A bit of holiday cooking (and reading)

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

I do like to read.

So when the opportunity came up to visit my parents, brother, sister, brother in law and niece and nephew at a nice villa in the South of France (Languedoc) the other week I jumped at the chance.
The idea was that while not contributing to the holiday per se, I would cook for everyone, thus saving money overall on the inevitable meals out and takeaways which would have otherwise drained the financial resources.

The problem with reading for me is that, doing what I do, there are really no set hours for work and relaxation as such.
This last year and a half or so, I seem to have been touring rather a lot (Us3, Jim Mullen, Marlena Shaw, Mica Paris, Boy George – each different band presents a different dynamic as to convenient reading opportunities) and although, as you can imagine, there is sometimes a lot of sitting around, I tend not to get through too many books on the road, the main inhibiting factors being (not necessarily in this order):

  • Alcohol – although a couple of drinks sometimes enhance my enjoyment of a book, one too many and I can’t remember what I’ve read when sobered up.
  • Travel –  I can’t read in a car or a minibus, and although it is possible to read on the tourbus, there’s too often distracting activity like DVD watching, animated conversation or the aforementioned  alcohol in commencement at any one time.
  • Noise – A lot of sitting around can occur in soundchecks, but have you ever tried to read with a bass drum or tom tom being played repetitively at high volume through a large PA for the purposes of equalization?
  • Cabin fever – I tend to find it difficult to read for prolonged periods when confined to a small space like a hotel room.
  • Unsettlement – At airports waiting for the gate number to appear, one is always looking up at the screen in the waiting lounge, thus providing an unwelcome break in concentration.
  • Unsocial flight times – A fair amount of flights that we take are often very early in the morning, so while reading on the plane is an option, I’m more likely to want to sleep if possible.

And when at home I equate reading with not doing something constructive (not quite true I know), so I’m much more likely to get to work in the studio or at the piano.
I can get really into reading first thing in the morning (a couple of years ago I got through quite a few Iris Murdoch books just this way), but it does tend blunt my concentration for a couple of hours afterwards, as well as taking up half the day so I rarely do this anymore.

SO when the opportunity came up to go on the holiday, the first thing I did was get the books I wanted to read. Last year I did the same thing, but took the wrong book (I took Crime and Punishment – and while I enjoyed reading the book as a whole, I remember being aware that it didn’t necessarily equate to my idea of relaxing by the pool with a beer)

I took 3 books with me this time:

  • To Kill A Mockingbird – we read this at school I’m sure, but like a lot of things at school, I didn’t invest much attention or effort to it. Reading it again was a much more enjoyable experience.
  • The Life of Pi – couldn’t put this down. Very imaginative, humorous, informative, entertaining, and also lots of references to South Indian food – which is always a good thing.
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Am halfway through this at the moment. Thoroughly engrossing characterizations and fascinating historical perspective.

I also did a lot of cooking. The ingredients and produce available at even the most humble French supermarkets always has me fascinated and brimming with ideas (however, since most of the people I was cooking for were not nearly as wildly liberal or adventurous in taste as myself, I was unable to realize many of these ideas).

But I endeavored to make some nice grub anyhow.

Here’s what I cooked:

Sausage and cheese frittata

When I arrived on the Sunday, we discovered all the supermarkets were closed, so I had to rustle something up from what was in the villa already, and what we could acquire from a local service station shop. There was a box of 6 eggs in the villa along with some herbs, and olive oil, and not much else. The service station sold packs of luncheon meat style sausage, and some nice looking Cantal Juene cheese, which is a young cow’s milk cheese, firm in texture and fruity in flavour. I sliced and fried the sausage, drained the fat from the pan, put the sausage meat in once again and added the beaten eggs with some herbs and black pepper. My intention was to then add the grated cheese on top and brown under the grill to cook the top of the eggs and cheese. But… we then discovered that the grill would only operate with the oven door closed, and I didn’t want to commit the frying pan to this unrelenting heat, so I heated up the oven, then opened it and let the top of the frittata firm up in the residual heat. Not ideal, but did the job OK…. the result being a slightly guey cheese underside to the omelette, which was not at all unpleasant, though a bit messy to cut up…

The next day, we got to the supermarket and stocked up on supplies.

Chicken casserole cooked in white wine with green peppers, olives and bay

The meal that night was a simple but very tasty rustic chicken casserole cooked in white wine and stock, with sliced green peppers, olives, onions, garlic, bay and herbs. It was served with mash potatoes and steamed green beans:

Chicken casserole served with mash and beans

…and accompanied by bread with oil and balsemic vinegar (a constant companion to food that week):

Bread and oil with balsemic

The next morning I made another frittata, this time with sausage and sliced courgettes.
I put the courgettes on the bottom of the pan and the sausages on top, so it appeared like this in the pan:

Sausage and courgette frittata in the pan...

