Thursday, 30 January 2014

Eat ...Nigel Slater's little book of fast food

"Cooking should, surely, be a light hearted, spirited affair, alive with invention, experimentation, appetite and a sense of adventure."  Nigel Slater 

I like to think of the English chefs Nigel Slater and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall as my "cooking boyfriends".  They are often with me in the kitchen whether it be following a recipe from one of Hugh's River Cottage cookbooks or an inspirational idea from one of  Nigel's columns on The Guardian website.

Left Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall at River Cottage and Right Nigel Slater
in his London garden

Both Nigel and Hugh give me great recipes but best of all I like the way they write about food.

Looking at the photos above I realise they do look alike.  They are alike in that they each encourage home cooking using fresh and often home grown produce.

They are different because Hugh lives a country life at River Cottage farm and has actively participated in campaigns to improve the tragic lives of egg laying hens and the chickens who never get to leave a cage, protested at the dumping of fish in the sea and the price of milk in the UK (sounds familiar!).

Whereas Nigel appeals to those of us living in an urban landscape.  How encouraging it is to see the range of vegetables and fruit he can produce in his compact back garden in London.

Nigel's descriptive writing style clearly conveys his passion for food and its infectious. He makes me laugh, especially in his book "Eating for England".

"A beautiful, mysterious thing when seen on the stalk in a foggy field in January, the Brussels sprout has a fairytale look to it...  A pity then that the vegetable shares so many of its attributes with a fart... "

I haven't until now owned a Nigel Slater book. "Eat" was an impulse purchase, sight unseen, simply based on the reviews.  From the moment I opened the package I knew I had a different sort of cookbook in my possession.  It's the size of a novel, with a stunningly simple black title printed onto a rich pumpkin fabric cover.

Who says you can't judge a book by it's cover!   Open "Eat" and you are rewarded with clean, modern design and layout that allows you to easily and quickly read the recipes.

Nigel tells me the book I have in my hand is,
"A little book of straightforward, contemporary recipes, quick or particularly easy to get to the table.  A collection of recipes that are fast, simple and, I hope, fun. " 

The book is divided into 10 chapters with dishes grouped together based on the method of cooking.
In the hand
In a bowl
In the frying pan
On the grill
On the hob
Little stews
In the oven
Under a crust
In a wok
On a plate
And ends with a chapter simply called Puddings.
Each chapter has an intro in a large font, followed by a list of his favourite
dishes for that style of cooking.
Nigel himself best describes the layout,

"The form of the recipes is new.  Written in the style of an extended tweet, they are no dogged '1-2-3' sets of instructions.  The ingredients lists are next to a picture of the finished dish, both at the top of the method so you can see, at a glance what you will need and then, in more detail, within the method"

 The first recipe I tried from "Eat" was rather rich but simply delicious.

 I would normally steer away from this amount of butter and cream...but I was curious and the tag line he puts at the bottom of the recipe intrigued me. "Soft, white, supremely citrus fish"

To give you an idea of how the recipes are presented I copied the recipe just as it is laid out in "Eat".
We enjoyed this creamy fish dish with the new potatoes
gathered from our community garden.  You can follow our
gardening exploits on my other blog Sanctuary Garden Diary
Cod with Lemon, Tarragon and Creme Fraiche
cod, lemons, tarragon, creme fraiche, capers, bay, butter, black peppercorns

Put 350g cod fillet, cut from the thick end of the fish, into a large shallow pan with the juice of 2 lemons and 40g butter.  Chop half a small bunch of tarragon and add to the pan with a bay leaf and 6 black peppercorns.  Bring to the boil, lower the heat, cover with a lid and simmer for about 10 minutes, till the fish is opaque.  Remove the fish with a fish slice and keep warm.

Chop the rest of the bunch of tarragon and add it to the pan with a teaspoon of capers and  3 tablespoons of creme fraiche. The creme fraiche will turn a little grainywhere it meets the lemon juice.  
No matter.  Coarsely flake the fish and spoon the sauce over it.

