Saturday, 27 September 2014

British Turkey Awards and a 5kg bird

On Thursday I had dinner at The Savoy. This is not, it pains me to admit, a normal sort of weeknight activity. But it was the British Turkey Awards, where I found myself crowned (no crown actually involved, but I got a trophy and a certificate) British Turkey Blogger Recipe of the Year for my turkey b'stilla.

It was a very grand event. Champagne reception, grace, Loyal Toast, the whole shebang. There were several women in floor-length gowns and opera-length gloves and all but one of the men wore a dinner jacket. Paul, the notable exception, looked like Columbo.

I felt very lucky to be seated next to Robert Clark and Karen McQuade, veterans of the British Turkey Awards, who were able to explain some of the elements of the night. Like the bizarre "heads and tails" charity collection game and the boo-ing at some of the award nominees. Every group has its traditions! Anyway, unfortunately we had to hurtle off mid-ceremony, to catch the last train. Everyone else seemed settled in for the duration, so I suspect The Strand was populated by very hungover turkey farmers and retailers on Friday.

It only seems appropriate for me now to share a turkey post.

One of the things that British Turkey is trying to do is get people to see turkey as an every day meat and not just a Christmas thing. Which means that fresh turkey is increasingly available outside the Christmas season.

At Easter, in fact, we bought a 5kg fresh free-range Bronze turkey at a 50% discount, so it was £22. Clearly, for a family of two people a 5kg bird is a ridiculous size, so I assembled poultry shears and a sharp knife and watched a couple of youtube tutorials on jointing poultry and set to work. I vividly remember laying out the pieces on the board to take pictures of them, but I can't find any pictures of the completed butchery.

We ended up with a turkey crown, 2 wing portions, 2 thigh portions and 2 drumsticks, and the carcass, wing tips, leg joints and giblets for stock. All but the crown went into the freezer for later consideration.
Roast turkey crown
The crown, which weighed 2.2kg, we ate roasted. I lifted the breast skin and smeared the flesh with a compound butter, flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and anchovies. I gave it 30 minutes at 200C, then 45 minutes at 170C. We had it hot with roast potatoes and peas and it was just delicious - crisp-skinned with moist, flavourful flesh. The potatoes were also some of my better roasties.
Of course, 2.2kg is still a big roast, even if that includes a fair amount of bone. It left 700g meat to be stripped from the carcass. That meant two portions of a warm noodle salad with a chilli peanut dressing...
My 6" springform tin pays for itself again and again
... and three portions of pie. The pie was very Christmassy, really, with bacon, sage and onion, some of the jellied juices from the roast, a couple of tablespoons of dried cranberries and 50g Stilton, broken into chunks.
As you can imagine (or have experienced at Christmas), after that turkey-filled week we were quite happy to leave the rest of the pieces in the freezer for a fair while after that. But eventually, we were ready to face turkey again.

I boned out the wings and stuffed them with minced prawns and waterchestnuts, then pan-fried them. They were delicious as part of a dim sum meal, but would have made a good supper just with rice and vegetables.
The thighs I also intended to bone-out and stuff, but I ended up with much more stuffing than would fit. I butterflied them and made sort of a sandwich with the stuffing (which was rice, spinach and 'nduja) in between and baked it.The dark thigh meat has enough flavour to stand up to robust 'nduja without being completely overpowered.
Turkey thighs sandwiched with rice, spinach and 'nduja.
Then the drumsticks got a Mexican-inspired treatment. They were barbecued with a lot of smoke so that the skin was crisp and lacquered, and the meat falling off the bone, and served with a spicy peanut mole sauce.

