Sunday, 20 December 2015

Stollen pleasures

By: Mrs Robot

Ever since I was in High School I've loved stollen. I had a German penfriend, Alice, who I got on really well with, and each year she and I would send each other boxes containing presents and food at Christmas. A stollen was always one of the things she sent. I've been trying to do more yeast cookery this year, and decided to make a stollen for once.

There are some recipes I call 'shepherd's pie recipes'. You know the sort of thing - deeply traditional, everyone knows what it tastes like, yet every recipe is different. So it is with stollen. SO MANY RECIPES. I found two I liked the look of, one by Paul Hollywood on the BBC site, and one by a German lady at Nigella's site. The German one didn't contain marzipan and Paul Hollywood made his marzipan into a swirl, so I ended up mostly following Paul Hollywood's recipe, but macerating the dried fruit in a little rum first like in the German recipe, and I kept my marzipan in a traditional log shape.

The dough didn't seem to rise as much as I'd expected at the sitting stage. I'm still getting the hang of working with yeast, and I made a batch of bau after this. I used the same yeast for both, but the stollen called for the yeast to go in with the dried ingredients, while the bau needed it to go into warm water with a bit of sugar in. Needless to say, the bau rose better, so next time I do anything with yeast I'll start it off on the liquid, and nuts to what the recipe says. The stollen did grow a satisfying amount in the oven.

The Paul Hollywood recipe said nothing about leaving the stollen to mature, but the German recipe did and - crucially - Goody mentioned resting her European-origin Christmas bakes recently. And I actually trust her more than I trust Paul Hollywood with his weird marzipan swirl. So once the whole thing was out of the oven, it got brushed with butter, dusted with icing sugar and left to cool, before being wrapped in foil and bundled off to a cool place.

I've had a couple of slices so far. And, you know, it isn't bad. Drier than I'd have liked - I didn't soak my fruit in rum for very long, but perhaps that's part of the point, to add moisture to the bake while it rests - but it's edible. I think it will be good toasted and spread with butter, which isn't traditional, but sure will be tasty...

Monday, 23 November 2015

Restaurant Le 68, Paris

By: Mr Robot

First the apologies - I'm mindful we haven't done much for awhile. Sorry. For those who care why, see * below. And of course now there's been the bloody awfulness in Paris, which is what finally prompted me to share a bit of the happiness we enjoyed there just a couple of months ago.

So, somewhat belatedly here's Some Of What I Done On My Holidays. Specifically the night we walked the length of Paris to Guy Martin at No 68.

Arguably Mrs R should be writing this because she found the place. As any casual browse of Greedybots' sister / parent blog (well, we are from Norfolk after all) CrinolineRobot will show, Mrs R is massively into her perfume. And this is relevant because No 68 Champs Elysee is better known as swank central of the perfumier, Guerlain.

Not only did she want to see the Guerlain shop anyway, the pitch was amazing: according to the website, chef Guy Martin offers
'"a menu with dishes associated to the fragrances of perfumes: foie gras and Madagascar’s vanilla in puff pastry, cod like a little black dress and liquorice , macaroon of the gardens of Shalimar ” so many winks of eye.'

So many winks of eye indeed.

Ok there's a bit of tossery but a menu based on perfume excited us - not least because we couldn't really imagine how it would play out - and in any case aren't we always told that blah% of flavour comes through the nose? So we resolved to go. And did.

Overlooking the sheer awfulness of the Champs Elysee (worthy of a whole blog in itself) the Guerlain shop has charming staff who swiftly establish we're not buyers, for she has the full set already, and direct us downstairs to l'eaterie.

It's a beautiful, sumptuous place.

We were very prepared to feel - or be made to feel - out of place and sub-par. We've had that in Bristol, ffs, and if anywhere is entitled to feel up itself this is it.

But no. It was welcoming and comfortable, yet preposterously luxuriant.

Gold everywhere, and lots of mirrors, and lush drapes, and pretty much anything else you can think of from a 1980s Mills & Boon moneyshot.

There are even (swear to god) mirrors on the ceiling.

Oh yeah.

Playing against all that were tres moderne plastic-y tables printed with things like lilies, violets, cardamoms (cardoma?) and other scent-related monothemic montages. Sadly no ambergris. This (which would have been just too hip in any other context) and the pleasantly funky cutlery took any edge of pomposity away - we were left with a sense of "gosh".

So, prevaricator, the food?

Well, a kind of brilliant, beyond doubt, but I'm not sure the perfume thing really came through. I will concede that I ain't no Nose, but She is, and She agrees with me.

I started with a cepe tarte which was delicious: crisp pastry full of butter, and deep mushroom lifted with herbage. Lovely. Perfume? dunno.