   For 2: Soft, white, supremely citrus fish.

The butter contributes to the rich flavour of the sauce

This dish would be really good with southern blue cod but as it's not a locally available fish in Auckland I chose Tarakihi,  NZ Seafood's Fish of the Month: January 

The lemon juice and the herb Tarragon is the secret to the success of this dish.  And true to his word it takes only a few minutes to make.

French Tarragon

The not so well known herb French Tarragon gave the dish a subtle hint of aniseed.  I made this recipe in early December when my tarragon was starting to take off.  It was a great way to show how a little tarragon adds to the flavours of fish, lemon and cream. 
This tarragon I took with us from Dunedin in a small pot and it has thankfully
continued to grow in a pot.  Use the younger new leaves to avoid any bitterness.

French Tarragon is a delicate herb to grow.  It hides underground all winter and in early spring small green shoots appear and is ready to harvest early summer.  Tomatoes , eggs, chicken and fish all benefit from the addition of tarragon but it is most commonly used to flavour vinegar and mustards.  Tarragon hates wet feet and enjoys a sandy soil. It requires good drainage so I have had the most success growing it in a pot where I can control the conditions.

The taller growing Russian hasn't the flavour of  French Tarragon.  To test whether you have the right nationality of tarragon simply bite a leaf and keep to the front of your tongue.  A true French Tarragon will numb the tip of your tongue.

I will leave the last word on tarragon to the boys:

"The crowning glory, the whole point of this herb, is as the principal flavour in sauce BĂ©arnaise, the unctuous, egg-yolk rich emollient for steak. (Even though it's the chips I really make it for.) ... But it is with chicken that tarragon reigns supreme. The leaves, especially larger ones, will stand up to the cooking time and gently impart their aniseed notes to the sauce. "  Nigel Slater

"With its aniseedy, liquoricey punch, its slight pepperiness and its hints of pine, tarragon is not something to use with a heavy hand, but in the right quantities and the right company, it can be sublime."  Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

One great feature of "Eat" is what Nigel calls "little extras",
"Opposite many of the recipes are ideas that have bounced off them, a scattering of notes, suggestions and narrative recipes that might also interest you".

After returning home rather late from work I was hungry and wanted something fast.  I tried one of his suggested off-shoot ideas, A salsa scramble from the featured recipe Spiced Scrambled Eggs. 

A salsa scramble

Sizzle a finely chopped tomato, a little finely chopped chilli and some chopped spring onion in a little butter, then stir in half a chopped avocado, a squeeze of lime juice and a little coriander.  Use half as the base of the scramble, adding the eggs to it once it is hot.  Serve the other half as a salsa on the side.
We grew this wonderful tomato and its companions basil, tarragon and
spring onion.

This meal took 10 minutes at the most to make.  I started by collecting what ingredients I had to match Nigel's recipe.  Darn only one egg left and the scrambled egg recipe used 5 eggs.  The recipe was made for two though so I knew one egg would work to create a slightly different version of the salsa scramble.   Half an avocado and half a green chilli, although not shown in the photo, I also used.

I didn't have any coriander on hand but have heaps of basil and as tarragon goes well with egg I added a little of that as well.

Another change to Nigel's recipe was to use lime infused olive oil instead of butter as I love olive oil and felt that would better suit the salsa.

As it is cooked very quickly you need to do all the cutting up before you start cooking.  

Only just cook the tomatoes and other vegetables before dividing the salsa into two as you want the salsa portion to be like a salsa, not a sauce.

Drop the egg or eggs into the pot and stir immediately.   Now I knew that this would taste delicious but mix red tomato with yellow egg and the resulting the peach colour looked like something regurgitated.  With more eggs it would look better... but I had a plan.   In another pot I quickly cooked a few summer beans as the colour green does wonders.

