Saturday, 5 December 2009

November - a month in my kitchen.

Despite cooking at home pretty much every night without fail, regular readers of my blog may wonder if that aspect of my life has withered and died....looking back over the last month or so, it's all been restaurant reviews and eating out... not a mention of what I've been dishing up in the kitchen.
So, to correct this oversight - here's a roundup....

At the beginning of the month I received the new Gordon Ramsay book
'World Kitchen' to review, and frankly despite the recipes being competent, I found the book wholly un-inspiring... This no doubt has a lot to do with the whole Ramsay empire being so pervasive nowadays, it's impossible to get away from it. But, unlike his earlier books where you really got a feel for his cooking, the perfection in the kitchen and the passion about the ingredients... this just feels like a case of...

"Your contracted to churn out three books a year....we were thinking 'world food' - you haven't done that yet, knock us a quick book out"

In fact I believe his recently ex-right hand man Mark Sargeant does the real work on the books nowadays, and Gordo just rubberstamps the finished product.
There's just no spark, no passion.

But this is the thing, all of the recipes are good. Great in fact, and the results were fairly impressive. In actual fact, it's a handy book to own. But it'll never be a favourite.
Obviously, in order to test the book out fully, I had to cook a few things from it....

First up from the Italian section of the book, we have 'Grilled Mushrooms on griddled polenta with pecorino'

I made this for a Saturday lunch, mainly because I had an open leftover bag of Polenta I wanted to use up. The Mushrooms are Chanterelles. Straightforward, fairly quick, as easy as it gets and even if I do say so myself - it looks pretty good on a plate.

The next thing I cooked, from the Spanish section....Meatballs in Tomato Sauce. (or Albondigas). Tapas style.
Now this recipe was a complete winner. I loved it, the manchego in the mix, gave it a nice subtle piquancy and the simple tomato sauce they were cooked in was lovely. I served these up with some rice. I'll be making these again....
Here's the recipe, so you can judge for yourself:-

Meatballs in Tomato Sauce.
Serves 4-5

You'll Need:-

For the meatballs:-
500g good quality minced beef
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
50g White Breadcrumbs
25g Manchego (or Cheddar), grated
2 TBS chopped flat leaf parsley, plus extra to garnish.
Sea Salt and Black Pepper
1 Large Egg, lightly beaten
2 TBS Olive Oil

For the Tomato Sauce:-
2 TBS Olive Oil
1 Onion peeled and finely chopped
1 Garlic Clove, peeled and finely chopped
120ML dry white wine
2x400g tins chopped tomatoes
100ML water
1-2 TSP Caster Sugar

To make the meatballs , mix the minced beef, onion, garlic, breadcrumbs, cheese and chopped parsley together in a large bowl until evenly combined. Season well with salt and pepper and add the beaten egg to bind, mixing with your hands. Break off a small piece of the mixture, shape into a ball and fry in an oiled pan until cooked, then taste for seasoning. Adjust the seasoning of the uncooked mixture as necessary.

With damp hands, shape the mixture into about 16 meatballs, trying not to press them too tightly. Place on a large plate, cover with clingfilm and chill for at least 30 mins to allow them to firm up. Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan, add the onion and garlic and fry gently until lightly golden.

Increase the heat slightly and pour in the wine. Let bubble until reduced by half, then stir in the chopped tomatoes, water and sugar. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 10-15 mins until the tomatoes are soft, then remove the pan from the heat.

To cook the meatballs. heat the olive oil in a large, wide pan. Add the chilled meatballs and fry for 5 minutes, turning frequently, until browned all over. Pour the tomato sauce over them and simmer for a further 10-15 mins until the meatballs are cooked through. Divide the meatballs and tomato sauce between warm bowls and sprinkle with chopped parsley to serve.

The next thing to get a road test, also from the Spanish section was Paella with Chicken and Chorizo. No hint of seafood in this one, so not what most people would think of as a paella I guess - but then the blurb mentions that there are in fact hundreds of different paella recipes throughout Spain (hey, educational).

I was glad to see the recipe suggested boneless, skinless chicken thighs instead of the more commonly suggested breast. Thighs are miles cheaper than breast, and taste so much better. The Paella was OK....It was very filling, but a little bland perhaps...I don't think I'd cook it again.

