Thursday 26 May 2011

Other blogger's dishes: so much cheesy goodness!

Once again, I want to give a shout-out to the many hard-working bloggers who are providing me with many of my most delicious and satisfying meals.

Kevin, at Closet Cooking, was my source for this utterly gorgeous jalapeno popper dip. I find it hard to go past a jalapeno popper on a menu, even though I know the breading is nearly always soggy, they are underfilled and if I don't burn the roof of my mouth I will be left with a mouthful of cold, claggy cheese. Even so, the very notion of hot, creamy cheese spiked with pickled jalapenos and a crispy coating is so addictive. This dip manages to reconcile the ideal with the reality. Lots of creamy, thick melted cheese, lots of crunchy, piquant jalapeno slices, a little bit of crispy gratin topping. And you can dunk veggies (and veggie crisps) in it, so it has to be healthy, right?

It caused me to muse on the American (Kevin is in Canada - I am using America to denote both the northern and southern American continents) gift for snack foods. Is it because televised sport has become so central to the lifestyle? Is it the marijuana consumption? Is it a continent-wide impatience over waiting for a proper meal? For whatever reason, from empanadas to poutine via buffalo wings the Americas have produced some of the world's most outstanding munchies.

Pimento cheese is another one of these amazing snackfoods, little known outside its homeland. I'd read about it years ago in James Villas' excellent book Stalking the Green Fairy, but it wasn't until I read Deb and Grace's posts on the subject that I became utterly determined to try this luscious (and very controversial) combination of cheeses, seasonings and pimentos (aside from the stuffing in an olive, I don't think I have ever seen an actual pimento; I used preserved roasted red peppers). Totally addictive. I can see why every Southerner apparently swears by the stuff.

Woman cannot live by cheese alone, so Heather's fried eggs on garlic fried rice has become a go-to fast food meal for me. I either make a bit of extra rice when I know I am going to be eating alone the following day, or (I bring shame to my house...) I buy a tub of steamed rice at the supermarket on the way home from work. With a sprinkle of my homemade smoked chilli sauce, this is a delicious, quick and nourishing meal.

I never drift too far from cheese though. I think it may be the one food I never tire of. It's certainly the only thing where I say to Paul "we haven't eaten enough cheese lately".

After one such declaration, I turned to Peter Minakis for salvation. His feta and herb pull-aparts saved the day. Unfortunately they also ruined our dinner, because we ate so many of the warm, cheesy breads that we couldn't face the rest of the meal. I didn't have a cake tin big enough, so I made them in a large saute pan that fits in the oven. They are gorgeous, with a soft, fluffy crumb and intensely flavoured filling and I urge you to give them a go for your next barbecue, or with a bowl of veggie soup.

Equally delicious, and with a definite air of luxury, is Mary's scrambled egg and smoked salmon pizza. In a wonderful turn of phrase she describes it as "a study in wretched excess" and it certainly is that, even without the luxurious red caviar garnish. We had it for brunch with glasses of freshly squeezed orange juice, spiked with homemade 44 liqueur. As Sally Bowles would say, "Divine decadence".

Monday 23 May 2011

Meat-Free Monday - Aubergineless Cheesecake

This recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi intrigued me when I read it. There are a lot of savoury cheesecakes around, and they mostly sound very heavy, whereas this one sounded quite light and custardy. Unfortunately, my grocery delivery was sans eggplant when it arrived. So I just did it without.

Absolutely bloody brilliant. Light, not too cheesy, with a sweetly acid edge from the tomatoes and a luscious herbal nuttiness from the za'atar. The recipe calls za'atar optional, but it really isn't. I made my own, although I didn't have any sumac to hand, so I just left it out.

I will definitely make this again, it really is divine. And would probably be even better if it did have aubergine in it.

Saturday 21 May 2011

Forging Fromage - Queso Oaxaca & Chorizo

This month's Forging Fromage challenge was to make queso oaxaca and a Mexican-style chorizo. I've made chorizo before, but I've never even heard of this bizarre, knotted string cheese before, let alone made it. In the words of Harry Potter "This is the weirdest thing we have ever done".

I followed the recipes that Heather sourced for both. Finding citric acid turned out to be the trickiest bit - I used to buy it from the supermarket but I ended up having to get it from the chemist. There was a brief moment when I wondered if I'd have to use cystitis relief sachets... but fortunately not.

