“Let them eat carrot cake”…a quicker route to the guillotine…

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I have never come to terms with cake made from carrots. Such root vegetables were very popular as sweetening agents in the 18th century but even Marie Antoinette had more sense than to attempt to appease the ravenous sans culottes with carrot cake. There is something uneasy and inappropriate about the liaison of cake and vegetables. It surprises me that the Lady of Shallot never wrote a cookery book as, being a member of a branch of an ennobled vegetable family, carrot cake would most certainly have been among her signature dishes: such eccentricity could have been expected from a dotty aristocrat of the noble Onion family.

Cake and fish can only be described as a combination devised by Dante for those condemned to the innermost circles of hell. Butter, sugar, eggs and flour can never benefit from the addition of fish even in the minds of the maddest of the mad. However, unlike the carrot cake and Marie Antoinette, the fish cake has a sense of humour which is its salvation.

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Cake is a misleading word in English as it can refer to many things that I consider to be very uncakey: a cake of  soap would be a shining example of uncakiness. Fish cake should be the apotheosis of uncakiness, except for shitcake. Shitcake is a mushroom that is found under cowpats and sensibly renamed shitake for commercial reasons – true or false? Back to fish cakes.

The good fish cake is made with good ingredients as is the case with all good food. Crap fish cakes are universally available, as are all crap products, but ill advised. The cakes in the picture were made from salmon, anchovies, parsley, butter, potatoes and seasoning.

The salmon was lightly poached with some salt and pepper corns. Whilst the fish rested in its warm bath, freshly boiled potatoes were passed through a potato ricer, then seasoned with salt and white pepper and lubricated with butter and cream. I had earlier gathered some flat parsley from a patch parsley_0132behind3_mix_mash_fish_0082 the cottage where it springs from the gravel each year. The parsley was washed, chopped and added to some chopped fillets of anchovies. Large flakes of the cooked salmon are roughly mixed with the mashed potatoes and parsley anchovy mixture so that the pink and green of fish and parsley bejewel the warm yellow mass of buttery mash. Take a handful of this amalgam of good things and form it into a ball, flattening the top and bottom to make it into a “cake”, and dusting it lightly with seasoned flour. If all the ingredients are still warm, as they ideally should be, the cakes will need no more that 2 or 3 minutes cooking, on each side, in a frying pan….preferably in good olive oil. 9_sauce_bottles_0111We serve them with a salad of peppery rocket leaves and if  a sauce is required, I would recommend Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce or Watkins Anchovy Sauce…..

Posted in 2014, anchovies, Cooking, Cream, Digital photography, Fish, Fish cakes, Fish cakes, Flat parsley, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Herbs and Spices, mashed potatoes, Olive oil, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Salmon, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 59 Comments

Out of the darkness…

comp_choc_spoon.Smoke may get in your eyes but chocolate gets into your soul. My soul has appetites so there is always chocolate in the store cupboard lest my soul should go hungry. A small pile of thin, flat slabs of intense chocolate wait patiently in the darkness of the cupboard. Sometimes I peel back the shiny foil and snap off a small square to enjoy with a glass of red wine. As the chocolate melts on my tongue it brings to mind the pleasure of dipping into a soft mass of dark, molten sweetness. Nothing bad can come out that, now can it?

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Posted in 2014, Baking, Brownies, Chocolate, Cooking, Cream, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Present Imperfect..

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Present imperfect may be incorrect as a tense but it is flawless as a sentiment when speaking of food that has been conceived to tempt by the senses of smell and taste, rather than to lure admirers by artful cosmetics . Contrived artifice tastes best when displayed behind glass but is found wanting when compared with the sensuality of the warm scent emanating from the butter and lard pastry case, containing thick spears of melting green asparagus set in Parmesan flavoured custard, as it is taken from a hot oven.

Falling for the made up tart behind the plate glass, understandable as it may be, is to court disappointment and disillusionment. However artisan in spirit and skill may be the creator, the numbing truth is that it was not made with you in mind. It was not made with anyone in mind: it was made with money in mind. I feel the same about fine dining which I place on the same soulless plane as very expensive whores. There is, and has always been, a market for both but the majority of that market is as undiscerning as it is well heeled. Discernment is not in the remit of such suppliers, only the artifice to create the illusion of discernment in the minds of the wallets that they are emptying . For me, only the warmest bespoke tart will do, even if the extremities have been knocked about a bit.

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Posted in 2014, asparagus, baking, Cheese, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Parmesan, Photography, photography course, tart, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments

Jam today…

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I have met a lot of bankers in my time and most of the meetings were uncomfortable….for me. The main thrust of these meetings was to convince them of the imminent arrival of funds and, with that in mind, the importance of continuing their expensive support of my life. I became used to the knowing look on their faces as I pleaded my case and even more used to the sarcastic response of ” Oh, it’s jam tomorrow, is it Mr. Stowell”

Well this is just to say “Jam today..”

Posted in Baking, cake, Cream, creme fraiche, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

Spend, spend, spend…..

