Back from holiday – new fridge!

So – we’re back from skiing, thinner, tanned and full of American protein (the food was marvellous, but we must have seen a grand total of about three vegetables in the two weeks we were there). Holiday photos and some restaurant reviews to be drip-fed to you over the next couple of weeks in addition to normal service.

Our Christmas present to ourselves arrived on the day before we left – a new Smeg fridge (the model number is FAB28R for those interested) in a poppy red. It may not be a traditional fridge colour, but I absolutely love it, and with a 258-litre capacity it’s more than twice the size of our old, dribbly, half-height fridge. It’s gorgeous; shiny, chunky, and terribly, terribly red. The chrome handle and lettering are beautifully machined and feel very durable.

The inside of the fridge is just as well designed, with a bottle rack which can be set to hold your bottles horizontal or at a tilt, a cheese box, adjustable shelving, egg and butter sections, plastic flexible fingers to stop bottles standing in the door from tipping and falling over when you open it, the mandatory salad drawer, and lots and lots of glorious, well-lit space.

I’ve filled it with good things – there are two jars of foie gras in there, some goose fat, a duck and its giblets, some dried fish (Ikan Bilis), wasabi, two kinds of mayonnaise, two kinds of miso, salted and unsalted butter, and the usual milk, cream and eggs. There’s some Speck, walnut oil, garlic, several different kinds of chili and soya sauce and a huge volume of vegetables. There’s Gü chocolate souffle for the sweetie-craving Mr Weasel, litres of cranberry juice, some Stilton and Parmesan, and a great big jar of anchovies from the Italian delicatessen. This is fantastic – with the old fridge, tiny and poorly-designed, filling it after the weekly shop was always a taxing exercise in topology.

The shelves are glass, not mesh, so there’s no danger of dripping and contamination (a real problem in the old fridge, which we inherited from the people who used to live here). They’re also very easy to adjust, so I’ve got a comfortably variable space between shelves at the moment. The small freezer compartment – small because we have a large freezer in the utility room – is just large enough for a bottle of vodka and an ice cube tray, and there’s plenty of space in the door for my depressingly large collection of sauce bottles. (Does one household really need eight different kinds of chilli sauce? I think it does.)

I’m still rather jet-lagged, so tonight we are having an uncharacteristic pre-prepared meal of fresh pasta and a supermarket pasta sauce.

Which I’ve been keeping in the fridge.

What, no updates?

You might have noticed an uncharacteristic lack of updates over the last week or so; huge apologies. I’m on holiday in America, and had expected to be blogging as usual from here until I discovered that the hotel wireless access thingbob doesn’t accept UK credit cards as payment.

This leaves me scratching a bare minimum of time online at an Internet cafe down the road, where I’m not allowed to upload pictures. Normal service will resume at the end of February; meanwhile I can reassure you that I am eating furiously, taking copious photographs and notes, and have come up with a Creole Hollandaise sauce recipe. Please come back soon.

Crispy pasta bake

This is a bit like macaroni cheese, but even nicer. You’ll be making the normal Mornay (cheese) sauce base, but adding sweetly sauted shallots, corn and bacon to the mixture; and topping not with bread, but with croissant crumbs, which form a buttery and crisp top to the baked dish. You’ll need:

1 can sweetcorn
12 rashers smoked streaky bacon
6 shallots, sliced
400g pasta
50g butter
50g plain flour
850 ml (1 ½ pints) mlk
200g cheddar cheese, grated
100g soured cream
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 grating nutmeg
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons grated parmesan
1 ½ croissants, whizzed in blender until reduced to crumbs

Before you start, make sure your croissants aren’t the kind with added vanilla essence. (It won’t necessarily be listed on the packaging, but it the wrapper says ‘flavouring’, don’t buy them.) You want to give a rich sweetness to the crust, not make it taste like patisserie.

Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the pack. Use something with a hollow shape which will hold sauce – I used the shell-shaped conchigle, but you might like to try fusili. At the same time, fry the bacon and shallots together over a high heat until the shallots are brown and sweet, and in a third pan use the butter, flour and milk to make a white (bechamel) sauce.

