Motorboat My (Water) Melons

watermelon

Tipsy Watermelon, Gorgonzola, Prosciutto and Pecan Salad

There have been actual real-life academic studies into the aphrodisiac qualities of watermelon. Like practically every other ingredient, they were sadly cock-blocked by science. However, once again, they might just, if you’re lucky (or unlucky, depending on how you look at it) be a potency aid.

The active ingredient in these fleshy orbs of watery goodness is called citrulline. Our bodies convert this to argenine, which boosts nitric oxide, which in turns relaxes blood vessels. So once again, basically natural Viagra. The downside is that the citrulline is concentrated in the barely-edible rind. They’re also a great source of lycopene, which is also good for heart health and circulation. But the proof of this one is definitely in the eating.

Maybe it’s that bright pink colour, or how wet and messy they get you when you dive into a big slice. Or how about spitting those seeds out, through moistened puckered lips. There’s just something inherently messily sexy about eating a watermelon.

So obviously there’s going to have to be a nice big slice of moist, juicy watermelon on the side, so that you can feel those juices dribbling down my chin, but otherwise this is a great starter or side salad, with maybe a nice juicy pink steak and a nice roughly ripped chunk of crusty bread.

 

Quarter of a watermelon, chopped into bite-sized cubes

A mix of salad leaves, I’ve used rocket and lamb’s lettuce

300g of Gorgonzola, or a similar salty blue cheese. Roquefort or Stilton are good stand-ins.

A large handful of pecans.

Three or four strips of prosciutto, or a similar cured ham.

For the dressing: A shot of vodka, white balsamic vinegar and olive oil

 

I often read recipes for salads and think “Really? People need instructions on how to put together a salad?” But apparently some people do. So here goes nothing. Put the ingredients in a bowl. Mix. Serve. Drizzle with dressing, which is equal parts vodka, vinegar and oil, mixed frantically in a cup with a fork. Eat.

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Offally good lamb burgers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf, like me, you put your own liver through hell from time-to-time, eating liver could easily be viewed as organ replacement therapy. Indeed, one of the first things they teach you at collège culinaire is to use every bit of the animal you possibly can. This can sometimes go beyond what the mainstream thinks is acceptable, so of course cooks have come up with lots of lovely euphemistic words to hide the contents of their plate – sweetbreads and sweetmeats being two of my favourites.

But liver is the one piece of offal that should really be on everyone’s menu, at least occasionally. It’s a veritable super-food, so rich in nutrients, from vitamins A, D, E, K, B12 and folic acid, to minerals such as copper and iron. An equal weight of liver contains almost 100 times all the vitamin-y goodness of the equivalent weight of even an iron-rich veg like spinach, and almost 25 times the equivalent weight of muscle-meat. And no, it doesn’t contain any toxins. If you think it does, you have completely misunderstood what the function of a liver is – sure it filters them out, but it doesn’t store them. Importantly, though, it also tastes sooo good when cooked properly – lamb’s liver in particular has a sweet, tender, slightly gamey flavour that goes down great in a simple red wine and onion gravy, with plenty of smashed garlic and chopped parsley. On mash. Yum. Comfort food at its best.

If the texture, or just the very thought of ‘organ meat’ puts you off, bear in mind that once upon a time, many civilisations *only* ate organ meat, throwing the muscle-meat we eat today away. However, if you still can’t come to terms with it, try these: lamb & lamb’s liver mint & coriander burgers. As you can see from the plate full I’ve served up, this is also comfort food 🙂

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– 500g lean lamb meat

– 500g lamb’s liver

– 2 red onions

– 2 eggs

– butter, pepper, balsamic vinegar, chilli or mustard, lemon, garlic, coriander, mint & cinnamon to taste

So kick things off by chopping the onion and garlic and caramelising it slightly in a hot pan with plenty of butter and some balsamic vinegar. Let this cool before bringing the burger mix together. Blitz the lamb and the lamb’s liver, along with the cooled onion, eggs and various flavourings. I’ve gone with two pinches of cinnamon, the juice of half a lemon, and a tablespoon each of chopped fresh mint and fresh coriander leaves, with a good few twists of pepper (both white & black) and a hearty pinch of salt. You could add some chilli or mustard for a bit of heat, too. I’ve gone with one skinny red chilli pepper and a splash of tabasco.

