Tuesday 28 December 2010

Christmas feasting (part 3 - dessert)

Without further ado - the final course of my Christmas feast. Because Paul isn't a dessert lover, I decided to do a Christmassy version of one of the desserts he will eat - the tiramisu. Plus tiramisu is pretty much trifle, and for whatever reason trifles are a big part of a British Christmas. I reckon this is the best chocolate dessert I have ever, ever made. It's very rich, not very sweet and just gorgeous. It was so good that I am delighted I purchased a trifle bowl just for this occasion.

Chocolate chestnut tiramisu (serves about 8-10)

1 packet savoiardi biscuits (prob won't need all of them)
1 cup very strong coffee
1/4 cup dry marsala
180g very good dark chocolate
50ml marsala (extra)
3tbs caster sugar
seeds from 1 vanilla pod
2 eggs, separated
250g mascarpone
1 can (435g) unsweetened chestnut puree
200ml double cream
chocolate & marrons glace for garnishing

Mix the cooled coffee and marsala. Place a layer of savoiardi biscuits in the bottom of a trifle dish and pour half of the coffee mixture over it in an even layer.

In a glass bowl, mix the broken chocolate, sugar, extra marsala and vanilla. Place over a saucepan of simmering water, and beat until the chocolate is just melted, then add the eggyolks and whisk until it forms a frothy mousse. Remove from the heat & fold through the mascarpone and chestnut puree.

In a clean bowl, whisk the eggwhites to soft peaks. In two batches, fold the eggwhites through the chocolate mixture, until just combined, then pour half the moussey chocolate mixture over the layer of savoiardi in the trifle bowl.

Place another layer of savoiardi gently over the chocolate mixture, and sprinkle with more of the coffee and marsala mixture. You may not need all of it to give them a good coating.

Pour the rest of the chocolate mixture over the second layer of savoiardi.

Whisk the cream to soft peaks, and spread over the chocolate mixture. Garnish with grated chocolate and pieces of marrons glace.

Cover with cling film and set aside in a cool place for a couple of hours before serving.

Monday 27 December 2010

Christmas feasting (part 2 - main course)

I was quite determined that we were going to have goose as the centrepiece of our Christmas meal. Apparently roast goose has been the festive meat of Britain since the ancient Celts fattened them for Samhain, and I saw no reason to break with that tradition!

Of course, a goose is too big for two people, so when it was delivered on the 23rd I jumped into action with a sharp knife and a pair of poultry shears. The legs came off and were put into a bit of salt, to cure before making them into confit, to be eaten another day.

The breasts came off as well. One went into the fridge just as it was, to be browned in a frying pan before being finished in the oven on a rack over a dish of water. The other breast joined the legs being cured, although I made a slightly more flavoursome cure of mace, sugar, salt, fennel pollen and thyme. That breast was going to be hot smoked over lapsang souchong tea.

The large lumps of fat in the body cavity and most of the rest of the skin and fat went into a pan with some cold water, to render out the fat. A large piece of skin, plus whatever extra meat I could strip off, and the liver, were made into a sausage, which was also going to be smoked (this ended up tasting horrible, and it didn't make the final platter, so I won't mention it again).

Finally whatever was left of the carcass, along with the giblets, some stock veg and a bayleaf, went into a large pot with some cold water to be simmered for stock.

I decided that because it was just us sharing the celebration, the plating would look much nicer if I just made one large shared platter. Sauteed cabbage, cauliflower puree (I was going to make a celeriac mash, but I had a lot of cauliflower left from the canapes, so I combined it with an equal amount of mashed potato) topped with some of the goose scratchings rendered out of the fat. The smoked goose breast. The roast goose breast. And some of these pickled pears.

It was wonderful!