…and took on this lovely appearance when upended onto a plate:

Sausage and courgette frittata

Now before I go any further, I must admit that I did totally steal the idea for an upended courgette frittata from the wonderful blog “Lou Loves Food”  … which is packed with amazing photos and absorbing writing, and I can highly recommend it…. so thanks Lou.. 😉

That evening I decided on making some Indian food ….. yes I’m aware that may not be the most obvious option in the South of France, but my mind was made up as soon as I saw the beautiful mutton on offer in the supermarket. Mutton is a meat less than commonly available in the UK, and it rewards slow patient cooking with the most succulent and flavoursome dishes.

I bought some chopped shoulder (on the bone) pieces to make a curry with tomato and aubergine, and some ribs to make what is known as a “Bone Pepperwater”. This is a meat variation on the standard pepperwater (rasam) which is a soup consistency dish made with tomatoes, lemon, tamarind and spices.

The only problem with all this is that I was somewhat limited in the choice of spices available in the supermarket. I managed to get fresh garlic and ginger, and eventually found a premixed curry powder (not something I normally like to use) which seemed to have a good balance of coriander, cumin, tumeric, mustard and fenugreek in it.

The aubergine in the curry was cooked separately with onions, ginger and garlic (a trick I recently picked up off my mother) and added during the last 1/2 hour, which helps to preserve not only it’s texture, but flavour as well. The curry itself simmered slowly for 5 hours.

Mutton curry with aubergine and tomatoes

The bone pepperwater was made with some fresh vegetables (carrots and courgetttes), plenty of lemon and also some paprika, which I found in the villa. The mutton ribs do add the most amazing stocky earthy flavour to this dish, it must be said.

Mutton "Bone Pepperwater"

After the curry, I thought it would be a good idea to cook fish the next day both from a time and simplicity point of view.
The fish counter at the “Intermarche” was of course vastly superior to my local supermarket.
I eventually settled for some lovely fresh perch fillets, which I roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic  vinegar, bay and salt.
I gave the tomatoes a start of about 15-20 mins in an 180degC oven, then simply popped the perch fillets on top, cooked for a further 10 mins and it was done:

Perch fillets roasted on a bed of cherry tomatoes with balsamic vinegar and bay..

There was not much need to serve this with anything else but that perennial king of juice mopper-uppers: fresh french bread:

Roasted perch and tomatoes served with bread

The next day was to be barbecue day. However, here I failed in my duty as a blogger and recorder of events since due to the distractions of reading, swimming, table tennis and drinking, I didn’t start the fire in time and so even though I made lots of food, the only picture I managed to take before it went dark was of some balsamic chilli prawns. (I have an iPhone so am unfortunately at the mercy of the light).
Just for the record though, I did also make salmon and courgette kebabs, aubergine and red pepper kebabs, 2 types of sausages and chicken in a Mexican marinade.

Prawns in a balsamic and chilli marinade

One advantage of being in the centre of wine producing country was that there was an abundance of vineyards with completely quaffable red wine on tap at an amazing price. (€1-€1.50 a litre).
Had I the time or opportunity I would have loved to avail myself of some of the delicious looking lambs hearts in the supermarket and braise them in red wine for hours until tender… This meal unfortunately would not have been very popular with the others:

Red wine on tap.....

The final day of cooking was also the least intensive since there was a lot of packing, cleaning of the villa etc to be done before vacating, I opted to cook a simple sausage pasta with a tomato and red wine sauce. Despite appearing fairly ordinary, it was most enjoyable, due to the high quality of the sausagemeat:

Sausage and tomato pasta.....

All in all an enjoyable chance to read, cook, swim and relax…… now, back to the piano I think….

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Gourmet Gorman cooks Prawn Dhansak

A delicious and easy Prawn Dhansak cooked with prawns, lentils, lemon, yoghurt, chilli and spices…

And The Real Winner Is: Sesame and chilli beef stir fry with broccoli and green pepper

Apologies for the self congratulatory title of this post, but it’s concerning the meal I made to accompany watching the England v Algeria game on the World Cup (soccer for you Americans).

The game itself was a terrible washout of a goalless draw… pretty much guaranteed to make a part time, fair weather football fan like me even more part time, and downright tropical climate requiring.

Anyhow, more importantly here’s what I did:

First I acquired a really nice bit of sirloin, weighing just over 1lb

Nice sirloin steak

I then trimmed off some of the fat and sliced the meat thinly against the grain:

Trimmed and sliced

I assembled my marinade ingredients:

Marinade: Soy sauce, blackbean sauce, chinese cooking wine, sesame oil, garlic

I then marinaded the beef for 1 hour in 2 tblsp’s soy sauce, 1 tblsp blackbean sauce, 2 tblsp’s chinese cooking wine, 1 tblsp sesame oil, 2 crushed and chopped cloves of garlic.

