Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Chicken with 34 cloves of garlic

... well, it was three heads and I wasn't prepared to start another head to get to the more traditional forty cloves!

This isn't quite the same as the other recipes I have seen, it's a hybrid of several with a bit of extra me. My input was the addition of the potatoes - why wouldn't you cook your spuds in all those delicious garlicky juices?

Chicken with 34-ish cloves of garlic (serves 4 - 6 depending on number of spuds)

3 heads of garlic, separated into individual cloves and peeled. If Martha Stewart's trick works for you, this is the perfect time to employ it. It doesn't work for me. It's a fiddle but it's so much more pleasant to eat.
75ml olive oil
1 whole chicken
150ml dry vermouth
250ml chicken stock
2-3 sprigs rosemary
2-3 sprigs thyme
2-3 small, floury potatoes per person, peeled

Pre-heat the oven to 175C.

In a large (large being big enough to hold a whole chicken and 6-12 potatoes), flameproof casserole with a lid, heat the olive oil and brown the chicken, breast side down, then turn breast side up. Add the other ingredients, the liquid should cover the potatoes but not totally submerge the chicken. Bring the liquid to the boil. Cover tightly and put in the oven for an hour or so, until the potatoes are cooked through and the chicken is tender. Serve with a green vegetable or a salad (we had some wilted spinach with a squeeze of lemon juice).

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Storing egg yolks - a handy hint

Egg yolk in water
Here's one for the "you learn something new every day" file - at least, I hope I am not the last person to find this out. You can store egg yolks for a couple of days in a bit of water. Did you know that?

I was making something that needed an egg white but I didn't have a reason to use up the yolk. Separated egg whites keep quite well in the fridge but the yolks dry out and go rubbery. I googled, and came across this post, which had the half-hearted suggestion "you can probably keep the yolks whole in the water if you are careful". Well, I can be careful.

I separated my egg, being careful not to break the yolk, and slipped it gently into a ramekin half full of cold water. I covered it in cling film and popped it in the fridge. A couple of days later I was having an omelette for lunch so I gently fished the yolk out of the water to add to the other beaten eggs. It was in absolutely perfect condition - not at all dried out. I have tried this a second time, using milk instead of water because I was going to be putting the yolk in a custard, and again it worked brilliantly.

So there you go - pretty nifty, huh?

Two days later

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Ben & Jerry's Greek Style Frozen Yoghurt

I had such a good time at the launch of the Ben & Jerry's Core flavours last year that I jumped at the chance to go to another one of their events. This one was the launch of three flavours of frozen yoghurt made with Greek-style yoghurt.

This time I confess I was a little apprehensive. It was being held in a Greek restaurant in Covent Garden which gets quite negative reviews, and while I love Greek food (garlic, olive oil and lemon juice, what's not to love?) and love frozen yoghurt I did fear that crappy food would mar the experience.

However, I engineered things in my favour by arranging to meet a friend for a drink beforehand, thus ensuring that whatever else happened it wasn't a waste of tube fare. It was pretty tempting to stay drinking rosé in a quiet bar, but I did tear myself away at the appropriate time.

My heart sank as the waitress who greeted me in the restaurant stared blankly at me. Fortunately, a better-informed member of staff overheard and led me downstairs where, he said, "everyone" was waiting for me. Everyone turned out to be a small number of bloggers (several more trickled in after me) and several bottles of prosecco. The prosecco was very pleased to see me.

Generally I think the fact that we were in a windowless room that I suspect is usually used to store extra chairs put a bit of a damper on things. Certainly the atmosphere was a bit subdued.

But then the food started to come out and a bit of perkiness was restored. The food was very, very good! Some of the best tiropitakia I've had (lovely chilli kick), delicious fried halloumi, succulent meatball/kefte sort of patties and lots of good-looking (but unwieldy, so I didn't try it) aubergine.

I muscled my way into a very pleasant conversation with Dom from Cocoa Runners and Judith from Mostly About Chocolate and started to enjoy myself.

The buzz of nervous PRs gave the first indication that something had gone slightly wrong with the actual frozen yoghurt tasting. When the bowls came out it was clear what the problem was - the fro-yo wasn't fro, it was really just yo. The freezer wasn't working.

Still, it gave me enough of an idea of the flavours that I had a look online when I got home and discovered that Ocado had the Greek-style yoghurts half price. I popped two of the flavours in my shopping and prepared to do some independent "research".

