Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lunch party dinner

I had absolutely no idea what to cook for dinner tonight. Having free time to cook is one thing, having the energy to actually think of what to cook is another. Meal planning in the normal run of things is difficult enough, evidenced by the abundance of articles and cookbooks with such titles as "Midweek meals", "Tuesday Night Cooking", "Meals in Minutes," and so on. However, everyday meal planning within the self-imposed constraints of The Project is, to put it lightly, a bit of a challenge. When I plan in advance to do a special occasion meal, I have the luxury of time to think about the menu, to consider all possible outcomes, and to go searching for the ingredients. But for impromptu, everyday meals, I need a few guidelines.

Whenever I choose a recipe on the same day that I want to make it...

- it has to be something I haven't made before
- it can't be something I've earmarked for a future dinner party/occasion,
- it should preferably be seasonal (so the "Deeply Autumnal Dinner for 8" will have to wait until Autumn)
- it must contain accessible ingredients (something like pheasant or venison requires advance planning)
- I have to be able to face making it
- and most importantly, it has to be something that we actually want to eat!

Today, I was totally stuck, so I phoned-a-friend (well, emailed, actually) for advice.

Any ideas for what I could cook tomorrow for dinner? I think it's all four of us, or at least me and my parents. I don't mind cooking anything, is there HTE any recipe u particularly wanna see?
xox Sarah

Since you've already tackled Peter Rabbit in Mr. MacGregor's salad, AND Pig's Bum, by two revered, but never made by me, recipes, I had to go flip through the book and am hard pressed to top those!. So now I'm trying to think of things your family would enjoy! Okay, so how about the ceviche w/ hot garlic potatoes? p. 314 in my book. Or Sunday night chicken noodle? But, I also think it's time you do the proper English trifle.

P.S. Also, if you have time and want to get some recipes out quickly, the Proust's Madeleines are very quick & super-easy -- and delicious!! And the strawberries in dark syrup -- the same.

The thing that caught my eye on that list was the madeleines. I bought a madeleine tray years ago, but never got around to using it, despite my mother's insistent (and I do mean insistent)reminders. So there we go, dessert was settled.

As for my friend's other suggestions, I've already done the Sunday Night Chicken Noodle, I'm saving the Proper English Trifle for Uncle Mike (a Proper English Gentleman), and making ceviche would require a trip down to Prahran Market for extremely fresh fish. And I think that the market's closed on Sundays anyway.

In the late afternoon, Dad & I went to our regular Box Hill Market (still a good market, but not quite as well-stocked as Prahran with unusual ingredients) and had a look around for ingredients with which to make a nice dinner. I found baby spinach leaves, bacon, button mushrooms, and rainbow trout, and dinner was decided!

179. Spinach, Bacon and Raw Mushroom Salad (Weekend Lunch)
180. Baked Sea Bass with Rosemary
(Weekend Lunch)
181. Strawberries in Dark Syrup
182. Proust's Madeleines (Dinner)

First things first. The strawberries need a good three hours to macerate, so they need to be started first. This recipe is just the classic combination of strawberries sprinkled with castor sugar and balsamic vinegar. For some reason, Nigella says not to serve them with cream or any cream-like substance. However, I think that vanilla-scented mascarpone would be wonderful alongside, if you're not up for making madeleines.

Speaking of which, the madeleines also require a bit of time to sit. After making the batter, which involves beating eggs and sugar, then folding in flour, melted butter and honey, you need to let it rest in the fridge for an hour, then at room temperature for a further 30 minutes. So whilst the strawberries and madeleine batter were resting, I got on with the savoury part of dinner.

