Monday, 4 December 2017

Thanksgiving - green bean casserole and pumpkin pie

Quite often when Paul asks me to cook something for him I ignore him. A decade of him saying he wanted a dish only to be over the craving by the time I made it has taught me better. Like the time recently where he asked me to make a chocolate cake with caramel filling, only to admit that he only wanted a bite of a slice of such a cake. Fortunately I hadn't got beyond considering a recipe with that one.

In the last few weeks though, he's become interested in a couple of the elements of a classic American Thanksgiving dinner - pumpkin pie and green bean casserole. I've always found green bean casserole a baffling proposition, myself, so I was quite happy to go along with him this time and make a cut-down Thanksgiving dinner to give him a chance to try those things.

I've made pumpkin pie before. Although apparently not for about 15 years if I've never made it for Paul. I bought some shortcrust pastry and a can of pumpkin puree and consulted Heather's blog (always good for pie recipes), settling on her Buttermilk Pumpkin Pie. I added 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger and reduced the brown sugar by 1/4 cup, but otherwise followed the recipe.

The green bean casserole is a very strange thing. The idea of beans in cream of mushroom soup with a crunchy topping isn't particularly appealling. I'd always assumed that it was one of those dishes that had gradually been debased with convenience products, but when I started to look for a recipe to inflict on Paul I discovered that in its purest original form it used frozen beans and canned soup. It was, in fact, an invention of the Campbells soup company in 1955. I can't think of any other similar recipe that has had such an impact. In Australia maybe the salad on the side of the Chang's crispy noodle packet, possibly the cheesecake on the Philadelphia packet. But nothing so completely ubiquitous - Campbells estimate that they sell $20 million worth of Cream of Mushroom a year and that 40% of that goes into green bean casserole.

Pure form or not, I just couldn't. So I made this from-scratch version, although I admit I got bored and didn't bother making the fried onion garnish. We had it with a rolled, stuffed turkey breast and roast potatoes (I think mashed potatoes are more traditional but Paul isn't a fan). I didn't bother with the other elements of a Thanksgiving dinner - the gravy, the cranberry sauce, the sweet potatoes - for just the two of us. The casserole was fine, I guess. The mushroom sauce was quite delicious - I'd make that element again, but I just don't think green beans and mushrooms are happy companions - they would have been better off as separate elements on the plate. Maybe the French fried onions really make the difference and pull the dish together, but I won't be finding out.

The pie, however, was excellent. Subtly spiced, not too sweet, perfect ratio of filling to pastry. We had it with a delicious new discovery of mine, Northern Bloc fresh ginger and caramel ice cream.



Even just a turkey breast gives a lot of leftovers. At this time of year there are articles all over the place on what to do with the remnants, but I already had a plan: the Kentucky Hot Brown.  An open-faced sandwich of tomatoes, bacon and/or ham, turkey, finished with cheese sauce and grilled. I used a white bloomer instead of the traditional Texas Toast, which I thought was a few calories too far. It's a particularly good version of the leftover sandwich, because unlike a lot of the others there's no jammy cranberry sauce or chutney, just savoury all the way through. Which is sometimes just what you need.

Saturday, 30 September 2017

Apple cider doughnut muffins


Week before last Paul asked me to make muffins for our weekend breakfast. He specifically wanted American-style cakey muffins and he asked if they could be apple. I still don't know where my scales are, so at the moment I am quite happy with American recipes in cup measurements. I found this recipe, for Cider Doughnut Muffins and thought it'd work really well to add some dried apples to the batter.

Unfortunately, there was not a dried apple to be found in all of Bedford. Someone on Twitter pointed out that it was Rosh Hashanah and that may have had an impact. I'm slightly sceptical about that to be honest - but one way or another I couldn't get the dried apples and naturally went into a massive sulk and refused to bake, despite Paul having provided alternatives in the form of dried pears and dried mangoes.

