May 31, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:38 pm

Last Sunday, over lunch, I was telling Goon about how I wanted to enter WTSIM no 5 (which Cooksister Jeanne is hosting) but was totally stuck on ideas. The theme this time was stuffed vegetables and fruits.  Goon had a suggestion.

GOON: I know what you can stuff. I’ve seen green wrinkly things. The label said you can stuff them.
ME: Any idea what they are?
GOON: Green wrinkly things.
ME: But what are they called?
GOON: I don’t know. But they’re green and wrinkly.

I was clearly going to get no more information about the mystery vegetable from him and I mentally dismissed the green wrinkly things as some figment of Goon’s imagination. But, that evening, six of them appeared in the kitchen.


I recognised them immediately, although I think I’d describe them as more knobbly than wrinkly. Goon had picked up kerala, which had appeared in my mother’s kitchen from time to time when I was little. It’s a vegetable which, like courgettes and sprouts, drives fear into the hearts of small children.

Here the vegetable is known as bitter gourd. It’s called that for a good reason. In order to remind myself what the kerala tasted like, I cut a tiny sliver from the middle of the largest one and tasted.

For a second I thought it wasn’t so bad but, literally a few seconds later, there seemed to be a small chemical war going on in my mouth.  My face contorted and I made a noise that was something like “GAAAAAAAH!” The next ten minutes were spent trying desperately to drown out the flavour with cherry brandy. It didn’t go easily. *

I was seriously dubious about trying anything with the green knobbly gourd but, since Goon had gone to all the effort of getting it, I thought I’d better make an attempt at cooking it. Some people actively like it, so there must be something I could do to de-bitter my kerala.

I called up my parents to see if they could help me make this strange vegetable edible. Apparently they’d only ever used them in salads and curries, which didn’t really help me with my plans for stuffing, but cooking with sugar and tamarind seemed to be a common theme. The internet also provided me with some help. The bitterness of the kerala could be reduced by scraping off some skin, deseeding it, rubbing it with salt and soaking in cold water. I decided to try and balance the bitter flavour with a very strong sweet and sour stuffing made from tomato, onion,  and lots of sugar and tamarind. After all, it works for chicory. The dish would be an accompaniment to  a Sri-Lankan style goat curry.

I didn’t really know what to expect from my kerala as I began to prepare them, but scraping off the skin was easy enough. It did however leave a big green mess in the kitchen.

 Scaped Kerala

Once the skin was off, I cut the kerala in half and looked inside. Like many gourds, it had  a clear divide between the flesh and seed area.

 half a kerala

A small knife was ideal to scrape out the seeds. Now there was a cylindrical hole in the gourd which was a perfect shape and size for stuffing. 

gourd with stuffing hole

So the gourds were salted and soaked for an hour whilst I finished preparing the rest of our dinner: the slow cooked goat curry and spiced rice. I also made a lot of dahl, just in case the gourd was inedible.

kerala soaking

The tomato chutney stuffing for the gourd was simple to make. I sweated some onion, added a couple of fresh chopped tomatoes, tomato puree and coriander, then added lots of sugar, tamarind and just a drop or two of vinegar to make it really sweet and tangy. Once the gourds were stuffed I cooked them in the excess tomato concoction.

cooked gourd

Now, maybe Goon accidentally found the bitterest bitter gourds in the shop, but even after lots of soaking, these things were still not very nice. Goon ate one piece and said “Why the heck would anyone voluntarily eat these things?” I have to admit, I was thinking the same thing. The sweet and sour flavour certainly helped but, after a few bites, the bitterness was overwhelming. I can’t believe that some people actually eat it without salting it first!

So, if you happen to be a bitter gourd fan, good for you. I don’t get it but I think the sweet-sour thing turned it from totally inedible to the point where I could manage a piece or two. Fortunately there was plenty of curry so we didn’t go hungry.

goat curry

This is my entry to this month’s Waiter, Waiter event. The roundup will be on Jeanne’s blog very soon, so go and check out the other entries. I’m sure that, unlike me, most people even made something they could eat!


* Which meant I had to drink a lot of cherry brandy. Shame. ;)

May 25, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:07 pm

Well, perhaps ‘Bogus Journey’ would be more appropriate seeing how poor Marina and Ted ended up. 

