31 October 2012

Viva le Veg!

This blog is long overdue since the supperclub evening when we enjoyed a veggie feast created from the recipes within this book was many months ago now. I offer only one excuse for this lapse, the other 20,000 words I wrote to complete my MSc. However buoyed up by a lovely lunchtime date with the man himself at the University of Bristol (see picture) and the fact that he answered my question with such passion, I feel the need to share our thoughts on the book from that evening and give you some insight about his latest book.

If you saw the accompanying TV series you will know that the man famed for connecting us with the reality of animal husbandry and a deep respect for life and death on the farm, gave up eating meat in order to fully embrace writing this book. The purpose of this self imposed vegetarianism being to crush his own prejudices about meals without meat being somehow inferior and dull. In fact he explains that being able to ditch meat as the main attraction on the plate can lead to a different style of eating, more akin to mezze or tapas where flavourful little dishes can be combined. This informal style of mix and match eating was certainly evident at our meeting and as the grand daughter of a Covent Garden porter I know my granddad  would be amazed if he could see the many ingenious ways we have found to use the humble vegetable.

On the night we enjoyed-
North African squash and chickpea stew, Celery orange and pecan salad, Asian inspiried coleslaw, Herby peanutty noodly salad, Aubergine parmigiana, Courgette and sultana tealoaf, Beetroot and sultana tealoaf,

About the book......

Design and layout
We loved the photography, vegetable illustrations and fonts, the chapters were intriguing and helped to guide meal planning.

Recipes (general remarks)
Overall we found them very easy to follow. Beware the quantities are sometimes very large though.  As it says in the title, it provided many “everyday” recipes that would be easy for work night suppers as well as a few more time consuming weekend dishes. It’s also a good reference book if you are wondering what to do with strange vegetable box items.

Recipes tried and tested
Chilli’s stuffed with beans, Pasta with greens garlic and chilli, Leek and cheese toastie, Cauliflower with toasted seeds, DIY ‘pot’ noodles, Root frittata, Spicy merguez chips, garlicky minty mushy peas, Cauliflower pakoras with tamarind raita, Sweetcorn fritters with coriander or mint raita, Sweet potato and peanut gratin, Pasta with new potatoes green beans and pesto.

 This is a great book if you want to either create more interesting vegetable dishes or if like Hugh and many others, you feel it's right to reduce the frequency with which you eat meat. As winter draws closer there is no better time to reflect on the harvest and try to utilise and celebrate all that we are able to yield from the land be it meat or vegetable.

In his new book Hugh works on using just three ingredients to create delicious meals and his theory certainly evokes fond memories of great flavour combinations such as rhubarb, crumble and custard. I am sure it will feature at the supperclub table soon. 

20 May 2012

Pretty Perfect

Is cooking about being perfect? Baking aside, surely creativity and expression in the kitchen require a certain degree of improvisation and a dash of innovation. The concept of "Perfect" is to examine the recipes for classic dishes, consider the variations proffered by others and come up with a definitive version of the dish. This is useful because it strips away the pretentious flourishes of a chef with a brigade of helpers and hones in on the key ingredients and principles upon which the dish is based. You get a real feel for the thought process that has taken place during the dissection of each recipe and are clearly guided   as to where and how any developments can be made. Goodness knows how much it cost and how long it took to examine the recipes so thoroughly. The stories behind each recipe are engaging and the design of the book is classic with a modern quirky twist. There is enough for both the beginner and well established cook and for once it didn't matter that there was no photography, perhaps it just wasn't necessary because many of the dishes are such classics.

Dishes we enjoyed at supperclub were kedgeree, guacamole, coq au vin, flapjack and crumble. Other recipes road tested were hollandaise sauce- unusual method, roast chicken -lovely skin,  cottage pie and omelette. There is an excellent bibliography so that the original recipes can be found and some good advice to beginners about investing in a "bible" which I quite agree with, having been a cook for many years I still use a battered and falling apart inspection copy of Delia's basic cookery course and also the Leith's bible, mostly for larger catering projects. Felicity Cloake has also published a Perfect Christmas Day which has 15 essential recipes for Christmas (though I have to say I always go for Josceline Dimbleby's orange mince pie recipe personally) which I'm sure will be a great guide for those facing the festive food preparation for the first time. More ideas, advice and lovely food photography can be found at http://felicitycloake.com but don't beat yourself up if something goes wrong, nobody's perfect! 

1 March 2012

Find the Scandi in You

Wrap up warm and be prepared to be taken on a journey. Tread in the deep, crisp snow, wander through the colourful and narrow streets, forage in the vast woodland, gaze into and fish in the bright blue waters and feel the warmth of family and friends as you simply break bread or share a feast with them. Be guided through the land, the culture, the food, the atmosphere and the seasons by the Scandinavian Cookbook.

As you might expect, the Scandinavian Cookbook is cleanly, clearly and efficiently laid out. The month themed chapters help you to eat with the seasons, though of course there are recipes which will see you right at any time of year.

And the recipes don't disappoint: with a great deal of dishes quite unique to Scandinavian cuisine, the food is fresh and healthy and packed with flavour. There are a fair amount of fish recipes but also a lot of baking, desserts and treats as well as a wide selection of meat and vegetable dishes and not forgetting the pickles and berries.

Recipes are accompanied by snippets of background information, insights into the Scandi way of life and some very personal stories about the author's Danish upbringing. The photography, from Lars Ranek, combined with these accounts, brings the book to life, giving the reader a real sense of the place as well as the obligatory dishes to drool over.

But what might you be feasting on? There is, of course, a recipe for Swedish meatballs and I urge you to go ahead and make your own, the result was much more satisfying than Ikea meatballs, though there's nothing wrong with indulging in a plate of those every once in a while to help you survive a trip to the big blue and yellow place! We had ours accompanied by some roasted potatoes, greens, pickled cucumber and berries (we used the suggested substitute of cranberries due to a lack of lingonberries). The only thing missing was the 'gravy' but a quick search on Google and the meal was soon complete.

But, not surprisingly, there's more to Scandi food than meatballs. The Scandinavians have, as have many cultures, adopted the burger and made it their own. There are two unusual recipes: Bif Lindstrom, a beef burger containing capers and beetroot, and an incredible fishy equivalent; salmon burger with a chive and mayo dressing.

A trip to Scandinavia wouldn't be complete without some reindeer (well, we had moose which we found in Lidl). Reindeer (or moose) steaks with their spicy black pepper and aniseed crust, served with a potato and celeriac gratin and roasted sprouts was a perfect wintry Sunday dinner.

The veal with baked rhubarb and barley salad was a great way to enjoy the vibrant pink forced rhubarb available in the early months of the year, whilst, if baking is more your thing, we had fun experimenting with the yoghurt and wheatgrain bread and the spelt buns.

For dessert, some apples, past their best, and some stale bread magically transformed into a divine apple trifle, and to accompany your Danish blue cheeses, how about the walnuts pickled in wine?

This beautiful book brought back memories of a wonderful and chilly week exploring Stockholm two years ago, and with Angie having just returned from a friend's wedding in Norway we had plenty of stories of our own to throw into the mix, as well as some extra tasty treats to sample which Angie brought back with her. Let yourself be transported to Scandinavia and embrace the Scandi in you. You won't be disappointed.