15 February, 2010

changes are coming

How do you like a completely new vegetable? Seriously. As the Daily Mail puts it, the newly-minted "flowering sprouts" give children all over the UK another vegetable to hate. They're a genetic mix of Brussels sprouts and kale. Well, I like sprouts, and I like kale. But when you mix the two together, give them to Marks and Spencer to sell exclusively, they take on a new cachet. The grower in Chipping Camden crowed, "Our other sprouts are green with envy."

Here's my best advice: Snip off their little bottom stems for freshness, then let the loose leaves detach themselves and cook them right along with the sprouts. Pour a little olive oil in a heavy skillet, then sprinkle with minced garlic and a bit of balsamic vinegar. Saute for a moment, turn over and saute again. Then add a bit of water, put a lid on the skillet and turn off the heat. There you go.

They're intensely flavored, with a chewy, lovely bite, and of course anything mixed with olive oil and garlic has its charms. We ate them for lunch whilst our own little sprout was in school, because Avery, sadly, will not go near a sprout. Don't even mention kale. I'm lucky that she regularly begs for broccoli, asparagus, and peppers. But sprouts? Not so much.

Second to this excitement is our departure tomorrow for VENICE! John and I went once, in 1986, and we were so completely besotted with each other that we had very litle time for oh, say, the sights of Venice. We could have been anywhere. So this time, with Avery in tow, many restaurant recommendations and a firm plan to visit a cemetery island and glass-bowing factory, not to mention a stay in a real palazzo, should be a slightly more appreciative experience. I have a pocket mini dictionary (for menus! I figure the rest will figure itself out, but I don't want inadvertently to order calf's nostrils), two novels by Donna Leon, set in the water paradise, and a page of notes with all my friends' exhortations not to miss this, that, the other. Very exciting! We'll be back Friday afternoon, full of stories, no doubt.

Can the food be any better than our lunch last week at Bibendum? Such a gorgeous spot, in the Fulham Road, above the famed Oyster Bar where, in our first turn in London twenty years ago, we bought a lobster every Saturday evening, to accompany our bottle of champagne. Young love! This time around, we went to the big kids' restaurant, and sat contentedly in the warm sunshine, traveling through the stained-glass windows depicting the Michelin Man, casting colored shards of light on all the diners.

I started with rabbit rillettes, confit and rich with a marmalade quenelle and a salad of flat-leaf parsley, chopped hazelnuts and le Puy lentils, lightly dressed in olive oil and lemon zest. John revelled in chicken livers with sauteed spinach in puff pastry with a tomato marjoram sauce. Then we chatted, waiting for our main course, looking longingly at our neighbors' fish and chips, the most gourmet imaginable! Then there was a loud crash far over John's shoulder and I said with absolute certainty, "That was our main course."

Sure enough, minutes later the maitre d' came by, smiling wryly, carrying two plates. "That brouhaha, you may have guessed, was your meal. So here is a little gift from us, as we prepare fresh plates for you." And there was the starter I reluctantly passed up in favor of the rabbit: escabeche of red mullet with an AMAZING and so simple accompaniment of steamed carrots, caramelized golden onions, blood orange segments, basil and creme fraiche. Simply delightful, so surprising and fresh, and we normally do not like "fruit and meat." But the oranges with the fish were lovely. Intensely aromatic, bitingly tart, oily and LOVELY.

I could scarcely, after all that, eat my main course which was guinea hen, roasted with a basil pesto under the skin, swimming on a light broth with fennel, parsley, carrots and celery. John had kidneys with a panko-breadcrumb fried potato dauphinoise: total decadence!

So that was the end of our FT special lunch outings: full price for one, the second person for a fiver! If you can stop yourself ordering champagne, it's an amazing deal. Lunch for two at a Michelin-starred restaurant for under 40 quid.

As if all this weren't enough... drumroll please... I have made a big decision about my darling blog. I have come to terms with my admitted total intimidation and trial by admiration of a certain other blogger running a ranch with horses and cattle and four home-schooled children while cooking gourmet meals and photographing them all with a state of the art camera. John actually suggested that she's the blogger version of "Christmas in Connecticut" and actually writes from a fourth-floor studio walkup in Harlem with a parsley plant dying on her windowsill: this made me howl with laughter during our very posh lunch.

