Saturday 29 December 2012

Christmas brisket sandwich

The only downside to our snacky approach to Christmas eating is not having cold cuts left over to eat for a few days. In order to fill that gap, I bought a lovely piece of brisket from ELSCo and cured it, to eat as salt beef. I followed Diana Henry's recipe this time, but it's not hugely different from the recipes I've used before.

We had some the night before Christmas Eve, hot with parsley sauce. It's not something I grew up with, but it is a very old-fashioned, comforting dish and one of Paul's favourites.
The rosy pink colour of the meat is from the saltpetre in the cure

The rest of the meat has been in the fridge, the piece getting smaller and smaller as Paul has cut off chunks for snacking. In the end, there was just enough for these two well-filled Christmassy takes on the reuben sandwich.

The baps, left from Boxing Day and slightly stale, needed warming to soften them a bit. On one side went a layer of sauerkraut and the slices of beef. On the other, some cranberry mustard and some of the blue cheese mousse from the Christmas Day canapes. It went under the grill until the cheese melted, the edges of the bap toasted and the meat was hot through, then it was wedged together. Definitely worth curing another brisket to make more of these.

Thursday 27 December 2012

Christmas food wrap-up

So that is that for another year - presents opened, festive food cooked and (mostly) consumed, washing-up done. Here's what we ate:
Potato scones, smoked salmon and bearnaise sauce for Christmas Day brunch - in the looming shadow of bubbly

As planned, on Christmas Day we had a good brunch and then snacked on delicious nibbly things. Very simple potato scones, with lots of smoked salmon and some (bought) bearnaise sauce, with a glass of cava, made an excellent start.

In the late afternoon we had canapes with some more cava. Mini bagel toasts topped with cauliflower puree and salmon pearls (a favourite of ours for many years), and mini blinis topped with blue cheese mousse and marinated baby figs.
Absolute little sods to peel

Later in the evening we had 'nduja scotch quail eggs. Peeling the quail eggs almost cost me my sanity - there were a dozen when I started and you can see the condition the surviving eggs were in. It's a pig of a job and the waste upsets me no end. Next time I am going back to the ready-peeled ones. The fresh quail eggs can wait for times when I want a mini fried egg or something.
The end result was really good though. The combination of sausage meat and firey 'nduja, around softly-cooked egg is a winner. An excellent way to end the Christmas Day feasting. Plus there are a few left over for snacking on, which is always a nice part of Christmas excess.

On Boxing Day we had another good brunch (although with coffee, not alcohol) - these breakfast-in-a-bap. I very nearly followed the recipe, although I used 1 slice of bacon per bap and added a slice of black pudding. Cute, less fiddle than a fry-up and less calorific than the way we'd usually do it too.

Then in the afternoon we went to see some friends, who roasted a delicious goose, and served it with roast potatoes, honeyed carrots and parsnips, brussels sprouts and loads of gravy. My idea of a perfect Christmas dinner really.

Our contribution was dessert. I made the Italian Christmas Pudding Cake from Nigellissima, in a half quantity. Instead of tuaca and marsala, I used Pedro Ximenez sherry. Very, very successful, although without the tuaca it had much less of a boozy kick than Nigella's did (it was one of the things she made for the afternoon tea I went to last month).

After dinner we sat in front of an open fire and nibbled cheese and crackers, while drinking port. A very merry Christmas.
Boxing day dessert

Tuesday 25 December 2012

Merry Christmas - spiced almond wreath

Merry Christmas everyone! I hope you all have a lovely holiday season with the minimum of stress. Our plan for today is to have a leisurely breakfast and then snack on delicious things while drinking quite a lot of bubbly. Tomorrow we are going to have a big Boxing Day dinner with friends. They've ordered a goose - I am looking forward to it. I'll post all about that food over the next few days. If any of the pictures turn out.

But for today, I thought I'd give you a recipe for a pretty simple and delicious breakfast bread. It's sort-of-Scandi (so hot right now!), with a bit of rye flour in the dough and a sweet filling of almonds and spices, but I don't know what actual Scandinavian people would think of its authenticity.
Use scissors to cut the dough
I made the dough in the afternoon, then left it in the fridge until the following morning - it means you don't need to have a super early start to have this with your coffee mid-morning. And I used ground almonds, egg white and sugar, but if you happen to have some leftover marzipan, crumbling that into the spices would work just as well.
Pull alternating pieces of the wreath into the middle
There are lots of different ways to shape this sort of bread - this is an easy one but it still looks pretty effective. And you have the added bonus of extra crusty caramelly bits.

