A puree of Gorgons’ heads…

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“Cheap” is a much maligned word. Cheap skate, cheap shot, dirt cheap and on the cheap are terms that denigrate, that define something or someone as less than it or they should be. In our wealth driven society a divide has appeared. A rift, that dwarfs the eponymous valley, between the very wealthy and the abjectly poor. On one side of that valley, let us call it the Cheapside, “cheap” has become, not so much an accolade, but of the essence. Cheap lets people eat and keeps them warm. Events seen and words read dispirit and disillusion me, but my blog is not a pulpit for proselytism. Although that is the case I should confirm that I am daily more and more depressed with the way that groups of the human race, who purport to be forces for good, seem to be striving to return to the fundamentalism of the Dark Ages and, this time around, fully equipped with all the accoutrements of the modern world to make the experience truly infernal. The sea change in the way of life in the West, one side of the rift, has widened the valley immeasurably.

Meanwhile, here in happy valley, our neighbour’s vegetable garden is positioned but a biscuit’s toss from our wood pile and because of this, and their generosity, we are often the beneficiary of gifts such as the leeks and potatoes in the picture above. They, our neighbours, regularly encourage me, in winter, to take vegetables from the ground whenever I want some but, not having a vegetable patch of my own through which I could return the favour, I am loathe to do this. The potatoes come from their store in a darkened outhouse where the forms of ghostly white potatoes are clearly visible in the gloom thanks to a coating of lime which slows down the shoots that, if left to grow, would create a hellish vision not unlike a box full of shrunken Gorgon’s heads. Was our neighbour’s name Perseus, I would be nervous of accepting a gift of such spuds. This also makes me worry about Gorgonzola….did Perseus go through a nightmare cheese making period.

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Casting aside the vision of faces wreathed in writhing serpents, I created a wonderful supper from those humble ingredients with only very few additions. Leeks in red wine is a recipe which, each time I make it,  surprises me with its depth of flavour. I originally found the recipe in my copy of Caroline Conran’s “Poor Cook” which volume has survived the depredations of countless house moves and which I still use regularly. There is a meatiness to the flavour which I like, not in the terms of a meat substitute, but because it is so much more substantial as a single vegetable dish than I would ever imagine. The leeks become fondant to the point where a table knife cuts cleanly through them, thus avoiding the wet, stringiness that can so often be the case with cooked, whole leeks, whilst the red wine reduction adds the umami that waters the mouth. I serve these leeks with a purée of potatoes made silky with plenty of butter and creme fraîche. Good as this may be, a winter’s supper would be incomplete without pudding.

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In winter there are always apples, pears and clementines together with a hand of breakfast bananas in the fruit bowl.Today,on television,I saw a very good recipe for what appears to be an incredibly quick and simple banana ice cream, so a few fingers of the hand will be sacrificed to that end. It was the scent and appearance of two large and perfectly ripe Williams pears that decided dessert. Returning to the book shelves I remembered a recipe in Mary Cadogan’s “Pies & Tarts” which was a clever combination of apples and orange juice in a light sponge which, in turn, was encased in a flaky pastry case. As thrift was the key to the menu, I decided on using the two pears in place the apples and orange. Apples and pears would have been very good, but why waste the apples which will make another pudding….cheap skate, Roger!

Here are the two recipes….enjoy. How nice it would have been had I bothered to create both the recipes with the same size fonts, etc…..just another cheap shot..must try harder.

Leeks in red wine

Pear sponge tart

Posted in 2015, apples, Apricot jam, Baking, bananas, Caroline Conran, Cookery Writers, Cooking, Cuisine bourgeoise, desserts, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, friendship, Fruit, Garden, Gardening, leeks, Leeks in red wine, lifestyle, Mary Cadogan, Pear Sponge tart, Pears, Photography, photography course, tart, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

