Friday, 22 May 2015

Chicken and pumpkin laksa: For Flora Elizabeth Christensen

This week I Heart Cooking Clubs is taking some time to stand alongside Deb, one of the hosts of the event, supporting her as she grieves the loss of her mother. As well as IHCC, Deb hosts Cook the Books and her own Souper (soups, salads and sammies) Sunday event: she's a blogging powerhouse. Anyone who has read her blog more than once knows that she is a great eater of soup - which she says she got from her mother, so it really could only be a soup.

Deb avoids meat and dairy products, but I decided that this laksa, from Diana Henry's A Bird in the Hand, was just the thing. It's basically this recipe, with the addition of shredded cooked chicken. I used some of the leftover piri piri chicken mentioned in my last post, and even without the skin it gave the broth a deep, smoky richness. It was a very comforting meal in a bowl, with a beautiful colour to lift the spirits.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Diana Henry's A Bird in the Hand

Chicken with leeks, apples & cider (p 192)
A couple of months ago I posted about Diana Henry's chicken with leeks, apples and cider, the first dish I'd made from her new book, A Bird in the Hand. Well, since I bought the book, we've been eating a lot of chicken. A LOT of chicken. I'm not done with it yet, but I had to draw a line in the sand somewhere, so I thought I'd run through the recipes we've tried so far. I haven't been particularly methodical - I just cooked things I felt like eating rather than strategically providing a broad view. It's worked out pretty balanced, I think, although the recipes I've cooked have veered more towards Asian flavours. I think that is a seasonal thing - I tend to cook more European dishes in winter, so I have lots of things bookmarked that probably won't happen until October.