I get that there's a woody green thing going on, but I'm fishing for it to be honest.

My main was probably the highlight of the evening, and certainly the exemplar of the project.

Badged as szechuan honey-glazed-duck, this was wonderful for surprising and pleasing reasons. The duck was as perfect as you'd expect, and nicely glazed with honey.

Accompaniments and sauces were delicious but not that notable in comparison to the turnips.

This pleased me immensely for the turnip is a beautiful and much-maligned veg. Here I got two varieties: grown up and baby. Here's the thing: the grown-up turnip had been sympathetically steamed to bring out his turnipitude, while the baby, somehow, was made the vessel for all the szechuan in the dish. All those numbing, tingly pepper bits lay around the plate in little turnipey nuggets, interacting with herbs here, honey there, sauces some other place...

Outstanding turnip dish with an extravagant duck accompaniment

In that dish I truly got the notion of notes playing against each other, and developing over time. It wasn't a perfume, it did little on the nose, but it ate like a good perfume smells. It was genuinely exciting.

I felt a bit bad for pudding. Le Petite Robe Noir (little black dress, he-hon, he-hon) was an exceptional chocolate dessert: wonderfully light mousse with the most ridiculously thin tempered layers; beautiful cherry goop in there. It was a joy to eat.

But it just wasn't as exciting as the turnips.

The final delight was the tea. They make it to match the perfumes, you see.

She had (actually I've no idea) while I went for the Habit Rouge tea, on account of how I was wearing Habit Rouge that very night.

I'm happy to say my tea tasted nothing like my aftershave. but it was very lovely...

Oh I nearly forgot - les petite fours. Or sixes as it turned out. Mostly lovely but bergamot marshmallow is something I will never ever forget. I may spend the rest of my life learning how to make it.

Brass tacks then:

We were sad to find the menu was a Formule (what we used to call Prix Fixe back in the day). Maybe it was a midweek thing and the really exciting a la carte is only at weekends, but if so the website should say as much. It did mean, however, that having expected around 100 euros each, we (I) actually paid e48 per head. And for that price, Le 68 is as absurdly good value as any back-street bistro one would boast of finding.

The wine menu, on the other hand, caters for some wallets better than others since it ranges from about 29 euros a bottle to, um, 1000 euros. And it's weighted towards the big end.

Without the 60 euro (cheap! but very acceptable) wine, Le 68 would compete on price with any regular three-course dinner - but offers an exceptional experience. From the shop to the decor to the concept to the staff. Hit or miss on the perfumerie "concept" front it's brilliant food in a very special setting.

If you're wondering what Mrs R had, I wish I could remember. This is her main. Not as good as my turnips.

One thing I will firmly assert is that it was a bloody shame the place was so empty. I think we were the third and last table in all night, although that did mean we could hear one couple arranging their next extramarital liason, which was fun.

Ok it was a Wednesday night, but this is the middle of GodAwful Street and there were still about 15,000 people picking each others pockets when we left.

If you want to go to this place, and I strongly urge you to, don't hang about - if that level of custom is normal I can't help worrying how long it'll last.

TEA - Splash it on...

All images (c) PP Gettins

*First we lost our beloved Boo cat to old age and duff kidneys, which kind of took the fun out of pretty much everything. Then we went to Paris for which we'd planned many posts but, you know, sad about the Boo. And then we were desperately looking for a new cat because while we still miss the Boo dreadfully, we also missed general catness in a big way. And that turned out to be harder than you might think but finally we found a pair of tabby KITTENS and frankly who's ever going sit in front of a laptop because KITTENS.

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Recipe: Simple salmon salad

By: Mrs Robot

It's probably a little late in the year to blog this recipe now, but I thought I'd put it up anyway. It's a dish I came up with on my own, but I've seen similar things all over the place. I'm pretty sure Mi Mi Aye has one in Noodle!, for example.

You will need
The salmon (recipe will do one or two servings)
A salmon fillet per person
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon each chopped garlic and ginger.
(I cheat and use the Nishaan ready-pulped ginger as it's brilliant stuff, but there's no substitute for fresh garlic, the ready-chopped stuff in jars has lost its punch.)
A dish containing two pieces of salmon, plus marinade ingredients.
The salad
Noodles – egg or soba are best; I used soba in the version in the photos.
Spring onion
Light soy sauce
Sesame oil

Mix together the dark soy sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger in the bottom of a flat dish, then lay your salmon fillets fleshy-side-down on top to marinate. The longer you leave this, the more the marinade penetrates; half an hour is a good time to leave it.
two portions of salmon marinating in a dish
I haven't given quantities for the salad because how much I make depends on how greedy I'm feeling and how much of each ingredient I have in the house. You want the salad to be half noodles, and a quarter each spring onion and carrot.

