Fish Soup

DSC_0804This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?

Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?

I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.

There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.

While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.

Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.

Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.

Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.

(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)

Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.

Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.

Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.

Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.

Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.

Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.

Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:

The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.

Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.

Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.

Serve with the fresh bread and a dry white wine.

Sexy Salads

DSC_0781_v1We love sexy salads, by which I mean complex salads with layers and multitudes of flavours, colours and textures. The in-house joke is to quickly make a salad but these are of course anything but quickly made. They’re much better when you take your time for preparation and execution. Just like sex, really.

This is not so much a recipe but a concept, and an invitation to become creative even if it is only about an assortment of leftovers.

The must recent sexy salad was based on Lambs Lettuce with a Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing, supported by charred little Gem lettuce, red and yellow cherry tomatoes. Raddish and spring onions in a soured cream dressing, beetroot dressed in Balsamic Vinegar, cress and slices of fresh pear and avocado complete the support team to feature slices of our recently made Game Terrine, crisped Black Pudding, soft-boiled quail eggs dressed with fennel seeds and baked goats cheese. Oh, and a gorgeous drizzle made from reducing pear poaching liquor with Japanese rice vinegar.

That, and a glass of wine, and a fresh bread, and Bob’s your uncle.

Other variations of this theme featured chicken livers, Feta or goats cheese, chicken breast. Poached eggs or poached egg yolks, Raspberries when in season, scallops, prawns and just about anything else you can imagine: sauteed or pickled mushrooms, caramelised onions, pickled onions and vegetables, fennel shavings, grilled summer vegetables or green asparagus, fresh mango, fresh broad beans all worked well on many prior occasions. Croutons can provide extra crunch.

 

Focaccia

DSC_0524

Few things are better than a real and really fresh Focaccia straight from the oven. The extraordinary amounts consumed with enthusiasm at our house on various occasions are simply stunning.

It is very easy to make, but you need to be around to see to it every 20 minutes over two or three hours:

Make a basic bread dough from 65 ml water on 100 ml white wheat flour. Use 400 g flour for a standard square baking tray, 250 g for a round one.

Prepare the dough. Roll it out after the second kneading and put it on baking parchment onto the tray.

Infuse 120 ml olive oil with a crushed glove of garlic and 4 crushed dried red chillies. (100 ml for a round tray).

Let the dough rise for 20 minutes, then apply the following treatment:

Use a fork to prick the dough. Penetrate the surface and 2/3 of the depth but don’t go all the way through. Then brush on as much of the oil as the dough will take; don’t let puddles sit on the surface but let it sink into your holes.

Repeat this every 20 to 30 minutes, at least four or five times or until all the oil has been absorbed. Then sprinkle with chopped rosemary and sea salt, optionally adding more red chilly flakes. Give it another 30 minutes to recover from this treatment.

Bake at 210 C (410 F) until it looks right, about 25 minutes.

Transfer on a cooling rack, cut and eat just as soon as you dare.

Game Terrine

DSCN4129This is not so much a precise recipe than a concept, a base for improvisation. I expect that no two of these game terrine will ever be the same, but they will all be rather nice as a starter, or as a light lunch with fresh bread and a light salad.

I use 200 g each of venison leg, duck breast and fatty minced pork, and 100 g butter. The pork is already minced, so I chop the venison into coarse mince and cut the duck breast into strips after taking the skin off just so that I get a variety in texture rather than a smooth blend throughout.

Put into a mixing bowl, and add on beaten egg, one tablespoon of breadcrumbs, optionally two tablespoons Brandy. A handful of chopped dried Apricots, a handful of toasted pistachio nuts, Macadamia nuts or pumpkin seeds.

I season this with a tablespoon each of fennel seeds, allspice and sea salt, all finely ground.

Mix thoroughly and let rest for a while.

Meanwhile, I crisp rashers of bacon enough to line the terrine tray. Baking parchment comes first, then the crisped Bacon, then the meat mix. Pack this firmly to minimise trapped air, cover with the folded over baking parchment and bake at 160 C for 60 minutes.

Let cool down completely before opening the terrine.

 

Greek Yogurt Ice Cream

DSC_0898.JPGA tangy Greek yogurt ice cream served with poached pears and nuts.

For the ice cream, I make a custard from 250 ml double cream, 60 g sugar, four free-range egg yolks and half a vanilla pod. Whisk in a paste made from a heaped tablespoon of corn starch, this helps keeping the ice cream in shape later.