This week, I got the dried apples.
Dried apples soaking in reduced cider
I mostly followed the recipe. I used hard, dry English cider rather than American sweet cider, and when I had reduced it to 1 cup, I added 1 cup of chopped dried apple slices, and let them steep overnight.
Very happy with that fluffy, tender crumb
And rather than rolling the cooked muffins in melted butter and cinnamon sugar for the doughnut effect, I sprinkled each one with a mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg and demerara sugar before they went in the oven, so the coating cracked a bit as the muffins rose. And, presumably because of the apples, they took quite a lot longer to bake, 25 minutes, not 15-17. Very successful and tasting beautifully autumnal.



Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Exploring the area, one pub at a time

We've been in the new house for about six weeks now. Things are gradually coming together. There are still a lot of boxes about the place, but we are slowly buying furniture to unpack into. We still say, almost daily, "Do you know where that thing is?" but with increasing frequency we're able to say "Yes, I unpacked it and put it here". The last day of the move was more than a bit fraught, so we're realising some of the things that didn't come with us and with fading optimism expecting to find other possessions.
We went out for dinner the first night - The Three Tuns
As we're completely new to the area, we're having to learn our way around. Bless google maps. And pretty much every time we set foot outside the house it's uncharted territory for us. We've figured out where the supermarkets and Majestic are. I have found a hairdresser. We've started what will be the work of years, investigating the local pubs.

The first night we were in the house, we went out for dinner. We were sleeping on a mattress on the floor, the cat was sulking, we didn't have a fridge and hadn't unpacked any of the kitchen stuff, so cooking really wasn't an option. It's a bit strange, moving from a place where there were about a dozen places (of varying quality...) to eat within a 10 minute walk, to a place where you could walk to a restaurant, if you were really feeling motivated and had half an hour to spare. The Three Tuns is the closest to us, about a 5 minute drive away. We'd been told that it's almost perennially under new management but that the food was generally pretty good. It was. A bit overwrought - every dish we tried had one element too many - but reasonably priced and served with the kindness we needed in our equally overwrought post-move state. I had a potato and goats cheese rouladey thing, which very nice, and a massively filling but slightly undercooked fish pie served with an utterly sublime hollandaise.
Halloumi fries - The Falcon
Paul's gone from an almost 4 hour daily commute on motorways to a 50 minute daily commute on pleasant country roads. He seems to spend most of that commute now identifying pubs he wants to try. The Falcon was one of those - it's on a bend in the river, which always adds tone to a pub. To be honest, I can't remember what I had to eat and I certainly didn't take a picture of it. Ham, egg & chips, maybe? But the big thing were the absolutely delicious halloumi fries we shared to start. They did them so well we're pretty keen to go back for a Sunday lunch.

Arancini at The Horse & Jockey
Our first (and so far only) crack at a Sunday pub lunch was one of our misguided ones where we only decided at about 11am that we wanted a pub lunch. So we made a list of about 5 places and called down it until we could get a reservation. We ended up at The Horse & Jockey and weren't sorry for it. Being offered delicious little chicken and lemon thyme arancini before our meals arrived was an unexpected but lovely refinement. The food was very good, although the shell-on prawn garnishing the prawn cocktail was watery and flabby, and I don't think the oil was quite hot enough to fry my fish and chips. Paul's roast beef looked excellent though, with proper attention to the veg.
Old school prawn cocktail at The Horse & Jockey
It was my birthday last week, so we had a good excuse to give another pub a go. The Plough came recommended by Sharon and the menu looked good so we made reservations. The food was excellent - I had a lovely fig, blue cheese and hazelnut salad to start, followed by grilled plaice with herb butter, chips and a beautiful sprouting broccoli dish. Unfortunately the service let them down a bit - our waiter seemed very nervous and untrained - and the people at the table next to us were loud and a bit abrasive. You'd think they'd never seen people taking photos of their tea before.
Fig, blue cheese and hazelnuts at The Plough

