~ pertelote ~

January 2003

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That Summer, Andrew Greig
Let it snow
College dinner for work tomorrow

Friday 31st January

Cambridge is so pretty in the snow. Yes, it's cold and wet and impossible to walk on... but it is the perfect weather for goulash. Yum, braised beef with wine, tomatoes and lots and lots of gorgeous smoked paprika.

Wednesday 29th January

There are people who put a lot of effort into working out how to make a perfect potato gratin, and then take the time to write it down to help others. And then there's me. I am inclined to blame the slightly bottom-of-the-bag potato, but my conscience won't let me. Overcooked, I think. Not enough liquid. The fish was about right, though - pan-fried plaice with tapenade. My recipe for tapenade goes: three anchovies, two teaspoons of capers, as many black olives as are left in the jar, a good number of basil leaves and a slug of brandy. Whizz but leave chunky, adding oil only if necessary. I'm not convinced by the tapenade/flat fish combination. A meatier fish would have been better. Plaice is too delicate, I think... next time I'll stick to brown butter.

Tuesday 28th January

Even in winter I have a habit of resorting to quiche when the cupboard's a bit bare - I nearly always have flour and butter for a pastry case, and enough cheese, eggs and crème fraîche to fill it up. This was a new combination though: courgettes (sweated slowly with a bit of onion), feta and mint. Very sharp and fresh-tasting. Ok, my pastry always breaks, and then it shrinks, and the only reason the whole thing didn't overflow messily was that I hadn't actually made enough filling. But if I call it a tart rather than a quiche, you don't expect it to be so thick, do you? And it sounds much more chic. Tart. Zucchini and feta tart.

Monday 27th January

Very quiet weekend. I baked a cake - a chocolate orange cake, ie a chocolate cake made moist and rich and bitter by pureeing a whole orange and stirring it into the mix. Luscious. And C made Thai fish parcels by rolling some trout fillets around a lovely ginger/lemon grass/chilli mixture and wrapping each one in lettuce - you have to pour boiling water over the lettuce leaves to soften them first. That sat on rice noodles and courgette ribbons - raw but thin enough to be slightly cooked by the heat of the noodles. Very tasty.

Friday 24th January

Continuing the theme of food you can taste even though you thought nothing from the outside world could ever reach your brain again: Sicilian pasta with broccoli and anchovies - which hardly does it justice because it also had oodles of garlic (good for the 'ail'ing - ho ho, thanks Claire!), breadcrumbs, pine nuts and dried figs. Mmmmmm, love that sweet and salty Mafia vibe. Apparently 'Mafia' (what you would call Murder in the Dark) is the latest dinner party craze among trendy New York types. I admit I'm tempted...

Thursday 23rd January

I dread to think how few beneficial vitamins were left in this by the time I'd finished cooking it, but we've both got colds (ok, cold, singular, I expect), so it felt healthy to eat orange chicken - with whole slices of real orange, black olives and balsamic vinegar - and pearl barley risotto, with large portions of garlicky broccoli on the side. Cough, sniff, sympathy please.

Monday 20th January

Oh, this exotic banquet was so much fun. I don't know if it was North African, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean or what - Crazy Water Pickled Lemons just inspired me to put things together without being too consistent. So I did shredded lamb with pomegranate, and roasted peppers with feta (both Nigella, and with some raw red onions soaked in lime juice as she instructs somewhere else); rice with lots of dried fruit, pistachios and preserved lemon - sort of ripped off from CWPL's jewelled couscous; the layered vegetable concoction that I think of as cake, but which the Aldeburgh Cookery School calls Persian ratatouille; a tabbouleh-like herb salad with lemon juice and a little couscous; and flatbreads with nigella seeds (guess whose recipe that is!). Which was really quite a lot of food! Afterwards we had mangoes with greek yoghurt and orange-blossom syrup. But really, it's foolish, I was madly panicked, I couldn't have done half of it without my lovely sous-chef - but trust me: so much fun. Don't decide what to cook tonight. Make it all.

Friday 16th January

Well, we won't be going to the Caribbean for the winter this year, anyway. But we can at least make prawn curry, turn the heating up and pretend. The curry was from an article by Sybil Kapoor, whose writing about frangipani flowers and humming birds was a holiday in itself. It was based on garlic, chilli, ginger and tomatoes - so far so predictable - with coriander, tamarind and brown mustard seeds. Very tasty - but when will I learn to chop chillies without burning my fingers?

Wednesday 15th January

Last night I made fish pie, which I was afraid was going to be too stodgy, but it was ok. You start by making the sauce, ie browning some onion, and in this case a chopped leek. I do cheat by doing this in a little oil, because it won't burn, and then - because it's white sauce and I want the taste of butter - adding a knob when I'm ready to stir in the flour and milk. I used lots of lemon juice, too, which made me stir nervously, but it all held together. Finally a big handful of chopped dill and lemon zest, seasoning, the pre-poached haddock, flaked, and some prawns. Then I made a rösti topping, which was *so* easy - and was why the end result wasn't as stodgy as the mashed-potato pies I've made before - because you don't have to pre-cook the potato (one was enough for my two-person pie), just peel, grate, toss in melted butter and spread over the filling. As always with these things, it was much improved by a blast under the grill before serving.