Once the ingredients were sourced, it was really very straightforward.

It is not a high-yielding cheese! I ended up with a lot of fairly creamy whey, which I have cooked down to a sort of cajeta.

I served slices of the cheese melting onto hot, fresh bread along with some of Ben's Mexican chorizo bruschetta topping. Delicious! It was interesting how the flavour of the chorizo developed over the couple of days in the fridge. It became much saltier and more pungent. Delicious, but definitely more of a flavouring condiment than something you could just eat as a sausage.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Eggs for Soldiers - brisket hash

Eggs for Soldiers is a new initiative from Noble Foods to raise money for the charity Help for Heroes. 15p from the sale of each half dozen free-range eggs (currently available from Tesco, with more outlets hopefully to follow) goes to help rehabilitate personnel wounded while serving in the armed forces.

Now, as it happens I am not a fan of armed conflict. I tend to think that there are very few valid reasons for starting wars, and that just because my government says they are right and someone else is wrong doesn't mean they are. And even if they are wrong, I don't think letting lots of young people die violently or come home broken is the best way to sort it out.

On the other hand, I also think that each individual member of the armed forces who is injured while in service deserves the best possible facilities and aids to rehabilitation. I believe that it gives some hope for the future of civilisation that in a couple of generations we have moved from executing shell-shocked men to building specialist facilities to provide first class treatment for veterans suffering combat stress reactions. If buying a box of eggs can help with that sort of progress, I think that is pretty great, really.

Now, the obvious recipe to go with eggs for soldiers would be eggs & toast soldiers - which I happen to adore. However Paul doesn't like runny egg yolk, and toast soldiers are pointless with hard-boiled, so I made something delicious where I could have my eggs nice and runny and he could have his fried to buggery, just the way he likes them.

Brisket Hash

350g leftover meat (I used some barbecued brisket)
1 small onion
2 cloves garlic
salt, pepper and parsley
oil for frying
Eggs for Soldiers and tomatoes to serve

Chop the meat, onion, garlic & parsley roughly. Pulse in the food processor until crumbly and combined but not a paste. Season heavily with pepper and some salt. This is no time for dainty flavouring.

Heat a glug of oil in a heavy based frying pan, and add the meat mixture. Fry until crispy in places and appetising all the way through. Top with eggs and fried tomatoes. Serves 2 generously (or 3 or 4 if you add some toast or fried potatoes).

I received 2 boxes of Eggs for Soldiers but no other payment or inducement for writing about them. I am making a donation to Help For Heroes in exchange.

Sunday 15 May 2011

Shooter's Sandwich

"The wise, 'at least among the children of this world', to use one of Walter Pater's careful qualifying phrases, travel with a flask of whisky-and-water and what I call a 'Shooter's Sandwich'. This last is made thus: Take a large, thick, excellent rump steak. Do not season it, for that would cause the juice to run out, and in grilling it keep it markedly underdone. Have ready a sandwich loaf one end of which has been cut off and an adequate portion of the contents of which has been removed. Put the steak, hot from the grill, and - but only then - somewhat highly seasoned, into the loaf; add a few grilled mushrooms; replace the deleted end of the loaf; wrap the loaf in a double sheet of clean white blotting paper, tie with twine both ways, superimpose a sheet of grease-proof paper, and more twine. Place a moderate weight on top, and after a while add other weights. Let the thing endure pressure for at least six hours. Do not carve it until and as each slice is required.

With this 'sandwich' a man may travel from Land's End to Quaker Oats, and snap his fingers at both." T. Earle Welby, The Dinner Knell, 1932, quoted in Elizabeth David, Summer Cooking, 1955.

I made this one with a couple of venison tail fillets and a potato and rosemary loaf. Absolutely divine. Definitely one for Deb's Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday, don't you think? SouperSundays

Tuesday 10 May 2011

Cook the Books: Mushroom Tarte Tatin for Lunch in Paris

Lunch in Paris: A Love Story With Recipes, is Elizabeth Bard's memoir of the early days of her relationship and marriage, when she fell in love with a new country as much as with a new man.

