December 2006 Archives

Christmas salad

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I'm afraid that what with all the Christmas duties that come with being a culinary student (even more cooking, eating and drinking than usual) I have been slack and not typed up this week's recipe properly, so there is no pdf version this time.  Feeling guilty about a) all the butter and cream in past recipes, and b) the lack of Christmas recipes, this week's offering is a Christmassy salad that might work well as your starter on Monday.  It looks really pretty and has a fresh, zingy taste.  We made it at school last week and everyone liked it.

xmassalad0001.JPGWe're off to Tahoe now for a snowy Christmas.  (Everyone's waiting for me in the car so I'd better go...) Hope you have a good one.

Classic crème caramel

france, spain
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This is a classic recipe, which we have practised at school.  It is based on one by Julia Child in ‘Mastering the Art of French Cooking’ (1961).  It may not be trendy, but I like it.  Hope you do too.

Smallcremecaramel0013.JPGTo make your water bath extra safe for your delicate custards, line it with a towel.  This protects the bottoms of the custards from getting too hot.  Don’t discard the vanilla bean (they’re expensive).  Instead wash and dry it, then add it to a jar of sugar and leave for a few weeks, shaking occasionally.  This makes delicious vanilla sugar, which you can use the next time you make a custard.

Sorry for the lack of Christmassy recipes.  I could document the saga of my Christmas pudding and Christmas cake for you (candying own peel - 6 days; tracking down suet in a city where nobody's heard of it - 10 days; working out what to do with a huge hunk of fat cut straight out of a cow - 3 days; preparing pudding and cake ingredients - 1 day and night; baking cake - 5 hours; steaming pudding - 8 hours; feeding cake - 10 days), but I suspected not many would care to replicate this bizarre use of time.  Am I wrong?


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Smscallops0001.jpgScallops swim by rapidly opening and closing their shells.

They are hermaphroditic.  The colour of their roe is determined by the gender of the parent (at the time).  Red = female.  White = male.

Scallops have eyes!  In fact, over 60 of them.  They’re blue.  We don’t eat them though.  We just eat the muscle that holds the shells together, which is sometimes, confusingly, called ‘the eye’.

Try to buy ‘dry packed’ scallops as they are additive-free.  ‘Wet-packed’ ones contain a chemical to make them absorb water before being frozen.

The scallop shell is the emblem of St James, hence the dish coquilles St Jacques.  In Dutch scallops are Jakobsschelp.  Rumour has it that St James fell into a river and came out covered in scallops, which seems unlikely.

A delicious way to eat scallops is with orange-tarragon beurre blanc.

Scallops with orange-tarragon beurre blanc

california, france
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This one sounds a bit fancy, and it is.  I think it makes a very elegant starter and will make your dinner guests think they're in a posh restaurant.  However, we had it in a flimsy bungalow that looked more like a rough pub from the 70s than the 'redwood cabin' it was marketed as, and it still tasted great.  And it only takes around 40 mins from start to finish.  [Matt adds - but then the main course took more like 5 hours and we didn't eat it til after midnight, by which time we'd drunk more Manhattans than is strictly sensible.]

Smscallops0004.jpgThis recipe is an adaptation of one from the Girl and the Fig cookbook.  The Girl and the Fig is a really sweet restaurant in Sonoma where we have eaten a couple of times after spending the day wine tasting in Sonoma Valley.  However, I’d drink a white Burgundy (chardonnay) with this dish.

Beurre blanc can seem a little tricky to make the first time, but it’s worth learning as it goes really well with a range of fish, vegetable and egg dishes.  You can experiment with different flavours in the reduction by using different herbs and fruit juices.  The reduction should also contain vinegar and/or wine.

Roast chicken with courgette and parmesan stuffing

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"This recipe ... seems to be possessed of a multitude of virtues, the ease of its preparation and the beauty of its presentation being not among the least; the breasts, moreover, being both protected from the direct onslaught of heat and nourished by the melting fats of the stuffing, remain moist and are delicately perfumed; the skin, basted from within as well as from without, crispens evenly to a rich golden brown, a miracle of beauty and flavour; it is elastic and, unlike stuffed flesh, will not shrink in contact with the heat, splitting beneath the presence of a swelling forcemeat."

These are the words of Richard Olney, an American food writer who lived in Provence and whose recipe I'm sending you an adaptation of this week.  If they aren't enough to tempt you I don't know what is.  Richard died in 1999.  He became a bit of a cult figure and had a reputation for enjoying a colourful lifestyle within France’s gastronomic social circles.

Smallroastchick0001_1.JPGYou can make the stuffing with other vegetables too, such as sautéed wild mushrooms, parboiled peas, or roasted aubergine, and the addition of little bacon, pancetta or prosciutto pieces can only be a good thing.

Sorry for the delay in getting you this week's recipe.  After our Thanksgiving cooking extravaganza weekend in the redwoods I was torn between too many things to write up for you.  You nearly got seared scallops with orange tarragon beurre blanc, or navarin of lamb with herby polenta, or tarte tatin with spicy crème anglaise, or green beans with ginger butter, or sweet yams with pancetta, or celeriac lasagne, or ....  Maybe another week.


Culinary Anthropologist