November 27, 2011

Orange every day

One of the benefits of this trending foodie culture that is currently engulfing society is that we, as a whole, are at least becoming more aware of what we consume. I'm aware that I now eat an awful lot of vegetables, and while I could spend quite some time explaining why it's nothing to do with vegetarianism per se, but rather an enhanced selectivity of who and where I procure meat from, quite frankly you'd be far better off popping out and grabbing a copy of River Cottage Veg Every Day.

Continuing my adoration of UK-based chefs, the latest offering from Mr Fearnley-Whittingstall is not only filled with a plethora of delicious recipes, but is based around an ethos on eating to which I happily subscribe. Again I could go on and extol that a knowledge of how your meat was reared and produced will impact on the flavour and quality of what goes on your plate, or discuss the importance of sustainability as we progress down the path of increasingly ignorant and neglectful consumerism; but I think the most important point HFW makes about vegetables is this: they're delicious.

If you've ever eaten homegrown tomatoes, or enjoyed the first of the season's broad beans straight from the garden, you'll know exactly what I mean. It's not about meat substitutes or your antiquated, over-boiled 'three veg', but about celebrating the unique and wonderful flavours contained within beautiful, quality produce.

It's about fundamental flavours and enjoying the simplicities in a luxurious bowl of carrot hummus.


Or the marvellous nuttiness of a comforting roast pumpkin 'speltotto'.

Thanks to this more conscientious approach to the way we eat there are now a number of specialty greengrocers and superb farmer's markets out there working hard to make sure that we have an extraordinary range of fresh, seasonal vegetables at our disposal, so please do go and enjoy them...

November 20, 2011

Sundays in Europe...

With the imminent departure home of my dear friends J & T looming large on the horizon, there'd been a request to imbibe in some unique Melbourne specialties to help cap off their long and respectively short Antipodean sojourns before jetting off to new adventures, and so I suggested they might like to pop around for Sunday lunch. A simple, relaxed affair was all we had in mind, although I suspect neither J nor T quite realised what it meant for me to say, "I'll do lunch"...

Continuing in an effort to make full use of my culinary print library, this time occasion called for something old and something new in two delicious offerings from the lovely Skye Gyngell, because for once, I had something very particular in mind...

Now I'll be honest, I personally find French cuisine particularly intimidating, and while I don't quite know why, I expect it has something to do with their getting everything just right. Even the simplest of combinations are presented as dishes so exquisite you're absolutely petrified that should replication of such wonders be attempted by your amateur hands, something is bound to go horribly, horridly wrong.

But given the rules of engagement here at TPB, such equivocation simply will not do, and so lunch was most definitely on and it was straight in at the deep-end for me with one of my most favourite of dishes, bouillabaisse.

I first taught myself how to dismantle a crab,

and then it was simply a matter of taking some excellently selected seafood,

combining it with a few other luscious necessities,

and then pondering whether or not I had a pot large enough to accommodate it all...


Served simply as a broth aside toasted baguette with rouille,


and followed by a slightly bitter and refreshingly crisp witlof and radicchio salad,


I'd say Sunday lunch sure doesn't get much better than this.


Mind you, it's not really a proper Sunday lunch without lunch dessert, and so there may have been a few caramelised blood oranges,


and perhaps just a sliver or two of blackberry and almond tart.


Just maybe...

November 6, 2011

Short & sweet...

When you procure a new cookbook, what is the first thing that you make?

Cookbooks, for me, are a weakness, one of life's treats. And as much as I enjoy hopping from blog to blog and perusing the plethora of online gourmande-centric resources on offer, there is still nothing better than settling down with a good coffee and thumbing through my favourite, flour-covered tomes, taking in the beautiful aesthetic, and selecting the next kitchen adventure. However, the problem with becoming more particular about who joins the library is that for any new addition, I would invariably bake anything and everything between the covers, and so the question then becomes, "where on Earth do I start?".

One of the newest library members, Short & Sweet by Dan Lepard, is one such work, and there is just so much seductive deliciousness contained within that I have only just now begun to bake the pages. Admittedly the decision wasn't quite so bewildering, and had we not had our first properly warm weekend of the spring I would have gone straight for the steamed puds (saucy monkey, anyone?), as these are something I particularly love, but which are not done so much down here in the Antipodes. Plus, the description alone would have had me knocking out the carrot, orange and pistachio cake post-haste, but any baked act of kindness, if nothing else needs to be portable, and sadly cream-filled layer cakes have never maintained sufficient structural integrity during the cycle to work to afford an acceptable standard of presentation.

But start I must, and selecting a sweet and a savoury seemed as good a choice as any, and with the pleasures of spring finally welcoming some of my all-time favourite vegetables, it was double-corn bacon muffins that were awarded first gurnsey.

How I have got this far in life without ever having added Tabasco sauce to savoury muffins, I will never know, but such negligence shall most certainly be avoided in future. With their sweet, juicy corn, smoky bacon, a beautiful polenta-driven crunch, and a nice dash of heat to finish, these muffins are a definite breakfast win.

The sweet was an old favourite in ginger root cake, and although most would probably go with a traditional chocolate or sponge as a means by which to set recipe benchmarks, for me it's the ginger option that reveals the most about a baker. Ginger produits de boulangerie need not only taste like actual ginger, but carry enough rhizomal goodness that they pack a bit of heat, and I'm afraid that if you aren't prepared to back yourself on this one, then I simply don't have time for your Betty Homemaker offerings.

Mr Lepard makes no such concessions, and with his ginger root cake also carrying the interesting addition of said root (that's swede, turnip or parsnip, for all the crass kids playing along at home), this recipe certainly engaged my curiosity.


Gingery? Yes. Heat? It most certainly had. And with a delightfully sticky and moist crumb, there was definitely no falling below expectations here.


But having finally set aside a bit of quality kitchen time I couldn't possibly stop there, and so it was on to cider vinegar muffins, aka English muffins, or, as the English like to call them, muffins.

Some poor timing on my behalf saw the dough rested for somewhat longer than optimally necessary, and I would make them slightly smaller in future, but give these scrumptious, sour and chewy numbers a go and you'll understand what a muffin should truly be.


And while I could have called it a day there I was helpless to go past these chocolate custard muffins, which carried the by-line "simply the best chocolate muffin you'll ever eat".

He's right, you know.