Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Scandilicious: a review

Cookbooks, eh? There are seemingly more of them being published by the day than you can shake a wooden spoon at. Whoever said print media was dead?

For any aspiring author, however, this means that it’s harder than ever to get your book noticed. To make any headway, you need to bring something fresh to the mix.

Scandilicious cover

The author of Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking, Signe Johansen, has done just that, and has written the book that everyone is currently clamouring to buy. Why? Quite simply because she’s articulate, informed, sparky, humorous, endearingly self-effacing, and – hoorah! – she writes fantastically attractive and accessible recipes. Put those ingredients together for a cookbook, and you have everything you need and more for a bestseller. Saltyard Books (an offshoot of Hodder and Stoughton) must be hugging themselves – a new publishing and meeja star is theirs.

Thanks largely to Noma, and other, now highly acclaimed Scandi chefs, Scandinavian food is of course no longer a suspiciously fishy novelty in the UK. In London, eateries such as Texture, Madsen, and the Scandinavian Kitchen, have also been doing their bit to further the cause of Nordic cooking.

But in my view, there’s been no cookbook to date that reflects the best of all that Scandinavia has to offer. Maybe it’s just me, but those that have gone before have come across a tad austere, a little too ‘clean living’ and hair-shirted for me to truly warm to them.

And therein lies a clue to the critical factors responsible for the success of Scandilicious. It’s warm, engaging, generous, and indulgent. It’s packed with recipes for food that you really, really want to eat. (Examples? To list but a scant handful: banana, coconut and chocolate milkshake; cinnamon and chestnut bread; Jarlsberg and fennel muffins; blackberry, almond, and cardamom cake; Daim cake; lemony choux buns; anchovy and potato gratin; Bergen fish chowder; evening pancakes; Norwegian cheesecake with tipsy strawberries.... need I go on?)

Scandilicious Janssons

Scandilicious is big on home-style Scandi cooking, as influenced by Signe’s childhood and lessons learned at both her grandmothers' apron strings. In short, it appeals to the big-kid-who-likes-licking-the-bowl in all of us. (And yes, there is an entire slaver-inducing chapter on 'Afternoon Cake'.) Unreserved gluttonous enjoyment and comfort therefore abound: cream, cheese, chocolate, alcohol - they're all here in gleeful dollops (to the extent that Signe's Scandi version of macaroni cheese should probably come with a health warning), along with a great deal else.

Scandilicious berries

But there is far more to Signe than home cooking – not least a Leith’s diploma, a stint at the Fat Duck, and significant contributions to other recipe books, to mention just a few strings to her rather full bow. An enviably impressive skills set underpins her recipes, not to mention rigorous attention to detail and a real desire to bring the joy and diversity of Scandinavian food (if you think it's all meatballs, berries, and gravlaks - think again) to the UK public. You won’t find flights of fancy here – just straightforward, reliable formulas, together with a wealth of genuinely explanatory hints and tips, for stupendously delicious nosh. And that’s precisely what makes it such a cracking cookbook.

Scandilicious poached egg salad

Thankfully, Saltyard Books have given this publication the red-carpet treatment it warrants. It’s beautifully produced, and replete with sumptuous photographs throughout. It’s the kind of book that would look great on a coffee table – but frankly, that would be a travesty (unless, of course, you buy two copies – one for looking gorgeous in your living room, and one for the kitchen). This is a recipe book you’ll love to use daily, from breakfast through to supper, and through all the seasons.

Scandilicious sorbet

There is so much more I could say, but I realise I’m in danger of gushing, so just get the book and see for yourself. If you regret your purchase, I’ll eat my herring.

I understand that Scandilicious Book 2 is already in the pipeline. Watch this space for much, much more to come. For in Signe Johansen, Saltyard Books have found a brilliant original and authentic voice, and Scandinavian food has found itself a dynamic and impassioned ambassador. And, most importantly, cooks everywhere have found a new friend.

With thanks to Saltyard Books for a review copy of Scandilicious.

Monday, 9 May 2011

tongue and groovy: ox tongue fritters and green sauce

ox tongue 1

So there I was at the weekend, getting my ducks/photos in a row, ready to write this post on ox tongue and green sauce.