I used rainbow trout instead of sea bass. Firstly, and most importantly, I love rainbow trout. Secondly, sea bass in Australia is either unavailable or ridiculously expensive. Nigella says you could substitue sea bream for bass, but the bream I saw at the fishmonger didn't look amenable to this method - they were distinctly chode-like, that is, thick and short. You're supposed to get the fishmonger to remove the bones from the fish, but leave the head and tail on. Then you stuff the cavity with rosemary, and bake it in foil. So I figured it didn't matter which fish you used, because the important thing to take away from the recipe was the method. And it sounds easy, huh? Well, I forgot to get the fishmonger to bone the fish, and thus, I had to attempt to bone them myself.

Back in first year uni, I used to work as a sales assistant at a seafood shop. Sadly, I don't think I've retained any of the skills I picked up there. I got the sharpest knife I could find, and went to hack at the poor fishies' backbones. (I hope you're not squeamish...) So, I started with the head end, severing the backbone. And sadly, it wasn't a simple matter of sticking in a knife and pulling out the backbone and guts.

According to that episode of The Simpsons where they go to Japan...

"Knife goes in... guts come out... that's what Osaka fish concern is all about..."

Not true! They lied to me through song! I hate when people do that!

I had to loosen all the little fishbones which were attached to the backbone from the flesh (and there are hundreds, I soon realised) so that the backbone could be lifted up and cut away from the fish. It took about half an hour in total, with me cursing like a sailor the whole way through, and flicking fish flesh and bones all over the place. The poor fish, they looked a right mess.

Boned fish


The boning was the hard part, and the rest was easy. The fish needs to be baked for about 20 minutes, stuffed with rosemary and wrapped in foil. We've got a huge rosemary bush growing wild in our garden, which is wonderful. Whilst the fish was cooking, I made the salad - fried some bacon, finely sliced some mushrooms and tossed them through baby spinach leaves and dressed them in garlicky oil and lemon juice.

As soon as the fish came out of the oven, I speedily filled the madeleine tin and chucked it in there. And we could finally eat!

Fish - despite the boning ordeal they'd had only an hour before, they turned out beautiful. And there weren't any bones left in there, HAH!



Oh yes, I forgot to mention that at some time during the cooking process, I boiled some new potatoes and tossed them through butter and truffle oil. It was a fab accompaniment.

Sliced fish - once boned, you can slice and serve it easily!

This meal totally rocked! We hadn't had fish in ages, and my parents were well impressed. The salad was awesome, with its contrasting colours and flavours and textures. The fish was infused with a lovely rosemary scent and was moist and tender. Dad couldn't stop praising the meal!

Dessert - the madeleines were a bit browner than I'd intended, but that is because they cook very, very quickly, and the difference between 5 and 7 minutes can be a crucial one. Make sure you keep an eye on them. But who cares about the colour, they tasted amazing! And they perfectly complemented the jewel-red strawberries.

Mum: This is good, I love it!

Mum's not really a dessert person, so that simple phrase means a lot.

I've never actually read Proust, but I'm told that he bit into a madeline once and was instantly overwhelmed by a stream of memories, which went on... and on... and on... for 6 whole books. I didn't quite have an epiphany with my first bite, but I was overwhelmed by the amazing taste, texture and fragrance. I can't believe I was so silly as to halve the recipe (which makes 24) for the 3 of us. We scoffed our 12 madeleines in record time, and could have easily kept going... and going... and going...


domesticgoddess said...

GREAT post! loved reading about the boning :D it's good you managed to get the job done!

and those proustian madeleines, mmmmmmmmm, i can taste them (and i'm glad you didn't go on about it for 6 books either). must have been awesome with the strawberries.

good work, miss sarah!

julie said...

Great job!
You know, I wonder why they are upside down on the pic in HTBADG, we always have them with the bump up! (I now live in the madeleine zone BTW)
I suspect Nigella somehow had a little problem with them at the shooting... but yours look fab even if brown.


Anonymous said...

Your fishmongering skills have me well impressed! You wield a knife as skillfully as Uma in Kill Bill Vol. 1. If I'm ever stranded on a deserted island, I want you by my side. It all looks delicious -- truly there is nothing you can't tackle.