Friday, 22 April 2011

Pot au feu

 I bring you Pot au Feu, the tremendous French Peasant dish which is exactly what we should all be cooking in frugal times.  This dish, call it a  stew or a soup or both continues my ongoing theme of “how to feed your family for a week”. For the meat I used beef flank, oxtail, bone marrow, ox liver, knuckle of veal and chicken giblets.  For the vegetables, carrots, leeks, grilled tomatoes, a little celery, parsnip turnip and an onion studded with cloves.  What you are left with is a consomme, cooked meat and stewed vegetables.
In true Elizabeth David style there were no details on how to serve it. After transporting it to Scotland we set about deconstructing it and deciding what bits to eat.  The kids had the flank with consomme and carrots served with pasta.  Tom and I eagerly dug into the different bovine bits, savoring them all like children in a sweet shop.  The next night the vegetables and the oxtail became a more conventional stew, which was a pasta sauce for the kids the next night.  The consomme was amazing from a flask on the beach and a divine espresso cup of a starter for friends.  I was never convinced I fancied the broth but one sip and the flavour totally won us over,we were hooked.
The flank had the most meat on, so this made delicious beef sandwiches with dijon mustard on shepherds loaf- the 2 kilo spelt sourdough loaf, bought from home that “fed the family for a week”. The last meal we got from the pot was a beef salad, basically the cooked beef cut small, mixed with a salsa verde, perfectly simple and so, so good.
In reading up on Pot au Feu I now realize we missed a trick,  the bone marrow should have been served on toast with the consomme.  The bone marrow was the only disappointing bit and just tasted fatty on it’s own and no match for the famous St John’s roasted bone marrow we adore.  
I will be making this again, not only for the bone marrow but for the joy of cooking a meal of the cheapest cuts of meat that can nourish us all week long. 


It's with a tear in our eyes that our week in Pittenweem ends.  We came on a mission, not only a much needed holiday, a catch up with friends but to cook lobster.  8 lobsters later I will be leaving Fife with some more ticks in the book and a very full belly.  We have been staying in a fisherman's cottage and have loved watching the day boats coming in.  Pittenweem has a working harbour and was where Raymond Blanc visited recently to find the very best lobsters.  Whilst here I have cooked ED's two recipes for homard a l'americane and boiled up another 4 to take home for the rest of the recipes.  The two recipes vary slightly, both require you to kill the lobster and cut it into pieces.  I have just discovered I am scarred of lobsters and have a tendency to squeal like a girl when they move in my hand, our 4 year old daughter is fearless and has been racing them across the floor.   
In the first recipe you saute the lobster in butter then add the sauce, the second you make the sauce and add the lobster pieces to it.  I will give you the recipe for the second, well my slight variation of it.
Melt a lot of butter in a pan, add an equal amount of grated carrots and shallots(a cupful of each).  To this add 1/2 a bottle of dry white wine(chablis), a bouquet of parsley, 5 cloves of garlic, 2 skinned diced tomatoes, olive oil, 3 tablespoons each of cream and meat juice, a good seasoning of pepper, a pinch of saffron and curry powder.  This was the simmered for forty minutes.  For this one we(Tom) just killed and halved the lobsters and these were added to the sauce and cooked for about 30 minutes -I love seeing the colour transformation from black to the deepest pink.  Tom (my now uber capable helper- lobster killer) was sent to the fisherman's pub with a mug to get a double shot of cognac.  He returned triumphant for me to heat it, light it in a ladle and pour flaming over the lobsters.  I then removed the lobsters to a serving dish (ED recommends a timbale), I then mixed in the greenish bits (liver?) and some parsley into the sauce and poured it over the lobster.  We served ours with rice which was quite nice to soak up the juices but not completely necessary.
Today we have boiled up the remaining 4 lobsters.  I added to some heavily salted water a halved red pepper, 2 leeks and a glass of madeira.  When this was boiling we put in the live lobsters(2 at a time), head first tuned onto their back.  I did manage two after a brief melt down over the one full of roe (motherly instincts flowing, or too much Nemo), suddenly moving in my hand prompting me to drop it and squeal to the taunting chants of my children.  
The lobsters were then left to cool in the broth and Tom kindly removed all the meat.  This will travel home with us to make homard a la charentaise(sounds like a thermidor recipe) and homard courchamps which is in soy and mustard.  If there is any meat left ED has a few fish in mayo recipes I could tick off with the lobster.
As for the broth I was just pleased with myself as I whizzed it up and added some cooked crab(we also cooked 6 crabs), and a splash of cream to it to make a delicious crab soup.
If you can't envisage the lobster picture enough the boys have made a film, here it is,

