~ pertelote ~

July/August 2003

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Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose, Sandy Balfour
As much late summer food as I can cram in before autumn
Film nights with jelly

Wednesday 27th August

Bank holiday baking - I may be slack, but would I let you down? I made chocolate macaroons, à la Nigella - I am no fan of the meringue but the addition of ground almonds meant these were lush. Sugar, ground almonds, egg whites and cocoa powder. The first batch collapsed like an English cricket team, but the second lot I left to cool in the (switched-off) oven, which works a treat. Obviously my cooking-for-dinner schedules don't allow long periods of oven off-ness, but even half an hour seemed to perk the chaps up, leaving them crispy on top and squishy underneath - pick your own simile. I sandwiched them with brandy cream and raspberries. And I would like you to know that the only reason my whipper is not stretched across the table and balanced on the corner of the fridge (cf. J/J passim) is that it is plugged in in the living room. Because where else would you be whipping cream?

Sunday 17th August

So, holiday food: deeply inspired by visits to Moro and Brindisa, a Spanish salad to eat outside. Soften a red onion, two red peppers - as dark and twisty as you can find - one red chilli and two cloves of garlic. Hold back with the salt because a little caramelisation will be no bad thing here. Toss with chickpeas - I do think soaking your own is worth it but on the other hand, it is supposed to be holiday food, and some of the tinned varieties are perfectly good. Two tins. Let the chickpeas warm up enough to start absorbing the oil and the flavours of the vegetables, then remove from the heat and flake in tuna - and here I do mean tinned, and feel free to suit the quality of the tin to the register you require for the dish: I was shooting for 'starter, informal dinner party', and found an Ortiz tin of yellow fin in olive oil entirely suitable - but I will repeat with bog standard supermarket stuff for 'packed lunch: workday, feeling poor'. Finally season, add smoked paprika and chopped flat-leaf parsley to taste - and you may also need to drizzle some nice spanish olive oil over. Serve in a large shallow bowl, with cold wine, sour bread, and perhaps a little flamenco music floating out to the patio from the french windows...

Tuesday 5th August

Havin' a heat wave, a tropical heat wave... Pertelote is staying cool with an ice box full of ice cream - the most luscious ice cream, double cream egg custard flavoured just with two tablespoons of brown sugar, caramelised almost to burning. I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream (as Pertelote's granny used also to sing).

Wednesday 30th July

After all that nice light fish and fruit, you couldn't get much less summery than boeuf bourguignon - but it has been raining in a very unsummery way here. Besides which, C had a bottle of red that needed something rather more substantial (a bottle as old as he is - don't ask me how he manages to spin out his b'day celebrations this long). So over about twenty-four hours I browned big chunks of stewing beef; added shallots, pancetta and garlic; braised in red wine and a splash of passata in a very low oven; seasoned with thyme, and added little button mushrooms. You'd be surprised what an appetite for casserole you can work up, even in high summer...

Monday 28th July

More fish, more avocado, more pink and green: it's a theme, clearly. Salmon this time, with a dressing of pink grapefruit and avocado. Literally just the two fruits (yes it is) chopped chunkily and tossed with olive oil. The grapefruit produces a lot of sweet/sour juice as you chop it, so you end up with a sort of salsa to spoon over the fish.

Wednesday 23rd July

Spicy flavours complement oily fish: baby new potatoes are gorgeous with a shiny fresh piece of mackerel. I cooked the fish very simply in the oven and tossed the boiled potatoes with spicy tamarind butter. The butter is made by softening chopped shallot, garlic and chilli in a little oil, while you grind cumin, ginger and turmeric together. Add the spices to the pan and fry them off for a moment before adding a half-teaspoon of tamarind paste and a sprinkle of mustard seeds for heat and texture. You could mash them into coldish butter and keep it for these occasions, I suppose, or you could do what I did and just let the butter melt in the hot pan and throw the lot into the potatoes.

Tuesday 22nd July

A new salad idea: grilled courgette and tomato. Slice the courgettes very thinly (potato peeler as obviously I would faint if required to use a mandolin) and toss with halved cherry tomatoes and plenty of olive oil. Grill for about ten minutes until everything is hot and beginning to char. Bulk it out with salad leaves and add cheese - we had roquefort but I think perhaps parmesan would have been more suitable. The dressing was mainly red wine vinegar.

Wednesday 16th July

Happy birthday to us! Pertelote spent a relaxing day today preparing for her anniversary celebrations. These commenced with mezze, which was (were?) followed by bartoush, a Syrian dish of layered aubergine, yoghurt flavoured with tahini, and spiced lamb with pine nuts and oregano (the spices in question being cinnamon, chilli, garlic and smoked paprika). The top layer is yoghurt, which sets in a nice cheesy way in the baking. On the side, roasted red peppers stuffed with jewelled saffron rice. For dessert we enjoyed Nigella's (*ahem*) orange and almond cake (a very moist dessert cake with ground almonds and orange-flower water) topped with whipped cream and fresh raspberries. After which Pertelote and her close celebrity friends posed for the Hello! cameras in her gracious drawing room....

Tuesday 15th July

I understand that there are corners of the internet where it is felt that C might be a little spoiled by Pertelote. Just to put the record straight I should point out that not only did he assemble the smoked mackerel salad with horseradish dressing, he was entirely responsible for the searing of the steak the previous day - which he then sliced thinly and laid bloodily across a rocket-heavy salad, dressed with parmesan and the balamic-deglazed pan juices. So you see, we may not have a barbeque, but he has his hidden caveman like the rest of you.

Friday 11th July

I've never been a baked potato girl but after doing the serious career thing for a week this hit the spot. Baked sweet potato - in the oven for an hour or so in the usual way, then smashed open and topped with a red chilli shredded and softened in an artery full of butter with a bit of onion and smoked paprika. Ok, so Nigel gave me the idea, but if my absent frenchman weren't so suspicious of starchy vegetables it would never have felt like a home-alone supper-with-a-book treat.

Monday 7th July

Catered for forty and only one fridgeful of leftovers - maybe there's hope for Pertelote after all. Catering on this scale seems to be mostly about fridge space, knife sharpness, and beautiful background music. Not so different from dinner for two, then.

Tuesday 1st July

This weekend I made more of an effort - it was C's birthday and unbelievably, the weather was gorgeous - so we had lunch on the lawn. Lunch went salad, salad, tart, salad, cheese, fruit, cake, and if I itemise it all now then I talk about it for days and days! Lentil salad, with red onion/parsley/balsamic dressing; chicken salad with peaches, a special request as C says I served it at my house warming (three years ago, *blush*) and someone else ate it all before he'd had nearly enough... smoked trout, almond and dill tart; green salad, of course; a french cheeseboard; raspberries and peaches; and Nigella's espresso and cappucino cupcakes.