Friday 25 January 2008

Great Chieftain o' the puddin-race!

Happy Birthday to Rabbie Burns!

Today I have realised what a nightmare it must be to be an Australian of Scots heritage. I cannot imagine the hangover caused by a proper Burns supper (Jan 25th) followed by an Australia Day BBQ (Jan 26th). Thank god this year there is Sunday to recover. I do not have Scots heritage in the recent family history (although my mother has married a Douglas, so I can buy into it that way) but I thought it would be a good opportunity to have a go at haggis.

The local had a Burns supper last night, but I was out with a non-haggis eating friend, so I decided that I'd have to sacrifice the ritual and ceremony and just eat the damn haggis. I took advice and everyone said that Macsween of Edinburgh is the only way to go. In fact, a colleague who is running a Burns supper for the residents of a sheltered housing scheme is fearing a riot because she didn't know to get a Macsween haggis. I was told that Waitrose always has Macsween haggis, so a quick trip in got me sorted. I looked at the vegetarian haggis and decided that if I was going to do it, I'd do it right.

Wrapped in foil and simmered in water for 45 minutes, with carrot and parsnip mash and buttered greens on the side it was absolutely delicious! It's a Friday night and I am tired, so I wasn't interested in buying and preparing neeps and tatties from scratch, so I went with a couple of microwaveable veg dishes. The haggis wasn't nearly as dry as I had been led to believe it might be. It was quite succulent, with a nice even texture and good seasoning.

Apparently pepper, coriander, mace and nutmeg go into it, which I find interesting. Clearly, a small amount of offal with onions and oatmeal has to be la cucina povera, so to speak. When you haven't got much of anything you mix it together and call it a delicacy. But the large amount of spice in it lifts it away from being peasant food. Where an 18th century Highlander would have obtained mace and coriander is baffling to me. However it came about, it is delicious, and I would like to raise a toast to the immortal memory of Robert Burns - and to haggis, which deserves eating more than once a year.

Saturday 19 January 2008

Game Pie Redux

This week I discovered the joys of Waitrose RTC (reduced to clear): 2 packs of game casserole mix (partridge, pigeon, pheasant and mallard) reduced from £4.69 to 99p each. So I decided it was time to have another go at a raised game pie. I made quite a few variations to the Mark Hix recipe - added a finely diced leek, some smoked bacon lardons and some diced lamb kidney (because I had one from a meat box and neither of us are rapt with kidney). Unfortunately I realised at the bitter end that we were out of eggs, so I had to glaze with milk, which doesn't give nearly such a golden, appetising finish.

Still, it is out of the oven now and it smells nice. The filling again hasn't shrunk much, so I am not sure that I will be able to get any jelly into the crust, but I've run a knife around under the crust now while it is still warm and pliable, so I have hopes.

If, once cooled and jellied and sliced, it tastes good, I will post the recipe...

... and it tastes very good, so here is the recipe

Cold game pie

Serves 8-10 (or, in fact, 2 when snacked on for a week)

2tsp crushed juniper berries
1 onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 medium leek, very finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
A good knob of butter
500g minced pork
200g diced smoked bacon
200g finely diced kidney (optional)
700g diced game meat (mixture of venison, rabbit, pheasant, partridge, pigeon and duck)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg
50ml dry sherry
3-4tbsp jelly (crabapple, wine or apple and chilli)
3tbs beef stock

For the hot-water crust

225ml water
200g lard
450g plain white flour
110g plain wholemeal flour
¾ tsp salt
1 small egg, beaten to glaze

Gently cook the onion, leek, garlic and juniper in the butter with a lid on for 2-3 minutes until soft.

Mix the diced meats with the pork (and kidney if using) and onion mixture, season to taste with salt, freshly ground white pepper and grated nutmeg and mix in the sherry.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Mix the flours and salt in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Bring the water and lard to the boil in a saucepan, then stir it into the flour with a wooden spoon to form a smooth dough. Leave the dough covered for about 15 minutes until it is cooler, less sticky and easier to handle.

Grease an 18-20cm springform cake tin, line with baking parchment and place it on a baking tray (important, it will leak juices).

