February 19, 2012

Rich man, rich sauce...

The story goes that the dish, oysters Rockefeller, was created by Jules Alciatore at America's infamous and oldest family-run restaurant, Antoine's, and named after oil industrialist and philanthropist John D Rockefeller, at the time America's richest man and now quietly regarded as the wealthiest person in history. Mystery surrounds the original recipe on account of Mr Alciatore purportedly taking this with him to his grave, but this has not stopped many chefs from making their own attempts at recreation, thankfully allowing this wonderful concoction to be shared the world over.

That a rich sauce was named after a rich man isn't a particularly glamorous story, which is quite fitting as in certain respects, neither is the dish itself. Trademarked by its iridescent green colour, the multitude of Rockefeller adaptations tend revolve around a vibrant herb puree, usually involving shallots and Pernod, and more often than not including a healthy dose of spinach. One particular adaptation I'd had my eye on for quite some time was Simon Hopkinson's mussels 'Rockefeller' style, and with the last of the summer sunshine streaming through the afternoon, there seemed no better time to get things underway.

Fun to prepare, a sight to behold and fabulously messy eat, the combination of the pungent aniseed-flavoured puree and sweet and salty mussels was simply marvellous. While you do miss the crunch of baked breadcrumbs, a side of toasted baguette to facilitate mopping and your guests will be none the wiser. Be it used to impress or indulged as a private guilty pleasure, this dish is the business, right down to the coordinated socks and pocket square.

But while the days are undoubtedly shortening, and summer seems to be offering its last hurrah the good news is, it's blackberry season.

I was neither intending to bake nor blog this weekend, but you know how it is...

The combination of olive oil, vanilla and saffron in Béa Peltre's upside down blackberry cake was certainly interesting, and I think the earthiness of the quinoa will take many the morning tea feaster by surprise. But it's different, and it works, and there's a lot to be said for experimenting with something a little more adventurous from time to time...

February 12, 2012

The other butter...

Once a frugal kitchen mainstay and essential ingredient in the preparation of traditional steamed puds, the popularity of suet in more recent times seems to have waned. I suspect we probably lost this nose-to-tail treasure to the rigours of the 'low-fat healthy-eating' movement, although the thought of using the fat that surrounds the kidneys and loins of cattle to prepare sweet desserts probably dissuaded a few people too.

But while the offal-like nature of suet can be a little off-putting for some, the more adventurous amongst us get the benefit of using an ingredient with some rather desirable qualities. Originating from the inner core means that suet has a relatively high melting point and congealing temperature, making it the hardest culinary fat going around. By melting much slower than butter, which tends to blend into the pastry, suet melts once the pastry has begun to set, theoretically giving said pastry a wonderful lightness and rather delicate puff. Add to this its fantastic flavour and the promise of a soft and mellow crust, and you begin to wonder why you haven't hunted it down before.

So with suet chosen as this week's key ingredient, and having thusly procured my beefy adipose I decided to focus on tradition, and there seemed no better place to commence proceedings than with the classic, Ginger Pig beef bourguignon pie.

Filled simply with some slow-cooked galloway beef, rare breed streaky bacon and Swiss browns and presenting with a golden delicious flakiness, this suet pastry was quite frankly, marvellous. It offered that perfect balance between the requisite delicate crisp texture becoming of all good pastries, while also providing the vital sturdiness which gives one confidence that, despite the presence of a molten-hot pie filling, things aren't about to go disastrously wrong. What's more, this integrity was maintained even when cold, and so although this is but my first foray into savory piedom, I fear the bar has now been set exceptionally high...

Dessert, naturally, came in the form of steamed pudding, and as I continue to champion the comeback of this delectable suppertime treat, this time it presented as an apple and currant number surrounded by a golden syrup suet crust. Steamed puddings are genuinely fantastic but they do take time, and so apart from the necessity for planning ahead there's always that undercurrent of fear that what if, after all this time, something goes wrong? But if you've ever made the effort and experienced what happens as you unveil the caramel-brown crust, and with ease turn out what looks like a proper bona fide pudding, you'll know that it's thoroughly worth it.

With a luscious and spongy crust, and the currants imparting a delightfully delicate crimson hue this was indeed smashing stuff, and will no doubt provide the basis for countless pudding preparations to come. Somebody please pass the custard...

February 5, 2012

Toying with splendid...

I have a slight problem with New Year's, which is that it occurs at the wrong time of year. Honestly, how on Earth are we supposed to adhere to resolutions of lofty exercise ambitions and healthier eating regimens when we're smack-bang in the middle of ice cream season? That's just silly...

To be fair, ice cream season never really ends and so not only is that a relatively moot point, but we're pretty well practiced in making excuses to justify rousing the churn for a little un pur plaisir anyway. Where the real problem lies is that all the conventional iced options having already been explored, and so the search is now on for something a little bit new, and a little bit different. Ergo this week's key ingredients weren't quite what you'd expect:

Having dabbled in the delights of Miss Jeni and her splendid ice creams before I'm still a little unsure of where I stand on her 'no eggs' approach, but there is no denying that the science behind it is sound and, most importantly, her combination suggestions tick all the boxes for appearing different, interesting and undeniably fun.

So with experimentation high on the agenda, first up was beet ice cream with mascarpone, orange zest and poppy seeds, and while the earthiness of the beets was somewhat lost to the refreshingly smooth orange, the poppy seeds added a delightful bite, and the near-iridescent rouge of the Beta vulgaris was overwhelmingly glorious.

 Beet, mascarpone, orange, poppy

This rather glamorous treat was then followed the even more unusual celery ice cream and I've got to say, 'hello, ladies!'. This stellar combination was surprisingly good, and while I expected the celery flavour to get somewhat lost with the addition of the candied ginger and rum-plumped raisins, it came through with aplomb, and remained exceptionally refreshing in a different and exciting kind of way.

Celery, ginger, raisin

Splendid indeed!

February 2, 2012

Homemade green

I come from a family of green thumbs, and although I lack the cultivatory talents of my more distinguished connections, the desire for home produce is most certainly there. But while I try and grow what I can when I can, my present abode affords but a skerrick of room for such nurturings, and so aside from the cursory herb box, there is often little on hand to satisfy kitchen cravings.

However, coming from said family of accomplished and delightfully generous green-givers also means that, should the seasons be so kind, I do get to reap the benefits of nature's successful bounties. Which, in a year where I've decided to try and make more things from scratch is utterly fantastic, as there is already now stock of a rather nice green tomato chutney raring to go.

Plus a few jars of bread and butter pickles on hand for any dirty burger action.

And while I'll have to work on having the cow growers' move a little closer to home, it's nice to know that one's homemade (albeit cheat's) yoghurt actually works.

And should it ever be a tad runnier than desired, then labneh is indeed a most excellent and tasty solution.

Home cooking may not always be glamorous, but that doesn't mean it's not satisfying...