Tuesday 31 January 2012

Oxtail Pörkölt

I've been seeing a lot of goulash recipes around lately. I suppose it is the sort of chilly, damp weather where big pots of slow-cooked meats in richly flavoured sauces are appealing. I was particularly taken by James Ramsden's oxtail goulash recipe. There was just the teensiest problem though. I have a friend of Estonian heritage who has lived in Hungary and has always been quite adamant that what we call goulash is not goulash at all, but porkolt. Porkolt is thicker than the soupier goulash; it's a very simple slow-cooked stew with few ingredients.

Apparently it is quite important to the final flavour to cook the onions initially in lard. I didn't have any lard, so I used some beef dripping left from a rather good roast. The flavour of my porkolt really was exceptionally rich, so I will put that down to the dripping.

The word porkolt apparently means "roasted". The stew gets its character from the meat being well-browned in the onions and paprika before liquid is added.

My apologies to your Hungarian grandmother if this isn't how she did it. It tasted good and it had a very old-fashioned sort of flavour, so I am hoping it isn't too desperately inauthentic.

Oxtail Porkolt (makes about 3 portions)

2 tbs lard or beef dripping (or oil)
3 large onions, finely sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 kg oxtail
2 tbs sweet paprika
1 tbs hot smoked paprika
1-2 red peppers, diced (I only had one but 2 would have been better)
1 can chopped tomatoes
500ml beef stock

Melt the beef dripping in a large oven-proof saucepan or casserole (I used my Le Creuset dutch oven, of course), then add the onions and cook gently until translucent. Increase the heat and add the garlic and the pieces of oxtail. When the oxtail starts to take colour, sprinkle over both paprikas and cook until the meat starts to get bit of a crust on it from the paprika. Add the diced peppers, tomatoes and beef stock, stirring well to scrape up the toasty bits from the bottom of the casserole. Bring to the boil, then put the lid on and cook in a low oven for about 4 hours, having a look about once an hour to make sure it isn't getting dry.

For about the last half hour, if there is still a lot of sauce, you might want to take the lid off to let it reduce to a really thick gravy.

Serve with buttered noodles or spatzle.

There was a little bit of intensely-flavoured, jellied sauce and a couple of bits of meat left after we'd stuffed ourselves silly, so I used it to fill some rounds of pastry for little fried empanadas for lunch.

Saturday 28 January 2012

Bordeaux Wines Blogger Cook-Off

Congratulations to Sue, Ros, Mike and Caroline, the winners of my giveaway!

So. On Monday evening 3 1/2 teams fronted up to Westminster Kingsway college to be put through our paces in the Bordeaux Wines blogger cook-off. Unfortunately one guy got stuck at work, leaving one team at half strength and one team was unable to make it at the last minute.

After a reviving glass of pink bubbly (one of the few sparkling wines Bordeaux produces) we were taken through a
lightning-fast tasting of the wines we'd have available to match our dishes to, with the promise that a couple more whites were on offer.

Then it was into the very scary professional kitchen. We were introduced to chefs Jose and Jonathon, and students Margarita and Sam and then we were introduced to our ingredients.

We knew we were cooking salmon, but we hadn't realised that it was going to be lean, dark Atlantic salmon. What the other teams were cooking with was also a
surprise - there was Poulet Noir (fancy
French chicken), whole seabass and Iberico pork (fancy Spanish pig). There
was an array of fresh fruit, veg and herbs (strawberries made an unexpected appearance. I was grateful no one used them) and a selection of dry goods.

After a few minutes contemplation and planning, we got underway with our (overly ambitious) dish. We prepared the salmon three ways - raw, in a sort of ceviche, confit and panfried, and served it with a chervil hollandaise and wilted leeks and spinach.

Unfortunately my dependence on my beloved thermometer bit me on the bum a bit - the kitchen wasn't supplied with one and the oil for the confit was way too hot, so it dried out rather than gently poaching. The panfried fish was also over-cooked. We just couldn't control the heat of the stove properly.

When we'd plated up, one dish went to the judges, the other three back to the other room so we could all taste each other's dishes.

Helen and Katie produced a lovely seabass dish with some lovely Asian flavours and crunchy veg including really delicious mixed mushrooms. The solo contestant (mind is running a blank at the moment, maybe Tom?) turned his black-legged chicken into a classic sauté with a tarragon and mushroom cream sauce. And Clara and Georgi emerged victorious (proper trophies and everything) with their medium-rare Iberico pork with Asian-inspired sweet soy dressing.

It was a fun evening and a great opportunity to meet some other bloggers and it reinforced that I never, ever want to work in a professional kitchen!

Sunday 22 January 2012

Cranberry Molasses Flapjacks

I wanted to bake something sustaining for our breakfasts. "Sustaining" and "breakfast" to me automatically means oats. I had no eggs. Oats with no eggs means flapjacks.