Cook your noodles. As soon as they're done, rinse them with cold water and pop in a bowl. Cut the carrot and spring onion into matchsticks about two inches long. Toss it all in with the noodles, dress with a slug each of light soy sauce and sesame oil, and toss it again. The dressing helps to stop your noodles sticking together.

To cook your salmon, put it fleshy-side down in a hot pan and cook it halfway through, then turn it over and finish cooking it on the skin side.

Bung salad on plate – you can sprinkle on some sesame seeds if you have any in the house, just to look pretty – then put the salmon on top.

Friday, 30 October 2015

The not so yummy mummy

By: Mrs Robot

"I won't do a chocolate cake for Halloween this year," I thought. "I know I was planning to make a werewolf, but I bet everyone's fed up of chocolate cake*."

After lots of thinking about this year's Halloween cake, I decided to make a carrot cake and pipe the coating into 'bandages' to make a mummy. I got a lovely broad icing nozzle from Pitts, Trowbridge's specialist baking and sugarcraft shop, dragged out my trusty old copy of Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book (the same book that contains the always-reliable chocolate cake recipe) and got to work.

The cake worked brilliantly. It looks very tasty. This is despite our 'pick what you think will work' oven temperature dial, which has lost all its numbers. The cream cheese icing, however... I don't know what went wrong. I followed the recipe, yet instead of a nice fluffy mixture it was RUNNY. Properly liquid. I tried beating it, no joy. I gave in, put it in the fridge in the hope that the cool temperature would stiffen the two main non-sugar ingredients (cream cheese and butter), made a couple of eyeballs from marshmallow fondant and went to bed.

I left it in the fridge overnight. This morning it still wasn't pipeable. Have you ever seen the appalling horror film The Stuff**? That's what it looked like. Runny white goop***. It tasted great, but was no good for cakes. I desperately whipped up a batch of buttercream, but on starting to decorate realised I'd need enough sugary icing to send my entire office into a diabetic coma.

I'm feeding my workmates sweets from M&S instead, and will defeat the mummy myself later...

*Like that EVER happens.
**Which I remember mainly because in the film The Stuff came in pots and put my brother off Pot Noodles for years. You'd think given he was prepared to eat the contents, a mere horror film would have no effect, but it did.
***If you've any ideas what might have gone wrong with the cream cheese icing, I'd love to know. I traded the specified marge for butter, and did wonder if there was some chemical in margarine that was required. Or is modern soft cheese in tubs treated in some way to make it soft that also renders it unsuitable for turning into icing? I can't work it out.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

October, we are ready for you!

By: Mrs Robot

October is a big month in the House of Robots, but also usually a horribly busy one. I like to do something for Halloween - as Mr Robot doesn't like small children coming to the house, this usually means making a cake (last year's was a Martian cake) and treats for my workmates. Also, since our trip to Burma/Myanmar (take your pick) a couple of years ago, we've also marked Thadingyut. We're not Buddhists, or indeed religious at all, but I'd hoped to feel a connection to my family when we were in Maymyo/Pyin Oo Lwin, and walking through the streets all lit with candles was deeply moving, so ever since we've lit a candle and eaten Burmese food for Thadingyut.

Usually I get halfway through the month and realise both things are coming. This year Thadingyut is the 26th-28th of October and Halloween falls, as always, on the 31st. However, we are prepared this time! We've got two lovely Burmese meat dishes in the freezer, leaving us just side dishes to think about, and this morning I picked up some bags of sweets from Marks and Spencer. Pinterest is a great source of free Halloween printables, and I have some lovely little boxes to print and make up, then the sweets can go in them.

And after October we can rest... apart from Bonfire Night and Christmas!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Afternoon tea - what a slog!

By: Mrs Robot

I've tried making afternoon tea* a number of times over the years, and have reached this conclusion: if you're actually cooking the things yourself, the more frequently you do it, the easier it gets. This is because you need a decent variety of items, which means baking an awful lot of different things from scratch. If you make it regularly, you can stick some things like scones (frozen baked) and pastry cases for tarts (frozen before cooking) in the freezer for next time, which reduces the work considerably. If you don't make it regularly, it can feel like a lot of work and a bit wasteful, though if you're very greedy, like Mr Robot and myself, you'll settle for eating a whole cake, a whole batch of scones, or all of whatever other baked goods you make.