That just left the bag of bits for stock. I added the turkey trimmings and giblets to a couple of roast chicken carcasses and the usual aromatics and simmered them to a rich broth. Some of the broth I then reheated with a couple of dried porcini mushrooms steeping in it, while I made some dumplings filled with minced turkey, more dried porcini and herbs. I roasted cubes of butternut and some sage leaves. Then I cooked the dumplings in simmering water before serving them in the broth with Asian mushrooms and the butternut - and there were three portions of that. My freezer is now empty of turkey and I am ready to start planning Christmas (I know it's still September!). We might have turkey this year.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Haggis & Apple Cottage Pie - an act of union

 I am very sorry for the disappointed Yes voters, who had good reasons for wanting independence, but at the same time sentimentally I am pleased that Scotland isn't leaving us. I wouldn't say that Scotland puts the great in Great Britain, exactly, but if you look at any list of British achievements, a fair whack of them are Scottish. Hypodermic needles, pneumatic tyres, thermos flasks, the telephone, the television, waterproof fabrics and penicillin, all invented, discovered or developed by Scots. And of course, the haggis (although that might be Roman...)

So, to celebrate the continued existence of the United Kingdom, I bought a haggis. I was intending to serve it with chips, peas and gravy, but then Rachel McCormack tweeted her recipe for a haggis, apple and potato tart, which I thought was brilliant. Hers was very elegant-looking - a flat puff pastry tart, filled with slices of potato and apple with crumbled haggis. Mine is not elegant, but it is tasty and a good entry point for people who are scared of haggis but still intrigued.

Whenever I make a recipe that needs a carrot/onion/celery base, rather than trying to find a single stick of celery, I make a large quantity, sweated down in a bit of oil, and then freeze it in portions for later. A thawed bag of that - on this occasion celery, leeks, onions and carrots - was my base. A couple of dessert apples, peeled, cored and finely chopped, and a haggis, broken into large chunks.

I made up some instant gravy paste, and flavoured it with some cider brandy, and made a strongly mustardy mash (hence the lurid yellow colour). As I dolloped the Colmans mustard into the pan of spuds, I realised that I had ingredients representing all the parts of the United Kingdom - leeks for Wales, potatoes for Northern Ireland, apples and hot English mustard for England and the haggis for Scotland. My sense of kitsch got the better of me, and instead of roughing the mash up with a fork, I traced a union jack onto the surface with the point of a knife. When it came out of the oven, I was delighted to see that it had held. There's a metaphor there.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Spiced chocolate caramel peanut popcorn

This is yet another version of sweet, salty and spicy popcorn, this time inspired by the Snickers bar. It features chunks of turrón, salted peanuts and a spiced chocolate caramel. It's very hard to resist! The key to it keeping its crunch for a couple of days is that it's slowly baked after coating, which also helps get an even distribution of the caramel.

I made this as a snack for a three-hour dance class, and as a thank you to Kavey for a jar of her homemade kimchi, but the leftovers were still good three days later (and a little softer but still tasty the day after that).

Snickers-inspired spiced chocolate caramel peanut popcorn

1tbs vegetable oil
120g popping corn
100g roasted salted peanuts
100g nougat (I used soft turrón de Jijona which has a texture similar to halva, but hard, Alicante-style turrón duro would be better), chopped into small chunks
Pinch chilli flakes (I used chile de arbol)
Pinch Maldon salt (i.e good quality seasalt)
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground nutmeg
2tbs good-quality cocoa powder
100g salted butter
100ml golden syrup
125g sugar

Heat the oil in a large saucepan with a lid, and add the popping corn. Cover, and shake until the corn has popped, then pour into a large, baking parchment-lined roasting tin, holding back any unpopped kernels if possible. Scatter over the peanuts and chunks of nougat.

Combine the salt, cocoa powder and spices in a little ramekin or bowl. Give it a stir to make sure the cocoa powder doesn't have any lumps, and have it standing by while you make the syrup. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, sugar and golden syrup over a medium heat, and swirl gently until the sugar dissolves and it comes to the boil. Boil rapidly for a few minutes, or until it changes colour to a rich golden brown.

Take the caramel off the heat and tip the cocoa quickly into it. Keeping your fingers well clear, stir with a silicon spatula until well combined and pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn. Stir it through. It won't coat all of the popcorn but that is part of the charm - every bite is different.

