Still Alive and Kicking!

Jeez, it’s ages since my last post. Just back from a very nice trip to Basel. Had a fantastic meal at Stucki restaurant. The food was exquisite: the flavours sublime and the presentation elegant and not at all fussy. Had the Aroma Menu, which was pricey at CHF 170 (about €135), but given the quality, worth the money. I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of Swiss white wine although this was also on the expensive side. We had another pleasant meal at Restaurant Balade. The interesting thing here was that every dish on the menu was available in three portion sizes: starter, small and big.

Baked Fruit

Baked Figs with Honey and Yoghurt

Ever notice that some of those peaches, apricots, and to a lesser extent plums, you buy in the supermarket never seem to ripen properly – no matter how long you leave them. Well I was getting pretty tired of this and looked around for something to do with them. Rooting around in the kitchen presses, I found some Manuka honey that had gone too thick to spread on bread. And in the garden, we have a most prodigious rosemary bush. So an idea was born.

I mixed four tablespoons of honey with an equal quantity of water and dissolved in a small pot over a medium heat with a nice sprig of rosemary and splash of balsamic vinegar. After the syrup had thickened a little, I turned off the heat and left the pot to one side to infuse. A punnet of fruit was stoned, cut into halves and placed in a lightly buttered ovenproof dish. Pour over the syrup, after first removing the rosemary sprig, and pop into an oven preheated to 200°C. After about half an hour you have a wonderful dessert, which you can serve with a dollop of cream, yoghurt, etc.

This works really well with apricots and peaches. With red plums you can add a twist. Proceed as above but keep back a couple of tablespoons of the syrup. Melt about 25g of the good dark chocolate and stir in the syrup. Add this to the plums about halfway through cooking. Absolutely heavenly.

Aubergines with Tomatoes and Chickpeas

I came across this Lebanese dish (Mussaka’A Menazzaleh) in Claudia Roden’s excellent Arabesque. I had actually intended making Ratatouille but discovered that I had forgotten to buy courgettes. Also, the preparation looked like more work than I wanted and the amount of olive oil involved would definitely have alerted the ‘fat police’. So I thought this recipe looked tasty, fairly straightforward and importantly I had all the ingredients to hand.

It turned out to be absolutely delicious, with a delicate sweet-and-sour flavour, and it tasted even better the next day eaten at room temperature. So give it a try!

Summary

Makes: 6 portions
Preparation: 15 mins
Cooking: 15 mins + 40 mins

Ingredients

2
2 or 3
500g
2 tbsp
2 tsp
1½ tbsp
400g 1 tin
Aubergines (about 750g total)
Cloves of garlic (crushed)
Tomatoes (skinned, seeded and chopped)
Tomato juice (optional but gives nice consistency)
Sugar
Pomegranate molasses
Chickpeas (drained)
Good olive oil
Salt
Fresh black pepper
Flat-leafed parsley (chopped)

Method

Trim the end of the aubergines, slice in half lengthways and then across into half-rounds about as thick as your finger. Arrange on an oven rack, brush each side with oil and sprinkle lightly with salt. Grill until golden on both sides: about 15 minutes altogether.

Place a tablespoon of oil into a good-sized saucepan and add the crushed garlic. Put onto a low-medium heat. As soon as the garlic starts to colour, add the tomatoes, sugar, salt, pepper and juice if using. Cook gently for 15 minutes or so. Then stir in the pomegranate molasses and carefully fold in the aubergine slices. Continue to simmer for 25 minutes or so, at which stage the aubergine should be very soft. Add the chickpeas about 10 minutes before the end to heat through.

Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the parsley. Goes really well with grilled white meats such as chicken.

Rhone Bargeman’s Beef

I came across this recipe in Elizabeth David’s entertaining book, An Omelette and a Glass of Wine, where she calls it Grillade des Mariniers du Rhône, and just had to try it. Quite like the Chou Farci recipe, it takes extremely simple ingredients and prepares them in an idiot-proof manner to produce a most tasty dish. It works really well with lean meat, such as round steak and the often disappointing striploin steaks found in the supermarkets these days. The only change I made to the recipe was to include a pinch of asafoetida to reduce the possible ‘windy’ effects of so much onion.

The preparation of this dish is simple and all you need is a few hours in a low oven to produce a delicious meal.