Grilled fillet of plaice
On Saturday, we made yet another trip to IKEA. Even more hellish than usual, as we realised we couldn't actually fit the stuff we wanted to buy in the car. It was 2.45pm by the time we got to Ye Three Fyshes and the kitchen was closing at 3, so we quickly ordered beers and sandwiches. The fish finger sandwich was very good, but I think they cut corners with the sausage one - it seemed very rusky and the skins were flabby. And they hadn't washed the salad for the garnish, so it was gritty. But the rest of the menu looks quite good, so we may get back there for another go at some point. When we've worked through a few more places.
Massive sandwiches at Ye Three Fyshes

Sunday, 27 August 2017

A belated blogoversary

So... we moved. And it was the utter ball-ache moving always is. With the added tedium that we only got broadband installed on Friday.

Due to the hassle of moving (and the fact we don't have a dishwasher yet) I haven't really been cooking anything fancy. Definitely nothing with multiple stages or processes or utensils required. And because of the lack of interesting cooking and the lack of broadband I completely missed my 10th blogoversary. 10 years! My god.

Anyway, my mate Sharon (who you may remember from posts such as this one. And this one. And this, and this, and this) is married to a man whose parents live near our new house. They have very kindly invited us over for Sunday dinner this evening because they think it would be nice to have some local knowledge. It definitely will!

I offered to bring a dessert - a pretty pointless gesture because Graeme's mum's desserts are legendary for their quality, quantity and diversity. But hey.

I thought I would knock up a quick frangipane mirabelle tart. Which was quite a good idea really, until I discovered that I couldn't find my scales or my silicon spatulas. A bit of guesswork took place and it ended up being a bit oozier and more rustic than planned. Fortunately they all have lovely manners and will be gracious. But I think we'll take a bottle of wine as well...

Friday, 28 July 2017

The Final Countdown

We have a lawn!
On Monday we'll be moving into the new house, so while there will be a final flurry of using bits up and whatnot, I really don't think I will be documenting it. So next time I post it'll probably be exploring a new-to-us pub while we try to avoid making the spanking new kitchen dirty.
ham hock terrine
I am faintly disappointed that things never got completely crazy with the flavour combinations. Although the tub labelled chicken stock which turned out to be blood orange sorbet, and the tub that I thought was chicken stock which turned out to be a rather lovely Asian shortrib soup almost got me into trouble. It was a valuable lesson in accurate labelling.
Ploughmans
This was a particularly good Ploughmans. Bread (using some of my baguette dough as a starter, and more of the chapatti flour), piccalilli, made by me a while ago, cheddar (because I like it), a ham hock terrine (using a ham hock I'd had in the freezer and some gelatine leaves) and a fresh green salad (finishing a jar of capers).
Lasagne
I wouldn't serve this lasagne to an Italian, but it was tasty! And it used a bottle of ratatouille, a packet of bacon, some minced beef and a packet of "fresh" (but frozen) pasta sheets.
And this version of an Eton mess used frozen cranberries, frozen eggwhites and coconut. The tangy fruit was a particularly good foil for the sweet coconut meringues.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Clearing the freezer - we're getting there, honestly

