Sunday 26 July 2009

And Finally... Cherry Samosas

Photo courtesy of Qype UK

So this is the last in the Nom Nom Nom '09 trilogy of posts. That means it the last chance for us to grovel and say... go on! Vote for the Go Go Gin Girls. Please? After all, we got drunk and we set things on fire. Voting is open until the end of this week, and if we win we might even just do a victory dance.

To complete our 3 course menu, we decided on cherry samosas. These are derived from a Gordon Ramsey recipe which I have made before to great success, but we simplified it somewhat in the execution of it for Nom Nom Nom (i.e. we left the lemon out).

Photo courtesy of Qype UK

Cherries are really in season at the moment, and the ones we bought from the farmers' market were ripe and juicy. We made quite a mess in stoning the cherries; my hands were stained red.

It's also quite a labour-intensive recipe. Not only do the cherries need to be stoned an halved, they are then flambé'd, and cooked down into a jammy compote. Filo pastry is then layered on top of each other, and this is all folded into a samosa-like shape before being baked. But it's well worth the work, as you get a crispy hot parcel of juicy, cherry goodness, accompanied by apple scented mascarpone.

Cherry Samosas with Apple Mascarpone

Serves 4

1 box of filo pastry
300gr cherries
A small handful of mint
A pack of unsalted butter
1 tbsp sugar (to taste)
A good glug of brandy (I guestimate at 100mls)
A tub of mascarpone
Half an eating apple
Icing sugar

Pit and halve the cherries, reserving a few for garnish. In a non stick frying pan, melt a knob of butter until foaming, and then add the cherries. Add the tablespoon of sugar and cook on a low heat until the juices are released. Pour over the brandy and carefully bring a lit match towards it - it should catch fire and flambé the mixture. Simmer on a low heat until thickened and syrupy. Taste it and if needed, add more sugar. Take off the heat, throw in the mint, chopped finely, reserving one leaf. Leave the mixture to cool.

To fold the samosa, take out the filo and slice into three lengthways. Melt the pack of butter and pour off the clarified butter, discarding the white bits. Using a pastry brush, brush one lenghtways layer of filo with the butter, then lay another on top. Brush again with butter and lay another one on so that it's 3 sheets thick. Spoon a tablespoon's worth of the cherry mixture onto the bottom corner of the sheet, then fold the sheet carefully into a triangle, pressing down the seams. Butter the rest of the sheet and carry on folding until you've run out of pastry, sealing the seams as you go along. Repeat until you have 8 samosas (2 per person). When you come to baking them, brush both sides with butter (no one said it was a healthy recipe...) and bake in a hot oven, around 200 degrees C, for 10 - 15 minutes or until browned. Meanwhile, grate the apple into a clean tea towel and squeeze a little of the juice out. Mix with the mascarpone.

To serve, dust the samosas with icing sugar and place two on the plate with a quenelle of the mascarpone. Garnish with a mint leaf and a couple of cherries.

If you're in a generous mood, Action Against Hunger have teamed up with Nom Nom Nom and are holding a charity raffle; prizes include a meal at Le Gavroche... Click here to donate.

Saturday 25 July 2009

Sketch - Visit 1 & 2

Recently, Sketch have been offering a £50 off voucher which myself and my mate, being the skintoid food-lovers that we are, snapped right up. A table was booked at the Gallery.

Sketch is seriously cool. The decor in all of their many rooms is stunning, even down to the strange towering sculpture of childrens' toys spray painted grey, terrifyingly topped with a Chucky-esque doll. On our initial visit (yes, there were two), we were shown to a table which was disconcertingly close to our neighbours. This is not conducive to a good gossip that my friend and I are prone to indulge in. We were so close that we could see that they got an amuse bouche, and we didn't. Not the best start to a meal.

To start, I ordered the "Red tuna: Cubes of red tuna and vegetables / artichoke, red tuna and soya sauce on toast / curried fruit and vegetable smoothie with olive oil". This was pretty weird - fridge cold slices of raw tuna topped slightly soggy pieces of toast and the tuna cubes floating around in a cold curry sauce was rather unpleasant. Reading back on the menu description I'm not sure what I was expecting really - I was blind-sided by my love of raw tuna.

