Paris, Venice and Florence

My honeymoon was AWESOME. The wedding was brilliant, being on holiday with my very best friend who I love very much was brilliant, and the food was BRILLIANT.

A brief photographic journal:

Courgette (zucchini) flowers with courgettes, tomatoes and lettuce. I love this photo, it makes me want to EAT IT ALL.

food

Soupe a l’oignon, in Montmatre. This is the best soup I have ever tasted. I made the waitress get the recipe from the chef. It involved a lot of cheese.

onion soup

The fish market in Venice.

fish market

fish market

Pizza

pizza

The mercato centrale in Florence

mercato centrale

mercato centrale

Ribollita, Florence bread and bean soup, from Gozzi.

ribolita

Tuscan antipasti from Il Gatto e La Volpe, in Florence.

antipasti

Bistecca alla Fiorentina from Il Latini

bistecca alla fiorentina

Ice cream!

a fool with ice cream

The Hogster, who was thrilled to have us home.

unhappy cat

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Mussels in Cider and Cream Sauce

mussels

As you can see, I served my mussels in cider with linguini. You could too, or just have it on its own with some bread to mop up the sauce. It’s not pretty food, hence the rather messy composure of the photo – sorry – but I assure you it tastes amazing. And I find it’s not worth trying to get the mussels out with a knife and fork – dive in and use your hands. It’s hands-on food. Rar.

Ingredients
Serves 2

About 300g mussels, alive
A knob of butter
1/2 an onion, or a couple of shallots
1 clove garlic
About 100ml cider
2 or 3 tablespoons double cream

The Cooking

First, clean your mussels. Wash them and throw away any that don’t close when you tap them sharply. Pull out their “beards”. I always used to assume that this “beard” was trapped seaweed but it turns out it’s actually called the mussel’s byssus, and the mussel manufactures it itself in order to attach itself to rocks. Pretty cool.

Chop the onion/shallots and garlic finely. Melt the butter in a saucepan large enough to accomodate all the mussels. Gently fry the onions for a couple of minutes and then add the garlic. Fry for another minute or so, and then pour in the cider. Once the cider is bubbling away, put the mussels in and put the lid on tightly.

Give it a good shake every minute or so for 3 or 4 minutes, by which time the mussels will probably all be open and cooked.

Drain the mussels, reserving the cooking liquid. Put the cidery cooking liquid back into the pan and turn up the heat. Add the cream and simmer the liquid until it’s reduced and thickened a little.

To serve, pour the creamy liquid back over the mussels and mix with cooked pasta if you’re having it with that. Eat eat eat!

Pork Won Ton

Look at my hands busying away there. Proper little chef, me. I’d been meaning to have a go at making won ton for ages but kept putting it off, thinking it would be fiddly. But it was suprisingly easy. Yes, the wrappers did tear a couple of times but that doesn’t matter really, this recipe makes loads. It is courtesy of my friend Sheo.

Ingredients
Makes about 40

A packet of won ton wrappers

450g minced pork
300g or so of Chinese greens – pak choi/bok choi is what I used.
100g chinese chives (although I just used ordinary chives, not having an Asian supermarket handy. You could also use spring onions (scallions)).
1 tablespoon finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon rice wine (I didn’t have this so used red wine vinegar, which worked fine)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon cornflour or superfine flour

The Cooking

Okay, finely chop the pak choi or whatever greens you’re using, sprinkle them with salt and set them aside for 30 minutes or so. This is to draw the water out of them.

Meanwhile, chop up the minced pork even more, you want it really well minced. Once the greens have sat with the salt for a bit, squeeze them really firmly over the sink to get all the water out. I was surprised how much there was.

Now mix together all the ingredients apart from the wrappers and put about a teaspoon-sized lump in the middle of a won ton wrapper. Wet the edges of the wrapper with your finger (that’s what I’m doing in the above photo) and then draw the edges together and make it into a little purse shape, twisting the top slightly thusly:

That’s it, just keep repeating this until you’ve run out of the mixture. Keep the made-up wontons covered so that they don’t dry out.

You can cook these one of two ways: you can fry and steam them or you can boil them and make wonton soup. Boiling is probably easier but I steamed and fried them to be eaten as a starter.