The leftover meat is going to join the confit goose legs in a very grand and rich cassoulet in a couple of days, with beans cooked in the goose stock. And the goosefat is safely tucked away in the freezer, for superior roast potatoes once we recover from all this rich food.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Christmas Feasting (part 1 - canapes)

I hope everyone has recovered from yesterday? Not too much stress or over-indulgence or travelling ridiculous distances?

I had a lovely day yesterday! I took full advantage of it just being us & Urchin at home, and the snowy weather, to make a Christmas dinner as I felt it should be done. We're not usually at home for Christmas, so I have never had an excuse to decorate. This year I bought a wreath for the door, decorated a tree (a small juniper that Paul is contemplating bonsai-ing) and hung mistletoe from the light fittings.

One of the things I really like about Christmas in this country is how deeply you feel the roots of the celebration. I can understand Christians getting upset about losing "the reason for the season", but the early church co-opted the existing winter solstice festivals, and many of the traditional Christmas trappings in the UK are definitely pre-Christian.

Mistletoe, holly, ivy, mulled cider and a table groaning under the weight of roasted meats - these things have absolutely nothing to do with a child being born in a stable in Bethlehem, probably in spring, and everything to do with the frozen darkness of midwinter in Europe. And I think it is fab.

So as well as enjoying the faintly twee aspects of Christmas: cups of cocoa adorned with candy canes; carol singers coming through the neighbourhood; brandy and cinnamon in everything, I was also planning my menu.

We'd decided to have the main meal in the evening, but with some champagne and fortifying canapes during the day. A couple of weeks ago I was at Borough Market, and bought some gorgeous little Scottish oatcake canape cases, which I filled with a cauliflower puree and topped with salmon roe. This was a nod to a New Year's Eve dinner that I made for Paul about 6 years ago, which stood out as the best New Year's either of us has ever had. I also bought a jar of baby figs marinated in brandy, and wrapped a fig and a lump of stilton in proscuitto and baked them until the cheese softened and the ham began to crisp. We had a bottle of Moet. I opened my presents (Paul's sadly haven't arrived yet). It was the perfect start to Christmas.

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Other Blogger's Dishes - lamb, soup & ox cheeks

As I was saying the other day, what with all the bloggers and the foody TV around, I almost don't bother with cookbooks any more. And, as the year is coming to an end, I thought I should tip my hat to a few of the bloggers whose dishes have been rocking my world of late.

Firstly, the totally awesome Peter Minakis of Kalofagas. Vine Grower's Lamb is one of the many dishes that he has posted about that I have wanted to try ASAP. And I actually had most of the ingredients! A stash of vine leaves frozen from spring, a joint of mutton (turned out to be unboned, but boning out a leg of lamb is a useful skill to learn) and some home made cheese combined to make an absolutely delicious dish.

I served it with a butternut and barley pilaf and a dollop of yoghurt, rather than making the sauce.

Kavey, of Kavey Eats, was the source of this lovely ox-cheek Bordelaise recipe. I'd heard all these reports about the Waitrose "forgotten cuts" range of meats - the fatty, bony, sinewy bits that reward patience with sweet, gelatinous meat and full-bodied sauces, but when I actually got my hands on some of their ox cheeks, I was at a bit of a loss. This recipe was the perfect way to showcase them. And was so good that I have bought some more ox cheek to make it again - but this time I was able to source marrow bones.

But the absolute stand-out, "really? does that work? ...oh my god can we have this again tomorrow?!", dish of recent weeks has been Kat & Matt's Lasagna Soup from A Good Appetite. It was the addition of the ricotta that threw me, but it works!

I used chorizo, and fresh basil and oregano instead of dried. I didn't blend it, because Paul prefers a chunky soup. I also added a bit of extra chilli sauce (it was really cold!) and took Kat's advice about adding some spinach for colour (although not the winter greens in the diet bit) and used green lasagne. Absolutely perfect. Rib-sticking, spoon-stand-upping and gorgeous. It'd probably be wonderful made with some leftover ham & turkey, if you have such things lying about after Christmas. This is definitely what you want to eat when it is -5C outside, like it is now.