I used Suelle's recipe using half dried cranberries and half mixed seeds (sesame, sunflower and pumpkin) for the 150g of extra bits.

Now that, just as it was, would have made an excellent flapjack. But I also happened to have some leftover molasses spice cookie dough from Christmas. About a cupful. So I beat that into the flapjack dough as well.

The added flour and skerrick of egg in the dough gave the flapjacks a slightly closer texture than a regular flapjack, while the molasses and spices lent a delicate warm fragrance that worked beautifully with the tart cranberries. I am fairly sure I will not make cookie dough just to add a bit to my flapjacks, but I must remember this use for the leftovers next time I make cookies!

Friday 20 January 2012

Fry-day and a giveaway

I think my biggest food discovery over the last couple of years has been the digital thermometer. It's so amazing. It takes so much guess-work out of cooking - the jam setting point, the perfectly cooked piece of meat, the optimum milk temperature for making cheese. And of course, achieving the magic 180C for deep-frying to the perfect, greaseless crispness.

This has resulted in a lot more fried food! Not that I am complaining. It has been thoroughly delicious and it hasn't happened more than once a week! It's just nice to have an extra technique under my belt for the days when deep-frying is the right thing to do.

Leaf, the Indolent Cook, was the source of this utterly perfect salt and pepper tofu. Crisp and spicy outside, gently custardy in the middle. It sat happily next to some pork belly cooked in yellow bean paste and some egg fried rice.

I think salt and pepper tofu is a very good way in to beancurd, if you are one of the doubters!

One of the curses of my existence (warning: middle class problems ahead) is the KFC at the end of the street. It attracts a Rougher Element who throw rubbish over our fence and make a lot of noise. I also think the food is pretty horrible. So I am very glad that my new frying skillz mean that when I have the fried chicken urge I have no temptation to patronise them.

This example of my fried chicken prowess was particularly brilliant. It really was. The chicken was just thoroughly dredged in flour seasoned with salt, pepper, paprika and thyme. The chips were twice cooked (I can't be bothered with the triple-cooked thing) and the pickle spears were rolled in egg before being dredged with the seasoned flour. A spicy vinegar slaw finished the plate.

I've also had a crack at homemade fish and chips. While I love our local chippy, they are a bit vague when you ask them questions about the sustainability of the fish they source. Being able to use day-boat caught Cornish whiting for my fish and chips, in a very light beer batter, is pretty exciting for me. Chunky chips, onion rings (soaked in milk, then dipped in the beer batter), tomato salad and home made tartare sauce made the fish a feast.

Now, the giveaway. On Monday, Paul and I are participating in a blogger cook-off, in association with Bordeaux Wines. On Monday we will have two hours to make a main course to be matched with a Bordeaux wine using our main challenge ingredient and other surprise ingredients. It's going to be a lot of fun! Our main ingredient is salmon.

I have four Wines of Bordeaux goody bags to give away, which include a tote bag, a very effective bottle-opener (I have one, it's awesome) and lots of really useful maps etc for planning your next French wine-tasting holiday. To win one of these goody bags, please leave a comment telling me what your favourite salmon dish is (UK readers only please) by Monday night, 23rd January, (2200 GMT) and I will select four random entrants to receive a goody bag.

Monday 16 January 2012

Meat Free Monday: Hachapuri and pumpkin soup

This week's meat-free Monday is some serious comfort food. What could be more satisfyingly rib-sticking than a big bowl of velvety pumpkin soup and a wedge of crusty bread oozing with salty cheese? Not much! I've posted soup and cheesy bread before of course, but I think this version is the zenith of the combination.

The bread is Nigella Lawson's recipe for hachapuri from Feast. Hachapuri, or khachapuri seems to be pretty much the national dish of Georgia, and it is so delicious I can well understand why. Just as a side note, it looks as though the "puri" in hachapuri means bread in Georgian, which must have drifted up the silk route from Indian puri/poori, wouldn't you think?

Nigella's recipe makes a lot. A lot. I made a half-quantity and it would have made 6 generous portions easily. As it was, we stuffed ourselves for dinner, then warmed up the leftovers and stuffed ourselves for lunch again the following day. The combination of soda-leavened crusty bread and copious quantities of oozy white cheese was irresistible. I actually think you could probably reduce the amount of filling by a third and it wouldn't suffer greatly, but as it was it was decadent and delicious, with the mixture of ricotta, feta and mozzarella providing a perfect balance between creaminess, saltiness and stretchiness.

I'm sure everyone has their favourite recipe for pumpkin soup. Because of the richness of the hachapuri, I wanted my soup to just be very, very simple. It's not at all lacking in flavour though. As it happens, the soup is vegan (not that it matters when there is this much cheese around...) but if you weren't making the hachapuri you could add a swirl of sour cream at the end.