Climb a mountain

On Wednesday we decided to climb a mountain.  Before departure I advised the kids to dress up warm, so independently they all appeared waring all their clothes they had with them for a weeks holiday.  JP was probably the record holder with 6 tops and 2 pairs of tights and a dress.  As we loaded our michelin men into the car with the crab sandwiches we headed from east to west to Argyll and Bute.  Of course in true Herbert style there was a bakery enroute that needed visiting.  We dropped in at Mhor in Callender for a fine illy coffee and a bright pink lamington.  An inspirational family run bakery with lovely packaging, macaroni pies and a fine bouncy sourdough.  
Then we headed through the scenery of 'real Scotland' in search of a mountain suitable for a family to climb.  A car sick stop later- just remove the top two layers(four to go), we were hungry for our lunch.  We stopped by Loch Lommond with our crab sandwiches and planned a route.  From here there were various  marked routes up.  So we headed up Cobbler or was it Arthur, with the boy enthusiastic to carry his back pack the whole way.  The girls bought up the rear removing a layer every 50metres intermittently with filling their pockets with crystals.  As we walked through the forest there was debates to stop but we made it above the tree line conquered Herbert Eagle ledge and ate the last of the birthday fridge cake.
The walk down was a cinch then a mad dash to the original Loch Fyne oyster restaurant before last orders made an oh so perfect day.
Some lessons learnt;
You don't need six layers to climb a mountain on a sunny day.
You do need more than 2 bottles of water between 6
Wear shorts not tights to brown legs
Take a bag to carry stripped off layers
Take more apples

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sunny day

Generally I feel pretty fortunate to live the life I do, somedays this is especially highlighted. At the moment with the sun shining extraordinaire as the season changes this is somewhat exaggerated. There was the day when me and my girls cycled down to Nailsworh for a Saturday morning shop, legs out, hair blowing in the wind when you can't want to be anywhere else. Last week the hound and I strolled down our lane to get some wild garlic to take home and knock up some pesto to top a soup, bliss.
Actually I'll give you a recipe to make quickly before the season turns,
A handful of wild garlic leaves
Lightly fried pine nuts, a handful
Glug of olive oil
Grated pecorino
Whizz together, I used my hand held blender
Back to the point, one of my highlighted beautiful living on the top of the world days, was the day I had Silvana de Soissons for lunch.
She writes for the Foodie Bugle and here it is
This was a perfect kind of a day for me, a racing around kind of a day, but one of food, shopping and walking. The two big children were dropped at school and me and the smalls dropped the car at the garage. A quick last minute shop in Nailsworth for lunch, Wild White from the bakery, cream from Williams, collect some ordered books from the bookshop, then a quick walk home up the hill home to prepare for lunch. The next child was delivered to school and after some dodgy directions on my part Silvano arrived. As the smallest slept we enjoyed a scrummy lunch of nettle soup, rillettes and salad nicoise. This was followed by a flat but divine chocolate and almond cake and coffee. As Silvano left I raced along our sunny lane to fetch the big kids and reflected on why this was exactly the kind of life I want to lead.

