Monday, 29 November 2010

Meat-Free Monday: Eggs with Yoghurt

Or, how to appal a vegan with your vegetarian option.

I spotted this Turkish dish on Su-Lin's blog Tamarind and Thyme a week or so ago and I could not get my head around it at all. How on earth does yoghurt topped with eggs and melted butter actually add up to dinner? But her taste in food generally chimes with mine, and I had eggs and yoghurt so I figured that there was really nothing to lose on a night when Paul was away.

You know what? YUM. The cold, garlicky yoghurt (I used TOTAL fat-free Greek yoghurt), hot, runny-yolked eggs (I fried. My poaching is not reliable enough and I didn't have back-up eggs and it meant I could use the one pan for eggs and butter) and spicy melted butter is actually a gorgeous combination for the hardened dairy lover. I made a little salad of grated carrot and chopped parsley, dressed with lemon juice. I warmed a (bought) naan to sop up the mixture. I had dinner on the table in under 10 minutes.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

White chocolate cheesecake cookies


I have been waiting over a year for the chance to make these cookies! I spotted them on Laura's eternally entertaining blog Hungry and Frozen in June last year, but the right moment for a white chocolate cheesecake cookie had never arrived. Until now.

My variations on the recipe as written: I left out the 1/2 cup brown sugar, because a) it's fucking white chocolate, it doesn't need extra sweetness and b) I didn't want to mess with the white beauty of them; I used vanilla bean paste instead of vanilla extract; I substituted 1/2 cup of chopped dried apricots for some of the white chocolate chunks.

And the verdict? Oh yes! They are quite cakey, rather than being at all crisp; the cream cheese flavour pops out just enough to undercut the flavour of the white chocolate; the apricots were an excellent addition! It's a good thing I loved these, because the recipe makes thousands! I think you could substitute some slivered pistachios and cranberries for the apricots, to make wee festive red & green cookies, if you are still finalising your Christmas baking plans. Even if you don't, I really urge you to try these!

Monday, 22 November 2010

Meat-Free Monday: Fondue Squash with Orzo


When I saw this recipe a couple of weeks ago, I knew that I had to make it! I mean, what could be better than pumpkin, baked slowly with garlic, cheese and crème fraîche? Well, pumpkin baked slowly with garlic, cheese and crème fraîche and mixed with lovely little torpedoes of orzo pasta. Am I right?

Well, I did encounter a slight hurdle - a round squash was not to be found. So I used butternut, and since there wasn't a big enough cavity for my cheese mixture, I peeled it, cut it into chunks and tipped it into a pyrex baking dish, then covered it with foil.

Unfortunately the flavour was only so-so. It was just a bit one-dimensional. It was definitely sweet and creamy, if that is what blows your hair back, but I wanted more. Paul made the point that vegetarian dishes sometimes lack umami, so it feels like there is a hole in the flavour landscape. I think he is partly right, but I don't think adding bacon is necessarily the answer (on this occasion). Adding some dry white wine, to balance the sweetness with a bit of acidity perhaps. Maybe finishing it with a gremolata (garlic, parsley and lemon zest) instead of the crisp sage leaves. Maybe just a squeeze of lemon juice for a bit of zing, or some parmesan for a deeper savoury kick. It's definitely worth revisiting with some of those ideas in mind.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Trout

Paul hasn't had much chance to go fishing this year - the combination of working away and his fishing partner in crime being overseas has reduced the opportunities. But at the start of autumn, as the fish started to get a bit feistier after the summer torpor, they did get out for a throw. And Paul brought home this lovely 5lb creature.

One fillet was cut into tranches. I just seasoned a couple with a bit of salt & pepper, cooked them in a hot pan with a little olive oil and served them with a basil and lemon dressing, tomato & buffalo mozzarella salad and courgette chips. It was moist, juicy and had a lovely flavour - just perfect.

The remaining piece from the fresh fillet went into a seafood lasagne. I cut the flesh into chunks and combined it with some mirepoix (previously cooked and cooled), shredded spinach, undyed smoked haddock and big fat prawns. Then I mixed in some white sauce, layered it up with spinach lasagne sheets and topped it with more white sauce and some grated cheese to get the top nicely browned.

A 5lb fish is far too much for the two of us to eat fresh, so I cured the second fillet for 2 days in the fridge, in a mixture of sugar, salt & dill, then hot-smoked it on beechwood chips.

I think this was my most successful smoked fish so far. The smoke flavour subtle enough to let the flavour of the fish through, the sugar and salt were well balanced and there was a delicate aniseed tang from the dill.