This afternoon tea came about because Great British Bake-Off is on telly again and in Cake Week everyone had to make madeira cake for the signature challenge. It struck me that I had never made madeira cake, so decided to give it a go. Cake making is an 'interesting' thing in the House of Robots because all the temperature indicators have rubbed off our oven dial, and our oven thermometer has broken, so I simply have to guess what the temperature is. Anyway, my lemon one worked well, and had a decent crack along the top, which the Bake-Off judges insisted was essential. Perhaps it's because I used a recipe from an old volume of Beeton; I doubt she could control her oven to within 10 degrees either.

At the same time, I had a yearning for something baked and cheesy. It could have been cheese scones, but I decided to make Dorchester biscuits, a recipe from Mary Berry's Ultimate Cake Book. Basically butter, flour, cheese and nuts, they're the very antithesis of the current 'clean eating' trend and for that reason alone are well worth your time making. Dirty, dirty biscuits! Best eaten with an expression of utter bliss while sitting opposite someone who's bored you rigid with tales of quinoa and kale salads, I reckon. They're incredibly simple, and very addictive. No type of nut is specified, though I like peanuts with cheddar. If I'd used stilton – Berry recommends cheddar, but experimentation is a good thing – I'd prefer walnuts.

In a piece of truly awful planning, I didn't realise we'd all but run out of bread until I'd started making sandwiches (ham and chutney), so filled in the gaps with tomatoes cut in a waterlily shape, then filled with coils of ham and mayonnaise rosettes piped on top, and savoury eggs. I hardboiled the eggs, chopped them in half, removed the yolks, mashed the yolks with more mayonnaise and a bit of curry powder, then piped it all back into the eggs. Quel faff, as Holly Golightly might've said. They did taste nice, though. I put the whole lot on vintage pressed glass cake stands**. Job done.

And after all that baking and work, we demolished the whole lot in about 20 minutes. Maybe I'll have another go in about six months...

*We all know the difference between afternoon tea and high tea, don't we? The latter is a rustic meal, usually with a substantial hot element – the sort of thing the Famous Five seemed able to drop in and enjoy at random farmhouses. If it's a dainty affair, it's afternoon tea. 'High' refers to the time it was eaten; afternoon tea is the earlier meal, enjoyed by fine ladies in drawing rooms, whereas high tea would be had later and was the early evening meal rural workers would have when they came in from the field. People seem to confuse the two nowadays and it sends me into a ranty rage, it really does. British people, know your culture! Non-British people, stop dicking around with my culture! 

 ** You can get these absurdly cheap in charity shops. My tall one cost £3.

Saturday, 8 August 2015

Supperclub Nights - Noya's Kitchen

By: Mr Robot

We’ve been wanting to do one of Noya’s Vietnamese supperclubs for ages but they’re not easy to get into. At the time of writing (early August) she’s fully booked until, um, next year. With very good reason, as it turns out.

A couple of friends got word of some late availability, so naturally we piled in.

The supperclub is held in a cafe (The Bear Pad) in the Bear Flat area a 10-minute stroll from central Bath and done on a BYO basis. I put my chum Dave in charge of wine since he can’t resist a trip to Great Western Wine, while Mrs R and I trundled our way up the hill for a pint or two of aperitif before arriving, giddy with anticipation.

You see, we’ve done a fair bit of Vietnamese-ish cooking at home (thanks again to Uyen Luu’s marvellous book) but have never had it done properly by someone who knows what they’re doing.

So while we have complete faith in our books you could never describe us as more than enthusiastic ignorami. Here, for the first time, authenticity beckoned.

Clearly I can hardly pretend to give an authoritative critique, but I can tell you it’s a bloody good evening. 

Noya greeted and seated us, and we sat twitchily waiting for the booze our friends to arrive, and the food to come.

We opened with Steamed Pork Noodle Roll and Prawn Summer Roll, along with a stern warning to USE THE DIPPING SAUCE.

I am at least an old enough hand to know that one but from the gasping and oohing around us, it well aimed. 

Mrs Robot’s a sucker for a summer roll so my right ear was largely full of happy chirps, while for me the pork roll was the highlight, soft and rich and savoury and so good with that dipping sauce (a little lighter than we make at home I noted).

I confess I kept that little dish by me throughout the evening so I could dabble a fingertip when (hopefully) no-one was looking. The stuff’s addictive.

Next up came a Hue Chicken Salad, with chicken wings and huge rice crackers. Not only was this extremely delicious, the salad is a favourite at home and was gratifyingly close to what we’ve made for ourselves. +100 kudos points to us then.

The wings were an excellent addition: the salad tends to be quite crunchy, it’s very fresh of course, and I find the vegetables bring out the acidity in the dressing. The wings gave contrast on all levels being soft, sticky and slightly sweet. It even brought fingers to balance against chopsticks! A lovely combo we’ll seek to replicate.