A Tale of Two Pies…

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It was the very best of pies: it was the very worst of pies.Veal and ham pie, best described as a long raised meat pie with a row of hard boiled eggs running through the middle, is part and parcel of my faded memories of summer picnics in the England of my childhood. The true fascination of this confection, to a boy, was the appearance of a perfect section of a hard boiled egg, chrome yellow heart with a pure white halo, in the centre of each slice. Such a slice was the ideal slice but, owing to the contrary nature of eggs, this golden orb waxes and wanes as the knife proceeds along its length. Hating egg white, as I always have, the mystery of how an egg could successfully be inserted, undamaged, into an already cooked pie was of less interest to me than the possibility of being the unfortunate recipient of a yolkless slice. A slice studded with a perfect oval of solid egg white, like the boiled eye of a very big fish, was my nemesis, my personal short straw. In that era the utterance of the phrase “I don’t like that”, particularly by a child, fell on deaf ears and was thus little used. Being sick at a  picnic was not encouraged as one was there to enjoy oneself and not to be sick. No Geneva Convention covered such behaviour, so when an abysmal moment, such as the egg white horror, was upon me there was nothing for it but to swallow and call upon those inner resources,  thankfully gifted to pupils of boarding schools, that could efficiently subdue the retching impulse. At those moments the jelly around the pie, which had previously seemed quite benign, became very much more threatening. I think I always expected too much of veal, ham and egg pie. My father, on the other hand, although happy with the pie, found the same problem with my good self.

Meanwhile, in Lyon, pie makers had not troubled themselves with the mystery of egg insertion. Foie gras had been their choice of stuffing which they surrounded with duck and truffles. This sensible combination of fine ingredients fitted neatly into a golden crust, the top surface of  which was pierced with a row of small holes, through which the intense stock, created in cooking the duck, was poured and which would set into a toothsome jelly. Inexplicably, I very much enjoy quails’ eggs in jelly, the egg white of which doesn’t offend me in the least. No question but that I had gone to far better place.

 

 

Posted in 2015, Art photography, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Duck, Eggs, Excellence, Foie Gras, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Hard boiled eggs, Humour, Meat, Photography, photography course, Pie, Quail eggs, Truffles, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Je suis Charlie…..

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Getting a large bone…

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My fingers hit the keyboard today whilst I was still chewing on a mouthful of worthiness. Tahini has its place, which place should not be in my mouth as I start to write on the glory of the roasted marrow bone. Meat and me, at home or away, are not often seen together. We go together like a horse and carnage, like peaches and scream; we are not soul mates. I should also mention that I am contrary which is the only lucid reason that I can offer for my pleasure in eating roasted marrow bones. An inkling of an excuse was forming in my mind which involved comparing the wearing of leather shoes to the eating of animal bones, but it sounds lame, even in its gestation, so I shall abort the concept and return to declaring my inexcusable pleasure in the spooning of softly melting marrow from a plate of roasted beef bones.

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I was first introduced to marrow bone at the St.John Restaurant in Clerkenwell, which one day will be recognised as the Eton of eating. There, in the late 90’s, I often ate Fergus Henderson’s celebrated roasted veal marrow bones with parsley salad – http://www.eater.com/2014/10/15/6926263/fergus-henderson-roast-bone-marrow-st-john-london – which must be one of the classic dishes for those who hold the pleasure of unadorned eating in high esteem. It is a dish that combines flavour, simplicity and integrity whilst, by its evident lack of wastage, accords a respect to the animal slaughtered for our benefit.

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The last time I partook of the bone was in Lyon, at Le Potager, and the bone that was on offer was a bone of considerable size. Eating the inside of a large animal’s leg before heading out for a four course lunch elsewhere is a challenge in true Rabelaisian tradition and one that I would strongly advise against. Both the superb os à moelle and the trencherman’s lunch at La Meunière were exemplary….but not together. I should mention that we drunk a wonderful white wine with the os à moelle, a St. Pourçain, which I had not drunk before and which I can’t find locally…more’s the pity.

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As I set out one foggy winter morning….

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In the early morning fog, on my way to the local village, my headlights picked up the form of something lying prone and still across the opposing lane. I didn’t stop to see what it was. The rest of my short journey was taken up with self recrimination but not in turning back. My errand completed, some 10 minutes later, I returned home down the same road. I had considered going home by another route to avoid being confronted by the something which I feared might be emotionally draining and physically demanding. There was still the hope that someone may have already stopped and dealt with the problem, which welcome scenario seemed more and more likely as I got closer to home. It turned out to be a large stone that must have fallen from a trailer earlier that morning.

Confession may be good for the soul, but not for the poor soul who may have been that lump lying in the road. In the same blinkered way I shall carry on writing about the pleasure that I derive from preparing and eating food even though I’ve seen the statistics that tell me that 87,000,000 people, worldwide, are currently suffering from extreme hunger and poverty. I’m relying on someone to get there before me.

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On not eating the Dalai Lama….