Merry Christmas Bloggers! Thanks for another great year!

Saturday 18 December 2010

Figgins for Hogswatch

Hogswatchnight is, of course, the night that the Hogfather visits the inhabitants of Discworld, in his sleigh pulled by four wild boars, to distribute toys and pork products.

It is customary to leave out turnips for Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter, and a glass of sherry and a little treat for the Hogfather. I didn't have any turnips, and I would rather drink most of the sherry myself, but I did bake some figgins.

Figgins (makes about 10)

115g plain flour
80g lard, chilled in the freezer for an hour (you could use butter or shortening, but we are making treats for the Hogfather, so it really should be lard)
pinch of salt
100g raisins
50ml sherry
15g butter
50g dark muscovado sugar
grated zest of an orange
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of ground cloves
milk & demerara sugar to glaze

The day before baking, put the raisins to soak in the sherry.

Sift the flour and salt into a bowl. Wrap the lard in a piece of greaseproof paper, leaving the end exposed, and holding it by the paper, dip it in the flour and grate it into the bowl, dipping it again if the grater starts to gum up. You will end up with a pile of frozen, grated lard in the middle of the flour. Yum yum. But I promise you this makes the most gorgeous flaky pastry. Using a knife, cut the lard through the flour, then add just enough cold water to bring the mixture together into a dough. Form into a ball, wrap in cling film and place in the fridge.

Put the raisins and any sherry that hasn't been absorbed in a small saucepan and add the butter, muscovado sugar, orange zest and spices. Cook over a low heat until the butter has melted and the sugar dissolves. Cool.

Roll the chilled pastry out thinly and cut 5" diameter circles out. Place a tablespoon of filling on the centre of each circle and fold over, crimping the edge into a pasty sort of shape. Transfer to a baking sheet, glaze with a little milk and a sprinkling of sugar. Bake at 220C for about 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool a bit before eating.

Thursday 16 December 2010

Festive Treats

Christmas is Coming! The blogger's getting fat,
So please take some fudge from the foody's stash!
If you don't like fudge there's some jelly too,
And if you don't like jelly, will pâté do?

I know I am not the only one who likes cooking but doesn't have a big family to inflict it on. Even worse, I like making some sweet stuff from time to time and my only resident taster doesn't really have a sweet tooth. So most of the stuff I have been making in a fit of Christmas spirit (mulled wine with extra cherry brandy being my Christmas spirit of choice this year) has been going into work, or my dance class.

I've made a couple of batches of cheat's fudge - white chocolate with orange and cranberry, and dark chocolate with peppermint. The recipe is originally from a Mennonite cookbook but I have taken it and run with it.

Cheat's Fudge

1 can condensed milk (sorry people, you have to use the full-fat version for this, the low-fat one goes soupy)
400g chocolate
50g butter
flavourings, inclusions etc

Melt chocolate and butter in a double boiler. Add condensed milk. Stir until smooth. Add your flavourings and inclusions & spread into a lamington tin lined with non-stick baking paper. Chill and then cut into small pieces.

For my white chocolate one I added the zest of an orange, 100g dried cranberries and garnished it with some edible red glitter. For the dark chocolate I added a bit of peppermint essence and pressed crushed candy canes into the soft fudge, then sprinkled with a little iridescent glitter. Only problem being that the candy canes de-natured and I was left with (very delicious) chocolate fudge swimming in pale pink syrup.

I was also inspired by this recipe from Dan Lepard, for mulled wine plum jellies (scroll past the gorgeous caramels). I love those soft fruit jelly sweets with the crunchy sugar coating, but there are always too many flavours that I don't really care for in a bag, so I was delighted to come across a recipe that promised something similar, if more sophisticated. Now, Paul has been stripping the fruit off his calamondin to prepare it for winter and I have a whole jar of last year's calamondin marmalade left, so I pureed the fruit and used that, along with white wine. Yum. These are so good I am not too keen to share them with anybody! Either as a sweet, or with cheese, these are definitely going to be repeated. And with the useful bit of information that jam gels at 105C, I think my preserving has just turned a corner.