Place the roasting tin in a slow oven - mine only goes down to 120C, but if yours does 100C that would be better - and bake for an hour, giving it a stir every 15 minutes. Allow to cool and harden before packing in an airtight box or gift bags.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Piccalilli (and pork pie)

For several years, sometime around midwinter, Paul has asked me why I never make piccalilli. And my response is always "Because it's the middle of bloody winter and none of the veg are in season. I'll make it in summer", but then in summer when all the veg are in season I forget.

This year, I remembered.

Having never made it before, I had to do some research. I knew I wanted crunchy, and I knew I wanted tangy. Of the piccalilli recipes on my shelf, Diana Henry's recipe in Food From Plenty had the lowest ratio of sugar to vinegar AND the shortest cook time for the vegetables, so that seemed like the best option.

The problem with piccalilli, of course, is that it has to mature before you eat it. I almost broke and opened the jar after a week, but I was patient and waited the recommended month.

To accompany it, I made a pork pie - hot water crust pastry (made with home-rendered lard!), a filling of sausage meat, bacon and pork loin, seasoned with white and black pepper, nutmeg and mace, and aspic spiked with cider brandy. My pastry was a bit thick, but the top crust and filling were excellent.

And the piccalilli was extremely good. The vegetables are crunchy and the vinegar is quite mellow, without the aggressive punch of commercial versions. I think next year, though, I will double the amount of dried mustard in it, because it needed just a little more fire. I might also have to make a double batch, because this one won't last us to midwinter.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Vaguely Chinese pork & aubergine stew

I started off with the intention of making something like this but ended up making something quite different but equally delicious. It's got some Chinese elements to it but I am not going to claim any sort of authenticity.

I had some not-too-fatty rind-off pork belly slices, which I froze for an hour to make them easy to slice into thin pieces. I browned them thoroughly in a dry pan until the fat started to render out, then added pieces of aubergine and let them brown well. Pieces of ginger, a star anise, garlic, a sliced onion and a chopped red pepper went in as well. Then I deglazed the pan with Shaoxing wine and added a touch of Chinese black vinegar and some light soy sauce, put a lid on and simmered it slowly for about 20 minutes until everything was meltingly tender. I finished it with a lot of freshly ground black pepper and a big bunch of basil leaves. Definitely one to make again.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Seafood risotto for A Thousand Days In Venice

cookthebooks I don't know what to say about this month's Cook the Books book club pick (this month hosted by Debra from Eliot's Eats), Marlena de Blasi's A Thousand Days In Venice. An exuberant American chef with flamboyant taste in textiles falls inexplicably in love with a repressed Italian bank clerk with daddy issues, and through him falls explicably in love with Venice.

For me, de Blasi just couldn't quite convey why she was attracted to her stranger. She herself seems like a glorious broad who I'd love to go drinking with, but he remained a mystery. But then, this is a memoir, not a romance, and other people's relationships are often a bit baffling. I never understand how people who really like food end up with people who don't much care what they eat.

I've never been to Venice, so my impressions of the food are, I suspect, very much clichés - soft shell crab, risi e bisi, linguine vongole; exorbitantly priced Bellinis and carpaccio and tramezzini at Harry's Bar. Paul was very definite though, he wanted me to make a seafood risotto.

I used the prawn shells, with a little lemon, a shallot, a bay leaf and some peppercorns to make a stock for the risotto.
The murky depths of prawn stock
Then I lightly cooked the peeled prawns in butter, with sweated shallots and garlic. I removed the prawns from the pan and proceeded to make a normal risotto bianco. I added arborio rice to the shallot/garlic/butter remaining from cooking the prawns and let it soak a bit before adding quite a lot of vermouth (we tend to use dry vermouth instead of white wine in cooking because we don't feel tempted to drink it), and the hot, strained stock, stirring constantly between additions. When it had almost absorbed the last quantity of stock, I added the prawns back in, and a tub of 50/50 white and brown crab meat.