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Over the past few days it has been a rare moment when there has not been a bottle in front of me which state of affairs is, according the joke in many a Christmas cracker, infinitely preferable to a frontal lobotomy. I am relieved that my encounters with the ghost of Christmas Pissed are confined to the past, when the Yuletide Saturnalia demanded, and was afforded by this willing acolyte, an over indulgence in alcohol fueled devotions, often climaxing in the sudden ability to speak in tongues accompanied by an irresistible urge to kneel for many a long hour in noisome prayer before the porcelain altar. Yet even with restraint, and maybe on account of that very restraint, the length and stagnation of indolent days lobotomises as surely as any knife. Being abnormally tranquil, in accordance with the definition of the results of such a procedure, is no longer a hardship to me. Life in the slow lane is very much to my current taste, as are oysters. In the land of Lethargy the sloth is a cheetah on crystal meth when compared with the oyster, who is happy just to be, occasionally creating a pearl or another oyster. Few living things are more tranquil than the oyster although the Dalai Lama does spring to mind. Maybe I should rephrase that. Few living things that one is about to eat are as tranquil as the oyster which is probably why we eat them alive. If oysters put up a fight the Walrus and the Carpenter would have been toast. But there is a darker side to the oyster in that he may only be safely consumed when alive for to do otherwise would be to join him on the other side. This possibility may add a frisson of fear to some amateurs of the oyster, as in those who cannot resist the fugu fish, but not for me. I have never found that fear increases my appetite although it does increase my desire to evacuate anything that I may have recently ingested. I put my trust in those who cultivate them in this area and so far I have been proved right is so placing my trust.

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These oysters were from Marennes Oleron on the Atlantic coast of France. I find that oysters from there are the best that I have eaten. The Atlantic coast, from Arcachon up to Brittany, produces very good oysters but those from Marennes Oleron have the right taste for me. Nothing improves on eating them directly from the shell. Lemon adds a zest that that fits with their marine lusciousness, whilst crisp white wine and bread prepare the palate for the next moment of pleasure. Altogether a very tranquil and satisfying experience…..if the Dalai Lama is not available.

Posted in 2014, Digital photography, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, France, Humour, Ile d'Oleron, oysters, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Prints, seafood, Uncategorized, wine, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 62 Comments

It’s not big, it’s quite funny but it’s not clever…

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….but it is our Christmas tree. Happy Christmas to you all:)

Posted in 2014, Christmas, Digital photography, Photography, photography course | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 66 Comments

’tis the season that dare not speak its name ….

choc_cake_crop_0015Cake and chocolate are two “C” words that have not, as yet, been proscribed. Christmas and cunt have been. Creating forbidden fruit has never succeeded in producing an aversion in those to whom the fruit are irresistible. Words of all kinds are irresistible to me and I will not be rationed or denied. However, this being the season of good will, albeit one that dare not speak its name, I shall confine myself to the pleasures of cake and chocolate. The fire is crackling, the cat’s asleep on the biggest armchair and I’m planning the cooking that I’ll be doing over the next few days: which situation is not that different to any other winter Friday save that, in truth, I know exactly what I’ll be cooking as the orders have been placed by family members with vivid childhood memories that have to be annually reproduced with same attention to detail as a Vermeer by Han van Meegeren. As cooking gives me a great deal of pleasure I am often deflected from my purpose by recipes and memories of own. Whilst engaged in researching the cookery books on my shelves, in the vain hope of finding something new that will successfully pass as something old, I picked up a book with the unimaginative yet concise title of “French Cooking”. This turned out to be a Marks & Spencer publication from 1978 which credentials are not the most arresting. I was on the hunt for a cake to sustain me through breaks in my cooking and I was not disappointed. Should you find this book by Eileen Reece, buy it. Although photography fashions have changed the thrust of the book supports all my beliefs in uncomplicated home cooking with the very best ingredients which does not mean the most expensive. The chocolate cake I found therein does everything a chocolate cake should do. It seduces by look, taste and texture and is hard to keep for any length of time as forbidden fruit are, as I previously mentioned, the most tempting and are, happily, quite irresistible.

