October 26, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 11:33 pm

Not, as you might have thought, my latest trick for tackling my homeward journey down Highgate Hill but instead a tasty little treat I found at Borough market.

When I go to Borough, I avoid taking Goon with me unless its absolutely necessary. This is particularly important now, since the rather large cheese wheel he bought back in January has apparently been totally consumed and putting him in the vicinity of more gorgonzola seems like asking for trouble.

But the problem is that Goon has been moping recently. This is in response to my rather long working days. I have even less time than I did last year to indulge him on weekday evenings. So at weekends, when I am around, Goon tends to follow me everywhere.

On my first couple of trips to Borough, I sneaked away when Goon was asleep but last weekend, hung over and tired, I didn’t leave until 2pm and Goon gleefully followed me to the market. As usual he was apathetic about most things on sale there but, on this occassion, his eye was caught by something  on the fish counter.

The creatures in question were live crayfish. As much as I am in favour of killing what I eat by myself, there was something I found vaguely arachnid about these creatures and I, for want of a better phrase, am f***ing terrified of all things spiderlike. So, in an attempt to distract Goon from his live prey, i tutted and said ‘But we’ve HAD crayfish before! Why don’t we get something we haven’t tried’. Luckily for me, right in front of the crayfish were a pile of skate wings, which neither of us had eaten before.

A little internet research led me to the following recipe for skate wings. It’s a classic for a reason and well worth trying.

Skate Wings with Brown Butter and Capers (with special thanks to Ian for his input to this recipe)

skate with brown butter and capers

  • 2 skate wings (600g), skinned
  • court bouillon for poaching ( I used leeks and carrots, garlic, bay leaves and thyme simmered for about half an hour)
  • handful of capers in brine, drained and soaked
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
  • 75g butter
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  1. Place the skate wings in large a large saucepan/skillet and cover with the court bouillon. Bring the bouillon to a gentle simmer.
  2. When the fish flakes easily (after roughly 8 minutes) remove the fish from the pan and place on  a warmed serving plate.
  3. Melt the butter in  saucepan over a medium heat. When it has turned golden brown, immediately pour it over the fish.
  4. Swill out the pan with the white wine vinegar and pour this over the fish too.  
  5. Scatter the capers and chopped parsley over the skate wings and serve, perhaps with sauteéd anya potatoes and buttered steamed asparagus.

***

While I was researching skate recipes, I was a little annoyed that all I could find were variants of this. Now I understand why it is so popular. The flavour balance in this dish is perfect. Skate isn’t quite like other white fish. It has a different texture. It’s not exactly fatty but it needs something to ‘cut through’ the gelationousness (is that a real word?) of the fish. The vinegar and the salty capers were perfect for this. The brown butter gave depth to the dish. It really was delicious.

An additional bonus is that skate is relatively cheap. So if you see some on sale, givethis a try.

October 25, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 11:19 am

As much as I like my job, seven weeks of 6am starts and 1am finishes has left me feeling a little drained and half term is indeed a very welcome thing. So, howcome I didn’t post until half way through half term? Well, the sad geeky truth is I got a little carried away with a mathemtical coding project related to my year 12s’ syllabus.

Yes, I know, it’s tragic. But don’t worry, I’ve still got things to post, I’ll just take a while to write them up.

My first 7 weeks at Highgate have been an interesting experience. I wasn’t expecting the ups and downs that seem to come with your average teaching day. On most days I will see my lower school set. They can be difficult and lessons with them frequently leave me totally exhausted and more than a little peeved. But then this is counterbalanced by an amazing set or year 12s who, no matter how badly the day is going, will somehow manage to make this job seem worthwhile.

The school day also makes cooking a little tough but, for these 9 days of holiday at least, I’m back on form and the first thing I made was this.

You can tell I had too much time on my hands that day, can’t you? 