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Today, I have been writing, cooking and taking pictures which, to my mind, has been time well spent. My principal currency is time and, as it cannot be saved, I spend freely of it. The house is quiet and the kitchen is sunny. Such an atmosphere makes food and photography blossom . Pastry and cakes having been made, I was finishing off by making an intense tomato sauce for a pasta that we will eat tomorrow night. I had roasted a red pepper, part of which I added to the pasta sauce, and part of which I had for my lunch, mixed with anchovies, capers and fine slivers of garlic. The colours and the look of the dish made me think of Spain, which made me think of sherry, which made me pour a glass of a wonderful amber coloured, chilled, dry oloroso.

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Posted in 2014, anchovies, capers, Cooking, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Kitchens, pasta, peppers, Photography, photography course, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 49 Comments

Keeping it fresh..

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It may be assumed, from the universal accretion of sex shops, that many bedside cabinets harbour rarely, if ever, used sex aids in the same way that tiny chapels house rarely revered reliquaries containing slivers of saintly bones. Both were acquired to refresh, renew or otherwise prop up flagging beliefs or libidos. After initial ecstasies of body or spirit both vibrator and venerated femur are forgotten and are laid to rest in darkened recesses where they remain until discovered by archaeologists, house clearance operatives or inquisitive offspring. Asparagus  can so easily suffer the same fate and often does so in our house. Green asparagus, as I have mentioned in previous posts, is uncommon in our local shops. White asparagus is in the ascendant hereabouts which means that, when my eyes fall upon a some green amongst the white, the carefully constructed shopping list in my hand is ignored. On my return home the asparagus is admired, put on view, talked about and eventually put in the fridge. Once in there, it is too often forgotten and, if it is remembered, it is remembered too late. The firm spears are no longer erect….the sex has left the aid. It is with this in mind that I think it worthwhile to recount a method of preserving the freshness and crispness of the spears over at least a week.

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Cut off the thick, woody bases up to the start of green flesh of the spears, leaving the bunch tied together. Pour a little cold water into a glass jar, or some other appropriately sized container, and put in the bunch of asparagus, so that the bases are just covered in water. Now place a small plastic bag over the tips of the spears and secure it. I’ve done this for the first time and the spears, some five days later, are stiff and raring to go. It would just sound puerile to tell you that they will be put into a tart later on today, so I won’t.

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Posted in 2014, asparagus, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Sex, Shopping, Still life, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 60 Comments

It seems that prostitutes and pasta are as closely linked as literacy and Alphabetti….

 

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I was saddened to find that the origin of salsa puttanesca has nothing to do with an exhausted courtesan, yearning for some stimulation after a long night of simulation, having a eureka moment as she looked into a store cupboard not quite as bare as herself. To my mind, the tangled array of pasta is reminiscent of tousled hair, smudged make up and an unmade bed. Pasta Rorschach is a new dish which I created between exhausting bouts of watching rugby on television.comp

I remember the prison scene in “Goodfellas” when Paul Cicero* chooses a razor blade as the ideal tool to reduce a fat clove of garlic to meltingly thin slivers. As razor blades are becoming as common as dodos I had to make do with I.O.Shen’s finest steel to produce the Soprano slice. These ivory slices are melted with anchovy fillets in warm olive oil that has been spiked with crushed birds’ eye chilies. There is no rush in Rorschach…everything happens slowly. A skinned, roasted red pepper is chopped and added to the pan and the heat is reduced as low as possible. The softened ingredients take on deep colour but, like the careful sunbather, nothing burns. The colour, perfume and the seductive appearance create impure thoughts which would be wasted if resisted. This is a lascivious, bawdy dish that I will make again and again…..or maybe just once, tonight.

*ERRATUM: I originally wrote that it was Tony Soprano slicing garlic….feet of clay…

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Posted in 2014, anchovies, chillies, Cooking, Digital photography, Excellence, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Italian food, Olive oil, pasta, peppers, Photography, photography course, Recipes, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 58 Comments

Black hood…..trying to see no evil

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The ironic combination of telephone and camera diametrically opposes the powerful principle of seeing, speaking and hearing no evil…indeed, it facilitates seeing, speaking and hearing evil. That all three of these transgressions can be done anonymously has not gone unnoticed by the twittering classes. But, as in all such contentious questions, we can rest assured that it will not be us who transgress.It’s that minority again. I wish I know where this powerful and influential minority resides, but wherever they are it’s surprising that they have gone unnoticed, because unnoticed they most certainly have gone or they would have been found and stopped.

My current relationship with the camera telephone would only enable me to speak evil to myself, which I can already do quite well and that without the aid of a telephone. Hearing evil with my telephone is harder as it rarely rings and if it does I don’t hear it because it’s tucked away somewhere safe in case one of the minority tries to steal it. Sharing evil speech with others does not come easily either, as I am still mastering the “touch screen” contacts which clumsy efforts invariably lead to yet another call for an ambulance or a fire engine.I’m reasonably sure that the French ambulance and fire services have spoken evil to me, but I haven’t heard them. I do, however, see evil. If the definition of evil includes the term bad, then every picture I take with the camera telephone is an expression of evil. For them to cease being evil I have to lead them gently to the path of righteousness through careful manipulation, although this righteousness often does not include the virtue of focus.

