Thursday, 11 September 2008

Deep South

I'm in Cornwall, in the middle of nowhere again. The weather's not that pleasant, but it's nice to be here. LOVELY to have my pets around too...the kitten has grown even more - proper sausage cat now. Cleo his mother appears to be becoming more relaxed all the time, though she's still hissing and spitting at the dogs. Rocky is friendly and beautiful as always, though he's beginning to show signs that he's not the baby dog any more - big shame, he was a fantastic puppy. The new Labrador (Cassie) is beautiful and such a sweet little creature. She's quite shy, but full of love once she gets over that. Full of beans, too. Kiri always was, but I'd forgotten what it was like to have what amounts to a puppy around. There's still the possibility she might have puppies - she escaped with the Jack Russell from up the road on several occasions while in season. I think we're all hoping she might be pregnant...would be SO much fun. Won't know for a few weeks yet.

The blackberries are all ripening, but if the weather continues this wet they'll rot on the branches. I took the dogs walking on Polly Joke and the dunes behind it earlier, and dawdled along eating them. Cassie loves them, too - she was picking them herself! Apparently she's already eaten all of the ones in the garden. I'd like to get out and pick some, but they aren't quite ready down here and I suspect they'll just rot on the branches in Cambridge even if I COULD find time to go out for them in the next couple of weeks.

I've been prepping for my big barbecue tomorrow all day today. I've made The Best Brownies Ever (something arrived at with much taste testing and long suffering work colleagues...), two heat levels of a new caramelised onion tomato relish I'm experimenting with, the rosemary cracker bread from the Smitten Kitchen blog (I have a growing obsession with food blogs...) AND I made mushroom risotto for tea. I'm going to post the risotto recipe, because it the only one that's mostly mine that I've had a chance to taste yet! I love risotto. Simple to make. Comforting to eat. Endlessly variable. Contains rice. I like rice. My recipe has a few nods towards authenticity, but I wouldn't want to serve it to an Italian. They will know better. It's just a nice thing to eat on a weekday evening.

For 3

250g Arborio/Carnaroli risotto rice
Half a cup of dried mushrooms (porcini would be great)
1 glass of white wine
One large red onion, finely diced.
2 sticks celery, finely diced
Butter and olive oil, for frying.
500g dark gilled mushrooms - the better the mushrooms, the better the dish - chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Good vegetable stock - homemade, or a good brand. You can use hot water if required, it would be better than cheap stock, which mostly seems to taste of salt in my experience. If you're less finicky about where your meat comes from than I am, good chicken stock would also work. Make sure it's hot - keep it in a pan on the side, or only mix what you need for each addition with water from the kettle.
Black pepper - you shouldn't need salt because of the cheese
A good handful of grated parmesan. About 2 cubic inches of a block, at a rough guess.

Soak the dried mushrooms in enough boiling water to cover before you start all of your chopping. Gently fry the onion and celery in olive oil until soft but not coloured - this will take a full 10 minutes, so you can chop the mushrooms while it cooks. When the veg is soft, add the a dessertspoonful of butter and allow it to melt, then add the rice and stir to coat. Fry for a few minutes until all the grains are well coated and the pan has heated up again. Add the wine and stir until the rice has sucked it up. Remove the dried mushrooms from the water and squeeze them out. Add the mushroom water to the pan and stir again until the rice has taken it up. Start adding the stock around a ladleful at a time, stirring between additions and only adding the next ladleful when the previous one has been taken up. The stirring massages the starch out of the rice, giving you a creamy sauce. Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms in another dessertspoonful of butter and a slug of oil (oil for heat; butter for flavour!). Allow their juices to run out and then evaporate off, concentrating the flavour. When the dark liquid in the frying pan has more or less gone, sprinkle in the garlic, stir, and turn the heat off. Keep adding stock to the rice until it's around 3 times the volume it was when you started - taste a grain of rice. It should be al dente, with a tiny bit of crunch to the middle. If it's too hard, add more stock and keep on cooking... When you reckon it's done, add about two thirds of the grated parmesan and stir. The sauce that looked a bit watery will magically become silky and slightly gelatinous. Add some good grinds of black pepper. Chop up the now reconstituted dried mushrooms from earlier and stir them in. Stir through the fresh garlic mushrooms and warm through. Serve on warm plates, with more parmesan and black pepper to throw over, the rest of the bottle of wine and a green salad on the side. Ace.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Autumnal busyness.

