Sicilian blood….

oranges and lemons were routinely wrapped in tissue paper when I was a child and each paper carried colourful pictures and strange words hinting of far off lands which at the time seemed impossibly distant and exotic. Now, even though it is many decades later the magic persists and I find it impossible to walk past a store selling fruit wrapped in tissue paper without buying a totally unreasonable number of oranges, lemons, etc. .So last week when I made my regular weekly visit to my favourite greengrocers, Roots and Fruits, here in Glasgow I found it impossible not to buy some Galletto Blood Oranges from Sicily, wrapped as they were in their blood red tissue papers.

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Of course they made a colourful addition to the kitchen but they deserved a better fate than pure ornaments and the obvious answer was to use them in a salad, combining the sweetness of the orange with the saltiness of dry black Greek olives and the flavours of finely sliced fennel combined with a blood orange dressing (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/217313/orange-and-fennel-salad/).

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A great combination of flavours and a wonderfully refreshing summer salad. If you haven’t any fennel to hand try chicory whose bitter leaves work as a superb contrast o the sweetness of the orange segments.

Portuguese Treasure

One of the really great things about being a food and drink photographer is that you have absolute carte blanche to collect any and all items of kitchen paraphernalia that you might come across. Even if an item has no immediate use you can always argue that it will definitely be invaluable as a prop in some as yet unspecified photo shoot! These magpie like tendencies go into overdrive as soon as I find myself in a foreign country and the size of my suitcase combined with the pitiful weight allowance that we are granted these days are the only things which keep my collecting within, what others might call, reasonable proportions. Without doubt the most interesting and possibly cryptic thing that I brought back from my recent trip to Lisbon Continue reading

Jean Anderson’s Sweet Red Pepper Paste (Massa de Pimentão)

Pimentão

This blog was inspired by Food52 and a recipe by Jean Anderson taken from her cookbook “The Food of Portugal” (or is it Brazil given the spelling of pepper?). I suspect that many of you will already be familiar with Food52 but if not be sure to check out their web site with its wonderful recipes, inspirational photography (consistently well lit and styled but never, as is so often the case, over propped) and not to forget the amazing array of kitchen and dining “essentials” that they sell. I count myself lucky that they are not based here in the UK or I would be even more cash strapped than I am today faced with such temptations. I have always been attracted to what can be best described as kitchen paraphernalia but as I have become more and more involved with food photography my collecting of plates, cutlery, glasses, pans, etc, etc seemingly has no bounds! After all, it will all find its way into a shoot sooner or later!

slicing & salting red peppers

But to return to the recipe; peppers have long been a favourite of mine both to photograph and to eat so this recipe was clearly a “must try” all the more because of its simplicity. You can find the recipe here but essentially it involves little more than cutting the peppers into strips and placing them in a bowl with sea salt between each layer and leaving uncovered for at least 12 hours.

Sliced & salted red peppers

Any excess liquid is then poured off and the peppers roasted at 125oC for about two to two and a half hours after which the skins are removed

roasted and skinned red peppers

and the pulp homogenised together with a clove of garlic and a little olive oil.

sweet red pepper paste

By the time all of this was done the air in the studio was heady with the smell of roast peppers and I had a satisfactory stash of paste set aside to use over the weekend as a marinade and sauce as well as a number of new pictures taken along the way.

Roast Duck Legs & Stir Fry Vegetables in a Rich Plum Sauce

This dish is one of my favourites not the least because of its simplicity but it also tastes and looks great! However, be warned, it is not a quick meal to prepare with the duck legs taking 90 minutes to cook but actual hands on time is very short and the wait is definitely worthwhile! Although many would regard it as cheating the dish relies on a ready made . Sharwoods Plum Sauce, a gloriously sticky, sweet and spicy concoction. Strangely the sauce is becoming increasingly difficult to find here in Glasgow but both the Coop and Tesco continue to stock it.

Ingredients

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The meat

2 x Duck legs (I used ones from Gressingham which are widely available. Don’t use wild duck as the legs are much smaller and contain a lot less fat).

