Saturday, 27 September 2014

In need of comfort

by: Mr Robot

I've been feeling pretty rubbish for a while. Mrs R passed on some ghastly virus and no amount of rebooting or applying the HotToddy_3.0 patch seems to shift it. Hopefully the week of planned system downtime in a couple of weeks will sort things out.

In the meantime I've been turning, as I'm sure we all do, to food of consolation.

Happily we've had a decent summer this year which has given probably our best ever crop of tomatoes. So a homemade tomato soup has been high on the agenda.

Ruddy marvellous

Two full trays of the ruddy beauties roasted with a bit of olive oil, seasoning, basil on the tray of mainly-cherry and thyme on the one of mainly-big (no science behind that, btw - it just seemed a nice idea). Oh, and some garlic of course.

Then just simmered awhile with a light vegetable stock and perhaps a dash of Worcerster sauce if you're feeling flamboyant. Blitzed up, seeds n' all - I considered passing through a sieve but was feeling too crappy to be bothered.

You don't have to be poorly to enjoy this, but it helps

Inspired by Tony Nayor's excellent How to Eat series on the Guardian's Word of Mouth, I've had monstrous cravings for a good beef stew. So I made one. The key ingredient here being half a pint of Bishop's Finger.

Beef. Beer. Bread. All that's missing is More.

Finding some short-rib of beef at the butcher I was driven back to my beloved Proper Pub Food by St Tom of Kerridge. His recipe calls for about a week of marinading but I fudged it with just a day of veeeery slow cooking. Vital to any Kerridge dish is a damned good stock - not least for the texture it gives.

Naturally I should've used beef but couldn't find any bones (bloody chefs nick 'em all don't they) so resorted to an excellently splidgy pork stock instead with a beef boullion cube tossed in. Worked remarkably well.

Shiny shiny.... Shiny beef of Kerridge

His glazed carrots are a must (if a tad reflective!) and I was quite pleased with my tower of crushed potato and not-crushed cabbage.

The sauce is amazing. It really is. Buy the book just for that.

We've already talked about Bun bo Hue but it's so good I just wanted another look. We've still got about 2 pints of in the freezer you know - it really is a very generous recipe indeed.

Finally, with the air picking up that certain autumnal feel, thoughts turn to Toad in the Hole, regarding which all must bow before Nigel Slater. A batter livened up with mustard (Ringwood brewery's excellent Old Thumper mix in this case) and the finest sausages you can find wrapped in streaky bacon. That is all.

All images (c) PP Gettins

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Recipe Review: Bun bo Hue

From Noodle! by MiMi Aye

by: Mr Robot

For some reason I got it into my head that this beef & lemongrass delight was called Bun ho Hue rather than Bun bo Hue so I fear I've been saying something absolutely dreadful for the last fortnight. So in the finest tradition of men everywhere - I'm deeply sorry for whatever it was I said. 

I wouldn't have persisted with my error quite so long were it not such an involved dish: I'd planned to cook it last week but given the vast array of meat needed, I had to put a special order in with the butcher (who did us proud as always) and try to control my impatience.

selection of meat before cooking. Pork bones, pork hock, shin of beef, oxtail
Crucial to any good recipe: vast amounts of MEAT

Pork bones, shin of beef, pork hock and oxtail all get simmered together for about 3 hours to make a wondrously rich broth served over noodles. Simple eh?

Well kind of, but there's plenty of other stuff going on - not least 12 stalks of lemongrass (basically clearing out Asda's supply for the week) - along with onion, ginger, garlic and pineapple. Supposedly rock sugar too but all I could find was palm so that had to do.

ingredients lemongrass, palm sugar, shrimp paste, onion, ginger, pineapple
Lemongrass, and lots of it. Also pineapple, onion, ginger, sugar and shrimp paste
One thing that gave me some concern was the shrimp paste. Four tablespoons of the stuff. It's an ingredient I treat with something between caution and terror being so very pungent and frankly waaaay too fishy for comfort. But if I've learned anything from MiMi's recipes it's to shut the fuck up and do as you're told. So I did.

And of course I needn't have worried. Not only is the shrimp paste distributed in several litres of liquid (I'd kind of over-ordered on the meat!) but the hours of simmering cooked out the fishiness to leave an intense savouriness. A bit like people say anchovies will, only they lie.

In fact it was a fascinating process. Early on the smell (and an unwise tasting) was pretty grim and I feared we'd end up with a horrible waste, in every sense. But as the afternoon wore on it just smelled better and better.

This is a recipe that demands faith of its followers, yea verily and they shalt be rewarded.

A big pot o' love
So after a considerable period of lounging on the sofa saying things like, "Gosh that's starting to smell good" and, "Ooh I just got a big whiff of lemongrass" and, "Bollocks - I've just remembered I meant to save half that oxtail for something else" we eventually haul ourselves up to see what we've got.

Sorry but it actually was pulled
The recipe says to slice up the pork and beef but so very tender was it that I just gave it a Paddington hard stare and it basically dismantled itself. Perhaps that meant I'd overcooked it but it was so delicious I couldn't give a monkeys.