Incidentally, two courses in the place was buzzing - a great convivial atmosphere built up very quickly and the venue makes for a fine casual evening.

As Night spread her starry wings ‘cross the sky, Dave brought out the second bottle of Riesling and Noya’s minions brought out beef wrapped in betel leaves.

This was the revelation of the night. It was amazing, and unlike anything I’ve tried. I suppose the closest comparison is a close-textured sausage, and there were almost black-pudding hints of fragrant spices and a hint of sweetness. A delicious thing.

It came with (and I’m indebted to Noya for breaking this down for me, ‘cos I’d never have remembered all the detail) lemongrass peanut sauce, mint mango, pickled daikon and vermicelli noodle. To be honest, though, that was merely a medly of background loveliness to me - I was all about the Betelbeef.

Say it three times...

For course four Noya gave us all a huge cuddle, in the form of a steaming mound of perfect Jasmine rice alongside a ginger and chilli chicken stew that was full of deep, round flavours - the kind of thing that makes you sorry to be in public because you just want curl around it and trough.

Finally, regretfully, we ended with a classic creme caramel accompanied by coconut biscuits. Very definitely my kind of pudding. It was a great way to end actually, bringing in the French influence of course, but it also felt a little like coming home after this lengthy, wonderful exotic voyage. What an evening.

As we waddled our way slowly down the hill to the inevitably missed train and eyewatering taxi bill, we vowed sincerely to do this again as soon as possible. Next year.

All images (C) PP Gettins

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Cricket cuisine

By: Mrs Robot

There are lots of very good reasons to like going to watch cricket, but have you ever considered the food? Some of my best memories of cricket matches are of the food, odd though it might sound. Some years back we saved for three years to go to Barbados to watch a West Indies-England Test, and I still remember the man who'd walk through the ground selling paper bags of fishcakes, yelling, "Last two! Last two!" (It never was the last two.) Then there were fish cutters (breaded flying fish fillets in break rolls), macaroni pie (macaroni cheese) and other tasty treats sold from stalls behind the stands. At Lords, there are gourmet burger vans. The food at the ground at Bristol hasn't stuck in my mind, though the Caribbean restaurant we walk past on the way back to the railway station has.

Mr Robot and I went to Edgbaston this week to watch the first day of the third England-Australia Test match. I was looking forward to it, because Edgbaston is in Birmingham, and that means masses of good curry. Or so I thought... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
 There are food stalls all the way round the ground behind the stands, but there is one main area where most of the vans and stalls are clustered. Our seats were in a stand very close by the food court, which was fab. When we walked in, we had time for a good look around. Hog roast and pizza, waffles and burritos, burgers, posh sausages and fish and chips... so much choice. Though you will notice something missing there. Where's the curry? We settled for a breakfast bap (bacon, sausage, egg, and black pudding, all in a brioche roll) and I got a free cuppa from the Yorkshire Tea stall.
Lunch was excellent soft tacos from Smoqued. The tacos were made from purple maize and were delicious. Later Mr Robot had a foot-long hot dog and I dragged him to the other side of the ground in search of Edgbaston Cheese Crunch. I'd seen it mentioned on the ground's website, with no description, and there was no description online. What could it be? As Birmingham is in the Black Country (the amount of industry there in the 19th century meant the whole region was sooty) I wondered if it was pork scratchings covered in cheese. Edgbaston Cheese Crunch turned out to be our old chum macaroni cheese*, coated in breadcrumbs and fried. Not very healthy, but very tasty.

And that curry? There was a lone curry stall, Spice Nation, which we visited at the tea break. It was excellent. There may not have been the choice I'd imagined, but the quality was definitely there. Beautifully tender lamb, well spiced... delicious!

All that, and a decent performance by England too. Owzat?
*After the cricket, I got into a Twitter chat with Mi Mi Aye about macaroni pie. I'd wondered if the cheese crunch owed its origins to Birmingham's large Caribbean community. She mentioned that macaroni pie was also a Scottish delicacy. Early in Barbados' colonial history, the sugar plantations were worked by Scottish indentured servants, the ancestors of the 'redlegs', and I found myself wondering if they'd taken macaroni pie there, and the people who came to the UK in the 1950s brought it almost all the way back. 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Tasting France. Part 1: The Artichoke Peril

By: Mr Robot

 In my head, I'm something of a Francophile. 

I think of France as a place we love, my French is only slightly more awful than my Spanish, and it was I, after all, who educated the cheesemonster that is Mrs Robot on the difference between Brie and Camembert, for goodness sake. I like to think I'm a moderately proficient shrugger.

