It's been a weird weekend weather-wise. The sun is beginning to peek out of the clouds now, but last night we got rain that came down so hard, I truly feared for the little radish and lettuce seedlings in the garden. I don't mind rain exactly, in fact I welcome the odd shower as an alternative to having to water the veggies every day but I definitely tend to turn inward when the weather gets cold and wet. Plans for bright salads and grilled fish get eschewed in favour of warm pastas and big hunks of meat.
Yesterday, my 14 year old step son had his best friend (complete with brand new pubescent, downy moustache) for a sleep over, and so it was definitely time for a robust dinner. I made a crispy roast chicken and some simple, buttered spring veggies along with a big pan of potato and onion gratin, of which Christian and Tom Selleck both had seconds.
Christian is still excited about learning to cook, so I asked him to help me make some brownies that afternoon, which we had for pudding with a scoop of rich salted butter caramel ice cream. (Both recipes to follow)
The chicken and veggie recipes are incredibly simple, so almost not worth posting, but the potatoes are some of the best gratin I've made in a while. They're unapologetically garlicky and incredibly tender throughout, with a thin crust of golden cheese over the top. Yes, they're packed with fat, but you don't need a lot to make it a truly satisfying accompaniment to a simple roast. The assistance of a clean up crew in the shape of two shaggy-haired teenagers can ensure you don't attack the leftovers Nigella-style before bed.
Late last night, long after Drew was asleep and while the boys were no doubt shooting bad guys on the X Box in Christian's pit of boy stink, I spent a little time foodie blog cruising, as I often do when sleep eludes me.
I landed again on Masterchef finalist Alex Rushmer's brilliant 'little corner of the web' Just Cook It
I love his use of nettles in this lovely risotto, which I intend to make within the next couple of days, as I love nettles and am excited to try his newly learned method of cooking the rice.
Alex's blog is intimately and picturesquely written and exudes the childlike enthusiasm he has for all things cookery. There are posts about successes, failures and fascinating experiments as Alex shares with us his adventures with inverse spherification, sous vide and making a tasty meal out of a pig's head. He is totally a cook after my own heart and while I was so disappointed to see him not win Masterchef, anyone who watched him cook knows that he has huge things ahead.
Ok, back to me and MY cooking.
The roast chicken was a local (ish) free range bird that I just rubbed with some bruised garlic, lots of olive oil and sea salt, then roasted it at 230C (450F) for 20 minutes, before turning down the oven to 180C (350F) for another 25 minutes.
This might not seem like long enough to roast a (medium-sized) chicken, but it really will give you a crisp, juicy meal without a trace of dryness in the breast. If you're worried at all about whether the bird is cooked, just pierce the thigh at the meatiest point and if the juices run clear, you know it's fine.
Potato and Onion Gratin
serves 6 (or 4 if you've got teenage boys) takes 1 hour, 15 minutes
approx 1 kilo (2.2 lbs) Maris Piper, King Edward or similar, floury potato
1 large onion
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
50g (1.75 oz) Gruyere cheese, grated with a fine grater
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese
300ml (10 oz) double cream (heavy whipping cream
200ml (6.75 fl. oz) whole milk
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
pinch, cayenne pepper
3 tbsp bread crumbs
Pre-heat your oven to 170C (340F) and rub a little butter all over the inside of a baking dish.
Peel the potatoes and remove any bruised bits, then slice thinly (approx 2 mm/ 1/8") into a large bowl using a mandolin. You can do it with a knife if you like, but try to keep the slices as uniformly thin as possible.
Use the mandolin to slice the onions into the bowl with the potatoes and add the cream, milk, garlic, salt and pepper to taste, the nutmeg and the cayenne pepper. Mix well with your hands, to make sure every waffer thin slice of potato is coated with the creamy mixture.
Tip the potato slices et al into your prepared baking dish and press down all the potato slices into a nice, tight mixture. While I skip all the fuss of layering the potatoes fastidiously, I do keep a couple of handfuls back so that I can lay them out prettily, although you absolutely don't have to, especially if you're in a hurry.
Sprinkle both the cheeses evenly over the top and then sprinkle with the breadcrumbs. Finish with a few grinds of black pepper and then bake for about an hour, or until the top is golden and the potatoes underneath are completely soft (test with the tip of a knife).
Let the potatoes sit at room temperature for a couple of minutes before serving to make scooping a little easier, then bathe in the adoration from your fellow diners.*
*It helps when your dinner guests are 14 year old boys fed largely on a diet of processed, frozen foods at home.
In other news, (yes, I know, this a rambling and random post but I'm in one of those scatty moods I'm afraid) I have a new baby!
I have a habit of trying to get random things to grow on my kitchen window sill. Last year I buried a fresh piece of galangal root and a piece of turmeric root in some soil and waited for three months before I had any joy. The galangal (see left) has done rather well and has a fantastic root system that I might even be able to harvest from soon. The turmeric has done ok, but tends to get incredibly tall, before buckling and snapping under its own weight or turning yellow and withering. There are always new shoots coming up to take the place of the old ones though, and it's neat to grow something pretty and different out of a bit of curry ingredient.
But it's not the galangal or the turmeric I'm excited about. It's this: That tiny little seedling is one of two that are growing in with the galangal and turmeric from a couple of lemon seeds I pressed into the pots a month or so ago and promptly forgot about. I'm going to let them grow a few more sets of leaves before I re-pot them into their own pots and see what happens. I'm not under any illusion that I'm going to get any lemons (unless we seriously expand our greenhouse!) but it's still a little thrilling.
I also am attempting to sprout some lemongrass in shot glasses on the same window sill, so I'll let you know how that goes.....