Tuesday 21 September 2010

Two months in a Bristol kitchen (Or, why we are fat - Part 2)

As promised, here is part deux in the award winning and critically acclaimed serialisation of two months in my Bristol kitchen*.

‘E’ and I cook together pretty much every night, kind of like Fanny Cradock and Johnnie (Myself, of course being the imperious Fanny with ‘E’ playing the bumbling background role of ‘Johnnie’**). But the leading role can often be exhausting, and sometimes I like nothing better than to lay prostrate on a chaise longue, resting and re-focusing my mungus foodie brain in absolute silence whilst ‘E’ takes over solely in the kitchen and makes me dinner for a change. Tres romantique, oui?

This very scenario recently transpired when we decided to take turns cooking three courses for each other in a somewhat competitive display of affection. I volunteered to go first, my gourmet brain being at that time refreshed and ready for immediate use. But what to cook?

Feeling in my water that a kind of Middle Eastern/Moroccan vibe was the way to go, I decided wisely to forge ahead into new territory, reckoning that the best idea was to cook completely untried recipes. I leafed through my trusty copy of the Moro cookbook, picking out and discarding ideas until finally, I had three recipes. New to me and entirely untested. (I think we can all see where this is going).

My first and main dish would be vegetable paella with artichokes and piquillo peppers, complimented by a side dish of slow cooked fennel and dill and rounded off with a poached cherry and almond cream dessert.

Later that evening, and panning out exactly as expected, I gazed at the stump of my bloodied finger, watching my life blood dripping and mingling with the mangled remains of the globe artichokes that lay hacked, butchered and scattered across the kitchen worktop. F*cking globe artichokes. I’d never prepared them before, and probably never will again. I’d sweated and wrestled, cursing their very existence on this Earth, covered in the downy yet bizarrely sharp fluff of their choke, slipping and sliding against the almost leathery consistency of the leaves whilst all the time very conscious of the wickedly sharp kitchen knife in my hand, which ironically wasn’t the instrument of my misfortune. The culprit was the vegetable peeler, which sliced a chunk off the end of my finger… subsequently making my vegetarian paella anything but. (Don’t tell ‘E’).

My hand now swathed in bandages, I whistled a carefree ditty through gritted teeth as I grimly continued with the task in hand.

Strangely enough the paella came out really well, ok – it may have contained the end of my finger and a pint or so of blood, but it tasted superb. ‘E’ seemed impressed too.
The slow cooked fennel side dish scattered with dill from the garden although perhaps a bit crunchy in part due to my not cutting it thinly enough was also not too shabby. So far, so good.

Sadly probably the simplest dessert I’ve ever prepared failed completely. Poached cherries? Easy – sling them in a saucepan and simmer. Almond cream? Blitz some almonds, sugar and add water, also ridiculously easy. How could it go so terribly wrong?
I now realise I added too much water to the almond cream, I’m not sure how but it ended up being a grainy almond flavoured puddle with poached cherries swimming forlornly in the middle. Realising instantly that it looked utterly shit, I fiddled with the presentation trying in vain to polish the turd of a dessert I’d produced. Flailing around like a drowning man, as a last resort I threw in a heap of yoghurt to thicken it, which just seemed to increase the volume rather than firming it up. There was no hiding it. ‘E’ took one spoon full and burst out laughing at its utter hideousness, which was the final insult really.

So in conclusion a bit of a disastrous meal from me. Could ‘E’ do better on her turn the following night?

Of course she could.
I can only comment as a consumer of course, but from my vantage point on the chaise longue, peeking from beneath the cold compress I was using to cool my ill-used, feverish foodie brain, still recovering from the previous night. The kitchen appeared to be an oasis of calm. No shouting. No screams of “Oh God, oh God – I’ve cut it off”, No constant streams of cursing the like of which would make a tourettes sufferer blush. Just efficient, businesslike, cooking sounds and wonderful smells.

Taking my seat at the table, ‘E’ (somewhat smugly I thought), presented the first course. A starter of roasted scallops, a re-creation of the same dish we’d eaten at The Seahorse in Dartmouth earlier in the year. Beautifully done, they tasted almost exactly the same as the ones we’d eaten at the restaurant. Hats off to ‘E’.

The next course, emerged calmly from the kitchen ‘grilled turbot steak with tartare sauce, Anya potatoes and pea shoots’ (The Turbot was a gift to ‘E’ from a fishmonger friend – Thanks Mat!) and wow – what a present. This rather expensive piece of fish had been done justice, and was cooked just right. Combined with the homemade tartare sauce and the pan fried Anya potatoes. Superb.

Gnashing my teeth, but at the same time pleased to be eating so well I awaited my dessert with baited breath. Peach melba with a blueberry coulis. Although nothing like the pigs ear of a dessert I’d served up the previous night, I was somewhat relieved when it was just ‘OK’ rather than stunning like the two previous courses. A slight chink in ‘E’s armour there then. Muhahahaha *twirls moustache*
I think we can all see who the winner was here (Points at ‘E’ but silently mouths ‘Me’).

So, lessons learnt.

1) When cooking to impress, never try out new and untested recipes. You're just asking for disaster.

2) Globe artichokes although admittedly, tasting amazing, are evil. I call down a blight on all of them. Die you bulbous green devils gonads die.

3) The introduction of human ‘meat’ to vegetarian paella can only improve the texture and flavour. Just remember to remove the fingernail first.

4) Turbot is amazing, especially when its free turbot (Thanks again Mat!)

Stay tuned readers for the upcoming part three in this gripping series, ‘Two months in a Bristol Kitchen’, which I’ll be writing…as soon as my finger grows back.

* I lie. Often.
** Also quite possibly a lie.


Anonymous said...

I adore them, but I have never attempted prepping an artichoke from scratch. This has put me off ever trying.

The scallopslook particularly great.


Dan said...

Roastpotato - Thanks very much Gary. Honestly, I thought globe artichokes were well withing my capabilities. It seems not, broke my peeler, broke me and produced about two cubic cm's of usable ingredient. I shall pass your scallop praise onto 'E'.

Gourmet Butcher said...

Great post Dan! Nothing like a bit of competition in the kitchen to really test your skills! Hope the finger is ok and lets hope "E" does not read you blog or there might been a thing or two to be said about your vegetarian paella!!!

josordoni said...

Oh pooor Dan...never mind, a bit of thunder and lightening in the cellar and you'll be right as rain again.

and I had to pan back up and check.. wot no verrine? was this pre-Paree ?

A London Fishmonger said...

You certainly eat well. I particularly like the section on Turbot?

franmouse39 said...

Great post, Dan. I'm with you on the artichokes: love them but can't and won't peel/undress,dechoke the buggers. For next time, you can get frozen arty bottoms at middle eastern shops. Much easier and you can lie!

Dan said...

Gourmet Butcher - Hahaha yes, my finger has errr...grown back. 'E' hmmmm worryingly I think she may like the taste of human flesh, well - she didn't complain.

Josordoni - This was apres Paree - but verrine were not appropriate for what we were cooking.

A London Fishmonger - Hahaha Thanks, and Thanks for the Turbot dude!

Fran - Bloody artichokes...literally. But that's a great tip Fran, I'll bear it in mind for next time. Thanks!