Spiced Almond Wreath

200g strong white flour
50g rye flour
25g caster sugar
20g butter, softened
1 egg
1x 7g sachet instant yeast
pinch of salt
150ml warm milk

100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
1 egg white
1 stick cinnamon (or 1tbs ground, but grinding my own cinnamon has changed my life. SO much more flavour)
Seeds from 12 cardamom pods (or 1tsp ground)
1 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cloves

to finish
1 egg
pearl sugar

Mix the flours, sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl (best to put the salt in on one side of the bowl and the yeast on the other). Stir in the butter and egg, then add the milk gradually until you have a slightly sticky dough. Knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is quite smooth and elastic.

Cover and allow to rise for an hour or so until doubled in bulk, or put in the fridge to rise slowly overnight.

Grind the cinnamon stick and cardamom seeds together, then mix with the other filling ingredients. 

Pat the risen dough into a rectangle on a floured surface. Spread the filling over the dough, leaving a 2cm border on one long edge. Roll tightly from the other edge. Gently roll the log of filled dough until it is long enough to shape into a ring with a good amount of space in the middle, then shape into a ring on a baking paper-lined baking sheet.

Using scissors, make diagonal cuts around the wreath, then pull alternating chunks into the middle (I had to make an extra, skinny cut at the end because I miscounted the number of cuts). Allow to rise for about an hour, then glaze with beaten egg and sprinkle with pearl sugar (if you don't have pearl sugar, just glaze with the egg then when it is baked dust with icing sugar).

Bake at 200C for about half an hour. Allow to cool for 10-15 minutes before tearing off chunks to eat.
Fragrant and delicious - perfect with coffee

Sunday 23 December 2012

Rudolf Rolls

One of the advantages of not having children is that you can make delicious venison sausage rolls at Christmas, call them Rudolf Rolls and no one cries.
Blue cheese puff pastry
I'd had an idea ticking over in my mind for a while. Since I made my first rough-puff pastry, in fact. That idea was "why doesn't anyone make flavoured puff pastry?". Was there a reason why no one used a herb butter, or a smoked chilli butter, or a black pepper butter, or a cinnamon butter to add layers of flavour to laminated doughs?

Before I'd done anything more than ponder the idea, Dan Lepard published this recipe, for sausage rolls with blue cheese incorporated into bought puff pastry. This does open up a bunch of avenues for me to explore next year.

Venison sausage and cranberry mustard
Stilton is one of the traditional tastes of a British Christmas, so I thought about what else would go well with it and be a bit Christmassy. Venison (probably red or roe deer, not actually reindeer!) and cranberries.

The venison sausages our supermarket stocks are OK, but they are actually mostly pork and not very venison-y (venison tastes like well-flavoured beef, in case you are squeamish about eating Bambi). On the other hand, they also stock really delicious venison burgers, that are mostly venison and seasoning. So I bought a couple of those and squashed them into sausage shapes.

For the cranberry component, I used some cranberry mustard, made from Diana Henry's recipe in salt sugar smoke. It's more of a relish than a mustard really, very, very simple to make, and it is absolutely perfect with the cheesy pastry and meaty sausage. There are loads of good quality cranberry sauces and relishes around if you don't fancy making your own though.

Baked and ready to eat
I glazed them with a bit of egg white, and baked them until they were golden and cranberry juices were oozing out of them.

I did think about garnishing them with some pretzel antlers and a cranberry nose, but even my sense of kitsch doesn't go quite that far for lunch for the two of us. Cut into dainty pieces these would make excellent party food, though, and under those circumstances I would definitely go for the full catastrophe. As long as there weren't going to be impressionable children around, of course.

Friday 21 December 2012

The Delaunay

As well as wanting a pre-Christmas catch-up, we had something to celebrate, so the crew that gathered at Brasserie Zedel in September cast about for somewhere to eat. Soho/Covent Garden being the most convenient for all of us, we discussed some of the currently-hip "dirty" food options, before eventually settling on The Delaunay. Which is, coincidentally, owned by the same people as Brasserie Zedel.

One of the selling points for it was the weekend brunch menu. Not a silly full-English-available-until-noon sort of brunch menu (it is taking the British a while to understand brunch) but an 11am-5pm eggs, pastries and bloody marys brunch menu. Megan was also confident (she's been there several times) that they would let us sit and chat for hours. Perfect for our purposes.

It's down on Aldwych, which unfortunately means pushing through hordes of directionally-challenged tourists on their way to musical adaptations of movies. Not the most promising or relaxing of starts. But it makes up for it by having a coat-check girl who takes care of your belongings in a very civilised way.

