Friday, March 27, 2015

Food and drink meanderings

We like to celebrate (almost anything) with Champagne cocktails.
            We do not use the cheap Champagne that we lay down for a few years to  mature, but almost any other sparkling wine that seems at the time to be good value. In a large wineglass goes a slug of Cognac, a shake or two of Angostura bitters, some ice and the sparkling wine. Some sparklers might call for a bit of sweetening. Varying quantities makes for added pleasure. A much cheaper, summer long drink edition can be made with cider as the sparkling bit, ordinary brandy, and then the Angostura bitters and ice – but its not nearly as good.
            I had never thought that uncooked sweet corn, cut from the cob and added to beef stew, would be a delicious addition. But it is. Other stews benefit from this addition when sweet corn is in season.
            Any leftover mashed potato, that I usually fry with an egg for breakfast, is wonderful if turned into croquettes. Just add the yolk of an egg, stir, form balls or disks, coat with crisp breadcrumbs and cook on a hot, oiled surface.
            But before I even think of making croquettes, I now use cold, or warm mashed potato to surround scallop shells – like a wall. It’s quite a job to do, and time-consuming. But it is worth it when you fill the centre with chopped-up scallops with their coral, and over the scallop meat pour a white sauce to which you have added Dijon mustard, some anchovy essence (optional), a bit of a fish or chicken stock cube, and possibly grated cheese. I sprinkle a little paprika over the top. These delicious, filled shells can be frozen individually and then bagged up in the freezer for future use. Just unfreeze them (keeping them separate and upright as you do so), heat them through in the oven for 5-10 minutes and finally put them under the grill so that the sauce bubbles. I have done the same with dressed crab, but the crab flavour gets a bit lost.
            Another recent recipe (one that I have revived from years ago) involves belly pork. Bone and skin belly pork and cut it into thin slivers (well, as thin as you can manage, unless you can get the butcher to do it for you). Make a marinade of tomato ketchup, Worcestershire sauce and chilli-con-carne powder. Add some pepper and salt and mix it up with the fingers. Add the pork slices and coat them well. This dish of marinated pork can now lie happily in the refrigerator until wanted (turning it over every so often). When its time comes to be eaten, allow the meat to reach room temperature and grill till crisp. Scrumptious, however served.
            Runner beans, purposefully left on the vine to become long and stringy, can be autumn harvested and then kept in a thin layer on a rack indoors. When the skins are dry and crisp, pod them. Allow the podded beans to dry further in a bowl on a window sill. When wanted to eat in the fingers (or with sticks or fork) with winter drinks, boil newly-harvested beans for 15 minutes in a pressure cooker, or dried beans for 30 minutes, drain them, and to them add some pressed garlic, olive oil and salt. Stir and serve. They are astoundingly good, and unlike other beans.
            Lamb chops marinated in mint sauce grill well and are tasty.
            Sliced tomatoes and ripe figs in a vinaigrette make a good combination for a first course, as does sliced cucumber with sliced avocado – again with a vinaigrette.
            To use oven space when it is being used for a main dish, put into an oven-proof dish chopped onions, chopped tomatoes, chopped peppers, garlic, capers, olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. When cooked through, this dish can be eaten hot or cold.
            Also in spare oven space, and in an oven-proof dish, put sliced large tomatoes, or halved small ones with olive oil, vinegar, plenty of pressed garlic, pepper and salt with a coating of breadcrumbs. This vegetable dish can also be eaten hot or cold, but it does need cooking until the tomatoes are soft and shrivelled beneath their crisp topping. The dish will probably need to be taken out of the oven before the main dish is cooked.
            Both of the above dishes can have oil added and be re-heated under the grill.
            Another variation of this theme is to scoop out some flesh from a halved aubergine. Into this boat-shape put a mixture of your choice, making sure that onion (or shallots), garlic, and plenty of olive oil, go in with chopped tomato, pepper and salt. Think of adding flavours, like oregano, coriander, mint, capers, chopped gherkin and so on. Over-cook rather than under-cook.
            The above are small items that I have wanted to write about but have been too busy painting.