Beef in marinade

While the beef was marinading I assembled the rest of the ingredients for the stirfry: 1 tsp sesame seeds, a small head of brocolli, 3 spring onions, 1 green pepper, 2 large red chillies, 4 green birdseye chillies, 3 more cloves of garlic.

Ingredients for the stirfry

Chopped everything up suitably:

Chopped

Then heat some groundnut oil in a wok, and throw in the sesame seeds. Fry for about 10-20 secs until they start to colour…

Fry the sesame seeds

Add the spring onions and green chillies and fry for about 1 min

Add the spring onions and green chillies

Add the beef. Fry for a few mins until nicely coloured.

Add the beef

When the beef has coloured nicely, add a good teaspoon of brown sugar.

Add a teaspoon of brown sugar

After stirring the sugar in, add the broccoli, green pepper and red chilli…

Add broccoli, green pepper and red chilli

Stir fry for 5-8 mins until broccoli is nicely al dente, or cooked to taste..

Stir fry until broccoli is nicely al dente

While I was doing this, I also made some fried rice according to a method given to me by friend and colleague Kevan Frost.
To make the rice, first boil your rice till done and drain. Set aside.
Then, when ready, heat some groundnut oil in another wok. When hot put one egg into the pan and scramble round with a wooden spoon. Then add the rice, fry for a few mins, add chopped spring onion, sweetcorn, and peas (which I had steamed previously). I also gave it a splash of soy sauce as well.
Finally, stir in a good tblsp of sesame oil.

Fried rice and stirfry

Serve out immediately with a glass of cold beer. Then watch a rubbish football match……

Serve out and watch bad football

Tom yum soup.

Tom yum soup

So i got home yesterday (same studio, same session as day before) at the earlier time of 4.30pm. For me this is a funny time to get home. It’s to early to start relaxing for the evening, but a bit to late to start doing any work of any kind. (besides, my brain was a bit fried again from piano keyboard/computer screen staring).
The weather also added to the confusion. It appeared warm, pleasant and sunny, but was actually to chilly to go and sit outside and enjoy the sunshine, and to windy to consider a barbeque.

I could, of course have watched the World Cup, but unfortunately I’d been listening to the radio in the car and heard the tournament’s most tedious game yet (Ivory Coast v Portugal) grind to a start, so didn’t really fancy that.

So I sat at the computer for a bit and perused some food blogs.
I’d more or less decided that our dinner for the evening was going to be Italian of some kind, when I took a glance at the fantastic Tamarind and Thyme blog, and was immediately craving Asian food of the noodle soup variety.

A quick visit to the supermarket ensued and this is what I threw together:

Ingredients:

  • 2 boneless skinless chicken thighs
  • 10 raw king prawns (shell on but head removed)
  • 2 portions dried egg noodles
  • 2 pints of chicken stock
  • 4 chestnut mushrooms
  • a few florets of broccoli
  • 1 carrot
  • 4 birdseye chillis (or to taste)
  • 2 stalks lemon grass
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp tamarind paste
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • Juice of 1 fresh lime
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tblsp Thai fish sauce
  • 3 tsps tom yum paste
  • 2 handfuls beansprouts
  • 2 spring onions and some fresh coriander to garnish

Method:

Slice the chicken thighs thinly and place into the pan of simmering stock.

Add the garlic, chillis, tamarind paste, tom yum paste, lemon grass (bruised), Kaffir lime leaves, sugar and fish sauce.

Leave to simmer for 10-15 mins. Meanwhile chop the mushrooms, carrots and broccoli to the desired size.

Add them to the soup. Simmer for another 5 mins.

Boil the noodles in water for 4-5 mins (or according to instructions) and drain.

Add the prawns and lime juice to the soup, and wait till the prawns turn pink.

Arrange the noodles in the soup bowls, with the beansprouts, then ladle on the hot soup.

Serve, garnished with chopped spring onion and fresh coriander.

Served out


Goose egg!!! (and hens egg) Tortilla (Spanish style omelette)

1 Goose egg and 6 hens eggs

As you can probably tell from the title of this post, I was unashamedly excited the other day when I walked into my butchers to find the last of a batch of freshly laid goose eggs lying on the counter.
Needless to say I snapped it up before you could say  Ovo Branta Canadensis.
The fact that I now had a goose egg in  possession only affirmed my notion that the perfect lunch for a rare British summer’s day such as the one we were experiencing, given the contents of my larder (and now my shopping bag) would in fact be a Spanish style omelette commonly known as Tortilla.
Traditionally the basic version of this is made with sliced potato and egg, but as ever, I decided to embellish (or desecrate, depending on whether you’re a purist or not…) the dish and use a few extra ingredients….