The final dish I cooked in November from 'World Kitchen' was from the Greek section 'White bean and vegetable soup' or Fasoulada as it's more commonly known in Greece.
I loved this - cheap, simple....quick (apart from soaking the haricot beans overnight). But this was thick and tasty, real winter fare....and with some feta crumbled over the top. Wow.
This is something else I'll be making again for sure. Loved it.

Mid November saw me hosting two dinner parties on consecutive weekends. Small one for the GF's parents, and another the following week for some friends.

For the GF's parents, I went a bit Ottolenghi.... one of the main reasons for this was I had a big piece of Turkey in the freezer waiting to be used up, and I'd previously made the 'marinated turkey breast with cumin, coriander and white wine'....this would be the main, and I paired it with 'crushed new potatoes with horseradish and sorrel'. (To be honest, with hindsight - all looks a bit 'dry'....there was a sauce made from the marinade, but still).
The starter was Puy Lentils with sour cherries, bacon and Gorgonzola...this being another dish I'd cooked previously and really liked.

For dessert I made my legendary
chocolate fondants - topped with shop bought clotted cream ice-cream.....just to ensure there wasn't an intact tooth left in the house.

It all went well, cooking for four is straightforward and fairly easy work. Everyone seemed to like what I'd cooked....the chocolate fondants went down particularly well, but then they always do. Not sure about the presentation on these... but by then I was very....very...drunk.
All in all, not bad.

Dinner party two saw me cooking for six. Slightly more challenging, and I wanted to enjoy it rather than be stuck out in the kitchen all night as sometimes happens....
For some reason (probably drunkenly), I'd said I would cook Thai Green Curry.... perfect for an informal dinner party. For the life of me, I couldn't think what to serve as a starter with this... in the end, I jumped continents and decided to crack open the Ottolenghi book once again and cook 'turkey and sweetcorn meatballs with roasted pepper sauce'. The reasoning behind this being I wanted sharing platters where everyone could just dig in....and my addled brain was struggling to come up with a better suggestion.

Just to really mix things up, I also made a Satay dip to go with the meatballs (The dip recipe being pinched from 'World Kitchen' and being surprisingly involved (Hello shelling monkey nuts to get 100g of unsalted peanuts...took bloody ages).

For the dessert I fatefully decided to crack open Ramsay's 'A Chef for all seasons' and cook the Orange and Lemon tart recipe....I was thinking, nice...light citrusy to finish off the meal. So far so good. But, it was an untested recipe for me.....and this was to later prove decisive.

The turkey meatball starter I made just before they arrived, pre-made the two dips....all good. The Thai Green Curry recipe is Nigel Slater's from 'Real Food' I've made it umpteen times before and it always turns out well. I'd made the green curry paste during the day and would start cooking the actual curry just before the guests arrived. I was going to serve this with some lime leaf rice.

But the orange and lemon tart....I knew it was going to be trouble, the pastry case I made was a thing of thin and perfect, the best I've knocked out ever. But the low cooking temperature and the mention of 'just lightly set' in the recipe was setting off alarm bells in my head. But too late now, I ploughed on....

At this point I decided to have a drink....I hadn't eaten all day, and after just two beers (2!!) I was guests hadn't arrived and I had loads to do. Throwing caution to the wind with an ill judged 'what doesn't kill me, makes me stronger' attitude, I carried on drinking.

The turkey meatball and dips starter went down well, and was eaten in no time.
I stagger out to the kitchen to check on the status of the supposedly setting tart. It's liquid.

I cook the green curry and rice, and stagger back in....utterly munted now. Everyone helps themselves, they're making appreciative noises.....the whole lot gets eaten in what seems like minutes- every last scrap, even all of the rice. In the back of my mind I'm thinking about the tart.

I go outside to's still a pond.

I return to the dining room to inform my guests 'I may be some time' and then proceed outside into the chill November air to hopefully freeze to death, a suitable penance I feel for the impending doom that is my dessert.
That would have been the noble thing to do, but what I actually say, no doubt in a rather slurred fashion "the tart may be some time....hasn't quite set" (Nervous laugh).
A barrage of drunken encouragement of 'I'm sure it's OK'.... 'Serve it anyway'.... I look away worried.

