Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Burns Night - a celebration of an old-school cookbook


As I've mentioned in years gone by, for us Burns Night doesn't have a lot to do with poetry and pageantry and everything to do with an excuse to eat haggis. Haggis suits my philosophy of trying to eat nose-to-tail (but not kidney, except in steak and kidney pudding, otherwise ick), it's inexpensive and it tastes delicious. It really does.

This year we kept the haggis element pretty simple. Just heated through in a roasting tin with a bit of water and covered in foil. We had it with rumbledethumps - partly because they are a bit more nutritious than straight neeps & tatties, partly because they are absolutely delicious and partly because the name is brilliant - and a mustard and whisky sauce.

I also made a dessert.

The Australian Women's Weekly Dinner Party Cookbook is a great cookbook. It's also a cracking historical document. It doesn't have a publication date in it, but it does have Publisher: Ita Buttrose, which means it must have come out between 1978-1981. Cookbooks don't really tell you what people were eating at any given time, but they do indicate what people were aspiring to eat.

This one suggests firstly that people were into giving dinner parties with multiple courses and fancy china and glassware. It also gives the impression that breadcrumbs were very popular (out of thirty-one menus fifteen feature a crumbed starter, main course or side dish) and that seafood pates were the order of the day (six of them, seven if you count taramosalata). But the big thing about it is that it indicates that Australians were ready to try some new things and explore some different cuisines. It features Austrian, French, Indian, Greek, Italian and Chinese-inspired menus, presented in a very accessible (i.e not strictly authentic or using exotic ingredients) way.

Not all of the dishes have stood the test of time. I won't be serving tinned asparagus in any guise, or making "caviar pate" from liverwurst, ketchup and salmon roe, or topping crumbed steaks with slices of avocado and mustard sauce. But this book probably has more recipes that I have actually made and made often than any other (except for the AWW Italian Cooking Class Cookbook). The korma curry is excellent (if not actually resembling any korma I've seen elsewhere), the chocolate ice cream balls are old favourites, the ginger gelato is the simplest possible ice cream and the apricot yoghurt slice is divine.

The whisky oranges with Atholl Brose cream, however, is probably the one single dessert I have made or eaten most often in my life (my mother started making it long before I was legally allowed to buy whisky). Orange segments, steeped in a whisky syrup and served with billows of whipped cream flavoured with more whisky and honey. The perfect combination of cool, zingy citrus, bland cream, booze and sweetness. Very hard to beat.
Of course, I am almost incapable of leaving well alone, so this time I tinkered with the recipe to make a sort of whisky orange parfait and used blood oranges. I made a ginger oatmeal brittle, following this recipe, but adding ground ginger instead of the cinnamon.

After a couple of hours macerating, I drained the juices from the oranges and warmed them up on the stove, adding a couple of sheets of soaked gelatine. I put the jelly in the bottom of the glasses, let it set a bit, then added the orange segments. I mixed the oatmeal brittle with half of the cream and put that in the glasses, then topped it with the rest of the cream and a couple of prettier chunks of oatmeal, then chilled it for a couple of hours to set.

It was delicious, but I can't honestly say it was an improvement on the original - just a nice variation.
There were some leftovers of both the haggis and the rumbledethumps. Which is a good thing because it means our portions were sensibly sized. It was also a good thing because it meant that we got to eat the leftovers for lunch the following day. Bubble and squeak is the traditional name for these sorts of leftovers, fried together, but I thought a better name for this is rumble and squeak. The leftovers were just mashed together roughly and fried in a pan in a little butter, then finished under the grill. If we'd been hungrier a fried egg on top would be good.



Monday, 28 January 2013

Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes with Lime Syrup

These fluffy little cakes of joy are inspired by Karen's low calorie oatmeal pancakes with blueberry syrup. Only considerably less low calorie. Instead of serving the pancakes with blueberry syrup, I incorporated the blueberries into the batter, so they explode into juicy little bites while they cook, and then served them with a tangy lime and syrup.

