Thursday 24 February 2011

Glenstal Reading

I have an attachment to Glenstal Abbey I can only barely explain. I went there the year my Nana died. It was summer. That is the only time I have been there. A family friend is the Master of Novices there -  I do not know him well. But, he has always held our family close to his heart.

Glenstal Abbey is a Benedictine Monastery in Ireland, btw.

The reason I mention it is because I have a book called 'The Glenstal Book of Readings for the Seasons', which is, quite simply, genius. I intend to read it again this coming Lent through till Easter.  I mention it now because I think it is worth getting hold of before the beginning of Lent. It is not expensive, and has some really brilliant theological thoughts. I will probably use the thoughts therein as a structure to whatever I post in Lent. Just saying. :)

Wednesday 23 February 2011

Polycarp - sounds a bit fishy to me

I have been thinking that all day today and laughing to myself. Fortunately I have been busy, and so have not had time to create any mad posts.  I just can't resist having it as a blog title.

The early Christian acrostic 'ichthus', which means 'fish' and stands for
Jesus Christ, Son of God, Saviour
For the record, St Polycarp was a disciple of the Evangelist, St John. He was martyred c. 167. His feast day is today. In his life he was tasked with faithfully passing on the teaching of the Gospels. He must have done this very well indeed because it got him killed. That is what happens to the best bishops. Seriously though, his story can be found here.

You could cook carp in his honour, but I don't think it tastes good. Settle for something more simple and delicious. Keep it fishy and you can make my joke. It made me laugh. :)

Tuesday 22 February 2011

The Chair of St. Peter: Roaming Rome and Eating Roman

It is a funny old feast day this one. You see, there is a chair in St. Peter's, Rome. It is very ancient, fairly simple and wooden. It was built to travel - sturdy and portable, but, it is conserved in a gilt bronze casing designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and I am not sure it can go anywhere much now. A chair is a symbol of teaching and authority. And, this chair is a very important one. It is said to be the chair on which St. Peter sat to teach the faithful. If you have ever been into St. Peter's you will know where this chair is, but the actual object is hard to see. You just have to know it is there, underneath an extravagance of Baroque and gilt, simple, wooden and silent. Around the apse are the words of Jesus to St. Peter, inscribed in Latin: 'You are Peter, and upon this rock, I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. To you have I entrusted the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.' Today, 22nd February, is the day the Petrine ministry is celebrated. The handing on of the teaching of Jesus through the successors of Peter. I find thinking of the simple, quiet, portable wooden chair surrounded by fixed loud Baroque decor and choruses of 'Tu est Petrus' unhelpful here. Just keeping it simple, the quiet and the unseen almost always more truthful and telling than the loud and brash. The wooden chair reminds me of a God made man, a carpenter, someone with the 'common touch' to bring people in to relationship with others. The gold has resonances of power which I find more difficult or sinister. Of course, exploring all things Roman is another way to go....

Just getting lost along the way, a typical Roman day

This is St. Philip Neri, who I went to see
I have been to Rome a few times, most recently in 2009, where I made the above immaculately planned journey. I went to see the Chiesa Nuova, the parish of Santa Maria in Vallicella and home of St. Philip Neri. Having throughly explored the Church, and paid due respects to saints there present, myself and my friend headed off in search of dinner. As always in Rome, we had seen and heard too much to be able to make sense of the outside world. We had a plan to go to a particular restaurant, but we got very lost (see above, click to enlarge). Eventually, hungry and a little grumpy, we turned a corner expecting to see the restaurant we were looking for. Wrong turning, again! But, this little side street had a crowd of lively Romans queueing outside a little restaurant with no name, few tables and plastic tablecloths. There was no menu, and only one very busy waiter. We are onto a winner here, I thought. We joined the queue, and some time later, were served with the most delicious meal ever. It was rabbit, very Roman - the Romans popularised the eating of rabbits and chickens. And, it was beautiful. Below, is my best attempt to recreate the dream.

Rabbit Pappardelle (Roman Rabbit)

Serves 4-6
You can do this with a whole rabbit, but some parts of the rabbit will take longer than others. Sometimes it is easier to just use legs. It depends on what your butcher has available.
500g pappardelle
4 rabbit legs
50ml olive oil
knob of butter
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stick, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1 tsp tomato purée
½ glass white wine
about 250ml chicken or vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated Parmesan, to serve
small handful freshly chopped flat-leaf parsley, to serve
Season the rabbit legs. Heat the olive oil and butter in a pan, add the rabbit legs and brown on all sides.
Remove the rabbit from the pan, add the vegetables, garlic and herbs and cook for 4-5 minutes, or until evenly coloured.
Return the rabbit legs to the pan and add the tomato purée. Cook for 2 minutes, then add the wine and turn up the heat to bubble then reduce.
The Infernal City :)
Pour over enough stock to cover, then place a circle of baking parchment (cartouche) on top and cook on a low simmer until the meat comes away easily from the bones. This will take about 45 minutes.
Remove the rabbit and set aside until cool enough to handle. Lightly shred the meat into small pieces. Discard the bones.
Strain the stock, discarding the vegetables, and return to a clean pan. Add the rabbit pieces to the stock and place over a medium heat. Simmer until reduced and thick.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and cook the pappardelle for 4-5 minutes, or until al dente. Drain and toss with the rabbit sauce. Serve scattered with the freshly grated Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Sunday 20 February 2011