I think I have mentioned before that one of Goon’s flatmates is into having late night parties with her church friends in Goon’s living room. When this happens, Goon and I tend to eat out.

The reason why we abandon the kitchen when these parties happen is simple. Like their host, this girl’s friends can be a bit funny about what they term ‘weird food.’ Weird in this case means things such as pigeon, rabbit, and duck as well as ostrich and other alternative meats*.If anything gamey is around, the party host gets a little upset, not wanting to ‘weird out’ her friends.

Unluckily for her, on the day she decided to spontaneously invite people around to the flat, I happened to be cooking one of the weirdest things I have to date.

As she came into the kitchen to make her friends a pot of tea I was busy rinsing a pair of red mullet, which I’d decided to name Marina and Ted after an amusing menu item I’d seen on holiday in Sri Lanka**.


Marina and Ted
Marina and Ted Mullet

The party host shuddered at the sight of the whole fish, before getting out her supplies. I didn’t say much, in the hope that she wouldn’t turn her eyes in the direction of the hob. However it was only a minute before her attention was caught by the large bubblng pan.

ME: Do you really want to know?
HOST: Uhhh…..
ME: You probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you, you know.
HOST: It looks like…an…egg?
ME: Yes, it is an egg.

At this point Goon and one of the guests showed up.

GUEST: Hi…where’s the… oh, wow! Is that an ostrich egg? Cool!

I decided I liked this guy.

The host, looking slightly pale with her hand over her mouth, ushered her friend away.  Goon shook his head sadly and said, ”Oh Dear. It’s not a Tesco Value chicken egg. She doesn’t understand.”

The ostrich egg was being boiled in advance so I could make a scotch egg with it in the next couple of days. Dinner for that evening was on Marina and Ted.

The two mullet were in for special treatment. I was using a recipe from Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Secrets’ which involved dissolving some saffron in oil and applying it to the fish skin, which makes the skin a beautiful colour and gives the flesh an amazingly strong saffron flavour. Since there wasn’t much to the two fish, I also stuffed them with some chopped king prawns flavoured with finely chopped parsley and garlic.

As the two fish were being prepared for the oven, another guest wandered in. He came over to where I was, looked at the fish and said “Eurrgh!”

Now, I’ve been told that, when I’m really angry, I have a very scary, psychotic look. I wasn’t really angry at this point, but it appeared my moderate irritation had generated the same expression because this guy looked properly terrified.

He started stammering. ‘ Uh-I-d-don’t…l-like…f-fish.”

Maybe I should feel bad for what happened next. But I don’t ;) .

I bent down so I was on eye level with my two mullet, put my ear close to  their heads and then looked at the guy, careful to hold my psycho expression and said,  ”Marina and Ted say they don’t like you either.” The guy laughed nervously then, perhaps deciding that I might actually be a psychopath, left at speed.

God, I wish I could be that quick all the time.

I was still chuckling to myself as Marina and Ted came out of the oven. I decided to serve them with ratatouille as suggested by the Ramsay recipe, but also added some spiced long grain rice to turn it into a main course

red mullet with ratatouille and rice

And a very satisfying main course it was too. The saffron really complemented the flavour of the mullet and the ratatouille was perfect with it. I’m glad I added the prawn stuffing as those fish were pretty small.

That was a great meal. I scared the hell out of someone, had tasty food and Goon got to play with the fish skeletons. Perfect!


* Note that normal food by definition is chicken, pork, beef or lamb (flesh only- no offal) frozen peas or potatoes and that all of these must cost less than £1.25 and be packaged with a blue stripy label.

** The misprint on the restaurant menu simply read ‘Marina and Ted  Mullet’. Apparently after correcting spelling and grammar, it would have read ‘red mullet from our marina.’

May 22, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 6:39 pm

I tried to stop this, I really did. But Goon insists I post his pictures. 

On Sunday morning, Goon decided to make us breakfast, which I thought was great. He rarely does anything in the kitchen now so I was quite excited to see what he’d produce. I think I must have been a bad influence on him though because, when he’d finished, he came asking for my camera.

