Mind your Ps and Qs – Philippa does Quinoa

foodmenu-philippa3WHAT’s your take on quinoa? Is it the best thing ever or a rather boring grain-type food that is only as good as the things it is prepared and served with. Superfood or over-hyped fad? Private chef Philippa Davis has just spent some time in London teaching a client to cook. And here she shares some of her recipes, for perfect lamb chops and a quinoa salad …

Travelling east from the blossoming west country towards the big smoke for my latest job my mind was speeding along faster than the train (although admittedly that’s not always difficult). The days ahead were really going to challenge me in different ways and my skills and knowledge were to be put to the test… I was excited.

Was I about to cook for a tyrannical tycoon using only ingredients beginning with the letter Q? … no.  Perhaps create an entirely aquamarine coloured menu for a stroppy model? … nope.  It wasn’t even to whip up lunch for 50 with only ingredients bought at Waterloo station. No, I had been commissioned to teach my client how to cook.

I have done various classes before including cookery parties for kids where their main objective seems to be how much chocolate they can eat before I object and Christmas cookery demonstrations that inevitably end in festive cocktail making.

In professional kitchens you are of course continuously learning and teaching and in my experience although knowledge and enthusiasm is essential, clarity is also important. I remember once a very busy lunchtime shift at the café I set up for the Mudchute city park and farm. I yelled at my new trainee to grab the box of broad beans from outside and shuck them. He looked at me startled then seeing my stare scuttled off. He came back 10 minutes later empty handed. “Where are my broad beans?” “I chucked them… on the compost.” He didn’t make the grade as a chef but you will be glad to know he did go on to be a rather successful actor.

Teaching someone at home to cook is a lot more tranquil. My client was starting from scratch confessing to never having cooked before. I felt we had a head start as they were certainly knowledgeable about various foods and I had noticed the house was always stocked with top-notch produce.

foodmenu-philippa4The first session was how to cook various types of fish, including fried sea bass, seared scallops, cod en papillote and salmon. (I have lots of tips on cooking fish published in this month’s issue of The Field Magazine). We then moved onto cuts of meat including some spectacular lamb chops, slow cooked lamb shoulder, butterflied chicken and juicy rump steaks. We did a session on stir fries, soups and sauces and for our grand finale we rustled up an entire lunch for a group of her friends.  The menu read as follows :

Baked side of salmon, with lemon and fennel
Served with a Salsa verde and a hot black olive and anchovy sauce.
Tomato and hazelnut pesto with mozzarella and nectarines
Quinoa salad with roasted courgette, lemon, avocado and herbs.
Flourless chocolate cake and salted caramel ice cream

The lunch was a great success and I was delighted my client knocked out plate after plate of delicious food.

Tips and tricks for cooking chops

My first job in London was at the amazing Lidgate butchers. Amazing for many reasons  – the meat is renowned for quality and I know that any meat aspiring to be sold from their blocks has to endure vigorous scrutiny and have impressive credentials before being allowed even in the front door. It’s also amazing that it’s the kind of shop that passers-by stop and peer in just to have a look at the old-fashioned splendour, from the meat displays to the quaint staff uniforms. The price unfortunately is also quite amazing.

foodmenu-philippa2To cook a great lamb chop:

When to buy lamb? You can obviously buy it all year round but for those in the UK, spring lamb is great for its tenderness but as the animal hasn’t had much time on lush grass it can lack flavour. I prefer to wait till summer when they have had time to graze and build up a more interesting taste.

How to store your lamb: If vac-packed remove from the plastic as this draws out moisture and flavour and wrap instead in parchment. Before cooking generally with meat you want to bring it to room temperature however if you like your lamb chop pink keep it in the fridge, this way you can cook it long enough to render the fat but the meat will still stay pink.

Marinades really only add a layer of flavour to the outside, start with a good piece of lamb and don’t always feel tempted to swamp it with too many spices and herbs.

Start cooking the chops by placing them on their edge fat side down in a cold frying pan. Turn the heat to low-medium and slowly let the fat render (cook down) . If you start in a hot pan it is too easy to nicely colour the outside of the fat but still leave it pretty inedible. Once you have rendered the fat, which can take about 7 minutes turn the heat up, drain away the excess, then sear both flat sides for about 1 ½ mins each.

If you only decide to take one piece of advice from this list let it be this one: once cooked, LET IT REST.  When you cook meat the fibres firm up and the water is pushed out, if you cut it immediately you are likely to lose a lot of this and end up with dry meat. Resting lets the juices redistribute and so keeps it moist and flavourful. We served ours with a cardamom and cumin roasted aubergine and a chilli mint yogurt.

Quinoa salad

Many would have you believe it has a delightful nutty taste (which it kind of does, especially the darker coloured types) but I definitely think it is one of those ingredients that needs as much help as it can get or it is very boring. Despite the way we cook quinoa it is actually a seed and not a grain (great for those of you with wheat allergies wanting to bulk out your dishes). Unusual for a vegetable it has all nine amino acids and so is a balanced source of protein (great if you don’t eat meat). It also has a good dose of fibre and iron.

Rinse before cooking as it is naturally has a bitter coating to protect it from predators (many varieties available have been pre-rinsed but it can’t hurt to do it twice).

foodmenu-philippaSimmer one part quinoa with two parts cold liquid (either water, a light vegetable or chicken stock). Cook for about 10  – 15 minutes or until just soft then drain. Leave to stand for 5 minutes then fluff up with a fork.

Once cooked there is a huge choice of what you can add, making it a great solution to using up odd bits of herbs, vegetables and fruit you may have lurking in your fridge.

We added: Roasted courgettes, avocado, mint, parsley, coriander, chilli, olive oil, fennel, radish, celery and a good squeeze of lemon juice.

Other favourite additions include; pomegranates, cinnamon, cardamom, apple slices, dried cranberries, toasted nuts and seeds.

For more of Philippa’s postcard recipes visit www.philippadavis.com

And you can read more about Philippa and her postcard recipe from Provence in the American journal The Cooks Cook, which has an article on a day in the life of a private chef (in the Cook’s World Section).