Wednesday 30 December 2009

Partridge with garlic, sherry and saffron

This is pretty much a Spanish pollo al ajillo, chicken with garlic, done with partridge instead of chicken.

I browned the partridges (1 each) in olive oil in a Le Creuset dutch oven, and added a head of garlic, separated into cloves and peeled. When the garlic cloves and partridges were nicely golden, I added a good pinch of saffron threads (which a friend had kindly brought me from Spain a month or so ago) and a good slurp of dry sherry, seasoned with salt and pepper, put the lid on and put it in a 180C oven and left it alone until the birds were cooked through and the sherry had reduced to a rich and delicious sauce.

The vegetables were an exercise in clearing the fridge - leek, pointed cabbage and broccoli, sauteed with a little Spanish ham.

The partridge breasts came off a bit dry. I think I should have cooked it breast side down, to take advantage of more of the sherry juices. But aside from that the flavour was fantastic and it ended up being a very pretty and luxurious-tasting dish.

Monday 28 December 2009

Pappardelle with Oxtail Ragu

This recipe (the second one on the page), from Skye Gyngell, is pretty good. I assumed it was an error when it called for 30g of chopped tinned tomatoes, because what would be the point? and added a whole can.

Is it better than our usual meat sauce? I don't think so. One of Paul's many virtues is that he makes a really amazing meat sauce, so it's pretty hard to beat. The oxtail did its slow-cooked thing and fell to delicious gelatinous threads, but I just wasn't convinced.

Still, if you happen to have an oxtail lurking in the freezer, you really could do worse. Especially at this time of year when it is quite nice to have the stove on for about 4 hours.

Saturday 26 December 2009

Ham & Cheese Croissants

This is one of those very useful things - a brunch recipe that you can prepare in advance, make for large numbers and is very simple, but tastes brilliant and is a real crowd-pleaser. They contain about a million calories, so I would recommend only having this for special occasions. And have some orange juice in your champagne, to make you feel more virtuous.

Because it is so simple, it pays to use some nice ingredients.

Ham & Cheese Croissants (serves 2)

4 croissants (all butter ones, not the ones with weird fats and shortening in them, and not the absolutely huge ones)
Dijon mustard
4 thick slices of good ham (this was a dry-cured, cherrywood smoked ham)
4 thick slices of gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 160C. Cut each croissant in half. Smear the cut surfaces with a little mustard. Fill each with a slice of ham and a slice of cheese. Put the top of each croissant back on and place them on a baking parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until the croissants are browned and the cheese is oozy and beginning to take a bit of colour. Allow to rest for a couple of minutes before serving, just to avoid all your guests burning their mouths.

Friday 25 December 2009

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I hope everyone has a very lovely Christmas Day, and that no one mentions That Thing That Aunty Marge Said.

Last year, some friends in the Caribbean sent me a Black Cake. This is a very moist, dark, extremely boozy cake served for weddings and Christmas and it is absolutely gorgeous. The things that make it different are the very finely chopped fruits and the use of caramelised sugar "browning" to give depth and colour. I was determined to make it for Christmas this year. I read a bunch of different recipes and came up with my own.

Caribbean-ish Black Cake

500g currants
500g dried figs (this should have been 250g prunes and 250g figs but my grocery delivery subbed the prunes for another pack of figs and I couldn't be bothered going out for prunes)
1 tin pitted black cherries, drained
100g mixed peel
100g blanched almonds
350ml dark rum
2tbs angostura bitters
1tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
180g caster sugar
100ml boiling water
Grated rind of 2 limes
2 cups plain flour
2tsp baking powder
250g butter
300g dark muscovado sugar
5 eggs

Some time beforehand - a day, a week, a month - put the fruit, almonds and spices in a large bowl. Pour over the rum, vanilla and angostura bitters. Cover tightly and leave until cake baking day.

On cake baking day, combine the caster sugar with a little bit of cold water in a heavy based saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then watch like a hawk while it boils and begins to caramelise. When it is dark brown and just before it burns, take off the heat and - with care, because it splutters and spits - stir in the boiling water. Allow to cool.

Preheat oven to 120C (ish - I will explain further).

Line cake tin/s with buttered paper. I used a large loaf tin and 5 chickpea tins (emptied and washed of course, and with the cut rim squashed back with pliers so I didn't cut myself and could get the cakes out), because I wanted to give some mini cakes as gifts.