I made lots, and they were pretty good cold the next day with butter. Quite a lot of butter.

Blueberry Oatmeal Pancakes (serves 3-4)

2 eggs (separated, whites whisked to stiff peaks)
60g self raising flour
50g rolled oats
2 tbs powdered buttermilk
1 tbs caster sugar
1 tsp freshly-ground cinnamon
150 - 200ml skim milk
150g blueberries
Butter for frying
Grated zest and juice of 2 limes
2 tbs caster sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix the flour, oats, sugar, cinnamon and buttermilk in a large bowl. Whisk in the egg yolks and milk until it is a pretty smooth batter, then fold in the blueberries and the whisked egg whites.

Fry spoonfuls gently in melted butter and keep warm while the rest are cooked (needs a longer cook than regular pancakes to allow the taste of the self raising flour to cook out).

In a small pan, combine the lime zest and juice with sugar and vanilla and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil. Serve the pancakes with the hot syrup.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Chorizo Stuffed Aubergine - making a little go a long way


The beginning of this year was a bit odd, really. Last year Paul was working in Aberdeen, flying up on a Monday, coming home on a Friday. Then, seemingly at the last minute before he went back to Aberdeen for the first time in the New Year, he was put on a different project. In Derbyshire. Which isn't as far as Aberdeen but still not a daily commute. But we knew it was only going to be temporary because he was waiting for the planets to be aligned for work in Birmingham (my understanding of British geography is greatly improved by him working away).

As it happened, that conjunction of the planets happened again quite suddenly - he called on a Thursday afternoon to say that he was going to be home that night, ahead of starting in Birmingham on the Friday. Which was lovely and everything, but very inconvenient, because I had only planned a solo dinner and it was going to be a nice one.

You see, I had an aubergine and a single, 70g piece of cooking chorizo. My plan was to stuff the chorizo into the aubergine and bake it, letting the lovely brick red oil baste the aubergine from the inside. And half an aubergine really is not a meal.

I couldn't let go of my original plan, because it was a bloody good one. I peeled the skin from the chorizo, cut it into 6 portions and stuffed the portions into slits in the flesh of the aubergine (being careful not to cut into the skin). I also cut another, horizontal slit in the aubergine to encourage the chorizo oil to flow through. Then I sprinkled it with a bit of extra olive oil and baked it in a medium oven for about 45 minutes, until it was very obviously cooked all the way through. Undercooked aubergine is horrible. Properly cooked aubergine is heavenly.

Then, to make it a more substantial meal, I served it with some pasta aglio olio e pepperoncino (garlic, oil and chilli). In addition to fresh garlic and chilli, I used a sprinkling of pil pil mix (dried paprika, garlic, parsley and chilli), so the slight hint of paprika in the pasta echoed the paprika in the chorizo.

I'm really looking forward to summer, because these aubergines would be so good cooked on the barbecue. I won't even mind having to share them.


Wednesday, 23 January 2013

BSFIC - 3 Ingredient Nutella Frozen Yoghurt


IceCreamChallenge
It is cold at the moment. Very, very cold. We've had  several inches of snow, which has been sticking around. There has been transport chaos, Paul has had to work from home for a couple of days and warming stews and suet puddings have been called for. It was -8C at 7am yesterday.

So it goes without saying that it was time to make my entry for this month's Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge. Nothing says ice cream like 4" of snow on the ground (I have actually seen recipes for snow ice cream).

He was sort of supposed to be a bear
The challenge ingredient was dried fruits or nuts, and Kavey wouldn't let me re-run my Amaretto Nougat Glacé from last month, even though it contained both dried fruits and nuts (and I had loads leftover).

The other thing I still had in abundance were Ferrero Rochers. They'd been a gift that we hadn't got around to eating and since they contain nuts it seemed like a good fit for the challenge.

