Saturday, October 23, 2010

Moules Marinière

On a cold autumnal afternoon in London, I decided to whip up a batch of mussels for the Hussyband so we could snuggle up, eat with our fingers and slurp juices sucked up by torn chunks of crusty bread as they dribbled down our arms.

You see people out and about, tucking into pots of mussels in restaurants, daintily trying to eat them with knives and forks....oh the travesty! The waste! Mussels are meant to be dug into, fingers licked, chins dripped. The are not a dainty dish, nor are they for the weak hearted, first date or meeting the inlaws.

Mussels should be eaten using the shell as both a spoon and extraction implement. Use a gentle back and forth motion on the top portion of the mussel shell to detach it from the bottom shell. This only needs to be done for the first mussel. Hold the bottom shell with one hand and use the upper shell as a scoop to scrape the mussel from the lower section. Bring the shell to your lips and allow the mussel to slide into your mouth, with a good splash of the cooking juices.

Three things you will need to have handy:

  1. A finger bowl
  2. Paper towels/serviettes
  3. A bowl to dump all the empty shells in.

Now you know how to eat them, get cooking a pot now and enjoy!

Moules Marinière

1kg/2.2lbs fresh mussels
115g/4oz unsalted butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped 200ml/7fl oz dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1-2 fresh red chillis, or 1 tablespoon dried chilli flakes (less or more depending on your personal chilli taste)
large handful fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
crusty baguette sliced, to serve

To prepare the mussels, pull away the beard from around the shell and scrub with a stiff brush under cold running water.

Heat 50g/2oz of the unsalted butter in a large saucepan. When hot and foaming add the garlic, shallots, wine, bay leaf and chilli. Cook over a medium heat until the shallots are soft and translucent.

Bring the shallots and wine mixture to the boil. Add the mussels, cover the saucepan, gently shake the pan and cook over a high heat for 2-3 minutes, until the mussels open. Discard any mussels that remain closed after cooking or are shriveled. Be careful as you do this, and don't burn your arm like I did!

Strain the mussels over a large saucepan using a colander and set aside. Place the mussels into a large bowl. Retain the mussel juices in the pan and return to the heat. Add the parsley and remaining butter and bring to the boil.

Pour the juices over the mussels and serve with a big pile of crusty bread.

Serves 2

Adapted from a recipe by Antony Worrall Thompson

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fifteen Cornwall

So a couple of weeks back, the Hussyband and I went on a Haggis Adventures bus trip for 5 days through Devon and Cornwall. This was a bare bones trip, with a very comfortable bus and tour guide, and staying in backpacker hostels (I will not get started on my hatred on the accommodation part of the trip.) Being that we were being forced to stay in dorm rooms, I rightly justified that we could afford to go to a Really Nice Dinner (TM). And considering we would be staying in Newquay for 2 nights, where better to go that to Fifteen Cornwall for a splash up dinner...(well nowhere really, Padstein was too far away!)

My original attempts at booking seemed to have gone seamlessly, via Toptable, but less than a week before departure I get a rather distressing phone call. Our reservation had been cancelled. Strike a scene of hair pulling, wailing and pounding of my head against a wall, ok a bit dramatic. On calling Fifteen I was told that I would only be able to get a table at 6pm or 9pm - too early to ensure we had arrived on the bus, and too late for this hungry little camper who would normally eat by 8pm and settled into drinking. Following a tweet, the gorgeous Jo from the Fifteen Marketing Team, came to our rescue and got us a table...HUZZAH!

So after a day crossing Dartmoor, patting ponies, climbing waterfalls and trying not to kill an idiot boy from the 'Gong up the back of the bus, we rocked into Newquay and dumped our gear at the hostel, showered, frocked up into a dress (shocking the backpackers) and slapping on the spack filler, we grabbed a cocktail and sat outside the bar of our hostel enjoying the view (which was awesome I will admit).

Heading over to Watergate Bay, we wanted to check out The Beach Hut for a pre-dinner cocktail and to watch the sunset and surfers. What a view. Words cant describe, so just look at this and wish that every day ended with a view as chilled as this.

Heading upstairs to Fifteen for our reservation, we were greeted by friendly helpful staff, an amazing view, and a well decorated interior - all pinks and browns...I love pink bits!

Started off with some more cocktails - Fifteens Amazing Dry Martini (Skyy Vodka stirred down with a touch of Noilly Prat, some orange bitters and a twist of lemon or mammoth olive) for Hussyband, and a Cider Car (Somerset 10yo cider brandy shaken with Cointreau & lemon) for me in honor of being in Scrumpy territory.

Now, the menu at Fifteen changes daily, and is to reflect the very best seasonal produce available, with at least 80% of this produce sourced from Cornwall. So I was excited to see what was going to be on offer for our visit.

Once seated at our table, we were presented with a wooden platter of Baker Tom’s bread baked daily and the best Puglian green olives. The bread was crusty with a hint of sweetness, and the olives were plump, juicy and full of bite.

First up "to get us started" (according to the menu) was a Crostini of Cornish mackerel ‘in carpione’ with pickled chard and St Austell bay mussels. Never having been a fan of oily fish, I had not tried mackerel before (that and it isn't hugely prevalent in Oz) - and I was brave, and surprised. My mouth was filled with flavor, it was fishy, but not in an in your  face kind of way, and the mussels and pickled chard offset it perfectly. Nom nom. More please?

