Thursday 25 February 2010

A short season of Delia Smith

Recently on BBC iplayer we've been watching Delia Through The Decades - a retrospective of Delia Smith's career in TV cookery. It inspired me to dig out my Delia Smith cookbooks and see how the recipes have stood the test of time. It's been cold and wet, with slushy snow and sleet for the last couple of weeks, so I gravitated to the Winter Collection and particularly the chapter on casseroles! I bought a Casserole Box from the Well Hung Meat Company and set about converting the meat into delicious meals - so my recipe selection was partly dictated by the cuts in the box.

First up was the pork stroganoff with three kinds of mustard, using the diced pork. Instead of grainy mustard I used some fancyschmance sun-dried tomato mustard that I got in a Christmas hamper. I also subbed buttermilk for the creme fraiche because it is a third of the price, and added some dried porcini mushrooms because they are delicious. Sadly, this is a very beige plate, because when I cut into the red cabbage that I intended to braise, I discovered that it was in fact a green cabbage with red outer leaves. So I stirfried the shredded cababge with onions and apples and seasoned it with nutmeg. So aesthetically speaking this is a fail, but for flavour a definite win.

Then came Braised Steak au Poivre - a slow-cooked variation on a French pepper steak. My only real variation in this one was to use a mixture of black and fresh green peppercorns. Again, it won't win any beauty contests - although serving it with gratin dauphinoise made things worse - but the flavour was excellent. The braising steak became tender and even though there is only a small amount of cream in it, it tasted very rich and decadent.

With the diced beef from the casserole box, I made Black Bean Chilli with Avocado Salsa. This was the only one of the recipes I'd made before, so I knew it was good. Unfortunately the supermarket substituted a small can of red kidney beans for my 500g bag of dried black turtle beans, so the chilli wasn't as beany as I like and didn't have the luscious purple colour that the black beans give. But the flavour was excellent and the fresh, cool salsa is such a nice contrast in temperature and texture.

Lastly, the lamb neck fillet was crying out to become Irish Stew with Crusted Dumplings. I only used neck fillets, rather than a mixture of fillets and cutlets, and I cheated and bought suet dumplings - I can get suet dumplings from supermarket for less than the ingredients to make them. So because my dumplings didn't have parsley in them, I added some dried thyme to the seasoned flour. I made this on Tuesday night, while my spaghetti sauce was simmering for that night's dinner, then added the dumplings and finished it off in the oven last night, so even though it has a long cooking time, it wasn't at all arduous. This one will definitely be made again - somehow I hadn't realised that lamb and barley and dumplings are three of Paul's favourite foods, and together they had him in raptures.

I'm now inspired to go through more of my cookbooks, to see what treasures I have missed, or forgotten!

Monday 22 February 2010

Forging Fromage - Paneer

After my last attempt at cheese, Natashya from Living in the Kitchen with Puppies invited me to join her this month in Forging Fromage. And this month, the challenge was that delicious, squeaky, Indian curd cheese, paneer.

Now, the very first thing I have learned about making cheese is that white cheese on a white cheesecloth on a white plate plays merry hell with the automatic white balance on my camera and sends nearly all pictures to shit.

So I don't have a useable picture of the curds in the saucepan, the curds draining in the cloth or hanging in the jug. So you'll have to take my word for it that those things happened. The first picture I have is after I turned the pressed cheese out ready to eat.

I followed the recipe from Mirch Masala, reposted on Forging Fromage, but I also watched this fantastic YouTube tutorial from Show Me The Curry. It was all ridiculously straightforward, but from the ladies at Show Me The Curry I took the idea of suspending the curds in a jug, to let the weight of the curds themselves help drain them, and the jug catches the whey, Nifty, huh?

I only used 1 litre of milk for my paneer - if it all went tits up, I didn't want to have mounds of curdled milk, plus I had a very specific intention for my paneer and I didn't need a lot for it.