Put the boozy fruit in a food processor (I had to do it in 3 batches because my processor is very small) and pulse briefly until chopped quite small, but not a homogenous paste.

In a very large bowl, or in fact my large pasta-cooking saucepan, cream together the butter and muscovado sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time. Sift in the flour and baking powder, mix well, then stir in the fruit, lime zest and caramelised sugar.

Pour batter into prepared tins and place in water baths.

Bake until the cakes shrink from the sides of the tins and test done. For the small ones it was about 1 1/2 hours and I confess I got bored and increased the temperature to 140C. For the large one it was 3 hours.

Cool cakes in the tin for at least 24 hours before turning out. You could do the marzipan and royal icing thing, but these cakes are so moist I don't think it is necessary. I bought some silver ribbon and silver icing stars, and some cute cardboard presentation boxes for the little ones, and glued the stars on with a blob of apricot jam.

Wednesday 23 December 2009

Red Velvet Cupcakes

I tried a couple of other recipes, in preparation for The Hurricane's birthday party, but I ended up back with Paula Deen's red velvet cupcakes. I increased the cocoa powder to 1 heaped tablespoon per batch and decreased the oil to 1 cup. They came out beautifully! Tender, a good flavour and they turned out of the moulds very obediently.

I drizzled them with melted white chocolate and dusted with edible red glitter. I think the party is sure to be a success!

Monday 21 December 2009

Indian Beetroot Saute

We were having curry. We needed a side dish. We had beetroot. I found this recipe. It was really delicious.

Saturday 19 December 2009

Autumn Vegetable Lasagne

I'm a bit smug about this one. My original idea was to make pumpkin ravioli, using bought fresh lasagne sheets. But of course, "fresh" pasta like that just isn't soft enough to stick to itself, even with a good brushing of eggwhite. And I had an enormous amount of the pumpkin filling - far more than I would have needed for ravioli.

The pumpkin filling (which went on the top and bottom layers, was roasted onion squash, ricotta and parmesan, seasoned with nutmeg, sage and rosemary. The middle layer was red onion, mixed mushrooms and spinach, bound with a few spoonfuls of intensely-flavoured porcini and truffle puree. The bechamel wasn't as cheesy or highly-seasoned as I would normally do it, because I wanted the vegetables to have a good go at shining.

It turned out beautifully! We had small portions as a side dish with pheasant breasts, stuffed and wrapped in bacon, but it would make a pretty fab offering for the vegetarian guest at Christmas. Late Autumn in Britain on a plate.

We're off on holiday for a bit, visiting Paul's parents in Cape Town. But I've scheduled lots of posts of delicious things while we're gone, so you won't even notice!

Thursday 17 December 2009

Salsify Fritters

As I said before, I kept back a couple of the parboiled salsify roots to try Escoffier's salsify fritters.

I didn't really follow the recipe, just the notion that "the prior marinade is optional but very recommendable". So I marinated chunks of the parboiled and peeled salsify in lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and a sprinkling of dried chilli and parsley. Then I drained them, tossed them in cornflour and shallow fried them in vegetable oil until crisp. Drained on kitchen towel, sprinkled with salt, they made a really fab little snack with a glass of something. Prepared like this, they had quite a similar flavour and texture to artichoke hearts. Definitely my preferred preparation for this vegetable!

Wednesday 16 December 2009

Welsh Rarebit Soup

When I had my last go at making garlic soup, the very clever My Year on the Grill suggested that it could go in a completely different direction and make a garlic, cheese and beer soup. Which is clearly genius.

I based the soup on shredded leeks, and of course leeks made me think of Wales and beer & cheese made me think of Welsh Rarebit, so here we have Welsh Rarebit Soup.

Welsh Rarebit Soup

knob of butter
4 medium sized leeks, cleaned and finely shredded
1 head of garlic, cloves separated and peeled
1 litre vegetable stock
300 ml beer - a nice light one, not too bitter. A wheat beer or something. I used a Belgian lager which was absolutely vile and didn't do me any favours
300 g strong cheddar, grated.
1 heaped tablespoon French mustard
Freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large saucepan. Add the leeks and garlic and sweat gently until the leeks begin to collapse. Add the vegetable stock, bring to the boil then lower the heat, and simmer for about half an hour. Add the beer, then puree roughly with a stick blender. Doesn't need to be totally smooth. Add the mustard and cheese and reheat gently until the cheese is melted and the soup is just about to boil. Season with pepper and serve with hot buttered toast.