Whisk in 500 ml of Greek Yogurt in the last few seconds, remove from the heat. Let cool down, then chill. Churn it just after the main course; chilled well, this only takes about 30 minutes in the ice cream machine.

Poach one or two pealed and cored pears with 1 tablespoon of sugar and one start anise each in 250 ml water or rice wine vinegar. Take the fruit out after approximately 30 minutes, increase the heat and reduce the liquor to a thick honey consistency.

Poaching in rice wine vinegar will probably need sweetening with honey or apply jelly but makes a nice sharp contrast to the sweet ice cream.

The version in these photos uses a Balsamic Caramel. Good old Salted Caramel or simple Balsamic Glaze would also be nice, and so would be natural dark honey.

Add some toasted and chopped pistacho or macadamia nuts for added crunch and good looks.

Sea Bream on Potato Ragout

DSC_1028.JPGA household favourite: seared filet of white fish, served on a potato and mushroom ragout with Sauce Vierge.

If you’re using dried mushrooms, get them soaking at least 6 hours before the event. Use a 1:1 mix of hot water and cold milk, add the dried mushrooms, and stir occasionally. For fresh mushrooms, prefer Girolle, King Oyster or Cep.

I have also used fresh artichokes instead of mushrooms.

Steam some waxy potatoes, then drain and let cool down.

Now, prepare the Sauce Vierge, or my variation thereof – it doesn’t need to be done early, but it can be done early. Something else out of the way? So, take fresh flat parsley, a few mint leaves, and a couple of spring onions or shallots. Wash if you must, but be sure to dry well, and chop finely. Add some chopped capers (I prefer the salted, crispy type, but make sure to remove the salt without rinsing). You could also add finely chopped anchovies, or olives, or other herbs (sorrel comes to mind), depending where you want to take it. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, a tiny bit of nutmeg, a little black pepper. Mix well and set aside.

For a genuine Sauce Vierge experience, add petals of small skinned tomatoes.

Filet the fish. I usually use Sea Bream, but Red Mullet or Sea Bass are also OK. Leave the skin on, prick the remaining bones.

Heat a frying pan. Chop the potatoes into thick slices, and fry gently in a small amount of butter and olive oil. Add coarsely chopped spring onions (for a spring onion potato ragout) or finely diced red onions (for a red onion potato…), drain the mushrooms (keep the liquid!) and add the ‘shrooms. Fry and stir. Add a splash of dry white wine and a splash of the mushroom soaking liquid (multiples of this combination as necessary to keep it all nicely moist – moist, not wet!). Season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Meanwhile, heat another pan with a little 1:1 butter and olive oil. Toss the fish filets in some salted and peppered corn fine semolina. Gently sear the fillets on their skin side. Give them the time to almost cook through just from the skin side; this leaves the meat tender while crisping up the skin. Flip over for the last 30 seconds only to ensure they are cooked through.

Meanwhile, heat a ladle of olive oil (maybe 100ml) until it is very hot but not yet burning. When you see or smell smoke from the skillet, it’s too late and the oil too hot. When it’s just right, hot but not yet smoking, pour over the herb mix prepared earlier, and toss it violently to wilt the herbs while cooling down the oil. The herbs release all their oils in the process. Add a splash of lime juice or too, to taste.

Plate up, serve with a crisp white wine and enjoy.

 

Elderflower Cordial

P20160528135323.JPG250 g fresh and ripe Elderflower
1 l Water
1 kg Sugar
1 unwaxed lemon
1 tbls citric acid or juice

Mix sugar and water, bring it to the boil. Let it cool down a little, then add the finely sliced lemons, additional lemon juice or citric acid to taste. Now add the unwashed flowers, stir, then cover and let rest in a cool place for 2..3 days.

Now filter the liquid through a muslin cloth and discard the solids.

Bring the syrup to the boil, then bottle into sterilised bottles.

 

Black Forest Gateaux

DSC_0773.JPGFollowing is for a 240 mm round baking tray. You need a springform tray (one where the rim can be removed) or one of those where the bottom comes out.

