Thursday, 22 March 2012

New ingredients: Kodampuli

What strange, wrinkly creature is this? May I introduce kodampuli, an extra special gift brought back from Kerala by a very sweet, thoughtful friend. She knows I love a mystery ingredient!

I have been reliably informed that these smoked, sun-dried fruits are quite specific to south Indian cuisine, and used only in fish curries. They don't have much aisle appeal - slightly mummified in appearance, and almost black. I can imagine the smell would put many people off too - heavily smoked, with an intense sour, almost meaty fragrance.

I'm not so savvy about Indian cooking, probably because I've mostly lived in areas of London which have large African-Caribbean communities, so the cuisine is off my daily radar. But I do love a well spiced dish, so these will be tested this weekend in an Anglicised version of the pomfret coconut curry recipe which also came back with my friend. If the results are good, the recipe will follow...

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Sour cherry and hazelnut florentines

These are based on an old recipe my mum used to make many, many years ago. I love florentines so it was rather frustrating when the recipe disappeared for a decade, during which time I tried other variations. But none of them had the same buttery crunchiness, not even saint Delia's.

If you'd rather return to the old standard, replace the sour cherries with a 50/50 combination of finely chopped glacé cherries and apricots. I find the sharpness of the sour cherries works to balance out the rich nuts and chocolate, but there's a guilty pleasure to be had in those sticky glacé cherries too.

A dozen of these delicate thins piled up in a ribboned Weck jar made a handsome birthday gift for a friend this weekend, which made me think... I know that Christmas is another nine months away, but I'm adding these to my edible giftlist for 2012.

Makes 35 small biscuits

75g flaked almonds, crushed
25g finely chopped, blanched hazelnuts
75g finely chopped sour cherries
85g butter
100g caster sugar
a pinch of salt
100g dark chocolate
25g white chocolate

1) Place the almonds, hazelnuts and cherries into a large bowl and toss together to combine.

2) Melt the butter in a small pan then add the sugar and salt, and stir until it comes to the boil. Allow to bubble for one minute whilst stirring vigorously. Take care with the mixture - remember it contains extremely hot sugar! Pour over the fruit and nuts and stir in well.

3) Spoon slightly heaped teaspoons (the measuring kind, not the kind you use to stir your tea with) of the mixture onto two silicone baking sheets, leaving 5cm around each to allow for the biscuits to spread as they cook. Bake at 350f/180c/gas mark 4 for 10 minutes, or until golden brown.

4) As soon as you remove them from the oven, use a knife to shape each biscuit into a neat round, about 6cm in diameter, then allow to cool until firm enough to lift onto a wire cooling rack.

5) Melt the two chocolates in separate bowls over bains marie. Use the back of a spoon to use the dark chocolate to 'paint' the flat side of each biscuit, and allow to cool. Once firm, use a piping bag with a 1mm hole cut at the end to drizzle the white chocolate in lines over the biscuits. Leave to cool again before storing.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

A sucker for a good thing

Until recently I was an octopus novice. Eaten once or twice yes, but never attempted at home. But in Portugal they are quite obsessed with it, and rightly so. I was converted.

Octopus has a reputation for being a difficult beast - hellishly tough if overcooked - and huge. Not something to cook on a whim. Poor things. Now I feel bad for presuming, having discovered how ridiculously easy they are to cook. They'll never have the yielding tenderness of a young squid - too large and muscled for that - but long, slow cooking reduces the flesh to a gelatinous softness that is very pleasing.

The magic trick: it goes against every instinct in me to prefer frozen to fresh, but my Portuguese cook/mentor swears that previously frozen octopuses are more tender, and after some testing I must agree. Most octopus in the UK will be frozen anyway, but if you happen upon a fresh one, freeze it overnight before defrosting thoroughly the next day for cooking. Then simply allow the octopus to very, very gently stew in it's own juices, add oil, vinegar and salt, and enjoy those pretty pink tentacles.

Serves 4

2 small octopuses (about 1200g combined weight) which have been frozen then defrosted
500g baby new potatoes
4 eggs
large bunch of fresh coriander (50g)
1 onion
1/2 cup (100ml) of extra virgin olive oil
4 tbsp cider vinegar
salt and pepper

1) If the octopus hasn't already been cleaned: remove the internal organs from the body including the quill bones, then press the beak and the soft fleshy part around it out from the centre of the tentacles, cut out and discard. Wash and dry.

2) To cook, place the octopuses in a large pot and turn on the heat to the lowest setting. Allow to slowly cook in their own juices for about 40 minutes to an hour. When the flesh can be pierced easily at the thickest point (where the legs meet the body), then they are done. Once cooked, allow to cool before cutting into small chunks.

3) While the octopuses are cooking, boil the potatoes till cooked through with a large pinch of salt. Place the eggs in cold water, bring to the boil, and simmer for 5 minutes. This should give an egg that is hard boiled but not dry. Cut both into bit sized pieces, and place in a bowl with the octopus.

4) Chop the onion into thin slices, add to the mixture, then chop the coriander and add that too. Whisk the oil and vinegar together in a bowl, add a large pinch of salt and pepper, and use to dress the salad. Check for seasoning (you may need more vinegar depending on how sharp it is), and serve warm with a hunk of crusty bread to mop up the juices.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Fernandez & Wells

I'm on a mission to sell London. A good friend recently moved back to the UK from Melbourne and is probably (hopefully!) going to move to London once she's settled. In the meantime I am, totally selflessly, running a campaign to show her the very best of London, starting yesterday with a sunny day of contemporary art galleries and damn good coffee in Soho.

The Beak Street Fernandez & Wells has been one of my firm favourites since it opened, and now has the Suzy stamp of approval too. We arrived with serendipitous timing, just as two seats opened by the window, great for people watching. Note: must try harder not to giggle when people fall off the pavement, windows are two-way after all.

We both loved their beautifully poured stumpies (their version of a flat white), and my friend even picked up shades of the famous Aussie cafe relaxed atmosphere. Praise indeed. I'm hoping that will work as an extra convincer.

My cheese toastie was totally delicious and deserves a special mention - I wouldn't normally rave about a sandwich but the cheese and sourdough bread were both great quality and the addition of finely chopped leek and red onion cut through the richness brilliantly.

Another selling point for F&W - a new branch of Aesop, the cult Australian skincare brand, has just opened around the corner. My friend is now totally sold on their high quality botanical products, and the shop almost persuaded me to part with my Oil of Olay. Almost but not quite - my mother has used it for 40 years, and still looks ten years younger than she really is. That's good enough for me!

Next stop on the Sell London mission: a visit to the carefully selected coffees at St. ALi in Clerkenwell, a Melbourne import which should close the deal. Wish me luck!
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