Autumn Gold: butter sautéed chanterelle on toast

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Summer is well and truly over and indeed for many of us it never seemed to arrive! However, there are upsides, not the least of which is that this is the only time of year that you can get fresh chanterelle, which for me are the very best of all of the mushrooms and while they are expensive their rich flavour means that they will go a long way. I am always excited to see a dish on a restaurant menu which claims to include wild mushrooms but I guess that I never learn or perhaps it is more a case of always travelling in hope, more often than not I am bitterly disappointed by the same old bland mix of mushrooms which have never seen a forest floor. However, chanterelle, also known as golden chanterelle or girolles never fail to delight and with their liberal coating of pine needles and bits of moss their wild credentials are never in doubt!

The first time that I had chanterelle was when I was a student and I had gone to Nova Scotia in Canada to do some research over the summer (the year before the tomatoes and bacon meal described in the previous blog) and I ended up spending a weekend in the woods with four or five other students, including two incredibly beautiful twin girls, blonde hair, blue eyes, long tanned legs and cut-off denim shorts, I am sure that you get the picture; unfortunately their nanny came too! (Is this a record, still having a nanny at 21?) The nanny was a rather forbidding women with a strong German accent but she knew her mushrooms and she had us collecting vast quantities of chanterelle which sautéed together with crispy Canadian bacon and scrambled eggs made a wonderful breakfast the following day – although the nanny was late for the meal, returning with wet hair and a towel around her shoulders to announce that she had been “How do you say? Skinny dipping?” Well life is full of surprises and as far as the twins went disappointments as well! Later I became reacquainted with chanterelle but not the beautiful twins or the nanny when I lived in Stockholm. Again you could forage for them in the forests or more easily and reliably go to the city’s wonderful Östermalms Saluhall market – as close to heaven as any place that I know! Out of season the Swedes even have canned chanterelle in their supermarkets and they are now available here in the UK too at the Scandinavian Kitchen but unfortunately it is not so easy to get the thin shavings of reindeer or elk which when cooked in a rich cream sauce made a wonderful accompaniment to the chanterelle. Anyway enough of the reminiscences and back to the here and now! Chanterelle are beginning to appear regularly in my favourite Glasgow green grocers, Roots and Fruits and of course as soon as I saw them I was sold. Without elk or reindeer that dish was off and while perhaps the very best chanterelle that I have ever had was in Germany, a simple tossed salad mixed with pfifferling (the German name for chanterelle) I thought that on this occasion I would try something even easier, especially as I wanted to photograph the mushrooms, so chanterelle on toast it was! Ideal finger food!Chanterelle other wise known as girolles are the best of the autumn mushroom harvest and have a strong somewhat peppery taste. Cooking chanterelle couldn’t be easier:

  • Use a stiff short haired brush to remove any pine needles and other detritus (DON’T WASH them!) Cut off the base of the stems and discard and then cut the larger chanterelle in half lengthways, this not only makes them easier to cook but also makes it look as if you have twice as many chanterelle as you originally stared with!
  • Melt some butter in a frying pan over a medium heat, (the pan wants to be large enough to take all of the chanterelle in a single layer) then tip in the chanterelle, season to taste with sea salt flakes and freshly ground pepper.

Taste sensation: freshly fried chanterelle mushrooms..

  • Gently move the mushrooms around in the pan so that they are uniformly covered with butter and continue to sauté for another five to ten minutes
  • Meanwhile prepare the toast and warm the plates.
  • When the chanterelle are done remove them from the pan and place them on some kitchen towel in order remove excess buffer and then arrange on top of the toast.
  • Serve immediately and enjoy!

Chanterelle on toast

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Heritage tomatoes and bacon on toast

As a student I was fortunate enough to spend a whole summer doing field work in the more remote parts of Nova Scotia and Quebec. Together with a graduate student, Paul Comeau, we spent two months in a VW Camper van traveling along the Atlantic seaboard of Nova Scotia and then along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence as far as Sept-Isles and north up on to the Canadian Shield. I have many memories of this summer and not the least of which is the food, largely it was a case of simple cooking in the camper but there were occasional highlights such as the wonderful strawberry shortcake we discovered at a restaurant one evening and how we would make ever longer journeys back to the restaurant each evening as we traveled further and further away until the round trip was in the order of a one hundred miles when we had to eventually let reason prevail and find somewhere else to eat! Or there was the delicious Chinese meal in Hauterive on the way to Sept-Isles which seemed so unbelievably exotic in this remote and largely French speaking part of North America. However, the memory which is the strongest is a simple breakfast in Les Escoumins of crispy bacon and fresh sliced tomatoes on hot buttered toast, a delicious treat after days of camping and wading through bogs and pushing through dense forest all in the name of research. So ever since this meal has remained a constant favourite with its rich mixture of flavours and textures.