It's been produced by Diana's usual team, so the design and photographs are typically beautiful. The only real qualm I have with the book is the index, which I only found useful if I remembered the exact name of the dish I wanted to cook. For something like this where chicken is in everything, having dishes indexed by major secondary ingredients or cooking methods would have worked better, I think. I found myself using Eat Your Books a lot for this, once it was indexed.
Turkish-spiced chicken in a wrap with Greek yoghurt
Turkish-spiced chicken with hot green relish (p 32) was one of the dishes served at Diana's book launch party. It's incredibly delicious. Not super hot, but spicy and spiky with salty, herbal, acidic flavours. We don't have a griddle so I cooked the chicken in a cast iron frying pan - it didn't need extra oil for cooking because of the oil in the marinade.
Thai chicken burgers with Asian slaw
I couldn't get minced chicken for the Thai chicken burgers with Asian slaw (p 20), so I put chicken thigh fillets, the lemon grass, onion, ginger, lime zest and coriander through the mincer, then added the breadcrumbs and other seasonings. As you can see from the disconcerting purple speckles on the burger, I used a red onion. They were succulent, with a pleasant lightness from the breadcrumbs and had a very good flavour. The Asian slaw was excellent - just the thing if you find a mayonnaisey slaw cloying.
Royal chicken korma with chapattis and tomato katchumber
The book is divided into sensible (the starter/main/dessert structure doesn't really work with chicken!) but overlapping chapters - every day dishes, comforting dishes, salads, feasting dishes for when you have more time and so on. The Royal chicken korma (p 146) could easily fit into The Spice Route: scented, perfumed, hot chapter, but really it is in the right place in Feast: let's celebrate. It is a fiddle. I have a well-stocked spice cupboard, so I only needed to buy the perishables but even so when I looked down the lengthy ingredients list and read the method my heart sank. But take courage! This is probably the best curry I have ever, ever made. Disgorging and deep frying the onions for the spice paste gives an extraordinary depth of flavour. It is not a dish for every day but it is sublime. And I say that as someone who would never order a korma in a restaurant because I find them bland, sweet and dull.
Vietnamese lemon grass and chilli chicken - served with sauteed cabbage
Infinitely quicker and simpler, but still utterly delicious, was the Vietnamese lemon grass and chilli chicken (p 22). The red chillis I have been getting recently have no heat at all, so I used two without de-seeding and still needed to add a slosh of hot chilli sauce to give it a boost.
Roopa's lemon grass and turmeric chicken
Roopa's lemon grass and turmeric chicken with potato salad and date and tamarind chutney (p 50) is in The Spice Route chapter, but could so easily have fit into Feast. Not that it's particularly involved or that time consuming, but the potato salad accompaniment makes it taste extremely special. I used ground turmeric instead of fresh so my spice paste wasn't very pasty, but it still stuck nicely to the chicken. The potato salad with the chutney ends up tasting a bit like an aloo channa chaat, which is a very good thing for a potato salad to taste like.
Rice cooked in the fragrant chicken juices
The lemon grass and turmeric chicken also produced vast quantities of juices, far too much to serve with the chicken. So I saved it and cooked some basmati rice in it to have with a mutton methi curry later that week. It was so luscious I would do the chicken again just to make some more rice.
Balinese chicken, bean and coconut salad
This Balinese chicken, bean and coconut salad (p 112) was another one from the book launch party. Deliciously fresh and zingy, with a creamy underpinning from the coconut, it's lovely fresh and even though the herbs wilt a bit and lose some crunch, it's very tasty as leftovers.
Soothing North Indian chicken
So far, there has only been one dish that has really disappointed. The soothing North Indian chicken (p 185) just didn't work for me at all - very bland, and the yoghurt split even without boiling the sauce after adding it. The following day I turned the leftovers into a sort of biryani, stirring it through rice seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric, which was much more to my taste.
Negima yakitori cooking
I've made negima yakitori before, so I was very interested in Diana's version (p 172). Mine were not the dainty morsels of her method, because I wanted to use my big, flat, metal skewers, but the flavour was excellent. I particularly appreciated the instruction to start grilling the seasoned chicken before basting with the sauce - so many recipe writers don't seem to understand how quickly things burn if they are marinated in a sugary sauce before cooking. The skewered spring onions add a lot of moisture and flavour to the chicken, and the little sprinkle of shichimi togarashi at the end adds a nice spicy kick.
They were very small aubergines - which we also basted with some of the yakitori tare
For Easter we decided to do something really extravagant and indulgent. Not just the indulgence of Roast chicken with truffles (p 150): we made it with a 3.95kg cockerel.
Steam rising from Roast cockerel with truffles
Obviously we ignored the cooking times for the massive beast, following the instructions on the box instead. We also ignored the serving suggestion of sauteed potatoes and watercress, going instead for Sunday lunch accompaniments of roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, and some peas. The buttery truffle sauce meant that no butter was needed on the peas. This was lovely, definitely worth getting a slow-grown chicken for, and we still have half a jar of black truffle slices left, so we're considering doing it again at Christmas (which is probably the next time fresh cockerel will be available).
Extravagant Sunday roast
Clearly an almost-4kg bird left us with a good supply of leftovers. Which amongst other things got turned into Vietnamese chicken and sweet potato curry (p 204), a super quick, fragrant and delicious use for leftover cooked chicken. And I think it would be very good with leftover pork too. Because of the sweet potato in it we decided we didn't need any other starch with it and just had generous bowlsful. I had a couple of courgettes that were slightly past their prime, so I chucked them in for a complete one-pot meal.
Vietnamese chicken and sweet potato curry
Chicken piri piri (p 156) is a Portuguese dish, but there is a pretty big Portuguese community in South Africa and a couple of South African piri piri chains, so Paul has very definite ideas about it.
Piri piri
I used a bottled piquillo pepper instead of roasting my own. And I used 2 of my home grown pickled habanero chillis because of the aforementioned problem with red chillis being really mild at the moment. The marinade had kick. Rather than using bone-in chicken portions or spatchcocked poussin, I spatchcocked a large chicken - because the weather was beautiful and we wanted a long, slow cook in the Weber.
Marinaded spatchcocked chicken
South African barbecuing is usually done over wood, so Paul added hickory chips to our charcoal, which added a really deep brown patina to the skin as well as a strong smoky flavour. As well as smearing the piri piri on both sides of the spatchcock, I lifted the breast skin and smeared some under it, so the flavour and heat of the chilli really penetrated. Another very, very successful dish.
Chicken piri piri, grilled sweet corn and tomato salad