Greek Strawberry Shortcake (Greek-style yoghurt, strawberries & shortcake chunks): strawberry ice cream is generally my favourite, and the Ben & Jerry strawberry cheesecake ice cream is a favourite among strawberries so I was very interested to see how this compared. This has a good, fruity flavour and subtle yoghurty tang. Unfortunately the tub I bought had too high a proportion of fairly bland shortcake pieces, although I suspect that varies a bit from tub to tub. It's a bit lower in calories than the strawberry cheesecake (190/100g instead of 250/100g) and has half the fat, so it is a slightly healthier option if you are keeping an eye on those things. I'm not sure that it is enough of a healthier option to displace the strawberry cheesecake in my affections though.

Greek Vanilla Honey Caramel (Greek-style yoghurt, vanilla & a honey caramel swirl): this looked to me like a direct competitor to the Yeo Valley organic Greek-style honey frozen yoghurt, which I really like, but I think the caramel swirl gives this one the edge (the Yeo Valley one is slightly lower in calories and fat). It has a lovely creamy texture and a bit of a tang.

Overall, I think the emphasis on these is "ice cream", not "frozen yoghurt". They don't taste particularly worthy and they avoid some of the pitfalls of some of the other supermarket brands I've tried (rock-hard, weird elastic texture, floury aftertaste). In a perfect world they'd have the really clean, pronounced tang of the softserve fro-yo from Snog or the one from Itsu, but if you don't have my taste for really tangy yoghurt this will definitely appeal.
Banana split - banana, Ben & Jerry's Greek Style frozen yoghurt and chilli-glazed nuts - these are really quite small scoops.

Monday, 31 March 2014

Spiced lamb & lentils

This is basically this Nigel Slater recipe. Although with a different ratio of lentils to meat. I'm not sure why they called the recipe "spiced", when it didn't have any spice in it, until you got to the suggested variations, but I thought spices sounded like a good idea. I added grated ginger and some cumin, coriander and turmeric to the lentils. I didn't have cream but I did have coconut cream, so I added a 50g sachet of that towards the end with some garam masala. A very low-effort and delicious meal.

Friday, 28 March 2014

Chilli salted caramel popcorn

My very successful maple bacon popcorn gave me a taste for the sweet and salty snack combination. We were, however, going to dinner with friends who don't eat bacon, so I needed to come up with an alternative. This version is, I think, even better. It has more caramel and a nice warm bite from the chilli.

Chilli Salted Caramel Popcorn

1tbs vegetable oil
100g popping corn
1/2tsp chilli flakes (I used chile de arbol)
1/2tsp Maldon salt (i.e good quality seasalt)
50g salted butter
75ml maple syrup
75ml golden syrup

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, heat-proof bowl or tray, holding back any unpopped kernels if possible.

Combine the chilli flakes and salt in a little eggcup or ramekin or something, for ease of access when the syrup is done. In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the butter, maple syrup and golden syrup over a medium heat, and swirl gently as it comes to the boil. Boil rapidly for a couple of minutes, or until it starts to change colour to a darker brown.

Take the caramel off the heat and tip the chilli and salt quickly into it. Keeping your fingers well clear, give it a stir with a silicon spatula and pour the caramel evenly over the popcorn. Stir it through. It won't coat all of the popcorn. Allow it to cools and set before eating. I suspect a handful of roasted peanuts combined with the popcorn before adding the caramel would also be welcome. That's for next time.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

British Turkey and a schnitzel with piquant sauce

I recently attended an event at Westminster Kingsway College, organised by British Turkey to try to raise the profile of turkey meat outside Christmas time. A gang of turkey professionals welcomed food bloggers and writers with copious quantities of prosecco before a demonstration by Phil Vickery (the chef not the rugby player) and a grand turkey dinner.

Turkey does have some image problems in this country, I think. If it isn't Jamie Oliver demonising Turkey Twizzlers, or accounts of gross animal cruelty coming out of some of the factory farms, then it is an endless parade of TV chefs explaining contradictory ways to avoid dryness in the Christmas bird.

Then, having mortgaged the house to buy the ethically sound, gently-nurtured rare breed turkey, consulted Delia, Nigella, Jamie, Hugh and a few cooks who need a surname, and ended up too overwrought to eat the bloody thing, your British home cook doesn't want to see or hear the word turkey again until she has to book her Christmas Ocado delivery next October.

It's not exactly a new problem. In 1955 Elizabeth David wrote "A young turkey weighing 7-9lb, roasted in butter with a fresh herb stuffing, makes a delightful change both from the more usual roast chicken and from the 25lb monsters which are such a tyranny to cook at Christmas time. Turkey breeders have been experimenting for some time in England with the supplying of small birds all the year round, and they are becoming more plentiful on the market".