Monday, 18 April 2011

Birthday dinner

The husband has got another year older today, so what better opportunity than to have a day of constant eating.
We started with tea and Easter biscuits in bed. For breakfast I was thinking I would just knock up a half hearted scrambled eggs and bacon, then I remembered I could do better than out. Eggs Benedict is always the dream and the breakfast I yearn to go out for, and mostly disappointed by-last time they had the cheek of serving it with a cheese sauce. We had Henry's delicious home cured bacon with a reasonable attempt at a poached egg with hollandaise on shepherds loaf, good enough. Then for the birthday cake, ok it was only 10am, but why not it was his birthday. The scales batteries had run out so me and the eldest daughter knocked up a fridge cake, loaded with marshmallows, dried apricot and honey. Then for a visit to the great Pittenweem oatcake producers Adamsons. An amazing place selling fine handmade oatcakes from their bakery just on a Monday. The next food stop was at a chocolate shop, Tom needed a coffee and why not have a birthday waffle with the finest raspberry jam too.
Next I managed to persuade the family to head out for a long walk, not even having an ice cream on the way. We did have the oatcakes with some gorwydd caerphilly cheese and chutney. The really highlight was Tom's delicious perfect birthday present of a pack of Tunnock's tea cakes, consumed on a beach as we neared the final destination- a beautiful beach with a pub selling fine local ale and homemade scotch eggs-inevitable.
The next via was a farm shop 'for food lovers', where I got some accompaniments for dinner.
We then arrived home to find hanging and clicking in our kitchen 2 lobsters and 6 crabs. The dinner menu was, consommé from the pot au feu, lobster and local asparagus. The lobster recipe from Elzabeth David involved chopping a live lobster-husband steps in with pig knife,and sautéed with shallots, butter, tomato and wine. Of course with the final addition of butter and some tasty internal lobster bit, divine.
Now for the crap tv and salted caramels, bliss.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

edible new nephew

This new nephew is delicious, weighing in at 9lb 11 he is totally scrumptious.  This nephew bought to us three sleepless nights of anticipation and a visit to the Coop for rations- clearly this was worst for his parents.  A long labour demanded a supermarket sweep for some essentials, my first break of independent shopping since November.  
This also called for some cooking, celebration cookies, a Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall recipe from his family cookbook and some restorative chicken soup.

6oz of ox liver

Good job I have got a forgiving butcher as a brother in law. " How much of the ox liver did you want?" he asks.  "The whole one? " Just 6oz of the 7kg beast please.  
I am now trying to tackle more of the meat chapter which seems to be a lot of the remaining recipes.  The next recipe on the list is Pot au feu.  This contains a vast selection of meat that I hope will feed us for a week,  I'll let you know how it goes and watch out for the special on ox liver at the Hobbs House Butchery, Chipping Sodbury.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Mushroom soup recipe

I am now so familiar with ED* French Provincial Cooking that I know when I see mushrooms on offer in my local greengrocers that I have a mushroom soup recipe with bread in left to cook.  The said mushrooms were chestnut (my current favourite) at half price which meant I bought double the amount I needed, oops. I decided to triple the recipe as ED's soup recipes often make a small amount, for me soup is something that keeps in the fridge for lunch for a week until you are thoroughly bored of it.
This seems unlikely with this recipe as not only do I obsess about mushrooms but love mushroom soup.  And of course in true ED style the recipe was a resounding success.  My love affair is continuing to grow as all her recipes including the ones with stingy instructions and vague amounts turn out fantastically.  The only crosses in the book for me are ones where the effort out weighs the flavour.
2lb 4oz mushrooms, rinsed, patted dry and chopped small
3oz butter
nutmeg or mace
2 slices of bread
3 pints of stock(I used up the last of the goose, chicken or beef could be used)
4oz cream
Soak the slices of bread in a little stock.
Melt the butter , fry the mushrooms, when the juices run add the crushed garlic, chopped parsley, add a little salt, pepper and mace or nutmeg.
Stew for several minutes, enjoy the smell.
Squeeze some of the moisture out of the bread, add to the mushrooms, add the stock.  Cook for fiftee minutes until tender.  Blend to a puree, reheat add the cream and some more parsley.
Bon appetit.

*ED=Elizabeth David

A local purchase

I was in need of a watering can to water all the new seedlings without having to get out the hose.  So, I headed down the hill and of course was thrilled with my purchase.  A galvanised watering can from Nailsworth ironmongers worthy of Labour and Wait in London.