Friday, 15 May 2015

Pulled Pork Nachos

Just after Easter we went to a Jim Butcher Q&A at Waterstones Piccadilly. It was a Friday so Paul didn't want to hang around at work; we met up early to have a drink and a snack in the bar on the fifth floor. We thought we'd have a little sharing plate, see how that went and then maybe have another. The mezze plate we started with was excellent, and Paul had his heart set on pulled pork nachos. Unfortunately the glacially slow service reminded me why we'd stopped going there and we ran out of time to order anything else.

But he still had his heart set on nachos. So a couple of weeks later he came home with some bits and pieces and we made nachos. They were fine, but the cheese didn't melt right and they were a little dry and it just wasn't the dream nachos experience.

After that disappointment, I had to have another go. This version is much better.

Pulled pork is ubiquitous at the moment (you can get pulled pork products at EAT, Pret and M&S) and from what I have tried it is mostly not very nice. Gloopy, very sweet and not very porky. I decided to season it more like a cochinita pibil, with lovely acidic Seville orange juice (I froze a bunch of Sevilles when they were in season for just these occasions) and a bunch of spices. And to get a bit of smoky barbecue flavour into it, I used a smoked brined pork hock and some chipotle paste. And yes, adding jerk paste to all of this seems a bit weird but it had all the flavourings I wanted with a bit of extra heat. I kept the seasoning of the pork itself really simple, because I only needed half the meat for this meal and wanted to keep my options open for the rest. Plus when I have made pulled pork in the past I've felt that none of the seasonings actually penetrate the meat, it's all in the sauce at the end.

Cook the pork the day before, so when you want to eat the nachos it's really quick and low effort.

Pulled Pork Nachos (serves 2 as a meal in a bowl)

1 brined and smoked pork shank
1 small onion, studded with 2-3 cloves
1 tbs oil (vegetable, olive, whatever)
1 small onion, extra, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
1 tsp chipotle paste
1 tsp jerk paste (I used home made, but Walkerswood is my favourite bought one)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
Knife tip of ground cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
2 tbs achiote paste
juice of 3 Seville oranges (or 2 sweet oranges and 2 limes)
Corn chips, grated cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream

Put the pork and clove-studded onion in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer with a lid on until the meat falls from the bones (2 hours ish). As soon as it is cool enough to handle, strip the meat off the bone, remove excess fat and the rind and shred with two forks. Divide the meat in half, freeze one portion for another meal (also reserve the broth from cooking it for making lentil soup, and you might need a splash to loosen the nachos mixture).

In a medium sized saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until softened but not coloured. And the other seasonings and the orange juice and simmer to a thick sauce. Check for seasoning, keeping in mind that the pork is quite salty and you'll be adding cheese.

Add the shredded pork shank to the pot of sauce and combine well, loosening with a bit of the cooking broth if necessary. You are aiming to be able to pick bites up on a corn chip, so it can't be *that* dense. At this point you can cool it and refrigerate it over night before assembling the nachos the following day. Or just carry on.

Preheat the oven to a moderately high heat - 180Cish

In an ovenproof dish, layer up corn chips, grated cheese and the saucy pork, finishing with grated cheese. I used a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella: you want something that will melt well. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is all golden brown and bubbling and melted. Then top with whatever else you want on top - salsa, sour cream, guacamole etc. Or all of them. Eat immediately - a fork to shove extra toppings on the chips might be useful.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Fish with wild garlic walnut pesto crust

I think about food almost constantly. I fall asleep considering menu plans and recipe ideas: last night I was musing over what summer fruit would work in a coffee and caramel pavlova to give some balance. Didn't come up with anything, so that might have to go on the backburner until the pears come into season. This simple fish dish was the product of one of my bedtime contemplations, and it actually worked on the plate just as well as it did in my head, which is always gratifying.
If you can get hold of some wild garlic I urge you to try it.
Fish with wild garlic walnut pesto crust (serves 2)