Apparently Goon wanted to photograph his creation. Here was his first attempt at photographing what is apparently a ‘Goon Gourmet Omelette.’

Goons omelette

This omelette was apparently made from 1 egg and 2 rashers of bacon with some cheese. An ‘interesting’ ratio of ingredients I’m sure you’ll agree. I especially like the use of rosemary and a small chunk of blue cheese as a garnish.

Sadly the omelette turned out to be inedible because Goon didn’t realise that adding a lot of salt to something with that much bacon was a bad idea. But at least he tried. And the second photo actually looked quite cool.

Goon Gourmet Omelette

It makes me wish I had natural light at my disposal for my dinner photography.

May 20, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 6:40 pm

This has got to be the best thing to come home to after a night out. 

sea bream with potatoes and samphire

Well, it would have been if things had gone to plan.

I don’t get to go out very often any more. In fact, apart from occasional trips to the pub after seminars with my fellow mathmos, I don’t go out at all. This is why I was so excited about going to my friend’s houewarming party last night. I’d been really good friends with this girl at university but partially lost touch after she finished her degree, so I was looking forward to a big catch up.

My original plan was to stay out until 11:30 and get takeaway on the way home, but the idea of stodge actually made me feel a bit sick. So I went for what was, in my opinion, the next quickest option.

In the afternoon I headed to my local fishmongers (Cape Clear) to buy myself some nice sea bream. The people there are very helpful and they’ll pop a lemon and some parsley in the bag for you with your fish for free. It’s practically a ready meal in a bag but with nice, fresh ingredients and no artificial anything. :) All I needed to was grill the fish for a few minutes, then add the lemon and chopped parsley and perhaps boil some new potatoes. Could it be any easier? :D

While I was there I also got to sample some samphire for the first time. I really liked it so I bought a load to go with my fish dinner. After all, it would only take seconds to cook.

So I was all set up for a night out with some friends followed by coming back to a gorgeous, tasty dinner. My mistake was trying to take Goon with me. After I’d planned to leave at 7pm, Goon turned up at  7:15 and somehow then spent 40 minutes in the shower. So, by the time he was ready to go, we were over an hour late and, with the tube engineering works, we’d end up spending twice as much time travelling than we would at the party.

So no night out for me. :(

Dinner was still tasty though, and I got to try out the interesting new vegetable whilst sober, which certainly wouldn’t have happened if I went out. Another plus side is that I can submit my samphire to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging which is hosted by Rinku from Cooking in Westchester this week.

Even though samphire has been eaten in Britain for ages (hundreds of years), a remarkable number of people (well, at least amongst the students I hang out with) haven’t heard of it. For some reason it doesn’t make it’s way into the supermarkets but is sold in proper fishmongers. The plant comes in several different varieties. The one I got hold of was marsh samphire. Apparently rock samphire is sometimes also eaten pickled and is a delicacy in Lancashire and Northumbria.

I think marsh samphire is a wonderful vegetable, with a pleasant flavour, that is a bit like salty asparagus, and a crisp crunchy texture. It’s a great thing to eat alongside fish. When I tried it for the first time at the fishmongers, I had it raw, but usually it is blanched in hot water for a few seconds or steamed for a very short time to lessen its saltiness. Last night, I went for the first option, then tossed it in lemon and butter.

This whole meal literally took 15 minutes to cook, and most of that was taken up by waiting for the potatoes to boil. The fish, after its skin was rubbed with salt, had about 8 minutes under the grill. I spent two minutes incinerating some parsley to add to some melted butter for a makeshift sauce and the samphire was done in seconds.

So who needs ready meals when you’ve got fish? \o/ Well, people who don’t like fish obviously, but I’ve never really understood them anyway ;)  

May 18, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:44 pm

Apparently so. On my last trip to Notting Hill’s farmers’ market I was pleasantly suprised to find a pack of pheasant breasts at the Manor Farm stall. They weren’t cheap, but I really miss pheasant when it goes out of season, so I was delighted to grab hold of these.

At first I thought they must be frozen but I was told that they were fresh. Apparently, even though the gamekeeper supplying the stall couldn’t shoot birds out of season, he would manage to catch some from time to time, and so the occasional bit of pheasant would end up on the stall in late spring.

