Sunday, 12 July 2015

Oxymorons, holiday cooking and a picture of sunflowers

One thing I like about catering on holiday is the inescapable and necessarily inventive resourcefulness of it all. 

The - ‘Oh! I don’t have that ingredient’ moment, swiftly followed by the - ‘What shall I use instead?’ - slightly panicked moment. 
And the - ‘Wow! This is good!’ - revelation that you determine to remember when you get home but will definitely forget due to having imbibed a holiday abundance of wine. And which due to the wine might actually not be as good as you think. Unless perhaps, the sozzled brain is capable of leaps of culinary inspiration that the non-sozzled brain is incapable of, due to sober adherence to the constraints of received rules on taste combinations. 

Last night’s menu-en-vacances featured salmon on a bed of mushroom, white onion, and garlic with roasted potato wedges sprinkled with ground ‘saveurs epicees’ (which added good flavour - whatever they were). Followed by fresh apricots - drizzled with honey, liberally sprinkled with cinnamon and baked in the oven - served with coconut ice-cream (which I didn’t make). The home kitchen might have added lemon juice, bacon lardons, tartare sauce and vanilla essence but the outcome wouldn’t have been better. And would have lacked the ambience created by the lingering heat of a burning summer day, the bitter metallic aroma of insect repellant, the bliss of languishing in waves of family laughter and a particularly good Monbazillac.

Although 'self-catering holiday' is an oxymoron that in it’s sheer impertinence beats all other oxymorons into a snivelling, we're-too-ashamed-that-we-exist-alongside-you-the-most-impudent-of-all-oxymorons pulp, I wouldn’t choose to holiday any other way. Togetherness is what it’s all about. Sharing the shopping, sharing the cooking, sharing the culinary experiments, sharing the songs that accompany the experiments and sharing the disasters. 
But not sharing the washing up. Not because we have a self-catering martyr in our midst, but because this current self-catering establishment has a dish-washer. 

Perhaps a 'self-catering-avec-dishwasher holiday' is not such a blatant oxymoron?

… Ask me at the end of our holiday.

Monday, 6 July 2015

Roulade-heaven and vegetarianism

The daily task of feeding the household - dogs, children, assorted adults who drift in and out of our home - is either easy: four-legged family members take on the role of shadow, closely applied to the ankles of the adult they regard as most likely to feed them, blocking doors, preventing access to stairs, standing between that adult and any activity that might delay dinner, or not so easy: endless nights of endlessly attempting to be endlessly inventive with meat and two veg. Then Littlest jettisons the meat part and the dinner dynamic changes to pasta and veg, pasta and two veg and occasionally pizza and veg until we reckon a rebalancing is required and start to experiment with fish (partial success - salmon ok, other fish “tastes of mango”), vegetarian ready-meals (all bad), vegi-burgers and sausages (“If I wanted to eat something that looked like meat I’d probably eat meat”) and the world of vegetables beyond peas, sweetcorn, broccoli and carrots (still working on this one). 

One benefit of cooking for a new vegetarian is being forced to step up out of the rut created by years of steadfast meat-eating (boring) predictability - the cycle of chicken, lamb and beef punctuated with intermittent insertions of pork, fish and the exotics - turkey, ham, venison and pheasant. The vegetarian diet is not only more colourful, it also tastes better and has a beneficial effect on the waist-lines of the older members of the family. Win win situation. But with one disadvantage - the letter d. Winwind situation might be more accurate. A finger on the window-opening switch of the car and a rendition of ‘Jubil-farti deo’ on the journey home after a school chapel service.

Daily house-hold feeding inevitably leads to signature dishes. Those meals that become part of family lore - shared, enjoyed and oft repeated: comfort food at it’s best - not too fiddly to conceive nor too time-consuming - the taste of which ignites memories of time together, laughter, tears and a recipe which becomes part of family heritage.

I have two signature dishes. Or three. Although, the third is just a tip - when making chilli con carne and as it starts to simmer, add a few blocks of good dark chocolate. Stir and inhale. The smell of melting chocolate and chilli is heavenly; the taste even better. Would this work with aubergine chilli stew I wonder? - I’ll let you know.

My two signature dishes are fruit crumble and lemon roulade. I have shared the crumble recipe on this blog before, so here are the instructions for the roulade - 

First, you need to whisk up a meringue - caster sugar and egg white with a little dark brown or molasses sugar to add a hint of caramel. 
You could add other flavourings to the meringue at this point depending on the end roulade desired - coffee, chocolate, nut. Experiment! Whatever meringue recipe you use the next step is the same.
Pour onto a lined baking tray and if wanted lightly sprinkle with ground almonds. Next, bake in a slow oven until slightly brown and set. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Turn out onto a drying rack. It may crack ... like the one below: don't panic! It may break in half: still don't panic! It may break into multiple smaller pieces: yet again, don't panic - you have the broken foundations of Eton Mess and can start again.

Spread lashings of lemon curd onto the meringue

followed by whipped cream.

What you now have is an open lemon curd-cream-meringue sandwich. And now the fun starts.

Oops! At the point where you inverted the cooling meringue base onto a wire rack you needed to do two things. Before you did that! Okay - this is an awful recipe! Let me tell you what you should have done earlier...

It involves more non-stick baking parchment and a tea towel. 

With the meringue still in the baking tray, cover it with a sheet of parchment. Cover the sheet with a tea towel. Invert the drying rack on top of the tea towel. Grip everything at the sides. Hold together and flip the tray onto the drying rack. Lift the baking tray off and allow to cool a little, before peeling the parchment off the meringue. It is this exposed surface of the meringue that you spread with the curd and cream.

Hmm ... hoping that I haven't forgotten anything else - it's time to roll the roulade.

Hold the (nearly forgotten but vitally important) tea towel and parchment and use them to lift and roll the roulade into itself. At this point lots of cracks will appear. This is normal and gives the roulade character.

Admire your creation. Lick your fingers.

Either chill in the fridge before serving, or wrap in cling film and freeze.

We prefer it frozen. Slices of ice-cream lemon roulade.


Variations on a theme - orange curd and cream; raspberry curd and cream; coconut ice-cream (lactose free) and raspberries ... mmm :-)

I want to try passion-fruit and raspberry; blueberry; apple and cinnamon ice-cream with bramble.  

Now do you understand what I was hinting at when I said signature dishes are your own little slice of food heaven?