My main was rather more delicious: "Veal « Palais Royal »: Head and tongue of veal / braised veal cheek /Lentil and herb salad". The meat was tender and succulent, yielding gently underneath my fork. Unfortunately, the lentils were aggressively salted. In contrast, my companion's dish was woefully underseasoned. Perhaps she should have smothered her beef tartare with the lentils. When we complained to the waitress, she looked at us witheringly and said "we don't usually get negative comments about our food. Maybe it's not your style". She's quite lucky she didn't end up with my fork embedded in her face.

We then decided, to get a really rounded experience, we'd have a dessert to share. Having heard that the "Malabar: Bubble gum ice cream / lemon Wurtz / orange blossom marshmallow / pannacotta /crispy green tea" was popular, we thought it best to try this. We were instructed to mix the plate up, which made it look rather like a plate of sick. Upon the second mouthful, my friend made an "errrummpphhh!" kind of noise. I looked at her with horror. She pulled two shards of plastic out of her mouth. At this point, it really was so farcical that all I could do was howl with laughter much to the disgruntlement of our neighbours. It really was the last straw. The manager was apologetic and looked disappointed. Our bill was heavily discounted.

So, when we were offered a complimentary meal, we pondered whether or not to come. But then, I think if a restaurant has ballsed something up so royally, we should give them another chance.

We were treated rather differently. A lovely glass of Champagne in the bar adjacent to the dining room allowed us to catch up over various amusing anecdotes of the weekend passed. We were then seated at a table for just the two of us. Cocktails were proffered, wine was placed on the table, and our meal commenced.

To start, I ordered "Oyster and scallops: Irish rock oysters / sliced scallops and smoked parsley galette /diced cucumber and green apple with Espelette pepper". When the dish was placed down, a pleasing waft of the seaside accompanied it, as did a shot of intense apple foam which I was instructed to eat between bites. Why a plastic shot cup? I thought those days of plastic tableware were over when I turned 5. Anyway, the dish is certainly not for one who may have a problem with textures. The oysters were creamy, the raw thinly sliced scallop beneath it was slippery and delicious. The apple foam was a perfect palate cleanser.

My main, "Roast rump of lamb with Indian spices /spinach and watercress velouté with Roquefort /braised turnip in beetroot stock" looked great when it was placed before me. However, from this dish I have learned that Indian spices, lamb, and Roquefort aren't a combination I would like the try again. The lamb was cooked beautifully but it was too many dominant flavours fighting with each other. In contrast, the beetroot-braised turnip was exactly that and was rather refreshing and sweet over the rest of the dish. Sides of gratin Dauphinois (surprisingly topped with cheese - "Cheddar. Well, Emmenthal, which is like Cheddar") and round lettuce with anchovies were perfunctory.

To finish, we decided on "Dessert for two: Coconut lollipop / prunes / pear and Yuzu / fruit tart / blackcurrant biscuit". Probably a case of eyes bigger than our bellies, but in the name of the full experience, we soldiered on.

I'm glad we did, because although we were unable to finish all the dish, the desserts were very good indeed. The super-sweet prunes stuffed with marzipan was an incredible contrast to the tart, slightly bitter yuzu and pear (far left of the picture).

A final surprise - we finished with espressos, which when stirred seemed thick and viscous but in actual fact were served in silicone cups. Why? I'm not sure, but it's not every day you can squidge your espresso cup.

It's been hard to write about this meal. Our first visit was almost ridiculous, but the way Sketch made up for it was exemplary. The service was impeccable throughout; napkins were picked up and folded on the chair for absent occupiers without making us feel like we were being watched. There was no sign of our nemesis waitress. I'm not sure I would visit again because even though I enjoyed many elements of the food such as the oysters and scallops, there were others which I found misjudged and borderline repulsive - after the first or second taste, I left that Roquefort off my lamb.

However, both times the dining room was packed with beautiful people and people genuinely seemed to be enjoying their meals. Perhaps the waitress was right, and Gagnaire's food is just not my style.


9 Conduit Street

Tel: 0207 659 4500

For Helen's report of the experience, see here.