I was so enthralled with my pheasant, I thought I should do something exciting with it. Then, on reflection, I realised one of the things I miss most about  pheasant in the summer is simple things like this.

 pheasant breasts

Here I just stuffed the breasts with porcini mushrooms with I’d fried up with some onion, herbs and garlic, then wrapped them tightly in streaky bacon and roasted them. We ate them with fresh egg tagliatelle tossed in parsley and olive oil and steamed asparagus. There was a calvados cream sauce too, although I forgot to photo it.

Hooray for Manor Farm! I hope they manage to get one or two more packs in the next couple of weeks. I also discovered this week that they do some very tasty venison and chilli sausages that I’ll be going back for. :D

May 13, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 6:57 pm

A few posts ago, I mentioned a pub meal I had that was really not as good as it should have been.

pub salad

This ‘duck breast salad with pomegranate and blueberry dressing’ was a great idea, but somehow had come out all wrong. The biggest problem was the duck breast itself. It was overcooked, but hadn’t had enough time on the skin side to make it crispy. Also, whoever had prepared it apparently hadn’t heard of the benefits of removing the tendon from a duck breast.

Ignoring the duck breast, the salad itself was ok. But, after a while, the dressing, which I think was pure honey, became overpowering. The sweetness almost worked against the tartness of the blueberries but it was a little too much. I felt it needed tempering.

Even though the execution of this dish wasn’t great, I totally loved the idea behind it and that’s why I wanted to try out a variation on it myself.

my duck salad

The duck breast was the easy bit. I’ve cooked those dozens of times before and I think I’ve got the hang of them now. I could also easily mimic the spinach-watercress-spring onion combo of the pub for the salad but the dressing was a bit more tricky. I wanted to keep some of the honey but find a way to lessen the intensity of flavour. On a whim, I took half my pomegranate seeds, juiced them in a blender, then strained the juice into the honey. After tasting the mixture, one thing was obviously missing. So i added a capful of rosewater to the dressing and also decided to dust the meat side of the duck breasts with powdered rose petals to give the dish a very noticable rose flavour.

I prepared my duck in the same way I always do. For a start I alsways get my duck from Manor Farm’s stall at Notting Hill farmers’ market or from Furness at Borough. The quality of meat at these two places is a lot better than most supermarket duck.

As for method of preparation, this one seems to be fairly reliable.

  1. Score the skin of the duck is a cross hatch pattern, with lines about 1.5cm apart. Try to cut as far as you can into the skin without exposing the meat.
  2. Rub a pinch of salt into the skin to help it crisp up nicely.
  3. Turn the duck meat side up and look for the white tendon. It’s a good idea to remove this as this is what makes the duck breast shrink when you cook it. I use a very small, sharp knife to do this, slipping the knife under the tendon and cutting it away. The difference you get from moving the tendon is very noticeable. The meat seems softer and jucier. 
  4. When you are ready to cook the duck, get a frying pan hot (I use the highest heat setting on my electric hob) and cook the duck skin side down 8 minutes, then turn it and cook it for 1 minute 30s skin side up.
  5. Rest the duck wrapped in foil for about 5 minutes before serving.
  6. When you’re ready to serve, cut it into thin diagonal slices for pretty presentation. Or don’t bother, and just eat it.

salad- aerial shot

If I haven’t just missed the deadline, I’m submitting thi post to Kalyn’s Weekend Herb Blogging, this week hosted by Pat at Up a Creek Without a PatL. Several ingredients make it eligible to qualify. The salad leaves, the pomegranate and the rose petals would all be good reasons to enter. But, I’ve decided to use this post to draw attention to the humble blueberry, which I think is a much underused ingredient in savoury cooking. While it’s all over the place in the form of yoghurts and muffins, you don’t often see a blueberry sauce for venison or the berries used in salads like this.. This is a shame as blueberries have a superb flavour which goes really well with game.

So, next time you’ve got some duck or venison (or kangaroo for that matter) in the fridge, why not try out partnering it with blueberries? It’s a very tasty combination!