But for Paul, I really did have to make a savoury treat, so I made Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's Game Terrine. Mine doesn't sit up as proudly as Hugh's because the mallard I thought was in the freezer wasn't, and there weren't as many pigeon breasts as I thought, so my 1kg lean game was more like 500g. Still - it looks very impressive and it tastes absolutely wonderful. Very festive!

Monday 13 December 2010

Meat-Free Monday: Vegan carrot rice pudding

This was born out of necessity - I had an enormous pile of carrots that weren't going to keep for much longer. I started thinking about Indian desserts like carrot halva, and this was born. It would make a delicious, comforting (and substantial) dessert, but I actually ate it, warmed in the microwave, instead of porridge for breakfast.

Vegan Carrot Rice Pudding

1 cup uncooked brown basmati rice (I use metric cups)
1 1/2 cups water
1 piece of cinnamon, about 5cm long
3 green cardamom pods
3 cloves
400ml can coconut milk
700g carrots, scrubbed and grated
1 cup raw sugar

Put the rice, water and spices in a heavy based saucepan. Cover, bring to the boil and then turn the heat right down and simmer really gently until most of the water is absorbed. About 20 minutes. The rice won't be cooked yet but it will be starting to swell and soften.

Stir in the coconut milk, carrots and sugar and cover again. Cook, stirring occasionally, until everything is tender, fragrant, creamy and thick.

I just ate it as it was, but the incorrigible sweet tooth might like to top it with fresh mango, or a sprinkling more sugar, or some coconut cream.

Friday 10 December 2010

TV Cooks

I've almost given up buying cookbooks. Almost. I find that between TV, newspapers and food bloggers, I have so many recipes earmarked to try that I can't really think about actually buying cookbooks as well.

So here's a bit of a selection of the stuff I have been cooking from TV shows I have been watching.

We've got 3 different versions of Nigella's Crustless Pizza, from the Kitchen series. It's really more of an Italian-flavoured toad in the hole, and very adaptable. I've started making it as a brunch dish with bacon, eggs and cherry tomatoes.

We've also got Nigella's Asian Braised Shin of Beef, also from Kitchen, served with Jamie's Sweet Potato Mash from 30-minutes Meals. Next time I make the mash, I will use half the amount of lime, and use fish sauce instead of soy (assuming no vegetarians are present) because the soy ruined the colour.

And finally, the Hairy Biker's sausage and rosemary skewers with salmoriglio and lentil salad. A tasty, quick meal from the Hairy Bikers Cook-Off. The rosemary skewers smelled nice while they cooked, but I didn't really feel that they added any flavour to the meal.

And that is without any of the dishes from Rick Stein and Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall (two of my favourites) that are in my files. So many dishes, so much TV, so little time!

Sunday 5 December 2010

Product Review: Davidstow Cheddar

I think I have been quite forthright about my passion for cheese. Is there anyone who hasn't noticed it? I didn't think so.

So when I was offered some samples of Davidstow Cheddar to taste* I honestly couldn't resist.

Things started badly, it has to be said, when I got home very late one night to a note through the door saying that a parcel had been left with my neighbour. It was far too late to knock on the door, so I had to wait until the following evening to see what the parcel was. And as she picked up the cute little insulated bag from next to her radiator, my heart sank. Was there going to be anything in a usable state after 36 hours next to the radiator?

As it happens, the bubblewrap and insulated bag had done a magnificent job, and other than being slightly sweaty, the cheese had survived in good condition.

I was sent two different cheeses, the Cornish Classic and Cornish Crackler.

The Cornish Classic is matured for up to 14 months. It was very creamy, and lacked the slightly crumbly texture I associate with mature cheddar, but it had a well-rounded, pronounced cheese flavour.