Take two-thirds of the dough and on a lightly floured table roll it into a circle about 1/3cm thick and about 25-26cm across, so it is large enough to line the cake tin and overlap the edge by a centimetre or so. Making sure there are no holes in the pastry, place the dough into the cake tin, carefully press into the corners and allow it to just hang over the edge. Roll the remaining dough into a circle just large enough for the top and cut a 2cm hole in the centre.

Pack the filling into the pastry, mounding it up a bit in the middle, and fold over the overlapping edges. Brush the edges with egg, then trim the edges with a knife and pinch the base and top pastry edges together with your forefinger and thumb to make a good join. Brush the top of the pie all over with the beaten egg and cook for 45 minutes. If it is colouring too much, cover with foil and turn the oven down. Remove the sides of the tin and brush the sides and top again with egg before baking for a further 15 minutes until nicely coloured. Remove from the oven and cool; then refrigerate for a couple of hours. Melt the jelly in a small saucepan with the stock until thick and syrupy, then leave to cool a little. Pour into the pie through the hole and melt more jelly if necessary; then leave to set again in the fridge. The pie will keep for about a week in the fridge.

Monday 7 January 2008

Low-carb paella

Bee Rawlinson - one of Neris & India's Idiot Proof Diet forumers - has worked with them to produce the Idiot proof diet cookbook. It's the ultimate fantasy really (well, my ultimate fantasy) - an enthusiastic amateur, busy raising a family and trying to feed them healthy, delicious meals while losing some weight, gets discovered and ends up with a book contract. Not as lucrative perhaps, but just as emotionally satisfying as the whole "writing in a cafe, ends up being the Harry Potter phenomenon" scenario.

I've met Bee, and I think she is lovely, so I ordered the book without having tried any of the recipes. And with little intention of following the diet. But on Sunday there was a whole big piece in the Sunday Times which included some recipes. I was intrigued by the low-carb paella recipe so I decided to give it a go (recipe is now behind a paywall - so removed).

I'm a lazy, lazy woman, so I didn't do the recipe as written - I browned the chicken and chorizo and then chucked everything in with it. Because I didn't brown the cauliflower to begin with, it gave off a load of liquid, so I think mine was a lot soupier than Bee's would be. I also used a bag of my trusty frozen seafood mix instead of live mussels and fresh prawns. But do you know what? It is absolutely delicious. Very filling, so there is a big tub of leftovers which will make me a wonderful lunch tomorrow. More power to Bee and the Idiot-Proof Diet Cookbook!

Sunday 6 January 2008

Beef Vindaloo

I've never had any patience with the sort of Commando eating that takes pride in tolerating incendiary curries. I don't see the point in eating something so spicy that you can't taste anything, and I don't really see that kind of machismo as something to be proud of. But at the same time, I've always been fascinated by vindaloo. The combination of garlic and vinegar in the sauce sounded delicious, if only you could get one mild enough to taste.

Eventually I discovered Curry Express in Willoughby. For not much money, they would bring me a moderately-spiced pork vindaloo (I understand that because it is Goan, and Portuguese influenced, the usual Muslim prohibitions against pork don't stand - haven't figured out why most of the Indian cooks in Australia are Muslim), a polythene pouch of cardamom spiked rice and some naan. Lovely. In the absence of Curry Express, I've had to learn to make my own. One of my aunts gave me Camellia Punjabi's 50 Great Curries of India, which contains a fabulous amount of information on the hows and whys of Indian cuisine, as well as recipes.

I've made Camellia Punjabi's vindaloo recipe a few times, and tonight I think I have finally cracked it. The first time I made it, it was way too spicy, and yet too watery, because I hadn't read the bit that said she was using 200ml cups - an Australian cup is 250ml, so over the course of 4 cups of water that is a lot of extra fluid! Plus I hadn't appreciated just how mild a Kashmiri chilli must be, if you can add 15-20 of them to a dish. You can't do that with Thai chillies. The second time I made it was better. Tonight, I think I have mastered it. Maybe not authentically, but to my taste.

