Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Happy New Year! And festive feasting

New Year's Eve fondue
Happy New Year, all! Hope you've been able to muster some cautious optimism for the year to come.

Bit of an unusual festive season for us. We entertained! And we mostly didn't eat meat!

My aunt came to stay with us for a couple of weeks over Christmas and New Year. She's been a vegetarian for almost 40 years, and I couldn't face the idea of making two different meals for three people, so we resolved to cook vegetarian at home while she was with us.

In the end there were loads of things I planned to make that I never got around to (the gado gado, cheesy polenta with roast shallots and figs, sage and walnut lasagne and the white bean puree with roast radicchio can all wait until her next visit) but what I did cook went pretty well, I thought.
Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's savoury carrot and feta cake
Felicity Cloake's perfect panforte

Nigella's take on pizzocheri - pasta with potato, brussels sprouts and cheese - for Christmas Eve dinner
I started planning what to cook for Christmas Day a couple of months ago. We aren't wedded to any particular traditional Christmas meal, so we weren't trying to fit vegetarian food into a pre-existing format, but we wanted something a bit sumptuous and celebratory. I originally thought that a stuffed pumpkin would be good, but decided that there isn't enough room inside a pumpkin to have a decent amount of stuffing, so I reimagined it as a baked, layered dish.
Sour cherry couronne
We started Christmas day, however, with couronne. It's mostly Paul Hollywood's recipe, but substituting sour cherries for apricots (I didn't bother soaking them) and lovely Italian crystallised citrus peel for the raisins. Instead of plain marzipan I used a new-to-me brandy marzipan, which packed quite a wallop.
Mezze plate
For lunch we just had mezze - bought hummus, felafel, artichoke hearts, olives, dolmades and stuffed peppadews, with some leftover carrot and feta cake, and a few bits of pickled carrot and mooli. Then the layered baked squash for dinner.
November's trial run on the Christmas squash
In my practice runs I had used delica pumpkin, which sliced into neat crescents which cooked evenly and looked like a pretty sunburst.

Unfortunately Ocado let me down on the day and delivered a butternut - good flavour but not as pretty!

The layers of squash were interspersed with sauteed onion, loads of rosemary and sage, crumbled sourdough bread, toasted hazelnuts, crumbled Stilton cheese and garlic. Then I poured cream and white wine over the lot and let it bake slowly.

We had a persimmon and chicory salad with it (Diana Henry's recipe, although for obvious reasons I left out the cheese and nuts). Delicious, if not in any way photogenic.
Final version of baked layered squash
There was no need at all for dessert after all that! Later in the week I made a quince and clementine trifle, but we really didn't go in much for pudding at home.
Quince and clementine trifle
On New Year's Eve we had a fondue for lunch, and then friends came over for tea and cake. I'd been looking for an excuse to make Ottolenghi's walnut and halva cake, and this seemed like just the time. It's a very good cake.

Ottolenghi's walnut & halva cake
The other main home-cooking highlights of the festive period were a rather triumphant take on megadarra (I used siyez bulgar instead of rice, topped it with pomegranate arils and goats curd and served it with runner beans stewed in tomatoes) and pairing Ottolenghi's bulgar with mushrooms, feta and dill with Gizzi Erskine's brussels sprout, pomegranate and pistachio salad. Which end up looking quite similar, so fortunately we didn't have them back to back.
Megadarra and runner beans

Ottolenghi's bulgar and Gizzi Erskine's sprouts

Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Prawn curries

For some reason, Paul's had a bee in his bonnet lately about prawn curry. He even called our home wifi network prawn curry. He declared that he believed a good prawn curry had to be possible, but that he'd never had one. He asked the guys at work for their best tips, and they all declared that asafoetida was key.

Which meant I had to buy asafoetida. And now means that I have most of a bag of asafoetida (which smells like an onion farted after drinking Guinness) in a sealed ziplock bag and that is in a tupperware tub and you can still smell it in the cupboard.

And I had to find a prawn curry recipe that actually used asafoetida.

