Wednesday 31 October 2012

Pumpkin and Goat Cheese Orzo for Halloween 2012

My pumpkin carving skills are evolving. From my first pumpkin in 2009, there have been definite improvements. 2010. 2011. But this year is definitely my best pumpkin yet. Partly because I bought a big enough pumpkin! Which also meant that the scooped-out insides gave me enough flesh to cook with.

I started from this template, for a nice, detailed cat face, but then made some subtle modifications to it to make it more Maine Coon-esque (and re-sized it to fit my pumpkin).
The model

Urchin provided valuable assistance as a model. The nose had to be cuter, the ear-tufts more exaggerated and the cheeks fuller and fluffier. So I ended up with with this.
The template
I'm terribly impressed with my £1 pumpkin carving tool-kit. It just keeps on going, even when I am sure the blades are about to snap.
The pumpkin

After my pumpkin-carving efforts, I was left with a lot of pumpkin pulp and seeds. I washed the seeds thoroughly, tossed them in a mixture of chipotle, soy and maple syrup and toasted them in the oven until they were brown and crunchy.

I simmered the pumpkin flesh in a little vegetable stock until it was tender then mashed it with a fork to a fairly runny puree. I added a couple of slices of goats cheese and a couple of tablespoons of creme fraiche, then stirred in some crisp little cubes of panceta (not a spelling mistake, it's the Spanish version of pancetta), some cooked orzo pasta (500g raw weight) and a bag of baby spinach leaves. I tipped the whole thing into a pyrex lasagne dish and dotted the top with more slices of goats cheese.

I baked it until the cheese looked like toasted marshmallows and the edges of the orzo were starting to crisp. Before serving, I sprinkled the top with the toasted pumpkin seeds.
Not marshmallows - goat cheese slices
PPN288I'm going to send this delicious, comforting bowlful to Simona for Presto Pasta Nights, the long-running (soon ending) weekly pasta round-up started by Ruth at Once Upon A Feast. It must be the longest-running food blogging event around, surely?

It was a very successful bowl of pasta. I do love orzo - I don't care how many people say that all pasta tastes the same, they are wrong, orzo tastes different. The sweet pumpkin, salty-creamy cheese, salty-crunchy panceta and clean, minerally spinach worked very well together, with the salty, spicy pumpkin seeds adding another layer of texture. And it is just such a satisfying thing to base a meal around leftovers!
All the colours of the Irish flag - not usually associated with pasta
 So. The pumpkin. She looks like she is planning world domination, but it is a distinctly Maine Coon face.
Ended up menacing rather than cute

Sunday 28 October 2012

Pig's cheek two ways

Have you ever noticed that the names for meat change? So you have veal scallopini and calf's liver. Beef steak and ox tail. Pork loin and pig's cheek. It's veal, beef & pork because after the conquest, the Norman ruling class of England still spoke French, and would order veau, boeuf & porc which their English-speaking farmers produced from prime cuts of calf, cow and pig. But I reckon the other bits, the less-desirable bits, kept their English names because those were the parts, if anything, that were left over for the peasants.

As it happens, the less-desirable bits with the English names are actually very, very desirable. They tend to need a bit more care in the cooking, but then reward you with delicious flavour and melting texture.

Pig's cheeks are a new-ish discovery for me. We've had quite a lot of ox cheek and loved it, but the pig's cheeks have been harder to come by. Then I saw that ELSCo were stocking them and grabbed a kilo or so to experiment with.

Now, the thing to remember about pig's cheek, if you are used to cooking ox cheek, is that pigs aren't ruminants. Cattle are ruminants, so are goats, sheep and camels. Pigs aren't. So instead of getting all that work chewing the cud, a pig's cheek is not that tough a muscle. Which means that instead of having to slowly braise it for hours and hours to tenderness, about an hour of gentle cooking will reduce pig's cheek to gelatinous shreds. Very rewarding, not to mention more economical with the fuel.

My first pack of cheeks I did in a sort of Chinese braise, with yellow bean paste, ginger, garlic, shaoxing wine and soy. I left the cheeks whole and then sliced them when they were cooked to give more of a contrast between the outside and inside textures. Baby bok choi, halved and sauteed with garlic and a drip of sesame oil, rice and a garnish of spring onions finished the plate. It was delicious. The meat was so tender it was almost impossible to pick up with chopsticks.