I used 6 dried Thai chillies, with a heaped tablespoon of paprika to make up the colour and texture. And I didn't fry the onions until really brown, but added the meat (beef shin) when they were still pale golden. They give up so much moisture that the meat can braise in the onion juices without extra water. I think in the end I added less than 1/4 cup of water. Anyway, after 2 1/2 hours cooking (less than I would usually give it, but I was hungry) it was gorgeous. The gravy was thick and rich, the meat tender and succulent and, while it was certainly pungent, it wasn't unbearably hot. Served it with Sainsburys Peshwari naan (because I love them), a dry aubergine curry and some lovely chilled muscadet. Success! And no machismo...

Friday 4 January 2008

Langoustine Linguine

After our New Year's Eve meal, my husband started to get ideas about what to do with the rest of the langoustines. He'd envisaged a version of the garlic soup as a sauce for pasta, but I went in a slightly simplified direction.

Some good (Carluccio's) squid ink linguine, langoustines with olive oil (for the burn point) and some cherry tomatoes and a pile of sliced garlic, black pepper and a big pat of posh French butter. The almost-cooked pasta was tossed through the sauce and soaked up the sauce just how I planned. The only thing I would have had in a perfect world is just a few snipped chives for colour. A glass of cava on the side and it was a perfect Friday night supper.

Tuesday 1 January 2008

New Year's Menu

Happy 2008 to all who sail in her!

We had a very pleasant, low-key evening last night. A continuous stream of good food, while we watched Poolhall Junkies - classic Christopher Walken.

The best single dish we'd tried in Switzerland was a creamy white wine and garlic soup, so my husband requested that as a starter for our meal. I did some research, and none of the recipes I could find sounded like what we had tried. There is a Spanish garlic soup that is the pre-tomato version of Gazpacho. There are American versions thickened with potato and roasted garlic. But nothing that would be creamy and luxurious and still contain a punch of almost raw garlic and harsh white wine. So I made it up as I went. I softened the white part of a leek in some butter, added 8 whole peeled cloves of garlic and half covered them in vegetable stock, then covered them in cheap chablis and simmered until the garlic was soft. I pureed it with a stick blender, then just before serving added a slug more wine, a dash of double cream and half a finely minced clove of garlic and reheated, seasoning with freshly ground white pepper. I wanted a garnish to add extra luxury to the meal (it was a celebration, after all) as well as relieving the pallor of the dish so I sauteed some langoustine tails in butter and garlic, stacked the langoustines in the bowl so their backs showed in the soup and sprinkled a little of the browned butter and garlic over the top. Delicious! My husband has raised the possibility of it reappearing (with lots more langoustines) as a pasta sauce, which I think would work really well. We drank more of the chablis with it.

For our main, we had pheasant. It had been partly boned, stuffed with pork sausagemeat and bramley apples (not by me) and barded with bacon. Alongside it in the pan I roasted chunks of butternut squash. Savoy cabbage sauteed in butter and sprinkled with nutmeg completed the plate. I'd been thinking about various sauces, but decided that anything more than the pan juices would be too many flavours. The bird was a little dry - I am still adjusting to a new oven - but the flavour was excellent. With that we broke out the good wine glasses and drank a stunning 2003 Gartelmann's Diedrich shiraz, from a lovely vineyard in the Hunter Valley. Fortunately we've got a few left, because it has plenty of life in it yet and we don't have much chance of getting any more.

The 2 best puddings I had in 2007 were the muscat caramel custard from 32 Great Queen Street and the plain pannacotta that we made in the cooking class in Florence. I've never made caramel custard before, so I was a bit nervous about giving it a try (and my husband eats dessert so rarely I wasn't going to be able to do a test-run). A friend, who also hadn't made caramel custard before had a go and it didn't work for her, so I decided that my safest bet would be a hybrid of the 2 desserts. I retained the quantities of cream and dessert wine, but set it with leaf gelatine instead of making an egg custard. It set too firmly - I should have used 2 leaves instead of 3 but it was still on the desirable side of rubbery. I'd intended to use a Rutherglen liqueur muscat, but ended up with a Bimbadgen botrytis semillon, so I should have added more wine to the cream, I think. I finished the glasses with a little float of more wine, and a marron glace. If/when I make the pudding again, I wouldn't use the marron glace - in my mind the flavour had gone really well with the liqueur muscat but was a bit too sweet and mealy for the semillon. I'd probably just use a Jules Destrooper almond wafer on the side instead. We finished the bottle of semillon, and saw the New Year in happily.


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