I’m going to leave this mixture to infuse for a couple of hours in the fridge, which also makes it firmer and easier to work when it comes to getting down & dirty with your patties (as the actress said to the bishop).

When using flour to help with the next step, always season the flour – salt & white pepper at the very least. In this case, I’m throwing in a pinch or two of ground coriander and a pinch of cinnamon too. Chuck a handful of the seasoned flour on your board, pinch off a golf-ball sized lump of the patty mixture, and roll and hammer it with the palm of your hand. I tend to make mine small and thick, rather than large and thin, because I like a little bit of a medium-rare touch to my burgers, which tends to be difficult to reach if they are too skinny.

I cook burgers like I cook steak – in my cast-iron pan on the hob to begin with, two minutes on one side, then a minute on the other to let Maillard get his caramelised brown tasty goodness all over the edges, before transferring to a hot (220 degrees) oven for 4-5 minutes more (6-7 for medium, 10 for shoe-leather-like well-done). Burgers are still meat, remember, so be sure to rest them for a couple of minutes too.

Serve how you like, really. I’d tend to go with honey-infused natural yoghurt and a rough & ready salad, though could easily have done these as meatballs instead, on a bed of brown rice or cous-cous with chopped peppers and spring onions, and that honey-yoghurt sauce sloshed all over the top. As it is, I’m up against rice-hating philistines again tonight, so it’s crushed roasted potatoes and a garlic tomato salad with that yummy yoghurt.

Slow-roast Ēostre lamb

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Sorry, Easter, but you pre-date Christianity by quite some time, as all the rabbits and spring lambs probably attest. Anyway, it’s lamb for us here today, and as usual, slow-roasted. Normally I’d be doing this in rosé wine, rosemary and garlic, but I’ve gone semi-traditional for a change. Tightly wrapped in a fresh mint (I have three types in the herb garden, apple mint, spearmint and dark mint, the last of which is thriving nicely) and honey breadcrumb, and covered with bacon to help keep the meat nice and moist.

Just the one mildly experimental side-dish today: potato, apple & celeriac dauphinoise, a cream-slathered roasted gratin, with a sweetness that works well with the moist, minted lamb.

Champagne. Battery not included

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Experimentation time again. With food, that is. Fish & chips were hankered after by all this evening, and the only thing you can really experiment with on that score is the batter (unless you start doing something downright silly, like parsnip chips).

So here goes… 200 grams of plain flour, 200 grams of cornflour, 5 heaped teaspoons of baking powder, a pinch of white pepper, a smattering of salt, and all sloshed around with a Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs (Champagne to you & me) and a slug of white wine vinegar. Then in the fridge for an hour (and in the freezer for 15 minutes directly before use).

The fish today is pollock, because it’s so fabulously sustainable, and remarkably cheap & cheerful. The selection today was all a tad on the skinny side, but what ho, just means a higher ratio of batter-per-mouthful.

My venerable deep-fat fryer is looking a little shell-shocked at the moment, so I kicked it up to 190 degrees (370 F) just to be sure. Remember that the oil is going to lose a lot of its heat as you place that chilled batter into it, so cook them one or two at a time, and then put them to rest on a baking tray lined with kitchen roll in a low (90C/190F degrees) oven, just to keep them warm and help to dry off any excess oil, before re-heating the oil back up to temperature and going for the next batch.

The mixture made for a deliciously light, yet crispy, batter, with some real flavour to it, especially compared to my more usual beer-batter, which I tend to find loses too much of its yeastiness (it’s better with British bitter, to be fair, but you don’t find that often in rural Normandy). The mushy peas were an optional extra for one diner tonight, as I can’t face the things myself.

