~ pertelote ~

October 2002

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Thursday 31st October

This really felt like cheating, but hey - worknight dinner party: to start, antipasti (sun dried tomatoes, pickled garlic, marinated olives, sliced salami) to nibble with drinks while the main course bubbles away and we compare days. The main course was chicken with clementines on couscous, comme ça: 1. brown the chicken; 2. fry some onion; 3. add garlic, fresh root ginger, cumin, cinnamon, chilli; 4. return the chicken to the pan with the juice of a lemon; 5. add stock with a spoonful of saffron in, to cover, boil and simmer for half an hour; 6. add chopped black olives and segments of clementine (since I don't know the difference between clementines, tangerines and satsumas, I'm prepared to consider them interchangeable here). You can leave the skin on and some people will eat it - without noticeable ill effect!; 7. boil some more until fairly reduced; 8. heap up in a bowl and cover with chopped coriander; 9. serve with lots of buttery, peppery couscous. Could that be easier? Dessert was even more of a shortcut: cantucci and vin santo, plus a pot of coffee and a broken up bar of Rococo's eclat de cacao. Flavouring the biscotti with fennel seeds (as we had them in Italy) worked, though they came out quite big and possibly that was why despite double baking they weren't all that crunchy.

Wednesday 30th October

Nice straightforward pasta dish: an onion, some sliced mushrooms, artichoke hearts (from a jar, obviously), cream. I was just being lazy because I couldn't think what to do with the leftovers of my pumpkin. Inevitably it will end up as soup - not exactly Hungry Tiger's pumpkin soup for lazy people, which I mention only because I love the name - but at the moment it looks a bit sad. See, I baked it over the weekend, layered with gruyere, garlic, butter, cream and nutmeg. That was good, and I'm sure the remains will make good soup - tomorrow, I suppose, appropriateness will motivate me!

Tuesday 29th October

More proof, if it were needed, that C. can do the frying game and I just can't. He made burgers: minced lamb with feta and various Greek-ish flavours. They worked fantastically, I think because they were small, and because minced lamb is so juicy and lovely when it's a bit pink in the middle. I've tried so hard not to think of myself as a fried-food eater - sausages for breakfast are a phenomenomenon I will never understand - but I can't deny that when it's been a long day before we get round to eating, mopping up all the lovely crunchy, salty, greasy bits in the bottom of a frying pan with some crusty bread is deeply satisfying.

Monday 28th October

Scenes of terrible devastation... Yesterday was a baking day: wind howling outside and tearing up trees while I steamed up the kitchen. I would feel more like a Domestic Goddess, though, if the dear woman's recipes worked: Gooey Chocolate Stack sounds like gorgeous, easy, impressive, perfect party food, right? The meringue seemed ok, but the crème patissière would not set, despite lengthy cooking and a spell in the fridge (which Nigella says will make it too thick). So the filling ran out of the edges, the thing was impossible to slice, and we had to hand it round in a bowl. I don't claim this was a disaster. It still tasted of heaven - it's made of chocolate, cream, sugar, eggs and more chocolate, it can hardly fail - but I wanted it to be beautiful as well. *Sulk*. At least the salad worked, and by popular demand, here it is: cook red (Camargue) rice for as long as it takes (30-40 minutes) and leave to cool. Make a vinaigrette of 2 tbs balsamic vinegar, tsp wholegrain mustard and 4 tbs extra virgin olive oil per four portions of rice. I find raw garlic in salad dressing is usually a bad idea (and my boyfriend is French, so I'm no vampire), but if you like it, go for it. Season the vinaigrette and add to the rice. Chop rocket leaves pretty finely (quite a lot, I used a whole 100g bag for my party-sized portion) and stir them in. Finally add cubed (or crumbled, let's face it) feta cheese; taste; adjust seasoning; and garnish, if so inclined, with sliced spring onions.

Friday 25th October

Inspired by the Greater Organ Scholar's request for 'beans that are baked', I set to last night with a handful of haricots. By the time I'd added everything that took my fancy it was looking vaguely like a beef-less bolognaise: onions, pancetta, tomatoes, tomato puree, red wine, oregano... and the beans of course, which frustrated me by not behaving like mince and taking so long to cook that I gave up and ate something else. Ooops. Nevermind, I'll eat it tonight.

