Lunch was at the Puzzle on Westminster’s Horseferry Road. It has outside tables and ample inside ones, and has a sort of puzzle theme with prominent quiz nights. They have overhauled the menu to very good effect, and there is now a tapas section as well. I had the vodka and lime fish goujons â€” about ten of them with a sharp tartare sauce with lime in it. I also had the escalivada, or roasted vegetables drizzled in olive oil. It featured aubergines, three colours of pepper, red onions and courgettes. Very nicely done, baked just enough to lightly char parts of the surface. The dishes cost Â£3.95 each and were quite filling, so I ended up giving away about a third of each.
Archive for August, 2006
The Daily Express has a fantastic headline and front page splash (not on line, alas). It’s about the diet that keeps the brain youthful. To keep your brain young and supple, they tell you that you need a diet rich in (wait for it) oats, fish, red wine, berries, and the like. The advice comes from Dr Paul Clayton, President of the Forum on Food and Health for the Royal Society of Medicine. Red wine and berries contain flavinoids which help prevent plaques forming in brain tissue, while oily fish has phospholipids which keep cell membranes healthy.
I eat a lot of these foods out of taste preference, but it’s nice to know they are good for me as well. It says the occasional curry might help, too, if it contains curcuminoids like turmeric. I don’t eat much curry, but I eat the fruit and vegetables which also help. I note that most things children like are bad for the brain, including cakes, pastries, chips and sugary drinks. Could be that they’ll get old before I do.
I was so tempted by Jackie’s paprika chicken with cannellini beans that I decided to give it a go. I followed her recipe faithfully for the first half, cutting chicken breast into broad strips and flash frying before a generous dusting of paprika, then adding lemon juice. I did the onions and garlic, too. Then I thought, “How would this work in a casserole?” One way to find out. The chicken went at the bottom, then onions & garlic. Next I added the cannellini beans. Now the variations came thick and fast. I put in sugarsnap peas, mushrooms, aubergine, and then the chopped tomatoes. Half a stock cube in half a cup of hot water, and into a hot oven with the lid on. One hour later it looked and smelled delicious, but as I was eating it I regretted I hadn’t included the optional cayenne pepper, so I added it then. It made it even better.
The other day, I had the bizarre misfortune to be served a French wine. At least, I expected a misfortune, as usually, for the same money, it’s not nearly as good as the New World varieties. However, this 2005 Petit Bourgeois was excellent. Fresh and crisp, subtly citrussy, slightly grassy and with a long finish that left your mouth wanting more, this wine was a surprising success. It was 12%, so less strong than I normally like the Sauvignon Blanc, and Â£8 per bottle, so roughly the same as the New World stuff of similar quality. Still, more than I would spend on a bottle until my investment banking career takes off.
I had scrambled eggs on a muffin. Sunflower spread & milk heated in the saucepan while the muffin is split and toasted. Two large free-range eggs, stirred in with wooden spatula. Then, crucially, while still runny, take it off the heat and rest it for a minute. Then resume. This gives it a fluffier texture. Then onto the buttered muffin with a little salt and Marmite. For the uninitiated, Marmite is a yeast and vegetable extract you put on things. Some people put it on toast; some don’t put it on anything at all.
That’s the point: you love it or hate it with no half-way position. No-one “quite likes it.” A recent TV ad showed it as a giant brown blob rolling down the high street. Some were running screaming from it, others throwing themselves into it with ecstasy. Those who dislike it can’t stand the smell. Many a marriage has hit the rocks because the marmophobe couldn’t tolerate the dietary habits of the philomarm. For the record, I like it. It was made in heaven for scrambled eggs.
Originally uploaded by dynamist.
Despite the fact that I ate a lot of junk while in America recently, I seem to have lost more weight. This is a good thing, and kept me running around and out of the pub this holiday weekend. (It’s funny that I should avoid temptation and exercise more when things are going well, and just go along with the gluttony when they are not. This, people, is why perfectionism and an all-or-nothing attitude are the enemy of those who are trying to slim. But I digress.)
I don’t eat in the morning until I’ve exercised, and by the time I got home from my West Hampstead to Golders Green sojourn, it was after 1PM. We had leftover vegetable soup, to which I added some tiny star-shaped pasta I bought in Italy at the New Year. I had another salad first, though.
We’d bought a large watermelon on Saturday, which looked like it would be much sweeter than it actually is. I scooped it all out into a big bowl upon purchase and let it macerate in its own juices overnight, which improved the flavour. (Today I think I shall make a salad of this, with some feta, mint, coriander, red onion steeped in lime juice, and black olives.) I had watermelon for supper last night, plus Antoine’s cheese on toast, which is the best – and possibly the only recipe Dr Tim “Pot Noodle or foie gras, it’s all the same to me” Evans has ever passed down to anyone. We use wholemeal bread and no more than 28g of cheese, plus a smear of Dijon mustard and – of course – Lea & Perrins.