So it was an appalling reality-check to realise our last trip was about 15 years ago. Fifteen years! How did that happen? Resolved to do better, I quickly booked a week in Paris (coming soon) and began my mission to cook my way through The Taste Of France. As already noted, it's a book we've had for years but I don't think have ever used in anger.

Where to start? Mrs Robot's recent dalliance with The Root Canal Man limited my options to fairly squishy stuff, and Riverford had kindly popped a couple of globe artichokes in our vegbox. So with that as my starting point I decided to kick off with an extravagant four-courser.

Le Menu
Artichauts Farci
Omelette a la Piperard
Loup de Mer "Auguste Escoffier"
Creme d'Homere

Stuffed Artichokes

I've you've never tried dismembering an adult artichoke, I urge you to give it a go. Only then will you understand the enormous satisfaction of NEVER EVER doing it again.

I'm kind of wishing I'd videoed it: I have no doubt it'd be a YouTube sensation with lucrative sponsorship deals rolling in from providers of medical supplies and mouth soap.

Suffice to say that after 90 minutes I had two tiny tiny bits of rapidly browning artichoke, a knee-high pile of discarded alien skin, and some excitingly arterial spray patterns across the ceiling.

From there, though, it was splendid. The forcemeat called for a mix of pork and veal, but having not planned ahead I couldn't get the veal, so substituted it with chicken thigh - much as I imagined an Anjou farmer might.

The meats are mixed with mushroom and a little double cream, and stuffed in the artichoke cavity.

This, in a stroke of genius, is wrapped with bacon to hold it all in, before being lightly browned and then simmered in half a bottle of white wine.

The artichoke tastes amazing, despite it all, and stuffing is both delicate and rich. The reduced wine has soaked into everything, bringing acidity and balance. It's real treat. 

I'm not doing it again.

Omelette a la Piperade

I've commented before that egg dishes seem tragically undervalued in Britain.

The Spanish Revueltos makes an art of scrambling, and the French do the same with omelettes. A good Omelette Fine Herbs is an extraordinary, revelatory experience.

This Pays Basque dish is your standard omelette filled with the sunshine: tomato, bell pepper, garlic, chilli, bay and thyme that have gently fried together for a good half-hour.

It's all served up with slabs of fried ham on the side.

I know what you're thinking - I'm buggered if I'm taking half an hour and three pans just to make an omelette. Well you should.

Sea Bass in Lettuce Leaves "Auguste Escoffier"

Yes indeed, we're in the big time now. There's no lengthy narrative or anecdote about the great man here: it just pops up, quite casually, in the pages of Provence between beef in red wine and (god help us) a recipe for artichokes.

It immediately put me in mind of Keith Floyd, which probably has poor Escoffier spinning in his grave, bringing simple things together with booze and cream to make a surprisingly sophisticated and happy dish. 

Incidentally if you're one of those people inclined to pull faces at the thought of cooked lettuce, I'm disappointed in you. Go and eat Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's lettuce risotto, and come back when you've grown up.

So, a stock is made with all the grim bits of fish (I had some langostine paws kicking around too - go me) with your regular stock veg and white wine.

The fish himself is cut into biggish pieces (to fillet or not? I did), dusted with flour and lightly fried for a couple of minutes each side. 

Then the brilliant bit. Blanch the lettuce leaves, wrap one or two around each piece of fish, and simmer really gently, with softened shallots, in the stock, some white wine and vermouth for a few minutes.

Finish with a splash of cream, naturally.

If the gods are kind you haven't overcooked the fish. The lettuce is soft but still light and fresh, and is a great carrier for the rich, slightly sweet sauce.

It's beyond my skill to make this thing look elegant, especially when it's my bloody dinner and the last thing I want is cold fishy lettuce, but that doesn't matter because all the elegance you need is on your palate.

Wine and Honey Cream

We're off to the Languedoc for pudding. At a casual glance I imagined it to be some syllabub-type whipped affair for serving in a tall glass (or possibly a jam-jar with a handle for those in Shoreditch). I still think that's a jolly good idea, but it ain't this.

Instead we have more of a baked custard, the kind of creme you find under a brulee: honey and wine are simply whipped up with eggs, cinnamon and lemon peel and baked on a low heat for half an hour, then left to cool. 

With typical style, I forgot to make a caramel for the moulds so they looked a bit anaemic when turned out, but you can't fault the taste.

I mean, wine and honey - if you're going to quibble with that, all I can do is shrug.

All images (c) PP Gettins

The Taste of France

By: Mr Robot

Over the last couple of years we’ve mainly been trying to expand our cookery repertoire – not least dabbling with Burmese food (largely thanks to MiMi Aye), Vietnamese (Uyen Luu), and Japanese (Tim Anderson), while my subscription with The Spicery is for a World Discoverer box that takes me all over the place (including the odd trip to pastry hell). And though we’d never claim an ounce of expertise it’s exciting and liberating and fun to explore these things.