The Cornish Crackler is matured for over 20 months. It had more of a crumbly texture, and was slightly sharper, but without the other flavours being more developed.

Normally I like strong, mature cheddar, but I really felt that the Cornish Classic was the better cheese. Its balance of flavours was more even and it stood up to being eaten on its own better.

The Cornish Crackler, however, was just the thing to stand up to the robust flavours of a Cornish Rarebit.

Cornish Rarebit (serves 2)

1tsp butter
1tsp plain flour
100ml Cornish IPA beer
1tsp mustard
125g grated Cornish Crackler cheddar
splash of worcestershire sauce
4 crumpets, to serve

Melt the butter in a small saucepan and add the flour, and stir to a smooth roux. Cook for a couple of minutes, then gradually stir in the beer. Once you have a smooth sauce, add the mustard and cheese, and stir until melted, seasoning with a splash of worcestershire sauce.

Divide the cheese sauce between 4 crumpets, pop under the grill and toast until bubbling and burnished with colour. Makes a lovely accompaniment to a cup of soup.

* I received no payment for this review and was not required to post about these products.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Spaghetti Bolognese for Cook the Books

I had a really hard time getting a handle on Heat, the latest offering for Cook the Books, the best darn food-blogger bookclub in the blogosphere. What was Buford doing? If he was writing a biography of Mario Batali, it was superficial. If he was going for a guts-&-all kitchen exposé, he just isn't Bourdain. If it was supposed to be a bildungsroman of his growth into cooking, well, he didn't give enough of himself to make me feel the journey. He spends too much time hiding in the shadow of (somewhat tediously) larger than life characters for me to really be that interested when he finally steps out into the sun.

Bildungsroman. Good grief it has been a long time since I needed to use that word in a sentence.

What Heat did have going for it was meat. I found Buford's Italian experiences to be the most interesting in the book. Learning to prepare meat from the Maestro and coming to understand how to use a knife, how to feel his way through, was the most emotionally engaging part for me. So I wanted to make a meat dish, and I wanted it to be Italian.

I was particularly interested in the ragu recipe. The idea that it is a meat sauce, not a meat & tomato sauce, just faintly tinted pink with tomato paste, was totally way out for me. So ragu bolognese it was. I cooked pork, veal & beef mince slowly, with pancetta, garlic and chicken livers. I added white wine, and when that was reduced I added milk. Some sprigs of fresh oregano. A grating of nutmeg. A squeeze of sundried tomato paste.

It ended up unlike any Bolognese sauce I have ever tasted. Very rich and intensely meaty. The flavour was so powerful that I just couldn't add as much sauce to the pasta as I usually would, bringing it closer to the Italian ideal. It won't replace my tomato-based sauce for regular use, but for an occasional, more luxurious treat, it is definitely one to remember.

ETA The recipe, by request!

Ragu Bolognese (makes loads, impossible to do in a small quantity!)

100g pancetta, cubed
Olive oil
2 shallots, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
500g minced beef (I used one with 10% fat)
500g minced pork (was 8% fat)
500g minced veal (15% fat - I only use high welfare rose veal)
300g chicken livers, cleaned and chopped
200ml white wine
200ml semi-skimmed milk
a sprig of fresh oregano
2tbs sundried tomato paste
Salt, pepper, nutmeg

In a large, heavy based saucepan over a low heat, stir the cubed pancetta until the fat starts to render out. If it seems a bit dry or starts to stick, add a bit of olive oil. Add the shallot and garlic, and when that starts to soften, add the beef, pork & veal. Stir gently, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until it is well-browned all over. This takes about half an hour. Add the chicken livers and wine and cook slowly, covered, for half an hour. Then add the milk and oregano and again cover and cook slowly for half an hour. Add the tomato paste, and season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Simmer another 10 minutes before serving.


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