"Baguette" more or less
Well, this is all inordinately stressful. The builders went quiet on us for a couple of weeks as the date we have to vacate this house got closer and closer and we weren't getting any answers as to when we would be able to move in to the new place. We have, finally, more or less got a plan. Not a very good one, but it may actually be workable.
charcuterie platter
And emptying the fridge/freezer/pantry carries on apace. I can't remember if I posted about the 5kg bag of chapatti flour that I bought, mistakenly thinking it was 500g. Anyway, there is still quite a lot of flour in it. I followed my usual King Arthur baguette recipe, but using a mixture of strong white, plain light brown and chapatti flour. It ended up with a tighter crumb than usual, but it was just the thing with a charcuterie plate (which also used up some potted wild boar from the freezer and pickled cherries from the pantry).
Teacakes - using up flour, dried cherries and sultanas
Basically I am refusing to cook anything at the moment that doesn't clear out a jar, packet or freezer bag.
More robust than the bought ones, still good to convey butter
Porky stew, using pork jowl, chicken stock and lentils
Thai-ish mussel stew using frozen mussels, sambal paste, coconut milk and chicken broth
Calamondin iced tea - using lots of frozen calamondins
This biryani was actually inspired by the book I am reading at the moment - Chasing the Dram. Rachel makes a pretty solid argument for drinking whisky and soda with curry meals and includes Mallika Basu's venison biryani recipe. And it just so happened that I had some venison in the freezer. Not enough, though, but I also had some goat steaks in the freezer, so mine was a mixed goat and venison biryani. Honestly, I couldn't taste any difference between the meats. It was very good - although next time I will cook the rice almost completely before I layer it. There wasn't enough liquid included to cook the rice properly, so I had to add more and the bottom bit ended up a bit mushy.
Game biryani
Trifle - using chocolate cake trimmings from the freezer and finishing a bottle of Chambord
Sort of Chinese claypot affair, using up chicken, Chinese sausage, pudding rice and chestnuts
Cherry pie

Using the final bag of frozen cherries, the remnants of the bag of dried sour cherries and a jar of cherries in brandy

Monday, 3 July 2017

Clearing the pantry - spiced marmalade cookies

Spiced marmalade cookies - raw
And so it continues... honestly, it may not seem like it with this endless stream of posts but I am definitely making progress. I am finding that an unfortunate side effect is that some of the dishes I am producing are really, genuinely delicious but because it's the end of a jar of this and the last of a packet of that I will never, ever be able to reproduce it.
UFOs
The other night I unearthed two UFOs. Or at least Partially-Identified Frozen Objects. One was labelled lamb, the other mutton. Neither was big enough for a meal for two people. Sure, I could have heated them separately and each of us eaten one, but as they thawed it looked like the mutton was with barley and the lamb was a shank cooked with haricot beans, so I combined them with some tomato paste and extra seasoning. It was good!
cassoulet nachos
Another UFO had a label half hanging off it which said cassoulet - I was initially concerned that the label may have fallen off something else, but when I thawed it, it was cassoulet. It didn't stay cassoulet though. When I reheated it I added smoked paprika, coriander, cumin, chilli, oregano and thyme to give it more of a Mexican flavour profile. I layered it with cornchips and cheese, baked it and topped it with guacamole for a very rich nachos.
Peanut sauce
Last night I made a stonking satay-ish peanut sauce to go on some barbecued chicken legs. The chicken legs were marinaded for a couple of hours in the dregs of a bottle of teriyaki sauce, a lot of crushed garlic and black pepper. Then the sauce itself was around 1/4 cup of anchovy, chilli and shrimp sauce, around 1/3 cup of crunchy peanut butter, 2 sachets of coconut cream, a load of garlic, a little brown sugar and tamarind until the balance was right, boiling water until it all came together and a gentle simmer for a couple of minutes. The meal emptied 3 jars, a box and a bottle AND it tasted wonderful, so I was extremely pleased with it. And there's enough for two lunches - noodles tossed with the peanut sauce and topped with cucumber and a boiled egg.
Leftover peanut sauce
The final dish for this round of decluttering used up the end of a jar of marmalade. I'd normally use golden syrup for something like this but the marmalade was good. It makes quite a cake-y sort of cookie. If you like gingerbread, you will probably like these.

Spiced Marmalade Cookies (makes 36)

125g butter, softened
90g brown sugar
250g marmalade
2tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp ground cinnamon
1/2tsp ground allspice
1 eggyolk
75g rolled oats
320g SR flour
2-3tbs pearl sugar

Preheat oven to 160C

Cream butter, sugar and marmalade together until light and fluffy. Beat in spices, eggyolk and oats, then fold in flour and mix to a smooth-ish dough.