After 12 hours of pressing, I was a bit apprehensive because the cheese was still quite soft. Maybe the jar of sauerkraut I was using as a weight wasn't heavy enough. It was, however, firm enough to slice into pieces, and toss in cornflour in order to fry it and make chilli paneer.

It was actually my quest for a chilli paneer recipe that got me on my intellectual property jag. Do a search for chilli paneer recipes. Do those pictures all seem remarkably similar to you? Can you figure out where it originally came from? And adding insult to injury, the recipe that goes along with it isn't always the same recipe!

But what I wanted was a recipe that was going to turn out like the one at my favourite Indian restaurant, Sahibs. And this recipe looked to me like it would fit the bill. The presence of soy sauce in it is something that surprised me the first time I tasted it at Sahibs, and the green pepper in it also made me think I was on the right track.

My paneer held together well as I coated the slices well in cornflour, and submitted patiently to being turned in the frying pan. Despite the slightly custardier texture when it was finished, it still had a bit of the chewiness and bite that commercial paneer has. It was lovely! I'm not sure that there will be a next time though. I think to make it worthwhile, you really do need to do at least 2 litres of milk, and that would still only make enough for a main course for two people. On the other hand, the texture of home made paneer would be just the thing if you were making rasgulla. So, never say never...

Friday 19 February 2010

Anniversary Dinner - The Clarendon

Strangely, our second visit to The Clarendon was also a consolation prize. For our wedding anniversary recently I'd booked a table at our favourite French restaurant in Covent Garden. And then the night before they'd called me to say that there was a mistake and they were fully booked.

So Paul booked a table for us at The Clarendon. I didn't have my camera with me, so you are just getting one phone picture!

We each started with a glass of champagne. As a starter Paul ordered smoked salmon with preserved lemon and soda bread. I think we were both expecting a couple of slices of bread, on the side of a plate of smoked salmon. The presentation was a bit poncier than that (and not necessarily more successful). Curled rosettes of really lovely salmon were placed about the plate, interspersed with crumbs of soda bread, rosettes of creme fraiche and thin, elegant slices of preserved lemon. The flavours were all there, and were wonderful, but it's bloody hard to pick up breadcrumbs on a fork.

I loved the pea salad with goats cheese fritters so much last time that I ordered the seasonal beetroot version. Then I doubted my sanity because I've been getting beetroot in my vegetable box for the last 6 weeks and I'm sick to death of them. But when the salad arrived, I was at peace with my choice. Tiny halved, pickled beets (I mean TINY - about an inch long), cubes of confit beet, shavings of a raw pink-streaked white beet and a lot of pea sprouts were topped with three hot goats cheese fritters (alleluja! The last time there were only two fritters and it was just plain wrong) and dressed with pomegranate seeds and juice. The pea sprouts were very boring to eat, and took a lot of chewing, and I think the raw beet could possibly have been scrubbed more scrupulously, but the combination of beetrooty flavours and textures with the hot cheese fritters and the fruity pomegranate was just lovely.

We hit a bit of a snag with the wine for our main courses. We ended up having our third choice because the others were all out of stock. Still, it was a very nice Bordeaux that I really enjoyed.

Paul's main course was a venison hotpot with honey roast parsnips, while I had 7-hour roast pork belly with red cabbage and apple and ginger puree. Both dishes were good, but badly overdid the veal demi-glace. The apple and ginger puree with my pork was gorgeous - smooth and tangy, but with an underlying heat from ground ginger. I think I will adopt the idea next time I make an apple sauce.

