September 13, 2007
Last night Maths Chick was out galivanting and I was left in peace to watch England’s Euro qualifier against Russia on the box. I had a half bottle of decent Burgundy and fancied a dish of something crunchy and salty to chase it down while I gawped at the footie. These shallow-fried breadcrumbed mushrooms fitted the bill nicely.
1. Cut your button mushrooms in half, or leave whole if they’re very small.
2. Whisk an egg in one bowl, season it. Lay out some fine breadcrumbs on a plate next to it.
3. First, dip the mushrooms in the egg, shake off the excess and roll them in the crumbs until they’re well coated.
4. In a frying or saute pan heat about half an inch depth of sunflower oil. It’s hot enough if it sizzles when you dip in one of the ‘shrooms.
5. Fry until golden and crisp on one side, then turn over. When they’re done, fish ’em out on to some kitchen paper.
6. Put in a bowl, scatter over some more salt and pepper, and serve immediately with lemon wedges.
You could vary this by including some cubes of camembert prepared in the same way, maybe accompanied with a dollop of redcurrant jelly, in 80’s bistro fashion. This would transform it into a retro-classic, a bit like the current England line-up (4-4-2, Owen and Heskey up front, Terry Venable’s hair-do).
October 7, 2006
Maths chick and I have just got back from an afternoon foraging expedition. According to the Sunday glossies, foraging is the new gardening, which was the new cooking, which was the new sex (they obviously don’t know yet that receiving veg boxes is the new foraging, which was the new gardening, which was etc etc).
Now, I’m no expert mycologist. I normally stick to the few wild mushrooms I’ve picked, eaten and survived – parasols, ceps, shaggy ink caps and the common field ‘shroom. But today, armed with a sharp kitchen knife and Collins’ ‘How to Identify Edible Mushrooms’, we were feeling funghally adventurous.
Despite the recent rain our funghal friends were surprisingly thin on the ground. Perhaps the Islington fashionista had been out early in their Birkenstocks, scouring Hampstead Heath for a breakfast of Chanterelles and Penny Buns. More likely the prime ‘shroom season has been delayed by the unusually dry summer.
We searched the glades, open grassland, and rotting stumps of the Heath and Highgate Wood in search of our elusive treasures. Eventually, we got lucky and brought home a fine Beefsteak Fungus, a few small brackets of Chicken of the Wood, and two Wood Mushrooms. At least, that’s what we think they are. Or were – because I’ve just chopped ’em up, fried ’em in oil, garlic and loads of pepper and, nervously, eaten them.
The Beefsteak was tasteless and exuded a disturbing blood-like liquid. Before cooking, it looked and felt like a fat, slimey cow’s tongue. The Chicken of the Wood tasted like… er… chicken. Nice, if a little dry and stringy. I decided not to eat the Wood Mushrooms in the end, as apparently they are all too easily confused with the deadly poisonous Death Cap. Fortunately, this little sweetie is not as potent as it used to be – apparently these days eating one of these is only fatal in 20% of cases. In other words, only slightly more dangerous than playing Russian Roulette.
I realise now I’m too cowardly and paranoid to be a dedicated forager. My heart started racing, my cheeks started tingling, even before I’d tried the first mouthful of our little funghal feast. I am now utterly convinced I’m going to die at some stage this evening. Hopefully there’s still time for a last game of Scrabble.
Oh, and by the way, we made a couple of 1/4lb burgers out of the beef mince that came with the meat box the other day. And all I can say is those Well Hung Meat boys really know their business. Two superlative slabs of beefy meatiness. Even Maths chick was lost for words in the face of such burgal perfection. And that’s a first.
Now I’m starting to feel a bit odd. If this turns out to be the last post of this blog, you’ll know why, and I’d just like to say it’s been a pleasure knowing y’all.
September 8, 2006
Situation: 12 short hours to next box delivery. Left in fridge: 1 fennel (all frond and no bulb), 1 trusty carrot, a single surviving courgette, half a punnet of mushrooms, the last sorry remnants of once-proud bunches of parsley and tarragon. Mission: produce a meal fit for a middle-manager.
Solution: steamed veg and mushroom butter
Ok, this should be easy…
1. Leave a few ounces of butter out the fridge to soften up. Once soft, use a fork to mash up and soften further. Add finely chopped mushroom, garlic, ham, tarragon, parsley. Season well, loads of pepper please.
2. Steam whatever veg you’ve got, chopped into thick slices or chunks. Tastes better if there’s a good combination of strong colours and shapes. Quartered fennel makes any dish of humble veg look handsome.
3. I didn’t think of this until too late, but… a neatly trimmed poached egg on top would’ve added a yolky richness to the dish.