If you haven't encountered a Ferrero Rocher (which is impressive, because they spend a lot of money on marketing), they come in several varieties, but the classic one is hazelnut. A whole hazelnut, enclosed in chocolate hazelnut filling, a wafer shell and then more chocolate and hazelnuts.

Chocolate and hazelnuts. Like nutella? Well, yes, since they are made by the same company.

Combining the Ferrero Rochers and nutella seemed like a no-brainer, but how to turn them into a frozen treat made me scratch my head a little. My inspiration came from all the tedious January turn-over-a-new-leaf, detox-and-lose-weight articles. My ice cream would be a frozen yoghurt. Health food.
Nutella and yoghurt

And lo! It came into being. I microwaved (lid off) a 200g jar of nutella in short bursts until it was quite runny, then whisked it into 200ml of 2% fat Greek yoghurt until it held soft peaks.

I just liked how this picture turned out

At this stage it was incredibly delicious. It was actually very tempting to just eat it like that, as a mousse, but that wouldn't have used up the Ferrero Rochers and wouldn't have met the challenge.

So I cut the chocolates in half with a sharp knife, lined a plastic bowl with cling film and arranged the halves around the base and sides. It took 15 whole chocolates to get up around the sides. Which was convenient since I had 16 chocolates. I have no idea what happened to the last one. Honestly.
Some of the chocolates already starting to crumble

I filled the middle up with the nutella yoghurt mixture, covered the top with more cling film and froze it over night. I was pretty tempted just to stick it outside the back door, but I had enough space in the freezer.

Slicing the frozen chocolate hazelnut igloo proved a little challenging. The chocolates shattered and fell off, ruining the appearance a bit, and the frozen yoghurt was very firm. It really needed 10 minutes out of the freezer before serving. It also ended up being too high a ratio of chocolates to fro-yo. The tangy yet rich frozen yoghurt was overwhelmed by the very sweet chocolates.

So - not 100% successful, but still pretty darned good. I think if I were to make it again, if I knew I was going to be able to serve it all at once, I would use fewer chocolates and cover the base of a loaf tin, to give more yoghurt per portion. If it was going to be cut-and-come-again like this one, I would put a row of whole chocolates down the middle of a loaf tin, like eggs in a Gala Pie so that they were a surprise in the middle of the portion. I would probably also add some booze to the mix - Frangelico or Creme de Cacao or rum - to help keep the texture a little softer. But the mixture of yoghurt and nutella is a very, very good one.

After several days of snow, Urchin is feeling confident.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Pomegranate Slaw


Just a little palate cleanser after all that meat. This used the last of my Christmas pomegranate, but it was so good I bought another so I could make it again. Pomegranate arils, finely sliced shallot, dressed with a little sesame oil, salt and a touch of mulberry molasses, tossed through shredded red cabbage.


Thursday, 17 January 2013

Homemade Biltong

For ages now, Paul has been wanting us to experiment with making biltong, the spiced, dried meat that he grew up snacking on. His uncles used to shoot a lot of game and he grew up watching them make biltong and sausages, so he had very definite ideas about the process but wanted me to document what we did for posterity.

I think this might be an alienating post. My vegetarian readers are already running away feeling queasy and most of the omnivores are dubious but this is really pretty easy and quite delicious (if a bit of an acquired taste).
Rolled Dexter silverside

The first thing, of course, was the selection of the meat. You can make biltong out of all sorts of things - I've had kudu and ostrich biltong in South Africa - but we went with beef. Because you need quite a lot, and it is going to be heavily spiced and dried out, this really isn't the time for the finest fillet. At the same time, there is no point in putting money and effort into poor quality ingredients, so we bought a 3kg rolled silverside of Dexter beef. It's quite lean (the external fat in the picture was tied on to keep it moist through roasting; we've got it tucked away in hope that a venison haunch will come through the kitchen at some point) and has nice long fibres that are just the ticket for biltong.
Mid-butchery

Paul cut the meat into long strips, slicing with the grain. The slices were about 3cm thick and 8-10cm wide.
In the dry cure

I packed the slices into a plastic box, sprinkling well with a dry cure between each layer, then just sprinkling a tiny bit of malt vinegar along each piece. Lid on, and into the fridge over night.
Liquid drawn off by the cure over night.