Chinese-ish braised pig's cheeks with rice and baby bok choi
The second pack of cheeks I had more elaborate plans for. Since the Soho Food Feast, where I had a delicious crumbed pig's cheek bun from St John, I have been wondering how to make something similar.

What I ended up doing was browning the cheeks with a little mirepoix and just covering them with stock and a splash of sherry, and cooking them until they fell apart at the touch of a fork. I shredded the meat, added a little gelatine to the remaining cooking liquid and poured it over the meat in a plastic box, which I then put in the fridge over night. I remember seeing somewhere - can't remember where - a woman adding gelatine to her croquettes to make them more stable when you are cooking them, but then when they are hot you have a lovely runny filling.

So then I cut the firmly-set shredded meat in jelly into pieces, rolled each piece in flour, then did a triple coating of egg and breadcrumbs, letting it sit in the fridge to set for about an hour between coats. Time consuming, and a fiddle (and takes more eggs than you would imagine), but because of the liquid filling I wanted a really firm coating.

In between crumb coats, I made an apple and celeriac remoulade to go with the croquettes.

Then I deepfried the croquettes until a deep golden brown and drained them well on kitchen paper. They certainly couldn't have been sandwiched in a bun the way the St John ones were - as soon as the crust on these was broached the deliquesced juices ran out to form a delicious gravy.

The leftover croquettes, reheated in the oven the following day for lunch, were almost as good as the first time around.

The croquettes oozed gravy when they were sliced

Friday 26 October 2012

Product Review: Cathedral City

Back in British Cheese Week, Cathedral City sent me a sample of their "Selections" (which actually don't seem to be on their website) to try. Selections are a bag of fourteen individually-wrapped snack-size portions of cheese, which apparently come in Mature, Extra Mature and a Variety pack. I was given the variety pack to try, which contains mature, extra mature and the Cathedral City flagship, the Vintage 20 cheddar.

Now, I like the extra mature. It's the best-tasting cheese our local corner shop sells, so we buy it fairly often when a cheese emergency is combined with lack of motivation to go farther afield to satisfy it. It's not fancy or artisan, but it is consistent and reliable. The mature isn't really to my taste - I like quite a strong cheddar and I found it just a bit too mild. After tasting a portion of the mature, the remaining portions went into a cheese sauce with a lot of mustard and nutmeg, I have to confess.

This is where the Selections pack gets me into a pickle. The Vintage 20 is really quite delicious. It has lovely little crunchy crystals in it, like a good parmesan, and a really robust flavour without the gum-ripping acidity you sometimes get with cheddar. But there were only 2 portions of it in the Selection pack, and you only get the Vintage 20 in the variety pack along with too much of the less-appealing mature. So what to do? I think when I need cheese snack-packs (for me, they are quite a good alternative to biscuits or chocolate at that 4pm slump time) I would just buy the extra mature and choose consistency over variety. No highs, but no lows either. I really don't live on the edge.
14 little snack-size pieces - or there were before we ate some prior to photographing

Tuesday 23 October 2012


I have a new addiction. 'Nduja (or n'duja, or nduja - the apostrophe seems to float about) is a rich, spicy, paste-like sausage from Calabria and at the moment I can't get enough of it.
That colour? All fire and flavour

It's not cheap-cheap, at about £3/100g, but fortunately that 100g goes an awfully long way, taking it into seriously good value territory. This stuff packs a punch, and since my supermarket started stocking it a several months ago, it's been creeping (or should I say barging - it doesn't hold back) into a lot of our food.
Devilled eggs

My introduction to it was through Niamh Shields' devilled egg recipe. I saw her recipe and that 'nduja was available at about the same time, and had to have a go. These are not the polite, mayonnaise-and-curry-powder devilled eggs you may remember. These, for want of a better word, have balls. The 'nduja melts at the application of a bit of heat and combines with the tomato, vinegar and egg yolks to a delectably sticky, more-ish paste, oozing firey hot oil across the bland egg whites. Utter bliss.

