Friday, October 26, 2007

Autumn Fruit Salad

A couple of weeks ago at college I was struggling though the finer points of tax accounting when my mind drifted (as is its wont) to food, and more specifically figs.

The stalls at Chapel Market had been heaving under the weight of plump velvety figs and I had been thinking about how they signify Autumn for me - around September/October every year as the leaves start to turn, London succumbs to a glut of figs. On street stalls and markets there are big fat purple figs aplenty. And I love them.

So I thought I wanted to celebrate them and their heralding of autumnalness.

Slowly a plan starting to form - Apple crisps that looked like leaves; nuts, that seem autumnal to me (although, are they?!); bright physalis the colour of golden leaves; pears, also lovely this time of year; a hint of alcohol to warm up the seasonal chill...

And lo, my autumnal fruit salad was born! I think it'd make a really pretty and tasty dessert for a nice meal - light without being too saintly and virtuous, and simple but a little special too.

Autumn Fruit Salad
(Serves 4)

1. Poach your pears
- Peel and quarter lengthways 3 slightly unripe, or only-just ripe conference pears. Place them in a saucepan with enough red wine to cover them (or add a little water if you don't want to use so much wine). You can add a cinnamon stick, some cloves and/or some orange peel for extra spice at this stage if you like.
Bring to the boil and let simmer slowly for 10-15 minutes until soft through to the poke of a knife (Don't over cook though!)
Take out and leave to cool.

2. Make your apple crisps
- Core and slice one apple (I like Pink Lady apples for this) very thinly. As thinly as humanly possible! (I did it with a knife, but I guess if you have a mandolin that'll be better). Lay them on baking paper on a baking tray and scatter scantly with caster sugar.
Bake in a low oven (about 120C) for 30-40 mins, turning halfway and sprinkling sugar on the other side. They should be nice and crisp when done.

3. Toast some almond flakes
Take about 75g almond flakes and heat in a frying pan, tossing regularly until just browned and smelling delicious.

4. Compose
- Trim and quarter 6 ripe figs
Halve 16 physalis
Chop pears into chunks
Optional: Quarter 6 unsulphured dried apricots.
Pile the figs, pears, physalis and apricots stylishly on little plates and scatter with almond flakes and apple crisps.

5. Serve as is or with rick greek yoghurt.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quick'n'dirty coconut icecream

This has to be the quickest way to make ice-cream. It's kind of like cheating. And yes, it's not the best ice-cream in the world; but it got pretty good reviews from the people I fed it to. It's rich, so to my mind it wants to be garnished with tart fruit - I scattered raspberries and drizzled lime syrup, though my original plan had been pineapple.

Ever since my trip to Le Cercle (
review) I've been fantasizing about the roasted pineapple I had there - wondering how I can recreate it. I tried a few different variations, which unfortunately resulted more in stubbornly burnt baking trays and too sugary syrups than ambrosiac chunks of idealised pineappliness. I was gearing up to try again, and I started thinking about ice-cream to go with it. No idea how I could tackle spiced toffee, so thoughts drifted to coconut. In fact originally I thought about malibu - last drunk by myself on the streets of small town England circa 1996, but retro is cool isn't it...

Then I found out Malibu is really expensive nowadays! Frugalness kicked in, and I invested in a box of creamed coconut instead.

There's various recipes on the internet for coconut ice-creams - I amalgamated ideas and came up with this:

- First, put 1/2 pint milk and 1/2 pint double cream in a pan and heat gently
- Add half a block of creamed coconut and 300g of sugar and stir until both are dissolved
- Chuck in a handful of desiccated coconut (optional) for texture, and mix in
- Let cool a bit, pour in a freezer-proof dish and pop in the freezer
- For the next three or four hours, get it out each hour to give it a good beat with a wooden spoon and bash out the ice crystals

No roast pineapple in the end, as my impatience to experiment with the coconut meant this was made before there was a pineapple in the house, but it was pretty good with raspberries and lime, and for the next few weeks with crumbles and chocolate puddings and just on its own.

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Guest Slot #2: John's Beef Stew

Another contribution from the house of Little Sister Saucepan, to make up for my slack efforts on the cooking front, this time from her equally talented other half.

Though I haven't tasted it myself, I have sampled enough of Mr R's cooking to confidently wager that it'll be pretty damn good. And one day when I have a minute between the important businesses of learning international financial reporting standards, ironing my clothes and watching America's Next Top Model, I shall put this to the test...

If you would like to do so too, you want to get hold of the following:

c.200-300g Steak (preferably braising steak)
a little bit of flour, salt and pepper
1-2 Carrots, chopped chunky
1 Onion, medium dice
3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine-ish

A handful of Button Mushrooms, left whole
50g Cubed Pancetta
Red wine, a couple of glasses
Worcestershire sauce - a dash
1/2 tsp mustard powder
2 bay leaves
Stock - about 750ml

John's Beef Stew
Serves 2

  • Heat a good splash of olive oil in a heavy based pan.
  • Chop steak into chunky cubes and coat in seasoned flour
  • Brown off in pan, once the oil is hot enough that it sizzles when you drop it in (not too hot though! oil shouldn't smoke)
  • Remove the meat from the pan and put carrots, onions, garlic, and button mushrooms in.
  • Once softened add the meat back to the pan and stir together.
  • In a separate pan dry fry some cubed pancetta or lardons, add these to the pot
  • De-glaze the lardon pan with red wine, and add this to the main pot
  • Add worcestershire sauce, mustard powder, bay leafs and stock.
  • Top this up with red wine so it is all covered. Bring up to a boil, then simmer for 4-5 minutes with the lid on.
  • Place into a preheated oven at 190-200C and leave to cook for 1.5-2 hours, stirring occaisionally.
  • When the sauce has thickened and the beef tender it's ready to serve.
  • Just before serving stir through some generous tablespoons of creme fraiche.
  • Serve with crusty bread, a green salad and a dollop of creme fraiche on the top!

Monday, October 08, 2007

A perfect pickle

Beetroot is so deliciously dramatic and flamboyant with that vibrant violet juice. It's just a shame whenever I buy it I never quite know what to do with the earthy-tasting little globes. I've tried baking and it didn't do much for me, I've tried plain boiling, and it's a bit like sapping its soul.

But I do enjoy them in jars - deeply pickly and purply. So when I saw a recipe for quick pickled beetroot I thought it worth a try (I forget where I saw it now - it's so simple I committed it to memory and carried it around in my head til I could try it out).

You take half a pint of white wine, add half a pint of white wine vinegar and 2 modest dessertspoons of brown sugar. You boil it slowly until the sugar's dissolved, and then you place your whole beetroots in and let them boil away until just cooked (I can't remember how long this takes - 10-20minutes I guess?)

You take them out, skin and slice into wedges. Then cover in their pickling juices and let cool. Then they can sit in the fridge, where they will keep for the next two or three weeks, and you will find yourself adding them to salads, garnishing dishes, and slyly sneaking one here or there whenever you happen to spy them in the fridge.

They're just so good! So much fresher and brighter than the bottled versions. Try it!