From here on, we had to pick, luckily Hussyband is easily swayed, so we got one of each for the insalata and primi courses and "shared". Also with luck - we have very different likes and dislikes, so while we go to try each dish, we also got to hog the ones we liked best.

Insalata of juicy Italian flat white peach, mozzarella di bufala, Buttervilla’s funky leaves and aged balsamic  - now to me funky leaves means that they will either dance on my palate or smell like a pair of footballers socks. Thankfully it was the former and not the latter! This salad was light, with the peach, mozzarella and balsamic coming together in a way that I would not have expected. Sorry for the over exposed pic...but you get the idea!

Bresaola della Valtellina, Newlina’s green beans, micro leaves with thyme and mustard dressing - Hussyband the Carnivore was thrilled with this, salad, with meat. I found the dressing to die for and wanted to lick the plate. Hussyband beat me to it. He is a tramp and gets his tongue out whenever he can I am afraid.

Of the primi's Hussyband's favorite was the lightest potato gnocchi with Angus oxtail ragu and horseradish gremolata, I had to tear the plate away from him to try the lovely slow cooked meat sauce, with pillows of potato-y goodness, and the gremolata was just strong enough to give the back of my nasal passage an ushiro mawashi geri (a back kick for the non-martial arts minded among you) as it slid down my throat.

For me, the aged carnaroli risotto of girolle mushrooms, tarragon and mature pecorino ticked all the boxes. Coated the ribs, smelled earthy and sweet, with a good grating of pecorini to tart it up. I could quite happily curl up in front of a fire and devour a huge bowl of this on a cold winters night. Just what the doctor would order considering how London's weather is now turning!!

Onto the mains, and this is where we had a spot of trouble. 2 people. 4 mains. How to choose?

I ended up picking the Crispy fillet of line caught sea bass, with herby Charlotte potatoes, purple sprouting broccoli and the best salsa verde. The skin was crispy and perfectly seasoned, with the salsa verde giving a lovely herbacious bite to it. The potatoes, just lush, but the broccoli just looked like normal broccoli (tasted great anyway).

Hussyband being the meat loving caveman that he is, went for the Roast fillet of Angus beef, borlotti beans, ruby chard and a rosemary and anchovy dressing. The meat was well cooked and bloody (as it should be!) I did not get to try any of his vegetables, as by the time I got my nose out of my own plate, he had scoffed everything but the meat - he always leaves the best to last, whereas I prefer to have a bit of everything on my fork at once.

The dishes we passed on, with difficulty, were the Pan fried Cornish brill, beautifully dressed fregola with heritage tomatoes and basil pesto and the Rotolo di patate (baked potato, spinach and ricotta roll), fagioli in umido and Parmigiano Reggiano.

By this stage, our stomachs were starting to strain at our waist bands, but we forced ourselves to share the best polka raspberry and vanilla mousse, creamy mascarpone and summer fruits from the Dolci e Formaggi selection. It was tart, sweet, in your face, innocent and debauched all rolled into one plate. If I could have taken some back to the hostel, our bunk mates would not have gotten any sleep. Yes, I loved it. Bonus brownie points: it has pink and purple bits, and that the purple bit was a pretty flower. Yes, girlie girl moment. Get over it.

Deserts that we passed on, were  the Amazing Amedei ‘No.9’ chocolate truffle tart, chocolate and chilli sorbet and frozen Muscat grapes, and the Formaggi: Stichelton, Driftwood and Old Winchester with walnut and date bread and Fifteen’s fantastic fruity chutney.

No room for coffee, we waddled out of there stuffed, satiated and satisfied that our contribution to the Foundations coffers was worth every cent.

Tasting Menu at £55 per person. Wine pairings optional at £42 per person (we didnt).

Fifteen Cornwall
On the Beach
Watergate Bay

T: 01637 861000

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Turkish Delight Vodka

I have a love for pink bits. And vodka. So to combine the two can only be good right? Flavored vodka is easy to make, and don't believe the naysayers - it is not a way to cover the taste of cheap vodka, I wont flavor what I would not drink normally. It is the same with vodka as it is with wine ----- if you wont drink it, don't cook with it (or in this case toss some sugary goodness in, change its color and make it tasty!)

Now this recipe is as simple as a recipe can be, with just 2 ingredients. You will need about 350g of good fresh turkish delight (the sort covered in icing sugar), I prefer the classic rose flavored, but there are plenty of choices these days, so taste a few and see what grabs your fancy. You will also need 3/4 of a 750ml bottle of vodka. now, I like Absolut for flavoring, but as I said - if you wont drink it normally, then don't try and flavor it.

Rinse all of the icing sugar off of the turkish delight, then dice it up into 1cm cubes (they need to go through the neck of the vodka bottle). Taste a few pieces as you go (quality control and all that), and push all the cubes into the bottle, put the lid back on and give it a damn good shake (think Tom Cruise in Cocktail).

Store the bottle in a cool dark place, and shake once or twice a day until the turkish delight has dissolved.

When you go to serve it, this is important, DO NOT SHAKE IT prior to serving as the sediment will cloud the liquid.

How do I drink it? Icy cold and neat in a shot is good. Or you could mix it with lemonade, make a TD Martini with a topping layer of Cadbury's Chocolate Liquor (or any other type), mixes nicely with lychee really are only limited by your imagination!

So, however you say it where you are, I raise my glass to you. Cheers! Slainte! Salut! Salud! Pura Vida! Proost! Gan Bei! Kippis! Kampai! Skaal!

EDITED TO ADD: L'CHAIM! For the delightful Kanga_Rue