The following day, the meat had thrown off a lot of liquid and was darker in colour and firmer in texture. Just what we were looking for.

The next step is to rinse off the excess salt, so I dipped each slice in malt vinegar, then patted it dry and rolled it in coriander and pepper. I also tried a couple of strips with hot pimenton and garlic mixed in with the coriander and pepper.
We will thoroughly decontaminate the wardrobe before our next guests arrive

In order to hang and dry the meat, Paul ran loops of cotton string through it (putting my trussing needle to use for the first time in a couple of years) and tied them to some old coat hangers.  The coat hangers went into the spare room wardrobe (door open and lots of newspaper laid down). They were spaced well apart to allow air to circulate around them (important to avoid mould and allow even drying) and we put the dehumidifier in there on a low setting.

And closed the bedroom door to prevent Urchin from taking an interest.

A piece of the regular and a piece of the paprika, after a week of drying
After 3 days it was ready to eat, although still a bit moister in the middle than I prefer. After 7 days it was perfect. The paprika version was a mixed success - Paul felt that the paprika flavour was a bit overwhelming and that the garlic didn't come through enough. Next time I will add some garlic to the original cure and just stick with the rest as we did it this time.

Beef Biltong

3kg beef silverside
200g coarse salt
100g brown sugar
10g coriander seed, toasted and roughly crushed
10g black pepper, roughly crushed
1 tsp saltpetre (optional)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
malt vinegar
Coriander & pepper, extra

Trim the meat of excess fat and sinew, then cut into strips lengthwise.

Mix the salt, sugar, coriander, pepper, saltpetre and bicarb in a bowl.

Sprinkle a fine layer of the spice mixture in the base of a plastic box, then add a layer of beef strips. Sprinkle with another layer of spices, then sparingly sprinkle with a few drops of malt vinegar. Repeat until all the meat has been packed in the box, finishing with a layer of spices and sprinkle of vinegar. We had some of the cure leftover, but depending on how finely you cut the meat and how generous you are with the cure, you might use it all.

Cover and refrigerate over night.

The following day dip each piece of meat in vinegar, pat dry with kitchen paper and roll in more crushed pepper and coriander. I ran out of whole coriander seed, so I made it go a bit further using ground coriander, but the crushed coriander seed crust on the finished biltong is pretty important for both flavour and appearance.

Either cut a slit at one end of each slice and feed a piece of string through it, or use a trussing needle. We used plain cotton string, soaked in Milton's solution for 15 minutes. Tie the strings onto coat hangers and hang up in an airy place* and leave to dry for 3-7 days, depending on how dry you like it.

Cut into thin slivers across the grain to serve. It takes a lot of chewing, but the flavour is definitely worthwhile.

* if you have a housemate who doesn't approve of meat hanging in the wardrobe, you can build a biltong box - there are loads of sites on the internet with instructions. The main thing is that they have a low-wattage lightbulb in them, not for heat but to create convection currents to mimic free-flowing air.

Monday, 14 January 2013

Cook the Books: Persimmon toast for The Hunger Games


I was really surprised by Heather's selection for the latest Cook the Books Club. I'd seen the movie The Hunger Games but not read the book, and frankly I had been pretty disappointed by the movie. I found Katniss unsympathetic and the only character I really liked was Lenny Kravitz as Cinna, and that was mostly because he is very attractive. Aside from one of the characters being a baker, there wasn't really anything in the movie that indicated that the book would have any foody interest at all.

How wrong I was. The book is much, much better than the movie and packed full of foody interest (in between children murdering each other in a televised spectacle). I think part of the problem with the film is that the book is written in the first person and a lot of it is stuff that is happening in Katniss's head. So a great long passage of her thinking about why she needs to control her emotions and what she needs to do to survive in the Hunger Games is translated on screen as a flat affect. I think it probably needed some narration or something to convey more of Katniss's rich internal process and much more likeable character.