May 11, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 12:36 am

I don’t think I’ve ever come across a fish that looked so thoroughly delighted to be on my plate.

sand dab

Doesn’t he look happy? What a weird creature! I didn’t even know these things existed until last week. I was in Sainsbury’s, perusing the fresh fish counter when I encountered a very talkative fishmonger.

If you’re a touch on the hung-over side early on a Sunday morning, what you don’t want to here is a very loud and unnecessarily chirpy voice saying “Oi, Luv! You don’t need all that! You should give some to me ‘ere!”

I looked up cautiously. Behind the fish counter was an old-ish gentleman pointing at his very bald, shiny, crown. “You don’t need all that ‘air! Look ‘ere! I’m the one that need’s it!”

 If I hadn’t been so keen to get my hand on some fish that week, I’d probably have laughed politely, nodded and left quickly. The irritating thing was, Dad, who was also there after giving me a lift to the shops, found this guy totally hilarious.  A short session of banter between the two of them followed.

DAD Well, it’s easy for you- at least you don’t have to colour yours.

Admittedly, my dad’s odd hybrid Sri-Lankan /Surrey accent juxtaposed with the strong cockney of the fishmonger made for fairly entertaining listening in itself. 

FISHMONGER: Ah… That’s true. And I could get meself a wig. But the white ‘air makes you look, y’know, distinguished, don’t it?
DAD: You mean past it.
FISHMONGER : Naaah -  not past it! I mean, just because there’s snow on the roof, it don’t mean the fire’s gone out, eh? (winks)

At this point I’d decided I’d had enough of this. No one wants to hear about whether or not their Dad’s fire has gone out, especially when hung-over and tired. So I hurriedly pointed at at the seabass. “How much for those  two little ones?”  It turned out they were far too expensive. But, at this point, the guy behind the counter finally made himself useful and pointed out and recommended the dabs.

The fact I’d never seen or heard of these fish was a good enough reason for me to enthusiastically grab them, then get out of earshot before Dad and the fishmonger continued their male bonding session. 

Later, at home I realised one fish was probably not quite enough for Goon to eat so,  the next day, I found some scallops and prawns (in the bargain bin - woohoo!) to keep the dabs company.

The internet yielded very few recipe suggestions for this particular species, especially since these fish weren’t boned and, hence, not really suitable for stuffing. So, I went for a simple option: the dabs, with a little champagne (well, Hardy’s sparkling pinot-noir) -cream sauce, asparagus, lemon and a small side of a lemon, herb and shellfish risotto.

dab, risotto, asparagus  

Now, I don’t usually bother cutting the heads off whole fish - especially not since that incident with the mackerel- but I really couldn’t leave these ones on. Don’t worry- I haven’t gone soft. But the dabs’ faces were so comical! I couldn’t stop giggling at them. At one point, I looked at them, snorted and ended up with my fizzy pinot noir coming out of my nose. After that, the dab head just had to go.

It’s a shame, but, apart from being  very entertaining to look at, the dabs weren’t all that great. When it came down to it, they were a bit plain and lacking in flavour. I didn’t mind too much as the seafood risotto was totally gorgeous and more than compensated for the dabs’ blandness but I’m not sure I’d buy these fish again.

Well, maybe I would, just to see that smile again. ;)

dab face



May 7, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:05 pm

Heh… so much for the return to blogging I anticipated after handing in my last thesis draft.

It turned out that handing in thesis coincided with Goon starting his exams. This really should have meant that I left him to it and had plenty of time to write. But, in reality, this was the first time this year that Goon  and I were both at home during the day, so we ended up spending large amounts of time in Hammersmith’s gastropubs.

Also, the unthinkable happened. I temporarily lost my will to cook! In fact I pretty much lost my will to eat, probably because of the exhaustion incurred by the weeks around Easter. Then I had an argument with my supervisor over my thesis which caused me to sulk for a few days. Then I got a bad case of flu. Bah!

But, as it inevitably would, my food enthusiasm has started to return, triggered off by a wonderful idea on a pub menu that was, as they so often are, VERY badly executed.