100 g dark chocolate (go for quality and high cocoa content)
150 g soft unsalted butter
150 g sugar
4 free range medium size eggs

50 g ground almonds
50 g corn starch
50 g normal white wheat baking flour
50 g fine dried bread crumbs

1 tablespoon of baking powder (unless you use self-rising flour)
1 tablespoon of vanilla sugar (or equivalent amount of vanilla extract, aroma or genuine vanilla)

Process:

Melt the chocolate in a bowl over hot water or *very* carefully in the microwave oven at very low power setting. This works quicker but it is easy to burn the chocolate in the micro.

Mix butter, sugar and vanilla, whisk until slightly foamy.

Separate the egg yolks from the whites, whisk the egg whites stiff.

Mix almonds, flour, corn starch, bread crumbs. Add a tablespoon of dark cocoa for an extra boost if you want.

Check that the chocolate has cooled down but is still runny or very soft. Must be under 80 C so that the eggs won’t cook in it.

Mix the egg yolks into the chocolate.

Add the almonds, etc, to the eggs and chocolate. Mix.

Gently add the egg whites to the mix. Traditional cooking wisdom calls this to “fold in the whites” using a thin metal spoon, careful not to knock out too much air. I prefer using a whisk, just don’t use it for whisking. Instead gently rotate it to fold the egg whites into the batter mix. I find it is easier to evenly distribute the whites using the whisk; the traditional spoon method is likely to break more of your stiff whites.

Preheat the oven to 180 C. Use Top and bottom heat or convected air.

Butter the form really well, especially around the corners.

Bake for 45 minutes.

Rest for 3 hours. Remove it from the tin when the time is right. Too soon and it will break, too late and it will be soggy. You need to judge and find the sweet spot, but if you have a good baking tray where the sides come off or the bottom can be pushed up, the highest risk is in that you burn your hand, wrist or arm on the hot tin. Every time…

Slice once or twice, douse with booze.

Make the filling, assemble and decorate.

Goats Cheese Millefeuille

cropped-P20160521193324-2.jpgWell, I say millefeuille but really we are talking about three sheets of double-layered filo pastry, but it does make for an excellent starter!

It’s impressive, it has the Wow! factor, and it isn’t all that hard to make. A great way to start a dinner party.

My Goats Cheese Millefeuille is a small stack of double-layered filo pastry, flavoured with fennel pollen and baked crisp. In between the sheets is an assortment of textures and flavours such as molten goats cheese, roasted beetroot, raw fennel shavings, raspberries and blueberries.

The exact choice of incredients for the filling isn’t very important so long as they combine well and offer variety in texture and aroma.

Goats cheese is required unless you change the name of the dish. I usually use the types which are rolled in ash, and melt them in a frying pan with a spot of butter.

Roasted beetroot, lightly tossed with balsamic vinegar, a small splash of lime juice and a sprinkling of salt works beautifully.

Soured cream will provide moisture, or perhaps a spoonful of roasted fennel puree, the Missus’ favourite.

Raw fennel shavings are always nice and, speaking of shavings, Parmesan cheese shavings could also work well.

A fruit component is, in my opinion, essential. Fresh raspberries, blueberries or blackberries work well and look great. Blood orange or grapefruit fillets could also work if your citrus fruit filleting skills are OK; the fruit can’t be soggy or it ruins the filo.

For the filo sheets, the method is simple:

Buy a pack of good quality filo sheets. Prefer the not frozen variety if you can. Roll out one, and cover generously with melted butter (warm, not hot!). Give it a generous sprinkling of fennel pollen, then add another sheet of filo pastry. Not everyone has fennel pollen in the spice cupboard (and it is a little bit on the expensive side unless you are foraging). Alternatively, course black pepper or fresh nutmeg shavings also work well.

Cut the double-layer into the required size, maybe as large as a playing card, using a pair of scissors. Place on baking parchment, then bake at 190 C until dark golden, approximately 10 minutes.

Take out of the oven, very gently transfer onto a cooling rack and leave there until it is time to assemble. Use the pictures and your own imagination as a guide!

Vegan Tomato Tarte

IMG_20180822_195506.jpgThis was very moorish and a good addition to my vegan repertoire: a tomato tarte.

Instead of the usual puff pastry used with Provencale tarte, which is rich in butter and not suitable for vegans, I made a light and crisp pizza base. I covered this with tapenade from dried tomatoes, garlic and black olives. I added a rich layer of extra lush and tasty beefsteak tomato slices, sprinkled with salt and chilly oil.

Vegan-approved!