Thursday 24th October

The cows are back! There have always been cows on various random bits of common land in Cambridge - it's that sort of town, if it was good enough in the fourteenth century, why change it? - until foot and mouth, of course, when they all disappeared. But this morning (a lovely crispy morning it is too) there they were, a dear little herd of short white cows, in the paddock behind King's. I just hope the kitchens are taking advantage. Psychological insight: white cows make me think of dairy produce. Brown ones make me think of beef. Not very profound, I grant you, but I imagine King's could do quite a trade in local cheese to alumni... Ramble over; I did cook last night; in fact, I used my nice new present to experiment with making frittata. I boiled some sliced potatoes, then fried onion and bacon in my amazing hob-to-grill dish? pan? tin? (Also essential for tarte tatin, can't wait!) Next the potatoes, some randomly Mediterranean stuff (sun-dried-tomatoes, olives, feta, basil) and finally four beaten and seasoned eggs over the top. That cooks more slowly than an omelette, maybe for ten minutes (the egg was basically set all through), then goes under the grill for a couple more minutes to brown the top. Very good indeed, with a salad. I see many variations on that in my future...

Wednesday 23rd October

Something quick and easy: grilled salmon and sesame noodles. Rice noodles don't work quite so well as egg noodles, it seems to me, nice though they are. My resolution for a sober week was drowned in the least wine-like wine I've ever tasted: I met two former colleagues for a drink, and for tradition's sake we have to order the girliest thing... nevermind that late October really isn't the time to be drinking cool, sweet rosé! The grenache the bar had was described as fruity, and my goodness, that wasn't a Goolden-ism: the stuff might have been strawberry juice.

Tuesday 22nd October

It's getting quite cold now, and I'm thinking about lovely warm, rich, stodgy food. I'm determined that this year I will buy a pumpkin. Not that I find them that exciting, but that's the challenge - to find a way to combine it with enough butter, sugar, cream, cinnamon, nutmeg etc to make it tasty. Having been brought up anti-superstitious, however, I will not be carving faces in the remains of my pumpkin. Mind you, with the FBU on strike, leaving candles inside vegetables may not seem such a clever idea this year. Looks like Pertelote just sacrificed her political virginity to a fireman. Well, all in a good cause, and back on topic tomorrow, I promise. Wonder if there's a picket line at Parkside I could take soup to?

Monday 21st October

Ach, I've been all over this weekend, and there was some lovely food somewhere in the middle there, but frankly it's lost in a haze of alcohol, trains and 'goodness, I haven't seen you for eight years'-type coincedences. So it's bemusing to return to such head-turning exposure: this sweet man, the author of Kiplog, links to me despite being himself a hundred times more glossy, professional and adventurous. Go see. And then there's this! For a start, I'm vastly flattered to be thought worthy of parody, and tickled to be able to catch up on Nml's day-to-day. I would also have to admit to feeling chastened - after all, she spends her days saving the world, and it can't be encouraging to come home to sour milk. My mind turns to food parcels... unless SPW has room on the payroll for a cook?

Friday 18th October

As promised. I don't know what to call this - it is a little more exciting than the title 'pie' or even 'bake' would imply. It is a mushroom device. Make up a pan of polenta, stirring in crumbled goat's cheese while it is still volcanic. Pour it out into a thin layer on a baking tray and leave to cool and set. Meanwhile, you're sauteéing a couple of leeks and thinly sliced fennel bulbs. It's all a bit pan-intensive, this, but you can probably find efficient ways to do it. I set the leeks and fennel aside when they were done so I could do the mushrooms in the same pan. I had a couple of trays of mixed wild mushrooms - chanterelles, pieds bleu, hedgehogs etc - and a few dried ceps that had been soaking in hot water. Once the ceps were drained, chopped and added to the butter with the other 'shrooms, I reduced their liquor by about half and added crème fraîche, garlic, thyme and nutmeg. So then you're ready to assemble: first a layer of celeriac, finely sliced and dipped in the cream; then the mushrooms and other veg all together. The sauce goes over the top of that, and then you can make a sort of tiled roof by cutting the polenta into strips. A handful of grated parmesan, and bake for half an hour. To follow that, and to go with the oh so sumptious - and only occasionally nauseating - The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover, we had honey baked figs on french-toasted brioche. Very decadent... now I just need the designer wardrobe co-ordinated to match each course.