There have been some improvements - a couple of years ago large increases in consumption were being reported - but I seemed to be one of the few bloggers at this event who cooks turkey reasonably frequently. Possibly because I don't usually do one at Christmas and I refuse to be intimidated by a bird. It is harder to find high-welfare turkey meat than high-welfare chicken, but most of the supermarkets do carry free-range turkey products year round.
I was a little disappointed by the ideas Phil demonstrated - I was hoping to see some different cuts utilised (since I personally favour dark meat), but it was all pieces of breast fillet. What he did do, which got people excited, was velvet the meat before cooking to maintain the texture and moisture. It's an extremely common Chinese technique, but I guess that greater exposure to Asian cooking is one of the advantages of being Australian.

The main thrust of the demonstration was the way turkey takes flavours. He did a tropical fruity one of mango and pineapple with lime and mint, which was delicious although I would have preferred those flavours without the turkey and with quite a lot of rum and ice. He did one with Indian spices. He did one with three colours of bell pepper, garlic, soy sauce and lemongrass. The one that was a real revelation to me was how well turkey matches with seafood - he stir-fried the velveted turkey with prawns and a bit of oyster sauce. The seafood flavours worked so well that I think a small roast turkey with a crayfish sauce, or possibly larded with anchovies like a gigot of lamb, may turn up on my table for Easter.

After the (somewhat hurried, with technical difficulties) demonstration we moved into the Escoffier Room for dinner. I believe this, the college's fine dining restaurant, is entirely staffed by students. Both the service and the food were considerably more accomplished than my food photography.
The dinner certainly furthered the cause of showing how versatile turkey can be. It began with consommé with a smoked turkey raviolo, savoy cabbage and wild mushrooms. The raviolo itself could have been cooked just a fraction longer, it was a little too al dente for my taste, but the woodsy combination of chestnut, smoked turkey and the various mushrooms in impeccably clear broth was my dish of the night.
The main course was a little bit less successful. The turkey breast was beautifully moist and tender, but whatever the gelatinous skin it was wrapped in was, it didn't taste of anything and had a slightly offputting texture. The foam added nothing, and the two cubes of different coloured heritage carrot were too hard to cut without flicking them off the plate and too large to eat in one bite. I would happily have made a meal entirely of the confit leg meat, tender spinach and delicious buttery potato, though.
Chocolate desserts are never my first choice, but the mousse was better than the overwrought presentation suggests. I haven't seen gel blobs like that on a dessert plate in years, and I can't say I have missed them.
A selection of excellent petits fours ended the dinner. I didn't try all of them, but the ones I did taste were very good. Even the marshmallow.

Dinner being over, I gave some thought to a dish of my own using British turkey. I'll often use it instead of chicken in a stir-fry. Both this chicken with cannellini beans and this tamarind chicken work extremely well with turkey. I've also made turkey parmigiana, turkey chilli, Swedish-style meatballs and turkey cannelloni. But after my very successful pork katsu, Paul has the taste for crumbed scallops of meat, so it had to be a turkey schnitzel.

A bit of sharpness works so well with turkey, and with crumbed meats, so I decided to make what Elizabeth David refers to as a sauce piquante à la crème - which is not at all like a Cajun sauce piquant. You reduce white wine vinegar down with chopped shallots, juniper berries and bayleaves, then strain it and use that essence, along with some rich stock, to make a lightly roux-thickened sauce. Then you enrich it with a slosh of cream. It sounds much more complicated than it is. The combination of cream and acidity was perfect with the rosemary-crumbed breast escallops, and we had them with some potatoes and steamed cabbage (so it was all very pallid and I didn't take a picture of the finished plate).

Saturday, 22 March 2014

Suffragette Fish Pie

A couple of weeks ago, I bought a bag of Purple Majesty potatoes. And then had a bit of a freak out because I couldn't actually bring myself to make purple mash.

Fortunately my sense of whimsy got the better of me, and I decided to use them to make a fish pie to honour the Suffragettes. The Women's Social and Political Union adopted the colours purple (for dignity), white (for purity) and green (for hope) in 1908, and used it on their campaign materials and in commemorative jewellery. Apparently it is only a myth that green, white and violet stood for "give women the vote", but it is a myth that I like. 

So - my Suffragette fish pie - a layer of spinach with spring onions mixed through, well-seasoned with nutmeg and pepper, a layer of smoked haddock and white "I don't need to label this, I will remember what it is" in a thick white sauce, made from the fish poaching liquor (milk and white wine, with bay leaves and pepper corns) and a top layer of purple mashed potato.

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