Tuesday 30 March 2010

One's not so fun

Paul had to go overseas at short notice, leaving me as a single parent to Urchin. And what we have learned from this is that we don't like cooking for one. Urchin doesn't see why I can't just eat biscuits off the floor the way she does. She thinks that when I get home from work I shouldn't waste time cooking, I should be spending all my time amusing and entertaining a cat who has been by herself all day. And frankly I think that without my chief taster, I'd rather just have gin and icecream for dinner.

Fortunately, I have some sort of spirit of preservation (other than the gin) that has kept me eating some moderately healthy meals for the last couple of weeks. I've found the hardest thing to be vegetables - trying to keep a reasonable variety without them all going off or ending up with pointless wrinkled half-peppers or shopping every day is quite a challenge.

One thing that worked quite well was preparing a big pile of vegetables and then treating them in different ways. I had a cabbage, an onion, a few carrots and an apple. And a parsnip, which I had thought was a carrot but it was just really muddy. I cut it all up as if I were making a chunky coleslaw, then tossed it with the juice of a lemon and a splash of vegetable oil to slow oxidation and packed it into a lunchbox in the fridge. It lasted three meals - braised with white wine and juniper alongside some faggots; stirfried with peanut sauce and tofu; sauteed with butter and garlic with a steak.

I've also been doing some one-pot stuff: spaghetti carbonara, eggs baked with chorizo, that sort of thing. And there has also been gin and icecream.

Sunday 28 March 2010

Forging Fromage - Brousse

This month, in Forging Fromage, we've been making Brousse, a fresh goat (or sheep) cheese, traditionally eaten with honey or fresh herbs. And you know, I think this has been the simplest one yet!

It's a very straightforward method - bring your milk up to the boil, add some acid (diluted vinegar, in this instance), let the curds form, drain them and eat your cheese. Simple. The only downside is that traditionally Brousse is made in Brousse moulds, which are little perforated plastic things, which I do not have. So I had to employ my trusty egg ring, bamboo steamer and cheesecloth contraption.

It's also a good cheese for those who like their cheesy gratification to be pretty instant - because it only takes 6 hours to drain the curd to the right stage, and it is eaten very fresh, I was able to put my milk on at lunch time and eat my cheese for dinner the same night. Or you could do it before bed and have fresh goats cheese for breakfast the next day.

1 litre of full-fat goat's milk produced 1 disk of cheese, which was plenty to be getting on with!

Over a couple of days I ate it drizzled with truffle honey, on toast (with more honey), alongside pears poached in red wine with peppercorns and thyme, on wholewheat crackers with fig and fennel paste, and a sprinkling of red-wine infused salt, on crackers with chopped raw garlic and a sprinkling of Maldon salt.

Because the cheese contains no salt, it's very milky and almost sweet tasting. It made a good accompaniment for the poached pears, but I really thought it was better when I added a little pinch. I think if I make Brousse again, I'll mix some salt into the curds before I drain them.

I wonder what the next challenge will be?

Friday 26 March 2010

Other Blogger's Dishes - pasta, cookies and oatmeal

One of the downsides to blogging, I have noticed, is that other bloggers cook nicer stuff than I do. I spend much more time drooling over my keyboard and saying "I want what she's having" than I actually do cooking or planning delicious dishes of my own.

So here is a brief summary of some of the dishes I have been pinching from my friends in the blogosphere recently.

Laurie, from That's Not What The Recipe Says, is responsible for this delicious-looking baked oatmeal. She turns it out in enormous quantities for a church fundraiser, but I made a single batch just for us. Instead of raisins, I used what was on hand, which happened to be dates and dried apricots. It was lovely warm with milk, but almost better cool, when it set firm enough to cut into slices. Wonderful for taking to work to eat at my desk!

The reason why I had dates and apricots in the pantry, was that I made these raw food cookies from Laura at Hungry and Frozen. Unfortunately the drive shaft on my food processor snapped while doing the hard work on these, so I had to melt 30g of dark chocolate and knead that in to hold it all together. Very successful! So delicious you'd never dream that they were good for you.

From George at A nod is as good as a wink to a blind horse and Kat & Matt at A Good Appetite, I got this pasta dish. George's was pear, goat's cheese and walnuts, with some spinach and rocket. Kat & Matt's was pear, proscuitto, blue cheese and walnuts with baby spinach. Mine was pancetta, pear, blue cheese and rocket. Paul didn't like the pear, and I wasn't totally convinced either! I thought the sweet juiciness was going to work well with the other flavours, but I actually found it a bit jarring.