We ate some of it just on crackers, to test the flavour, and the rest was portioned up and stored in the freezer.

The other night I pulled out a piece and made a pasta dish/ While some angel hair pasta was boiling, I crushed a clove of garlic. While the pasta was drained, I sauteed the garlic in a knob of butter in the pasta saucepan, then added 100ml Greek yoghurt, some boiled and peeled brown shrimp, some baby spinach leaves and some flakes of the smoked trout. I tossed the drained pasta through this mixture until everything was hot, then served it with some roasted cherry tomatoes and salmon roe. The slight tang of the yoghurt, the smoke from the trout, the salty burst of the salmon roe with the sweet-acid burst of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the brown shrimp all came together really beautifully. Totally delicious.


Friday, 12 November 2010

Pheasant saltimbocca


One of the compensations for the cold and dark of autumn is the food (the other is cashmere). As much as I love the fruit and vegetables, the barbecued meat and chilled desserts of summer, I can't help but think that winter food is a lot more interesting. Rich, gelatinous meat, earthy pulses, softly melting cheese and sweet root vegetables give a lot of scope for a cook when the wind is cold.

Remind me I said this come February when I am sick to the back teeth of cabbage, OK?

One of the big features of British autumn produce are the game meats that come into season. In the last couple of years the supermarkets have taken them on board and have started to produce some more user-friendly, convenient cuts, which will hopefully broaden the appeal of these lean, tasty meats.

Now, I don't go to the supermarket very often (love my internet grocery shopping), but the other day I did have an errand to run, so had a bit of a poke around the butchery aisle while I was there. And I spied a packet of skinned pheasant thigh fillets.

By the time I got home I knew I wanted to make a pheasant saltimbocca with them. I thought I was being SO original and SO clever, but then I had a look at t'internet and discovered that one of Alex's Masterchef final dishes was a pheasant saltimbocca. I missed the final, but I must have read about it somewhere.

Anyway - here's my recipe.

Pheasant Saltimbocca (serves 2)

8 skinned pheasant thigh fillets
4 fresh sage leaves
4 large/8 small slices of proscuitto
Freshly ground black pepper
plain flour
knob of butter
splash of olive oil
bigger splash of dry sherry (I would have preferred dry marsala but it's hard to come by)

Place 2 pheasant thigh fillets, slightly overlapping, between sheets of cling film and give them a bit of a whack with a rolling pin to make them a more even thickness and stick them together (you could do each one individually, but I wanted a higher ratio of pheasant to proscuitto in each bite). Place a sage leaf on the combined, bigger pheasant thigh, and season with black pepper. Wrap in a slice of proscuitto, 2 if they aren't big enough to enclose it. You could stick it together with a toothpick if you think it is insecure, but mine held together without.

Repeat with the remaining pheasant, sage and proscuitto.

Dust each parcel lightly with flour.

Heat a large saute pan and add the butter and oil. When the butter foams, add the pheasant parcels. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side; the proscuitto should be crisping but you don't want to overcook the pheasant. Pour the sherry in, swirl around for a second and then remove the pheasant. Scrape up any crispy bits into the sherry while it reduces a bit and then pour it over the pheasant.

I served it with a warm roast butternut, spinach and puy lentil salad, but mash would be good too.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Christmas preparations

This year, for the first time ever, Paul and I are having Christmas at home. I have to say, I am a bit excited about this. As much fun as a family Christmas can be, I really like the idea of it just being us, and in our own home, not some hotel somewhere.

And obviously, I have already started to think about the food.

One of the traditional Christmas foods in England is a roast goose. A goose is far too big for the two of us, so I was thinking about dividing it up - confiting the legs for another meal and boning out the breast and stuffing it for Christmas. The downfall of this cunning plan is that I have never boned out poultry before.

So I figured I would start small with a chicken and see how I got on.


It actually turned out very well. It was a bit fiddly and time consuming, but not at all difficult.


I stuffed the boned chicken with a mixture of rehydrated dried porcini, ordinary white mushrooms, pinenuts, onion, tarragon and breadcrumbs, with a little lemon zest. Then I sewed it up and roasted it.


Delicious. The only trouble being that of course stuffing it is actually a way of stretching the meat. So my new cunning plan is to cut off the breasts and legs of my goose, freeze half, and just roast a breast and one confited leg. That should still give plenty of leftovers for sandwiches the following day.

Given that it is still early November, these plans may be subject to change.
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