Summary

Makes: 4 generous portions
Preparation: 15 mins + 10 mins
Cooking: 2 hours + 1 hour

Ingredients

.
.
1kg
500g
25g
1 h.tsp
.
.
.
1 pinch
.
.
.
3 tbsp
1 tbsp
3 or 4
1 clove
2 tbsp
First stage
.
Lean beef steak 

Onions (fairly finely sliced)
Butter
Flour
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Asafoetida (optional)
.
Dressing
.
Good olive oil
Wine vinegar
Anchovy fillets
Garlic (crushed)
Chopped parsley
Salt
Fresh black pepper

Method

Preheat the oven to 140°C.

Trim any fat or grizzle from the steaks and cut each on the bias into 3 or 4 smaller steaks. Flatten each somewhat with a meat mallet or rolling pin.

Take a rectangular ovenproof dish, a little smaller than an A4 sheet of paper and about 50mm deep. We are going to fill this with alternating layers of onion and meat. With this size of dish and amount of ingredients, it should be possible to get 4 layers of onions and 3 of meat.

Start with a layer of onions. Sprinkle very judiciously with asafoetida. Next place a layer of meat and season with salt and pepper. Repeat, until you have 3 layers of meat and finish with a layer of onions.

Next work the butter and flour together and arrange in small dots over the top layer of onions. Cover with buttered greaseproof paper, making sure it fits snugly, then put the lid on the dish or close with foil. Transfer to the preheated oven and leave for 2 hours.

Make use of the 2 hours as you see fit … read the paper, have a glass of wine …

Then make the dressing by just mixing the ingredients. Mash the anchovy fillets with a fork to get them to break up. Lift the lid and paper from the dish, sprinkle the dressing evenly over the onions and meat, re-cover and return to the oven for another hour.

The dish is now ready to serve, alongside some boiled potatoes or whatever else takes your fancy!

Wild Garlic Pesto

Wild Garlic Pesto

This time of year, a treasure is to be found in our woodlands. Look for some shady area in a deciduous wood. Then just follow your nose, because I’m talking about wild garlic, also known as ramsons. This stuff can be used in salads and soups but also makes a great pesto. One small caution: wild garlic can look a little like lily of the vallley, which is poisonous. However, the wild garlic flower is typical of the onion and garlic family and almost dandelion-like. Also, if you just rub a leaf between your fingers, the smell of garlic will confirm you’ve found the right stuff. For this recipe you’ll want to collect the leaves. Five minutes foraging, will yield at least three jars of pesto.

Back home, pull the stalks off the leaves and weigh out how much you’ll need. About 80g per jam jar. Sterilise some jars in a low oven and then let cool. Wash the leaves to remove dust and dirt and then dry between two towels. The other ingredients in this pesto are 40g each per jar of unsalted pistachio nut kernels and finely grated parmesan, good olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Place the wild garlic and pistachios in a food processor and whizz until a nice consistency has been achieved. I like to leave it quite coarse, so you still get plenty of small pieces of nut. Then add a couple of tablespoons of oil and fold in the parmesan. The pesto will still be quite dry, so add more oil until you get the consistency you want. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Be careful with the salt as the parmesan is already quite salty. Pour carefully into the jar(s) and press lightly with back of a spoon to get rid of most of the air bubbles. Then pour more oil to completely cover and seal the pesto. At this stage, put the lids on but don’t tighten up fully. After half an hour or so, take a skewer and poke out any remaining air bubbles. If necessary, top up with olive oil. Now you can close up the jars properly. This will keep a couple of weeks or so stored somewhere cool and several months stored in the fridge. If you store it in the fridge the oil may solidify but just take the jar out a while before using and everything will be just fine.

By the way this pesto works really well with the Aubergines Slices with Walnuts and Garlic recipe. Just replace the garlic, olive oil and most of the parsley with about 100g of the pesto. You might just need a little olive oil to get a good spreadble consistency.

Obviously you can stir this into pasta to make a quick and tasty meal, but that’s not all. The other day, I had some new potatoes left over. I crushed these lightly, took some (light) creme fraiche mixed with a little cream, added a good rounded dessert spoon of the the pesto and seasoned with pepper and a little salt. I then put the potatoes in a buttered fairly shallow ovenproof dish, covered with the pesto and creme fraiche, sprinkled with some grated emmental and some pancetta cubes. After 20 minutes at 180°C I had a scrumptious dinner.