Lastly, we have Deb's meatballs. Spaghetti and meatballs isn't something I grew up with but for some reason I was really craving it at about the time I saw Deb's post. I've made them twice now, and they are absolute perfection. The first time I used half of my last beetroot roll, the second time I used some stale rye bread, and both times they had an excellent flavour and the perfect texture. My marinara sauce needs some work though, so I will definitely be making these again!

Monday 22 March 2010

Meat-Free Monday: Black Bean Soup & Quesadillas

When I ordered the chillies for my Mexican Chorizo, I bought a couple of other things as well. A jar of chopped chipotle in adobo, for example. I've seen so many recipes that call for it, but I've never seen it in a supermarket, so I thought I should snap some up. Of course, when push came to shove, I couldn't remember any of the enticing recipes that called for it! But I really wanted to use it, so I threw together this very quick soup.

Chipotle Black Bean Soup (serves 2)

Soften a diced onion and a chopped green pepper in a splash of oil. Add the chopped stalks from a handful of coriander. Add a drained and rinsed tin of black beans and half a teaspoon of chipotle in adobo, and just cover with hot vegetable stock. Simmer about 5 minutes to blend the flavours. Run a stick blender through it to give it some body, but leave it mostly chunky. Reheat and correct the seasoning. Make a quick salad/ salsa sort of thing with coriander leaves, halved cherry tomatoes, a clove of crushed garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice. Serve on top of the soup, with quesadillas on the side. These were manchego and rocket quesadillas, and pretty damn delicious.

It takes no time at all, but still tastes really good, so I am going to send it over to Deb for Souper Sundays! SouperSundays

Saturday 20 March 2010

Like Water For Chocolate - Mexican Chorizo

When I first read Laura Esquivel's magic realist novel Like Water For Chocolate, many years ago now, I absolutely loved it. I was delighted to have the opportunity to re-read it for this round of the Cook the Books Club.

Sadly, I didn't love it this time around. Pedro is such a waste of space, that it makes Tita's love for him completely inexplicable. I still liked the food bits, but my irritation at Tita and Pedro got in the way of real enjoyment. I also found the writing style a bit jejune - simplistic, immature and dull. I had no insight into any of the characters and I didn't much care what happened to them. Such a shame - I would have been better off sticking to my memory of loving it!

It didn't take me long, though, to decide what I was going to make, inspired by the book. The description of Tita's painstaking preparation of the chorizo drew me in, and I was very keen to make some - although in a much smaller quantity and without nearly as much chilli!

I did a bit of a search and came upon this collection of different recipes for Mexican-style chorizo. I decided that the most do-able one, with the nicest-sounding seasoning, was the last one on the page. It contains ancho and pasilla chillies, coriander, cumin, paprika, cloves, oregano and garlic. How wonderfully fragrant and delicious!

Once I sourced my chillies (from the Cool Chile Co) I was able to get under way.

Of course, once I had my batch of chorizo, I had to decide what to do with it. I made a Sunday breakfast of chorizo con huevos - eggs scrambled with chorizo. I served it on a warm tortilla, topped with grated cheese, quartered cherry tomatoes and chopped coriander.

To my surprise, the chorizo was actually a bit lacking in flavour, although the smoky chilli flavours were quite good. So I turned the rest of the loose chorizo back into a mixing bowl and added 1 tsp smoked paprika, 1 tsp cayenne pepper and another tsp of salt. Much improved! I think Mexican chorizo is going to become a much-favoured ingredient around our house!

Saturday 13 March 2010

Foodekaat - Himmel un Äd

A while back, the well-travelled and linguistically-inclined Travelrat commented on my blog that Foodycat sounds like Foodekaat, which is the Kölsch (dialect of Cologne) for menu! I would love to say that it was deliberate, but it wasn't, it was a happy accident.

It did get me wondering about the food of Cologne, and thinking that, in honour of the happy accident, I should make something traditional to that part of Germany.

One dish that kept coming up in my searches was an unlikely sounding concoction called Himmel un Äd (in Kölsch, Himmel und Erde in German, Heaven and Earth in English) - a potato and apple puree most often served with blutwurst (black pudding) and fried onions. I decided to take the elements (potato, apple & black pudding) and make it into something a bit more refined.

