Tuesday, 28 June 2011

The holiday count down begins

You could be forgiven for assuming that, with conference safely in the history books, life would return to whatever passes for normal. But that is not the case.

The production timetable is set out in such a way that we have only the week immediately after to get pretty much an entire journal out. Now this makes complete sense – it’s the issue with all the conference reports in, so members need it as soon as possible. But it’s still a busy week.

It was at this stage, four years ago, that I first realised how bone tired I am by now. We hadn’t booked a holiday, but had been thinking of taking a week in Barcelona.

I said to The Other Half: ‘I can’t do it. If I do a city break, I’ll run around with the camera like a total lunatic, wanting to do as much as possible. I need to sit still and do nothing’.

We were incredibly lucky, so late in the season, to get into a hotel in Collioure for 10 days. We’d visited before, but never stayed there.

It was the first time I’d ever had a real beach holiday. I took something like nine books, because I didn’t really think I could just still for all that time, doing nothing. It didn’t take long to discover just how wrong I was.

We will be back on the same beach in a few weeks, after a week making our way there on trains, via Bordeaux, Carcassonne, Foix and Villefranche de Conflent.

My food aims are already taking shape – well, food and drink, since we’re starting in Bordeaux!

It’s totally perverse, of course, to eat cassoulet in the summer, but one has to make sacrifices sometimes, and in a region that prides itself on that dish, I’ll find somewhere to give the real thing a whirl.

But there's a little time left before I get too excited.

The weekend's food plans dissipated in utter sloth. But a sea bass that I'd intended to use on Sunday evening was deployed on Monday – albeit in a different way.

In an à la River Café way, I par-boiled some new potatoes and then sliced them thickly. These went into an oven dish with olive oil and sliced tomatoes, to be seasoned and then topped with the filleted the fish, before a really generous squeeze of fresh lemon was added.

And then it was into a pre-heated (200˚) oven for around 12-15 minutes (check the potatoes with a knife to see when they're completely cooked).

Nice – and far from difficult or time-consuming.

Tuesday's risotto at the top was made in my usual way: sweat finely chopped shallot, celery and garlic in olive oil. Add your risotto rice and let it pick up the rest of the oil.

Give it a slug of Noilly Prat (or vermouth or white wine) and let the rice absorb that too. Then start adding the simmering stock, a ladle at a time. This was a home-made chicken stock, which was brought gently to a simmer with some more of the dried porcini from Lina Stores.

I'd picked up some lovely mushrooms at Sporeboys on Broadway Market on Saturday, so chopped a few of these and sautéed very gently in more olive oil. A little more of the booze and a squeeze of lemon juice were added, and it was left to gently cook through.

Once the rice has taken on the stock, add some chopped parsley and then the mushrooms and stir gently.

At this point, I added some more of the truffle butter I'd used last time and then lidded it, while I heated a little more oil in the pan I'd used to cook the mushrooms – and then fried two thin slices of 'shroom I'd cut off earlier.

Those, together with more fresh parsley, then topped the finished dish.

And not only was that not at all bad, it was very much another instance of cooking as therapy.

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