Pumpkin soup

Olive oil
1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 pumpkin (this was an acorn squash, but kabocha or butternut is good too)
1 litre veg stock
salt, pepper & mace
chives to garnish

Sweat the onion and garlic in a little olive oil in a large pot until translucent. Add the peeled and seeded pumpkin, cut into chunks, then cover with the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is really tender. Allow to cool a little, then purée (I used a stick blender, because the more effective blender is more hassle to wash up). Reheat the purée gently, seasoning with salt (if needed, it may not depending on the stock you used), pepper and a pinch of ground mace. Serve sprinkled with snipped chives.

I'm sharing this very simple soup recipe with Deb, for her long-running Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sunday event.

By the way, I've added a couple of widgets to the side-bar. You can now subscribe to my RSS feed, if that is how you roll, and there is a search function. Don't know how well the search function works!

Friday 13 January 2012

No reservations

We've recently discovered the Anthony Bourdain "No Reservations" back catalogue on Youtube. We've been vicariously travelling around the world with him and (mostly) loving it. I don't know if the varying quality is due to different levels of research by his producers, or just his differing levels of response to the places he goes, but either way it is a bit of a mixed bag.

The one pretty consistent thing is that I want to eat what he's eating. Not the raw liver in Japan or the many yards of andouillette he seems to encounter. The other stuff.

So after watching Berlin, Prague and Vienna, I made schnitzel (pork, not a proper veal Wiener Schnitzel, because veal is bloody expensive at the moment). I dusted pork escalopes with flour, then coated them with beaten egg and breadcrumbs flavoured with salt, pepper, fresh thyme and sage. I made a warm potato salad sauced with horseradish, chives and gherkins. I sauteed cabbage. I served it all with an abundant squeeze of lemon.

After watching the Moscow episode I felt compelled to make pelmeni. I figured that after my pasta-making successes I had that sort of dough under control. Um, yeah, not so much. It's a much softer dough and was pretty tricky to work. I made a very simple beef and onion filling and borrowed Paul's favourite whisky glass to cut out circles of the dough.

I think our shaping of the pelmeni also needs a bit of work. Some of them have a distinct Georgia O'Keeffe quality to them.

After boiling (I don't think for long enough - the filling was cooked but the dough was a bit too al dente) we served them with a dollop of sour cream, a splodge of mustard and a dusting of paprika.

They were OK, but I am sort of stuck between making them again to see if I can do better, or going to one of the many London restaurants that make delicious ones and leaving it in their hands.

Paul is a willing participant in most of my food experiments. He tastes, provides feedback and helps with a lot of my cooking. As a reward for his patience and even enthusiasm, when he asks me to make something I generally do (even if it takes a few weeks because I am working on other things). We were watching the Naples episode and he decided that he had to have a big, meaty ragu.

When I reviewed Pomodoro! A history of the tomato in Italy a couple of years ago I became familiar with the Italian American "Sunday Gravy" - a rich, slow-simmered tomato sauce containing a number of meats, which had developed from the Neapolitan ragu. I couldn't do the full version just for two of us, but I did use featherblade steak, spicy sausage and some little meatballs, simmered slowly in a rich tomato sauce. Instead of serving the meats as a separate course, they were eaten with the sauce, piled onto spaghetti. As an occasional treat and variation on our usual ragu, it was delicious. I'm looking forward to further inspiration from Tony's travels!

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Iced berries with white chocolate sauce to challenge your resolve

Personally, I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions. I have some objectives for this year (get job, lose weight, get drivers licence) but no actual resolutions because I feel that they are just a way to start the year disappointed in yourself.

So here, even though it is a Wednesday in early January, is a lovely and not diet-focused dessert.

I'd heard about "Scandinavian Berries", the speciality of the Caprice Holdings group (Le Caprice, the Ivy, J. Sheekey etc etc etc in several countries) - frozen berries served with a warm white chocolate sauce - but I'd never tried them. Then in November I was lucky enough to get free tickets to the Ideal Home Show from Fleur de Guerre and David Smith. To be honest, Home Shows are not really my bag. One of the things I really don't like about them is the suffocating crush around fast food stalls to buy ridiculously overpriced grey, mystery-meat burgers, so I made an executive decision. I saw that Gizzi Erskine was doing a pop-up restaurant with a pre-booked table, pie, mash & veg and a dessert for a very reasonable price, so I booked it.

This was a good decision.

In the overheated press of people, we were able to sit in a wide open space, where it was quiet enough to hear each other talk, and enjoy a bottle of wine, a really excellent pie and veg and a rather good dessert. My dessert was indeed the iced berries with a white chocolate and cointreau sauce. Due to the pressures of mass catering, the sauce was served cold, but it gave me enough of a taste for the dish to be very keen to make it myself.