For the stir fry

1 x Red Onion, medium sized 

1 x Red Bell Pepper

1 x Yellow Bell Pepper

1 x Pak Choi

6 x Chestnut Mushrooms

You will also need

Soya sauce

Olive Oil

Plum Sauce (Sharwoods)

Maldon Sea Salt

3-4 Star Anise

 and rice; white long grain, 1/3 of a cup per person.

Method

  1. Place the duck leg in an oven proof dish, sprinkle about a teaspoons worth of Maldon sea salt over the skin of the duck legs, add the star anise, cover with a tightly fitting lid (I first cover the dish with a sheet of aluminium foil and place the lid of the dish on top of this) and placed in the oven at 180oC to cook for 60 minutes.
  2. While the duck legs are cooking cook the rice in boiling water, depending on the type of rice that you are using this will take around 15 to 20 minutes after which time the rice can be tipped into a sieve and be left to drain with the sieve hanging over the pan used to cook the rice and loosely covered by the pan lid. When it is time to plate up the rice is gently fluffed up using a pair of chop sticks and rinsed with a litre or so of boiling water. I am sure that many people will think that this way of cooking rice is heresy but it works for me and adds a great degree of flexibility to the timing of the cooking of the other dishes.
  3. After 60 minutes in the oven the duck legs will have released any excess fat and water and this should be poured off before returning them to the oven, this time uncovered, for a further 30 minutes.
  4. KG150413641a1bWeb1During the final 15 minutes of cooking the duck legs roughly cut the peppers, pak choy and onion into chunks about 2 to 3 cm square and stir fry in a hot wok in a little olive oil.Stir fry red and yellow peppers with red onion
  5. Once the onion and pepper begins to soften add  thinly sliced mushroom and continue to stir fry all the ingredients in the wok. I  prefer to keep working the contents of the wok with a broad wooden spatula while more accomplished chefs will  undoubtedly keep things moving with a simple flick of the wrist.Stir frying peppers onion and mushrooms
  6. As the sliced mushroom begins to take on a little colour add a splash of soya sauce and the pak choy, again cut into 2 to 3 cm squares, and mix well.
  7. Remove the duck legs from the oven and place on a chopping board and using a couple of forks pull the meat off the bones in large chunks and add to to wok together with a third to a half of a jar of plum sauce and continue to work with the spatula so as to ensure that the sauce evenly coats all of the vegetables as well as the meat.
  8. Finally reheat and rinse the rice that you set aside earlier with about a litre of boiling water, allow the rice to drain for a minute or so and then plate up onto a warm plate.

Sharwoods plum sauce makes a wonderful addition to a duck stir fry

Enjoy!

Chicory (endive) with Colston Bassett Blue Stilton and Caramelised Walnuts

Chicory or do I mean endive and then of course there is frisée or is it curly endive

Frisée - Curly Endive

and lets not forget radicchio,

raddichio

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escarole, treviso, witloof or do I mean Brussels chicory?! Clearly it’s complicated! Essentially there are two species of plant Cichorium intybus and Cichorium endivia and in the UK we call Cichorium intybus chicory while in the US and elsewhere it is perversely called endive and Cichorium endivia is called chicory! I can feel a smug smile of intellectual superiority developing as I write this but given the complexity of the names for these plants including names in local languages as well as the number of different varieties which have been created by plant breeders I could have it all wrong! If you feel inclined to learn more I suggest you start with the Wikipedia entry for endive and look forward to hearing back from you in a few months time!

Regardless of what they are called all of these vegetables are characterised by a rather bitter but not unpleasant taste and they have a real crunch to them, especially in the case of the white and red chicory and they can make the base of a really great salad or they can be sautéed or grilled as is often done with Little Gem lettuces or even braised like leeks. However, chicory only indirectly came into use as a vegetable being originally grown for its roots which were used as a coffee substitute and can still be widely found in Britain where it is sold as “Camp” coffee and chicory essence and is frequently used in baking. Of course when it comes to “salad” chicory it is not the root that we eat but instead it is a large tightly packed leaf bud. Like forced rhubarb, chicory is grown from root stocks which are arranged on trays and are left in the dark to sprout.

