Friday, 29 April 2016

The "Get that kid a sandwich" sandwich

Last night, for the first time in years and years, we went to a movie marathon. All three Captain America movies, back to back (no spoilers - but 3D adds nothing to Captain America: Civil War, so save your money there). 7.15pm - 2.45am. It was great. I mean... Chris Evans for 7 hours can't be bad. But the problem with the cinema we went to is the snack situation. Those very peculiar-looking British cinema nachos and even worse looking hotdogs.

So I made a sandwich to smuggle in for fortification.

It's not quite a muffuletta, but that was the inspiration. A loaf of rosemary sourdough, split and with some of the crumb removed (it's, of course, waiting in the freezer for me to do something else with it), layers of olive & fennel paste, roasted peppers, serrano ham, chorizo, smoked cheddar, salami and gherkin mustard relish. Squashed overnight in the fridge under a weight, to make it sliceable.

We only took half in, and had a quarter each. Along with popcorn, some pretty horrible beer and a shared scoop of ice cream, it saw us through to lunch time today.  Steve wouldn't have been a 90lb weakling with a few of these to fortify him.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Diana Henry's chicken with sour cherries and parsnip puree

I wasn't intending to post anything for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs potluck. Time got away from me and I didn't get around to cooking anything specially. But I woke up to the news on twitter that Diana Henry had won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Single Subject Cookbook for A Bird in the Hand. Which is such a fantastic achievement I thought I should have a rummage through my photos for one of Diana's dishes that I haven't already posted about!

And lo! I found this fabulous, elegant dish of chicken legs with pinot noir, sour cherries and parsnip purée that we enjoyed a few weeks ago. Normally chicken leg recipes are aimed at weeknight, workaday meals, but this lifted them into a special occasion meal.

Not that we had them for a special occasion, just as our Sunday roast. Which I suppose is a little celebration.

At Easter we'd bought another cockerel which I'd jointed and frozen, so I used the cockerel legs for this. They are huge, so I had to adjust the cooking time, but other than that I followed the recipe. The parsnip purée was creamy and luscious, with a sweetness that worked extremely well with the tartness of the sour cherry sauce. Divine, and definitely to be recommended. You can see why this book won a James Beard award.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Sour cherry, pistachio & coconut fridge cake

Paul was very generous with the Lindt bunnies this Easter. So generous that we actually got a bit tired of eating delicious, smooth milk chocolate by itself.

And I had a day of dance workshops requiring a portable high-energy snack, so I delved in the cupboard for things that would be nice with chocolate. I came up with lovely unsweetened dried sour cherries, sweetened coconut flakes and shelled pistachios. I thought about adding some crumbled shortbread as well (tiffin/fridge cake things usually have some biscuit mixed in) but the only ones we had were Walkers shortbread Scottie dogs, and while I have no qualms about biting the head off a biscuit, I thought maybe melting down bunnies was enough animal carnage for one recipe.

It's incredibly easy, and adaptable, but this really was a very good combination.

Sour cherry, pistachio and coconut fridge cake (makes about 12 pieces)

200g milk chocolate (2 bunnies worth)
50g dried sour cherries
50g coconut
50g pistachios

Gently melt your chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.

Line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Combine the cherries, coconut and pistachios and place in an even layer in the loaf tin.

When the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour it into the loaf tin and give everything a bit of a wiggle with a spatula to make sure the chocolate gets through to the bottom.

Set in the fridge for an hour or so.

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Steamed pork bun

Last weekend, we went to IKEA. There were a few bits we needed - some bathroom storage, some shelves - but it's always a trial. So as a sweetener, whenever we go to IKEA we also do a side trip to the Chinese supermarket, Wing Yip, which is more or less on the way.

We'd hoped to have yum cha in the Wing Yip restaurant, but when we got there it was utter chaos. A crush of people milling around, trying to attract the attention of the woman handing out seating tickets, but she was also taking bills to tables and collecting money, so we decided it was futile and just hit the supermarket.