I went with the Hairy Bikers Keralan prawn curry. Sorry about the autoplay video on that link. You'd have thought that everyone would know by now that autoplay is blooming annoying.
Hairy Bikers Keralan Prawn Curry
It was fine. A coconutty base but I found it too saucy and rich, and I honestly don't think the asafoetida contributed anything. I asked Paul whether the workmates he consulted have ever actually cooked anything and he assured me that they have.

Next up was Maunika Gowardhan's Malabar Prawn Curry. The slight acidity from the tomatoes and the hit of tamarind works much better with prawns than a rich coconut base, to my mind.
Maunika Gowardhan's Malabar Prawn Curry
We really liked the addition of the mustard seeds, but somehow it still wasn't quite there. We've had takeaway a few times recently from a South Indian restaurant, and discovered appam, so I had a crack at those as an accompaniment. Not very successfully.
First attempt at appam - batter too thick
Then we tried the prawn patia recipe from Camellia Panjabi's classic 50 Great Curries of India.
Camellia Panjabi's prawn patia
Another tomato-based one, with tamarind and a little sugar to balance.
2nd attempt at appam

And another unsuccessful attempt at appam. I think I will leave them to the experts.

The most recent one cracked the prawn curry, I think. I mostly followed Camellia Panjabi's recipe again, but added some black mustard seeds when I fried the cumin seeds at the beginning, included a good chunk of ginger in my garlic and chilli paste, and used fresh turmeric. It was exactly what I wanted in a prawn curry - hot, slightly sweet, with a tang that showcased the plump prawns.

I used leftover appam batter from my 2nd attempt as a frying batter for some squid rings, which I sprinkled with chaat masala (1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp amchoor, 1/4 tsp Kashmiri chilli, 1/4 tsp black salt) - much more successful than my appam.

My prawn curry



Monday, 4 December 2017

Thanksgiving - green bean casserole and pumpkin pie

Quite often when Paul asks me to cook something for him I ignore him. A decade of him saying he wanted a dish only to be over the craving by the time I made it has taught me better. Like the time recently where he asked me to make a chocolate cake with caramel filling, only to admit that he only wanted a bite of a slice of such a cake. Fortunately I hadn't got beyond considering a recipe with that one.

In the last few weeks though, he's become interested in a couple of the elements of a classic American Thanksgiving dinner - pumpkin pie and green bean casserole. I've always found green bean casserole a baffling proposition, myself, so I was quite happy to go along with him this time and make a cut-down Thanksgiving dinner to give him a chance to try those things.

I've made pumpkin pie before. Although apparently not for about 15 years if I've never made it for Paul. I bought some shortcrust pastry and a can of pumpkin puree and consulted Heather's blog (always good for pie recipes), settling on her Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie. I added 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger and reduced the brown sugar by 1/4 cup, but otherwise followed the recipe.

The green bean casserole is a very strange thing. The idea of beans in cream of mushroom soup with a crunchy topping isn't particularly appealling. I'd always assumed that it was one of those dishes that had gradually been debased with convenience products, but when I started to look for a recipe to inflict on Paul I discovered that in its purest original form it used frozen beans and canned soup. It was, in fact, an invention of the Campbells soup company in 1955. I can't think of any other similar recipe that has had such an impact. In Australia maybe the salad on the side of the Chang's crispy noodle packet, possibly the cheesecake on the Philadelphia packet. But nothing so completely ubiquitous - Campbells estimate that they sell $20 million worth of Cream of Mushroom a year and that 40% of that goes into green bean casserole.

Pure form or not, I just couldn't. So I made this from-scratch version, although I admit I got bored and didn't bother making the fried onion garnish. We had it with a rolled, stuffed turkey breast and roast potatoes (I think mashed potatoes are more traditional but Paul isn't a fan). I didn't bother with the other elements of a Thanksgiving dinner - the gravy, the cranberry sauce, the sweet potatoes - for just the two of us. The casserole was fine, I guess. The mushroom sauce was quite delicious - I'd make that element again, but I just don't think green beans and mushrooms are happy companions - they would have been better off as separate elements on the plate. Maybe the French fried onions really make the difference and pull the dish together, but I won't be finding out.