Heaven and Earth (serves 2)

300g pink fir apple potatoes
bunch of flat leaf parsley
handful of lardons
1 tsp capers, drained
1 shallot, finely sliced
3 tbs white wine vinegar
2 thick slices of black pudding (I know a lot of people rate Bury, I prefer Stornoway) cut in half
1 Granny Smith apple, cored and cut into 8ths
2 pigeon breasts, cut in half
1 clove of garlic, minced
knob of butter
splash of oil
black pepper

Boil the spuds until tender, then drain and place in a salad bowl. Fry the lardons until crisp, then add to the potatoes, along with the capers, parsley and shallot. Deglaze the bacon pan with the vinegar and pour that over the potatoes. Add the butter and oil to the pan (the deglazing means you don't have to wash it up) and when the butter foams, add the apple slices, pigeon breasts and black pudding. Sprinkle the minced garlic over it. After about 3 minutes, turn the ingredients. After another 3 minutes season with black pepper and serve alongside the still-warm potato salad. A minimum effort supper dish that is really very delicious. If not precisely as they make it in Cologne!

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Reuben Sandwich

I'd been feeling that I hadn't done any cured meat in a while. I wanted to make some sausage or bacon or something. And then I hit upon the perfect thing. Pastrami.

I did some googling, and decided that this recipe from Emeril Lagasse seemed like the most workable for the home cook. I also liked the sound of the seasonings in the brine - I thought it was likely to make delicious pastrami. I used a smaller piece of brisket, so I only left it in the brine for two weeks, not three.

I smoked it on oak dust for 3 hours (it was a very cold day, and I think the ambient temperature kept the smoker cooler than usual) until it reached an internal temperature of 70C. During the smoking, the connective tissue melted out a bit and the brisket separated into two slabs.

The only other thing that I did differently was to press the pastrami under some fairly heavy weights (a plate, a wooden board and 3 cans of tomatoes) over night in order to make it easier to slice into neat serving slices. I left one half intact, wrapped it tightly and put it in the freezer, the other stayed out for eating!

So there was my pastrami. But how to eat it? Well, it had to be a Reuben sandwich! Although apparently it is only a reuben if it is made with salt beef. The same sandwich made with pastrami is a Rachel.

So I needed to make some good rye bread, to match my lovely pastrami.

We've been watching the Hairy Bikers on BBC iplayer, and I really liked their Classic Brown Loaf. It used a technique I haven't tried before, of making a ferment with flour, water and yeast and leaving it overnight before adding it to the rest of the flour.

I was very, very dubious when I put the ferment together - it looked very dry - but as the yeast started to work the bubbles worked through all the flour and made a very light sponge.

Because I wanted the rye flavour to come through more, I subbed rye flour for all of the wholemeal flour in the main bread recipe. I also used the last of my whey from cheesemaking instead of the water, to give it an extra tang.

I was a bit scared when I left the bread to prove - at one point I thought it was going to overflow all over the kitchen, so it only got 1 1/2 hours before it went into the oven. It did need the full 30 minutes to bake though.

It's a lovely bread! I gave it about 20 minutes to cool before I cut it, but I should have been a wee bit more patient, because it sliced much better when it was properly cooled.

The rye tang was still very subtle, but it had a lovely chewy texture and robust flavour. And I think the crust is the best I have ever produced; just the right balance between crisp and chewy. The very thing for my sandwich.

So then it was really just a matter of assembly. A good slice of bread, thickly smeared with mustard (we used Dijon), topped with overlapping thin slices of the pastrami, then forkfuls of well-drained sauerkraut and slices of gruyere cheese.

That went under the grill until the cheese melted and the sauerkraut and pastrami was hot through.

Topped with a second slice of bread and served with tall glasses of German beer, this was pretty much the perfect sandwich experience, and made a really delicious lunch. Genuinely worth the effort! This sandwich is going to Deb for her Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday event!SouperSundays

Monday 8 March 2010

Urchin and the Carpet

Haven't had any cat pictures for a while! She's 18 months old now and in the middle of a bit of a growth spurt. She's still very dainty but she is beginning to grow into those enormous paws.

This is one of Urchin's favourite games - the monster under the carpet. She is now onto her third one of those feather ticklers, because she is so vicious with it when she catches it, but we think it is a small price to pay for the entertainment of a cat.