As a result, however, I have made the acquaintance of a lovely, soft-spoken Austrian website designer, and over a pot of peppermint tea (and my gazing upon his 20-something youthful, self-deprecating charm) came to a number of conclusions about Kristen in London. Someday soon I will migrate to something called WordPress, and with a whole new look. Have no fear, however, of my turning the blog into an all-singing, all-dancing, advert-obsessed, slideshow-filled, dizzying show of splendor. No, my new friend likes Kristen in London just as it is, but thinks it could be improved in terms of what the reader (you!) sees on the screen at the very beginning, and could have more depth in terms of choices of things to look at. Most excitingly, there will be a RECIPE INDEX! I am cautiously thrilled. Watch this space!

Right, off we go. But not before I tell you about why it will be a long time before I go out again for fish and chips. It's because - aside from the chips - I can make it myself now! Better fish than I've ever had out. The chips are next. And don't forget the tartare sauce, adapted from a recipe in my new cookbook, given me by a friend at my birthday! Need a present for a newlywed? This cookbook is it. In the meantime, fry up some haddock and watch out for the new Kristen in London. You deserve them both.

Fried Haddock with Tartare Sauce
(serves 4)

4 good fat fillets of skinless haddock

1/2 cup flavorless oil, like sunflower, safflower, soybean

1 cup plain flour
1/2 cup cornflour (cornstarch)
1/2 cup fresh homemade coarse breadcrumbs
2 tbsps Fox Point Seasoning or other dried shallot-garlic seasoning

2 eggs
1 cup milk

Make sure the fish fillets are completely dried. Heat the oil in a wide, shallow saucepan till nearly smoking (I know that sounds silly, but you will be able to tell).

Mix dry ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. Mix eggs and milk in a bowl. Place all fish fillets in the egg mixture. Have a large plate nearby, ready to receive the fillets once battered.

When ready to fry, dip the fish fillets, one by one, into the flour-breadcrumb mixture, then dip quickly again into egg mixture and again into flour-breadcrumb. Place gently into hot oil in ONE layer. Have a large plate nearby again, topped with several layers of paper towel.

Fry the fish on one side for about 2 minutes, then turn carefully and fry on second side for about 2 minutes or until fillets are stiff. Lift carefully onto the paper towel.

Serve hot with:

Tartare Sauce
(serves 4)

4 tbsps mayonnaise
4 cornichons, drained and minced
1 tbsp capers, drained and minced
pinch chopped fresh tarragon
juice of 1/4 lemon or lime
fresh-ground black pepper
salt to taste


Be sure to plump for the highest-quality haddock for these. They should be bright white, firm, thick and odorless. The resulting fried fish is crisp, light, not oily in the slightest, and perfect with the tart (!) tartare sauce.

Now for the chips... next time.


Bonnie said...

I checked out the "Other blogger" and no she does not appeal to me at all.... I was too overwhelmed by it all. Don't change too much. Bonnie

A Work in Progress said...

Index, index!! Now all you need to do is find a slick marketeer to get all that good substance its rightful audience!

A Cuban In London said...

The recipe certainly looks tasty and haddock is one of my favourite fish ever. Many thanks.

Anonymous said...

Dont let that other site intimidate you - sorry but she cannot be human?! I much prefer your lovely, warm and chatty blog.

Looking forward to seeing your own new web space of course, but in the words of Billy Joel 'dont go changing to please me ... you never let me down before'(paraphrase).

Hope you're having a lovely half-term


Kristen In London said...

Well, I don't really want to change too much, either. I love that you guys like the blog the way it is. But a recipe index, yes! A slicker start page, yes! I promise KIL (not a very nice acronym; I don't think I'll use it anymore!) will have the same homey, chatty (thanks, Caz!) feel.

Bee said...

I wonder if our M&S will get those flowering sprouts? I'm kind of with Avery on sprouts/kale, but if I do see them I will take your preparation suggestion.

The lunch at Bibendum sounded wonderful . . . and I always end up envying the person who orders fish and chips!

Kristen In London said...

I think I'll go check and see if the sprouts are still in the shelves? I have to admit, Bee, that I don't love either sprouts or kale, but the genetic combo seems quite acceptable!