Belgium endive

The dish featured here is simplicity itself and there are countless variations making use of the boat shaped leaves as containers which can be made and served as hors-d’oeuvres or as an elegant starter.

Chicory (endive) with Colston Bassett Blue Stilton and Caramelised Walnuts

Chicory (endive) with Colston Bassett Blue Stilton and Caramelised Walnuts

Sweet walnuts, tangy stilton and biter nutty chicory with a light balsamic and olive oil dressing – flavours combining and and working together to make something greater than the individual ingredients.

Enjoy!

moules ‘n more

For some time now I have wanted to try my hand at photographing moules mariners but the opportunity has yet to present itself in any of my commercial shoots. So last week I finally gave up waiting and instead decided to make my own moules mariners to photograph. Having made the decision the next step was to buy some mussels and that of course meant a drive out to the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar. Although Loch Fyne is only an hours drive away from Glasgow (assuming that the A83 is not closed by yet another landslide as the road climbs up to the appropriately named Rest and Be Thankful) it’s a world apart, this is especially true at this time of year when roads are relatively quiet and the hills are looking their best; there is no soft cloak of green to mask the landscape and the snow on the hills some how always makes them seem closer and higher!

KG150204291WPLooking across Loch Fyne to the Ardkinglas Estate and beyond to the Kinglas valley and the Arrochar Alps

KG150204296WPThe view from the Oyster Bar at the head of the loch with its steep deeply furrowed hills which hem in the loch on both sides.

Loch Fyne Oyster BarThe Loch Fyne Oyster Bar in 2011 before its 2013 renovation – the Farm Shop has become a deli and there is a new main entrance but otherwise little has changed outside apart from the addition of some giant sized funky New England style chairs a theme which is taken up inside too with the bar stools.high bar stools at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar

The Oyster Bar first made its appearance in 1988 and it has developed as a popular stopping off place as well as a destination in its own right. For more information about the history of Loch Fyne Oysters please visit the company’s web site: http://www.lochfyne.com/about/

Of course any visit to the Oyster Bar inevitably involves oysters so in addition to mussels I also returned home with half a dozen oysters. Eaten au naturale with a squeeze of lemon and a dash of Tabasco sauce accompanied by some good crusty buttered bread and a glass of dry white wine there is little to beat it.KG150205362bWP

As for the mussels. There are innumerable recipes for moules mariners all of which essentially come down to remove the beards, wash and discard any shells that are broken or do not close, cook for 5 to 10 minutes in a large heavy bottomed pan with a lid containing diced onion, a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme and a glass of white wine, plus or minus an equal quantity of cream. Discard any shells that don’t open and serve. For a more detailed recipe see http://uktv.co.uk/food/recipe/aid/655746 or any of several dozen more that you will find with a simple Goole search.

moules marinière

moules marinière

The mussel shell next to the black bowl in the picture below is all the cutlery that you need – use them like tweezers to pick the plump meats from the other mussels and while the bread is used to mop up the juices.Moules, bread and white wineMoules with chunks of fresh bread and a glass of sauvignon blanc a perfect combination.

The moules tasted great; with such great ingredients its hard to go wrong. As for the photography I am reasonably pleased with the results. I like the way that the plump  orange meat of the mussels contrasts with the shells and the black bowl. I also took the opportunity to take some shots form directly above the dishes, a shooting angle which is increasing in popularity, I like the cropped shot where we just see the curved shapes of the pan and the bowl and the way the back pottery contrasts with the stainless steel pan both of which work well with the white boards of the background. In the non-cropped shot more attention should have been given to the placement of the bread board so that it didn’t overlap with the pan handle. A plain wooden board would probably have worked better. The wine glass needs to be brought more into the shot and photographed more directly from above, as it is it looks as if it is falling over, the lines between the white wooden boards need more attention too as they are distorted by the lens, they should be parallel! I would also have liked to have seen more detail and colour in the shells, which would have meant a different lighting setup. All in all it looks as if I have an excuse to make another trip to Loch Fyne in the not too distant future!