And then I sit down to read the paper, and see that Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has stolen my thunder and written about the VERY SAME THING in the Guardian. I mean - how very dare he? I shall be having a word with his people, never fear.

In the meantime, dear reader, I decided to persist. I did so, not least because HFW missed a trick.

And that trick is to fritter away your tongue. Well, not yours, but the ox's, obviously. Frittering it makes it much more fun to eat and, I'll suggest, more darn tasty and more suitable for summer, too. It's also a cunning way of disguising tongue if you're planning on serving it up to those who, shall we say, might be a little squeamish about all things offal. Prepare it like this, and you'll never hear a negative squeak of disgust or dissent.*

Here's how, in short. First, buy a salted ox tongue from your butcher. It should look like the photo above. You might want to leave it to rinse in cold water for a while before you get properly started - or, if you've got a nice butcher, s/he might have done that for you.

Then, cover the tongue with water (you'll need a BIG pan), bring it to the boil, bubble it away for a couple of hours with a few tasty bits and pieces, such as these:

ox tongue 2

But unlike me, try not to forget the head of garlic.

It's done when you can pierce the meat readily with a knife. It won't look any prettier than it did before you cooked it, but at least it's edible now.

Remove it from the pan, and leave for a couple of minutes while it cools a little.

ox tongue 3

While it's still warm, peel away the skin from the tongue. Yes, I know - yeeeeeeeeeuch - but it's got to be done. And it's much easier to do while the tongue's warm. So just get on with it.

Once you've taken off the skin, it's ready to serve. For fritters, cut the tongue into slices of about 3 or 4mm. Dip each slice in beaten egg, and then in white breadcrumbs seasoned with plenty of freshly ground black pepper and Halen Mon's rather wonderful celery salt. Shallow fry in hot oil - turning once - for as long as it takes for the crumbs on each side to turn golden brown.

Serve with a really punchy green sauce. You may as well use HFW's recipe. Grrrr. Not that I'm bitter or anything. Really, I'm not. Make it as the man says (or as Fergus Henderson says, if you've got Nose to Tail), and don't stint on the parsley, anchovies or capers.

ox tongue 4

Tuck in, and don't stop until you've licked every morsel from your plate.

*Well, it's worth a try, anyway. Worked for me ;-)

Monday, 2 May 2011

A Royal Wedding, a village, and a party with a potent (Courvoisier) punch

Take one memorable Royal Wedding. Add a village in deepest Kent, a generous offer from the nice people at Courvoisier, and a gathering of folk quick to recognise a chance for a party when they see one.

Place all ingredients in a good-sized village hall. Mix well. Stand back, and let the fun commence...

the goodies arrive...

Royal Wedding party 2

... along with the top-secret recipe...

Royal Wedding party 1

dress code...

Royal Wedding party 3

the hall gets a makeover...

Royal Wedding party 4

... and the newly-weds put in a guest appearance. Honest.

Royal Wedding party 5

the stage is set...

Royal Wedding party 6

... while, backstage, things are looking promising...

Royal Wedding party 7

... and there's time for a couple of trial cups...

Royal Wedding party 8

... which seem to go down pretty well...

Royal Wedding party 9

... and why stop at a cup or two when you can have an entire bottle?

Royal Wedding party 10

thankfully, a dashing manservant is on hand to make sure the punch is shared around...

Royal Wedding party 11

the village hall quickly starts filling up...

Royal Wedding party 12

... and our immaculate MC announces the arrival of....

Royal Wedding party 13

... YES! The fish and chip van! Cue frenzied queueing!

Royal Wedding party 14

... and tough decisions. Ketchup, tartare sauce, or both?

Royal Wedding party 15

'Can I nick your chips?'

Royal Wedding party 16

No time to digest, as the disco cranks up...

Royal Wedding party 19

... Camilla puts in an appearance...

Royal Wedding party 20

... and there's yet another chance for an all-important photoshoot...

Royal Wedding party 21

... or a spot of dodgy Dad* dancing... (*not mine)

Royal Wedding party 22

... before, all too soon, the night comes to a glorious, riotous end, marked by that well-known hymn to sobriety, YMCA.

Royal Wedding party 23

And I'm pleased to say that there are rumours that we'll be doing it all over again soon. Diamond Jubilee, anyone? BRING IT ON.