Call it a cliche, but…

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It’s Valentine’s Day, so steak is surely on the menu for many of you. Still regarded as a date night special and ideal for occasion eating, steak is actually easy to cook, as long as you follow a few simple rules:

1 Take it out of the fridge about 30 minutes before cooking – cold meat will toughen up and become chewy.

2 Dry it really well with kitchen paper before cooking. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

3 Put a little oil in a heavy-based frying pan (or rub oil over the steak). When it’s hot, add the steak and leave it to cook until it’s done to your liking. Do not be tempted to move it around the pan – if you want a caramelised crust (and who wouldn’t?) leave it alone. Flip the steak and continue on the other side.

4 Don’t overcrowd the pan as this will lower the temperature and keep you from that gorgeous caramelised outer layer.

5 You can add a knob of butter to the pan just before it’s ready. Once it’s melted, spoon it over the steak, but don’t allow it to burn. This will give a glossy finish.

6 Before serving, allow the steak to rest, covered with foil. This is crucial as it brings the meat juices back up to the surface. How long? Leave to rest for half the time it spent in the pan… and enjoy!

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Beautiful blood oranges…

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My most vivid memory of them was on my first trip to Italy, staying in a youth hostel in Verona that was actually a monastery (only in Italy!). The monks in their brown habits served up with jugs of freshly squeezed orange juice… surprisingly they didn’t make any quips about it being the blood of Christ. Bowls of simple green salad formed our supper, with conversation around the table as to whether the leaves were safe to eat, in the fallout (quite literally) from the recent Chernobyl disaster.

Fast forward a couple of decades and I spied a bag of blood oranges in my local Lidl. £2.99 for 1.5kg. I bought them and decided to create a simple dessert. All you do for this is macerate the orange slices overnight in a thin sugar syrup (I didn’t want too much sweetness, as I preferred the tartness of the oranges to shine). I added a little ground cinnamon and ginger in an effort to add warmth and quell the snowy swirling going on beyond my window, plus a couple of cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods. Next day, this provided a pukka dessert with mascarpone and candied nuts (to make these I simply threw some mixed nuts into a pan, added a slew of icing sugar and a small knob of butter and allowed it all to melt). I then transferred the nuts to baking paper to set. It was, even though I say so myself, a bloody good finale to a memorable meal with friends. So seek out the sanguinelle and have a go…

Mince pies: the Marmite moment

Love them or hate them? There’s all too often a surfeit of mincemeat and just too much richness. But the wonderful Richard Bertinet (who also runs brilliant bread making courses in Bath) has some offerings that have managed to convert me. Just look at them…. small tartlets; thin, crisp pastry; a restrained layer of mincemeat laced with brandy; a bit of ooh la la from the frangipane layer above, then flaked almonds and icing sugar to finish. Oh, and, of course, a bit of la belle figure avec the packaging: a simple wooden box tied with pretty red and white string. Go on, you know you want to.  You can find them at any of his shops or online at bertinetbakery.co.uk

 

Richard Bertinet Frangipane Mince Pie

A bit of Turkish delight…

Rice pudding. Hmmm…. takes for ever in the oven and isn’t always a success. So I tried the gorgeous firin sutlac – a Turkish version made on the hob with rice, milk and cornflour then flashed under the grill if you like a caramelised sugar topping. Be warned: it’s addictive. To make it, bring 300ml water to the boil, add 80g pudding rice and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Once the water is absorbed, add 700ml milk, 100g caster sugar and a few drops of vanilla extract. Cook for 15 minutes.

Mix 65g cornflour with a little water to a paste then stir into the pudding. It will thicken miraculously! Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Pour into a serving dish and chill until set. To serve, sprinkle a little cinnamon over the top (this is the word sutlac in Turkish) or just sprinkle some caster sugar over. Place under a hot grill until it bubbles and melts. When cool this will give you the loveliest crunchy topping, like a creme brûlée.

In Turkey, rice pud is always eaten cold. May sound odd but it’s truly delicious. Add some poached fruit if you like, or a scattering of pomegranate seeds.

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Dubai…hmmm….food

Not sure what to expect when i arrive in Dubai next week for 3 weeks. I have heard there are lots of dates, but I’m not that mad about dates. Gold-encrusted everything on the menu. Probably all hotel food and fine dining. Hope I manage to find something a little more authentic. So far, the only thing that has excited me is photos from the spice souk. Going to fill my case with dried hibiscus, saffron, za’atar and ras el hanout, i think.

So why The Tastebud Diaries?

Well, for me, food is a journey that reflects my life. I can still remember my first real baguette and Boursin, sitting on damp grass by the river in Cambridge on a French ‘picnic’ during my A levels. My first taste of ‘real’ pesto when I lived in Genoa, home of that herby classic. Jugs of fresh blood orange juice and a simple green salad staying in a youth hostel monastery in Verona. And the first time I ate som tam in Thailand – the symphony of searing hot chilli, mellow palm sugar, astringent fish sauce and pack a punch lime juice wakening my tastebuds.

Food shouldn’t be about pretension or fashion. It’s about flavour and taste and satisfaction. I am no food snob… I believe in good cheat ingredients and ready-made products as life really is too short to stuff a mushroom. I don’t have much money, so I will be looking at easy, cheap ways to eat really well. I love easy, effortless, unpretentious food. And, above all, I believe that food is love. There is nothing more nurturing than cooking for someone and enjoying their pleasure at what’s on the plate. On this blog you will find easy supper ideas for when you’re pushed for time, luscious dishes from Thailand as well as recommendations for great products that will transform your cooking like magic!