Nigel suggests using the remaining salsa as a side.  I decided to top my hot scramble with the lovely red and green salsa.  My resulting dish was more of a scrambled soup because I only used one egg but it didn't was truly delicious.  I could taste the basil and tarragon, then get a hit of chilli and enjoy the texture of the avocado.  Tomato and egg is a heavenly combination anyway, and it was created in ten minutes!    

Nigel has created this book to reflect the times - we are often time poor.  How easy it is to grab something ready prepared from a takeaway but Nigel is right when he says,

"Making yourself and others something good to eat can be so little trouble and so much pleasure.  And much more satisfying than coming home to a meal in a box".

Thank you Nigel for all the good fast food meals I will make from your little book "EAT".

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A Fool and a Mess

Christmas and the holidays is a wonderful time for gooseberries, currants, berries and stone fruits.  I have just experienced ten glorious days with Peter's family in Hawkes Bay where you can go and pick your own berries or visit orchards that sell tree ripened stonefruit.

Monica, Beau and Tansy all helping to Pick Your Own Berries for my raspberry jam producton
from Ruby Glen off Meeanee Road,  and the juiciest stone fruits from Seamans on
Basil Road off Meeanee Road, Napier

My sister in law Monica is the one who gathers all the family around her table. I was only too happy to relieve her of some of the cooking duties and to try out desserts that are naughtily creamy but work so well with summer fruits.

A Fool fits in with holiday routine as you can prepare it ahead of time, or cheat and purchase the custard and meringues, and put together with little effort. The same can be said about an Eton Mess!!

My revived fascination with Fool was sparked just before Christmas when I received from my sister Kerry in Dunedin a beautifully packaged parcel of her gooseberries.
Murray is Kerry's cat.

Up here in the sub tropical north, I miss the southern gooseberry season .  These well travelled gooseberries were like gold so I quickly froze half for later use in my favourite gooseberry recipe, see "Gooseberry Shortcake and Sweet Cicely" (Sept 2012) and the other half I used to make the classic English dessert, Gooseberry Fool.

I previously made the fool with 50/50 cream and yoghurt in "Five Good Things with Gooseberries" (December 2012) but this time I made the fool using a mix of custard and cream.  You can use yoghurt instead of cream.

Gooseberry Fool dates back to 17th Century England, but the origin of its quirky name is not agreed upon.   Some suggest it comes from the French word foule ( translated means milled, mashed, pressed).  I discovered on the The Historic Foodie Blog  foulè de groscilles is the French version of Gooseberry Fool. The original trifle recipe dates nearly as far back as Gooseberry Fool and reads a lot like my recipe with custard, fruit and cream mixed together. The addition of sponge cake in trifle came later.

Gooseberry Fool

First step is to make a rich custard:

4 egg yolkes
500 ml of full cream milk (or 50/50 milk and cream but I felt there was enough cream in this Fool recipe)
100 g castor sugar
1 vanilla pod split lengthways ( you can use 1tsp vanilla essence instead)
1 Tbsp cornflour

I make this custard in a pyrex bowl over top of a pot of boiling water (keep the water level just beneath of the glass bowl)... you can make this custard in a pot on the stove but you have to keep an eagle eye on it so that it doesnt catch and burn on the bottom.

First heat the milk with the split vanilla pod until really hot but not boiling.
In a separate bowl beat the egg yolks, add sugar and beat; then mix in the cornflour.
Now pour and stir the egg mix into the milk.
Cooking custard in doubleboiler set up take longer but avoids sticking on the bottom.

Stir regularly until the custard thickens enough to coat the wooden spoon and remains.
Cover the top of the custard with kitchen paper and gently
press to make a seal with the paper.  This will avoid the custard
forming a skin as it cools.

Allow to cool, then once at room temperature put the custard into the fridge.

Next step, cook up your gooseberries - I had 400g and added 75 gm of sugar...  (if you have more gooseberries then use the same ratio of berries/ sugar).  Next, melt a knob of butter then add fruit and sugar - no water necessary as the water comes out of the berries as they cook. If making this at the beginning of the gooseberry season while Elderflowers are around, add in a head of blooms.  Alternatively,  a slurp of elderflower cordial will add that extra dimension to your fool.

