Monday, 31 May 2010

Peach Melba

Today I made a really retro pud: peach melba. I wanted a pudding to follow a lazy summery lunch, where you still have room for something sweet but can't force down a tart or rich chocolate mousse. As odd as it seems for such a glutton, I actually have days like that. This pudding fits the bill - a lovely soft peach cooked in sugar syrup, smothered in tangy raspberry sauce and befriended by a ball of vanilla ice cream. When you eat this, it feels like you should be living on the riviera, being glamorous, skidding about on a Vespa.

Inspired by Bill Granger's peach melba recipe in Bills Food 2

Serves 4

You will need:

4 fresh peaches
1 cup icing or caster sugar
2 cups water
150g fresh UK-grown raspberries (they have the best flavour)
Juice of half a lemon
Good quality vanilla ice cream - my fave is Green & Black's vanilla

Score the peaches on their bottoms with a criss cross cut to enable them to cook through.

Put your sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Add the peaches and simmer with the lid on until the peaches are tender (about ten minutes, you will need to turn them over half way through so they cook evenly). Remove the peaches and put in a bowl to cool down. Boil the remaining sugar syrup until reduced by half, let it cool down a bit. Then whiz up your raspberries and the syrup in a blender with the juice of half a lemon. Press through a sieve to remove the seeds. Your peaches should be cool by now - peel the skins off. If the skins are being stubborn, use a knife to remove them.

Place one peach in a bowl per person, then add a scoop of vanilla ice cream and pour over the raspberry sauce. If you have a packet of fan wafers available, these would be perfect right about now!

You could always divide the peaches in two and remove the stones before serving - I just couldn't be bothered.

Follow with a nice strong coffee. Note how Elvis is smiling at everyone in between the bowls in the above photo.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Raw onion hatred

I have a question: at what point does a request for salad in one's lunchtime sandwich constitute a desire for chopped raw onion? It confounds and frustrates me, this incessant need for it to be sprinkled in every shop-bought salad and sandwich in the UK. If you hadn't guessed, I loathe raw onion, especially when it is disguised in my food as a necessary condiment. When I request 'salad', I want lettuce, tomato and cucumber – NOT little bits of stinkbomb that linger on the breath all afternoon. I will pick every single bit of onion out of my sandwich, even if it takes ages.

Raw onion occupies a long-lived status on my list of food hates along with lamb, processed mayonnaise and any kind of offal.

You have been warned.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Drink like a Uruguayan

I've never tasted wine from Uruguay as it's not yet widely available in this country. And since I never need any form of encouragement to go to a wine tasting, I accepted my friend C's invitation in about 0.8 seconds flat - she was going to one at the Uruguayan London embassy (Belgrave Square - very posh!). C is half Uruguayan and, as well as being the best cook I know, is always attending interesting foodie events and inviting me along. However, this wine tasting had to be one had to be one of the weirdest events I'd been to in a long while. I was picturing handsome S American butlers passing around goblets of oaky vino and, of course, trays of Ferrero Rocher stacked in pyramids, because I have a juvenile sense of humour. But the evening didn't pan out quite like that...

Entering the embassy building with a sense of giddy excitement, I queued on the stairs amid a well-heeled crowd of older ladies and gents. I admired the lofty ceilings and the grand staircase. The carpet looked a little moth-eaten. But no matter - I was chatting merrily with my friends and was happily anticipating my first glass of wine after a particularly arsey day in the office.

We entered the wine tasting room - all dark oak furniture and chandeliers - and then spent a considerable amount of time queuing to get to the long tables behind which Uruguayan wine producers poured out samples. The room was stifling. I noticed many ladies of a certain age with frosted bouffant hairdos, pearls and boxy jackets, and that their long suffering husbands were all wearing suits and looking very serious. I squeezed in between two ladies dripping in jewellery, one braying to the other about having to fire their cleaner, and managed to get a very small glass of Uruguayan Chardonnay from a producer called 'Bouza' (ho ho). It was delicious, but a mere thimble of wine. I then had to queue for a thimble full of red wine made with the Uruguayan Tannat grape - a bit of a tannic mouthful. By now I was seriously thirsty, but persevered in the queue for another couple of thimbles of this and that. The measures were beyond meagre, and I estimated that my total thimble intake would have added up to half a full glass of wine - jeez!

Then, lo! We were summoned to stand to attention by a well-spoken gentleman with a luxuriant grey carpet of hair and a pink tie - two Uruguayan wine producers were about to give a presentation. From that moment, everything turned rather surreal. The men spoke very fragmented English, and clicked through a halting Powerpoint presentation depicting rural scenes from their country - gnarly faced farmers picking grapes, cattle drinking from streams - all animated by 1970s Abba-style split or rotating screens, with the laptop playing a tinny soundtrack of South American music in the background. I felt sorry for them as they soldiered on with their fragmented English:

"And now you sees the farmers in our countries the same as his cow."

"The cow is drinking water very natural; our country is live for nature." (sic)

And so on...

I had to dig my nails into my palms to keep from shaking with laughter. My eyes filled with tears. I felt awful for them as people rudely continued their conversations at the back of the room. A painfully stilted auction ensued, with one of the Uruguayan wine producers trying to entice people to bid for bottles, starting at £60. Nobody really seemed very interested - the auction tailed off with a maximum bid of £75. If only I'd had the means I would have bid, and most people in the room looked fairly wealthy. Bah humbugs.