But for a while I’ve had the nagging feeling that perhaps we’re neglecting classical European a bit, and a recent trip to the new Bistrot Pierre in Bath only confirmed that.

I’ve also had a yearning to properly do one cookbook in full, cover to cover, including all the stuff that makes me dubious or scared.

So in the spirit of a double-bird massacre I’ve decided to go full tilt at The Taste of France by Robert Freson, Adrian Bailey and Jacqueline Saulnier. 

This is a lovely book of proper traditional French fare and when we picked it up about 15 years ago
, it was very much in the foodporn spirit: it has acres of descriptive text and atmospheric photos covering each region of France, though at the time the recipes seemed impossibly challenging.

Looking at it now, there’s little to be afraid of (don’t mention the pastry) and it’s not ridiculously huge - though now I come to count I hadn’t realised it runs to 91 recipes – so meets my current needs nicely. With any luck I’ll be able to pull off a spectacular multi-course feast each month or so and we should be done in, erm, a couple of years.

It won’t be without it’s challenges, not least for ingredients. My local butcher is wonderful but we may have difficulty getting hold of the hare, calves feet, snails and frog legs I’ll need to do it in full – thank heavens for interweb mail order. 

The authors also seem strangely devoted to chervil, which appears to be extinct in Wiltshire supermarkets, so I might have to get my wellies on and sort the garden out.

I can’t say my wallet is looking forward to the Lobster pot-au-feu or Turbot gigot styke and frankly I fully expect the Dried and Salted Pig’s Liver to go to the cat. But I’m going to do them anyway, because that’s what being a Greedybot is all about.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Anglo-Indian Pilaf

By: Mrs Robot

I'm not going to review the cookbook yet as I haven't made enough recipes from it to do the job properly, but I just wanted to share a photo of one of the dishes from The Burma Cookbook, by Robert Carmack and Morrison Polkinghorne with you.

I mentioned in a post that my family's pretty much lost touch with the Asian part of its roots, and for me cooking food from the region is one way to try to reconnect with that. Well, this is about as connected as I can get: a dish from the mixed-race community within Burma. A lot of Indians and Anglo-Indians went to Burma with the British, and took with them all sorts of foodstuffs, many of which have become part of Burmese food. (Take Indian snacks and the Burmese love of salads, and what do you get? Samosa salad.)

You don't need any connection at all to Burma to enjoy this pilaf, however. It's really delicious. You start by making a sort of spiced lamb stew, then putting the rice on top after a couple of hours and waiting for that to absorb the excess liquid. The result is wonderfully soft meat and tasty rice, which you top with fried onions and bits of omelette.

It's fantastically easy to make, and can all be done in one pot, which I definitely appreciate because I hate washing up. If you make your own curries regularly you'll have all the spices at home already, and if you don't there aren't so many that it would all be really expensive to buy them - plus then you'd have the spices to make many more pilafs in future. The meat does take a couple of hours to stew, but you could make up that part in advance and freeze it, so when you wanted some after, say, a day at work, you's just need to thaw it and bring the meat up to a simmer before adding the rice.

I think I will be eating a lot of this in future...

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Retro Recipe: God Save the Queen (of Puddings)!

By: Mrs Robot

I was once entertained to hear an American food critic say you could mess about with the savoury side of food as much as you liked and British people would eat it, but don't ever mess with their puddings. It's true: we do love a good pud, from venerable old Christmas Pudding to a steamed golden syrup one, to what has to be the UK's current favourite, sticky toffee pudding, which is a bit of a johnny-come-lately having been invented around the 1970s. Now, British puddings are not like American pudding, which seems to refer solely to custardy or blancmangey things. Being a guttersnipe, I'll label anything sweet served towards the end of a meal 'pudding', but when I talk of 'a pudding', I'll mean the spongy sort. Queen of Puddings is a bit of an oddity, then, as it's got a custardy (but firm) base. On top of that goes a thin layer of red jam, then a pile of meringue.

This was an unusual thing for me to make as there's an unstated division of labour here at Casa Mechanica; I do pastry, he does meringues. But as Mr Robot had crossed the line when he wrestled with the Moroccan snake, I decided to give this a whirl. The recipe was from Katie Stewart's Cookery Book, a reprint of The Times Cookery Book. I was worried about including this entry in our 'Retro Recipes' section, but that book was first published over 40 years ago! Despite that, the book isn't at all dated, just incredibly useful.

