Friday, 16 August 2013

Chuck-it-in-a-wok-and-see (my way): Roast duck with summer vegetables

Earlier this year, just in case you were on the opposite side of the world and didn't hear, a certain giraffe-loving cook was on an episode of MasterChef. I'm not mentioning this yet again just for the praise, plaudits and general admiration from my loyal fans (eh hem) - but actually because the dish I cooked a few nights ago reminded me of one of the audition rounds. 

The audition included a very long interview with the show's producers, in which they asked me how I learnt to cook. My reply was something along the lines of the following:

"Well, I think it's a bit of both my Mum and my Dad. My style tends to range from Mum's 'chuck it in a wok and hope' to Dad's more precise approach to making bread and baking."

This was one of the answers which was actually true. My relief when they didn't show the bit where I said that I'd just learnt how to cook soda bread in Ireland with my mother-in-law was palpable. 

Anyway, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you've probably picked up that I rather enjoy the 'chuck it in a stew / casserole / pan / oven and hope' approach to feeding the small giraffe that is the light of my life. And the other half, of course. It's a great system for end-of-the-day-after-work when all you want to do is sit in front of the TV and eat a takeaway, because you don't have to do much with it. 

This particular one was a surprise success. I picked up three duck legs for £3 in our local Co-op and used whatever else I had in the fridge / cupboard. It was so light and summery, even though potatoes and carrots aren't exactly renowned as summer food, and the addition of fresh basil from our Riverford veg box and grated parmesan gave it an Italian twist. 

Roast duck with summer vegetables

George learnt to quack, just for the occasion
Saute a large chopped onion with two cloves of  garlic, some cumin and paprika, a pinch of dried chili and a couple of rashers of chopped smoked bacon - and season. In the meantime, chop up some floury potatoes and carrots in to bite-sized chunks and parboil them - about 5 minutes or so.

Add a tin of butterbeans to the onion mixture, a vegetable stock cube (shhhh!), the potatoes and carrots and half a pint of the water you've just parboiled them in. I love black pepper so I add loads at this point. Leave to bubble away for about 10 minutes until some of the liquid has reduced. 

Season the duck legs generously, and render down the fat by dry-frying them for at least 15 minutes, mostly on the top side - there's a lot of fat on there which you don't particularly want to be chewing on. Also, you can pour it into a jar and save it in the fridge for your next roast potatoes. Yum.

Add a bag of fresh spinach and a big handful of chopped basil to the vegetables and pour into a roasting tin. Place the duck legs on top and sprinkle with finely grated parmesan and plenty of salt & pepper. Roast for 40 minutes on around 200c on the top shelf.

Take out of the oven and stand for 5 minutes before serving. Eat whilst enjoying the fact you've just saved yourself £25 and a disappointing takeaway experience. Oh, and that up until this point, no-one knew you'd been telling porkies on national TV...

Monday, 5 August 2013

Revenge of the courgette: Potato summer green salad

I wouldn't usually post such a simple recipe on here (I know you lot, you're already rather awesome cooks), but it was soooo good that I felt I had to. You can use this as an accompaniment to a BBQ, or as a holiday time lunch - let's face it, when there's holibob vino around, a lettuce leaf and a few croutons just ain't gonna do it. Potatoes, however, are a lovely accompaniment to a sneaky lunchtime glass of sparkly, and you won't fall asleep half way through the afternoon either. 

I was inspired by my friend Simone's amazing monster courgettes, which quite seriously could take over the world. In fact I only saw her yesterday, so perhaps I'd better ring and check on her. They are bigger than your average-sized marrow, and I swear I heard them growl at me when I bent over to have a look. Or maybe that was the dog. Well, you never know. 


I do love a summer fridge - you open the door and it's all green. I could go all Nigel Slater-esque and reminisce about the 'beautiful, freshly popped peas exuding the essence of summer flavour' or something but I won't. Instead, I'll give you the recipe for a stonking good (and simple) salad. 

Oh, and serve warm or cold... it was yummy both ways.

Potato summer green salad
(Serves 2)

Boil up 6 or 7 Jersey Royals or whatever other potatoes you have, and when they are done, drain, cut in half and leave to cool a little.

In the meantime, blanch a bowlful of broad beans in water for 1 minute. Drain and drop into iced water (this keeps the green colour) before slitting the skins and popping each bean out. 

Saute 4 salad or spring onions in a knob of butter with a normal sized diced courgette - or a tenth of a teeth-baring, savage-looking monster one. After a couple of minutes, add in the broad beans, plus 1/2 tsp of dried chili flakes and season generously with black pepper.

Heat through until the broad beans  are soft (should be around 3 minutes) before pouring the mixture over the potatoes (including the butter!) Add a handful of salad leaves, some chopped parsley and stir through before serving. 

The courgette didn't bite back.

If you're being calorie conscious and want to get into that bikini, swap the butter for low-fat spray wotsit stuff. It won't taste as good, but you'll feel nice and smug. If you're like me and haven't got a hope of even purchasing a bikini for fear of sending the majority of the human race running for the hills (ok, slight exaggeration), pour yourself a G&T and settle down with a book whilst munching. Lovely.