I think I may be falling into a trap. It’s called unoriginality. I’m worried that what I keep producing in the kitchen has all been done before and that it lacks any real character. Granted these days most things in the food world have been done before, but its credit to all the great cooks and chefs out there who manage to still keep it interesting and fresh. This I believe is one of the hardest elements of successful cooking alongside the cooking itself; to take an ingredient that’s been used time and time again and keep people ordering it. But then there’s also the side of the argument that sees traditional food as the soul of any cuisine and that too much deviation from original styles is missing the point. It seems that there’s always this natural tug of war where the rope is constantly pulled and tugged from the old into the new and then back again. And I suppose what I wonder is where I stand in all of this...
I have never really been a creative person, creative in the sense of innovation. Yes I can probably take something that already exists and tweak it a little; but come to any pure original thought and I’m out of luck. I think this is how I cook. I know what I like to taste, and I have a fair idea of what flavours go together, so when I put together a meal I’m relying on piecing all those elements together that I am familiar with to create a plate of food that goes down well. What I am worried about I suppose is seeming a little repetitive. Chocolate again? Oh, ok. I want to be able to stretch myself a bit more, cook things that I am not familiar with. Yet when it comes to planning my dinners I seem to fall into the same Italian/French style that I’ve done before: wine, stock, cream, bay, butter.
It hasn’t all been like that – I’ve definitely plunged into trying things I’ve never made before such as pastry and marinades and stuffing pork shoulders, I should give credit for that. What I would like to do now is aim for different flavours, be a bit more adventurous. With Asia on our doorstep it would be nice to take advantage of all that produce that you don’t see in Europe. And with all the access to markets and cookbooks it wouldn’t be hard to branch out a little. So I think it may be time to ‘push that boat out’ a little, give something new a go. Predictably the next meal will consist of the same style that I’ve done before. But hey, you have to set goals before you achieve them right?
Back to this week’s meal though... I saw a recipe for beurre blanc and thought it sounded delicious so I decided to do some fish for it to go with. I bought two big sides of blue grenadier from the mongers but became weary when she mentioned it was a very ‘soft fish’. I suppose I am a fan of the firmer slightly meatier types, but I’d never had grenadier before so you I figured give it a go. Cooking wise I just divided it up and pan fried it in butter and olive oil. In the end it probably wasn’t the nicest fish of the bunch, something a bit more like bass would have been better. The beurre blanc was also a bit of new ground. I haven’t made many sauces yet and its silly because a good sauce can often be the best part of the meal and usually is worth the effort. Sauces like these aren’t simple however because if you get the temperature wrong the butter that you incorporate can turn on you ruining all your efforts. Patience is key. I managed to get the consistency right in the end, but the reduction of vinegar and white wine overpowered the sauce a little. It was too tangy rather than creamy and rich. The sauce cut through the fish nicely but next time I will use a bit less vinegar. I think these sauces take time to perfect but once you know how to do them you’re looking at some good additions to plenty of meals.
I decided to do risotto with the fish as it is versatile and goes a long way. Because there was a bit of richness coming from the beurre blanc I decided to keep it simple and do one with artichoke. I was quite amazed at how it turned out. Often risotto encourages a lot of tasting and adding and tweaking but this kind of just turned out good. I sweated off a good deal of shallots and celery at the start but then only added white wine, the artichokes, and stock. It just worked. I think by having a good base to start with means you don’t need to do so much to it at the end. So yeah, no stinginess on that celery. I made a cucumber, dill and olive salad to accompany as well as some steamed asparagus.
Dessert was definitely one of parts. I did chocolate mousse cake with cherries which had about 10 stages to it. I decided to do one big cake rather than individual bowls because its always nicer to share things at dinner and with a cake you get that extra bonus of a base. The base I did like a cheesecake: digestive biscuits and butter then chilled. On top of the base I made a thick cherry jam to go between the biscuit and the mousse. That consisted of reducing cherry jam with balsamic vinegar and rum until thick. It tasted good but I must remember to be quicker next time as the thing practically set before I could spread it on the base. I was trying to avoid melting the butter in the biscuit but this was like trying to spread dried fruit. It did provide a good contrast to the richness of the chocolate though.
The mousse needed lots of bowls(!) One for the chocolate, one for the egg yolks, one for the egg whites and one for the cream. My arm was practically limp by the time I finished whisking egg whites and whipping cream but I think that helped with the delicate folding in of each layer. It’s hard to keep the mixture smooth and light because often your chocolate can seize or the egg whites can flatten. I tried my best though and got the mixture into the tin. For the final part I reduced the syrup from some tinned cherries with cinzano and poured that over the cherries themselves just for a bit of alcoholic kick. These went on top.
Quite a bit of concentration required this week it seemed but it was nice to get fish on the table again. Definitely some practice needed with those sauces (sweet and savoury) and I think next time I’ll be using an electric whisk for the laborious parts... it is the modern age after all. Happy eating everybody.