Current music of choice in the VBD kitchen: Karen Dalton’s ‘You never know who’s going to love you the best’, Dylan’s new album ‘Modern Times’, Neil Young’s ‘After the Goldrush’. Can’t beat the old hippies.
Conversation topics of choice at the kitchen table: bathroom fixtures, the entertainment value of political melodrama (Blair vs Brown), best ever 7-letter Scrabble words, the genius of the opening credit-sequence of the TV show Shameless, crochet.
July 28, 2006
Maths chick is on school summer holidays. The implications for the quiet life of a gastropunk are serious. My sedate morning routine has been blown away in a whirlwind of juicing, knitting and frenetic breakfast activity. I am no longer lured slowly into wakefulness by the quietly insistent voice of John Humphries interogating some hapless junior minister. The living room is now be-decked with half-knitted cardies and the bathroom overflowing with freshly-dyed skirts. Yes, the domestic goddess is in her full pomp and majesty.
Returning from work, I reclaimed the kitchen after a hard-fought skirmish and cooked up another mini-feast I’ve been fantasizing about since coming back from market with a sturdy ham hock a couple of weeks ago. What could be more English than a combo of boiled pig, pasley sauce and summer carrots?
Ham hock, parsley sauce and carrots
1. I simmered the hock in water, with a couple of onions, some cloves and peppercorns for about 3 hours. Then I drained the stock off into a bowl, let the joint cool and bunged it in the fridge for a night or two. This evening I cut the meat off the bone into thick, rough slices. You could just use slices of supermarket ham if you prefer.
2. Made a thickish parsley sauce out of a bechamel made of half milk, half hock-stock and a couple of gulps of double cream. I think parsley sauce works best with an extravagant amount of finely-chopped curly parsley – none of your flat-leaved sophistication for this dish, thanks.
3. Just peeled the young carrots and boiled them whole. Didn’t need any salt because the bacon was salty enough.
4. Fried up some whole mushrooms in butter and oil. These had started to go dry so I added a few tablespoons of hock-stock halfway through which re-constituted them nicely and created a potent funghi-flavour.
5. Made mash. You know how you like it.
6. Served it all up and bolted it down with lashings of mustard, Famous Five style.
You can keep your tapa, antipasti, schnitzels, coq au vin, tabbuleh and saurkraut. Let’s hear it for good honest English fayre. Stand up, I say, and sing with one voice…. Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free, da-da-dada-da-daaaa, That are born of thee… dum da-da-da-daaa-da….
July 22, 2006
How many crepes must one man make, before you can call him a man? Thus asked a fresh-faced Bob Dylan over 40 years ago, and the answer is still blowin’ in the wind today. Least it is in our kitchen.
I took four more crepe-steps to manhood last night when I slaved over these chicken, mushroom and tarragon pancakes. My bad-tempered grill didn’t take kindly to being asked to do an honest 10 minutes’ work. It spat, smoked and had its revenge by singeing the exposed ends of these defenceless wee rolls. Spoiled the look but added an element of crispness to an otherwise rich and creamy dish.
Chicken, mushroom and tarragon pancakes
1. Make 2 pancakes for each person using your favourite pancake batter. I used Marcella Hazan’s recipe for crespelle from the seminal anti-coffee-table-book ‘The First Classic Italian Cookbook’ (now out of print it seems, although many of the recipes are in this collection).
2. Heat some butter in a pan and add a chopped garlic clove, then some chunky chopped mushrooms and cubes of chicken. Let these all frizzle slowly together to swap flavours and get comfortable.
3. After a while, stir in a tablespoon or so of flour and let this cook briefly over a lowish heat. Add several glugs of milk, stirring constantly, to create a smooth sauce.
4. After a few minutes simmering the sauce, add a generous number of chopped tarragon leaves (fresh if possible) and a good gulp or two of evil, thick double cream. Season well and you’ve got your filling sorted.
5. Roll up the pancakes with a couple of tablespoons of filling in and lay them cheek-by-jowl in a buttered oven dish. Any extra filling can go on top. Pour some more cream over and finish by grating on some parmesan.
6. Bung under a hot grill until a cheesy creamy crust forms. Keep an eye that the edges of the pancakes don’t combust.
Maths chick used a veg peeler to make thin strips of courgette, which she then steamed very briefly and dressed with olive oil, lemon juice and loads of black pepper. It was a cool, clear accompaniment.
For dessert we had a game of scrabble. There’s nothing like a hard-fought, tactical word-game to aid digestion. I squeaked it 387-384, bingo-ing twice with COASTER and LEANINGS, and went to bed a little too chirpy for my own good.