Friday, 20 May 2016

Curtis Stone's asparagus & taleggio omelette

 This week I Heart Cooking Clubs are celebrating "the most important meal of the day" with Curtis Stone recipes. I have to admit that at the moment for me breakfast is most likely to be two very large cups of coffee and possibly a banana, but I do love a really extravagant breakfast or brunch.

On the weekend we generally have two meals a day - a substantial, late breakfast and then an evening meal - and pretty much Paul's favourite thing for the substantial late breakfast is a very cheesy omelette. Curtis Stone's Lazy Asparagus Omelette is just the thing really!

I've written in the past about my favourite frying pan, and how it makes the best omelettes in the world. It really does.

Paul doesn't like a baveuse omelette, so this technique of putting the pan under the grill to finish, which leaves you with something half way between a French omelette and a frittata, is the one I tend to use anyway. My delicious new season British asparagus were really skinny, so  I just sauteed them raw in the butter before adding the eggs. I also reduced the number of eggs, because 12 is too big for that pan and way too much food, really.

The taleggio melted into delicious runny pools, the eggs were just set, and the asparagus brought its wonderful fresh flavour to the party. It's one of those really simple dishes where everything has to be just right, and the combination of butter, eggs, asparagus and cheese was just perfect.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Meat-free Monday: Veg platter

This is really just an excuse to show off my new plates. We really wanted something not-white (partly because of over-exposing food pics) and I've been looking for the right thing. These are Mikasa, really cheap on ebay. And very pretty!

I wasn't planning a meat-free meal this evening, but as I walked home the weather was so nice that it seemed like a shame not to light the grill, and my mental inventory of the fridge contained barbecuable veg but not meat. Lovely.

The aubergine I scored, drizzled in the cracks with olive oil and seasoned with salt & pepper, the asparagus I just washed and cut off the woody ends. I made a little tomato salad, with garlic and sherry vinegar, and toasted a few pine nuts. I also mixed a spoonful of fat free Greek yoghurt with some minced garlic and the rind of a preserved lemon.

When the aubergine and asparagus were cooked, a put a splodge of the yoghurt on each plate, put the aubergine on that with the asparagus alongside, and added the tomato salad, some crumbled feta and the toasted pine nuts. Very pretty, very tasty. I really like my new plates!  

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Alphonso Mango Bellinis

Alphonso mangoes
When I saw that Ocado were stocking Alphonso mangoes I bought some, and figured I'd make a decision about what to do with them later. I know people go completely nuts for them when they are in season, but to be honest I've not been that impressed. I've just found them very sweet and very fibrous. Not a patch on the Queensland and Northern Territory mangoes I know best! But there must be a reason they are so popular, so I keep trying to see why.
Gloriously coloured flesh
Since I Heart Cooking Clubs are cooking along with Australian chef Curtis Stone, and mangoes are such a quintessential Australian ingredient, I thought I'd check his recipes and their themes for inspiration. And very conveniently came upon a Mango Bellini, just in time for the Wet Your Whistle round.

Now, a Bellini is usually white peach puree and prosecco, and this version very simply uses fresh mango puree and champagne.

Straining the puree is an important step because the mangoes are so fibrous, so even though my natural inclination is towards laziness I did go to that bit of effort.

Unfortunately I then tried to cut a corner and make the Bellini straight into the glass.

Which makes a heck of a mess and even when the bubbles subside leaves a messy froth of mango pulp around the rim.

So for the second round I followed the recipe properly and mixed it in a jug before pouring it into the glass. But whether messy or tidy, it was absolutely delicious. The dry champagne cuts through the sweetness of the mango, letting the fragrance show through. Just lovely.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Project Brisket

Paul's had a bee in his bonnet lately. For over a month now, any time you walk into our study you will find him glued to youtube watching (mostly) big, (mostly) white, (mostly) men talking about pecan, mesquite, Kansas-style, Texas-style, Carolina-style. He's become obsessed with American barbecue. Specifically barbecued brisket.

We've barbecued a brisket years ago, not at all successfully. With our little Weber we weren't able to control the temperature and it ran too hot, too fast leaving dry, tough meat. Then we tried a hybrid approach, smoking the meat in the barbecue for flavour and finishing with a long slow cook in the oven. That worked very well, but it's been two years and we haven't repeated it.

But I think you've probably noticed that Paul takes his role as Chief Wielder of Fire and Knives quite seriously, and his ability to cook anything on a fire is one of the cornerstones of his identity. Without my even noticing, the brisket had become his white whale.

We ordered a whole packer cut brisket and he took a day off work (although the day off work was mostly planned because of the late finish of the Captain America marathon).
Whole brisket
Brisket point
Brisket flat
Now, a 6kg brisket is actually too big for the hot air to circulate properly in our Weber, and vastly too much food for two people, so Paul trimmed it and cut it in half. As delicious as beef dripping chips are, we're trying not to eat very much of that sort of thing at the moment, so most of the lovely clean white fat is going to go out for the birds. The brisket point is in the freezer and we just cooked the flat.

Since Paul was so invested in his research, I figured I should probably be a useful and supportive partner and do a bit myself. Which consisted of opening Hog and reading the page on live-fire cooking. That gave the inspiration for moderating the heat with pans of water for the indirect cooking. Paul's been worshipping at the altar of Aaron Franklin, where he got the tip that keeping the humidity up is important, and the pans of water helped with that too.
Indirect cooking set-up
A pan of water under the meat, and more directly over the coals (we didn't have a smaller foil pan, so an empty artichoke heart can got washed out and put into service).

A good bit of seasoning rubbed on the meat (although as it turned out, not enough and not massaged in enough)  and away we went.

We'd realised that a really important part of moderating your temperature to keep it low and slow is to actually know what the temperature is. So a thermometer went in as well. And despite all the talk about hickory, pecan and mesquite, we decided that excellent British meat cooked in Britain needed a typically British smoking wood, so we used cherry.

Of course, being a British barbecue we also had to deal with some challenging climatic conditions. Pretty much as soon as we got the lid on the heavens opened, with rain and hail. Still, it was better than Tuesday, when it snowed.  And one of the things that seldom gets mentioned when talking about barbecue is how much impact the ambient temperature has. We can and do barbecue in mid winter, but when it's really cold outside it'd hard to keep the temperature up for the fire to cook anything bigger than a steak. But when you want a long slow cook, a bit of colder air around the kettle isn't a bad thing, and helped us keep the fire between 120C - 150C for the duration of the cook.

After a few hours, when the internal temperature of the meat was 78C, just through the plateau, we wrapped it in foil and kept cooking for another couple of hours. Then it rested until we couldn't bear it any more.
Not bad
Pretty good really

It's actually a tribute to Paul's knife sharpening skills that he was able to cut it into tidy slices, because it was soft as jelly and could have been cut up with the side of a saucer.
Pretty pink smoke ring
We had it with spicy chipotle slaw, pickles, and a chunk of bread for mopping the plate. Absolutely gorgeous (but slightly underseasoned - more salt during the cooking next time).
As tempting as it was to just nibble at the leftovers every time we walked by the fridge, I did something a bit more substantial with them. An old-school Stroganoff, with paprika, brandy, vermouth, lots of mushrooms and a little bit of crème fraiche.    

Brisket Stroganoff

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.


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