Tuesday 21 July 2009

The Main - Duck with Gooseberry Sauce

Photo courtesy of Qype

So our saga at the Nom Nom Nom '09 continues. As we ran around Marylebone Farmers' Market, we were acutely aware of the time ticking by. I'd spotted some duck breasts earlier, at £10 for two but as we were on a budget (we were paying for the ingredients ourselves, after all) we thought it a good idea to have a shop around. We sprinted round Waitrose, freshly opened on a Sunday morning. They had every type of meat, including diced wild rabbit - no duck breasts. So, these here you see are the most expensive, slowly grown duck breasts I'll ever have bought.

Duck is the obvious pairing for fruit. It's rich, gamey meat can withstand sweet or tart fruits well, so to carry on the fruity theme we picked gooseberries, as they'd be in season. Cooking it down into a puree doesn't make the prettiest sauce, so I imagine we lost out in presentation. However, the tartness of the fruit combined with the salty, caramel-colour duck skin ane medium rare, juicy flesh was heavenly. With this, of course you need some kind of potato, and we made the most of the duck fat that we'd rendered out by frying the fondant potatoes in it. Waste not want not. Nestled on a bed of colourful Swiss chard, our dish was complete.

Duck with Gooseberry Sauce

Serves 1

1 duck breast
100gr gooseberries
4 shallots
A knob of butter
2 medium sized floury potatoes
A glug of white wine
A pinch of ground cloves
Sugar, to taste
Half a bulb of garlic
1 sprig of rosemary
Chicken stock
Some greenery (in our case, Swiss chard but spinach or savoy cabbage also works)

Score the duck breast and salt heavily. Meanwhile, peel the potatoes and cut in half lengthways. Top and tail the gooseberries. Pat the duck breasts dry, and fry them on a low heat, skin side down to slowly render the fat out. This needs about 15 minutes, to really get the fat out and crisp up the skin. When this is done, turn the duck breast and fry on a medium heat for a minute or two to give it some colour. Remove and leave on a baking tray. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius.

Next, fry the potatoes in the rendered duck fat until they are browned. Remove them and place in a frying pan with a lid, with the browned sides facing up. Smash the garlic cloves with the side of a knife, scatter them around the potatoes with the sprig of rosemary, chopped finely. Add the chicken stock until it comes partway up the side of the potatoes, but doesn't cover the previously fried part. Put the lid on and simmer gently for about 15 - 20 mins, or until the potatoes are tender.

Meanwhile, heat the knob of butter in a pan and add the shallots, sliced. Fry until softened and then add the glug of wine. Simmer until reduced, then add the gooseberries and the cloves. Fry on a low heat until the gooseberries have collapsed, and mash them down with a fork. Add sugar to taste and leave to simmer gently.

Depending on how thick your duck breasts are, we put ours in the oven for 8 - 10 minutes. Remove and leave them to rest for 10 minutes, to coincide with the potatoes being finished. To serve, plate the potatoes on a warmed plate. Strain the stock into a saucepan and add the greens to be cooked in the garlicky rosemary stock until al dente, and then drain and use them as a bed to serve the duck breast, sliced on top. Spoon some of the stock onto the meat, and serve the gooseberry sauce on the side.

Don't forget to vote for the Go Go Gin Girls HERE!

Sunday 19 July 2009

Asmara - An Eritrean Adventure

I've been wanting to try Eritrean food for a while. I've never been to Africa, nor sampled the food from the continent so I was quite excited when a friend suggested we meet up and try Asmara, named after the capital city in Eritrea, in Brixton. It had an unassuming front. When we approached, we thought it rather resembled a kebab shop with its neon frontage. Thankfully, it wasn't.

Upon entering the restaurant, we were quite relieved that we hadn't booked. Aside from one couple, the restaurant was empty and deathly quiet. We sat down, and decided to order the special meat feast. We weren't sure what would be best from the menu, and this seemed the best way to try out a range of dishes. Unfortunately our waiter wasn't exactly chatty; I'd have liked to ask more questions about the food, but the language barrier prevented this.

When the food came, the injera was brought out first on a large metal platter for all of us to share. This was to be the vehicle in which you shovel the food into your mouth. There's no cutlery here. The injera was quite sour due to the flour being left to ferment, much like a sourdough, and was more of a pancake with a crumpet-like look to it. Next, our dishes were spooned on top of the injera, and we attacked it like hungry wolves.