The food in The Hunger Games is really interesting. Along with the descriptions of the clothes, the contrast in food types and availability are the clearest indications of the chasm between District 12 and The Capitol. In the Capitol there is abundance and variety, in District 12 starvation is never far away for most people. The difference between the tributes from the wealthy Districts and the poorer ones is also highlighted in terms of their nutrition - in The Hunger Games, to be well-fed is to have the strength to survive.

While I was very interested in the lamb stew that Katniss considers the best thing about the Capitol, I decided that I really wanted to do something with stale bread, inspired by Peeta. Katniss thinks that Peeta, being a baker, has had a much easier life than her, but she gradually discovers that his family mostly lives on stale bread and the squirrels she sells them. So, stale bread (in its most perfect form, toast) it had to be.

In order to have stale bread, I started with fresh bread. A lot of mass-produced bread goes mouldy before it goes stale, because of the additives in it, so I made a variation on Dan Lepard's milk bread, which I have made before. This time, I added a small proportion of rye flour, and some powdered buttermilk, and used skim milk as the liquid. This was an absolutely gorgeous loaf of bread. Ever so slightly sweet, ever so slightly tangy, soft and with a gentle nuttyness from the rye. Eaten fresh it was delicious, but it really came into its own a couple of days later when thickly sliced and toasted.
Persimmon - looking slightly battered and bruised but sweetly jellied inside.

Toast on its own isn't very interesting, so I had to decide what to put on it. That question was answered by a previous Cook the Books selection, Untangling My Chopsticks. In it, Victoria Abbott Riccardi talks about smearing persimmon flesh on her toast as a sort of instant jam. I thought that sounded exotic enough to be a treat from The Capitol, but I wanted to also make it something that Katniss would find familiar and comforting, so I spread my toast with soft goats cheese before scooping the flesh from a ripe persimmon and spreading it on.

I know goats cheese is a controversial ingredient. I know a lot of people don't like it. But for me, the combination of warm, crunchy toast, cool, salty, creamy cheese and sweet, fragrant persimmon was absolutely delicious. I ended up eating the rest of the loaf this way (spread over several days).

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Potato cauliflower gratin

Food blogging has a funny seasonal rhythm, particularly if you read a lot of American blogs. From about the middle of September it's all cider and pumpkins, then November 1st triggers turkey and sweet potatoes, then as soon as Thanksgiving is cleared it is cinnamon, peppermint and cookie trays. For British blogs it is less clearly defined, but the first half of December is usually Christmas recipes and then from the 26th recipes for Christmas leftovers.

I am still going on the Christmas leftovers (posting about them, not eating them - I think even the most robust stomach would rebel).

This gratin was a way of using up the cauliflower puree from our Christmas Day canapes. The puree itself was just cauliflower boiled until tender with a couple of cloves of garlic, then pureed in the food processor with a dollop of mascarpone and a bit of seasoning. It's rich, but hard to do in small quantities, so I had about a cupful left once we'd eaten all we could.

When the time came that it really had to be used, I sliced a couple of potatoes and layered them in a baking dish, smearing layers of the cauliflower puree between the layers of spud. Then I poured some vermouth in, just enough to cover the very bottom layer of potatoes, and sprinkled a little parmesan on the top. It went into a medium oven for about 45 minutes, until the potatoes were tender. It was absolutely delicious. Much lighter than a gratin dauphinois, and with much more flavour. Brilliant use for leftovers!
We had it with some ham and tenderstem broccoli

Monday, 7 January 2013

Whisky Ginger Panettone Pudding


OK, this is just a simple bread and butter pudding, but it was the best bread and butter pudding I have ever made so it deserves to be commemorated. It was very rich, very creamy and perfectly fruity and boozy. It was also unexpectedly frugal, using leftovers, pantry items and stuff on clearance.

