Friday, February 05, 2010

All in a Name

Trying to discover what makes a gourmet meal, the photos shown on various websites of dishes with that name, have puzzled me, for they appear to be very similar to those that have been cooked in the Goode kitchen for years - often the recipes have appeared on this site. Sometimes it is the name we give a dish that makes it sound special. My favourite example is 'Poitrine d'agneau au chou' which sounds really special but just translates into Breast of Lamb with Cabbage. Nevertheless, a very good dish to eat.

To call a meal 'gourmet' means that the highest quality fresh produce is used, but not only that - it is HOW it is used. Also, when an ingredients is rarely used in a domestic kitchen, even when cheap enough to buy, this too can be included in 'fine dining'. So we might often see quinoa(pronounced keenwah) on a menu where it would be served instead of rice. Or if rice - then perhaps a red rice, or wild rice, something that little bit different.

Much is to do with fashion, for in Victorian times, oysters were so cheap that even the very poorest could afford to eat them - now they are 'gourmet' food. In my childhood, roast chicken was served only on special occasions, now this meat can be one of the cheapest, and eaten by most people several times a week. It seems the foods we eat rarely are the ones to choose when preparing a memorable meal (by this I mean a dish that has been enjoyed, not remembered because "it was awful") , and many foods that fall into that category are inexpensive (chicken livers for instance). When everyone regularly eats chicken livers at home, then the top restaurants will stop serving them, and because they have become popular, this will then cause the price will rise, so let us make the most of them while we can.

Reading up on 'gourmet food', this is more than just ordinary cooking, it is a way of preparing and cooking a meal that has a balance of texture, flavour and colour. While some chefs will spend many years perfecting this art, at the domestic level this type of meal is not that difficult to cook, as long as we keep it simple. Really only three things to remember - use quality ingredients, cook them correctly, and present the meal attractively.
We are probably now familiar with the 'tower' presentation. Perhaps a vegetable base (could be common or garden mashed spuds - sorry 'creamed potatoes'), on which is placed the same size or smaller round of meat or fish, this then topped with finely diced vegetables, concentrated 'jus.' spooned over, then served. How to eat it elegantly is a different matter. Once touched the lot usually falls over. But that would be our problem, not the chef's.

In all honesty, thought I would need to teach myself the finer art of quality cooking. But it seems it is not the case, for much of the gourmet food seen in photos on various websites, are much the same as come from the Goode kitchen these days, the only difference being that my Beloved wants substantial portions, his plate full with no 'fiddly bits' and drizzled 'jus'. So although the food served to him is pretty good of the whole (apart from the odd blip) the presentation not as good as it could be.

In the past have often cut financial corners by zooming in onto those offers, and not always buying free-range chickens. It was important at that time to spend less, not more. However, over the years have found that the more that cooking is done at home, the more money can be saved, and some of that now is being ploughed back into buying quality produce. As proved this week, it is still possible to buy the very best quality at a price we can afford - when on offer.

Yesterday was wondering if there was such a thing as a gourmet breakfast, and probably there is. Not sure what, but a glass of Buck's Fizz, followed by snippets of smoked salmon folded into scrambled eggs crossed my mind. It is how the eggs are scrambled that makes a great difference. The eggs are best put into bowl standing over hot water, heated and gently stirred until setting, although this takes longer, this makes them far more creamy with far less lumps than a 'greasy spoon cafe' might serve. Some people cook good scrambled eggs in the microwave, but let's not go there for the moment. At this time we are 'chef in the kitchen' not working for a motorway cafe.

Could a 'Full English' count as gourmet? Doubt it, even if the sausages served were butcher's best, the eggs free range, the bacon Gloucester Old Spot, an award winning slice of black pudding, fried tomatoes that had been home-grown, and a large field mushroom oozing with butter.