As is always the case with seafood take the very best and freshest ingredients, prepare simply and…. enjoy

Baked Cauliflower Cheese

Amazingly cauliflowers, sprouts, broccoli, kale and cabbages not only all belong to the same genus, i.e. Brassica but they all belong to the same species, oleracea! The fact that the single species, Brassica oleracea can produce so many wildly different cultivars is a reflection of the important role these plants have in agriculture right around the world as well as the length of time that they have been under cultivation.

Initially at least there can be no doubt as to the cauliflower’s cabbagey credentials wrapped in a cocoon of heavily ribbed outer leaves, even here in this relatively young specimen where only the inner leaves remain the whole appearance shouts CABBAGE but remove these leaves and the central white mass or curd of the cauliflower is revealed. The curd as the name cauliflower suggests is the immature flower head of the plant.

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Cauliflower has a long, though not necessarily glamorous place in British cooking; those of us of a certain age will remember how, like all other vegetables, it was boiled to the point of destruction before being triumphantly served. However, when cooked sympathetically and with respect this vegetable with its unique flavour has a lot to offer and it finds its way into numerous recipes, especially Indian ones but on this occasion I am going to focus on that all time comfort food dish of cauliflower cheese. The secret to a really good cauliflower cheese is ensuring that the cauliflower does not become too wet or over cooked before adding the cheese sauce. In this recipe the soft mellow creaminess of the cheese sauce and baked cauliflower is contrasted  against the salty intensity of Smoked Black Forest ham combined with a dusting of the wonderful and too little used spice, mace (for more about mace see http://wholespice.com/blog/?p=1468).

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Baked Cauliflower Cheese and Smoked Black Forest Ham

Ingredients

Serves 2-3 as a side dish or if you prefer not to share you have a perfect warming super for one.

 1 x cauliflower medium-sized (approx 15 -20 cm in diameter)

4 x  slices of Schwarzwälder Schinken (Black Forest Smoked ham from Lidl)

olive oil

550 ml milk

1 x bay leaf

2 x cloves

50 g plain white flour

50 g butter

125 g grated cheddar (try using other cheeses that you have to hand either for the sauce and / or the topping)

ground mace (freshly grated nutmeg could also be used)

freshly ground black pepper; crush a few peppercorns in a pestle and mortar

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Here’s How

To start begin making the sauce. Place the milk in a saucepan and bring to the boil and then remove from the heat while adding the bay leaf and cloves and set to one side so as to allow the flavours to develop.

Switch on the oven and set to 190oC (fan oven) and leave to warm up.

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Prepare the cauliflower by removing the leaves and then break the curd into roughly equally sized florets while cutting off any thick stems. Place the florets in a steamer and steam on top of wok for 5 – 10 minutes using a skewer to judge when the florets are cooked through; they should still be firm. Do not over cook. Remove the steamer from the wok and leave to cool with the lid off the steamer; this will help the cauliflower lose any excess water.

Complete making the cheese sauce by mixing the butter and flour together over a low heat to form a roux. Remove the bay leaf and cloves from the milk and gradually add all of the milk to the roux, mixing all of the time so to ensure a smooth lump free sauce. Increase the heat slightly and slowly add all but a small handful of the cheese to the sauce while continuing to stir. As the cheese melts into the sauce the mixture will become thicker and after stirring for a further minute or so the sauce should be taken off the heat.

To assemble the dish place the florets in a suitable oven proof dish and pour over the cheese sauce. Finish with a light sprinkling of mace as well as the remaining cheese and place in the oven for 15 – 20 minutes.

At the same time place the slices of ham on a lightly oiled baking tray in the oven and cook for 5 -10 minutes until they are crisp but not burnt. When done remove the slices and place on some kitchen towel to mop up any excess fat or oil.

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Once the sauce on the cauliflower has begun to colour the dish is ready and can be removed from the oven. Pieces of the cooked ham can then be sprinkled over the cauliflower and the dish served.

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Be careful it will be extremely hot!

 Enjoy