It doesn't need a recipe. You put some frozen, mixed berries in a bowl. You melt some white chocolate over a double boiler with some double cream and add a splash of cointeau (actually, over Christmas you can buy lovely thick Channel Islands cream already spiked with cointreau, and this is what I used) and when it is warm and smooth, you pour it over the frozen berries and serve without delay.

Monday 9 January 2012

Meat Free Monday: Wild Mushroom Fondue

This was actually our New Year's Eve dinner. A delectable pot of melted cheese and porcini, scooped up with cubes of crusty sourdough bread.

I've posted before about trying to replicate the mushroom fondue we had in Geneva once, but I think this time I captured a bit more of the wild mushroom flavour. In the initial phase of infusing the garlic into the white wine, I added a good handful of dried, sliced porcini mushrooms. These soaked up the wine, but gave the whole pot the earthy, woodsy aroma I was looking for. In the final thickening of cornflour, I used a bit of kirschwasser to slake it, and finished the pot with a little grated nutmeg and black pepper.

I liked finishing last year as I mean to go on with this year - delicious, simple food.

Thursday 5 January 2012

Truffle Gratin

Paul is one of those poor people whose birthday falls close to Christmas. It's pretty easy to miss it in all the kerfuffle (which frankly I think would be his preferred option) but I do try to make him something pretty special for dinner. And this truffle gratin certainly counts as pretty special. Before you get all intimidated by the notion, it's pretty much just a basic potato dish/scalloped potatoes/casserole potatoes (depending on where you are from) lifted with some minced black truffle. You don't need a lot of truffle, so it isn't ridiculously expensive either.

Truffle Gratin (serves 2 or 3)

3 potatoes
150ml sour cream
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 heaped teaspoon minced black truffles (I use these ones, from Amazon)
Salt, pepper & nutmeg
Grated cheese

Beat together the sour cream and truffles and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Peel and thinly slice your spuds. Place a layer in an oven-proof casserole dish, then scatter with some slices of garlic and sprinkle on a scant spoonful of the sour cream mixture. Repeat until you run out of potato, then pour over the rest of the sour cream mixture.

Bake in a 180C oven for about an hour, covering with foil if it looks like it is getting too dark. About 15 minutes before the end, sprinkle on a thick layer of grated cheese (this was a mix of cheddar and mozzarella, but whatever you like) and return to the oven until the cheese is melted and golden brown and the potatoes are tender all the way through.

We had it with steak and some form of green veg which I couldn't quite identify. It was leafy and I sauteed it and finished it with some lemon juice.

Monday 2 January 2012

Meat Free Monday: A Lofty Enterprise

We fought against the empire of heaven. We were - that I will not deny - vanquished in that conflict: yet the great intention was not lacking in nobility. Something or other gave them victory; to us remain the glory of a dauntless daring. And even if my troop fell thence vanquished, yet to have attempted a lofty enterprise is still a trophy - Giambattista Marino

As the winter solstice approached, I was wondering how to mark that darkest of days. I was tempted to take the mead & meat, faux-Viking approach, but then I got side-tracked. A couple of days beforehand, I overheard a lengthy phone conversation between a loud lawyer named Anton and a family member, in which he organised a Hanukkah party. Any religious observance that hinges on doughnuts and fried foods is OK by me. So while the Jewish Festival of Lights isn't actually connected to its proximity to the solstice, I decided that a large quantity of fried food was the way to go.

I made an ethereally light tempura batter and dunked carrots, broccoli, mushrooms, cauliflower and baby leeks in it. Then came the great intention that made Paul quote Giambattista Marino - I dunked some chunks of cheese in the batter and tossed them into the hot oil. Ethereally light tempura batter is too insubstantial to encase molten cheese and what was scooped from the oil was a bit of a stringy mess.

Still. To us remains the glory of a dauntless daring, and my next fried cheese adventure will be more successful, I'm sure.

Sunday 1 January 2012

Happy New Year and a hangover breakfast

Happy New Year to all my blogging chums! Last night we followed our favoured New Year's Eve pattern and stayed home, eating something good and watching a movie. This very sensible approach means that I have no need for a restorative breakfast to help deal with a hangover, but when I made this (yesterday morning, as it happens) I immediately saw the potential.

Hangover Eggs (serves 2 delicate heads)

4 crumpets
knob of butter
4 eggs
pickled chilli slices

Toast the crumpets under the grill. When they are hot but not crisp, top with the bacon jam and put back under the grill until the jam melts and begins to bubble. Fry the eggs in the butter. Top the bacon-laden crumpets with the eggs and garnish with slices of pickled chilli, or hot sauce as you prefer.

Eat, accompanied by copious quantities of fruit juice and coffee. Do not be tempted by a bloody mary, this is not the time.


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