I started off with:

  • A small onion
  • A courgette (or zucchini for the Americans amongst you)
  • Asparagus (or asparagus for the Americans amongst you… about 8 stalks… I’d already started chopping by the way..)
  • 3 small potatoes
  • some cherry tomatoes (I only used about 3 or 4 of these)

Ingredients

And some smoked streaky bacon – about 6 rashers -which I sliced up as you can see below:

Bacon

I sliced the potatoes into 1/2 cm slices and par boiled them for 5-7 mins.
Meanwhile I chopped the rest of the ingredients as below……

Chopped ingredients

I also had at hand a few freshly plucked sage leaves from the garden….

Sage

I then fried the bacon in some olive oil for about 5 mins, until the fat started to crisp…

Fried bacon

When the bacon was cooked, I poured out as much of the fat as possible and drained the bacon on some kitchen towel.

Then I used 2-3 tsps of the rendered fat and olive oil from the bowl above to fry/soften/sweat down the vegetables for about 10 mins..

onion, courgette and asparagus in the pan

Meanwhile I prepared the eggs. I used the goose egg and 6 hen’s eggs. In the pic below, you can see the difference in the size of the yolks.

Goose egg and 4 of the hen's eggs

Beat them up….

Beaten eggs (some eggs were harmed in the making of this picture..)

Next I added the potatoes, tomatoes, chopped sage and bacon to the vegetables that had by now softened up nicely in the pan…

Tater's, 'matos and bacon in't pan

Poured in the eggs… and turned on the grill..

Eggs in

After about 10 minutes I could tell the egg had started to set underneath the top liquid layer. To test for this, gentle shake the pan from side to side, and although the top will wobble and slosh, just below it should look fairly solid…

Starting to set

I then put the pan under a medium grill for about 5 mins to set the top. It came out looking like this, ready to serve.

After being under the grill for 5 mins

Now came the most important maneuver of the whole process: getting the tortilla the right side up on a plate.
Having carefully removed the pan from the grill with a cloth due to the hot handle, I let it cool for a minute, since a clumsy accident at this stage would have resulted in the waste of the industrious efforts of the last 1/2 hour, and a precious goose egg…
Finding a plate which neatly matched the size of the pan, I held it over and upended the whole arrangement.

Luckily, it came out as pictured below:

The tortilla, ready to eat...

It had burnt a bit on the bottom as you can see, but in reality, although not to aesthetically pleasing, the onions and veg had caramelised nicely resulting in a sweet nutty flavour.

Although it’s probably best with a crisp green salad, on this occasion I chose to eat it with two generously buttered sliced of white toast. Any complaints about this can be left in the comments at the end of the post…. 🙂

Tortilla and toast...

Breakfast in Brighton

I’m always on the lookout for places like this whilst on tour.
We arrived in Brighton very early this morning on the Tourbus after an overnight drive from Birmingham (day 3 of the Boy George tour).
About 10.30 I decided to wrench myself out of my bunk and take a walk on what turned out to be a beautiful sunny morning in search of some breakfast / brunch…. or whatever you want to call it (as it’s my first meal of the day, technically it’s breakfast, but I had something more commonly recognized as lunch fayre).
I walked round the corner from the Brighton Dome which is tonight’s venue and came across this establishment.
It had a wide variety of authentic looking Italian sandwiches, as well as pizzas, croissants etc for a pretty reasonable price given the fashionable surroundings.
I opted for a chicken scallopini and mozzarella ciabatta which was served hot, straight from the pannini grill. Definately no microwaves here.
The bread was fresh and very well toasted, and the chicken scaloppini (or escalope) was nice and hot with crispy breadcrumbs. The mozzarella was at that nice stage between being melted inside and slightly burned where it had oozed out of the sandwich.
But really, the thing that won me over here is the fact that when I ordered a tea, it was served in a nice big mug, with the bag still in, a teaspoon, and a small jug of milk, so I could brew it to my own preferance.
I know this may sound incredibly petty, but badly served tea is one of my pet grumbles whilst on the road.
From the annoying continental European habit of presenting you with a cup of warm water, with a teabag on the side (and often omitting the milk) to the British misdemeanor of selling you either a very small cup for an overinflated price, or getting the beverage served in a badly designed metal teapot that leaks half he liquid down the side and onto the table when you try and pour it out, in my experience it’s actually quite a rare thing to be able to purchase just a nice big mug of tea.
All of this cost me quite a reasonable £5.40
Anyhow, if anyone is in Brighton and looking for a light meal, I would definately recommend this one.
The address is 24 New Rd, Brighton.
Also, apologies for the half eaten sandwich pictured. Only remembered to photograph after I’d started tucking in…