6-8 wild garlic leaves (stems, flowers & all)
50g walnuts
50g parmesan
2tbs olive oil, divided
1tbs butter
2 thick fillets of meaty white fish (I used cod loins)

Put the wild garlic in a colander over the sink and pour about half a kettle of boiling water over it. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture. Chop the wild garlic, walnuts and parmesan together finely. This is one of the few things I use my mezzaluna for but a knife is absolutely fine. Put the chopped mixture in a small bowl and add 1tbs of the olive oil.

Preheat the grill (that's a broiler to you Americans, not a barbecue). In an oven-proof frying pan on the stove top, melt the butter and the remaining oil. Cook the fish on one side only until you can see it's opaque about half way up the side of the fillet. Divide the wild garlic mixture between the two fillets and press on well. Put the pan under the grill for a couple of minutes until the pesto forms an appetising golden crust and the fish is cooked through.

We had it on a bed of blanched samphire, with asparagus, a little hollandaise (unnecessarily indulgent but lovely and I had a bit leftover that needed using) and a tomato salad.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Baklava buns

Last weekend was a Bank Holiday in the UK, so I decided that we needed something sweet for our breakfasts. I still had half a batch of the enriched cardamom dough I'd used for the semlor at Easter, so the easiest option was to make some sort of bread thing.

So what I did, was thaw the dough, stretch it out into a rectangle and smeared it thickly with softened butter. Then I pressed on chopped nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts) mixed with 2tbs of sugar and 1tsp cinnamon, rolled it up and sliced it into six buns. I really should have done nine...

When they came out of the oven, I drizzled a little honey over each one. And there you have it - all the flavour of baklava (with a bit less sugar) in a bun.

Monday, 4 May 2015

Wild garlic gratin

There hasn't been a lot of cooking round these parts for a couple of weeks. First Paul had the flu and for about 5 days could only face chamomile tea and a small slice of pizza a day. Then I got it and subsisted on chicken soup and iced tea for about the same length of time. And after that for several days we both just wanted really basic, small meals that didn't require standing up for too long to prepare. It's been a dark time.

But now - other than both of us having persistent coughs - we're back on deck.

I was pretty happy with how this potato gratin went. It's the time of year where all the foodies are doing wild garlic dishes, and I was determined not to miss out this year.

So I did layers of potato (sweet and regular spuds), with wild garlic chiffonade between the layers. Then white wine, stock and cream, a good grinding of black pepper and into the oven. The smell of it baking was pungently garlicky, but the flavour was much gentler and more mellow. And fortunately there was enough wild garlic to serve as a green vegetable, because my peas and broad beans had a very meagre yield once podded.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Gaylord Restaurant Mortimer Street

I've been watching a bit of the BBC series Back in time for dinner, where an unprepossessing British family eat their way through British history. They spend a week in each decade from the 1950s onwards, with their kitchen remodelled appropriately, typical gender roles enforced and menus taken from the National Food Survey (an annual survey carried out between 1940 and 2000). Now, originally this survey was only of urban working class households, to make sure that everyone was getting sufficient nutrition during the war, but it was expanded in 1950. So the utterly dire food they showed through the 1950s episode can't just be blamed on class or location (although rationing was still in place).

Mind you, the fact that Rochelle doesn't usually do the cooking for her family may have made a bad situation worse. The look of horror on her children's faces when served a week's worth of liver rations, overcooked, cold and leftover from lunch, was superb. And the relief when, mid-way through the 1960s episode, spaghetti bolognese hit the menu, was palpable.

With that sort of post-war culinary history, I think Gaylord's Restaurant, opened in 1966, hit a sweet-spot where people were ready for a bit of novelty and were starting to develop more of a culture of eating out. I'd love to see a menu and maybe some of the recipes from those early days, to see how they have changed with time. Even with all those years of British colonisation, Indian food must have come as quite a surprise. I was invited with a group of other bloggers to try their new menu though, not the 1966 version.