Heat some oil in a non-stick pan and when hot, add the wonton parcels with the twists upright. Fry them for a couple of minutes and then thow in a cupful of water and put a lid on the pan. Leave it to steam for 4-6 minutes, by which time the water will proably have been absorbed and it will be cooked. Serve straight away with some dippy sauce like soy sauce or sweet chilli sauce or whatever you fancy. Very nice.

Cornish Pasty Canapes

Cornish pasties

I have made Cornish Pasties before, but this recipe is adapted for little mini pasties. They’re good for taking to parties (dinner or otherwise) as a starter/snack/nibble or for impressing your friends and workmates.

This recipe makes about 35 mini pasties, which may seem a lot but they’ll go quickly. Also, it’s difficult to make them in smaller quantities because even though you’re only using one small potato and one small carrot, you need 225g meat to get meat-to-veg ratio right and a little of the filling goes a long way. If you wanted to, you could make less by using half a potato and half a carrot but frankly, that way madness lies. You’d be left with random halves of vegetables lying around. That’s no use to anyone.

Ingredients
Makes around 35

For the pastry
330g plain flour
175g butter
1 egg
A pinch of salt
A pinch of cayenne pepper (if you have it)
A pinch of mustard powder (again, if you have it)

For the filling
225g lean minced (ground) beef
1 small onion
1 small potato
1 small carrot
1 teaspoon plain flour
Worcestershire sauce
About a cup’s worth of stock – veg or beef
1 egg

The Cooking

People get scared of pastry and think it’s some big mystery, but it’s really not – it’s just flour, butter and something to bind them together. Nothing scary about that. First of all, measure out your ingredients, put the flour, salt, cayenne and mustard powder into a big bowl and cube the butter thusly:

pastry ingredients

Now put the butter into the flour and using your fingertips rub the butter into the flour. Try to do this lightly and be patient, it will get there in the end.

mixing pastry

Yes, those are my hands. What you’re aiming for in a texture like rough breadcrumbs:

making pastry

Now beat the 1 egg and pour it in. With a wooden spoon, give it a stir and the ingredients will start to stick together. Use your hands to bring it all together into a ball. Behold:

pastry dough

Pop it in some cling film (saran wrap) or into a plastic sandwich bag (that’s what I use, less fiddly) and put it in the fridge to chill for half an hour.

While that’s chilling, do your veg prep. Finely dice the onion, potato and carrot. Set a non-stick frying pan on a high heat and when it’s good and hot, tip in the minced meat and move it about, browning it. After a couple of minutes, tip in the diced veg and give it a stir. Splash over a few shakes of worcestershire sauce and some salt and pepper. Be a little more generous with the pepper than you normally would be. Sprinkle over the tablespoon of plain flour, mix it in and cook for a further minute. Now pour over a cup of stock and reduce the heat to a simmer.

After 5 minutes or so the veg should be softening up and the liquid thickening and reducing. You don’t want it too wet otherwise it’ll make the pastry soggy – it just wants to be moist. If there’s too much liquid, turn up the heat and reduce it a bit.

Take the filling mix off the heat and set it aside to cool. Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Okay, now take the pastry out of the fridge, divide it into thirds and wrap two pieces back up and put them back in the fridge. Sprinkle flour on a large chopping board or just a kitchen surface and sprinkle some on your rolling pin to stop it sticking. Roll out the pastry until it’s quite thin – about as thin as you dare before you think it might tear when you move it. Now cut circles out of the pastry – if you have a pastry cutter, well done and you should use that. I don’t have one, so I use the end of a can of tomatoes which works just as well. Peal away the offcuts of pastry, ball it up and cover it to stop it getting dry.

Now put a small amount of pilling in the middle of each circle like this:

cornish pastie canapes

And fold the circle over. Pinch the edges together and put it pinched end up on a baking try. Do the same with the rest of the circles and roll out the rest of the pastry and repeat until it’s all used up. Beat an egg and if you have a pastry brush, brush the egg over the pasties to glaze them. I don’t have a pastry brush so I used some kitchen roll dipped into the egg and then wiped over the pasties. Works just as well.

Put the baking tray with the pasties into the oven for 10-15 minutes until they’re golden brown. Do it in batches if necessary.

Now, eat! Hot or cold, both works well. Tasty, innit?