It started out with the leftover panettone from Boxing Day. I cut it into slices, buttered it and made it into little marmalade sandwiches with some of the whisky marmalade my grandmother sent me for Christmas. I put the sandwiches in a dish, then made the custard.

Now, one of the amazing things about supermarkets in the UK is the boozy cream they sell around Christmas. Lovely thick cream, heavily spiked with brandy or cointreau, just sitting on the shelf waiting to be taken home and dolloped around. And of course, not all of it gets sold before Christmas so it gets massively marked down just afterwards. Which is how I came to be in possession of a half-price tub of Channel Island double cream spiked with whisky and ginger, to use as the basis for my custard.

I thinned it with a little milk, added a bit more whisky and a couple of eggs, then poured it over the marmalade sandwiches. Then - and this is a very important bit for a good bread and butter pudding - I let it sit for a couple of hours to make sure the custard soaked all the way into the bread.

I sprinkled over a few chunks of crystallised ginger, placed the dish in a water bath (this is also important for a good bread and butter pudding) and baked it slowly until the custard was set but still wobbly. I let it cool for a few minutes before scooping it out to serve. Utter heaven.

Tastes better than it looks

Friday, 4 January 2013

Pomegranate and lemon salad


When we were planning our Christmas menus, Paul asked me to roast a duck. A perfectly reasonable request - too expensive for every day but a lovely treat - but I couldn't really fit it into the specifically festive feasting. So I bought the duck, and in the slightly flat hinterland between Christmas and New Year we roasted it.
Slow roasted and basted with mulberry molasses

I had leftover pomegranate arils and pistachio nuts from our Boxing Day dessert, so I decided to make them into a salad to go with the duck. This sent me in a Middle Eastern direction with the flavours, so I roasted the duck slowly, basting it a couple of times with a little mulberry molasses, and made megadarra - rice and lentils with crisp caramelised onions - to go on the side.

I was very happy with how all of it turned out. I've never cooked the onions slowly enough to get the right crisp brown effect that is what really makes megadarra, so getting it right this time was a bit of a personal triumph. And I have roasted a whole duck before but Paul thinks I haven't - which means it must have been a long time ago.

The salad was the biggest success of the meal though. Sour, sweet, juicy, crunchy and extremely beautiful - everything you want in a salad to lift a fatty, starchy meal. Definitely worth making, even if you have to buy the ingredients specially. It would be brilliant with some good hummus and warm flatbread, or even as a topping for a lentil soup.

Pomegranate and lemon salad

2 lemons
1 shallot
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp sugar
100g pistachio nuts
1 pomegranate.

Thinly slice the shallot and place in a bowl. Cut the lemons into segments (slicing between the membranes), catching all the juices, and put the segments and juice on top of the shallot slices. Sprinkle with the sugar and salt and allow to macerate for about half an hour. Roughly chop the pistachio nuts and bash out the pomegranate arils (cut the pomegranate in half, place the cut side on the palm of one hand over a bowl and bash the daylights out of it with a wooden spoon). Add the nuts and pomegranate to the bowl of lemon and shallot, stir well to combine and serve.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Welcome 2013


Happy New Year everyone! We welcomed the New Year in our traditional manner, cooking something delicious at home. And this year's meal was the same as last year's - a wild mushroom fondue. I think two years in a row counts as a tradition, don't you? I didn't quite make it to midnight. At midnight I was lying in bed with the curtains open watching the fireworks in the sky.

A wise woman said to me recently "Our approach to learning colours our lives and our interactions with others, if we feel defensive about it, then it stresses us. It's hard to avoid feeling we have to present selves as all competent & all knowing adults, but Beginner’s Mind is more fun." Which I thought was brilliant. So, my resolution for this year is to approach things with openness and Beginner's Mind. Not that I have entirely figured out what form that will take, but I do have a lot to learn about so many things.
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