Aubergine Slices with Walnuts and Garlic

Aubergine Slices with Walnuts and Garlic

This Georgian-influenced meze is known as Cevizli Patlican in Turkey. It is simple to make and tastes delicious, despite the prodigious amounts of garlic involved. You certainly won’t be bothered by vampires after this dish, but gently frying the garlic and mixing it with walnuts mellows the flavour a lot. Try to get hold of walnuts that have not been stored for too long as they can taste bitter, but this can be compensated by blanching briefly and drying well in a very low oven.

Summary

Makes: 4 starter portions
Total Time: about 40 mins

Ingredients

2
60g
6 cloves
.
.
1 handful
Decent-sized aubergines
Shelled walnut halves
Garlic (more or less depending on tastes)
Good olive oil
Nice wine vinegar
Chopped parsley
Salt

Method

Preheat the oven to 240°C. Wash and dry the aubergines. Chop off the stalk and cut lengthways into slices about as thick as your finger. You should easily get 4 proper slices from each aubergine. Wrap a baking sheet with foil and oil well. Arrange the aubergine slices on the sheet and brush well with olive olive. Turn over and brush the other side too. Place in the oven on an upper shelf. Bake for about half an hour until golden on both sides, turning over once.

Meanwhile, chop the walnuts using a food processor or herb chopper. Aim for finely chopped but don’t let them become a paste. Crush the garlic and put into a cold pan with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Put over a lowish heat and let the garlic release its aroma and start to sizzle, but don’t let it colour. Mix the chopped walnuts and parsley in a small bowl, then stir in the the garlic and oil. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to bring everything together and to give consistency you can spread.

When the aubergines are ready, generously brush the upper surface of each slice with wine vinegar and sprinkle with a little salt. Divide the walnut, garlic and parsley mix evenly between the slices and spread.

Let cool before serving. Enjoy!

Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Beetroot and yoghurt seem to be a match made in heaven. The sweetness of the beetroot complements the natural tartness of the yoghurt. Various combinations are found all over the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean. For some reason it’s also very popular in Sweden. I’ve presented two recipes here: the absolute simplest and a delicious posh version that’s just scrumptious.

Simplest Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Simplest Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

This is so simple that it hardly counts as a recipe, but it tastes delicious nonetheless. Reduced to its minimum, chop some peeled cooked beetroot into cubes or whatever shape you like, and then stir in just enough yoghurt to coat it all. Enjoy with crusty white bread. You can add a little crushed garlic but be careful as it can dominate the taste. I prefer keeping it simple.

Posh Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

Posh Beetroot and Yoghurt Salad

This delicious recipe comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty cookbook. It’s a bit more work than the previous recipe but still pretty straightforward and can be done in stages. It adds dimensions with a great relish and lashings of dill. The relish can be used in other situations too, such as in chicken sandwiches. I’ve suggested using ready-cooked beetroot as this saves time and there are plenty of good suppliers out there.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 10 mins + 25 mins + 10mins

Ingredients

1kg
4 h.tbsp
1 small
160g
.
Relish
.
2
3 tbsp
1½ tsp
400g
2 cloves
1 tsp
4
2 tbsp
2 tbsp
Cooked beetroot (peeled)
Fresh dill
Red onion (very finely sliced) (optional)
Greek or thick natural yoghurt
.
.
.
Yellow peppers
Olive oil
Coriander seeds
Can of chopped tomatoes (with juices)
Garlic (crushed)
Sugar
Preserved lemons
Chopped flat leafed parsley
Chopped coriander
.
Salt
Pepper
.
Aluminium foil

Method

First, prepare the peppers for roasting. Preheat the grill. Carefully cut around the top of the peppers and pull on the stalk to take out the seeds. Place on the foil under the grill for about 20 minutes, turning as needed until nicely charred all over. Form a parcel around the peppers using the foil and let cool. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil. When hot, add the coriander seeds and fry for 30 seconds or so. Add the tomatoes, garlic and sugar. Season with salt and pepper, but go easy on the salt as the preserved lemons are quite salty. Let this just come to the point of boiling, then lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. During this time you can prepare the preserved lemons. Cut each into four using the existing cuts as guides. Cut away and discard the flesh leaving just the skin. Cut this into small squares. Wash away the excess salt with cold water. Then add to the tomatoes and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the relish from the heat, stir in the parsley and coriander, and leave to cool completely.