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Caramelised Onion Tart

onion tart

This is Achievement Food. Once made, you can say “I made this” and be proud. And then you can eat it. And it will be tasty.

I made the pastry myself. You don’t have to, you can buy ready-made, I won’t think any less of you I promise. But I urge you to have a go if you’ve got the time. I’ve learned that making pastry is a lot less frightening and difficult that I thought it would be and it’s a skill worth having, if only because hardly anyone bothers any more. Its a good string to a cook’s bow.

This onion tart is sweet and savoury, the sweetness of the very slowly cooked onion, the savouryness of the cheese and the egg. Lovely.

Ingredients
This is for a 71/2 inch flan/quich/tart dish

For the shortcrust pastry

170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
30g lard (LARD!), cubed
55g butter, cubed
Very cold water to mix
1 egg yolk

For the onion filling

2 small onions or 1 1/2 large ones
30g Cheddar cheese, grated
2 eggs
5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons single cream
Salt and Pepper
A knob of butter

The Cooking

Peel the onions and cut in half lengthways. Slice the halves thinly and break up into individual crescents. Melt the knob of butter in a non-stick frying (or sauce) pan and pop the onions in. Make sure it’s on the very lowest heat and then simply leave it alone.

The important thing when caramelising onions is for them to be on a low heat for a very long time. There’s no getting around this – it’s going to take a while. Ideally about an hour and a half. Give it a stir every 20 minutes or so, and what you want is for the onions to become soft and sticky and very lightly brown. If they start to burn, turn the heat down and put a lid on it so that they will stew in their own juices rather than fry.

While the onions are cooking, you can get on with the pastry. Make sure you’re wearing an apron. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter wth your fingertips. Try to do this lightly and persevere until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. This takes about 5 or 10 minutes.

Add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. As the recipe I work from specifies “very cold”, I use ice-cubes. This may be a bit extreme but it works, so I’m not complaining.

Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result. I use 2 ice cubes and don’t need any more.

Once it’s all come together, smoosh it into a ball, pop it in a plastic bag and put it in the fridge for half an hour. This chilling will make it easier to roll out later. Go and make yourself a cup of tea and check on the onions.

Now comes the tricky bit – rolling the out. With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a circle big enough to line the quiche dish. Now, shortcrust pastry is tricky and I sometimes have to do several attempts before I successfully manage to line the dish – the pastry tears easily. The best way is to roll it out and then roll it round the rolling pin and use that to lift it over the dish, and then roll it back out onto the dish. Be gentle and coaxing with the pastry, and if you get little tears don’t worry about it and just patch it up with the excess pastry, no one will know.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.

Make sure the pastry is well fitted into the dish, pushing it into the corners. Line the pastry case with some foil or baking parchment and fill it with dried lentils, beans, rice, or even pebbles or coins – this is to prevent the pastry bubbling up during cooking. When the pastry is half-cooked (about 15 minutes), remove the “blind beans” and foil/paper. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and return to the oven for 5 minutes until it’s turned a nice golden colour. Remove from the oven and set aside. It should look something like this:

pastry case

Turn the oven down to 150F/300C.

By now the onions should be nice and sticky and should even smell a little sweet. Mix together the milk, cream, eggs, cheese and onions and season with salt and pepper. The mixture will be all gloopy. Pour it into the pastry case. It should look something like this:

uncooked quiche

Pop it back in the oven at the lower temperature for 40 minutes. When done, the top of the tart will be slightly golden. Take it out of the oven and let it cool a little and set. You can either eat hot or cold.

I had mine hot with some sauteed potatoes and peas. Lovely

onion quiche

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Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Considering I’ve never made pastry before, let alone quiche, this was a Project. But it’s on The List and what’s a long weekend for if not over-ambitious cookery projects?

The following recipe includes how to make the pastry. If you buy ready-made, just skip that gubbins and make straight for the quiche bit. This recipe is adpated from Leith’s Cookery Bible.

