Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Snail Feast

June spent in France was wonderful; catching up with old friends, enjoying the novelty of the amazing produce, re-acquainting myself with my kitchen and garden, and proper hot summer weather.

When I first arrived, my herbs were being munched by a plague of snails. So I decided to resolve the problem by munching them. Previously, I had been put off by unsuccessful snail-cooking attempts, and there were never that many of them to cook. This time there were dozens and dozens, and I was determined to make them delicious. I had three weeks to purge them (fed only on bread followed by days of nothing at all), before serving them up to friends as a goodbye meal at the end of my stay.

Three weeks of culinary adventures and good times went by. The day of the feast arrived hot and sunny, and I drove my blue banger to the village to get some still-warm baguettes, wine, salad, a massive bunch of parsley and butter. Then, back to my little beauties...

I boiled a huge jam pan of water, rinsed off the snails, shook them to make them retreat into their shells, and winced as I chucked the lot into the boiling water. Job done, the worst bit over. After a few minutes, the snails were draining and cooling and definitely dead. I extracted each one from its shell and removed its twirly gut end, before boiling the meats with herbs and stock veg for 3 hours. The shells were rinsed, boiled in fresh water, and left in the sun to dry.

Meanwhile, I chopped the mountains of garlic and parsley, stirred them into soft butter, and seasoned the mixture with plenty of salt.

Then came a few hours of stuffing each snail back into a shell, each squadged in with a load of the persilade (garlic and parsley butter).

Preparing snails

Next, I dressed the table, mixed the salad, opened the wine, and set out nibbles. Once my guests had arrived, and were having aperitifs, I put the snails in a hot oven for 20 minutes. Out they came, sizzling and smelling fantastic. I dished them up at the table and finally found out that my snail adventure had been a success - they were absolutely delicious, and this was confirmed by my guests, who were Dutch, English and French. The Frenchman commented that he hadn't had snails in ages, and it was funny that this time they had been cooked by an English person. The Dutchman had never eaten snails, and was delighted by them. The Englishman had tasted my previous attempts and was relieved that these were not only edible but extremely palatable and moreish. Hmmm even more salt with the butter next time, though, I think.

Tasty snails

I was thrilled that I had been able to make these slimy creatures tasty at last, and that I had put my snail glut to such extremely good use. All the effort and man hours had been worthwhile. I will definitely be making this a regular pest-control exercise/snail party.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Indonesian Beef Rendang Daging

The lovely Julia invited me and a friend over to try some of her expert Indonesian cooking. She had learned the cuisine from a street food seller, having committed to getting up at 4am everyday of her stay in Indonesia, to spend time cooking with the bemused lady.

Last night we had this scrumptious, rich rendang daging; beef cooked slowly in coconut milk, with herbs, spices and chillies, and served with caramelized shallots sprinkled over the top.

Authentic beef rendang daging

We also drank Clarette de Die infused with apricots as an aperitif, then had a superb starter of Mexican prawn ceviche. After the rendang daging came a cheese selection and salad, and everything was washed down with litres of rosé.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Borage in Pimm's

I'm lucky that my parents have got a whole patch of borage, ready for adding a bit of magic to food and drink. Pink Pimm's and lemonade looked so special and summery yesterday evening, with strawberries, cucumber, tangerine, mint leaves and the pretty blue borage flowers (starflowers). They really do taste of cucumber, although the flavour is quite subtle. I was too wrapped up in enjoying the Pimm's moment with family and friends to take photos, damnit, but here is one I took today of the flowers.

Borage or starflowers

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Ché Maté Gourd, Bombilla & Arabic Coffee Pot

These interesting drink vessels were birthday presents. I got the beautiful Arabic coffee pot (plus Arabic coffee, Arabic cakes, some red wine and bowls for serving curry) from my brother, and the calabash (gourd) and bombilla (filtering straw) from my friend Biddy.

Biddy and I had seen everyone drinking ché maté from gourds in Argentina and southern Brazil, and then tried it ourselves on a beach in Bahia (northern Brazil), with Israeli friends who had the equipment. The tea is quite bitter and very much like green tea, I find. I sip it when I'm working alone at a desk in the UK, but it is more enjoyable drunk with friends on a Brazilian beach, and served with homemade coconut sweets from a beach seller...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Arabic Cured Beef

Pirran (bro) came back from Qatar again today, with another excellent present for me; delicious Arabic cured beef. It is strongly infused with a cocktail of aromatic spices, and is very soft and tender. I haven't tasted anything like it before - it's comparable to pastrami, although I don't like pastrami and this amazing stuff is cured raw rather than hot-smoked.

Arabic cured beef