Thursday 17th October

Day off in middle of week shock! And what a worthwhile day it was, too. I upped and took myself to that there big city, where the streets are paved with cake and famous composers greet you cordially. I know this week has been more restaurant review than cookery blog, but I have to tell you about the most heavenly chocolate cake with whole raspberries scattered through it and cinnamon icing. And it would be a shame to leave unrecorded the tavuk guvech (chicken casserole with ginger, coriander, garlic and peppers) at Tas, the rather smart Turkish restaurant where we had lunch; or indeed the smoked tuna I had for dinner on Tuesday night. But tonight I will be cooking, and you know you'll get all the gory details tomorrow. And I'm only the birthday girl once a year, after all.

Tuesday 15th October

Well I suppose there's no antidote to feeling old like cocking up the simplest recipe in the world... I have been making brownies since I was one, and yet, on the eve of my quarter-centenary, I can't produce a batch I'd dare to serve people. It's what comes of doing too many things at once - there were some lamb koftas involved, and they weren't behaving terribly well. But who am I to complain? I have a plate of Italian macaroons on my desk and reservations for this evening. I have a backstage pass for the London Sinfonietta rehearsal at the QEH tomorrow morning and a lunch date. Happy Birthday, me!

Monday 14th October

What a lovely weekend. Friday night: quiet night in with huge steaming bowls of leek and bacon risotto. Saturday night: dinner at the new Three Horseshoes - not the famous Madingley one but a fish restaurant in Harston. The crab bisque was the highlight, to my mind - I think unctuous is the word... I was less than convinced, perhaps, by the decision to chargrill the brill, but the celery/vermouth/cream sauce more than made up for that - oh and not forgetting the mussels... mmmmm.... So I am very happy to recommend the venue, the food, the wine and the company. Watch out for amateurish attempts to recreate the recipes! Happy weekend cumulated in lunch with the APs in one of those Frenchy chains, who had the clever idea of selling wine by the 'flight': in groups of four or five co-ordinated glasses. Together with parfait de foie gras, coquilles Saint Jacques and un petit pot au chocolat, that makes for a spiffing - if incapacitating - Sunday lunch.

Friday 11th October

Yesterday we had beef sausages, which were unusual. Very dense and, well, beefy. Failure in the language podule, I'm afraid... Apparently they are rather uncommon: because they have such a different texture, butchers normally mix the beef with some proportion of pork. So we had juniper and red wine gravy and a big pile of mashed potatoes. It's the end of the week, my students are settling in, Nml is on a plane back to Tanzania, Cambridge is freezing, my parents are taking us out for lunch on Sunday, and at some point I need to make a cake.

Thursday 10th October

I love this link: we had a similar idea a while ago, when in consecutive years two friends took the Film Music course as part of the Cambridge Music tripos. Part of the reading list includes films to watch, and as I was the one with a vcr, I provided the venue. Venue = food, so I challenged myself to fit the theme... So Psycho was rare steak, and pecan pie with chocolate fudge sauce (Hitchcock's favourite fake blood, apparently); The Seven Samurai was Japanese food - sushi, sesame tuna noodles, green tea crème brulée; 2001: A Space Odyssey was soup 'full of stars'... you get the idea. We concocted Austrian food for The Third Man; Roman food for Satyricon; Vietnamese for Apocolypse Now; and blini and stroganoff for Battleship Potemkin. Fantastic fun. The Doctor made Sicilian food for an all-day Godfather marathon - and those are just the sensible films. I was particularly proud of the stripey jelly: orange (mostly Cointreau) and black (mostly vodka). Can't guess? The Tigger Movie, of course...