So maybe we should think less about the 'fine dining' aspect of food and concentrate more on just serving quality. The breakfast above has already got my mouth watering. Thoughts of a bowl of porridge served with cream and honey, home-baked bread toasted and served with butter and home-made marmalade. Plus a pot of English breakfast tea. What more can we wish for? All right, freshly squeezed orange juice, croissants with black cherry jam perhaps, and proper coffee. But I know which I prefer.

But still keeping with the theme, today am giving a recipes that are slightly more up-market than we might normally serve and like to feel they fit into Shoestring Gourmet.
The first is a lamb version of Beef Wellington - and this is a way to make meat go a little bit further (useful to know when paying for quality). This could also be made with pork tenderloin (but if so use a chunky apple sauce instead of the cranberry and omit the rosemary). Buy ready made puff pastry (many chefs use this) and if you have a 'lattice' pastry roller a thin layer of pastry 'mesh' placed over the top of each portion before cooking adds nothing to the final flavour, but does improve the presentation.

Lamb Envelopes: serves 4
4 x 4oz (100g) lamb steaks or lamb fillet
salt and pepper
3 sprigs rosemary (plus extra for garnish)
1 tblsp light olive oil (or sunflower oil)
1 x 375g pack ready-rolled puff pastry
4 tblsp cranberry sauce
1 egg, beaten
Remove leaves from the 3 rosemary sprigs, and chop finely. Set to one side. sprinkle seasoning over the lamb, then sprinkle over the chopped herb.
Put the oil in a frying pan, and when hot, fry the lamb for 2 minutes on each side, until sealed, then removed to a plate and leave to cool.
Unroll the pastry and cut into 4 rectangles, then roll each out large enough to wrap around a lamb steak. Place a piece of lamb in the centre of each piece of pastry and spoon 1 tblsp of the cranberry sauce onto the top of each piece of meat. Brush the edges of the pastry with the beaten egg, then fold over the pastry to secure the lamb, making sure the edges are sealed. Although these can be cooked immediately, the pastry is better if the 'envelopes' are chilled for 20 minutes before baking, and can be kept chilled in the fridge for up to four hours.
To cook, brush the surface of the pastry with beaten egg, stick a little sprig of rosemary into the top of each envelope, place on a pre-heated baking sheet (pre-heating helps to crisp the underside of the pastry), and immediately place in the oven (200C, 400F, gas 6) and bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden brown. Serve with vegetables of your choice.

Despite this next recipe being fairly 'rustic', as long as served with well prepared and cooked vegetables (the texture, colour and flavour of prime importance), it could easily end up on a restaurant menu, particularly when free-range chicken, Gloucester Spot bacon, and organic veg and herbs are used. Have you noticed how menus are now telling us the quality of the foods used? Probably to give a reason why they charge so much.
Chicken, Bacon and Leek Roulade: serves 4
2 chicken breasts, skins removed, flesh diced
6 rashers smoked back bacon, diced
1 - 2 leeks, washed and chopped
salt and pepper
2 tblsp chopped fresh parsley
9 oz (250g) self-raising flour
4 oz (125g) shredded suet
approx. 5 fl.oz. (150ml) cold water
Put the prepared chicken, bacon, leeks, parsley into a bowl, adding seasoning to taste, and mix well.
Put the flour into another bowl and stir in the suet with a pinch of salt. Stir in the water to make a soft dough. Roll out on a floured surface to approx. 12" x 14" (30 x 35cm) and place n a baking sheet that has been covered with a sheet of baking parchment. Brush the edges of the pastry with water. Spread the chicken/bacon mixture over the top leaving the damp edges clear, then fold the pastry over to encase the filling, crimping the edges together. Loosely wrap the paper around the roll (needs to be loose to allow for expansion) then place this on a sheet of foil, and wrap this - again loosely - around the parcel.
Place on a rack in a roasting tin, and pour water into the tin to reach the base of the parcel. Bake in the centre of the oven set at 190C, 375F, gas 5 for 2 hours, topping up the water as it evaporates.
Remove from oven, unwrap the foil and paper - keeping any juices that may have collected - slice and serve immediately, spooning a little of the juice over the top.