We decide to play some spectacularly stupid board game whilst we wait.
An hour later - I'm very drunk. The tart still hasn't set. I seethe and curse both the tart and Gordon Ramsay rather vocally...
I can't wait any longer, and egged on by my friends decide to serve it anyway....the GF is looking very drunk and everyone is so pissed I don't think they care anymore.
I caramelise the top with a blowtorch (almost drunkenly burning my eyebrows off in the process) I hope this crisp layer might offer some structural stability, It looks fantastic, but there's an ominous wobble there.

Taking the plunge, I cut into's going to be it's not.....
The banks have burst....."bring me some sandbags and a stirrup pump for crissake!!!"....
A flood of orange and lemon filling rolls across my worktop like a citrus Tsunami. It's unstoppable and goes everywhere.
I am utterly appalled.... so much work. It's a complete mess. I think I spy an upturned boat and an uprooted palm tree near the knife block.

Cursing liberally, but making the best of a bad job, I ladle my tart onto plates and proceed to serve it anyway.
My guests....well, they make all the right tastes fantastic, don't worry, it's lovely.
I sit at the other end of the table shell shocked and traumatised... I've seen too much and am now old beyond my years.
At this point, the dinner party breaks up completely as my GF...indulging perhaps a little too much in the free flowing booze disappears suddenly to be violently sick. My guests, sensing perhaps this would be a good time to scarper make their excuses and leave.
A perfect end to a perfect night.

The morning after see's me nursing a hangover that's so gigantic, It should be christened in the same manner Hurricanes are named.... Hangover Dave perhaps.
I'm looking at the remains of my tart and take solace from the fact that the crust is so thin and perfect. I have a little taste. And It's gorgeous.
Not wanting to end this post on abject failure, I'll mention something that did go right this month. Gypsy Eggs or Huevos a la Flamenca. This recipe features in both
The Eagle cookbook and Gastropub classics by Trish Hilferty, and it's cracking.

Basically fried chorizo and Serrano ham, removed from pan - then chopped onion, garlic and paprika cooked in the fat. Add a tin of tomatoes, frozen peas, chopped potatoes (I added some frozen sweetcorn as well) and 100ml of water and cook covered for 10-15mins.
Add the ham and chorizo back, crack a couple of eggs in and bake in a 200C oven for 5 mins or so until the eggs are just set.
The great thing is, the quantities don't really matter - you can chop and change this recipe however you like just throw in whatever you think goes best, which is always the mark of a great recipe - perfect for using up leftovers.

Many thanks to Quadrille for my review copy of Gordon Ramsay's World Kitchen.


George@CulinaryTravels said...

Fabulously written Dan. It looks like there's been some fantastic cooking going on. The mushroom and polenta dish will be bookmarked as one to definitely try.

scandilicious said...

Meatballs! Ramsay's a fan? Hmm...must admit I like the look of that recipe so may have to try it.

The Eagle Cookbook is a brilliant book - such great recipes you could cook from every day

Quite a busy month you've had there Dan, hope everyone appreciated your had work in the kitchen ;-)

josordoni said...

Thank you for the Huevos Flamenco in print! I can bookmark this and never nag you again..

Have you worked out what was wrong with the Ramsey Orange & Lemon Tart? Temperature or proportions?

The shell DOES look lovely btw.... :)

Dan said...

George - thanks for the coment, lovely thing to say.

Sig - The meatball recipe was really good actually. Agreed on The Eagle recipe book too....I've cooked so much stuff out of it.
Hahaha hmmm yeah - think I'm appreciated...LOL

JoSordoni - I have no idea what went wrong - either it takes something like 12 hours to set...or it needs much longer in the oven. The proportions were all right. Hey thanks, I can't believe I got the shell that thin. I was bloody impressed myself.

The Ample Cook said...

Wow, some good cooking there Dan. You're a very generous host.I do hope your friends and family cook for you sometimes as you always seem to be cooking for other people!

Particularly liked the look of your fondant - very professional.

Well done you with the food and well done on your writing - a joy to read.

aforkfulofspaghetti said...

Heroic post, Dan!

Well done on getting everyone sufficiently anaesthesised so that the 'failed' tart went relatively unnoticed. *makes note to self*

eatmynels said...

enjoying the boozey anecdotes... solid work!!

Greedy Diva said...

I can see you've really been depriving yourself this month, Dan! The gypsy eggs look the goods! As does the rest.

AntoniaTable said...

Coincidentally made Arroz a la Chilindron w/Spanish chorizo , rice. Have ground roasted red peppers in muffin lined paper in freezer garlic, saffron white wine fresh peppers onion
made it intense did not miss seafood. @AntoniaTable

Su-Lin said...