We'd both spurned potato accompaniments with our mains (we had a wonderful little gem salad with mustard vinaigrette) in order to leave a little bit of room for dessert. Paul had the eccles cakes that I'd so adored the last time (served this time with stilton as well as wensleydale) and I surprised myself by ordering a chocolate dessert. I hardly ever order chocolate desserts! I think chocolate is shown to best advantage in a stand-alone afternoon tea dish or something, and not in a rich dessert at the end of a filling meal when the palate is already dulled by too many flavours. But the waitress showed her only real animation of the evening talking about this chocolate tart, so I thought I really had to. Boy. Oh boy. What a dessert! The pastry was very thin and quite crisp, not the shortbready sort of texture you often get with a dessert tart. The chocolate filling was very dark and quite bitter, smooth but not dense and not at all cloying. It was topped with the tiniest scattering of salt flakes. I know salted chocolate and caramel are very chic at the moment, but this is the first time I have had it done really well. It was just the right amount of salt to cut through the chocolate but not overpower it. There was also half of a warm clementine, poached, I am told, for 24 hours, so it was meltingly soft. Again, I'm really not a fan of fruit and chocolate usually, but this combination was sublime. And a shot glass of warm spiced chocolate wine, which brought the flavour of the clementine and the tart together perfectly. It made me wonder why everyone doesn't whisk some dark chocolate into their mulled wine - I think I will try it.

So. Not my first choice of restaurant, and certainly not flawless, but very good and definitely worth a visit for a special occasion.

Tuesday 16 February 2010

Beetroot - Theme and variations

The beet is the most intense of vegetables. The radish, admittedly, is more feverish, but the fire of the radish is a cold fire, the fire of discontent, not of passion. Tomatoes are lusty enough, yet there runs through tomatoes an undercurrent of frivolity. Beets are deadly serious." Tom Robbins

It feels like I have been wrestling with beetroot my whole life, woman and girl. In fact, it's only been about a month since the onslaught of these passionate, serious vegetables started. Every week I open my vegetable box and it's more bloody beetroot. Now, I quite like beetroot, but I've really had to wrack my brain for good uses for them.

So far, they have turned up on my table as:

A dip - inspired by this recipe for a boiled lemon aioli. It was a boiled lime, which I combined with roasted beetroot, roasted cloves of garlic and a tub of cream cheese. We dunked some salsify and celeriac oven fries in it. We didn't love it. The lime gave an unpleasant bitter tinge to the dip and the garlic flavour was entirely lost.

A cake, similar to a Swiss rueblitorte. Swiss carrot cakes are nothing like American carrot cakes - they contain a lot of almond meal and eggwhites and tend to be very moist and lemony, and very carroty, rather than the heady nutmeg and cinnamon aroma and "cakier" texture of an American carrot cake. I consulted with my aunt, currently the family proponent of the rueblitorte. I knew she had tried a beetroot version, but her verdict was that it wasn't very successful, so I decided to make one using half carrot and half beetroot. I frosted it with a little lemon glace icing and - since it was around Valentine's Day - decorated it with some hearts, drawn freehand with a toothpick dipped in red icing paste, diluted with a little of the glace icing, and a little sprinkle of red edible glitter. Very cute, I thought!

Strangely, although the batter was very, very red, when it was cooked it was much more orange - it certainly looked more like a carrot cake than a beetroot cake. The slightly bitter edge that raw beetroot has was mellowed by the sweetness of the carrots, and it was very successful, albeit a surprise for Paul who hasn't tried rueblitorte before.

Gnocchi - made following this recipe, although I substituted gorgonzola dolcelatte for the ricotta. And then when the first one into the water disintegrated so thoroughly that it looked like soup, I added an extra 200g of flour, and even so they were very, very soft, leading me to believe that 25g plain flour is a typo.

The gnocchi were good with a game casserole, but even better the next day at work with some (bought) arrabiata sauce.

Bread - when I saw these unbelievably beautiful sandwiches at Eats Well With Others, I knew I had to make a beetroot bread. Only problem being that the recipe she used for the bread is from a book that I don't have and isn't posted on the internet. I found this recipe, but I had to throw away the first batch of yeast because adding the salt to the water to activate it kills it. And after two hours proving, with a nice, fresh batch of yeast it hadn't moved at all, so I had to add a second dose of activated yeast. Still, the buns were nice, if not the glowing red colour that Joanne achieved, and eaten hot and fresh, with sauerkraut, pastrami, gruyere and mustard, they made an excellent lunch.