I don't know why it's taken me so long to give this a go. I'd feared it would be tricky, but it's incredibly simple. I suppose separating eggs might seem difficult to some people if they've never tried it, but it's really easy. You use the yolks in the custard mixture, which you then soak the bread in, beat smooth, and bake. Once the bread-custard base is firm, you smear it with jam - we used a jar of raspberry bought at the Bakelite Museum on a recent trip to Devon - and then top with meringue. Bake it again for about 10 minutes and hey presto! Pudding is ready to serve.

As for the meringue... I did it! I've always been terrified of over-beating it and ending up with a collapsed mess, and that's been leading me to under-beat. This time I got it really stiff and the whole experience was much more satisfying (ooh, matron).

One thing that struck me was how economical the whole thing was, enabling you to feed about six people (erm, or two greedy ones) using just a few eggs, a thick slice of bread, some sugar and some jam. If you've got other things going in the oven anyway, it would be easy to pop the base in on a lower shelf at the same time, making maximum use of the heat. She may be called a Queen, but she's a Pauper at heart!

Friday, 26 June 2015

Snakes on a Plate

or, The Spicery Box 2 - A Fiasco in Filo
By: Mr Robot

I was really looking forward to my second box from The Spicery because not only did it have very tasty-looking Cafreal kebabs, it had the terribly swish and exciting M’Hencha. On reflection that was stupid of me because my pastry skills are disastrous at best, and M’Hencha being a massive coil of filo, it could only ever go one way.

Anyhoo, the kebabs were great – quite subtle herby chicken onna stick backed up with an extremely punchy mango chutney. 

In fact the chutney was the highlight: dark, jammy and fiery hot. I’m more accustomed to that heat in more sour context so the sweet mango provided a novel and exciting backdrop. 

Mrs Robot was very grateful for the raita...

Inevitably, though, the star of the box was the M’hencha. It’s a spectacular - if done properly - sausage of ground almonds, orange and pistachios, wrapped in filo pastry which is then coiled like a snake (the literal meaning of M’Hencha apparently), baked until crunchy and then made soggy with an insane syrup of honey and citrus. 

Anyone who doesn’t find that a madly exciting prospect can leave the room right now.
As I’ve already hinted, pastry is not my strong point, and the fact that we’re using shop-bought helps not one jot. For some reason pastry drives me to flap and swear like nothing on earth. Think of an elderly relative trying to install a printer driver*  - that’s me where flour and fat are concerned.

We start off well enough, producing a lovely sweet goop fragrant with cinnamon, cloves, nuts and oranges. But that’s as far as it goes.
My instructions tell me to lay out my 270g pack of filo to a length of 1.5 metres, so in a spirit of terrified slavish obedience I measure out that distance plus a bit and start laying sheets. 
Well a third of a pack later I’m done, and I’m dithering. Should I be doubling up with extra layers, or is this all I need? Have I got the wrong packet of filo? What do I do? And how does spinning round in circles and flapping help?

It’s ridiculous because in any other kitchen situation I’d have coped fine. Not with aplomb, perhaps, and with no certainty of success, but I’d have had a decent go. I definitely wouldn’t have got hysterical. Eventually Mrs Robot delivers a Bogartian slap to restore my senses and I decide to proceed with just the single layer. But of course by now the pastry has already started drying out so despite painting it with butter (did I mention my painting skills? About as good as my pastrying), the rolling is more an exercise in folding and shattering.  
Coiling, therefore, goes no better and instead of a snaky circle I end up with something Pythagoras could’ve spent a diverting afternoon with.

Here’s where the instructions really let me down. They say you can bake this in a springform cake tin, or slide it onto a baking sheet, whereas of course it should have read, “bake it in a springform cake tin, or you can slide it onto a baking sheet BUT ONLY IF YOU’RE A BLOODY IDIOT”. 
Guess what I did.

Well as you can imagine at this point the air was blue, providing a lovely contrast to my face, and I was desperately in need of consolation.

About 40 seconds after shoving the accursed thing into the oven I got it, in the form of some of the most delicious smells ever to waft my way. 

It only got better, and by the time I’d taken him out of the oven, drizzled him with syrup and scattered him with pistachios and rose petals, my poor deformed snake promised to be something glorious. 

He may be a poor deformed snake, but at least I gave him a face

And it was. I mean you’d never expect bad things out of almonds and honey and pastry and oranges and more honey, so that was no great surprise but it was utterly wonderful sticky eating.

The phrase “preparation time 25 minutes” was clearly a big fat lie but at least the 35 minute cooking time allows for a pint or two towards recovery

Beauty's only crunchy-skin deep

All images (c) PP Gettins

*With apologies to all tech-savvy silver surfers, naturally. Please don’t hack me