Monthly Archives: April 2010

Smug sandwich

The dinners I had as a child weren’t the sort meant for refashioning into something else later in the week. A fair proportion of the meals in our family repertoire were named after countries (as in: “What’s for dinner tonight Dad?” “Greek”), and there’s not much you can do with a day-old lamb kebab, a near-empty pot of Sainsbury’s tzatziki and a slice of grilled halloumi like shoe-tongue. Dinner leftovers were thus scraped nightly and unceremoniously into the bin.

This contrasted with what I saw on the telly, where proper cooks always had bones and beans and other things to make stock and stews from, and, because I have always wanted to be one of those sorts of cooks, I take sad delight these days from meat carcasses, old root veg, and a well-stocked larder. But the most satisfying thing to be made from leftovers, I reckon, is a cold roast chicken sandwich, and the one I made last week was my best yet, lubricated as it was with my first-ever homemade mayonnaise (aka stage two of three in my French-sauce-mastering quest).

Of course, this leftovers thing has nothing at all to do with thriftiness, which I abhor. For this beast of a sandwich, I used an obscene quantity of olive oil as expensive as wine, a £2.50 loaf of Campaillou – a big-holed wholegrain sourdough – a fistful of rocket and a mound of organic chicken. This lot I seasoned with Maldon – naturally – black pepper and a good squirt of lemon juice. God does my blog deserve its subtitle.

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Mayonnaise

A lot of fuss is made about making mayonnaise, but really it calls for patience more than any particular skill. And while homemade mayo is absolutely brilliant and worth a go – partly because of the marvel that is transforming runny egg yolks into a wobbling, shiny emulsion with your bare hands – I’m not so smug as to say it’s better than Hellman’s. They’re definitely not the same thing, though.

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Baby figs, hazelnuts, Iberico ham

Decidedly more elegant dinner tonight. Found some lovely miniature figs in Waitrose and made a little salad post-post-work drinks with Sol. We went to the gorgeous rooftop at Boundary in Shoreditch, which apparently is not quite as amazing as the smug members’ club one roof over (not that we don’t appreciate smug here, of course; we just can’t afford it) but it is still rather lovely and it is free, and they give you blankets if it gets cold. Londoners, you must go.

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Baby figs, hazelnut and Iberico ham salad

with honey & balsamic dressing

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Dressing: 5 tbsp best olive oil + 1/2tbsp balsamic vinegar + 1/2 tbsp honey

Toss watercress leaves in dressing; mix with roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts, halved figs, pecorino shavings, slices of ham. Season. Drizzle with more olive oil.

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Plebchef

A helpful tip for getting the best out of your butcher: five-inch heels. Not many meat-buyers wear them, but I always do and I’ve found they go down a treat with the invariably all-male staff. A couple of weeks ago, my butcher reopened the shop for me when I turned up just after closing time; last week it was free sausages with my chicken. It’s not strictly a cooking tip, sure, but it works.

Anyhow, I used the sausages to make a toad-in-the-hole to accompany the Masterchef final with posh housemate P, and though I’ve got my billowing Yorkshire down to a fine art and the Ginger Pig whoppers are incredibly tasty, eating this:

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while looking at this:

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made me feel like a farm animal feeding at a trough.

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Perfect Yorkshire batter

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2 medium eggs
150ml milk + 100ml water
125g plain flour

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Beat together eggs, milk and a pinch of salt, well. Leave to stand for ten mins. Sift in the flour and beat away all lumps. Finally, beat in enough water to produce a batter with the consistency of double cream. Leave to stand for another ten mins.

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Coq au vin

Before the tart last night, there was coq au vin. Much more my kind of cooking. A big pot, some chopping, a sip of wine, lots of butter, music in the background, browning meat, the smell of the fat, steaming windows, and then flambé! Like a real cook! But to be serious – because this is a serious dish, and I faithfully followed Julia Child, a serious woman – this is a beast of a stew. Salty bacon and savoury stock, inky wine and garlic and herbs and sweet onions and earthy mushrooms, layered, slowly – browned and braised and simmered and skimmed and reduced – to coat the back of a spoon – and, finally:

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Tarte aux pommes part deux: a passable result

So my pastry rage subsided (see below) and I made my tart. This was last night, for friends, and though it was delicious and looks fantastic in a French rustic sort of way, the question is: does arranging apple slices in a pretty circle on top of some shop-bought dough constitute cooking?

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Mais non. Assembling an Ikea chest of drawers with no screws to spare is a kind of triumph, but only a mad person would say it made them an accomplished carpenter. Likewise, there’s a certain amount of pride to take in following a recipe and producing something delicious, but you shouldn’t be in any doubt the real skill was exhibited by the person who dreamed up the dish, long before you opened the fridge door.

And failing to make the pastry of someone else’s tart recipe? Like calling in a handyman to put up your Ikea drawers. You’d be kidding yourself to take any credit at all.

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Tarte aux pommes part une: pastry fail

I’m currently being mocked by a lump of dough. Actually, that’s a lie – because if in fact I did have a lump of dough right now, I’d be well on my way to pastry, whereas what I’ve actually got in front of me is a big pile of dough rubble. Nigella says her pastry recipe is foolproof, and I wouldn’t dream of doubting her.  Sadly, that means only one thing about me. Time for the Jus-Rol, I think.

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