Friday, June 9, 2017

Superb meal at one of Britain's best restaurants, Midsummer House in Cambridge

Midsummer House in its lovely setting

great wines!
We had an absolutely unforgettable lunch experience today, thanks to the generous birthday gift voucher given to me by my wonderful children and children in law, at one of Britain's best restaurants, the lovely two-Michelin-star Midsummer House in Cambridge, charmingly set on Midsummer Common by the river. We had their gorgeous tasting menu of five courses(entree, two main courses and two desserts) plus amazing canapes to start, good wine (a Pouilly Fume sauvignon blanc for me, a Chambolle Musigny pinot noir for David) and a great coffee special(with beignets and their own chocolates). 
It was absolutely sublime, an exquisite harmony of flavour, colour, texture and with imaginative, fresh and unexpected combinations of ingredients that worked really well. And in the right proportions too so we felt both completely satisfied and yet not unpleasantly full.
There was a really nice atmosphere too, not in the least bit snooty but friendly and warm, attentive but discreet staff and a lively Southern French restaurant director, who made us feel at home right away!
Very, very highly recommended. (And by the way, for vegetarians they have a fabulous vegetarian menu too.)

A canape: Smoked eel mousse with wild rice in crisp cones

canape: bloody mary fool with celery sorbet

entree: pumpkin veloute, crisp iberico ham, parmesan cream, pearl barley crunch

main: pan fried lemon sole with kale and seaweed mayonnaise

roast duck breast, pistachio puree, mini canneloni with duck leg confit, turnip salad with caramelised onion and grapefruit

first dessert: ewe's milk curd(like a pannacotta) with strawberry jelly, strawberry sorbet, lightly crystallised strawberry slices and lovage from Midsummer House garden

second dessert: dark chocolate mousse with passionfruit jelly, yoghurt sorbet, gold-dusted dark chocolate on top

coffee special: espresso, fresh beignets with dipping custards: caramel, and apple pie flavours

beautiful Midsummer House chocolates to choose for the perfect ending to a perfect meal!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The best Christmas Day menu ever!

The dessert table--Eton mess made with chocolate meringue, raspberries and cream, and a Gateau Russe--hazelnut meringue layers sandwiched with coffee butter cream. Yum!
Pineapple-glazed ham and salads

Balinese-style whole barbecued barramundi
Bloody Mary oyster shots

Home-made Asian-style salmon gravlax with Vietnamese fried rice crackers
A gorgeous Christmas menu at my daughter Pippa and son in law Joe's place--truly beautiful food, based mainly around seafood and fish, but with the traditional ham as well! And gorgeous desserts too!
Home-made prawn sandwiches with dill mayonnaise

Monday, December 19, 2016

Fish stock like Maman used to make

Among one of the many talents of my beautiful late mother Gisele was an extraordinary gift for cooking. Born in Biarritz, France, of a Portuguese-born father and a French-born mother of Basque and Spanish origin, she had a love and understanding of fish and seafood dishes which seemed innate, not surprisingly perhaps given her background. And the backbone of a lot of those dishes was an absolutely superb fish/seafood stock which she made from the heads and tails and bones/shells of both fish and seafood, usually prawns. Deep red, aromatic and pungent, it filled the house with memories of the sea and was the base for her brilliant fish soups, stews, and paellas.

I've tried to reproduce that amazing taste, smell and colour many times but until very recently didn't quite manage it--when Maman was cooking in our childhood, she was like a whirlwind, putting in this, that and the other, experimenting and innovating as she went, not following any recipe particularly but following her nose and her instinct. It's only very recently that I've manage to capture those flavours and colours and now it seems to work every time! Mind you there is a magic ingredient, and that's a half-teaspoon of that wonderful Basque spice, piment d'Espelette (Espelette pepper), which really can't be substituted properly--you could try paprika or mild chilli powder, but it won't be the same. Real piment d'Espelette powder has a unique flavour, both warmly spicy and piquantly sweet and fruity, which is the reason why this traditional Basque spice has its own AOC(appellation d'origine controlee)in France. Its gorgeous colour also imparts that beautiful dark red to the stock. In Australia, you can buy it from good grocers and easily online at places like the Essential Ingredient. 

So here's the basic recipe(this one makes the basis for a soup or stew for 2-3 people)
Shells, heads and tails of eight uncooked(green) prawns
Head, bones and tail of a fish(in the photo above, it's rainbow trout, but can be anything you want)
Olive oil
Three cloves garlic, crushed
Chopped onion
A small splash white wine
Salt, pepper
Half teaspoon piment d'Espelette

In a pan heat some olive oil. Add the chopped onion, then prawn and fish heads/bones/shells etc. Stir vigorously. Add the crushed garlic, and salt and pepper. Stir. Add the piment d'Espelette and stir vigorously. Add a small splash of white wine, stir, let cook for a few seconds, then add water to cover the fish/seafood. Once it has come to boiling point, turn down heat and simmer for 20 minutes, then turn it off and let it sit for a few hours to develop its flavours (with heads and tails etc still in it).
Finally, strain the stock and use it for other dishes, or freeze it to use later.

I've used the stock as a base for an excellently hearty fish soup(below) which included a mix of mussels, small prawns and squid(stir-fried separately in olive oil then added to the stock once you've brought it back to heat) and poached barramundi--also added at last minute to the hot fish stock. With crusty bread on the side, it makes the absolutely perfect meal!