Turn the pasta, bacon (with its melted fat), shallots and corn from the can into the dish you will bake the pasta in. Melt the grated cheddar cheese into the bechamel with some salt, the soured cream, the nutmeg, mustard and cayenne pepper. Pour the sauce over the pasta mixture and stir to make sure everything is well mixed and coated, then sprinkle the croissant crumbs and parmesan over the top to make a light crust.

Bake at 180°C for 30 minutes, until the crumbs are golden and the sauce is bubbling around the edges of your baking dish.

Weekend cat blogging – the reject pile

Weekend cat blogging (thanks Clare!) is something I normally have to go to a degree of effort for, taking about thirty bad photos for every good one. The kittens move around a lot, and my camera really can’t cope with the sheer s-p-e-e-d of a pouncing ball of fangs. They only look cute for the three percent of the time when they are not either sleeping, tongues lolling and chops drooling; or trying to kick each other in the head. Here are some photographs which I rejected for earlier weekend posts – now I look hard at them, maybe the photographic upsets are actually quite cute. Enjoy.

Roast, spiced nuts

Roast nutsWe’ve got some friends over for a drink tonight, and I decided to get all post-ironic and serve a bowl of nuts. These are delicious, sweetly spicy, fattening and go perfectly with a large glass of something cold – they are very like the nuts served in Pizza Express if you’re English and like that kind of thing. To serve four for nibbles you’ll need:

100g almonds
100g pecans
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
1 ½ teaspoons Maldon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 ½ teaspoons whole fennel seeds
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons herbes de provence
4 sprigs fresh rosemary

spicesThis is as easy as pie – just melt the butter in a non-stick pan until it bubbles, and tip everything else in with it. Use a wooden spoon to keep on the move for about eight minutes, then turn out onto a cold sheet of greaseproof paper.

Cool the nuts at room temperature. When they are cool, they’ll be nice and crisp. Transfer to a bowl and hover over it, because if you don’t they’ll all be eaten before you get a chance to have any.

South-Asian spiced fishcakes

My Mum recited this recipe, which she had just conjured from thin air, down the telephone the other evening. I’m always in the market for good store-cupboard recipes, and this sounded excellent: something to use up that can of good, fatty fish; some mellow and fiery curry spices; last night’s mashed potato; the eggs left over from my last cake; and some of the herbs clogging the fridge. This is a recipe where you need a canned fish rather than something fresh; it’s rich and moist but flaky, which is exactly what you require here.

I love Mummy’s fishcakes. They made a regular appearance on the table when I was a little girl, and since then she’s refined and tweaked them into something quite fantastic. They’re also very quick to prepare if you have some mashed potato hanging around, so next time you prepare some as an accompaniment, make a pound or so extra so you can try these the next day.

The little patties are dusted with cornflour to make them crisp and golden; we eat them with rice and some very serious feelings of gratitude. For about 16 fishcakes you’ll need:

1 can Alaskan red salmon (I went for Alaskan salmon because I’d just been reading Legerdenez, a perfume blog from Alaska which I commend to you – if you’re not in the mood for salmon, a good fatty tuna will also do well.)
6 small shallots
4 cloves garlic
1 large handful fresh coriander
1 ½ teaspoons curry powder (I use Bolsts)
1 red chilli
Zest of 1 lime
1 ½ tablespoons grated fresh ginger
2 eggs
1 lb mashed potato
1 teaspoon salt
Cornflour to dust
Butter and olive oil to fry

Put all the fishcake ingredients except the potato in the blender, and blitz until everything is roughly chopped. (The fish is quite salty already, so be careful not to oversalt.) Remove to a mixing bowl and use your hands to combine everything until well-blended.

Shape the mixture into patties the size of your palm, and dip in cornflour. Refrigerate for half an hour, then fry for five minutes each side until golden. Serve with rice and a sweet chilli sauce, or a wedge of lime .