There were two minced dishes, a chicken (on the bone) dish, an egg and mince dish and some lamb. The 'mixed vegetable' dish was potato wedges, topped with some cabbage, and finally some spinach. These were well spiced, some spicy and some mild. Textures aside, these were quite difficult to differentiate between. I'd have preferred some proper vegetables, as a meal without any makes me feel uneasy and the potato and injera combination was quite stodgy.

My favourite dish of the night was the lamb chunks. Originally, the menu offered lambs liver and tripe, which we swapped for this as the description of it cooked in a claypot sounded better.

The chunks were tender, juicy and spicy. The injera soaked up all the juices from the meat and became spongy and was very tasty. It's filling stuff though, and after demolishing the plate, we were fit to pop.

Included in this set meal was traditional coffee. It was a bit of a bizarre moment, as the waiter brought out a small saucepan with coffee beans roasting in it, and showed it to a nearby table who had finished their meal a little earlier. The smell of roasting beans filled the (now half full) restaurant.

We were presented with the coffee accompanied by this giant bowl of warm, salted popcorn. Once again, I was unable to ask the waiter of why this is served with the coffee, but we ploughed through it. Popcorn is so moreish. The coffee, said to be like rocket fuel, was rather medicinal tasting and thankfully didn't keep me awake all night.

I enjoyed the meal a lot, although after a while I became a bit bored with the injera; it was a touch too sour for my tastes and it was very filling. The meat was well cooked and decently spiced and the meal was a bargain; £18 a head including service for the meat feast, a beer and a shared bottle of wine between 4.

I'd like to return, and perhaps sample some vegetable dishes for a bit of variation. Dining a little later, say at 8:30pm instead of an hour earlier might be better too, as the atmosphere definitely picked up as the restaurant filled up.


386 Coldharbour Lane,
London SW9 8LF

Tel: 020 7737 4144

Asmara on Urbanspoon

Thursday 16 July 2009

To Start - Crab & Mango Salad.

Food Stories and I decided we'd enter Nom Nom Nom '09 - a cooking competition for bloggers of all kinds. We were tasked with designing a 'sexy, seasonal, sustainable and simple' menu, and we were then to buy all the ingredients for the meal for four people, at Marylebone Farmers' Market, and Waitrose. We made up a menu over e-mail, tipsily tested it out and decided "yes!". So off we trooped, early on a Sunday morning. Armed with quite a few G&Ts, (we were called the Go Go Gin Girls, after all), we set about cooking up a storm.

So what did we make?

Crab & Mango Salad

Serves 1

100g crab meat - a mixture of white and brown

1/4 mango, diced into 1cm cubes

Small handful mixed leaves

The green parts from 1 spring onion, finely sliced

Sesame seeds to garnish

For the dressing

1 small red chillli, de-seeded and chopped

1 small handful mint leaves and coriander leaves, chopped

1 small clove garlic

Juice of 1/2 lime

1 small piece ginger (about 2cm square), chopped

A good pinch of sugar

1 tbsp flavourless oil

Salt and pepper

Begin by making the dressing. Crush the garlic, ginger and chilli in a pestle and mortar with the salt until it is broken down and combined. Add the mint, coriander, lime juice, pepper and sugar and work in well. Add the oil and mix again. Adjust the quantities as necessary.

Combine the crab meat with the mango cubes. Place a chef's ring in the middle of a plate and add the mixed leaves, pressing down gently. On top of this add the crab and mango mixture, again pressing down gently before gently lifting off the ring.

Swirl the dressing around the sides and sparingly scatter with spring onion slices. Garnish the crab with sesame seeds and serve.

Well, we thought it was pretty damn special. The crab meat was sweetened nicely with the mango, and the dressing packed a punch, but was mild enough to enhance the delicate flavours of the crab.

Sadly, we didn't win.

Drunken hugs - Photo courtesy of Qype
But there's still the Viewer's Choice Awards! Please vote for us here; we are the Go Go Gin Girls.

The rest of our menu? Duck with Gooseberry Sauce, and some delicious Cherry Samosas. Recipes to follow in due course.

Read about Helen's version of events here.

Monday 13 July 2009

Beef Wellington - The Winner

A few months ago, I was asked by Olive Magazine to do a recipe test. Essentially, it was to try two recipes out; one was a celebrity chef's recipe, the other a reader's recipe which we were then to rate. It sounded like good fun, so I said yes.

When I found out the recipe I'd be doing was Beef Wellington, I was rather pleased. Beef fillet rolled in pastry? Yes please. So off I toddled down to my local butcher, John Charles in Blackheath. His eyes widened when I asked for 1.5kg of beef fillet. I salivated.

The first recipe, the finished product above, was the most complicated. 500gr of beef fillet needed to be seared quickly and then left to cool. Meanwhile, we needed to make two herb crepes with chervil, tarragon and chives. Then we were to lay down some cling film (a feat in itself), lay the crepes down slightly overlapping, and also some Parma ham. Next, 500gr button mushrooms, chopped and fried to a dryish paste was to be spread over this, and finally, the beef plonked amongst it all. This was then to be rolled like a big log. Now, I am a master cigarette roller but this was tricky. Mushroom mixture flew everywhere, cling film tore, and it took three of us to get it into a neat log. This was meant to be then chilled before being wrapped in pastry, but being a school night, we didn't have time for such luxuries. I had spent the entire previous evening chopping a kilo of button mushrooms (yes, really!) and half a kilo of shallots, cooking them into duxelles.

After a good ol' egg glazing, this went into the oven. We set about making the next Wellington - a kilo of beef fillet was seared, splattering myself and my kitchen in a fine film of oil. This recipe was easier, but as I smeared the fridge-cold duxelle mixture - half a kilo of button mushrooms cooked with shallots and a pack of butter - it occured to me this Wellington might be slightly soggier. The butter was bound to melt into a sodden buttery mess. Nonetheless, we soldiered on gamely.

We all laughed manically at this beast of a Beef Wellington. It was massive. In it went, and we settled back with a few glasses of wine to wait.

Considering I didn't time it much, they both came out perfectly cooked. The beef was beautiful; Aberdeen Angus, perfectly medium rare, well seasoned, and all the juices held in nicely with the mushroom, crepe and parma ham layering. The puff pastry was light, buttery and it was all sinfully delicious. The herbs in the crepes gave it a nice freshness too. My friends who had come to eat the beast had told me not to bother with vegetables as they had an abundance of purple sprouting broccoli; upon arrival, they had forgotten it. Thankfully they hadn't forgotten the beverages. And so, we ate it au naturel. Except I had prepared a dish of Dauphinois potatoes incase we felt the need.

The second beast fared less well. While again, perfectly cooked, my fears were confirmed. The duxelle only served to make it a soggy mushroomy mess. However, I'm a bit of a fan of soggy pastry and I quite liked it, as rich and calorific as it was. By this point, we were fit to burst and were happy we didn't have much in way of sides.

The winning recipe said it served 2, with 500gr beef. The second, with a kilo of beef claimed to serve 6. Between five of us we ate it all.

So, I hate to say it but as July's edition of Olive revealed, it was Gordon Ramsay's recipe that won out. The Parma ham and crepe combination made it a bit of a faff, but ultimately proved better results. The recipe:

Beef Wellington

Serves 2 - 3

500gr button mushrooms, chopped

1 sprig of thyme, leaves stripped

500gr centre-cut piece of beef fillet

2 tbsp English mustard

500gr pack of puff pastry

3 slices Parma ham

i egg, beaten

Herb crepes

50gr plain flour

Half an egg

125ml milk

1 tbsp melted butter

Soft herbs such as chervil, chives and tarragon chopped to make 1 tbsp

To make the crepes whisk the flour, egg and milk with a pinch of salt until smooth. Pour into a jug and stir in the herbs and some seasoning. Leave to rest.

Fry the mushrooms in a little oil until they give up all their moisture and it has evaporated leaving you with a thick paste. Add the thyme leaves and some seasoning and keep cooking for a few minutes. Cool.

Stir the melted butter into the crepe batter, Heat a 15cm crepe pan and oil it lightly. Pour in a little batter, just enough to make a thin layer on the base of the pan, cook until the top surface sets and then turn over and cook briefly. Remove and repeat with the rest of the batter. This will make a couple more than you need so choose the thinnest ones for the recipe.

Sear the beef all over in a little oil in a very hot pan. Brush with the mustard, season and leave to cool.

Lay a large sheet of cling film on the kitchen surface and put 2 crepes down on it, overlapping a little. Lay over the Parma ham. Spread the mushroom mixture over the ham and put the beef in the centre. Roll the cling film up taking the crepe with it to wrap the beef completely into a nice neat log. Chill for 1 hour (I didn't do this).

Heat the oven to 200C. Roll out the pastry, remove the cling film from the beef and wrap the beef in the pastry like a parcel, with the ends tucked under. Trim as you do so the parcel is nice and neat without too much excess pastry. Brush with egg, score with shallow lines across the top and chill for 20 minutes (I whacked it straight in the oven).

Cook for 20 minutes or until the pastry is nice and brown and then rest for 20 minutes before carving. If your piece of beef was very fat it may need longer. The best way to test is to neatly and carefully stick a skewer into the beef, count to three and then test it against your inner wrist. If it is cold the beef will be raw, warm then rare, and hot cooked through.

Serve with steamed greens and Dauphinois potatoes or, as I did, just on its own.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Broad Bean & Dill Pilaf

I've been on a bit of a dill kick recently. Now and again I'll make a dish with a certain herb, and suddenly I'll be adding it to everything I make.

Coriander has always been a favourite of mine. Whilst some people claim it tastes like soap, to me it reminds me of heady, spicy curries, fresh stir fries, hot and sour soups. When I was a child I didn't like parsley much; it tasted too iron-rich for me, like the metallic taste of blood when you suck a finger you've sliced open accidentally. And yet at any opportunity, I'll now throw it into salads, pastas and salsas.

I never thought the same would happen with dill. It tastes a little too much like aniseed for my liking, like too many sambuccas I've downed and yes, sometimes retched. But last Christmas, I couldn't get enough of the dill-cured gravadlax we had made. So, when I saw some on offer, I snapped it up with not a whole lot of thought gone into what I wanted to use it for. Firstly, these scallops worked incredibly well with it. Then, when mixed with smoked mackerel and yoghurt as I'd seen on Helen's blog.

Thumbing through some cookery books, I came across this broad bean and dill pilaf from Moro, by Sam & Sam Clark. It sounded perfect for the salmon fillet I had left to eat. I made a couple of alterations, and it made for a great accompaniment to the fish. It was simple, quick to make and there was no faffing around. The perfect weekend lunch.

Broad Bean & Dill Pilaf

Serves 2

200gr rice (I used Jasmine, but they specify basmati)

A large handful of dill

3 shallots

A large pinch of ground allspice

2 cloves garlic

2 handfuls of broad beans, double podded (I used frozen)

A small handful of flat-leaf parsley

Half a lime

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

20gr butter

A large pinch of salt

In a frying pan, add the butter and heat until foaming. Slice the shallots and add to the pan, frying slowly until softened and golden. Add the two cloves of garlic, minced finely and then add the pinch of ground allspice and the salt. Add washed rice and stir it into the pan, ensuring you coat all the grains in the butter.

At this point, I added this mixture to a rice cooker and added enough chicken stock so that it came up to the first joint of my index finger when the tip of the finger is touching the surface of the rice. I believe you can also add water to the pan, but to be honest; I'm nothing without a rice cooker.

Add the 3/4 of the finely chopped dill and parsley, and flick the rice cooker on to cook. When it has switched to warm, I stirred in the broad beans and left it to steam for 20 minutes. To serve, scatter the leftover herbs over the rice, add the lime juice, and dollop the Greek yoghurt on top. Serve with salmon, oiled and grilled until the skin is crispy.

Sunday 5 July 2009

Scallops with Bacon, Nectarines & Dill

Sounds like a weird combination, doesn't it?

I feel like I've lost a bit of cooking inspiration recently. It's been all stir-fried noodles, simple pastas - the kind of thing you can cook in 15 minutes. This has been because of it being cheap to make, quick to make, and requiring little to no imagination. Work has been busy, but life has also been busy. The sun has been out and I've been trying to make the most of it, even if it means I rarely see the inside of my flat and I'm sometimes exhausted.

I'm trying to change this though, and have resolved to cook at least one recipe from my cookbooks a week. I once spent 5 hours on a Sunday cooking pork belly and the result was so satisfying, but this I haven't done in a long time. Perhaps practically living alone has been the cause of this, but I'll just drag my mates round to eat more.

Anyway, enough about me. I spotted these lovely scallops in the supermarket on the shell for 99p each and couldn't resist them. I absolutely refuse to buy scallops without the coral on them, they're so packed full of flavour that I feel like I'm being cheated if they don't have them on. Scallops work well with both sweet and salty flavours (think black pudding and apple), so I took these elements and created a very experimental dish. Thankfully it worked really quite well; the juicy sweetness of the nectarines was balanced well with the salty bacon, and well - we know dill works with seafood pretty well. It was a perfect light lunch.

Scallops with Bacon, Nectarines & Dill

Serves 2

4 scallops, roe on in their shells
1 small ripe nectarine
2 shallots
30gr butter
2 slices of smoked streaky bacon
Juice of half a lime
3 sprigs of dill

In a non stick pan, add half the butter until foaming. Add the bacon and fry until coloured. Add the shallots and fry slowly until softened and golden. Then cut the nectarine into slices and fry for 4 to 5 minutes on a medium heat until all is slightly sticky. Take the fronds of dill off the stems and chop finely. Add to the pan with the lime juice, stir well and take it off the heat. Spoon into the shells evenly.

Wipe the frying pan clean, and add the rest of the butter with a drop of cooking oil. Heat until almost smoking but not burning, and add the scallops. Tilt the pan, spooning the butter mixture over them. Cook for about 2 mins depending on the thickness of the scallops, then turn over. They should be nicely browned. Cook for a further minute, then carefully season with pepper and lift onto the shell mixture. Serve with leaves dressed in olive oil and a squeeze of lemon.

Saturday 4 July 2009

Thai-Style Fish Cakes

I've just returned from 4 days in Ibiza. There was a lot of partying, a lot of sun-bathing, and rather too much eating of junk food - think Burger King, KFC and a fry-up slung in there too. I am a bad foodie.

So upon returning home, a little sad and more than a little skint, I spotted some basa fillets going cheap. It's not particularly environmentally friendly, given that they're from Vietnam, but they are sustainable. They're a white fish, and have a tendency to be a little tasteless so I packed them full of Thai aromatics in an attempt to liven them up a little.

The usual Thai fish cakes such as the ones you get at restaurants are made by processing white fish with red Thai curry paste and green beans, then deep fried. Since I don't have a food processor, I decided to do this the traditional way by using a pestle and mortar. The springiness of the cooked fishcakes comes from pounding the fish into a paste, so I did some limbering up and set about to work. The fish was chopped into small chunks and pounded around the mortar with a little cornflour. When I thought I got the right consistency, I set about to adding the flavourings, pounding and grinding as I went along.

The fishcakes could have perhaps benefitted from a few more minutes in the pestle and mortar as while they didn't have the same rubbery texture as onces made in a food processor, they were well flavoured and delicious. They were light and had a good kick to them. Coconut rice was a good accompaniment to them to make them into a whole and satisfying meal.

Thai-Style Fish Cakes with Cucumber & Peanut Dip

Serves 2

1 large basa fillet

1 stick of lemongrass, tender inner part only

1" piece of galangal

1 clove garlic

2 kaffir lime leaves

2 red chillis

3 sprigs of coriander, roots as well if possible

Juice of half a lime

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp cornflour

For the sauce:

5 tbsp rice wine vinegar

3 tbsp water

80gr caster sugar

1/2 cucumber

25gr roasted peanuts, chopped roughly

1 red chilli

1 tsp fish sauce

Chop up the fish finely and pound in a pestle and mortar with the cornflour. Add the rest of the ingredients chopped finely and pound into a thick paste.

Meanwhile, deseed and dice the cucumber. In a saucepan, add the suagr and the vinegar and heat until the sugar has dissolved. Add the water and simmer for 5 minutes. Take off the heat, leave to cool, and add the cucumber, chilli and fish sauce.

Heat about an inch of oil in a non-stick frying pan. Shape the fish paste into patties with wet hands and carefully lay them in the oil. Fry for 3 - 4 minutes each side, depending on the thickness. Serve with coconut rice on a bed of Little Gem lettuce leaves, broad beans and sliced radishes with the dipping sauce on the side.