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Deliciously unusual quick lunch

Made a quick and easy yet deliciously unusual lunch today, using green(ie uncooked) prawns, poached eggs, Indonesian instant noodles, and various herbs and spices! To prepare and cook, it takes less than 10 minutes. The great thing with using uncooked prawns too is that you can use the shells, heads, tails etc to make a fabulous fish stock which is exactly what I did! (Recipe for fish stock coming soon)

So, for 2 people you need:

8 green (uncooked) prawns of a reasonable size(I used Australian banana prawns)
Olive oil
4 eggs(small or medium) +water +vinegar to poach them
Chinese cooking wine
1 85g packet of 'mi goreng'--Indonesian instant noodles
Fresh ginger, grated
Fresh coriander, chopped
Three small cloves garlic
Small amount chopped onion
Squeeze of sweet soya sauce
Salt, pepper

Peel the prawns, reserving the shells, heads, tails etc to use for fish stock. In a pan, fry the chopped onion, add the prawns, garlic, grated ginger, half the coriander, add a little salt and pepper. Stir. Add a teaspoon Chinese cooking wine, stir. When prawns are cooked--they require only a few seconds and go red--turn off heat. Poach the eggs in boiling water to which a good dose of vinegar has been added. Cook the noodles according to instructions. Serve in bowls with the noodles at bottom, then the prawn mixture, and finally the poached eggs on top. Salt, pepper, add a squeeze of sweet soya sauce over the eggs, and the rest of the chopped coriander plus a little more grated ginger. And that's it!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Deliciously simple unusual spring vegetarian entree

This is the time of year, early spring, when the garden is producing all kinds of bits and bobs but not the massive and diverse array that you get later on in the warmer months. There's quite a bit of lettuce and rocket, and the asparagus have just started, as well as fresh garlic and spring onions. In the greenhouse, the tomatoes are just starting too but are pretty thin on the ground. And there's lots of herbs--coriander, chives, sage, parsley, oregano, etc. Bits and bobs as I mentioned but pretty nice ones! Of course salads are a big feature at the moment, but even though I love salad(and we have it at every meal at the moment, sometimes as entree, but more often as a digestif after the main course) there are times when you want something else, particularly in the entree department.
So here's a dish that uses several of those early spring elements in an unusual way: a vegetable/herb pate, with battered crispy sage leaves and fresh garlic. Very simple to make and quite delicious!
You'll need(for 2 people--increase quantities as needed):
For pate:
A good handful of rocket leaves
Four asparagus
A little fresh garlic(if possible)
Handful garlic chives
Lemon juice
Teaspoon sour cream
Salt, pepper
For the battered sage leaves and fresh garlic:
A small bunch of sage leaves per person(say four or five small leaves on a stalk)
Fresh garlic(bulb plus green stem)
Salt, pepper
Cook the rocket with a little butter and only a drop of water. When cooked, chop up fine. Steam the asparagus till tender, then chop into pieces. Chop the garlic chives and a small amount of garlic chives. Mix it all together with a little lemon juice, salt, pepper, sour cream. Leave aside till cool.
Meanwhile make a simple batter with flour and a little water(needs to be thick enough to coat the leaves and garlic). Immerse the leaves and garlic till they are well coated. Fry them in hot oil until crispy and golden.
Serve with the vegetable pate in middle, surrounded by the crispy leaves and garlic. Add tomatoes to decoration if you like. Enjoy!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Roast carrots with feta and lemon/honey dressing

This makes a lovely entree, or a vegetable side dish, as you wish. Persian in influence, it's been slightly adapted (by me!)
It's also very simple.

Carrots, cut lengthwise
Olive oil
Juice of half a lemon(or lime)
Two teaspoons good honey
Salt, pepper
Some feta, crumbled(we used Bulgarian sheep's milk feta, which has a very fine flavour but you can use goat's milk feta if you want or even cow's milk)
Some chopped chives or other herbs

Coat the carrot sticks with olive oil. Roast the carrots. Mix the lemon juice and honey. Take the carrots out when almost done and coat them with half the lemon and honey mix, then out back in oven for a short while, till they get sticky. Take them out of the oven, pour the rest of the dressing over them, crumble the feta on top of them, and chopped herbs. Serve warm.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Home-made version of Scottish 'Cullen Skink'

David's Cullen Skink--with accompanying whisky!
The delicious fish soup known as 'Cullen Skink', which originates from the town of Cullen in Moray, on the north-east coast of Scotland, is deservedly famous for its hearty and satisfying mix of flavours. Traditionally, it's made with fresh and smoked haddock, potatoes and onions, but a very good version can be made with all kinds of tasty white fish, both fresh and smoked.
And that's exactly what David did recently, creating a delicious Aussie version of Cullen Skink, using, as a base, fresh leatherjacket and smoked cod. Because both fish are quite flaky, they work well in Cullen Skink. But you can choose any other kind of white fish, smoked and fresh.
His recipe is quite simple, but it's good to make the soup hours ahead of the time you plan to eat it, for the flavours to develop--even up to 24 hours (after making it, cool it and refrigerate it, of course)

White fish--fresh, and smoked
White wine
Salt, pepper
Parsley, chopped

Poach the fish for a few minutes in a mix of white wine and water, adding a little salt and pepper. When the fish is cooked, remove and put in a bowl ready to add later. Cook diced potatoes in the fish water.
Fry some chopped onions, add a little parsley, then set aside.
When potatoes are cooked, add the onions, the rest of the parsley, and fish back to the stock. Add a little more white wine/water mix, if necessary. Check seasoning. Stir and let simmer for a few minutes, till everything is well mixed, but do not let it cook so much that the fish starts disintegrating! Turn the heat off and let the soup sit for a while--even for a few hours.
Cullen skink makes a great one-pot dish: and goes well with some good whisky!