The pie, however, was excellent. Subtly spiced, not too sweet, perfect ratio of filling to pastry. We had it with a delicious new discovery of mine, Northern Bloc fresh ginger and caramel ice cream.



Even just a turkey breast gives a lot of leftovers. At this time of year there are articles all over the place on what to do with the remnants, but I already had a plan: the Kentucky Hot Brown.  An open-faced sandwich of tomatoes, bacon and/or ham, turkey, finished with cheese sauce and grilled. I used a white bloomer instead of the traditional Texas Toast, which I thought was a few calories too far. It's a particularly good version of the leftover sandwich, because unlike a lot of the others there's no jammy cranberry sauce or chutney, just savoury all the way through. Which is sometimes just what you need.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Apple cider doughnut muffins


Week before last Paul asked me to make muffins for our weekend breakfast. He specifically wanted American-style cakey muffins and he asked if they could be apple. I still don't know where my scales are, so at the moment I am quite happy with American recipes in cup measurements. I found this recipe, for Cider Doughnut Muffins and thought it'd work really well to add some dried apples to the batter.

Unfortunately, there was not a dried apple to be found in all of Bedford. Someone on Twitter pointed out that it was Rosh Hashanah and that may have had an impact. I'm slightly sceptical about that to be honest - but one way or another I couldn't get the dried apples and naturally went into a massive sulk and refused to bake, despite Paul having provided alternatives in the form of dried pears and dried mangoes.

This week, I got the dried apples.
Dried apples soaking in reduced cider
I mostly followed the recipe. I used hard, dry English cider rather than American sweet cider, and when I had reduced it to 1 cup, I added 1 cup of chopped dried apple slices, and let them steep overnight.
Very happy with that fluffy, tender crumb
And rather than rolling the cooked muffins in melted butter and cinnamon sugar for the doughnut effect, I sprinkled each one with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and demerara sugar before they went in the oven, so the coating cracked a bit as the muffins rose. And, presumably because of the apples, they took quite a lot longer to bake, 25 minutes, not 15-17. Very successful and tasting beautifully autumnal.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Exploring the area, one pub at a time

We've been in the new house for about six weeks now. Things are gradually coming together. There are still a lot of boxes about the place, but we are slowly buying furniture to unpack into. We still say, almost daily, "Do you know where that thing is?" but with increasing frequency we're able to say "Yes, I unpacked it and put it here". The last day of the move was more than a bit fraught, so we're realising some of the things that didn't come with us and with fading optimism expecting to find other possessions.
We went out for dinner the first night - The Three Tuns
As we're completely new to the area, we're having to learn our way around. Bless google maps. And pretty much every time we set foot outside the house it's uncharted territory for us. We've figured out where the supermarkets and Majestic are. I have found a hairdresser. We've started what will be the work of years, investigating the local pubs.

The first night we were in the house, we went out for dinner. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor, the cat was sulking, we didn't have a fridge and hadn't unpacked any of the kitchen stuff, so cooking really wasn't an option. It's a bit strange, moving from a place where there were about a dozen places (of varying quality...) to eat within a 10 minute walk, to a place where you could walk to a restaurant, if you were really feeling motivated and had half an hour to spare. The Three Tuns is the closest to us, about a 5 minute drive away. We'd been told that it's almost perennially under new management but that the food was generally pretty good. It was. A bit overwrought - every dish we tried had one element too many - but reasonably priced and served with the kindness we needed in our equally overwrought post-move state. I had a potato and goats cheese rouladey thing, which very nice, and a massively filling but slightly undercooked fish pie served with an utterly sublime hollandaise.
Halloumi fries - The Falcon
Paul's gone from an almost 4 hour daily commute on motorways to a 50 minute daily commute on pleasant country roads. He seems to spend most of that commute now identifying pubs he wants to try. The Falcon was one of those - it's on a bend in the river, which always adds tone to a pub. To be honest, I can't remember what I had to eat and I certainly didn't take a picture of it. Ham, egg & chips, maybe? But the big thing were the absolutely delicious halloumi fries we shared to start. They did them so well we're pretty keen to go back for a Sunday lunch.