Once the fruit and custard are cooled, beat the cream - I used approx 200ml of cream.  You could replace the cream with a thick Greek style yoghurt.  Once mixed, chill well before serving.

At Christmas, I made another Fool, this time using cooked apricots.  It's a great use for apricot seconds that don't look or taste perfect enough for eating raw.   When cooked, they have a far better flavour.
If you have apricots that are not very tasty when eaten raw, you should cook them... but
if you have good eating apricots on hand then simply puree with a little lemon juice
and sugar to taste.   If you need more liquid, add some apple juice.

On tasting the fool I realised that there was not enough of the apricot flavour pushing its way through the custard and cream.  To improve the flavour, I quickly pureed about half a dozen raw ripe apricots with a little caster sugar and apple juice and gently mixed it through as a ripple. I served the apricot fool with fresh raspberries.  The raspberries were macerated in caster sugar.

Macerating fruit is just like marinating savoury dishes.  For fruit, use fine sugar or syrups, adding lemon juice or liqueur if desired. Allowing the fruit to sit in sugar for an hour sweetens the tartness, heightening the flavour and creating a delicious sauce. This also gives an appetizing gloss to the fruit.

At it's simplest, Fool is stewed or crushed fresh fruit, folded into whipped cream. I have discovered the custard component adds a richer flavour to the Fool. While my Apricot fool was a little runnier than I had wanted (for the custard I used 3 egg yolks leftover from Pavlova making instead of 4 in the recipe I had previously used).  However, it was eagerly lapped up by the family and pronounced delicious.

Eton Mess

This dessert has a more modern origin that many a busy mum can identify with.  On the way to an Eton College sports day an anxious mother discovered to her horror that the pavlova she had made for the boys had been squashed and broken in transit.
As so often happens in the kitchen, out of disaster sometimes a new dish is created.  She mixed up the broken pavlova with the fresh fruit and cream creating what is now called, 'Eton Mess'.

Actually, it does look a complete mess, but you can make it look a lot tidier and prettier by doing what I did and keep some of the berry fruit aside and placing on top along with some small lemon balm leaves for a touch of contrasting green. It may look a mess but it tastes delicious. These days, Eton Mess tends to be made with meringues instead of pavlova.

The crystal bowl that belonged to Peter and Monica's Mum gave
the Fool that extra "glam" presentation
I had about 500g of blackberries that I allowed to macerate in lemon juice, 2 big tablespoons of caster sugar and a splash of apple juice.  I wanted to add some sweetness to the blackberries because they were quite tart.  Separate out as many fruits as you think will help to decorate the top.

Crush 8-10 meringues - making sure there are some big pieces as well as crushed meringue.
Add to the fruit but don't stir yet. Keep one meringue for the top

Next, beat a 250 ml bottle of cream until stiff but still soft.  Do not over beat.

Add the cream and softly fold rather than mix.

Scatter the fruit and crush the last meringue on top.  Use mint leaves or lemon balm, as I have, to contrast.  If using yellow fruits in the Mess then some orange, red or yellow nasturiums or blue borage are decorative options.

My niece Francie said this is one of her favourite desserts and gave me 4 out of 5 for my Eton Mess.
She said if I had used homemade meringues I would have got 5 out of 5.  Francie knows about good meringues and treasures her grandmother Molly's meringue recipes. Molly had more than one recipe ... and a reputation for producing great meringues.  Francie has been trying to find that crunchy yet chewy meringue recipe that Molly used to make for her when she was a small child.  She thinks she has found it, and if it's the right one, she will share it with us at a later date.

This is one of the best things I love about cooking; the sharing of recipes especially those foods that generate memories of childhood treats.

Yes, you can have too much cream... so no more Eton Mess or Fool for me now that Christmas festivities are over and I'm back at work, sitting on my bum all day in an office.