We started with Sharabi Saffron Thandai, a very rich and very sweet (and reading the ingredients very strong) cocktail of rum, saffron-infused gin, Malibu, saffron and Thandai, a mixture of almonds, spices, milk and sugar. The saffron provided a very necessary bitter edge to the rose, cardamom and coconut sweetness. I'd drink it again, but as an alternative to dessert - it didn't exactly stimulate the appetite.

Much more to my taste was the second drink, a virgin paan mojito. The rose, mint and lime was very refreshing.

We had a series of canapés, which General Manager Sameer Berry explained were examples of the sorts of food they serve when catering parties. I thought they were mixed successes. The Golgappa shots (the Northern Indian name for what I've usually seen called pani puri) were very tasty, but anything requiring detailed instructions in order to eat them - pouring the shot glass of tamarind water into the crisp shell (while leaning well over a plate) and putting the whole thing in your mouth at once - seems like an awkward party canapé.
Golgappa shot
The bhelpuri cone was good, the aloo papri chaat (potato disc topped with chickpeas) was a bit dull and dry but the murg malai tikka and zaffrani chicken tikka were absolutely gorgeous, delicately spiced and very succulent.
Bhelpuri cone
murg malai tikka
If the canapés weren't enough, we then had some starters which were slightly larger than the canapés and again had mixed success. A large tandoori prawn looked impressive but tasted dry and woolly. Murg Gilafi Seekh, a minced chicken kebab, was really delicious (although impossible to photograph attractively). A crab cake, presented like Vietnamese chao tom on sugar cane skewers, was pleasant but a bit too soft to eat on the skewer. For me, the least successful starter was the lamb seekh kebab taco. Elaborately presented, it was a bit of a case of style over substance. To be fair, I really don't like hard shelled tacos, but the lamb seekh kebab wasn't nearly as succulent or flavoursome as the chicken version we'd had, it was awkward to eat and needed a big spritz of lemon juice or something to give it a lift.
Lamb kebab tacos - cute gimmick but not for me
Sameer asked us to choose between two menus for the main courses, although I am not entirely sure why because all the dishes from both menus came out. It was a lot of food and with the best will in the world I couldn't try all of it.
Lamb chops Anardana

I was very pleased to see my second favourite aubergine dish, Hyderabadi Baingan on the table, but I didn't think it was as good as mine. It was very mellow, whereas I prefer a sharp prickle of intense tamarind. Both the Lamb Chops Anardana and the Lamb Shank were wonderful, and the Dal Bukhara was extremely good - rich and thick. I particularly enjoyed the fluffy bhatura bread, which Sameer recommended we eat with the Chana Peshawari, and the garlic naan was excellent as well.
Dal Bukhara
I don't often eat Indian desserts. I like the occasional kulfi or piece of burfi but usually I am way too full to face them. I did manage to have a small spoonful of each in the interests of research though!
Rasmalai was sweet, creamy and fragrant, which are all things I like, although the texture of the curd swimming in milk was a little offputting. The carrot halva was served warm in a charming silver box - this time the presentation was matched by the delicious flavour. My favourite of the desserts, though, was the gulab jamun, flambéed in dark rum. Even without the booze these were the best gulab jamun I've ever had: light and fluffy, drooling syrup but not cloying. But the rum and the theatre of flaming it at the table made it even better.

I had a very pleasant meal. I assume that they chose the most-likely-to-please options instead of taking too many risks: there were several items on the à la carte menu which I thought sounded more interesting (black pepper calamari, rabbit seekh kebab, kid goat keema). As befits the restaurant claiming to have brought the tandoor oven to Britain, their strength seems to be the items cooked on charcoal. The curry house favourites were done very well, but weren't the choices I would make. I would also have enjoyed more variety in the heat levels of the dishes, although a couple of people sitting near me were struggling even with quite mild chilli heat, so I suppose safer not to kick it up more!

Many thanks to Sameer Berry and his team for their hospitality, and to Sarah and Jenny from Salt PR for the invitation.


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