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Dominiques Chocolate Cake

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I say kinell​, you say quenelle[kə.nɛl])…

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The skull and cross bones would be an ideal pennant for the carnivorous pike. Several feet of scaly flesh surmounted by a fierce head made monstrous by a mouthful of stilettos gives ample credence to this fanciful title. It will come as no surprise to hear that this predatory beast does not come quietly and, when eventually it is caught, will have the last laugh on the successful fisherman in that, having so many small bones, it is practically inedible. “Kinell” would indeed be a suitable oath for the Anglo angler when becoming aware of such a nightmare chewing its way along his line on the way to his arm. I am not a fisherman but, if I were, I would throw the rod, hook, line and sinker into the river and head for the hills…or a riverside pub to have a vengeful fish and chips. Le Meres de Lyon were made of sterner stuff finding something worth cooking even in the lowliest pieces of offal so, the word inedible not being in their dictionary, they were not slow in finding a way to separate bone from flesh in order that the noble brochet might appear on their bouchons’ menus next to the traditional brains, tongue, bollocks and tripe. The flesh of the cooked pike is passed through a tamis and then bound together with egg and breadcrumbs. This is then formed, with dexterity and spoons, into soft pillows which are gently poached in simmering water. The swollen “quenelles” are then napped with the crayfish and wine based sauce Nantua before being passed under a hot grill. I chose to eat my quenelle without the first passing it under the grill and, luckily having another quenelle about my person, passed that one under the grill. Both were very good and I am indebted to those smart Lyonnaises who know more than a thing or two about cooking. My delicious examples came from the celebrated Charcuterie Sibilia whose range of wondrous products is mouth watering.

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Posted in 2014, Cooking, Crayfish, Cuisine bourgeoise, Digital photography, Excellence, Fish, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, pike, seafood, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 37 Comments

Smokin’…

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Surgeon General is an confusing title as it suggests that a general may be in the business of saving lives rather than extinguishing them. This is particularly evident in his stern admonition, printed on each and every packet of cigarettes, that smoking will end badly for those of us foolish enough not to heed his words. We may count ourselves fortunate that fish can’t read for, if that were the case, our palates would certainly be the poorer for it. I can only admire their determination to fly in the face of accepted science and to selflessly carry on smoking for our benefit, albeit after they themselves have attained piscatorial peace in the smokey heaven of Valhaddock, better known to us finless folk as Arbroath or some other such eponym. Smoke and fish were made for each other. It is a rare fish that will not benefit from smoking despite the admonishments of the Surgeon General. Fish and fire would each seem to be both plentiful and affordable but the wonderful changes of flavour, and indeed colour, wrought by the alchemy of smoking come at a price. In the words of the admirable Withnail ” Free to those that can afford it, very expensive to those that can’t”. I fall into the latter category, therefore the piece of smoked haddock that I purchased would have needed a miracle to feed two people let alone several thousand. It has been my experience that dependence on miracles is rarely fruitful so I turned to the bookshelves which, in kitchen matters, have always provided me with more favourable results and so it proved to be once again. This is a combination of recipes which resulted in a very good smoked haddock tart which I believe would be approved by the Sturgeon General.

Smoked haddock tart (adapted from Mary Cadogan’s recipe in “Tarts and Pies”
Pastry (adapted from Patricia Wells’ Pate Brisee in Bistro Cooking)
150gms plain flour
105gms chilled, unsalted butter cut into small pieces
pinch of salt
30cl iced water
Put the flour,salt and butter in a food processor and process until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Add the iced water and process some more until the mix starts to hold together. Don’t let it form a ball. Place the dough on a lightly floured board and flatten into a disc. Wrap in waxed kitchen paper and put in the fridge for half an hour.
Ingredients
250gms smoked haddock
300ml milk
40gms butter
25gms plain flour
2 eggs, beaten
75gms grated Emmenthal cheese
salt and pepper

I/Preheat oven to 200C. Roll out the dough and line a 20cm tart tin. Prick the base, line with aluminium foil and fill with baking beans or rice. Bake for 15 mins. Remove from the oven and discard foil and baking beans, lower the oven temperature to 190C and cook the tart case for a further 10mins when it should have taken colour.
2/Make the filling. Poach the haddock in milk and conserve the poaching liquid. Skin and gently flake the haddock.
3/Make a roux with the butter and flour and slowly add the poaching liquid until a thick, smooth sauce is created. Season with salt and pepper.
4/Let the sauce cool for 5mins and then stir in the eggs, the haddock and cheese (leaving some cheese to sprinkle over the tart). Check the seasoning to your taste.Pour the mixture into the tart case.
5/Sprinkle with saved cheese and bake for about 25mins until the filling is risen and golden brown.

Posted in 2014, Baking, Cheese, Cookery Writers, Digital photography, Eggs, Fish, fish cookery, food, Food and Photography, Food photographer, Humour, Mary Cadogan, Patricia Wells, Photographic Prints, Photography, photography course, Recipes, smoked haddock, Smoked Haddock Tart, tart, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 35 Comments