You see this here?

pub salad 

It’s a duck salad with pomegranate and blueberries. Congrats to the head chef of this chain for thinking of it -  what a great concept. Shame someone in the Hammersmith kitchen buggered it up. The duck was well overcooked and dry, and the dressing was really overpowering. Also, I think the duck breast tendon hadn’t been removed so it shrivelled more than it needed to. I feel I need to make my own version of it because I feel this idea could actually turn out to be excellent with a bit of care and attention. As soon as I get through our current kitchen supplies, that will happen.

And now that I’ve finished disecting my lunch, let’s get back to the important stuff. I think I’ll start with that ostrich wellington……

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 5:01 pm

Ostrich Wellington

The best way to confuse a foodie is to ask them one question: “What is your favourite food?”

Someone distinctly non-foodie, like my Dad, will be able to answer this immediately: “‘Tesco crusty bread”.  In fact I’ve found bread is a very common choice amongst those who aren’t that bothered about food. Other popular answers include chips, chicken and steak (medium well). A foodie, on the other hand, will probably find that question a real challenge to answer. They’ll think for a while, then reel off a list of several things they can’t decide between. On the odd occasions they can answer, it will either be oysters, foie gras, or something really obscure. 

I was recently forced to answer this question myself,  by someone even more stubborn than me. The inquisitor was one of my ten year old students. I don’t know why ten year olds are so inquisitive about random things, but, for some reason, my eating habits held much more interest to her than our work on percentages.

She flatly refused to do anything until I gave her a proper answer. Apparently my honest response of ‘I can’t choose’ was not acceptable. After a long, stubborn silence from both of us, I gave in and chose something that I absolutely love that would also alert her to the fact I am a bit of a weirdo, so, hopefully, she’d never ask me anything like that again.

My food of choice was rare ostrich fillet. There’s something about the rich game flavour combined with its beefiness that makes me happy to travel half way across London on a regular basis to make sure I get my next fix. The problem was that, once I’d given my small tormentor my answer, I had a craving for ostrich I couldn’t get rid of. Luckily, it was Thursday night and so I had the option of running off to Borough the next morning.

And so the subject of the picture above came into being. It was Goon who inadvertently came up with the idea for what to do with this particular fillet. He wanted “that thing I made for his brother“. I could do that, but I had a hankering for madeira, so I decided that this time, for a change, I would make a Wellington in a more traditional way.

As far as I’m aware a ‘traditional’ Wellington is made by lightly coating a beef fillet in foie gras paté, topping it with a thin layer of chopped flat field mushrooms cooked with cream and madeira wine, wrapping the whole thing in crepes, then pastry and finally baking it.  My plans for minor alterations (apart from the obvious meat substitute) involved replacing the field mushrooms with porcini and the foie gras with a mixed game paté.

i started off following this recipe for crepes (half way down the page). This combination produces a very light batter which is just right for making thin crepes that keep the pastry dry but are otherwise barely noticable in your end product. Before the batter went into a frying pan, I added a handful of finely chopped rosemary and thyme for extra flavour. 

My next job was to brush the ostrich fillet with my paté. This turned out to be the only problematic part of this meal. Someone (I wonder who :roll: ) had binned the game paté I’d left in Goon’s fridge. As I stode off towards a certain flatmate’s room, brandishing a large sharpened kitchen knife, Goon picked me up, told me to calm down and reminded me about the three tins of French duck paté that Dad had brought back on his last trip to Paris.

The three tins quickly turned into one as Goon got his hands on the paté and started scoffing, but I salvaged the last one and spread it thinly over the ostrich fillet. Finally, I soaked some porcini mushrooms, and fried them with a splash of madeira and cream for a couple of minutes until the mixture was dry enough to spread over the top of the fillet. Once that was done, the fillet got wrapped in crepes, then the pastry and went in the oven.

Thirteen minutes at 220C was enough to make the Wellington a perfect rare.

wellington again

The dark liquid you can see in the first picture is a port reduction. There were some purple potatoes too, which I was disappointed to find I didn’t like. I’m hoping I just cooked them badly… now if ony I could find out what the damn things were called, I’d ask for tips on how to do it next time!

In spite of the oddly dry purple potatoes, this meal was was really good and there was some left for lunch the next day which makes it even better. If I had been available at the time I might have submitted this to Sam’s event, Fish and Quips. It’s a shame I was too busy.