There are things (Chinkiang vinegar, different grades of soy sauce) that are now available in supermarkets, so our visits to speciality shops like this are less frequent now than they were when we first moved to the UK. It means we fill our trolley with other things. Frozen dumplings, tofu puffs, sake and some nice lacquered chopsticks. And I spotted these frozen Taiwanese buns, par-cooked, ready for steaming and filling.

I've tried to make my own steamed buns before, but they weren't very good, so this seemed like a much better idea.

For brunch this morning I thawed some leftover barbecued pork belly, covered it with a mixture of hoisin sauce, some dried chilli in oil, a little soy and some Chinkiang vinegar and put it in a hot oven to get crisp around the edges and melting in the middle. In 15 minutes the buns steamed to light fluffiness, ready for filling with the pork and some cucumber and spring onion. Infinitely better than making the buns myself.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Orecchiette with broccoli, proscuitto and cavolo nero

"My grandfather, who preferred bread dunked in wine - which he had regularly for breakfast until his eighty-eighth year, when he died prematurely of snakebite - sought to console me on such occasions by telling me what he had had to eat when he was a boy. The sermon was his version of the familiar one which has left grandchildren grumbling since the first grandfather mumbled it in his beard" - Angelo Pellegrini

Funny and ferociously opinionated, Pellegrini's 1948 book The Unprejudiced Palate is the current Cook the Books choice, picked by Simona. I read it and made a dish inspired by it in really good time, but I've had a blank blog post staring at me, trying to come up with something to say about it and now the deadline is tomorrow.

It's a curious book. It seems both to be extremely contemporary and from such an ancient past as to be completely alien. His writing is very dated, with a verbosity that most food writers wouldn't get away with now, but his concerns for eating fresh food, locally obtained and simply prepared are bang up to date. His bisection of humanity into civilised people and barbarians based on whether they ate macaroni salad would cause a twitter storm today that would only be eclipsed by his taste for eating songbirds.

I'm currently reading Judith Jones's memoir, The Tenth Muse, which has coincidentally been an excellent companion piece, providing an interesting background to Pellegrini's concerns. Her memories of the good but very plain and utterly garlicless food in her parents' house would have been startling to an immigrant from a different tradition. And her struggles to bring Mastering the Art of French Cooking to print suggest that Pellegrini's view of mid-century American housewives was not completely baseless. Many then, as now, found cooking stressful and unrewarding but without the options we have to not cook. The trends were towards labour saving and processed foods with a background of puritanism and a degree of shame in the idea of finding food pleasurable. Anathema to Pellegrini.

The recipes Pellegrini included were impenetrable to me. I just couldn't be bothered reading them carefully enough to make sense of them and actually attempt cooking them. And while his wine recipe was fascinating I don't think my landlord would tolerate me digging a basement big enough for the vat.

One thing that did stand out to me - which actually made me question all of his recipes - was his assertion that pasta needs to be cooked for about 20 minutes to be al dente. Now, maybe the pasta of his day was much thicker than we get now, but orecchiette is the only pasta I've ever had that can tolerate boiling for that long. So that was a start. And his love for bitter greens showed me the rest of the way. I sauteed tiny cubes of proscuitto with loads of garlic, shredded cavolo nero and chopped broccoli then cooked it slowly with a little chicken stock until the vegetables were soft. As much as I love a tender crisp vegetable, cavolo nero needs to be cooked to buggery to be palatable. I added some halved cherry tomatoes and let them just soften, and stirred it through the cooked orecchiette, with a little of the starchy cooking water to help the sauce emulsify. None of it was local produce, but it tasted good.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Apricot, ginger and coconut energy balls

I wouldn't usually be suggesting "energy" balls over Easter. Most of us have enough chocolate, hot cross buns and other sugary treats to keep us bouncing off the walls long after the bank holidays have passed. Tomorrow, however, I have 4 hours of dance workshops, and on Easter Monday we're going to Havergate Island to take pictures of birds and hares, so portable, sustaining snacks are on the agenda for this Easter.