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I persevere because I think I should, in the way that younger people go to the gym. Being that photography, of all kinds, is very much within my remit, it frustrates me that I am failing to master a reasonably simple device. It’s modernity, however, is starting to come into question. I have found that the only way that I can see the screen clearly, when outside on a hazy sunny day, is to revert to putting a black cloth over my head as was the way when I worked with a plate camera. In the picture that I have taken to demonstrate this technique, with a self timer on a camera without a telephone in it, you will notice that the Blackberry telephone camera is out of focus….it’s as though…..

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Posted in 2014, Digital photography, France, French countryside, Humour, Landscapes, Photography, photography course, Photoshop, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 39 Comments

Learning to use a knife and fork…..

egg_mayonnaise3_5677 The weekend saw us in Paris. We were there to have lunch with our son to celebrate his significant birthday which meant that this was to be an event. Over the previous weeks we had debated as to where would be good to eat, in a large group, on a Saturday lunch time in Paris. The answer we came up with was “nowhere”. Restaurants and brasseries wanted information as to time, numbers and food choices: questions that were too precise for a party such as ours to answer. Saturday lunch time is a bad time to eat in any European city, and Paris is no different. I thought that the old establishment of Chartier would suit admirably. Bouillon Chartier does not take reservations and the food that they serve is simple bistro food. There’s no room for confusion in that equation. The food is not in any way special, but the atmosphere is. It’s worth being there if you’re in Paris for 3 or 4 hours as you will feel that you have been in Paris for those few hours, which with many smarter establishment will not be the case. You will also have a fuller wallet for the professional pickpockets who, unlike the rest of us, do not have the weekend off. They are working flat out and will be grateful of the extra money in your pockets that Chartier did not take.

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I had hoped to make a pictorial record of our visit to Chartier with my phone. Even writing those words confuses me so my chances of success were fat and none. Although I have fully embraced digital photography and the software for manipulating these images, when confronted with the camera in a portable phone I am like a drunk eating hot soup with a knife and fork. Because of this ineptitude I am illustrating this post with pictures from my archives, which I created with a camera rather than a telephone, of the style of food that could be enjoyed at this restaurant….although it would have been nice if the restaurant had made the dishes look as good, but that’s not the point of this restaurant. The point is size and noise and serveurs in long aprons under art deco lights reflected in the huge mirrors on the walls. The point is the red and white checked table cloths, simple base metal cutlery, paris goblets, carafes of passable wine, and piles of bread in baskets. The point is that I didn’t take any successful pictures with a telephone. I could have telephoned you and told you all this but I couldn’t show you a single picture…..I could show you several pictures, but I’d prefer to say that someone else took them.

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Posted in 2014, Bistro, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, Eggs, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Photography, photography course, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

Eating outdoors at last….

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Dreams have the unfortunate habit of remaining unfulfilled so it is always a delight to have one come true. As the years have passed I have learnt to keep my dreams simple so, on this cusp of summer time, the fruition of my simple dream to have lunch at a table in the garden was gratifying, and surprising. The surprise lay in the taste of the food or, to be clear, in the apparent increase in flavour of this particular dish that I have eaten, often, this winter but, being winter, I have eaten it indoors. The thought of a dish of Toulouse sausages and lentils conjures up the warm flickering fire light of a cosy, rustic kitchen and that is how I have enjoyed it, at intervals, over the last six months. Today had the feeling of an early summer’s day but winter food was in the pot.

To me there is little question that the flavours of food are more clearly defined when it is served warm, rather than very hot. My sudden decision to eat outside created the perfect conditions for the sausages and lentils to achieve this ideal temperature on its way from the kitchen to the great outdoors. I am a firm supporter of the Nigel Slater school of food photography….it needs to be done quickly as I want to eat the food. If I didn’t want to eat the food, I wouldn’t be taking a picture of it. There was a large period of my life when I regularly took an unconscionably long time to take pictures of food that I didn’t particularly like. That is the lot of a professional food photographer. Not being paid means one is no longer professional, ergo shooting very quickly and having a good lunch is allowed.

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The Puy lentils had been cooked yesterday. Carrot, celery,onion and garlic are finely chopped and slowly cooked in olive oil. I like this to be a slow, harmonious process as the mirepoix needs to soften rather than brown. Puy lentils no longer need to be sieved and turned over in order to remove grit and small stones of the volcanic soil of Le Puy. I put them in a saucepan, just covering them in cold water, and bring them quickly to the boil. Rinse them immediately under cold, running water and they are ready to be added to the mirepoix. Season them lightly and cover them with vegetable stock adding the sausages, that have been previously browned in a pan, Cover the casserole and cook gently for about 40 minutes. Look out the window to check that the sun is shining, serve yourself and slowly walk to a well positioned table in the garden. A sip of wine, flick out the white napkin and tie it around your neck et regalez vous.

 

Posted in 2014, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Digital photography, Drinks, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Garden, harmony, Kitchens, Meat, Nigel Slater, Photography, photography course, Toulouse sausages, Uncategorized, Weather, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments