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"To eat well in England you should have breakfast three times a day."

Somerset Maugham

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Wednesday
Aug252010

White sauces - bechamel and veloute - two of 'the mother sauces' of French cuisine

Two of my best friends from Sydney are arriving on Friday to stay for the weekend before we set off for a week of island hopping on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. They will be arriving very early at Heathrow and, although they are both well known for their stamina, I figured it would be best to plan activities for the daytime, rather than evening, so that we will be homeward bound by the time the jetlag starts to kick in. Since one of these activities is lunch at one of the world’s top restaurants, I have decided that the usual four course dinner with which I like to treat my guests will probably not be necessary or even desired that evening, and after a couple of bottles of wine I won’t really be in a fit state to make such a feast. As such, I have decided to make a moussaka tomorrow night or Friday morning, so that there is something to pop in the oven when we get home from our outing. And, just in case you were starting to wonder how this was ever going to get round to the topic of white sauces, every good moussaka needs a béchamel!

I was going to try and keep this brief, but believe or not, there is a surprising amount to say on the subject. I decided to turn once again to Mastering the Art of French Cooking to check whether my recipe stood up to its classical origins and was shocked to find not one or two, but six pages on béchamel sauce and veloute, and that is before they even get into the variations which use these as their base.

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Saturday
Aug212010

Chicken, chorizo and cannellini bean casserole

Here is another of my seasonally inappropriate recipes from the comfort food binge last weekend. The temperature has stayed on the cool side, so I’m guessing it won’t be long before everyone is starting to crave winter warmers.

This recipe was an experiment, so I have only made it once. It worked very well, but I feel the need to highlight that it has not been ‘tried and tested’ in the usual way. The combination and balance of ingredients was just right, so I wouldn’t change anything there, but I would be interested in trying out alternative cooking methods.

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Thursday
Aug192010

"The tart" inspired by Elizabeth Hodder's Tomato, onion and goat's cheese tart

On Saturday I put up a recipe for shortcrust pastry from my friend Lizzie’s book, The Book of Old Tarts. That post was really just a preamble to this most important of recipes. It is not just any old tart, it is the tart, or so it has come to be known in my household. Indeed for a long time it was the only tart I ever made, because although I was very tempted by other recipes, it was just so damn tasty I could not think of any reason to make something new. My sister loves it so much that she would brag about it to all her friends, but not a single one ever got to try it because I was not allowed to make it for guests; the tart was not for sharing.

Until this week, I had only made the original recipe once and I now feel rather guilty for having written it off so quickly. The first time I made Lizzie’s recipe I found it a little bland; this is probably because I did not season it well enough, but also because at the time I was a teenager with little appreciation for the less is more approach to cooking. Having made the original recipe for a second time, I can now appreciate that its simplicity is its most appealing quality, a perfect balance of flavours and textures. As Lizzie says in her introduction to the recipe,

Successful tomato recipes are those where the distinctive taste of the fruit surmounts the other flavours. I think this tart succeeds in this, but partly through its soft texture.

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Tuesday
Aug172010

Creamy chicken pie with leeks, mushrooms and bacon

 

Loser that I am, I was actually excited when I heard that the weather was forecast to be wet, windy and, by most people's standards, utterly miserable this past weekend. And when I opened the door to my little balcony on Saturday and was greeted by torrential rain, I was positively over the moon. Why? Because I have been missing my winter comfort foods God dammit! As you may have gathered, I get great joy out of making my own pastry, but apart from the fact that it is incredibly difficult to make decent pastry when it is hot, it is not much fun eating it in summery weather either.

I took this turn in the weather as my window of opportunity to cook and enjoy as much wintery goodness as was humanly possible in one August weekend: Chorizo, chicken and cannellini bean stew followed by apple and pear crumble on Friday; creamy chicken pie with leeks, mushrooms and bacon followed by Dad’s best ever brownies and vanilla ice cream on Saturday; and accidental tomato, mushroom and red onion tart on Sunday, all washed down with plenty of red wine. And to top it all off, I made the tart that didn’t go to plan on Sunday on Monday night as well. So much for the 2kg I wanted to drop for my trip to Croatia in less than two weeks.

This chicken pie is my own recipe and, as such, it tends to be a little different each time I make it. However, I have made it enough times now to have worked out which combination I like best (this one). You may prefer to add or substitute some other vegetables (e.g. carrots, celery, peas, sweet corn) or you may find tarragon too strong, in which case I suggest parsley or thyme. So long as the basics are there (chicken, wine, cream, stock, pastry), it would be hard to go wrong. Have a play around and see what you like best.

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Saturday
Aug142010

Shortcrust pastry from The Book of Old Tarts

Updated on Sunday, August 15, 2010 at 9:11PM by Registered CommenterVix

A very dear family friend, Elizabeth Hodder, wrote a wonderful recipe book called ‘The Book of Old Tarts’. Lizzie has always treated me as if I were her daughter; she is kind, gentle and doting, always willing to listen and give me her worldly advice. She is also extremely knowledgeable and very well spoken. This motherly image I have of her means that I still to this day find myself shocked and pleasantly surprised when she shows her cheeky side. She once sent my Mum an apron which read:

FUCK ME

WHILE

I’M COOKING

I thought this was absolutely hilarious, not so much because of what it said, but because of who’d sent it. The name of her book is another great example of this.  

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