I confess

I Confess - Alfred Hitchcock (If you haven't seen it, find it and watch it).
I was away with my girlfriends from school this weekend. The trouble with my very good friends is that they know me very very well indeed. That is why I love them. They read this blog. I have known them since I was 9, when I went to school in Bedford. Their verdict on my online activities? Too *expletive* saintly. Who do you think you are? We know you drank strongbow all through your A Levels and Uni. The first drink you ordered in front of  the Claretian Missionaries you were about to volunteer for in your Gap Year was Snake Bite and Black. It is a *expletive* wonder they ever employed you. The basic gist of the conversation was that it was time to confess, before Lent, of all my genuine bad food habits. Some of them are truly terrible, some of the are horrifying. 

Food, to me, is, first and foremost, social. The sociality of it keeps it seemly. This weekend, for example, we had some of the best food I have had in a long long time. Girls cooking together makes for a very decent feast indeed. I was happy :)

The things I eat on my own are my most guilty pleasures. It can go one of two ways. If I am feeling down I will either eat nothing, little or rubbish, or there will be a round of scallops and a bottle of Sancerre on the go. Both are worthy of confession. The first is a blatant neglect of self, as if, when I am just feeding me, there is no point 'going to any trouble' or, indeed, seeking proper nutrition. The second is the other extreme; the height of luxury just for me, gluttony and excess to lift my experience of being all by myself. Indulgence of the highest order.

So, what, with the help of my friends, can I confess to? Food wise the list is long. This blog always has fairly elaborate recipes, often full of luxury and calories, which take ages to prepare, and are stuffed full of things that are hard to find, or take ages to grow. Some of the recipes, such as the breakfast prepared for St. Lucy, take ages, but are for eating early in the morning. Seriously, how often am I going to do that? Once every few years is the answer there. There is never a mention of frozen food, instant junk or flavourings? Is that a true reflection of me?

In a word? No.

I have eaten Super Noodles on thickly buttered toast many times (the last time was in August). I love it. My favourite flavours are Barbecued Beef and Bacon. I like the Mild Curry ones, but it freaks me out that they dye everything they touch bright yellow.
I like Pot Noodle (and have eaten one in the last academic year), I think it was curry flavour.
I like the cheapest vanilla ice cream (expensive stuff is wasted on me). I still pour Amaretto over it though. I have done this often in restaurants. 
I have bought Greggs' large sausage roll and a cup of tea when hungry in town many times. It is my 'caught on the run' guilty pleasure.
Every now and then I make 'muck' (Nescafe) coffee with three sugars and eat a pile of chocolate biscuits.
I like Primula Cheese and Prawn spread on buttered toast for breakfast (but I haven't had this for years).
Breakfast mostly makes me feel ill, I don't often eat before Midday. This goes for every weekday since forever.
Angel Delight, I last ate this around this time last year, but it was good.
If I am feeling under the weather, making a whole bowl of custard from Bird's Custard Powder makes me happy.
I have bought 6 scallops from the Covered Market and eaten them all.
I drink hot milk and honey when I am tired.
I love Maggi, which is basically liquid MSG.
When I was vegetarian I loved Tivoli sausage sandwiches if I had a hangover. Now, all I crave is bacon.
When I am very busy I do not eat, but live on tea and wine.
I will eat houmous and crisps washed down with white wine for an evening meal, if I am pushed.
I dip chocolate biscuits in red wine. The taste of watercress, rocket and a deep red wine sends me to heaven and back again quickly. I love it :)
As an ex-vegetarian I always feel very guilty about ordering steak, but I will always answer 'rare' to the question, 'how would you like that prepared, Madam?' In fact, I hardly like it cooked. Just bring me the meat and a deep red wine. I'll be fine. *is taken away in fantasy by the sheer thought of it* * worries this tendency is almost vampirish* *back in the room*
Any pretence I make a as a 'foodie' can be instantly destroyed by pointing to my passion for the following preferences: white bread over brown bread, plastic cheese on burgers, marmite on toast with industrial strength tea over latte's and croissants, a custard cream over any other biscuit.

There, I am beginning to run out of things to confess. What strikes me is that I think that most people either neglect themselves when they cook for one, or go overboard. Sometimes, cooking for one is just a time to take back some 'me' time. A perfectly balanced individual would do that by cooking good, simple, nutritious food well. That is what I should aspire to.  I double dare you to share your confessions in the comments before the onset of Lent, when I will take on the task of explaining 'the great fast' and my attitudes to it. :)

Thursday 10 February 2011

The gourmets failure to think in moral terms...

