Monday, 13 April 2009

"Mummy, what's that strange lady taking pictures for?"

I'm slightly in awe of the bloggers who photograph their meals in restaurants without so much as a pang of self-consciousness - sometimes I can't even take pictures in my flat without feeling like a prime idiot. Yesterday's Easter-lunch-for-six was a case in point: I'd sort of forgotten that not everyone takes photos of their food before eating it, and that the explanation of "it's for a blog" doesn't necessarily enlighten much. To minimise my embarrassment I took a hurried two photos of each dish rather than my usual eleventy-nine, hence the even lower in-focus rate than usual.

41. Zucchini Crostini (Fast Food)

Mike had been drooling over the picture of these for a while (which might seem mystifying if you've only got my photo to go on, but trust me, the shot in the book is mouth-watering), and when I asked him to pick a starter this is what he plumped for. Isn't "to plump for" a funny phrase? But anyway - the recipe's basically an assembly job: sourdough crostini brushed with olive oil and topped with prosciutto, furls of blanched courgette tossed in lemon zest and seasoning, and a poached egg perched on top. All of which sounds straightforward enough, but the 'Fast Food' label is nonetheless a bit of a misnomer - preparing the courgettes actually takes a fair amount of time. More troublesomely, I couldn't find sourdough bread anywhere. Admittedly by 'anywhere' I just mean Sainsbury's and Waitrose, but still! I ended up getting a ciabatta instead, mainly because I thought ciabatta was a type of sourdough bread, but Wikipedia appears to disagree with me on that one.

These are much tastier than that photo might lead you to believe - Mike and I both thought they were the best part of the whole meal. And Jill's method for poaching eggs is fantastic. If you're thinking "you need a method to poach eggs?" you have clearly never been subjected to my previous attempts - recently I've been using these, which my mum gave me, but although they're fairly idiot-proof (well, if Mike's on hand to upend them for you) there's something almost too plasticy-perfect about the resulting eggs. The Lighten Up approach doesn't involve special equipment, swirling water or 'champagne bubbles' (that's what one of my ex-flatmates used to swear by...): all you do is bring 5cm of water to a simmer in a deep-ish frying pan, add a splash of vinegar, slide in the eggs and leave them for about three minutes. I can only assume that the shallowness of the water is the crucial element - it can't be the vinegar, anyway, as that was always involved in my unlovely specimins of yore - but whatever it is the eggs end up perfectly imperfect.

Mike says: "COURGETTE! These looked exactly like the picture (down to my parma ham arranging skills), good and quick and went down well, way too much courgette though, had to eat it seperately. It is weird eating a lot of courgette on its own."

42. Lamb Tagliata with Oven-Roast Tomatoes (Fast Food)

This recipe pretty much chose itself, lamb and Easter being so inextricably linked (in Britain, at least - come to think of it what do Antipodeans eat at Easter, given that lamb presumably isn't in season? A quick google turned up "for people in Australia no Easter is complete without a bilby or rabbit-eared bandicoot", but I like to think that's not referring to food...). Happily it's a doddle to make: you just press rump steak into a mixture of salt, pepper and finely chopped rosemary, then brown in a pan and finish off in the oven for ten minutes alongside cherry tomatoes on the vine - the meat should still be quite pink inside. Once the lamb's been rested and sliced you squish over the juice of a couple of the tomatoes, then strew with some rocket (quite a lot actually; my lamb looked more drowned than strewn) and the remaining tomatoes and drizzle over some olive oil.

There is lamb in there somewhere if you look hard enough.

I thought this was really nice, and would make a good Summer lunch - the lamb had a thick layer of fat on it though, which in retrospect I should probably have removed after cooking, or at least pared down a bit before. (Jill doesn't say anything about removing fat, you see, and, slavish recipe-follower that I am, it didn't occur to me to jetison it.) Still, the flavours were fresh and the meat was tender, and it all got finished which either means that it was popular or that portions were stingy, take your pick. Incidentally, the recipe's available here.

Mike says: "This one looked very pretty and the lamp was very tasty but very fatty. But it was the lamb's bottom so I guess it is good it was fatty, I wouldn't want my lambs without a padded rear. It also cooled really quick so maybe eat it somewhere hot, like a desert or possibly in a fire."

43. Pineapple and Coconut Soufflés (Special Food)

I'd never made soufflé before (I generally consider life too short to self-induce raised blood pressure), but remembered Sarah making these a while back and finding them inedibly sweet, so I used less than half the sugar called for by the recipe. You start off by popping some desiccated coconut in the oven to toast, completely forgetting about it and burning it an unappetising shade of greige. Once this entirely necessary step is out of the way you toast a fresh batch of coconut, beat some egg yolks, sugar and crushed pineappple together and stir in most of the coconut. Next you whisk egg whites to firm peaks with some more sugar and fold this into the pineapple mixture before spooning the whole thing into heavily buttered 250 ml soufflé dishes. Now, I've been accused of stockpiling more kitchen equipment than your average branch of Lakeland, but even my cupboards don't stretch to individual soufflé dishes, so I just used mugs with the same capacity. You're supposed to fill them to the brim, but there wasn't enough mixture for that - I'd guesstimate mine were only about two thirds full. You're also meant to smooth the tops, but as you can tell from the picture I didn't make quiiite as good a job of that as I could have done:

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder then I can only hope that all beholders are as short-sighted as me - the finishing touches of icing sugar and more toasted coconut didn't do much to obscure the lack of artistry. On the bright side they rose better than I'd dared hoped - they'd all sunk slightly by the time the picture was taken, but still towered above their pre-oven heights.

I was fairly indifferent to these - they were incredibly light, but almost too 'fluffy', and I couldn't really taste the pineapple (then again I did have a horrible cold, so that might not be saying much). They seemed more popular with other people though, and I'd definitely use the method again to make differently flavoured soufflés, though possibly in a parallel life where I'm the kind of person who actually owns soufflé dishes.

Mike says: "I am always against H halving sugar in recipes because she finds them too sweet. Especially when she complains at me for not following recipes and putting in 400g of turmeric thinking it is curry paste. These mug-contained fluffy things were create [?] though, and I really like bountys so win-win all round really."


Laura @ Hungry and Frozen said...

I read about the souffles on Sarah Cooks too, has put me off them a little! That lamb tagliata looks delish. I used to be shy about taking photos in cafes but now I'm quite brazen (I even have a mini tripod I sometimes take with me...because I'm a geek.)

Anonymous said...

Ah I was once of the fortunate to be there at the eating of this meal. Everything was delicious (and I can't stand bounties). The lamb was sooo tastey and I liked the starter so much I even attempted to make it for John (damn my identity is revealed) but lacking a recipe, owning a grill that melts metal trays and having to use a seive to strain out my disintegrated poached eggs I totally failed to replicate the yummyness of it.