When it was just done, instead of the normal mantecatura of butter and parmesan, I added a good spoonful of crème fraîche for extra richness and a touch of acidity, and a bag of rocket leaves and garnished it with snipped chives. It wasn't as loose as a traditional Venetian risotto - it didn't flow in waves - and we had it as a meal in a bowl not as a starter. But I still think it was a pretty good representation of Venice.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Merchants Tavern

I like their coasters
My first choice for my birthday dinner was actually Gymkhana - unfortunately all the good press they are getting at the moment meant that I should have tried to book more than a week beforehand. I wanted somewhere with excellent food, with a pleasant buzz that allowed for conversation, comfy seats and that took bookings. I remembered what a lovely dinner we'd had at Merchants Tavern during their soft launch, and the deal was done. And fortunately, since I was meeting Paul after work and we therefore wanted to eat quite early, we were able to get a table.

We started in the bar, which wasn't nearly as busy as it deserved to be on a Friday evening. Paul had a pint of pilsner (easier to say at the beginning of the evening) while I had a fabulously refreshing cocktail called a Patronic - Patron Silver tequila, lime sherbet and Fevertree tonic. We decided they didn't call it a Patronus to avoid having to pay J.K Rowling royalties, but it's a bit of a shame.

The bar snacks sounded really good, but we were bloody, bold and resolute and held off until we got to our table.
Good bread - nice crust, good malty sourdough tang
Choosing starters was easy, so we ordered those immediately but asked for more time to decide on our main courses and wine. Thereby probably calling down the wrath of the kitchen as we fucked up the flow of service, but the floor staff have apparently all graduated with honours from charm school, so we never felt that fury. Not even a twinge of annoyance.
The quail dish I'd ordered last year was too good to pass up, so we shared it. And it was every bit as good. The combination of the meaty quail, mousse-like foie gras, bitter radicchio, nutty hazelnuts and sharp creamy remoulade is sheer perfection.

We also shared a charcuterie platter. The one on the left is Jesus, a mild, very porky sausage, with coppa on the right. Can't remember what the one in the middle was - it started with B. It was good though, with that strong mushroomy aroma of fermented cured meat.
Eventually we made decisions about the main courses. I had a dish very similar to the one Paul had last time, although his was brill and mine was monkfish. Beautifully cooked fish, ever so slightly resistant to the fork but perfectly tender in the mouth, with occasional shreds of lemon zest perking up the creamy beans.
Paul chose venison, which came with a wedge of baked celeriac, red cabbage, a pear that tasted like it had been slowly roasted in red wine and spices, and a silken sheet of lardo. Absolutely wonderful. Every element was perfectly matched to every other element; just an autumnal plateful of exquisitely-judged cooking.
Venison, celeriac, pear and lardo
Instead of ordering side dishes, which sounded fine if not enormously interesting, we shared the vegetarian main course. Described as "miso glazed aubergine, black cabbage, sesame and barley", I was very keen to see how a not-Japanese restaurant approached nasu dengaku. Again, it was a lovely bit of cooking. Perfectly silky but not at all oily aubergine (steamed maybe?) with a light miso dressing, not the thick glaze of a dengaku sauce. Bitter, iron-rich black cabbage, which is, I assume, what they are calling cavolo nero to get it past people like me who reckon not to like it, but found it delicious here. Nutty, tender barley. Another very autumnal dish, very different from the Japanese way but equally good. Not to mention what a treat it is to see a vegetarian option that isn't a risotto or a pasta.
Aubergine, black cabbage, barley
Unusually, it was a chocolate dessert that called the loudest to me. Actually I would have gone for the blackberry posset left to myself, but the chocolate dessert was the one we could agree on to share. A sublimely soft, velvety dark chocolate tart, with the lightest honeycomb on top and salted almond ice cream. I think salted almond should be the Next Big Thing after salted caramel.

On the dessert and fortified wine list, was something that neither of us recognised, so Paul ordered it out of curiosity. It turned out to be Barolo Chinato, which is widely considered to be one of the better matches for chocolate. So, purely by accident, we ended up looking properly knowledgeable. It was an extremely good match (I had an oloroso, which wasn't quite sweet enough for the dessert) with a touch of the bitter herbal quality that Campari has.
While we waited (a bit too long, they'd become really busy and there was a lapse in communication) for the bill, we were given warm lime madeleines. Not a bad way to celebrate a birthday at all.


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