Monday 30 August 2010

Bye bye barbecue

Yesterday I started to compile my order for my online groceries. And I made a terrible discovery. They have stopped stocking barbecue charcoal for the year. Even though the evenings are still reasonably long and the days are still quite warm - and sometimes even clear - the powers that be have decided that there are to be no more barbecues this year.

We are going to have to venture into actual shops (quelle horreur) to stockpile supplies for the rest of the year, and for our early spring barbecues next year.

As my farewell to the barbecue season, I thought I'd share a couple of the cracking meals that the Weber has given us this year, that didn't quite rate a post before.

A lovely rib of beef, cooked slowly and with a good bit of smoke, accompanied by onions inspired by the Barbecue Pit Boys Onion Cheese Bacon Buds (but without the bacon and cheese...), crushed minted peas and Yorkshire puddings.

Mexican Pork Wraps

500g pork mince
1tsp minced chipotle in adobo
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried wild oregano
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Tortillas, sliced onions, sliced cheese, mayo mixed with a little chipotle to serve.

With your hands, mix the mince and spices, then form into 4 long sausages around soaked kebab skewers. Rub lightly with oil.
Barbecue until cooked. When they are done, take them off the barbecue and allow to rest for a couple of minutes, while you warm the tortillas on the barbecue. Slide each "sausage" off the skewer & into a tortilla, adding slices of onion, cheese and chipotle mayo to taste. Serve grilled vegetables on the side.

Friday 27 August 2010

Forging Fromage - cultured butter

The latest cheesy challenge for the Forging Fromage blogging group is European- style cultured butter.

It is a seemingly-straightforward process of ripening some cream with some active yoghurt, whipping it until it separates and then kneading it in iced water. A process that is almost infinitely more straightforward if you have a stand mixer, or some kind of electric whisk where you DON'T have to hold down the button for the full 10 minutes. As the cream started to break down, it also started to make a heck of a mess, only partially controlled by my makeshift clingfilm spatter guard.

You know, it makes me wonder about all those recipes that caution you not to overwhip cream. It takes a bloody long time until it starts to break down, so I don't know what they are worried about.

I skimmed the butter out of the buttermilk, washed and kneaded it, and lightly salted it. I divided my butter into two logs, and froze one.

Smeared with a lavish hand onto sourdough toast, it was delicious. Still tasting very much of good cream, with just a hint of salt, the culture gave it a very delicious subtle tang.

I think, however, that my butter experience reached its pinnacle, zenith, apogee when smeared (again with a lavish hand) onto hot, fresh cherry & buttermilk scones. These scones are sheer bliss. Subtly sweet with fat juicy chunks of fresh cherry, a bit of tang from the buttermilk (leftover from making the butter) and a crunch from the demerera sugar on top.

Sadly I only made half a batch.

The rest of the buttermilk was hardly wasted though - I used it to make some lovely baguette, following Natashya's recipe. Using the buttermilk instead of water for the preferment gave it a lovely tangy flavour, and I think added to the excellent texture the crumb had. I only baked a quarter of the dough - the rest is in balls in the freezer, waiting for the right moment. I think the right moment may involve some cultured butter, don't you agree?

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Denhay Bacon

I was recently sent some samples* of Denhay's British dry-cured bacon from both their own and their spoiltpig range.

Now, as you may have noticed, I really like bacon. I've made my own a couple of times, I consider it a household staple and I have a great deal of appreciation for the folks who take the time to make a good one, so I was very keen to put the Denhay product through its paces.

The first cab out of the rank was the spoiltpig smoked back bacon. I simply fried it and served it with some hot, fresh Staffordshire oatcakes (an oaty, yeast-raised pancake) and some roasted tomatoes with a saffron-labneh dressing.

My only criticism of the bacon is that it is cut too thinly. I like quite a thick cut bacon. Aside from that, it crisped well, it didn't sweat or shrink in the pan, and it had an excellent long, porky flavour. It tastes like a very straightforward salt cure; the flavour doesn't have the complexity of honey or maple syrup cures, but it was a nice change not to have the extra layer of sweetness.

The next product to get a run was the Denhay smoked streaky bacon. To showcase it, I made an Alsatian flammek├╝che - a flat pastry tarte topped with white cheese (I used home made labneh), onions and bacon. It made a really lovely alternative to bacon and eggs for a Sunday brunch! Rich and delicious, the subtle smokiness of the bacon was just the thing. And unlike a lot of other streaky bacon, this wasn't too fatty.

The final sample I ate by myself, while Paul was away. This was the unsmoked streaky bacon. A tomato, spinach and bacon hash, topped with poached eggs, and a courgette carbonara (eaten out of a bowl this time) were both very good ways to experience this bacon. I don't often buy unsmoked bacon, because I love smoky flavours, but this added a very nice savouryness to both dishes.

The Denhay and spoiltpig brands are definitely worth looking out for, although I'll have to see if I can find their medium-cut bacon, to see if the thickness is more to my taste.