Breakfast burrito with bloody mary
The combination of 'nduja and egg was so good I couldn't get it out of my mind. Made into an omelette and wrapped in warm tortillas it made a fabulous breakfast burrito.
400g sausagemeat to 100g 'nduja is about the right proportions

Scotch eggs have been having something of a renaissance over the last couple of years, and the end of September saw my twitter feed go nuts over the Ship Inn's second annual Scotch Egg Challenge. The challenge is only open to commercially available scotch eggs, so it wasn't that I wanted to enter, but it did occur to me that alongside the pickled scotch eggs, the black pudding scotch eggs, the quail scotch eggs and the chorizo scotch eggs there was definitely room for a 'nduja scotch egg. On its own, the 'nduja is too unstable when heated to be a good wrapping for an egg, and I thought the amount needed would be too overpowering a flavour, so I combined 100g 'nduja with 400g good quality sausagemeat for my eggs.

I coated them in a double layer of beaten egg and breadcrumbs, and then deep fried them until they were crunchy and a deep, appetising brown colour.

It was astonishing how well the 'nduja flavour carried through that amount of sausagemeat. I decided that those proportions were going to be my go-to for using it in future, unless I particularly wanted the unadulterated hit.

I overcooked the eggs, but that is actually how Paul prefers them, so no loss.
I used the same ratio of sausagemeat to 'nduja to stuff some peppers. The sausagemeat has a bit of rusk in it, so I didn't add breadcrumbs or anything to lighten it. Served with some leeks a la greque (which in my view is cooked in lemon juice, olive oil, coriander seed and peppercorns and served at room temperature) they were a very satisfying supper.
Look at that glorious red oil oozing out.

There was enough filling mixture to stuff 5 halves of pepper. We had two each which of course meant there was a half pepper leftover the next day for lunch. I boiled some rice (a mixture of Camargue red rice and wild rice that sounded very fancy but actually wasn't nice enough to buy again), chopped up the leftover stuffed pepper and stirred it through the rice with some datterini tomatoes and a bag of baby spinach leaves.
One half stuffed pepper made lunch for two

The flavour of the pepper stuffing started me thinking of meatballs. And as the weather has turned distinctly autumnal, it led my thoughts towards soup. A big pot of minestrone, thick with stelline, beans and vegetables, with balls of 'nduja-and-sausagemeat poached gently in it. The chilli-warmth worked its way through the whole pot of broth. Just perfect for Deb's Souper (soup, salad and sammie) Sundays.
'Nduja meatball minestrone


Saturday 20 October 2012

We Should Cocoa - Pumpkin Pie Fudge

Baked butternut squash
When I saw Suelle's entry for this month's We Should Cocoa challenge - a delicious-looking pumpkin, chocolate and maple loaf - I was intrigued. Pumpkin is such a great challenge ingredient! Sadly under-appreciated in this country (although, to be fair, a lot of the pumpkins I have eaten here have been watery and either flavourless or bitter) in Australia it is a key part of a roast dinner, but it also turns up quite a lot in baking. For example Lady Flo Bjelke-Petersen's famous pumpkin scones. And gramma pie (gramma is an old-fashioned Australian type of pumpkin, although I actually don't think I've ever seen one in Australia or elsewhere).

So my intrigue was enough to get me involved with The Hungry Hinny's pumpkin and chocolate challenge. Originally started by Chele and Choclette, We Should Cocoa is a monthly celebration of chocolate that has been keeping chocolate-minded bloggers entertained for more than two years, but this is only my third time playing.

I thought about adding some chocolate chips to Lady Flo's scones. I thought about making pumpkin in a mole sauce, or a warm pumpkin salad with chocolate balsamic (although I've already done chocolate balsamic for WSC!). And then I decided to take the flavours of pumpkin pie to fudge.
White chocolate and butternut puree - looks disconcertingly like tandoori paste

I used my basic traditional fudge recipe, beating in white chocolate, sieved baked butternut and spices. I also added some food colouring to make it more of a "pumpkin" colour, but if you prefer a more subtle effect you could leave that out.
Beating the chocolate and butternut into the fudge base

The chocolate makes the fudge creamier - I have a feeling that the extra fat and sugar in it breaks up the sugar crystals or something - and a softer set. And as I beat it I was overcome by kitsch and decided that what I needed to do was to turn my fudge into little Halloween pumpkins and jack o' lanterns.