Arancini at The Horse & Jockey
Our first (and so far only) crack at a Sunday pub lunch was one of our misguided ones where we only decided at about 11am that we wanted a pub lunch. So we made a list of about 5 places and called down it until we could get a reservation. We ended up at The Horse & Jockey and weren't sorry for it. Being offered delicious little chicken and lemon thyme arancini before our meals arrived was an unexpected but lovely refinement. The food was very good, although the shell-on prawn garnishing the prawn cocktail was watery and flabby, and I don't think the oil was quite hot enough to fry my fish and chips. Paul's roast beef looked excellent though, with proper attention to the veg.
Old school prawn cocktail at The Horse & Jockey
It was my birthday last week, so we had a good excuse to give another pub a go. The Plough came recommended by Sharon and the menu looked good so we made reservations. The food was excellent - I had a lovely fig, blue cheese and hazelnut salad to start, followed by grilled plaice with herb butter, chips and a beautiful sprouting broccoli dish. Unfortunately the service let them down a bit - our waiter seemed very nervous and untrained - and the people at the table next to us were loud and a bit abrasive. You'd think they'd never seen people taking photos of their tea before.
Fig, blue cheese and hazelnuts at The Plough

Grilled fillet of plaice
On Saturday, we made yet another trip to IKEA. Even more hellish than usual, as we realised we couldn't actually fit the stuff we wanted to buy in the car. It was 2.45pm by the time we got to Ye Three Fyshes and the kitchen was closing at 3, so we quickly ordered beers and sandwiches. The fish finger sandwich was very good, but I think they cut corners with the sausage one - it seemed very rusky and the skins were flabby. And they hadn't washed the salad for the garnish, so it was gritty. But the rest of the menu looks quite good, so we may get back there for another go at some point. When we've worked through a few more places.
Massive sandwiches at Ye Three Fyshes

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A belated blogoversary

So... we moved. And it was the utter ball-ache moving always is. With the added tedium that we only got broadband installed on Friday.

Due to the hassle of moving (and the fact we don't have a dishwasher yet) I haven't really been cooking anything fancy. Definitely nothing with multiple stages or processes or utensils required. And because of the lack of interesting cooking and the lack of broadband I completely missed my 10th blogoversary. 10 years! My god.

Anyway, my mate Sharon (who you may remember from posts such as this one. And this one. And this, and this, and this) is married to a man whose parents live near our new house. They have very kindly invited us over for Sunday dinner this evening because they think it would be nice to have some local knowledge. It definitely will!

I offered to bring a dessert - a pretty pointless gesture because Graeme's mum's desserts are legendary for their quality, quantity and diversity. But hey.

I thought I would knock up a quick frangipane mirabelle tart. Which was quite a good idea really, until I discovered that I couldn't find my scales or my silicon spatulas. A bit of guesswork took place and it ended up being a bit oozier and more rustic than planned. Fortunately they all have lovely manners and will be gracious. But I think we'll take a bottle of wine as well...

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Final Countdown

We have a lawn!
On Monday we'll be moving into the new house, so while there will be a final flurry of using bits up and whatnot, I really don't think I will be documenting it. So next time I post it'll probably be exploring a new-to-us pub while we try to avoid making the spanking new kitchen dirty.
ham hock terrine
I am faintly disappointed that things never got completely crazy with the flavour combinations. Although the tub labelled chicken stock which turned out to be blood orange sorbet, and the tub that I thought was chicken stock which turned out to be a rather lovely Asian shortrib soup almost got me into trouble. It was a valuable lesson in accurate labelling.
Ploughmans
This was a particularly good Ploughmans. Bread (using some of my baguette dough as a starter, and more of the chapatti flour), piccalilli, made by me a while ago, cheddar (because I like it), a ham hock terrine (using a ham hock I'd had in the freezer and some gelatine leaves) and a fresh green salad (finishing a jar of capers).
Lasagne
I wouldn't serve this lasagne to an Italian, but it was tasty! And it used a bottle of ratatouille, a packet of bacon, some minced beef and a packet of "fresh" (but frozen) pasta sheets.
And this version of an Eton mess used frozen cranberries, frozen eggwhites and coconut. The tangy fruit was a particularly good foil for the sweet coconut meringues.

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