Wednesday 9th October

Smoked haddock chowder. It seemed like an easy way to provide something warm and starchy to slob out with in front of Star Wars. Here you go: poach some smoked haddock in milk for ten minutes. Fry a chopped onion, sweat some diced potatoes, season with fennel seeds and a little salt (only a little because smoked food is salty). Stir in a spoonful of flour. Sieve the milk and add it a little at a time (you are making a sort of thin white sauce, do you see?). Cook without boiling until the potatoes are soft; flake the fish and throw it in. Optionally you could add some cream or something at the end, but it's fairly rich already. And if it does boil and split, the blender/whizzer/vibrator will fix it. Just feel the force...

Tuesday 8th October

Much as I love C's bacon and mushroom pasta sauce, I've probably raved about it before, and it has been suggested that I haven't really finished telling about Italy... I found the website of the Ristorante Apollinare where we had that fantastic six course meal. The other restaurants deserve name checks, too: Il Tartufo, where they were gentle with us on our first night, after several hours of travelling, and we ate strangozzi al tartufo for the first time; Il Panciolle, where they spent what seemed like several hours pouring out our wine - but to be fair, it was rather lovely, especially C's porcini salad; and Ristorante della Signoria, where we made like food writers and played 'guess the ingredients' with what we had ordered as 'local cake' (eggs, almonds, lemon, was the conclusion).

Monday 7th October

Panics over: To celebrate the temporary return of Nml, I fed twelve people, give or take, on Friday, including the usual handful of veggies and the intolerant. And they all left happy. (With the food, that is. The cook takes no responsibility for their emotional lives.) I made a big pork casserole, following Rick Stein's recipe for Wild Boar with Star Anise, or some such name. Mine differed from his in not allowing 750g of meat per person, and using supermarket pork rather than free-range (is there another sort?) wild boar. But apart from that it was a similar vaguely Chinese star anise/tangerine peel/rice wine fest. We had plain white rice and Delia's sesame cucumber salad with it, which worked nicely, and there were extra stir-fried veg (well, ok then, mostly carrots) for the non-carnivores. An important point to bear in mind when feeding the five thousand is that offered a choice of desserts, anyone without a medical reason will want both. Even if they are designed not to go together - well, perhaps I shouldn't have introduced my very sophisticated mango sorbet and cappucino jelly as jelly and ice cream...

Friday 4th October

Bless that man: I'm busy busy this week at work and preparing for visitors at home, and last night I really thought I couldn't face another meal made of carrots. But in the hands of a genius (and with the help of onions, herbs and cheese), and however unlikely it may seem, they can be real comfort food. Lucky really, because they're not gone yet... fortunately others have obviously had this problem too!

Thursday 3rd October

Cooking on a budget does produce some odd meals. On Tuesday, the supermarket was giving away carrots. So how many meals can I make from carrots? Yesterday I took that Oliver boy's advice to 'get on a moorish vibe' and made a crunchy little salad of carrots, apples and tahini. Very interesting.

Wednesday 2nd October

The real pleasure is when everything you eat has been produced locally. It's a holiday pleasure, because you couldn't go through everyday life without imported food - French cheese, tropical fruit, rice and lemons and wine - but just for a week, it's lovely to eat Pecorino cheese and Norcian salami, drink wine from Montefalco or Orvieto and have pasta at every meal. Even the olive oil is from the trees you can see from the restaurant terrace. Sigh...

Tuesday 1st October

Hullo, I'm back! Did you miss me? I have had seven wonderful days in Italy: sun, hills, churches, frescoes (fresci?) and food, food, food. Let me tell you about our last night. We had been to the opera - Spoleto has a music festival over the summer - and decided to treat ourselves to a smartish restaurant. The menu advertised four courses of traditional Umbrian food. In fact, they brought us six, like this: asparagus soup; caramella, a traditional cheese and truffle pastry shaped like a sweetie; strangozza, the local pasta, with egg and prosciutto - carbonara, basically, but again topped with truffle; guinea fowl stuffed with spinach, a frutti del bosco sauce and a strange but tasty side dish of tomato mousse; a cheese course: local pecorino with plum chutney and poppy-seed cake (which of course, having read our Virgil, we recognised instantly as 'honey-cakes laced with soporific drugs'); and finally dessert, an apple cake with tiny wild strawberries and crème anglaise. Oh, and chocolates with the coffee!