This article is a good read, especially for those of us (viz. me) who have abandoned almost 20 years of vegetarianism relatively recently. I still like to eat seasonally. My twin sister taught me the habit of looking to see how far a vegetable has travelled before I eat it. But, it does surprise me how eating meat has come so easily. Yes, I am fussy about how an animal is reared. But I would eat most meats I thought had been produced 'responsibly'. What does that mean? I still err on the side of vegetarian for the quick sandwich on the run, you never know where the meat in those things hails from.  And do I feel sorry for lobsters? Well, I have never eaten one. But, probably only for a moment before working out how to eat him. Once more into the moral maze my friends. This time at the dinner table. It is worth revisiting these themes every now and then. As for the morality of feasting and fasting, I have more to say on that, but I am saving it for Lent. :)

Wednesday 9 February 2011

Fleeting beauty - Cleansing the palate with citrus

If I wrote a blog about how the hotels in Lourdes serve the greatest food in the whole of Southern France, it would be a big fat lie. And that won't do. My abiding memory of Lourdes food is that three meals are served a day, and I struggled to eat any of them. I distinctly remember trying to discretely get rid of a seemingly endless pile of brussels sprouts that appeared as the 'vegetarian option' one year. Brussel sprouts - in August!  I believe they were served with an equally large pile of potato croquets, deep fried. Lourdes is one of those places where you walk around hungry and tired all the time but you neither sleep nor eat. You long for your creature comforts, but you are abroad and so your creature comforts don't exist. My nana used to pack sausages, rashers and tea to go to Lourdes. She was a very wise lady. There were days in Lourdes where I would have done anything for a decent cup of tea. I understand that there is a hostelry for Irish pilgrims which specializes in serving up 'tea you could trot a horse across' - pots of perfectly brewed warming goodness, but I never found it.  Don't let me mislead you. I loved Lourdes, and I have written about it plenty of times. It is just that the great healing and comforts of that place are not ministered through the food.

So, what to cook to celebrate Our Lady of Lourdes on 11th February? I think I am going to have to go for something that is the complete opposite of that which you are likely to be served up in the local hotels. Lourdes hotels specialize in utilitarian stodge that can be kept warm for hours. It keeps your body and soul together, but that is about it. Our Lady of Lourdes was the beautiful, fleeting 'aquero' that brought gentleness to a life of hardship. I think you need a light cleansing flavour to reflect that; nothing heavy or lingering; a recipe that speaks of health and goodness, something fleeting but beautiful, something cleansing.

Tagliatelle with lemon, cream and parsley (for 6)

I chose this also because, at the beginning of February here, the flat leaf parsley in my garden has just got shoots of new growth and looks great. I just went out and checked. OK, so you need a weekend full of time, and a waiting audience to pull this off, but it is worth it :). Or cheat, go to your local Italian deli and buy freshly made pasta. In Bedford I could do this and know it would still have been made by hand just hours before I cooked it. In Oxford I haven't found anywhere to do that, so I have to do it all myself. Bah!


Rich egg pasta (see below)
Maldon sea salt
300ml double cream
120g unsalted butter, softened
zest and juice of 4 large and juicy organic lemons
6 tablespoons of roughly chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
150g Parmesan, freshly grated

In a large thick bottomed saucepan, gently heat the cream. When warm add the soft butter, lemon juice and zest. Stir briefly together until the butter is completely melted, then remove from heat.

Cook the tagliatelli in a generous amount of boiling salted water until al dente, and then drain. Stir in the warm cream, and season with salt and pepper. Add half the parsley and toss together. Serve immediately onto warm plates with the remainder of the parsley and the parmesan.

Rich Egg Pasta (for 6)

400g '00' pasta flour, plus 100g for dusting
20 large organic egg yolks
1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt

Put the flour in the largest mixing bowl you have. Make a well in the middle and add the egg yolks and the salt (yes, you are going to have to think of a recipe to use the egg whites, it is part of the charm of making home made pasta, go mad, make baked alaska :)). With the dough hook attachment on the mixer knead the mixture to a dough. This takes about 10 minutes. Remove from the bowl, wrap in cling film and leave to rest for 1 hour.

Dust your work surface with the remaining flour. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Pass the pieces through your pasta machine set on the widest setting, at least 10 times, folding the dough and turning it each time. The dough should feel silky. Then reduce the setting gradually until you have long sheets. Do not make your final sheet too thin, about 2 - 3mm, or No. 1 on your machine.

Fold the pasta sheets over three or four times on themselves, then cut the pile as finely as you can into tagliatelli, 1 cm wide, or use the widest cutting setting on your machine. Toss the cut tagliatelli to loosen individual ribbons and lightly coat with flour. Use as soon as possible.