When the peppers are cool, remove from the foil, peel and cut into strips and stir these into the relish. If you prepare the peppers a little ahead of time, you can add them to the relish at the same time as the parsley and coriander. In this case, the flavour is even better.

To assemble the salad, cut the beetroot into wedges and place in a mixing bowl. Add the relish, half of the dill, and onion, if using. Mix well but gently with a wooden spoon or spatula. Check the seasoning. Transfer to a large shallow serving bowl and spoon the yoghurt fairly evenly over the beetroot. Stir around just a little to create a marbled effect. Sprinke with the remaining dill.

Enjoy with some crusty white bread.

Food Report: Restaurant d’Aumale, Hotel de Bourgtheroulde, Rouen

We were recently in the fair city of Rouen in Normandy. On our meanderings through the town doing touristy things, we also kept an eye out for nice places for dinner. We came across the fantastic-looking five-star Hotel de Bourgtheroulde on Place de la Pucelle, thought the restaurant looked promising and booked dinner for later that evening.

We arrived at 8pm and were shown to a table for four that had been trimmed to two as all the proper tables for two had apparently already been booked. The table was also near the service area, which was not great but did offer some insights to subsequent events.

We were repeatedly asked whether we were ready to order when it was very clear that we were not. It would have been more appropriate to ask if we needed any help translating the menu, since French is not our mother tongue. Normally, closing the menus is a sign that one is ready to order. Service from the head waiter was brusque and unfriendly. After ordering the food and the wine, an amuse-bouche arrived. As we were seated near the service area I could see that our starters arrived before we had even finished our amuse-bouche. This was not so critical as both starters were cold dishes.

We were beginning to worry that dinner would be over much too quickly. To our horror, this was confirmed when we saw that our main courses arrived from the kitchen before we were finished eating our starters. Both main courses were hot dishes, which had cooled down by the time they were served and hence were not in peak condition.

There was absolutely no break between amuse-bouche, starter and main course. This would be bad at a cheap restaurant but it is unforgiveable at an expensive one.

We did not want dessert but rather were looking forward to the cheese course. I requested the wine list so that we could order a glass of red wine to accompany the cheese. The head waiter bluntly informed me that only bottles of red wine were available: no half bottles or glasses. I find this very strange. It is not acceptable that I should buy a complete bottle of wine when all I require is a glass with my cheese. Even if this is the case, the rude and unprofessional manner of the waiter was unacceptable. I would have expected some flexibility from a five star establishment: maybe a glass of wine could have been sourced from the brasserie or the bar. It is little things like this that make great restaurants.

When we declined to buy a whole bottle of red wine, the waiter seemed to go on “autopilot” and asked us whether we wanted cheese, dessert and coffee. It was like he was reading from a script. We declined all three and just asked for the bill. We left the restaurant one hour after we entered. That may be fine at lunchtime but it is just not good enough in the evening. We mentioned our dissatisfaction at the reception desk. While I could see their concern, all they offered was a business card with an e-mail address. This suggests a lack of training in dealing with complaints, which will occur from time to time even in the best-run business.

So to summarise, we unfortunately had a most negative experience in this restaurant. We felt rushed and unwelcome. The attitude of the head waiter was extremely rude and unprofessional. We have never been treated in such a manner anywhere before. Unfortnately I could not recommend this restaurant further, in fact I would have to advise that staying away would be the best course of action.

PS: Most of the text in this post was sent to the e-mail address supplied by reception. Surprise, surprise – absolutely no reaction.

Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, Co. Cork

Some very good friends kindly gave us a voucher for Gortnanain Vegetarian Guesthouse and Organic Farm, which we used last weekend. This guesthouse is situated in the rolling countryside just outside Kinsale in Co. Cork and consists of the small guesthouse itself and around 9 acres of land given over to growing a staggering array of vegetables and to a lesser, but increasing, extent fruit. The bulk of this produce is used to supply a handful of restaurants in Cork city, including one of the world’s great vegetarian restaurants – Dennis Cotter’s Cafe Paradiso.

Not only do Lucy and Ultan tend the crops, they also do a great job as hosts and chefs for dinner and breakfast. After arriving, we were given a nice cup of tea and had a great chat. We also got to meet the house’s other permanent residents, Snapple and Bramble – head rabbit catchers on the farm. There was one other couple staying that night: Michael and Lorna from NYC. Everyone – guests and hosts alike – sits around the big kitchen table for dinner.