When the fudge was cool enough to handle, I rolled it into balls. Some I flattened out a bit and some I left quite spherical. I pressed a toothpick around the sides of the spherical ones to give them more of a pumpkin segment shape, and I decorated them with writing fudge - faces on the flat ones and little stems on the pumpkins.

They are really quite spicy, so make some very small pumpkins so people who aren't sure about pumpkin pie don't waste too much! And maybe just use a teaspoon of the spice mix if you are making these for children. I'd still use the booze though - it's such a small amount but I think it adds an important, although subtle flavour.

An unexpectedly good flavour pairing was a piece of fudge with a glass of amontillado sherry.
That ray of autumn sun buggered up my photography

Pumpkin Pie Fudge Pumpkins

300ml whole milk
350g caster sugar
100g salted butter (I think it gives a better flavour)
1tsp vanilla extract
1tbs rum, bourbon or brandy
100ml pumpkin puree
120g chopped white chocolate
1tbs pumpkin pie spice (I used this blend, omitting the allspice because I have realised I prefer allspice in savoury dishes)
orange food colouring paste (optional)
Chocolate writing fudge

Mix the pumpkin puree with the rum, vanilla, spice and food colouring (I wanted to make it easier to blend into the fudge, add the chopped white chocolate and set it aside.

Make the fudge according to this recipe, and when it comes off the heat add the spiced pumpkin puree and white chocolate. When it thickens, you can either pour it into a baking-paper lined tin to cool, and then cut it into squares, or you can leave it in the pan until it's cool enough to handle, then roll teaspoonfuls of mixture between your palms into balls. Either flatten and draw faces on them with writing fudge, or press a toothpick into the sides to mark into segments, flatten the top slightly and pipe a little "stem" on top with the writing fudge. Allow to cool completely before eating.

Cute and autumnal - but you could just set it in a tray and mark it into cubes
I am also going to share this with the One Ingredient challenge, hosted by Franglais Kitchen and How to Cook Good Food. They are featuring pumpkin and squash this month, so these little fudge pumpkins are perfect!

Wednesday 17 October 2012

The simple things.

We eat a lot of very simple meals. Most of the time it's not following a recipe, it's just seeing what is in the fridge and figuring out how to get that to be a meal with the least possible time, effort and aggravation. I think most people could figure these out on their own - but some ideas anyway.
Barbecued leftovers become lentil soup, given a lift with a spoonful of mustard
Made using Felicity Cloake's method
A packet of squid tubes and a sole in the freezer very quickly become fritto misto. With a tomato salad and the ajillo sauce recipe from those chicken wings, it's a meal with very little effort.

Pork chops and potatoes
Pork chops with potatoes is a one-pot meal for 2 people. Or 4, in a bigger pot. I used sherry instead of white wine and the whole house was fragrant.

Roast chicken - classic and comforting
Roast chicken (roast anything) isn't difficult. It doesn't take a lot of effort. You just stick a nice piece of meat or poultry in the oven with some veg and seasoning and take it out when you want to eat it. While it rests, I microwave some greens. Less than 5 minutes work for a magnificent meal and really gorgeous leftovers.
Anything with samphire looks fancier than it is

Fish is always good for a simple meal. A piece of haddock, fried in a knob of butter while some little potatoes are boiling and some veg is in the microwave. Then whisk some capers, garlic and lemon juice into the pan juices. Doesn't matter if it falls apart, it's delicious.

Sunday 14 October 2012

BSFIC - Green tea ice cream in a sesame snap bowl

When Kavey announced that this month's Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream theme was going to be Japan I was immediately inspired. What could be more Japanese than  a dessert sushi roll? I'd seen a very simple (cheaty) Mark Hix recipe for rice pudding icecream, and I thought that, with a filling of mango puree thickened with gelatine, wrapped in a layer of toasted sesame seeds, would be just the ticket.
Maybe a little sloppy?

I still think the idea has legs. I was just not the cook to execute it correctly. I think what I should have done was make the icecream, spread it on the sesame seeds, then cut slices of mango jelly to have as a firm central core. Because I took shortcuts the result was not pleasing.

Oh that's not right!
So I went back to the drawing board. I decided that the less-original but thoroughly identifiably Japanese green tea ice cream was the way forward. I was intrigued by the one-step, no-churn coffee ice cream that was on Nigellissima this week and thought that it would be pretty easy to adapt.