Indian-spiced patties - I followed this recipe, using 1 cup of beetroot, instead of half carrot (because I used all the carrots in the cake). I chopped the peanuts, and I didn't have any amchur powder, so I used a bit of tamarind paste to add a touch of sourness. Magic. Unbelievably good. Really, really wonderful. I urge you to make these. They would be a perfect dish to present to a vegan friend who is sick of getting mushrooms whenever they go out. We had them as part of a platter that included tandoori chicken and chilli paneer.

So there you have it. Several varied ways with beets. Some more successful than others. And I profoundly hope they go out of season soon. Asparagus season never seems to drag like this.

Sunday 14 February 2010

Nothing says "I love you" like cheese...

Happy Valentine's Day! Now - what do you give someone who really doesn't care for chocolate? Heart-shaped cheeses.

The black waxed cheese is a Godminster cheddar, a raw milk, organic cheese made in the traditional way in Somerset. The bloomy white cheese is coeur de Neufchatel, a raw milk soft cheese made in the traditional way in France. We will enjoy these with some nice wine, a few crackers and possible some lovely fig and fennel paste that I have been saving for a special occasion.

I am extremely lucky to have access to unpasteurised cheeses. The range of flavours and textures that are available in unpasteurised, artisan cheeses just can't be beaten, but it is an experience that is denied to a lot of people. I'm pretty sure you can't get unpasteurised cheeses in the US. In Australia, you can apply for a licence to import them but you can't produce them for sale. Crazy. Food Standards Australia is looking at a proposal to change the standards for cheese in Australia, and is seeking public submissions. So I would urge any Australians who would like a chance to buy a locally produced raw milk cheese, and to continue to enjoy imported cheeses, to join cheese guru Will Studd (and, in fact, my mother, who gave me the heads up on this) and have a look at what is being proposed and let Food Standards Australia know that these cheesemaking traditions are important and that the products are both delicious and safe.

It's almost time for me to get off my soapbox... but there is one more thing!

You may have noticed that today's photograph has a watermark on it. I'll be experimenting with it a bit until I get one I am happy with. As far as I know, I haven't had any content pinched from my site, but I do know a lot of people who have. I was looking for a recipe online the other day and saw the same picture of a dish, and the identical recipe, reproduced without attribution in about 1o different places. This is not OK. This is a theft of intellectual property. The only recipes I publish on this site are the ones that I developed. The only pictures I use are the ones that either Paul or I took. This is a very useful article on some ways to combat content theft but I am still trying to figure out which ones I will adopt. It is a sad state of affairs, but it does seem that anyone who puts any effort into their blogs will at some point be ripped off by someone who is too lazy to do their own work. Please help fight content theft.

... and I'm done. I'll have a post involving more food and less politics soon, I swear!

Thursday 11 February 2010

A belated Burns Supper

Actually, our Burns Supper wasn't at all belated, just my posting about it is! While we don't do the poetry and toasts and pagentry, we do use the 25th of January as an excuse to eat haggis. Because it tastes good and contains about a million calories (or, in fact, 300/ 100g), so is an occasional treat and therefore needs an excuse.

Instead of buying a whole, traditional haggis, this time I bought a 200g section of a "haggis pudding", packed like a black pudding in a plastic skin. This suited my purposes perfectly. I divided the haggis in two, and pressed each portion into a big, flat portobello mushroom and roasted it in the oven until the mushroom juices were flowing and the edges of the haggis were crisp but not too dry.