Friday 5 March 2010

Fish Pie for British Pie Week

The week commencing 1st March - this week in fact - is British Pie Week. I hold pies very close to my heart: I think they are comforting, nurturing and very delicious whether sweet or savoury. But I was a bit put off by the fact that Pie Week is pretty much an advertising gimmick for a large pastry manufacturer. So how to celebrate the wonder of traditional British pies whilst sticking it to the man? A pastry-free pie.

In Britain, you see a lot of dishes with a mashed potato topping (shepherd's pie, cottage pie) called a pie. And although I love cottage pie, I absolutely adore fish pie.

There's a lot of flexibility around a fish pie. It's generally a white sauce base, but I have made very good pies on a veloute sauce. Some people like hard boiled eggs in the filling and cheese in the mashed potato - I don't. But I do like a variety of fish and something vegetable-y in mine. But not peas. Please.

This is my recipe for this particular small fish pie. It served the two of us, with enough leftovers for a lunch the next day. If you do a thicker layer of potato, it'll go further.

Fish Pie

2tbs butter
2tbs plain flour
1 leek, washed and finely sliced
Milk (about 1 cup - I used semi skimmed)
A big handful of chopped parsley
300g cod fillet, skinned and cut into chunks (I used an MSC certified one, but if you can't find that, any sustainable white flaky fish)
200g undyed smoked haddock fillet, skinned and cut into chunks (you can use the lurid yellow dyed one, of course. Or a drained can of smoked mussels)
150g raw peeled prawns
freshly ground white pepper
400g frozen mashed potato, thawed (or, you know, a spud and a bit of butter)

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan. When it foams, add the shredded leeks and saute until well-wilted. Sprinkle on the flour and stir well until the flour is thoroughly absorbed into the butter and leeks.

Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly, until you have a thick sauce. I make this a lot thicker and stodgier than my normal bechamel, because I don't pre-cook my seafood, so it'll throw off a lot of moisture and I don't want a runny pie filling.

Add the parsley. Season the sauce well with nutmeg and white pepper. The smoked haddock is very salty, so I don't add extra salt. Simmer for a couple of minutes.

Stir in the seafood, and allow the sauce to come back up to the simmer. Remove from the heat when the prawns are beginning to turn pink.

Pour into a pyrex baking dish, I use an 8" square one. Top with the mashed potato and rough it up with a fork.

Put into a 180C oven for about 35-45 minutes or until the filling is bubbling up around the sides of the dish and the peaks of the potato are an appetising brown. Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving. I served it with steamed purple sprouting broccoli, dressed in a shallot and caper vinaigrette. The rich, creamy fish pie likes something a bit tangy on the side.

Monday 1 March 2010

A reminder - Cook the Books

Don't forget everyone, you have until Friday, March 26th, to get on board this round of Cook the Books. We're reading Like Water for Chocolate and cooking dishes inspired by it.

Now, I have decided what I am going to cook. I think. I am pretty sure. But I have noticed that some of the spicy flavours in the book are already sneaking into my cooking! To go with Delia's chilli, I was planning to make some cornbread. But when I opened the cupboard I discovered that we were out of polenta. So I did an audit of the pantry and fridge and then hit Google, coming up with this excellent recipe for a savoury spicy pumpkin bread. I used some of my frozen whey supply instead of milk, but otherwise followed the recipe. It was very successful! Moist, pumpkin-y and with a definite kick. It was also wonderful toasted under the grill and served with cheese for an easy lunch.

I also had most of a tub of cream in the fridge, plus quite a lot of chocolate in the pantry. Several people had given us beautiful artisan dark chocolate for Christmas, but sadly most of it had bloomed. Perfect for cooking, not so good for eating straight. I decided to make a half quantity of Jamie Oliver's chocolate pots, and spice them up a bit. Instead of the brandy, I used half a tablespoon each of good rum, vanilla extract and maple syrup (the extra bitter dark chocolate I was using was a bit much) and added a small amount of cayenne pepper and cinnamon - just enough to give a subtle warmth, not a flavour.

It was pretty cold in my kitchen, so I allowed them to set slowly at room temperature, and garnished the top of each with a tablespoon of cream, so it had a smooth, white surface. It made 2 ramekins-worth, but each ramekin served 2 people generously. It is very, very rich! If I were making it to serve to people I am not married to, I'd make it in shot glasses.


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