Afterwards, we retreated to the pub to enjoy full glasses of wine. The Uruguayans would probably be horrified by our hardened London drinking habits, but I thought it was a shame not to have been able to taste the wine properly, and also a wasted opportunity not to have been able to buy any of the wine on offer. But now at least I know to look out for it...a glass of Bouza Chardonnay or Viognier on a hot evening would be a very nice thing indeed.

Bodega Bouza, Uruguay
Tannat wines

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Brussels: eat pig like a pig

Friends have ridiculed me for quite some time on account of the fact that I once spent £8 on an aubergine in Borough Market. So embarrassing! I’m still ashamed. I was younger, a bit overwhelmed by the whole BM experience, and handed over the money as though in a trance. When I came to my senses on the way home, I bloody well kicked myself – ok, it was a lovely shade of violet and quite a weird shape, but for God’s sake, there’s never any need to pay £8 for an aubergine. It wasn’t gold plated, and tasted no different to any other aubergine I’d eaten before.

However, nothing tops my hubby’s spectacular overspend in a Brussels food market last weekend – he was fleeced to the tune of 30 Euros for 2 rustic cured sausages. Thirty ruddy Euros – that’s basically a similar amount in pounds, given the currently abysmal exchange rate! And he didn’t even taste a sample before buying...if I hadn’t been so distracted by the pastries at the adjoining stall, I would have rugby tackled him. His excuse is that he was so excited at being understood in French, he didn't realise what he was doing. Still, once the shock had subsided, we had a good laugh about it. Well, you have to, don't you? Either that, or punch the stall owner.

Anyway – wonderful Brussels. We ate and drank rather a lot. Not the usual moules frites and such like, but a lot of cheese, ham and waffles. The food market where the 'sausage-themed daylight robbery' took place was quite different to farmers' markets in this country – since the UK is a relative newcomer to the farmers' market scene, we have to try a lot harder to attract people away from the supermarkets using props to highlight the produce: nice tablecloths, cute blackboards, a few hay bales here and there. In Brussels, and also many towns in France, there is a much more 'laissez faire' attitude to making markets look pretty because people have years and years of practice and the tradition of cultivating good produce is ingrained in their food heritage. At this particular market in Brussels, there were hardly any concessions to rustic cuteness – food was lugged out of the back of minivans and shoved out onto crates in and among closed fairground rides. Not one lace tablecloth in sight – and that’s because the produce pretty much speaks for itself. Lucky Belgians!

Here's a a few photos of the food market we visited:

Strawberry stall next to fairground rides:

Cheeses flavoured with Belgian beers:

Loaf of bread bigger than a dog:

Meat stall: note 'oiseaux sans tete' which means 'headless birds':

The lady wearing the waxed coat took so long to choose her bread, I thought I was going to faint from hunger; pony-tailed dude took his time serving her. The Belgians never hurry:

Anyway, dear readers, I'm curious: what's the most ludicrous amount of money you've ever spent on an item of food and drink? Post answers below...

Monday, 3 May 2010

Rhubarb and lemon curd pots

I thieved the recipe for this knockout pudding from my friend Kate, who served it to me for dinner the other night. She had also nicked it from her friend (also called Kate), and so in the true spirit of a recipe democracy, I'm sharing the love so you can continue the cycle. I made it for my friend R's birthday, and I think he rather liked it. It is really yummy - you basically roast some rhubarb (in season right now) and put it in a glass topped with Greek yoghurt mixed with lemon curd and crushed stem ginger biscuits. It takes just moments to put together - if you love the tangy flavours of rhubarb, orange, lemon and ginger, this is total pudding nirvana, especially if you like a crunchy topping.

Serves 4

You will need:

4 large glass tumblers

About 400g rhubarb
1 orange, both zest and juice
2 tbsps runny honey
1 x 500g tub full fat Fage Total Greek plain yoghurt (you MUST use the full fat version - it's essential to get that rich, tangy creaminess, plus I think low fat anything is essentially a waste of time and inferior in texture and flavour)
4 - 5 heaped tbsps good quality lemon curd
8 - 10 stem ginger biscuits crushed to rough chunks and crumbs in a bag with a rolling pin

Preheat the oven to 180C. Wash the rhubarb and cut into pieces roughly 3 inches in length. Place in a roasting tray, drizzle over a couple of tablespoons of honey, then sprinkle over the zest of the orange, then juice it and pour over the rhubarb. Mix everything around with your hands to make sure the zest and honey covers all the fruit, then put in the oven and roast for about 25 minutes or until the rhubarb is tender.

Divide the rhubarb between four glass tumblers, placing it at the bottom of the glasses. Drizzle over the orange juice and zest from the oven dish. While it cools down, mix about 5 heaped tablespoons of lemon curd into the yoghurt - don't totally mix in, so that you get a few ripples of lemon curd showing. Keep tasting as you mix it in, so that you don't accidentally over-sweeten. You want it to be a little bit tart. When the rhubarb is cool, layer the lemon/yoghurt mixture into the glasses, then top with the crushed biscuits. If you're not eating this immdediately, put in the fridge, then top with the crushed biscuits just before eating, so that they don't go soggy. Easy-peasy.

Thanks Kate and Kate! Thanks also to Julie Millar who sent me loads of Fage Total Yoghurt to experiment with.