At the weekend while in Roots and Fruits, my favourite Glasgow fruit and vegetable shop, I came across the most amazing collection of heritage, (heirloom) tomatoes. I had never tried them before but with their bizarre shapes and vivid colours these tomatoes just had to be bought, they would be great subjects to photograph even if their taste didn’t match their appearance! However, I am delighted to say that they not only looked good but they tasted great too! Some of the tomatoes that I bought ended up in a salad but the rest just had to be used for my breakfast favourite of bacon and sliced tomatoes on toast!

KG120914003aWeb1The dish is so obvious that it doesn’t warrant any real instructions: just cook the bacon in a lightly oiled baking tray in the oven at 190oC for 10 to 15 minutes, when the bacon is nearly ready put the bread (I usually use Ciabatta) on to toast, slice the tomatoes (laterally is best), butter the toast and assemble the dish with a rasher of bacon to each slice of toast and top with the sliced tomato, not to forget some basil leaves, freshly ground pepper and a scattering of sea salt flakes and there you have it, together with a cup of strong black coffee, the perfect breakfast!

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Asparagus two ways

We have all become used to having fruit and vegetables available all the year round but I think that there is still a great appeal to buying them when they are in season. The British asparagus season is now in full swing and the shops are piled high with bundles of plump ripe spears which can’t be beaten either for taste or price. After a number of false starts due to the vagaries of the British climate it looks as if it is going to be a bumper crop this year although the season may be shorter than usual so don’t delay; get your asparagus now and start cooking! In Britain green asparagus is by far the most widely available form and white asparagus is relatively rare, not that I mind, I always find that the white asparagus lacks the bite both literally in terms of texture as well as taste of the green form.

Asparagus is a versatile vegetable it can be boiled, grilled, roasted, steamed or fried and it goes so well with so many dishes hot or cold; served hot with hollandaise sauce, boiled new potatoes with a mint and butter dressing and grilled salmon fillet it makes a classic early summer main course. However, in this article I will focus on two simple dishes which make a perfect brunch: Asparagus Spears Wrapped In Smoked German Ham and Poached Eggs With Asparagus or, if you are especially hungry, you can combine the two dishes for a total extravagant mixture of flavours!

Asparagus wrapped in smoked German ham

This simple dish is quick and easy to prepare and is just bursting with flavours and contrasting textures. The smoky saltiness of the ham is the perfect partner for the asparagus (as an aside: for all that I love the taste of asparagus I find it impossible to describe, it is so utterly different to anything else I can think of! Even Google failed to offer any assistance!  Can you find the words to describe the taste of asparagus? If so, be sure to let me know!

Preparation 5 minutes; Cooking time 10 minutes. Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 10 large asparagus spears
  • 6 slices of smoked German ham (Morrisons Smoked, German, Black Forest Ham. 15 slices for £2.59)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • bread for toasting (Ciabatta works well)
  • butter
  • sea salt (Maldon)
  • black pepper (freshly ground in a pestle and mortar – try it; it is so much more pungent this way!)

Method

  1. Preparing the spears is simplicity itself; using both hands hold each spear between your thumbs and forefingers and snap off the lower part of the spear and discard. Rinse the spears under the cold tap, shake and leave to dry on some paper towel (You will often see chefs in TV cookery programmes peeling the stems of asparagus but I don’t see the point providing that the asparagus is young, tender and freshly picked).
  2. Add a glug of olive oil to a large frying pan and using a paper towel wipe the oil over the inside of the pan to create a uniform thin-film.
  3. Place the pan on the stove over a medium-high heat and once it is hot add the asparagus, shuggle the pan every so often in order to ensure that the spears are uniformly browned but take care not to let them burn.
  4. After 5 minutes tip the spears out on to a chopping board, set 4 spears aside and wrap each of the remaining spears in a slice of ham, taking care not to cover the tip of the spear, before returning all of the spears to the pan to cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes again shuggling the pan at regular intervals in order to ensure that the ham is browned on all sides.
  5. While finishing off the asparagus cut 4 slices of Ciabatta and toast and at the same time put two serving plates in the microwave to warm (2 minutes at full power will be ample).
  6. Once the plates have warmed and the toast is done the ham wrapped asparagus spears will be ready to serve
  7. Butter the toasted Ciabatta and place two slices on to each plate and top with the asparagus, 3 wrapped in ham and two plain.
  8. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Serve and enjoy!

Asparagus and poached eggs on toast

Another simple brunch time dish staring asparagus is to serve the freshly cooked spears with poached eggs, or as previously noted above, for a really indulgent brunch the poached eggs can be served with the Asparagus and Smoked German Ham dish described above.