Roll dough into walnut sized balls. Dab the tops of the balls into the pearl sugar. Space out well on a baking-parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-15 minutes until risen and lightly golden brown. Allow to cool on the sheet for a couple of minutes before attempting to transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Continuing the clear out

Project clear the freezer continues. As it will for the next month until we move I am sure!
pork scratchings
When I was sorting through for all the parcels of poultry bits for my stock (which, by the way, has turned out to be one of the best broths I have ever made) I discovered that I had a lot of pork rind. Not entirely sure why, as I seldom take it off a piece of meat. They turned into some really excellent pork scratchings, seasoned with fennel and smoked paprika. Most of which we gave away to a pork-obsessed friend. But I have to say, a genuinely good pork scratching crumbled on top of a boiled egg on toast is a most superior breakfast and I can't believe all the posh brunch places don't do them.

I used up ground almonds, caster sugar and a jar of boozy plums making a very simple cake. It was just a creamed mixture of 2 eggs, 120g butter and 120g sugar with 100g ground almonds and 100g SR flour folded in, then the plums pushed into the batter. 5 minutes before it was properly cooked (about 45 minutes at 180C) I poured the rest of the boozy syrup over it. Very successful! I will have to do something similar with some of the cherry backlog.

About once a fortnight I make a vaguely Chinese sort of braised aubergine dish with lots of chilli heat, some pork and whatever greens I have to hand. This time I used up some lup cheong sausage and finished it with a good shake of sesame seeds. Also delicious. And I have a couple more sausages.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Clearing the freezer and pastures new

It has a roof now
There were definitely times when I wondered if it would ever happen, but we've finally, after 11 years of marriage and several ups and downs, bought a house. We've bought off the plan in a new development in a very pretty town a bit north of London, and in the next month to six weeks we will be moving.

I bloody hate moving.

We've lived in this house for 9 years, which is about as long as I have lived anywhere, and have accumulated all the possessions that you would imagine a pair of packrats would accumulate over that time.  So the process of sorting through our stuff and figuring out what actually needs to come with us is underway. Part of that process is, of course, clearing out the freezer and pantry.

Flapjacks, waiting for another layer of oat mixture
My cooking is likely to become increasingly eccentric over the next few weeks as I try to run down stocks of things. But this weekend it is relatively sensible. Barbecued pork ribs (with a glaze incorporating a couple of sad apples and the remnants of a jar of jelly), flapjacks (reducing stock of various baking bits) and soup (using up all the odds and ends of poultry wings and giblets in the freezer).
Flapjacks ready to eat
My flapjacks are based on this recipe from Sue from Mainly Baking. I kept the amount of butter, sugar and golden syrup the same but used 130g unsweetened dried sour cherries, 200g oats and 40g desiccated coconut. I pressed half the mixture into the tin, scattered with a few chunks of leftover dark chocolate Easter egg and then added the rest of the mixture. Very successful.
We've tried barbecuing pork ribs before, but I think these are the most successful so far. I made up a rub of salt, pepper, fennel seeds and smoked paprika and let them sit in that for a couple of hours, then we slowly smoked them for 3 hours before adding the apple puree mixture.

While they cooked for another couple of hours the apple dried down to a thick, rich glaze without burning. The racks unfortunately were not the same size - the smaller rack was perfect but the larger could have done with another hour. Of course, they were so good that Paul now wants a rematch, which will necessitate buying more of the ingredients I was trying to see the back of.

The leftovers, pulled off the bone and chopped, are providing me with very nice lunches.

When I started ferreting in the freezer for poultry bits for making stock, I had no idea quite how much there was. Chicken, cockerel and duck giblets, chicken wing tips, cockerel backs. Loads of stuff. It made a very good broth. And tonight I flavoured some of the broth with lime juice and fish sauce and cooked pork meatballs and some veg in it, then added coriander leaves, chopped chillies, slices onions and more lime juice.


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