudding, the outside was so golden, but the inside was warm, yielding and beautifully creamy. The beans were crisp with a nice squeak to them, properly cooked. I was pretty much speechless until I’d finished it, except to go “Mmm! Try it!” at Simon.

Souffle Keens Chedder souffle

I think it is fair to say that Simon very much enjoyed his starter too.

deep fried sprats with watercress tartare Deep fried new season sprats with watercress and tartare sauce

There was a decent wait between the starter and the main, and that is just as well because my main course was incredibly filling, not to mention absolutely gorgeous. Roast loin of Hereford beef, with ceps and a mini ‘cottage pie’ on buttered kale is what it said on the menu but that seriously undersells a magnificent dish. The beef was nigh on perfect, and paired with the almost meaty flavour of the ceps it was mouthful after mouthful of loveliness. The cottage pie was actually a mound of the richest minced beef I have eaten in a long time. Full flavoured, with a very winey depth to it, crowned with a delicate halo of crisped wafer thin potato slices. It sat on a bed of buttered kale which I ate all of, even though I don’t usually like kale at all. There was a mushroom reduction also on the plate that was so thick and velvety it looked like swirls of mustard. I honestly could not have asked for anything more from a plate of food.

Herefordshire beef with Cottage Pie and ceps Beef close up

I quite liked the addition on the menu of “If you like your beef well done, we recommend ordering braised featherblade of local  Hereford beef.” because to cook this beef to well done would have been an utter crime against cowkind. I experienced Food Joy.

Simon chose Cornish grey mullet and brown shrimps, with fresh linguini, fennel, artichokes and green herb salsa. I couldn’t spot any artichokes, and the dish had ruby red beetroot pieces on it, so they may have been  a substitution. The fish was perfectly cooked, moist inside with a crisped skin, and the vegetable base on which it sat was fresh and light.

Cornish grey mullet and brown shrimps with fresh pasta linguine, fennel, artichokes and green herb salsa Cornish grey mullet and brown shrimps close up

We definitely had to sit and wait a decent amount of time before dessert was even thought about, but it was a special night and, darn it, we were going to have pudding.

I had a plum and apricot tart which was almost like a Bakewell tart in texture. Very light, with buttery, crumbly pastry and served with a generous spoonful of proper clotted cream. The kind of cream that sticks to your spoon. I apologise for the quality of the photo, but it had become quite dark by the time dessert rolled around and, well, I was in a hurry to eat my pud. It was delicious.

Plum and apricot tart

Simon’s dessert was spectacular, both in looks and in taste.

Warm chocolate fondant and tart, with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce Warm chocolate fondant close up
The chocolate used was bitter, so while the dish was rich, it wasn’t sickly and the hint of orange throughout lifted it perfectly. I know what I’m having next time! That second photograph made Facebook and Twitter drool. Yes, I posted from the table. No I have no shame.

To borrow Simon’s words: “I went for the chocolate option - described on the menu as "warm chocolate fondant and tart". Which should win some kind of reward for understatement. Somehow, they'd managed to achieve a chocolate dessert plate which wasn't actually particularly sweet (allowing for the vanilla ice-cream - which was very simple), although it was very rich. A dark, bitter, chocolate orange chocolate tart on very thin pastry, accompanying a rich, unctuous fondant, spilling chocolate sauce in a slow, sticky flood when the casing was broken open. And yes, it was definitely delicious. (And also hard to photograph - light just got stuck!)”

Lovely. All of it was absolutely lovely. The staff, the venue, the ambience, the food, even the toilets were absolutely top notch. They let us sit and talk for nearly two hours after we’d finished eating, and never bothered us once, apart from to ask if we were okay and to bring us the coffee. The coffee, by the way, is also excellent, as was the dish of mini handmade truffles that they bring with it. 2 dark chocolate, and 2 soft creamed coconut.

Coffee and truffles

Would I go again? You bet I would. And so would Jay Rayner. http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jan/09/jay-rayner-alberts-table-croydon
Albert’s Table, 49b/c South End, Croydon (020 8680 2010)
http://www.albertstable.co.uk/

14/09/2011

Kedgeree for tea!

I had a friend coming for dinner this evening, and I wanted to make something warming and hearty. I was wracking my brains as to what I could do, and then I remembered that I had two pieces of beautiful smoked haddock in the freezer that needed eating. I always have rice, I always have eggs and I ALWAYS have butter so the idea of kedgeree was born.

I had bought the haddock from the Fish Man who appears at our local farm shop – Calcott Hall farm if anyone would like to know -  every so often, and then stuck them in the freezer and did what everyone usually does -  forgot about them.

Not tonight. Tonight they were going to be the star of the show, and deservedly so. Smokey, but not overly so, pearlescent white – none of the bright yellow garishness here – and incredibly meaty. I picked up some eggs on the way home and then once home it was straight into the kitchen. It had been a bit of a journey to get to my house, as the traffic in London was horrendous, thanks to roadworks on the number 23 bus route, so by the time I got in I was ravenous. Cue a trip to the freezer to get the fish, which I then set to defrost in the microwave. I found a recipe on the internet here: http://www.scottishrecipes.co.uk/kedgeree.htm, and followed it almost to the letter. I said almost.

350g basmati rice
2 smoked haddocks (need to crumble it)
50g butter
4 hard boiled eggs
1 teaspoon of curry paste
4 chopped shallots
750mls stock (I used a kosher chicken consommé mix)

Chop the shallots, and soften them in the butter. Stir in the curry paste and mix well.

Set the haddock to simmer in water until it flakes easily. Skin it, and check for bones, then flake. Set aside.

Add the rice to the pan, and coat with the buttery, spicy shallot mixture.

Add the stock, mix well, and leave to simmer for about 15 minutes.

(Now. I had used too much of the consommé powder, so when I checked it the stock thickened up and I panicked. I added a touch more water, stirred it well and then thought sod it, it’ll be like congee but it will taste awesome.)

When the rice is nearly done, add in the flaked smoked haddock, except for the bits you have both already eaten whilst flaking said fish. Cover the pot with a teatowel, then jam on the lid. It helps the rice to steam.

After another ten minutes on a low heat, take off the lid et voila! The rice should be cooked, the fish should be tender and there you have your Kedgeree. I served it with hardboiled eggs and we slumped on the sofa making om nom nom noises until it was gone.

My lovely friend has been sent home with a box full of leftovers for lunch. This has made her happy, which makes me happy.

Kedgeree final   Kedgeree ii