Tuesday 14th January

As if I didn't get enough cook books for Christmas (remember Christmas?) I have Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons out of the library, and it is fantabulous. Totally seductive. So I have grand plans, but I started small with vegetable tagine last night - not from the book, just in its general direction. I don't know if you could even call it tagine, really, it was more like ratatouille (aubergine, peppers, courgettes, tomato) but with coriander, chilli, ginger, cinnamon, dried fruit; and on couscous, with lemon, mint and toasted pine nuts. Sweet by any name.

Monday 13th January

French onion soup is gorgeous; a robust, filling, cheesy risotto is gorgeous: five onion risotto was really rather a good idea. Not that I actually had five kinds of onion (brown, red, spring, garlic and shallots), but we made garlicky mixed-onion mush with a bit of balsamic vinegar in it, and stirred it into the risotto; then topped it with gruyere instead of parmesan. I suppose it would have been quite cute to have croutons, or maybe to flash the risotto under the grill for a minute to brown the cheese. Noted. And I made Nigella's snickerdoodles (actually the chocolate - chocodoodles - variation) for the choir party. They're very good: dark, spicy and crumbly. Also slightly salty, I thought... so I should make a note to reduce the salt in the recipe - although in a way I liked it, I thought it intensified the chocolate. Hmmmm. Of course they weren't the ideal accompaniment to champagne - but heck, I'm not psychic.

Thursday 9th January

Now this, I like. It is a spinach and feta pie, made on Nigella's pattern of lining a springform tin with filo pastry. I made a filling of rice, cooked up with an onion and some mint and thyme; a tin of chickpeas; a bag of young spinach (torn up and wilted a little in the hot rice); and a lump of feta crumbled in. You scrunch the filo up over the top and bake for quarter of an hour, and then of course it can be turned out quite impressively. Infinite possibilities!

Wednesday 8th January

Roast chicken. A whole roast chicken, a real roast chicken. Like grown-ups eat. Not sure I have coverted C to the love of butternut squash yet, though, even jumbled up with pepper, chilli, onion, rosemary, nutmeg, orange juice and lots of butter and chicken juice. Maybe he will forgive me if I make mayonnaise to go in his cold chicken sandwiches. Though somehow that feels wrong with snow falling...

Tuesday 7th January

Don't know what to make of this. I was following a recipe for an African (Ethiopian?) pork stew, with coriander, cumin, oregano and berebere spice mix, which contains chilli, cinnamon, cloves and lots of other things less familiar to me, such as long pepper and ajwain. It came out tasting good, but rather hot and dry. It was cooked in vinegar and stock so I think I should have added something to thicken and sweeten them. Yoghurt perhaps? Or tomatoes? Either would have changed its character a lot. Perhaps it's just that I'm used to eating Indian (or more likely Anglo-Indian) style curries. Well, we're promised a return of Zambalau, so I can educate myself on the authentic cuisine!

Monday 6th January

Last night we celebrated Twelfth Night. The most exciting thing was a Bûche de Noël, made on the model of Delia's, with a flourless chocolate sponge rolled up with chestnut puree and made a bit barky with whipped cream and melted chocolate. I put a bean in it in a slight muddle of European Epiphany traditions - so C. will be making us dinner come Candlemas! The other thing that was new was the chicken: this was invented in completely the wrong order, as I had a bread mix for making rolls in little terracotta pots for Christmas. That was too cute to resist, and produced garlicy, herb bread... garlic bread goes with pasta, tomato sauce; stuff the chicken to make it a little less boring than red slop; mushrooms in the fridge; lo! nice onion, mushroom, pesto stuffing fried up and carefully inserted under the skin to keep the chicken moist and the guests awake.

Friday 3rd January

You didn't think a little thing like not cooking Christmas dinner would keep me from the traditional use of leftovers, did you? Last night I made lentil and chestnut soup with the stock I had salvaged from Mother's ham boiling exploits. It was half cider and tasted vaguely mulled from the cloves. I wasn't allowed to deprive the APs of their cold ham, so I put some bacon in, and nice brown mushrooms - and of course if I'm honest the chestnuts were Faugier's best tinned variety rather than actually left over from roasting, stuffing, or any other arcane practices. But it felt housewifely, anyway.

Thursday 2nd January

Welcome back and a happy new year! Shaken off the hangover yet? I have no handy tips on that front - the usual cures were listed everywhere yesterday, but frankly, fried breakfasts, raw egg yolks and sickly, brightly coloured fizzy drinks make me nauseous at the best of times. I'll stick to toast, coffee, and ibuprofen. (Yes, I know, I'm saying it all wrong. But I was taught always to stress the antepenultimate syllable and I'm not going to stop now.) Pertelote's new year resolutions are for the sake of her sanity rather than your entertainment, I'm afraid: I am going to try to remember that it's a cooking blog, not an eating one, and not get caught up in the tempting loop of mutual congratulation. Not, I stress, that any of my amazingly talented friends and hosts has ever served me anything less than spectacular: but were the day to come, I prefer to make my polite noises over the table than the net. So I shall write if I've cooked, and not otherwise: with an emphasis on educative mistakes and could-do-betters. To travel hopefully, as they almost say, provides more interesting material than to arrive. Like all good resolutions, of course, that starts tomorrow.