I used a half quantity of cream and condensed milk (squeezy condensed milk is my new favourite thing - so much easier to manage than the cans), added 1tbs vanilla extract and then sachets of instant iced green tea until I felt the flavour was strong enough. This was 4 sachets. Then I whisked it to soft peaks, put it in the freezer and left it alone.

Unpromising grey green greasy muck
A scoop of strangely-coloured ice cream in a bowl wasn't really going to cut it, presentation-wise. I also couldn't quite let go of the sesame from my first idea. I found this recipe for ginger sesame snaps, which I thought would make a nice bowl to serve the ice cream.  I didn't need 48, and I only had enough sesame seeds to make a quarter quantity, so that was what I did.

Making sesame snap baskets is not straightforward
I may not have needed 48, but I definitely needed 12 to get them right. To get them cooked properly and then allowed to cool for long enough to make them liftable but still malleable was quite the challenge. Fortunately the failures were delicious with a really strong fresh lemon and ginger flavour. And eventually I got enough right for ice cream serving purposes.

I absolutely recommend the cream and condensed milk mixture for people who don't have an ice cream maker. It has the most perfect scoopable-from-the-fridge texture and smooth, velvety mouthfeel. It is, of course, extremely sweet, so probably best used for coffee, green tea or maybe tart fruit flavours (rhubarb I think would be delicious but this is absolutely not the right base for chocolate ice cream).

The combination of the green tea ice cream with its slightly bitter aftertaste and the fresh ginger and lemon sesame snap was really delicious. And it looked pretty, which is important.
End result well worth the tribulations


Friday 12 October 2012

English Wheat Beers - a tasting

A couple of weekends ago I met up with a bunch of friends at Borough Market for lunch, a bit of shopping and a good old catch-up. There weren't many things I was planning to buy - some mushroom pate (thwarted, they'd sold out), some cured meats from Cannon & Cannon and not much else. But I did want to buy some beer for Paul (and for me). Utobeer has an enormous range, but I decided to just buy a few different locally made wheat beers to see if I could find anything that I liked as much as Hoegaarden or Erdinger (that site has a really startling autoplay music thing, so approach with caution).

I must point out that we tasted these over several days, so these aren't really direct comparisons, just each one on its merits at the time. Which also explains the different lighting in the kitchen.

Meantime - London (poor focus not as a result of beer)

I started with Meantime, brewed in London, because I've had it before and knew it to be a very nice, easy-drinking beer.

It had a lovely amber colour and a clean finish, although I think less fruity and spicy than the European ones that I like.

Definitely the prettiest label - Whitstable, Kent

Next up was the Whitstable Brewery candidate, from Kent. I had high hopes for this one, based almost entirely on how pretty the label was.
Whitstable - Kent

Unfortunately, I just didn't love the flavour so much. It had a pretty strongly citric acid aftertaste that I didn't really like (more lemony than the orange zest flavour of a Hoegaarden), but I suspect that on a hot day it'd be really refreshing.
Clouded Yellow - St Austell Brewery Cornwall

A beer from Cornwall was the next one we tried - Clouded Yellow from St Austell Brewery (also with annoying embedded autoplay video). I jumped to the conclusion that this would be a honey wheat beer, like an Australian Beez Neez, although why I formed that opinion when it's got a butterfly on the label and not a bee is beyond me.
Clouded Yellow - Cornwall

Anyway, it isn't a honey wheat beer. But it is extremely delicious. Quite a delicate flavour, moderately sweet and spicy.

Cotswold Brewing Co - Gloucestershire
The last candidate, from Cotswold had quite a savoury-yeast aftertaste (a bit vegemite-y, but not in a bad way!) which I think would appeal to a lot of people. I liked it, but it just wasn't my favourite.

Cotswold - Gloucestershire
All in all, this was a fun experiment. I honestly had no idea of the wide range of wheat beers that are being produced over here now, and none of the random selection I bought were actually bad which gives me confidence to try more in the future. And I will definitely buy the Meantime and the Clouded Yellow again, although they might wait until next summer!

Monday 8 October 2012

Meat Free Monday: Cauliflower macaroni cheese

Macaroni cheese is good - but often feels a bit too heavy, a bit too rich. Cauliflower cheese is good - but doesn't seem like a meal on its own. It seems odd that it has taken me this long to realise that you can combine them.