It's been a while, hasn't it? I ought to be better behaved about keeping this up. Lots of things have been happening, not least that I got promoted. Yay! And I'm moving house AGAIN. Third time in 9 months. I hate the graduate life. Being a student was SO much better. For the next three weeks I'm living in North Cambridge with John (Christian's old housemate) and Andrew... Techie house extraordinaire. Then I move BACK, get it BACK, to the road I was living in before - this will be the THIRD TIME I move into a house on that road. Dammit. At least it's not the same house. The rats are going on holiday to Christian's for a bit while I build them a shed in the garden to live in and work out how to get power to them so that I can plug in their heater. That house is rapidly becoming more and more like a zoo.

What else? I've spent every weekend for the last month in a capital city. 1) London, 2) Edinburgh (where I made a brief appearance at the Fringe, where I made the famous lemon cake as ever, and saw some great shows, got drunk with Matt and Chris and had an amazing curry), 3) Belfast with Elaine (where we made pasta and went to the seaside), and 4) London. I'm in Cornwall this weekend, then the Scilly Isles for a bit, and then I come back and go back to London to cook for the crowd of friends that live there - three of whom have moved to BOROUGH HIGH STREET, putting me within 5 minutes walk of a certain Market. I've already claimed my weekly sleeping spot...

It's getting autumnal over here, without really showing us a summer that was anything more than sticky. The shops are beginning to get over the summer veg, (I had to hunt for peppers from a reasonable location in Tescos yesterday), so I guess I must regretfully abandon my hopes that the sun was going to come out in September. I did find butternut squash, however. Yay squash! Andrew bought a monster one a couple of months ago that sat in the fridge for AGES until I came up with something to make from it. Squash makes amazing soup (roast chopped up squash with thyme/sage/both at 200 degrees C until soft (about 40 minutes-1 hour, depending on age of squash and how much chopping you did), fry some chopped onion and garlic for 10 minutes or so until soft but not coloured, add the squash and some good veg stock, bring to the boil, puree, and add a hefty quantity of grated parmesan...), but I'm bored by soup most of the time. I opted for curry that time, instead. It came out quite well, but we did eat it for about a week. This time I went for pasta, and made sure that I bought the smallest squash I could find!

Squash is pretty keen on thyme and sage as platefellows, teamed with something salty - like parmesan or bacon - to complement its sweetness. Hence my pasta, really.

Creamy Pasta with Squash and Bacon
(veggies, just leave out the bacon and have more parmesan at the end - when frying the sage, do it gently but for long enough that the leaves go crispy or they might be tough)

For 2

- one very small squash (about 300g, at a very rough guess...something about 4 or 5 inches high, probably)
- 4 rashers good organic smoked bacon
- 1 dessertspoon chopped fresh sage leaves
- 100ml single cream, or a couple of tablespoons of full fat Greek yoghurt (I'm not sure actually which comes out less fattening, if you can find the lower fat single cream that Elmea make, of which I approve)
- about 150ml white wine
- black pepper
- olive oil
- 200g sturdy pasta shapes, e.g. caesarrece or penne
- salt for the pasta water
- parmesan to serve

Chop the squash into fairly small dice no bigger than 1inch cubes (no need to peel - that way there are more vitamins and more texture...), and mix with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread it out on a baking sheet and roast at 200 degrees C for around 40 minutes, until soft and crisping around the edges. If you clean the seeds off a bit, spread them on another baking sheet and roast for about 10 minutes until brown and crisp, you'll have a snack to eat while you wait.

Put the pasta on about ten mintues before the squash is going to be ready. Dice the bacon and fry in another tablespoon of olive oil with the sage, until the fat runs and meat is crispy. Add the white wine and allow to reduce for a minute or two. Add the squash and turn it over in the juices, so it can soak up the flavours. Turn the heat down and add the cream. Drain the pasta and add that too, along with a good grind of black pepper. Stir together and allow to heat through for a minute or two before serving with plenty of parmesan and the rest of the bottle of wine. Some sort of green salad would be good on the side.