You can do it too

Here is the boy with his first sourdough made with his own starter.  He tells me he made his starter on January 24th from flour and water, within a week it was bubbling out the jar.  So this is his first attempt, he made it on a Saturday night and left it to rise then it was moulded into a basket and left to rise overnight.  Baked first thing on Sunday morning, an unbeatable Mothers Day prize.

a roast goose on a friday night

If you read this regularly you’ll see I am running on a theme.  If you were impressed with what I could do with a chicken you are about to find out what I did with a goose.  I also will be giving you another dinner party menu.
For dinner this week we had some dear friends that bought with them a list of intolerances, good job I embrace a culinary challenge.  What I did do was cook a three course balanced  dinner (perhaps a touch wintry for spring) without using any substitute allergy ingredients and of course it was all Elizabeth David.  To start we had an onion soup, followed by a roast goose then pears in red wine.
It did feel a little excessive to cook a goose on a friday night but it did mean a another tick in the French Provincial cooking book.  First of all the legs were removed from the bird to confit.  The legless bird was then roasted and served with goose fat roast potatoes, watercress and hard boiled eggs a la Elizabeth.  I panicked there was no sauce but the flavours and textures worked so well and it was so juicy it didn’t matter.  The next goose dinner was inspired by our son who had been asking about chinese food.  I made a goose and vegetable stir fry with a chinese  sauce of five spice, honey, rice wine, soy and lime.
I used the carcasse to make a stock. This stock became a nettle soup and also featured in the rather alarming, goose giblet stew.  Sometimes Elizabeth is a bit stingy on her instructions and with the giblet stew there was some guessing.  It was a stew of the goose giblets, onion, carrots, tomatoes and I added some merguez sausage and haricot beans.  I decided to use my common sense and remove the giblets and what was left was a tasty enough stew. 
Next I had my first attempt at rillettes, these are a slow cooked combination of pork and goose cooked in their fat.  This is a way of preserving meat and is great served on toast or with a salad.  I also confit the goose legs, another great way to preserve meat, these will become a cassoulet.  What I love about preserving meat in these ways is that you can have a long lasting back up meal waiting in the fridge. This is particularly useful when you’ve got four increasingly hungry children that are hectic enough that just popping to the shops isn’t always an option.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Elizabeth David Bouillabaise

Last weekend it was my Mum’s 60th birthday so we all headed down to Cornwall to see my sister.  We decided the best way to celebrate was to cook her a feast.  I persuaded my sister that it had to be Elizabeth David so we dissed Elizabeth’s advice and cooked a bouillabaisse outside of the Mediterranean.  We managed to bemuse the Newlyn fishmonger with her list of suggested fishes, the only one they had was a John Dory, but we chose a selection of five fishes and some big prawns.  After a blissfully sunny spring afternoon on the beach it was home to cook. We made an onion and cream tart as a starter with green salad, then the bouillabaisse. Elizabeth advises just slicing the scaled and gutted fish, but we decided this would be to bony and fiddly for us English.  The fishmonger filleted the fish and I made a stock from the bones and off cuts.  A base for the soup was made from onions, tomatoes, garlic, fennel sprigs, saffron and a good glug of olive oil.  To this we added the fish then the stock and boiled for ten minutes.  “It is upon this fast boiling that success depends.” The soup was then served over an oven dried piece of Wild White bread.  I couldn’t believe how simple and quick this was and can’t wait to revisit with a Nailsworth version. We served our soup with an aioli which I hope didn’t bastardize the delicate flavours.
For pudding we cooked from Skye Gyngell’s book.  She is my current day favourite chef of Petersham Nurseries fame.  From her we made a blood orange  and rosemary jelly with a chocolate tart.  We finished off this feast with some very fine Cornish cheeses.
Not only do I love cooking for people but planning a well balanced meal.  It always has to have vegetables or a salad, to contain complementary or similar flavours and leave diners feeling full but not roll out the door stuffed.  And of course it goes without saying it has to be seasonal and unless in Cornwall sourced from our great local independents of Nailsworth. Bon Appetite!