To be honest, I wasn't expecting much from the current Cook the Books bookclub selection. I was expecting a bit of the cliché: affectionate mocking of the quaint local customs, realisation that they are so much more in touch with the circle of life than we are (whichever peasantry is the exotic other on this occasion), self-deprecating stories about cultural ineptitude and a couple of recipes featuring ingredients that are hard to come by outside that particular village. That is doing it a great disservice; Lunch in Paris is not that book.

Having moved to a new country soon after getting married, and not being able to get work for a while, I found the parts where Bard talks about feeling like she'd lost her identity resonated. There is a rawness and openness in this book that you don't often get with this genre that I found moving.

One part of blogging that I quite like is the fact that you can re-imagine your life. When I blog, I don't have to think about the rent being due, being grouchy with Paul, problems at work, piles of laundry that need doing, a cough that I can't shake or any other unpleasantness that I don't want to think about. It can all be homemade bread and freshly cut flowers. It reminds me in a way of a story I once read about Margaret Olley - apparently her house is very cluttered, with piles of things all over the place, but when she paints, she paints out all the clutter and just paints the one vase or bowl of fruit she is interested in. I admire that Bard didn't take the easy, sanitised option and paint out all the clutter; that her father in law's illness and death are included along with the amazing meals and romance.

When I was thinking about what to cook, to go alongside this book, I found myself taking a meandering path through other women who have gone to France, fallen in love with the food and written movingly about it. I piled up books by Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Patricia Wells and Susan Loomis, indulged in some magnificent writing and changed my mind about what to cook every other page.

I've been approached recently to join with Monaghan Mushrooms and Simon Rimmer to wave the flag for mushrooms (it was simply a suggestion: I received no payment or product). Paul maintains that I don't like them very much, which is an absolute slander, so I wanted something that would really show mushrooms off to their best advantage.

I finally settled on Susan Loomis's Wild Mushroom and Walnut Tarte Tatin.

I used a mixture of chestnut, button and oyster mushrooms, with a handful of dried porcini for extra "wild" flavour. I rinsed the porcini but just let them plump up in the juices released by the other mushrooms. And I used bought puff pastry.

Rather than drizzling it with walnut vinaigrette, I topped it with the remainder of our asparagus harvest (two more fat spears) dressed with lemon juice and butter. It was a revelation! Intensely flavoured, satisfying and yet light. Paul thought it would make an excellent accompaniment to barbecued venison. It would, but it more than stands up on its own.

Saturday 7 May 2011

Best carrot cake in the world? Second attempt

Another load of carrots in the veg box means another attempt on Aunty Ena's title as best carrot cake maker in the world.

This time I used a Jamie Oliver recipe, which is no longer online and I can't remember what it was called to see if it's anywhere else. And I made a lemon cream cheese frosting, topped with a little flick of orange zest rather than the lime mascarpone frosting.

This was a gorgeous cake! For me, pretty nearly perfect. Paul thought it should have had more walnuts and more spice in it, which leads me to think that he actually doesn't want it to taste like carrots at all.

So this is the best carrot cake in the world that still tastes a bit like carrot.

Thursday 5 May 2011

"10,000 miles from Bondi" Burger

I've had a craving recently (and if anyone asks if I am pregnant I will slap you with a chicken fillet. I am not; I am greedy). Unfortunately, my current hemisphere of residence makes it difficult to access the wonder of delectability that is the Oporto Bondi Burger. While there are, apparently, two Oporto franchises in the UK, I get to Sydney more often than I get to Victoria Station, so it isn't actually much help to me.

I decided that I had to try to replicate the chilli sauce that is the heart & soul of the Bondi Burger. It's sprightly but not too hot, it has an elusive taste of ginger and it is generally the best thing that ever happened to a chicken burger.

Fortunately, someone else had done all the work for me, and put this taste-a-like recipe on t'internet.

I followed the marinade and sauce recipe pretty much exactly (I used crushed dried chillies in oil instead of the powdered dry chillies), but then I used thigh instead of breast.

My other change was to use the Jamie Oliver method for flattening chicken that I missed out on when we barbecued our chicken a while ago. And I tell you what, that is genius. Because I don't have a pan of the right size, I heated one of my heavy Le Creuset lids in the oven for a while, and when it was roasting hot I pressed the chicken with it.

The taste-a-like was exactly my food-memory of Bondi burgers. Only problem was that I thought we had mayo and we didn't, so there was the slightest shortfall in the perfect satisfaction of the craving. Such a good thing I can make them again, isn't it?


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