The Ingredients

This is for a 7 1/2 inch quiche dish

For the shortcrust pastry:
170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
30g lard (LARD!), cubed
55g butter, cubed
Very cold water to mix
1 egg yolk

For the quiche:
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
55g rindless streaky bacon, chopped roughly (for US readers, this is ordinary bacon)
A knob of butter (heh, “knob”)
5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons single cream
2 eggs
30g Gruyere or string cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

You want the butter and lard to be cold. This is, apparently, the trick to pastry-making. If they’re soft, they’ll be greasy and won’t make nice pastry. My mother-in-law also tells me you’re supposed to have cold hands, so I got a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and held it in my hands whenever I felt they were getting a bit warm. This may have been a bit extreme.

Make sure you’re wearing an apron. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter wth your fingertips. Try to do this lightly and persevere until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. As the recipe specifies “very cold”, I used ice-cubes. Again, this may have been a bit extreme. But it worked, so I’m not complaining.

Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result. I used 2 ice cubes and didn’t need any more.

Now comes the tricky bit – rolling it out. With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a circle big enough to line the quiche dish. Now, shortcrust pastry is tricky and I had to do several attempts before I successfully managed to line the dish – the pastry tears easily. The best way is to roll it out and then roll it round the rolling pin (like a swiss-roll type affair), and use that to lift it over the dish, and then roll it back out onto the dish.

Don’t worry if you get little tears, just patch it up with any excess pastry. No one will know. Make sure the pastry is well-fitted into the dish. Now refrigerate it in the fridge for about 30 minutes – this relaxes it and prevents shrinkage when it’s cooked.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F. Go and have a cup of tea.

Line the raw pastry case with some foil or baking parchment and fill it with dried lentils, beans rice, or even pebbles or coins – this is to prevent the pastry bubbling up during cooking. When the pastry is half-cooked (about 15 minutes), remove the “blind beans” and foil/paper. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and return to the oven for 5 minutes until it’s turned a nice golden colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Now the quiche bit…

Fry the onion and bacon gently in the butter until cooked but not coloured. Drain well.

Mix together the milk, cream and eggs and add the onion, bacon and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, remembering that it’s already quite salty from the cheese and bacon. The mixture will be gloopy.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F and pour the mixture into the prepared flan case. Bake the quiche in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes.

Remove the quiche outer casing and bake for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to brown. The top of the quiche should be ever so slightly golden.

Leave it too cool and set for 15 minutes. Serve straight away or later cold. Marvel at your cookery prowess.

Moules Mariniere

Moules Mariniere

Bivalves hold no fear for me. I’ve made this dish quite a few times and if I may say so myself, I make a fabulous moules. Except that I never get to share them with anyone because Mr B fears the bivalve, as do many of my friends. I pity them.

As for those who are squeamish about cooking live animals, if you’re not a vegetarian you haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Ingredients
This serves one, but that one is me and if you’re less greedy about shellfish than me it would probably feed two.

Prep time is 20 mins, cooking time is 10.

Mussels. I’m not going to specify an amount because you’re likely to just have to buy a bag. Choose however much you’d like.
One or two shallots, chopped finely
Two cloves of garlic, chopped finely
A handful of parsley, chopped
A bit of butter
A glass of white wine

The Cooking

First, sort out the mussels. If they need de-bearding then do it, pulling away the fronds of sea-greens sharply. If the mussel is open and doesn’t shut when tapped, chuck it. Err on the side of caution. Put mussels in a bowl of cold water.

Sometimes when in the bowl of water they open a little. At this point, you may say to them “Hello. I’m going to EAT YOU.” It makes me chuckle.

Chop the shallots, garlic and parsley. In a LARGE pan that has a lid, soften the shallots in some butter for a couple of minutes, add the garlic for one minute more. Drain the mussels and add them, followed closely by the glass of white wine and an equal amount of water, plus half the parsley, salt and pepper to season. Turn the heat up, put the lid on the pan and give it a good shake to cover the mussels in the liquid.

Shake the pan every 30 secs or so until all the mussels have opened. Don’t let them get massively opened, you don’t want it overcooked.

Drain the mussels, reserving the cooking liquid. Put the mussels in the serving dish and put a lid or a plate over it to keep them warm. Put the liquid back into the pan turn the heat up high to reduce the liquid by about a third and take the edge off the alcohol. This should take maybe three minutes.

Pour the liquid over the mussels, sprinkle over the rest of the parsley and serve immediately. A big hunk of bread is good to soak up the liquid.

And remember to provide a big empty bowl for the shells.