I’m aware that a few cookbooks include fish lasagnas like this one with a smoked salmon filling but I think that the salmon on its own would be a bit overpowering for me. I wanted something to dissipate the strong salty flavour of the salmon and, at the same time, add an extra dimension to the dish.  I thought about adding prawns at first, but I didn’t want to alter the texture of the lasagne that much. Then I found some haddock on special offer and this dish was born.

Haddock and Smoked Salmon Lasagna

  • 175g smoked salmon
  • 200g haddock fillet, skinned
  • half a medium onion, finely chopped
  • a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley
  • 3 sheets fresh lasagna 
  • 2 eggs, poached and refreshed in cold water

For The Hollandaise Sauce

  • one to two tablespoons chopped chives 
  • 2 medium/large eggs  (yolks only)
  • 100g butter
  • two teaspoons of white wine vinegar
  1. Start off by getting your poached eggs ready. 
  2. Make the hollandaise sauce as described here
  3. Cut the lasagne sheets in half and cook them, as normal, in salted boiling water. Brush them with olive oil so they don’t stick together, and set them aside. 
  4. Sweat the onions in a little of the butter until they are soft.
  5. Meanwhile, poach the haddock in the milk until it flakes. Drain the fish, flake it into small pieces and stir it into the cooked onion with the parsley.
  6. Warm two serving plates. Using a quarter of the haddock minture, make a thin, rectangular base for the first lasagna on one plate. Try and make it the same size as  the lasagne sheets.
  7. Cover the base one lasagna sheet. Over this, put down a layer of smoked salmon, using around a third of the salmon and cover this with another sheet of lasagna. Make the top layer of the lasagna in the same way as the first, but this time layer another third of the salmon over the haddock before adding the top lasagna sheet. Top the whole thing with the remaining salmon.
  8. Assemble the other lasagna in the same way. Top each with a poached egg, pour the hollandaise sauce over them and scatter over some chopped chives.
  9. Serve with steamed asparagus. 

***

This was the biggest success I’d had this term. The addition of the haddock to the smoked salmon and hollandaise did exctly what I wanted. The lasagna had that extra depth of flavour I had been aiming for but was still dominated by the classic pairing of smoked salmon and hollandaise sauce.

In fact, this would have been perfect if I’d been able to find our whisk. As it was, it had disappeared in our move two months ago and somehow I’d managed to get by without noticing it had gone. This left me with  two problems. Firstly, it is very difficult to make hollandaise sauce without one and secondly, those poached eggs were just not going to work. 

The hollandaise sauce was eventually made by beating things very fast with a fork. As for the eggs, Goon tried to replace the whisk with an electric stick blender. It didn’t really work.  

Well, it nearly held together. Next time I’m in this situation, I’ll try the oiled cling film trick that Trig described in his post on egg poaching techniques.

October 14, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 9:31 am

I distinctly remember my first taste of rabbit. It had been cooked lovingly by my own hand, back in the first year of my PhD. The flavour was distinctive, it was earthy and grassy and I’d call it an acquired taste to say the least. Despite what people had previously told me, it didn’t taste anything like chicken. Once I developed a taste for rabbit, I wondered what was wrong with the people who compared such a flavoursome meat to your bog-standard broiler hen. Last week I finally understood.

In the past I’d never been one to purchase farmed bunnies. For a start they are over twice the price of your average wild rabbit and it seems like a waste of resources to farm something which is so common over the English countyside that it is considered vermin. However, last weekend I went to Borough with the intention of picking up a rabbit for a dish I’d been intending to make for a while: braised rabbit with lemon and green olives. Due to a rather heavy night after work I didn’t manage to drag myself down to London Bridge until 3pm, by which time a lot of stuff had sold out in the market. I was stuck with either no rabbit or farmed rabbit.

As regular readers will know, I’m not one to let go of an idea easily, so one exceptionally large farmed rabbit was carted home with me that day and, when I say large, I mean LARGE. it was roughly the same size as the hare I’d bought 18 months previously. While Goon and I will normally eat a rabbit between us, the monster i bought on Saturday was split in two. I took a back and front leg for each of us and the remainder went in the freezer. The legs were then braised slowly in a , lemony mixture for about two hours.