Cooking the perfect poached egg was something that had long eluded me and it was not for want of trying! I always ensured that I had the freshest eggs possible and I bought and tested a variety of poachers as well as trying the whirlpool method but none of them consistently produced the perfect poached egg and then I heard how Heston Blumenthal does it! And no, it doesn’t involve liquid nitrogen!

Preparation 10 minutes; Cooking time 6 minutes. Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 10 large asparagus spears
  • 4 eggs (the fresher the better as the egg white becomes increasingly watery over time and the egg become useless for poaching)
  • White wine vinegar (this helps coagulate the egg white and while not used in Heston’s method I like the flavour it gives to the eggs as well as being an example of my belt and braces approach to cooking – well sometimes at least!).
  • bread for toasting (Ciabatta works well)
  • butter
  • sea salt (Maldon)
  • black pepper (freshly ground in a pestle and mortar – try it; it is so much more pungent this way!)

Method

  1. Fill a large sauce pan with water to a depth of 12 to 15 cm and place on the stove to boil. Keep the lid on the saucepan at this stage, it will boil much more quickly.
  2. At the same time take a second sauce pan and fill it to a depth of 3 or so cms and place the lower half of a double bamboo steamer and its lid in the pan and bring to the boil. (If your steamers are too large for your saucepans use a wok and fill it with water to a depth which just begins to flood into the bottom of the steamer. These steamers really keep the heat as well as providing a moist environment so when serving asparagus as an accompaniment to a main meal the steamer can be placed on the dining table so that people can help themselves).
  3. Meanwhile prepare the asparagus. Using both hands hold each spear between your thumbs and forefingers and snap off the lower part of the spear and discard. Rinse the spears under the cold tap, shake dry and place in the top section of the bamboo steamer (You will often see chefs in TV cookery programmes peeling the stems of asparagus but I don’t see the point providing that the asparagus is young, tender and freshly picked).
  4. While waiting for the water to boil cut the bread for the toast and crack each egg into a cup. Taking each cup in turn carefully pour the egg onto a large skimmer spoon, the sort with round holes rather than slots, and let the wateriest part of the egg white drain through the spoon for a few seconds before gently tipping the egg back into the cup.
  5. Once the water in both pans is boiling place the top half of the steamer containing the asparagus on top of the lower steamer and cover with the lid of the steamer.
  6. Turn the heat off the pan which is to be used for poaching the eggs and add a desert spoonful of white wine vinegar to the water and carefully tip the eggs into the pan by slowly immersing each cup in turn into the water and letting the water flood over and around the egg before finally tipping the egg out into the pan. On an electric cooker there will be enough residual heat in the hob to keep the water temperature just below boiling, with a gas stove the hob should be left on at its      lowest setting.
  7. While the eggs and asparagus are cooking toast the bread and warm the plates for 2 minutes in a microwave at full power.
  8. By the time the toast is done the asparagus and poached eggs will be ready and you can start to plate up. Butter the toast and place a couple of slices of toast on each plate, top with 5 spears of asparagus before topping off with the poached eggs by taking the eggs from the pan one at a time using a skimmer and ensuring that any traces water are removed by dabbing the bottom of the spoon with some paper towel as well as tipping the edge of the spoon against the towel in order to remove any last traces of water before placing them on the asparagus.
  9. Season with salt and pepper to taste

Serve and enjoy!

Boiled Eggs and Soldiers!

Boiled eggs and soldiers,  what could be simpler? Well for me they were all too often a game of Russian roulette – would they crack or not and of course there is nothing worse than a cracked boiled egg and a pan full of frothing egg white the day can only go down hill after that! Then I was told the secret add a tea spoon full of salt to the water (thanks Josie!), it will not absolutely guarantee that you eggs will not crack but the odds are very much in your favour. It amazing how such simple tricks can make all the difference when cooking.

Boiled Eggs and Soldiers

Prep time 5 minutes and Cooking time 5 minutes Total time 10 minutes. Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 4 eggs (straight from the fridge is fine)
  • Bread
  • Salted butter

Method

  1. Boil a pan two thirds full of water. Keep the lid on until the water is boiling; it will boil much more quickly this way
  2. Once the water is boiling remove the pan lid, add a tea spoon of salt, reduce the heat to medium high and gently place the eggs into the water; a Spaghetti Server is ideal for this. The eggs should be totally covered by the now simmering water. Do not replace the saucepan lid.
  3. Set a kitchen timer for 5 minutes (extra large eggs will require 1 minute longer while small bantam eggs typically take in the order of 4 minutes, similarly if you keep your eggs at room  temperature a shorter cooking time may be needed).
  4. While the eggs cook pop the slices of bread in to the toaster and when ready butter with lashings of butter
  5. By which time the eggs will be ready to serve.

What could be simpler?

Dip in and enjoy!