There was some champers left over, of course, so what better to serve it with on a positively balmy spring evening?

 

This little piggy went to the orchard

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Normandy is deeply farming country, with a host of renowned products – mostly dairy (oh, the butter, the butter!), almost all the meats (lots of pork around here, veal, Charolais beef and saltmarsh lamb), and of course the apples, and apple products (cider, Calvados). So today is one of those market-inspired recipes, having picked up a shoulder of free-range pork from one stall, I then hunted out some organic cider from a small family-owned business and some of their apples (which looked a bit ropey, as cider apples often do, but which will cook deliciously).

First job was to slow-cook that pork. I effectively poached/roasted it – it was swimming in all 750ml of that cider (I used ‘doux’, or sweet, using ‘brut’, or dry, it might be wise to add a couple of teaspoons of sugar), with a further 500ml of pork stock, one roughly chopped apple, one roughly chopped onion, a few cloves, a couple of whole cardamom pods and a big handful of thyme. Bring this up to the boil on the hob, before covering and transferring to a low oven (130 degrees) for about 4 hours.

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Then another apple, another onion, and a stick of celery got finely chopped and sautéed in butter, before adding the stripped-down pork, and a cup or two full of the (blitzed) cider stock. I reduced this down just a little more, so that it wouldn’t soggy-fy my pastry.

Ah yes, the pastry – shortcrust, with lots of butter and an extra egg yolk or two, to make it nice and easy to handle. Blind-bake the bottom for 10 minutes to help it survive the moist mixture, and then add a pastry lid and bake for a further 25 minutes in a hot oven (220 degrees). I’m planning to have this hot for lunch today, but it works well as a cold picnic pie, though I suggest adding a little extra seasoning during the final bake if that’s your plan.

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Steak & frites, rio plata style

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Ever since I’ve been cooking in anger, the dish ordered most often is steak & chips. I’m lucky in that I can pick up fabulous fresh Charolais steaks right from the farm gate from ‘La Fermette’, our local farm shop. It’s usually gorgeously delicious, perfectly marbled meat, high quality enough to use for steak tartare.

My menu includes a small choice of sauces: Béarnaise, peppercorn, Roquefort or wholegrain mustard (and it’s the blue cheese that wins out most often), so I thought it was time to branch out a little. So for my first new one, I’ve gone South American with a spot of chimichurri. Supposedly first uttered by British prisoners of war in the 18th century (‘chi mi curry’ or ‘give me curry’), who demanded more interesting meals from their Spanish captors, this is one of the simplest sauces to chuck together.

The first important decision is “to chilli or not to chilli”. I’m going with ‘no’, as it’s designed to be light & refreshing to match tonight’s sunny, ‘summer is nearly here’ evening. So it’s just parsley, oregano, garlic, olive oil and white wine vinegar. The first three are plucked fresh from the garden, and finely chopped. I’m going with a bit of shallot, too, to give it a little more body, since it doesn’t have any base to carry it. This is also its upside, though, because in these quantities (5 cloves of garlic, half a cup of parsley, and a quarter of oregano) those raw ingredients really zip with flavour. Blitz the lot, and chill in the fridge.

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This baby is my favourite pan – it’s heavy cast-iron that I (literally) tripped over in the dusty corner of a vide grenier (attic sale) for €4, and fabulous for steak frying because it’s equally at home on the hob or in the oven (it is seen here having a well-deserved smoke after being well used). Always remember to stick your oven on before you start preparing your steak. Nice and hot, 220 degrees at least. Oil the steak, not the pan (and by ‘oil’, I mean melted butter), season (with both salt and pepper), and ensure the pan is absolutely smoking hot before chucking those steaks in. Let Maillard do its work on both sides, and then stick them in the oven – about six extra minutes for medium-rare, or three if you like it moo’ing (like I do).

I normally serve with thin chips (allumettes, or match sticks) in the traditional French style, but just fancied some big fluffy chunky ones today.