The dinner menu is fixed, but Lucy did ask when we booked, whether we had any preferences or allergies; and they work out the menu based on that information and whatever is available in the garden. Gortnanain has no wine licence but provides a glass or two on the house and you can, of course, bring your own. Dinner was excellent, especially the tomato salad, which completely changed my views on the merits of beefsteak tomatoes. These were ripe to perfection and bursting with flavour. The conversation was great and continued after we retired to the lounge for tea and coffee. Lucy and Ultan’s take on organic was very refreshing. They are committed to local organic food because being near, it’s in peak condition, and organic farming is so much better for the environment. They made no claims that it’s necessarily better for you: for that they’d rather wait for conclusive scientific evidence. Mind you, I think it’s obvious that they believe it.

Next day, after a delicious breakfast, Ultan gave a tour of the farm. It was quite astonishing, what could be produced from a small plot. As we wandered up and and down drills of various vegetables in glorious sunshine, with Ultan weeding as we went, it was quite obvious the amount of work that goes into producing such great vegetables. You must need huge commitment to be doing this on the many rainy days we have.

I can’t recommend Gortnanain highly enough and would urge you to spend a night or two if you’re ever in the area. I know we’re looking forward to our next visit.

Caramelised Garlic and Goat’s Cheese Tart

Caramelised Garlic Goats Cheese Tart

I recently posted a recipe for a fantastic quiche using fresh garlic. This was delicious but unfortunately the season for fresh garlic is pretty short. So, I was on the lookout for a similar recipe that I could make all year round. While perusing the Irish Times a few weeks ago, I came across this tart/quiche in Domini Kemp’s column. She presents a recipe adapted from one by Yotam Ottolenghi, which I, in turn, have adapted slightly to suit the flan dishes I had available. The results were great and I look forward to being able to enjoy this tart throughout the year. Ottolenghi’s recipe uses less balsamic, which I would do next time too, as it keeps the garlic more golden than dark.

This recipe is for a 20cm dish. Just double the quantities for 28cm. You can of course make your own puff pastry if you’re that way inclined but I used Jus-Rol. I don’t see any reason why you couldn’t use shortcrust, in which case there’s less excuse not to make it yourself!

There’s a little bit of work involved but you can do each stage separately; so don’t let that put you off trying this great dish.

Summary

Makes: 4 portions
Preparation: 10 mins + 20 mins
Cooking: 30 mins + 20 mins + 30 mins

Ingredients

250g
2-3 heads
2 tbsp
2 tbsp
200ml
1 tbsp
1 tbsp
120g
2
100g
Puff pastry (defrosted but still cold)
Garlic (cloves separated and peeled)
Olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Water
Caster sugar
Chopped fresh herbs (rosemary, thyme, etc)
Goat’s cheese (mix hard and soft if you can)
Large eggs (the best you can get)
Crème fraîche
Salt
Pepper
.
20cm quiche dish about 3cm deep
Baking beans or similar

Method

First we need to make the pastry base, which can be be done ahead of time. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface so that it is big enough to line the base and sides of the quiche dish with a margin to allow for shrinkage. Prick the base all over with a fork. If you have time place in the fridge for 20 minutes of so. Trim the excess pastry. Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and pour in the baking beans. Use as many as will fit, as otherwise the base will rise. Place into the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Carefully remove the greaseproof paper and baking beans and continue to bake for a further 5 minutes to let the base crisp up. Set aside to cool. Don’t worry if the base has risen a little: you can carefully trim around the edge and press it down gently later.

When you’re ready to finish off the dish, set the oven to warm at 160°C. Put the olive oil in a small frying pan over a low heat and add the garlic cloves. Let them gently sweat for about 10 minutes. Move them around the pan to stop them colouring. Then add the sugar, balsamic and water. Increase the heat and let the mixture reduce. After about 10 minutes add the chopped herbs and season with a little salt and pepper. When the liquid has turned syrupy, the garlic should be soft and have a nice dark colour from the balsamic. In the meantime, dice the cheese and sprinkle over the pastry base. Crack the eggs and mix with the crème fraîche to form a sort of custard. Sprinkle the garlic cloves evenly over the cheese along with a little of the pan syrup. Move the dish to near the oven and pour in the eggs and crème fraîche. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the custard has set.

Let cool a little before serving, as this gives the flavour a chance to develop. Enjoy with a green salad.