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Chilli Sherry and What To Do With It

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Combining chillies and sherry might sound like an eccentric fantasy today but I remember the 1960s (even though I was there - just about). Back then sherry was one of the staples in dinner party and restaurant cooking and, despite what we're often told, chillies and spices were available to English cooks who wanted them. So it was perfectly reasonable to stick a few chillies in one of your bottles of sherry while listening to the new Beatles LP. In fact, this method turns up in the Constance Spry Cookery Book published way back in the mid 1950s. Since then, sherry in cooking has become a bit of a joke and faded from use. It deserves a revival.  How To Make Chilli Sherry (it's really simple):  Step 1 - Go and buy a bottle of sherry. The two types of sherry favoured these days seem to be the very dry or the very sweet. For sipping purposes, I totally agree, but for chilli sherry in the kitchen a medium or medium-sweet is probably the most useful of all in my opinion.   Step 2

Rhubarb Vodka

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Rhubarb is a wonderful thing in desserts, cakes and a number of savoury dishes and there's some excellent forced rhubarb around at the moment. But what happens when you have rhubarb but you just can't face eating yet another rhubarb crumble? Well, I make rhubarb vodka. It's an extremely pleasing drink when chilled and sipped on its own but it's even nicer in a cocktail. The good news is that it's easy to make at home. At least, it is if you make it this way. There are more complex recipes, but I'm happy to keep it simple.  Start by finding some good rhubarb and then this is all you need to do: For a 700 ml bottle of decent, neutral vodka, you'll need around 400 g of prepared rhubarb: just chop the cleaned stalks into small pieces and add them to a sterilised jar with a tight seal. Pour over the vodka. At this point, you need to decide how sweet the resulting drink should be. For average, freshly-picked rhubarb I'd recommend 4 - 6 tablespoons of caster su

Agneau aux Poires Tapées or Lamb with Dried Pears

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I'm saddened by the permanent loss of so many restaurants in the last year. I don't normally cook restaurant-style dishes. I'm too incompetent for that. But occasionally nostalgia gets the better of me and I try to recreate something I've enjoyed.  This dish is based (loosely) on one that I ate in a restaurant overlooking a vineyard near Chinon many years ago. I'd just come across poires tapées and I wanted to try anything made with that local speciality. This dish isn't difficult to put together (the sauce and celeriac accompaniment can be prepared in advance) but if you want to get the flavours just right or impress someone special, then there are one or two details here that are worth taking trouble over. I'm not going to attempt to give a scholarly history of the poire tapée because there are plenty of people far better qualified than I to do that. Very briefly, they're pears dried in wood-fired ovens which are then pressed flat and end up deliciou

Grelette Sauce and Onion Confit for a 1980s Christmas

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If I ever get round to inventing a time machine then I'll probably revisit any year from the 1980s rather than live through 2020 again. So for this Christmas season I'm looking back to the decade "when the frocks went posh" (as the estimable Cleaners from Venus say). I'm offering versions of both a sauce and a side dish from the 80s that would be useful at any time of the year but will be just perfect alongside Christmas leftovers. So make a note of them in your Filofax, blow the dust off the Lloyd Cole album and I'll see you down at the wine bar later. First, the sauce.... Grelette Sauce This cold sauce is very easy to put together. It can be served in generous amounts to complement a main course or in smaller dollops as a condiment in a similar way to tartare sauce. I remember it being served mainly with fish and fish terrines but it also works well with turkey, chicken or vegetable dishes. Grelette sauce was created (I think) by Roger Vergé but there were

Beetroot and Celeriac Soup with Horseradish

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This is a simple, little soup but I think it makes humble ingredients taste pleasingly complex and truly satisfying. It's best to use a classic, ruby-coloured beetroot for this dish because it looks so good but other colours will work just fine. You might find that some golden beetroots are extremely sweet, so be prepared to increase the amount of lime juice. If you wished, you could add fresh horseradish to the soup or even make your own creamed horseradish. I agree that homemade is always best but, unless you have the time to spare and you reckon you can eat a significant amount of horseradish, I think it's a lot easier to buy a small jar of good quality creamed horseradish. Although I'd normally serve a bowl of this for lunch, it will also work well as a delicate and refined starter or appetiser since the colour is just so impressive. Of course, the colour is also difficult to eradicate, so try to keep the soup away from your shagpile carpet, best tablecloth, white j

La Ficelle Picarde

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La ficelle is a local speciality in the Baie de Somme area, although it's not immediately obvious what's local about it. Like many of the dishes from that region it's definitely rich and filling (as well as delicious) but, let's face it, it could be made anywhere. It seems that la ficelle Picarde was actually invented in Amiens in the 1950s by a chef trying to outdo his rivals in a contest to produce a dish for a banquet. (If you're familiar with the Great British Menu TV series then this idea will sound strangely familiar). La ficelle really caught on and has never disappeared from local menus. This is the sort of food that fortifies you for cold winter days or just gives you that sense of being thoroughly fed that we all need now and then.  I know that some cooks in the Picardy region like to use a little beer in their crêpe recipe but, apart from that, there's nothing special or different about the crêpes used for the ficelles and you can use any recipe

Semolina Bread (Breadmaker Version)

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This is a fragrant, close-textured loaf with a good crust that's a bit out of the ordinary. It's just right for soaking up sauces or soups or serving with dips but it can also make a very decent, unusual breakfast bread. It's based on a North African bread but I won't deny that it's a long way from any genuine article. As ever, I'm happy to let machines do the heavy lifting and I use a breadmaker to prepare the dough. You can make the dough in a more hands-on way if you have the time, but the machine makes the preparation blissfully quick and easy. On this occasion I made some bulgur balls in aubergine and tomato sauce (or Patlicanli Eksi Asi) to eat with the bread. The recipe comes from my learned, online friend Ozlem Warren and you can find it in her lovely Turkish Table book or online  here . Believe me, it's truly delicious. Yes, I know that a North African inspired bread doesn't really belong alongside a dish from southern Turkey but I have never c