I am spending this week in Provence, without an internet connection. A report of the week’s pleasurable damage will be filed here upon my return to Britain.
I started lunch by whipping up a semi-bogus tomato soup. The half can of chopped tomatoes was simmered with a vegetable stock cube and a mug of boiling water. Everyone adds basil to tomatoes, so I added marjoram. After ten minutes I added a big squirt of tomato purÃ©e and then put it in the blender to fine chop the tomatoes even more. After another 20 minutes of simmer it tasted very plausible.
It set things up for the salad niÃ§oise. Finely chopped firm lettuce, then fresh spring onions. Cherry vine tomatoes, halved, then purple onions. Next came the tuna, from a can, and lightly flaked before adding. After that I put in pieces of a firm goat’s cheese. The dressing was mayonnaise with parmesan. I tossed and served the salad before adding two hard-boiled eggs on the side. This was so that the eggs would be a ‘taste rest’ from the dressing. I didn’t have any anchovies, but it tasted quite good even without them. It occurred to me that this was a very low-cost meal, and it reminded me of when I lived for months on cheap salads in my impoverished days in DC. I do them a lot better now!
Originally uploaded by dynamist.
As I mentioned in passing, the juices left over from the cabbage and mince that Antoine made us for lunch were too good to waste. I used them to cook chopped onion, carrot slices, and cabbage for this vegetable soup. Once the onions were soft, I added some minced garlic, green beans, garden peas, tomatoes (chopped and whole), beef stock, and one bouquet garni to the other vegetables. This was brought to boil and then turned down to simmer for an hour or so. Hours later, when it was supper time, I let it simmer for another 40 minutes or so before serving.
I do not have the asbestos mouth of a British tea drinker, so must let my hot soup cool for an awfully long time before I can eat it. While I waited and Antoine ate, I made us each a salad: Sainsbury’s “bistro salad” mix of greens, plus beetroot and tomatoes fresh off the vine. I made a creamy dressing of fat free fromage frais, a bit of Dijon mustard, crushed garlic, salt, pepper, and capers.
By the time I had eaten my salad, I could only manage a few bites of soup. Good thing it is even better reheated next day.
Originally uploaded by dynamist.
This cabbage and mince recipe comes from my fiancÃ©’s grandfather, Charles Exbrayat. Exbrayat was President of the international federation of the gastronomic and oenocological press, and received the Order of the MÃ©rite Agricole for his work in promoting French food, so this is one recipe I can offer which has some pedigree to it.
Antoine prepared this (with organic extra lean mince) for our Saturday lunch; the remaining juices have been put to use in a vegetable soup which we will have for supper.
Small Savoy cabbage
500g or 1lb or minced beef
1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
A garlic clove or two
1 small shallot
1/2 white onion
A glass of red wine (we have used a CÃ´tes du RhÃ´ne but any Beaujolais region would be good, white wine can be used in a pinch)
A couple of splashes of dark soy sauce
A little olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
First in a pan, fry the shallot and onion in salted oil. Brown the minced beef, adding the dried parsley and chopped garlic. Take off the heat and cover. Remove outer leaves of cabbage. Cut in quarters and remove the hard core. Wash then cover in water in a large saucepan. Boil for ten minutes, then drain. Put contents of frying pan into sauce pan with cabbage. Mix well, add half glass of red wine, and finally soy sauce and pepper. The soy sauce is salty so only add salt to taste when served.
Leave on low heat for 30 minutes (though longer is good if adding liquid). Stir/mix occasionally, to prevent sticking. If the cabbage seems to be drying, add up to half cup of water and wine and mix in.
For larger quantites, we like to mix beef with pork mince and use a large Savoy cabbage.
I decided to reverse engineer one of those succulent goat’s cheese tarts which I sometimes choose at restaurants. The base was puff pastry rolled very thin into a circle. Leaving about half an inch at the edges, I lined the rest with thin strips of a hard goat’s cheese. On top of it I spread chopped spinach, and on that some sun-blushed tomatoes. I then put thin slices of aubergine and red onions, brushed with olive oil, and finally thin shavings of roulade chÃ¨vre to cover the top. As an afterthought I brushed the pastry edges with egg yolk before baking in a hot oven for half an hour. After 11 minutes I covered it with foil until the last 5 minutes.
It was succulent to a satisfying degree. But perfection is not given to mortal man, so next time I will slightly pre-fry the onions, and will top the tart with a goat’s cheese which melts more readily. These are quibbles, though: it tasted superb.