* I was not paid to write about their products and no agreement was made as to what, if anything, I should say. These are my own views.

Friday 20 August 2010

Spud crop

I've mentioned before that we don't eat a lot of potatoes at home. I find that too much starch in the evening makes my reflux kick up, and Paul has this whole big thing about cheap bulk fillers being the cause of the decline of Western society.

But for experimental purposes, we were both pretty keen to try growing our own spuds.

We bought some maris piper seed potatoes, figuring that they would be a pretty versatile potato, and planted 2 in deep grow bags.

Clearly, we didn't get an enormous crop, but that colanderful of potatoes lasted the two of us for 3 meals, which is pretty economical I think.

I made some gnocchi, which I panfried with butter, oyster mushrooms, garlic and spinach. They were served on the side of barbecued wild boar fillet, with a red wine and quince reduction. The gnocchi were very good - and the potatoes were perfect for them - but the wild boar fillets (from Fen Farm Venison) were so amazing that they totally eclipsed the spuds.

I also made a version of Nigella's slow cooked lemon garlic chicken, adding wedges of the potato. I overcooked it, but the potatoes were still excellent in it. I've never made that dish before and I do think it deserves a rematch.

But the final, and greatest usage was in a gratin dauphinois. Utter, utter perfection. Served with barbecued venison haunch and a red currant sauce, it was a first taste of winter cooking to come.

Saturday 14 August 2010

Courgette Carbonara (that is better than Jamie's)

When Paul went away in March, and I was whinging about cooking for one, my mother suggested having little treats that he isn't so keen on. It took a while for me to think of anything that I really like and he doesn't (maybe desserts) but I finally settled on something. Spaghetti carbonara. He really doesn't like runny eggyolks, so anything reminiscent of lightly-cooked egg gets the thumbs down. Spaghetti carbonara also has the virtue of being extremely quick to prepare and easy to eat, so I am pretty much having it once a week while he is working in Durham.

A couple of months ago, I had dinner with a friend at the new Jamie's Italian in Covent Garden. I was enticed by the "Beautiful bucatini carbonara", described as Tubular spaghetti with crispy fried smoked pancetta and ribbons of courgettes, tossed with eggs, thyme and Parmesan cheese. Only disappointing dish of the night, unfortunately. And boy WHAT a disappointment! Undercooked pasta swimming in salty cream, with a couple of thick batons of floppy courgette.

But I still felt that the idea was worthy of exploration, so I decided to have a go myself and see if I could do better. And as it happens, I could. It's not vastly different to any other carbonara recipe, but it is good.

Courgette Carbonara (for one)

Handful of wholewheat spaghetti
knob of butter
clove of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 courgette
50g cubetti di pancetta
2 eggs
handful of parmesan cheese
black pepper

While the pasta boils, grate the courgette. While the pasta drains, saute the courgette, pancetta and garlic in the butter until the courgette starts to wilt and the pancetta starts to crisp. While that is happening, beat the eggs in a small bowl with the parmesan and a lot of black pepper.

Return the pasta to the pan, swirling it around to get it well-coated with the garlicky courgette and bacon mixture. When it starts to sizzle, pour the egg and cheese mixture over it and remove from the heat. Eat out of the saucepan, to reduce washing up.

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Beetroot bloody beetroot

Apparently beetroot sales in Britain are up 10% this year. Unfortunately I think most of that is me, having beetroot inflicted on me week after week by my veg box scheme.

The problem is that I opt out of potatoes in my box, so every week they have to come up with something else to fill in the gap. And the "something else" is beetroot or carrots. If I ask to skip carrots this week I get beetroot and vice versa. I am running out of ways to eat them both, although I generally find carrots more versatile.

This really delicious ham hock terrine, with spicy beetroot relish was excellent, and definitely to be repeated, but it used hardly any beetroot. Some of the leftover relish was very nice with potato cakes, made from the leftover peppered potato and cauliflower.

I've also made beetroot gazpacho following this recipe, but using a lot more beetroot!

And these beetroot fritters, which I ate with some of my home made labneh.

All of these dishes were delicious and nutritious and worth knowing. But dear god I wish the beetroot would stop.

Thursday 5 August 2010

Monday 2 August 2010

Meat-Free Monday - Broad Bean Carbonara

Broadbean Carbonara

Per person:
1 handful wholemeal spaghetti
1 egg
1 knob butter
1 clove garlic
1 handful parmesan cheese
1 handful podded broadbeans
Black pepper

Peel the inner skin from the broad beans while the water is boiling for the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, break the egg into a small bowl and whisk the parmesan and pepper into it. It should be thoroughly flecked with pepper. Chop the garlic.

Drain the pasta, and put the knob of butter into the hot saucepan with the garlic and broadbeans. When the butter and garlic are sizzling, add the drained spaghetti back to the pot. Pour the egg mixture over it and give it a good stir. Remove from the heat. By the time you've got a dish out to serve it in, the egg will have thickened to a sauce.


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