Recently, G and I went on honeymoon and started in Zambia (read all about it here), where I had a dish that was truly enchanting and it turns out, when I made it at home, really quite simple and easy to make. It lends itself to being made ahead with only minimal amount of effort to finish it off. Crispy filo pastry wraps around a filling of spinach, garlic and onions with crunchy cashew nuts, flecks of goats cheese and soft sweet raisins.
As some of you may know, G and I recently got married – it was the single greatest day of my life and I was so honoured to share it with all the people I got to share it with. I’m not normally one for gushing online but all the lovely people know who they are and we’re very grateful. Never wanting to make things easy for myself, I also decided to make one of the canapés – which I was rather pleased with in the end. It was a tomato consommé (you can find a link to the recipe here), and the biggest challenge was working out how to hang 10 kilos of tomatoes suspended in muslin cloth for a day. It’s a challenge I wasn’t expecting for my wedding day if I’m honest but a little rope and my in-laws’ garage later and there we were. If I were making it again in such ridiculous quantities (which I’m unlikely to do) I’d use another couple of layers of muslin as the weight of the tomatoes squeezed the juice out faster than usual meaning it stayed a little red rather than going clear and golden – though the taste was unaffected. After the wedding G and I went on honeymoon to Southern Africa, we saw and did the most amazing things and importantly had the most amazing food.
Recently I wrote about Barrafina, in my opinion the best tapas restaurant in London. One of the dishes I didn’t write about is their tortilla. It’s a melting in the middle Spanish omelette that’s perfectly judged and makes an amazing quick dinner. However, I’d never managed to get mine to be good enough to warrant sharing with you – until now. Barrafina’s tortillas are remarkable in that they are thick and flavoursome throughout the whole of the tortilla, not just around the filling and they are never dry. The secret, a little patience – you leave the onions and potatoes in the egg mixture for 10 minutes (or up to a day) before cooking.
This recipe is one for my fictional restaurant (one day). As with any recipe there are a few things I would tweak, but that’s just because I love to fiddle with things. I’ve cooked this dish, or a version of it many times when people come round because it’s so easy to get all the work done in advance and you know how I like that. In fact, I’ve even posted a dinner party plan before with this as one of the dishes, I just hadn’t posted the recipe – until now. Pork belly was the first meat that I learnt to cook in a way which I thought was as good as I would get in a restaurant and I’ve now got so many ways of cooking it that I love – but this method was the first and for that will always one I love.
We’re moving into prime wild mushroom season, something England does fantastically well. Buying wild mushrooms at the farmers’ market is a veritable exercise in the wonders of nature. Cloud ear mushrooms, King oysters, Girolles, Trompettes, Shitake, Hen of the Woods, Ceps and Chanterelles piled high and ready to be taken home and devoured. If I’m honest, they rarely get any other treatment than being quickly cooked with olive oil, butter and salt, and heaped on top of grilled sourdough bread – sometimes I’ll even throw a poached egg on top for my all time favourite brunch. However, I’ve been doing a lot of picnicking recently and I think these wild mushrooms deserve a place on the picnic rug. These quick pickled mushroom recipes are not only perfect for a picnic, quick to do and easily done a week in advance, but they go amazingly well with rich meats like pâtés, pork belly and game (which is coming into season now – pickled girolles with grouse is amazing).
Barrafina is my favourite Tapas restaurant in London. It has steep competition as Tapas has become so “hip” it’s in danger of people rejecting it for being too mainstream – there’s no crowd more fickle than foodies. Salt Yard and its sister restaurant Ember Yard are both fantastic; Jose (and Pizarro) is delicious, Moro has really interesting North African influences; Fino is like Barrafina but you can book (and the identical menu is slightly less well cooked). However, for me, Barrafina has the best food and the best atmosphere. I don’t mind waiting (and you will wait) because I can have some beautiful oloroso or palo cortado sherry and eat salty, delicious iberico ham croquettas in the queue. Barrafina has a wonderful vibe, it feels like everyone there loves food, they love talking about food, they love eating it and they love cooking it. You feel special just for sitting down. And, like all tapas restauarants, they have to turn out a huge number of dishes in a very short time and that takes preparation, the kind of preparation you can use in your own kitchens.
In the Summer, our beautiful new flat, which we just bought, gets hot and, on the rare days when London decides it’s going to have a heat wave, it can get _really_ hot. Combine that with grilling steak, a small whisky induced hangover and beautiful people coming to visit and it was pretty clear we wanted to sit outside. Thus began the most calamity strewn and yet ultimately brilliant picnic I think I’ve ever had. It started so well, we realised that the five minute walk to the park was the perfect amount of time to rest the grilled skirt steak, the salad was made (more on that later), the wine was chilled (more on that later) and the dessert was ready (more on that later). It took approximately ten paces out the door for the first disaster to strike. Continue reading
Fish – lots of people are scared of cooking it. Maybe it’ll be overcooked, maybe it’ll stick to the pan, maybe it’ll look ugly or taste dry and bland. Also it absolutely has to be cooked last minute and can’t wait for other things to be ready so it can be really stressful to cook for guests. However, the recipe I’m sharing with you here is the recipe that changed all of that for me. In many ways it started my love of fish and taught me not to be scared of cooking it, so it’s very close to my heart. It was first taught to me by the lovely folk over at the Asburton Cookery School (which I can’t recommend highly enough). It allows you to prep all the fish in advance, controls the cooking time and looks really professional.
Over here at TimedEating I like to write about taking the stress out of cooking and making it less last-minute. Sometimes that requires being a little clever and using things I’ve learnt in restaurants. But at other times, you don’t need to be clever at all. At moments like those, you just have to recognise something that’s brilliant in and of itself – a perfect storm of taste and convenience. These are the dishes I feel most happy to share, and confit duck is one of them. It’s just so simple, moreish and versatile.
Sometimes all you want to do is look in your fridge and see something you want to eat, right then and there no cooking required. Sometimes this happens when friends are round and you haven’t really expected them to be – you’ve got nothing in, your freezer is empty. It’s times like these I normally turn to take-out and am forever grateful I live in one of the best cities in the world with food available at a moment’s notice. The worst of the worst though is when you’ve got a plan for dinner – you’re going to have those leftovers from the other day. You’re absolutely starving, don’t want to wait for take out and then you realise it’s too late the leftovers are gone. Recipes like this one are for those homemade treats which can sit in your fridge quite happily until your need is great (or you just eat them because they’re delicious.