At this stage I did take the opportunity to remove the bigger lumps of fat and strip the oxtail from the bones. I've no doubt this would give any self-respecting Vietnamese person the shudders but I'm still dealing with the trauma of my Grandmother's cookery so believe me, it was for the best.

From there it's very simple - pile noodles, meat, broth and garnishes in a bowl and start grunting.

Do not forget the trimmings
As with so many of these recipes though, the garnish isn't some optional extra - it's vital to the overall balance of the dish. So far we have a bowl of complexity but huge - in fact challenging - richness. You need something to balance that out: in this case lime, blanched onion, chilies and coriander leaves give acidity an freshness and take the whole thing up a level. 

In fact Mrs R commented that my laying thin slices of lime on top of the warm broth caused the lime scent to rise above the bowl making the whole thing more aromatic. Naturally I feel quite smug about that even though I'd only done it to look pretty. Remember that then.

I should also have had beansprouts on there but due to the delay getting my meat in, they'd gone a bit manky, which was a shame because they would have given a nice textural difference. As it was the only crunch was from the onions and of course I didn't want to overdo those.

Overall this is a lengthy operation - a good four hours start to finish - but it's quite undemanding and most of that time is your own. Given the quantity and variety of meats I'd consider this an Occasion dish, for which a 4-hour simmering one-pot is ideal, and could see it making a great alternative for those jaded by the Christmas turkey. Because what you get after all that time and very little effort is something rich, fragrant, complex and comforting - it felt like a real treat on a miserable grey weekend.

Update: Mercifully the recipe makes a HUGE quantity and after accidentally losing a whole day to the pub, I can testify that it's a wonderful restorative for the filthily hungover...
As ever, if you were hoping to blag a free recipe here you’ll be disappointed – we don’t do that. These cooks need to make a living just like anyone else. However you can buy a signed copy of the book direct from MiMi's website, and isn't that much better really?

All images (c) PP Gettins

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Retro recipe: Scalopine de Veau Linda

A frying pan of veal being flambeed with brandy
How much brandy do you need for flambeeing anyway?

By: Mrs Robot

You know that feeling when you first make something and you think, "This tastes like something I'd buy in a restaurant"? That's how we felt the first time I made Scalopine de Veau Linda.

The Complete Hostess by Quaglino
Our copy of The Complete Hostess by Quaglino is in pretty good shape for its age!

The recipe comes from The Complete Hostess by Quaglino. Yes, the actual Quaglino, whose restaurant was the place to be seen in 1930s London and is still pretty swanky today. I picked up the book in Oxfam in the late 1990s. It cost £6.99, which was a lot for a secondhand book then, especially as I wasn't much of a cook, but I loved the 1930s deco styling. When I looked at it properly for the first time I was shocked to find that in most of the recipes, there were no quantities!

Sometimes the recipes were unhelpful in the extreme: Sole Dieppoise, for example, is simply "Poached. Cover with white wine sauce mixed with its reduce stock, and garnish Dieppoise." WHAT IS A GARNISH DIEPPOISE? If you don't know, Quaglino isn't going to tell you. On the other hand, Quaglino is very good at specifying things like a 1926 Lanson champagne (anyone want a kidney?), and as he discusses ingredients it really opens your eyes to the seasonality of foods in the 1930s, and to how hard it was to get certain things, even for the class of person who'd be using the book. Vintage port? Easy. Green pepper? Ooooooh, exotic!

Asparagus, green beans and potato cakes on a wooden board
First, prepare your veggies...

At least all the ingredients for Scalopine de Veau Linda are all stated, and the method easy enough to follow. Because it's so quick to make, I prepared the veggies for tonight's tea first: green beans, asparagus, and little bubble-and-squeak cakes. The latter were made from leftover new potatoes and savoy cabbage and carrot from a previous meal; the carrots had been braised with star anise, butter and sugar so were packed with an unusual flavour. All very easy to assemble.

Cream and butter
Cream and butter. This is not for dieters.

As soon as the veggies were cooking I got my cast-iron frying pan really hot. I fried off seasoned veal escalopes in butter with button mushrooms, flambeed them with brandy, and finished them with cream, a dash of Worcestershire sauce and some chopped parsley. It really is that simple, though as with all simple things you need to watch the details. Don't be tempted to swap the butter for oil or (shudder) margarine as you need the flavour. It's very important to use button mushrooms for this as older, open-capped ones turn the sauce an unappealing grey. Likewise I get the pan really hot before popping the meat in as I like it to colour a bit, as this gives a lovely golden-brown tone to the sauce. Finally, add more brandy than you think you'll need, as the cream does soften all the other flavours.

Veal and mushrooms frying in a cast iron pan
I like to fry the mushrooms thoroughly. They absorb the butter and meat flavours.

A note on the veal: we buy British rose veal from our local butcher; the calf has not been crated, and has been allowed to run around. If you really don't like the idea of veal, I've also tried this technique with pork medallions cooked in butter with apple and flambeed with calvados, and that is also delicious.

veal and mushrooms frying in a pan with a cream sauce
Don't overcook the cream - you don't want it to separate.
The photos of the finished meal don't look that great. My presentation skills definitely need work. However, it tasted brilliant. Certainly nothing to sniff at after a day in the office!

Trust me, it tastes amazing - my presentation doesn't do it justice.

All images (c) PP Gettins