Rabbit Braised with Lemon and Green Olives

rabbit with lemon and green olives

 Serves 2

  • 2 front and two back legs of a large farmed rabbit
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Olive oil, salt and pepper 
  • handful pitted green olives
  • zest of two lemons
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 8-12 basil leaves, torn
  • handful oregano, roughly chopped
  • 200ml chicken or vegetable stock
  • chopped flatleaf parsley and some lemon wedges to serve
  1. Preheat the oven to gas mark 3
  2. Dust the rabbit pieces in flour and brown on all sides over a high heat. Place the rabbit in a casserole dish.
  3. Gently fry the onion in the olive oil for a couple of minutes. when it is beginning to soften, add the garlic, lemon zest and oregano.
  4. When the onion and garlic are cooked, pour the mixture over the rabbit pieces.
  5. Scatter the olives over the rabbit, squeeze over the lemon juice and then cover the meat with the stock and wine.
  6. Place the casserole dish in the over for 1.5-2 hours, turning the rabbit pieces occasionally.
  7. Remove the casserole from the oven. Pour the liquid into a saucepan and cover the meat with kitchen foil.
  8. Place the saucepan over a medium/high heat  and allow the sauce to reduce and thicken. A minute or two before serving, add the torn basil. 
  9. Place the rabbit portions on warmed serving plates and pour the sauce over them. Squeeze a wedge of lemon over each portion, scatter some parsley over the meat and serve, perhaps with some boiled new potatoes tossed in butter and parsley and some steamed green beans.

*** 

The sauce for this was fabulous and the texture of the rabbit after the slow braise was perfect. The meat was tender, juicy and came off the bone easily. The only problem was that, if I hadn’t been there to see it jointed, I wouldn’t have believed I was eating a rabbit but a particularly meaty broiler chicken. The meat had picked up the flavour of the sauce but had no character of its own. It literally tasted just like poor quality chicken which, after having several delicious wild rabbits, was very disappointing.

So in short, I recommend the recipe but it would be worth looking for wild rabbits to use. It’s true they take longer to cook. I would probably leave a wild rabbit braising for at least three hours. Even then, the meat wouldn’t quite have the melt in your mouth texture of the farmed rabbit but it would still be tender and the extra flavour would more than make up for it.

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 8:36 am

What fortnight that was! Just over six weeks ago I was sitting in the Huxley Building at Imperial Colllege, not quite believing that that would be my last day there. It would be my last day of sitting in the office on my own, staring at the wall while waiting for inspiration to jump out at me, my last day of drinking weak, overpriced coffee and eating nasty, overpriced sandwiches in the common room and my last evening spent sitting in the grotty and overcrowded student bar.

I actually felt a little sad. I have no idea why.

My new working environment is so much better than what I had before. It’s true I’m working a lot harder. But it is, on the whole, enjoyable and it’s nice to have some structure to the day.

That’s quite enough rambling. I’m here to tell you vaguely what happened in those weeks when I went awol from the blogging world. Let’s start with the new flat. Despite being in a bit of a silly location, it isn’t  too bad.

We have a HUGE kitchen,

our kitchen

a nice lounge,

our lounge

and a rather grotty balcony.

balcony

Goon has been developing his cooking skills too.

 goon cooking

Goon is the only person I know who requires a chair and instructions pinned to the nearest flat surface before he starts to cook. You have to admit it is a unique cooking style.  Just before we moved I set him a challenge to make a moussaka, complete with cheese sauce topping. It was a joint effort in the end but he didn’t do badly at all.

goon moussaka

 A few days later he followed suit by making a nice roast chicken risotto. Since we moved he got even better. Recently he proved he can make a passable penne carbonara, a decent puy lentil sauce to have with sausages and quite an impressive spaghetti bolognese.

I had one or two good moments too. On our last night in the old flat I had a flash of inspiration and produced this ridiculous looking plate of ’sushi.’

sort of sushi

 Thats lime and ginger marinated wild salmon and  spice crusted king prawns which we ate with loads of wasabi, pickled ginger and soy. We also had a big bowl of noodles in miso soup and I made a point of digging out sushi plates and chopsticks.