I was inspired by Mary's delicious-looking dish of Baked Shells with Cauliflower and Cheese, which in turn was inspired by a Moosewood recipe. I didn't follow the recipe at all, possibly an error of judgement, I just cooked the pasta, added the cauliflower florets for the last couple of minutes and the shredded leaves of the cauliflower for the last 30 seconds, then drained them and covered them in cheese sauce.

That's right - the cauliflower leaves. Last year some friends of ours grew cauliflowers and discovered that when very fresh the leaves are tasty. The cauliflower I had was enclosed in lovely fresh leaves, so I just discarded the outermost ones and shredded the inner ones.

There should have been a higher ratio of cauliflower to macaroni
I used the Heston Blumenthal cheese sauce method, using vegetable stock instead of chicken stock, but for the first time the sauce didn't really come together for me - leaving melted cheesy lumps in a thin cheesy broth. I think it may have been because I used some grated cheddar and mozzarella mixture as part of the cheese component; I suspect it was the mozzarella that didn't play along with the sauce.

Since it was just for the two of us, I used the sauce anyway. And the finished product didn't seem to suffer for it at all! That method of making cheese sauce leaves you with a much lighter dish, and with the cauliflower florets and leaves, it actually felt like a complete meal. I am quite keen to try the original Moosewood recipe too, although I probably won't bother seeking out those jumbo shells for it.

Thursday 4 October 2012

Lily's scones

My scone-baking is improving. Still not quite there yet, but definitely making progress. This recipe is Lily's Scones, from Nigella Lawson's How to be a domestic goddess (which I have just bought). When I tried a friend's delicious scones, I asked for the recipe and was pointed in this direction. They have a LOT of cream of tartar in them, I couldn't believe it was right. But it is. And they have less of the metallic-y baking powder taste you sometimes get with scones.

Paul has his with the cream first then the jam.

Monday 1 October 2012

Meat Free Monday - Panfried gnocchi with pesto

Cream cheese gnocchi
I've had a few days off work recently. Originally Paul & I planned to go away for a long weekend, but then he couldn't get the time off work and I decided to take the leave anyway. It was lovely: very relaxing and restorative (even if I did come down with a cold and get very few of my planned projects achieved).

It also meant that I watched some TV that I wouldn't normally watch. Like Lorraine's Fast Fresh & Easy Food. The thing is, I don't really care about recipes being fast, fresh and easy. If I need to make something fast, I probably won't follow a recipe, I'll just draw on my repertoire of things I can cook in a hurry. Almost everything I eat is fresh, so that just isn't isn't a big selling point for me. And easy? Well... I am actually a pretty fair cook, so there are a lot of techniques that I consider easy. So it hasn't been a series I have sought out at all, but it was a good way to spend the odd half hour of leisure time.

One recipe that caught my eye before I found her mannerisms too irritating to watch any more was this panfried mascarpone gnocchi, with pesto. I was impressed by the idea that it was quicker than potato gnocchi, and anything as a vehicle for pesto is OK by me.

It... was not an unqualified success. For one thing it really is not a lot quicker than potato gnocchi. Maybe if you do use 2 frying pans it might be, but for me with one pan it was not. It was also very stodgy. I don't know if that is because I took a cheaper route and used cream cheese instead of mascarpone, but I don't think that would make too much difference (the amount of flour it took was the same, so it wasn't drier or anything). When I've made gnudi before - which is probably a closer analogue than potato gnocchi - they've been very light and delicate but these were quite heavy.

Now, normally when I make pesto I add some of the pasta cooking water to the sauce to loosen it and help it coat the pasta, but when you fry the gnocchi you don't have that nice starchy water. So the pesto sat in clumps in the bowl. What with one thing and another the dish didn't live up to the promise it showed on TV! However, it wasn't a total loss. Because it was so heavy, we had loads left over. I layered them in a pyrex dish with some slices of aubergine, covered them in a thick tomato sauce and blanketed them with grated cheese, then baked them. This form was much, much more successful! The gnocchi were much lighter and fluffier after they absorbed some of the tomato sauce. If I make these again, I am going to try boiling them and serving them in a sauce rather than doing them according to the recipe again.

Looks better than it tastes


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