Tuesday, 7 January 2014

A rather chili picture of what we face

A ridiculous and unseasonally warm chili
If ever you wanted an illustration of how wrong some things are, it’s the chili pepper in the picture.

That rather unassuming picture of that rather unassuming fruit was taken last week – after the pepper in question had been picked from a plant in a pot in my garden.

Let’s just reiterate: that’s not a greenhouse, but a garden. It may be south facing, but it’s in England. And it’s the winter. There’s another one left on the plant too.

Nothing has stopped growing, because the weather is nowhere near as cold as it should be in this part of the world at this time of year.

And this is neither the first time, nor the only example of the climate having gone haywire.

Of course there were floods in the olden days. But they were not every year, several times a year, in several – if not many – places.

We might not have had many deaths from the ongoing stormy weather, and London has certainly not been battered, but yet again, people have been flooded out of their homes, left without power over Christmas and beyond – and still it comes.

That’s without considering the environmental impact – salt water washing away sea walls and swamping fresh water areas of great importance to animal, bird and plant life.

And government is hoping to further cut back the department in question – the department that, for instance, deals with flood defences.

The weather in this part of the world used to be essentially reliable. It no longer is. Depending on the time of year, you basically knew what would be coming.

Not any more.

Anyone who says that the climate isn’t changing is a idiot.

I’m not going to claim to know exactly what’s caused/causing it (I’m not remotely qualified to read, understand and comment on the science) but to be honest, I don’t think that what’s causing it matters.

It’s happening and anyone who doesn’t think that we should find ways to deal with it is also an idiot.

In the meantime, I’ve got chilis on a plant in London in January.

This one was sliced and used to flavour the mushroom ‘gravy’ that went with pan-fried tuna last weekend.

It’s a Rick Stein dish – and a very nice one at that.

Start by softening chopped/sliced onion or shallot, carrot and celery in a pan, then adding your chili, plus dried mushrooms. How many dried mushrooms? Try a shed load. Porcini provide a really big flavour hit.

Add some white wine and simmer to reduce, then add some vegetable stock and reduce again.

Strain everything and, depending on how much liquid you’ve got left and how many you’re feeding, you can reduce again.

At that stage, whisk in some buerre manie – that’s equal amounts of softened butter and plain flour, mixed together – until you have thickened it as much as you want.

Pour over your pan-fried tuna and consume with relish.

Stein serves it with mashed potato with garlic. I opted for crushed root veg: parsnip, swede and carrot. Tasty, comforting – and healthy.

Not that it was the only episode of smash and grab on the dried mushroom front over the holiday season.

We started this year’s Christmas dinner with a mushroom consommé that also required less a shed load and more a whole garage full.

Made from vegetable stock that was then reduced with the dried mushrooms in it, it was clarified with an egg white raft and then strained through muslin, to pack a massive flavour punch.

The rest of the dinner went okay, but realisation has dawned that a four-course meal for two is not actually massively practical, since the non-cooking diner has a lot of time to sit around waiting between courses.

It was a realisation that was increased by a rare episode of entertaining friends with a three-course meal that flowed perfectly naturally even though one ingredient (carrots in the boles de picolat, which The Other Half insisted should be included this time) was defiantly reluctant to actually be cooked through properly.

But with three people to sit around, wine in hand, and chat, it wasn’t an issue for me to give the dish extra time.

I’ll say this, though, Christmas Day’s mandarin sorbet was top notch.

The rest of the festive cooking was about as simple as can be, although having proven to myself that a set custard needn’t be such a risk – that three-course meal – I set out on New Year’s Day to prove it hadn’t been a fluke, rustling up little crème caramels.

Honestly – who found out that burning sugar could make something so utterly scrumdumptiously fabulous?

Our first course, incidentally, was steak, with sautéed leeks and little potatoes pan-cooked in duck fat.

On the subject of duck, I have, in the last couple of years, discovered Reflets de France tins of duck confit from the south west of France.

It’s not the cheapest fodder in the world, but contains exactly and only what confit should: duck legs, salt and duck fat.

Over the holiday, Ocado had run out, so they substituted me some Gressingham duck confit. This has an ingredient list of:

Duck Legs (85%), Orange Zest, Ginger Purée, Rapeseed Oil, Salt, Black Pepper.

I have to say, the taste is okay, but The Other Half was not wrong when he pointed out that they’re rather tougher than the Reflets ones. And amazingly, they’re from the chiller cabinet, which seems rather to defeat the object of preserving the meat in, err duck fat and salt.

Christmas did produce one culinary first for me, though: after watching Nigel Slater’s excellent programme on biscuits, I finally pushed past my polite reservations – and dunked a biscuit!

So peeps, that in a nutshell is notes from the festive food front.

And so, with Christmas packed away once more, it’s back to what passes for normal.

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