The first weeks in the new place left me with a dearth of food inspiration. Dinners were mostly old ideas rehashed and a lot of pasta was involved. Going from total flexi-time to a job where you’re life is dictated by a bell is quite a big adjustment and I spent most of this half term totally exhausted. The good news is that things have become much more managable and, with only four teaching days left until half term, I think i can start to have a life again and to blog more frequently.

 

October 8, 2007

Filed under: Uncategorized — ros @ 7:07 pm

Our new flat has some good points and some bad points.

There are a few teething problems. We still need to have our washing machine repaired and the central heating is broken, but the only real annoyance is the journey to work. When I decided to take the flat, I looked at a map and thought the walk to school looked  reasonable. It was only a touch longer than my previous walk into college. However, nobody told me about The Hill.

Most people may call it Highgate Hill, but i think of it as Highgate Mountain. It makes up little more than ten percent of my journey but takes about a quarter of the time. On my first morning I stopped, astounded just after Archway station as I faced the 35 degree incline in front of me. The first thing our Head Master said to me after I staggered into the common room that morning was “Are you alright? You look like someone who’s just come up The Hill!” 

I’m seriously considering getting a skateboard to speed up the journey home. 

On the plus side, the flat is conveniently placed so I can walk to Borough Market within 40 minutes (or bus it there in fifteen). In the case of that journey, there’s no crazy hill to slow me down. So, while i miss Kensington Whole Foods, my foodie cravings are satisfied by the Borough stalls, which is where I got myself some of Farmer Sharpe’s mutton neck.

It might seem  a bit silly to be buying slow-cook meats when I’ve got so little time in the evenings, but the advantage of this cut is that you can leave it in the oven for a few hours while you get other things done. In fact, to make good use of some mutton neck, all you need is a root vegetable or two, some herbs and some pearl barley.

Mutton Neck and Pearl Barley Stew

Serves 2 generously

  • 400g mutton neck, cut into bite sized cubes
  • 1 carrot, sliced
  • 1 medium parsnip, sliced into rounds
  • 1 small leek, thinly sliced
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 handfuls pearl barley
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • leaves from 2 sprigs thyme
  • 150ml lamb or vegetable stock
  • 100ml dry white wine
  • mashed potato to serve
  1. Preheat your oven to gas mark 3.  
  2. Get a frying pan really hot and brown the cubes of meat. Transfer to a casserole dish.
  3. Turn the heat down and gently fry the leeks and garlic until they are soft. Add these to the casserole.
  4. Soften the parsnips and carrot in the pan for a couple of minutes and add these to the casserole with the herbs and barley. Cover everything in the casserole dish with the stock and wine, stir the mixture to evenly distribute the ingredients, cover the casserole dish and place it in the oven for two and a half  to three hours, stirring the mixture occasionally. 
  5. Serve with mashed potato and cabbage.

 ***

Can you believe it? I wrote a recipe which only involved five steps!

This was my first attempt at what I’d call ‘proper cooking’ since I started at Highgate. Everything else in that first week had been rushed pasta jobs and take-aways. It was really good to finally have some decent food inside me again.

This was proper comfort food. After three hours, the meat will literally melt in your mouth.  The pearl barley absorbs  the juices of the casserole so you end up with a very thick gravy, which has taken on the wonderfully rich flavour of the mutton.  Mashed potato is the perfect accopaniment to this, mixed up with the barley and delicious gravy from the casserole.

Some people find mutton a little fatty, but this can be partially overcome by cooking this as a stew on the stovetop and skimming off the fat as it rises to the surface. Although this dish takes a long time to cook, it requires no attention so you can get on with other things as it sits in the oven. Lucky for me, as I had a fair bit of marking to do that day!

This will probably become a regular appearance on our dinner table this winter. if you can get your hands on some mutton or lamb neck, it is well worth a try.