Sunday 13 December 2009

Salsifis à la creme - again

After the less-than-successful previous attempt at salsifis à la creme, I was determined to learn from my mistakes and have another go.

I read recipes. I parboiled them before attempting to peel them. In short, she can learn!

And they were fab. I still don't think they taste like either oysters or asparagus, but they were delicate, tender and delectable. Absolutely perfect with a pan-fried venison steak, a red wine reduction and spinach wilted with garlic. I've kept a couple of the parboiled salsify back, to try another classic recipe - the salsify fritter.

Friday 11 December 2009

Apple & Spice Vin Chaud

When it is cold outside and getting out from under the blanket seems like a real chore, you have to start looking for things to stoke the inner fires. Steaming mugs of mulled wine certainly do the job, and are one of the best things about the Christmas season in the Northern Hemisphere. This white wine and apple juice version is a really delicious alternative that tastes just as festive as the classic spiced red wine. I used about a quarter of the amount of sugar recommended, which was about right for my palate, and instead of a strip of orange peel I used a quartered calamondin. Warming, comforting, delicious and festive!

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Spaghetti Squash Carbonara

My spaghetti squash bolognaise was so good that I decided that spaghetti squash should turn up on our menus more often. I had a couple of my not-entirely-successful parmesan custards left over, so I decided that the best possible use for them was a spaghetti squash carbonara.

I cut the spaghetti squash in half and laid them, cut side down, on a greased sheet of foil on a baking tray, and baked them for about 45 minutes on 180C. In a sautee pan I fried a couple of chopped cloves of garlic and a packet of snipped jamon in a little olive oil, then added the runny parmesan custards and another handful of grated parmesan. I scooped the seeds out of the baked and slightly cooled squash, then shredded the flesh into the sautee pan. When it was all piping hot, I divided it between our serving bowls and topped it with a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Delicious! Much better than the original custards, and because of the squash it felt much lighter to eat than a cream-based pasta sauce usually is.

Saturday 5 December 2009

Garlic Soup - a second attempt

A couple of weeks ago I made some cauliflower soup. It was pretty good, but it really made both of us think of the garlic soup we had in Switzerland a couple of years ago.

I'd had an attempt at making it when we got back but it wasn't quite the way we'd remembered it. The cauliflower soup made me think that a base of a pureed vegetable might be the way to go, which led to this.

I used very finely sliced potatoes and the white part of leek, cooked briefly in butter and just enough vegetable stock to cover it until it was tender. When it was cool I pureed the vegetables with a couple of cloves of raw garlic. Then I put this thick puree back in the saucepan, thinned it with white wine and cream and gently reheated it and served it with some seared scallops on top.

This version was better than my previous attempt, but still not quite there. I think the potato base deadened the flavour too much. The next one will be a cauliflower version.

I'll be sending this to Deb for her Souper Sunday round-up.

Wednesday 2 December 2009

Plum Tart

You may remember that about a year ago I made this apple tart. It was a recipe from FX Cuisine and it was both easy and delicious. And yet it wasn't quite right. It was quite eggy and one-dimensional and not all that I wanted it to be.

Now, I am pleased to present the perfected version. I used plums, taking advantage of the sharp edge they have when cooked. I added nuts and cinnamon. It was divine.

Plum Tart

500g small purple plums, quartered
200ml full-fat milk
70g raw sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
100g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
100g finely chopped hazelnuts
2 eggs
30ml vegetable oil

50g salted butter
50g muscovado sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg

Preheat the oven to 170C.

Mix the flour, baking powder, sugar, hazelnuts and cinnamon in a bowl. Add the eggs, vanilla and vegetable oil. Gradually add the milk while beating to a smooth batter (smooth-ish, given the chopped nuts). Add the quartered plums.

Tip the mixture into a pie plate, well-greased with butter and dusted with flour. Poke at the plums a bit so they are evenly distributed in the plate. Bake for 40 minutes.

Cream the butter, sugar and cinnamon for the topping together until light and fluffy. Add the egg.

After 40 minutes pull the tart out of the oven, spread the topping over it evenly (very easy - it begins to melt on contact) and put it back in the oven for 15 minutes. When it is beautifully brown and enticing, pull it out and allow it to rest on a rack for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving with very cold cream and a glass of dessert wine.


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