I served it with bashed neeps (mashed turnips - which are what we Southerners call swedes) flavoured with a little butter and a lot of nutmeg, broccolini and a whiskey sauce. The whiskey sauce is a bit contentious; apparently only tourists would eat haggis with a whiskey sauce. Well, sometimes I am a tourist, and the sauce tasted good so I am not ashamed.

Whiskey Sauce for haggis (or steak or chicken)

1 tsp butter
1 shallot, finely diced
1/4 cup whiskey
1/2 tsp dijon mustard
2tbs double cream

Melt the butter and add the diced shallot. Saute until transparent. Add the whiskey and allow to reduce by half. Whisk in the mustard and cream. Do not allow to boil again.

Since we were already doing an "occasional treat" meal, I also made a dessert. Now, I found a couple of recipes for something called Edinburgh Fog - basically amaretti biscuits with boozy cream - and I decided to make it into a Scottish-influenced version of Eton Mess (broken meringues, strawberries and whipped cream) .

Fettes Mess (serves 2)

1/2 cup amaretti biscuits, broken into pieces
2 tbs whiskey
1 tbs honey
1 cup raspberries (fresh Scottish ones in summer - these were frozen)
1/2 cup double cream

Whip the cream to soft peaks, fold in the other ingredients and divide between 2 glasses. Allow to chill for a couple of hours before serving.

Sunday 7 February 2010

Split Pea and Ham Soup

Just a quick one today - inspired by George at A Nod Is As Good As A Wink To A Blind Horse.

It's not exactly fast food, because it takes about 4 hours to cook, but those are 4 very low-effort hours! And the rich, comforting flavour makes the time spent well worth it. As an added bonus, it gets really thick when it cools, so it is fabulous to take to work because it doesn't leak all over your lunch bag.

Split Pea and Ham Soup (makes lots)

2 leeks, washed and finely sliced (or an onion, but I had leeks that wanted using)
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 smoked ham hock
2 bayleaves
500g split peas (yellow or green - in Australia I always used green but I've only seen yellow in the UK)
500g frozen baby peas
Black pepper

In a big saucepan, combine the leeks, carrots, ham hock and bayleaves. Cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cover and reduce the heat. Simmer for at least 2 hours, more like 3, until the flesh is falling from the ham bone. Remove the ham hock. Add the split peas to the ham stock, cover and continue to simmer for an hour or so until the split peas have completely collapsed to mush.

When the ham hock is cool enough to handle, peel off the rind (most of the fat will go with it) and pull all of the meat off the bone. Cut it into big bite-size chunks (as in, not dainty bites, but still small enough to get them into your mouth) and set aside.

When the soup is a mush, stir in the ham chunks, the frozen peas and a lot of freshly ground black pepper. Simmer another 5 minutes or so, until the frozen peas have cooked through but still retain their fresh, sweet flavour.

Serve generous bowls full.

I think this is definitely one to send to Deb's Kahakai Kitchen for her Souper Sunday round-up!


Thursday 4 February 2010


Paul's calamondin bonsai has picked up an unfortunate outbreak of aphids. God knows where they came from in this weather. So he picked all the fruit hanging on it before he took it outside to treat it.

Nine little sour orange limes. As with the blood oranges, I like something that doesn't look as it tastes. These look like perfect little oranges, a bit smaller than a ping pong ball, but the flavour is like an intense lime, with an amazing citrus fragrance.

One went into a batch of friands, since I had 6 eggwhites in the freezer. I halved the calamondin, removed the seeds and chopped it really finely, before proceeding with my usual friand recipe. They were buttery, citrussy and just the thing with a cup of coffee.

The other eight went into a very small batch of marmelade. I used this recipe, which is very simple. Because the calamondins have thin, loose peel like a tangerine, it was very simple to get every scrap of flesh and pith out of them. I overcooked the marmelade a bit, so the flavour is very rich and caramelly and it has set very firmly. I think a batch of home made bread is in order, to provide a fitting base for a lovely preserve. Or maybe a marmelade rolypoly pudding. Or some scones.


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