These couldn't be simpler - and they let me use the mincer attachment for my stand mixer, which always makes me happy. If you have a robust food processor you could use that instead. The ginger is quite subtle. Add more if you want more heat.
Minced apricots and ginger
I used that American sweetened, moist shredded coconut, so everything clings together with its own tackiness. If you don't have access to that or are horrified (with reason) by the E-numbers in it, just use desiccated but you might need to add a bit of honey or something as glue.

Apricot, ginger and coconut energy balls (makes about 25)

300g soft dried apricots
20g crystallised ginger
100g sweetened shredded coconut
Desiccated coconut for coating

Mince together the apricots and ginger. Stir through the coconut. Roll into walnut-sized balls and toss through the desiccated coconut.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Cabbage leaves stuffed with pork and mushrooms

I'm really not sure why I was thinking of stuffed cabbage. I don't think I have seen or read anything about it recently, but it was on my mind, and it seemed like a warming sort of seasonal supper dish. Even though it's March and the days are getting longer, it's not really warming up yet!

There are lots of different ways to go about stuffing a cabbage. One of my mother's old cookbooks had a very impressive step by step guide to stuffing a whole cabbage - boiling, peeling back the leaves, painting each with forcemeat and reshaping before boiling again. Grand, but quite a lot more food than two people need. Forming each leaf into a little cigar around the stuffing seems to be the more common way. I took an approach inspired by Richard Turner's book Hog, making pork and stuffing parcels.

It looks and sounds quite time consuming but unless you have a really big family and are scaling up the recipe a lot it doesn't take too long. But it isn't a dish to start cooking when you get home late from work.

Stuffed cabbage leaves (makes 4 - 1 or 2 per serve depending on what is to precede, accompany or follow)
25ml brandy
5g dried porcini, broken into small pieces
12 savoy cabbage leaves
250g minced pork
1 egg
1 shallot, minced
Big handful of fresh breadcrumbs (maybe 1/2 cup)
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp paprika
Salt, pepper
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
vermouth (optional)
salt & pepper (extra)
Sour cream (optional)

Pour the brandy over the mushrooms to soften.

Carefully break off 12 cabbage leaves, and make 4 piles of 3 leaves each, aiming for a big, medium and smaller leaf in each pile. I basically dealt them into the piles as I broke them off, so they naturally decreased in size as I went around.

Cut the chunkiest bit of the spine out of each leaf, but try not to tear them.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil, and using tongs, dunk each pile of cabbage leaves in the boiling water for 2 minutes until supple but not mushy and then drain in a colander.

Place the minced pork, egg, mushrooms (with any remaining brandy but trying to avoid any grit at the bottom of the bowl), shallot, breadcrumbs, thyme and paprika in a bowl and season well with salt and pepper. Combine well with your hands. Divide the mixture into 12 equal-sized portions.

Working with one pile of leaves at a time, wrap a ball of stuffing mixture in the smallest leaf of a pile, then spread another ball of stuffing onto the middling sized leaf and place the smallest, stuffed leaf on that. Then repeat for the largest leaf. Repeat for the other three piles of cabbage leaves.

Place, seam-side down in an oven proof dish that will hold the parcels snuggly.

In a sauté pan, warm a splash of olive oil gently and soften the garlic cloves in it. Before they burn, add a tin of chopped tomatoes. Swish the tin out with a slosh of vermouth or water and add to the pan. Season with a little salt and pepper and simmer until thick.

If you are going to cook the stuffed cabbage immediately, pour the tomato sauce on, cover the dish with foil and bake at 180C for an hour. If you are stuffing the cabbage ahead of time, don't pour the hot sauce onto the cold, raw meat... either cool the sauce completely before pouring it on, or make the sauce just before you intend to bake them.

After 45 minutes take off the foil, and allow the sauce to thicken for the final 15 minutes of cooking time. Serve with a dollop of sour cream. Mashed potatoes would be a good side dish.


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