Bookmarked the post for that huevos a la flamenca! Sounds excellent for the leftover ham I'm anticipating after tonight's dinner.

Niamh said...

Fantastic! I am with the others on the gypsy eggs. I love huevos rancheros and all manner of eggs like this. Perfect brunch material!

Food Urchin said...

Super dooper post Dan, the reenactment of the Ramsay orange and lemon tart did make me chortle. I think I would have been holding him personally responsible too, screaming "bastard".

Like the idea of rounding up the month's cooking too. Of course, if I were to do one, I'd be writing for weeks! ; )

Dan said...

Jan - Thanks, that's a really nice thing to say. I get cooked for now and again, but less so...I think people are nervous about it...and they like cooking less than I do.

Helen - Heroic LOL yes...that was a happy side-effect of getting utterly wasted, by the time we ate the tart...they no longer cared.

Charlie - Thanks Mate.

Carly - Thanks :)

Antonia - that sounds lovely.

Su-Lin - it's a lovely dish, one of those stupid simple throw together things that tastes great. I've got it for dinner again tonight funnily enough.

Niamh - thanks, agree totally...would make a lovely brunch.

Food Urchin - thanks mate, yes....I followed his recipe to the letter and it failed me....he failed me....twat.

Julia said...

Great read Dan. Can totally sympathise re: the doomed dessert. But then it's things like this that make evenings with friends all the more interesting and fun...or at the very least make for a brilliant story to tell, as your post shows!

Katie said...

I know what you mean about Ramsay books - I also find them pretty uninspiring, although the recipes generally work out better than your tart!

Hollow Legs said...

Oh no! At least it made a good story though eh ;)

Dan said...

Julia - Thanks!...yeah I guess, It can't all be sunshine and perfection....every now and again a bit of doom has to make an appearance.

Katie - yeah I know, the Ramsay recipes are normally spot on. Really don't know what went wrong with this one....should have left it to cook longer than stated in the book I presume.

Lizzie - hahaha yep true....tart=fail, entertaining blog post=plus. Swings and roundabouts eh?

Kitchen Butterfly said...

Wow....I love neew cookbooks and love having a massive cooking fest from a new cookbook. Almost encouraged by the polenta try polenta again but we'll see

Graphic Foodie said...

Yum. You cook food I want to eat. The polenta at the top is a thing of beauty. Totally underrated food.

So sorry about your tart but it did make me laugh out load at my desk! I'm sure your poor GF will love reading about that part!

goodshoeday said...

Fantastic round up of the months food highs and lows Dan.

Shame about the tart but it makes a great story, I can picture the scene of the filling swirling across the worktops in an unstoppable flow :0

Some of the other recipes look like real winners though so thanks for inspiration (I bet you've written them up better than Gordo's empire did!)

Please keep up the monthly round up post its may favourite part of the blog.

LexEat! said...

It's not you, it's Gordon. He's failed me in exactly the same way with his recipe for strawberry tart. Followed the instructions so carefully, for guests to have a slice of pastry swimming in custard cream.
For a ladies man, I thought Gordy would be better with tarts ...

gastrogeek said...

wow what a culinary marathon! I know what you mean about the new Gordon Ramsay cookbook, doesn't do it for me either, but having said that your dishes do look very moreish

Dan said...

Kitchen Butterfly - agreed - nothing like getting a new cookbook and giving some other the recipes a run out.

Fran - Thanks. That's a nice compliment 'you cook food I want to eat'. The Polenta and mushroom thing was lovely, I is very underrated. Glad I made you laugh!

Linda - thanks for giving me the idea to do a roundup, haven't done one for ages and felt a bit jaded about what to write next. Good Call.
Will do - I wont neglect the roundups again in future.

Lex - aha, not that is interesting. So a Gordo recipe failed you in similiar fashion. I agree, lets blame him. Ladies Man? hahaha thats not what I hear. But great punnage.

Rej - Thanks very much. I'll take 'moreish' :)

Browners said...

Nice fondants. And completely agree about GR and his books. All the recipes work, but they are about as passionate as a nursing home.

Unknown said...

I had just assumed that you hadn't been eating in much -but VERY obviously I was wrong. By the way I agree it is amazing how often GR churns out another book.