The others had already arrived and spent some time in the bar drinking prosecco, but I caught up with them just as they were shown to the table. Dark wood, heavy silverware, actual linen tablecloths and napkins - I felt slightly under-dressed.
Chicken schnitzel
Megan chose schnitzel (the Delaunay have a sort of mid-century, Mittel-europe vibe going). It comes, quite simply, with a slick of intense parsley oil and a lemon tidily wrapped in muslin. They also do a cordon bleu and a Holstein, in case you like your schnitzel even more retro. She had a side of mash with it and actually managed to finish the whole lot.
Generous with the smoked salmon
Ellen had a smoked salmon bagel. I thought the presentation was lovely, although personally I prefer my bagel toasted. Which I don't think is remotely traditional, it's just how I like it. This was another generous serving - plenty of chive-y cream cheese and a big pile of smoked salmon.
There's another half sandwich on the other side of the lettuce

The croque monsieur that Sophia ordered was a comparatively light option - it came with salad - but again it was generously filled and rich.
Omelette Arnold Bennett

I think I won the ordering though (OK, fine, Sophia doesn't eat seafood so she would disagree with me but I still won). I've always wanted to try an Omelette Arnold Bennett but not enough to actually make my own and when I have been in other places that served them there has always been something else I would rather have. Not this time though.

You know how some recipes come with the advice "not a dish for every day" or "an occasional treat"? This is one of those. Incredibly rich. Almost literally heart-stoppingly rich. But incredibly delicious. The underlying omelette was quite light and fluffy, definitely not the sort of frittata-style egg cake that I suspect it could become. Then moist flakes of un-dyed smoked haddock. This was the bit I have worried about when I was wondering if I would like the Arnold Bennett, because while I really like smoked fish sometimes it can be a bit too smoky and a bit too fishy. This was neither - just the perfect amount of subtle smoky savouriness punctuating the very buttery egginess above and below. Then on top of that, a layer of delicious, perfectly seasoned hollandaise, grilled until just bronzed. I used some of the excellent, chewy pan d'epi to wipe every scrap of sauce from the plate.
Rhubarb and Pear crumble

The fact that the service was a little slow played to our advantage here. The staff gave us a leisurely pause to enable us to face dessert. Ellen makes crumbles regularly, but her oven is broken at the moment and she is having withdrawal symptoms. It came with a little jug of cream. She seemed pretty happy with it, although I suspect it wasn't as good as her home-made.

Both Sophia and Megan had scoops of ice cream, but I only took one picture - other than the colours they looked alike. I had an ice cream version of a mont blanc - chestnut ice cream instead of the usual riced chestnut puree, topped with (far too much) whipped cream and some boozy candied chestnuts.

After the omelette I couldn't face the whipped cream, so I scraped most of that off. The biscuit had gone through crisp and into tooth-breakingly hard, and wasn't really a taste sensation. The chocolate sail looked very impressive, but was a bit too bitter for me. So the only bits I ate were the ice cream and the whisky chestnuts, but they were so good I could have eaten them twice.

It was all pretty good value I thought - it came to about £40 a head, including service charge and a glass each (because we arrived at different times) and then a bottle of prosecco. And they let us sit and natter for about three hours and were exceptionally polite and charming when they needed to kick us out because the next booking had theatre tickets. The whole operation felt very polished, as you would expect from the owners of The Wolseley (although obviously a bit more laid-back - they clearly don't have the "no photography" rule that the Wolseley enforces).
Mont Blanc

Wednesday 19 December 2012

Breakfast Club: 'Nduja Potato Cakes

It's been over a month since I last blogged about something with 'nduja in it! Not because I have fallen out of love with it, just because I've had other things to talk about.

Then I saw that Breakfast Club was being hosted at Bangers & Mash and that the theme was brunch. These potato cakes were just the thing.

For me brunch is distinct from breakfast because it is served later in the day and goes well with booze. It has to have both elements (even if you don't actually have booze with it). So normal porridge doesn't make the cut, but whisky porridge (laced with honey, cream and a drizzle of scotch) does. Cornflakes don't, fruit salad does. Vegemite toast doesn't, Welsh rarebit does. Personally, I really prefer a savoury brunch - or a multi-course one where I get sweet and savoury.

These potato cakes are just barely crisp enough on the outside to withstand turning over, and very squishy in the middle. They have a big spicy kick from the 'nduja which makes them perfect alongside a bloody mary.

I had mine just with some baked datterini tomatoes, but Paul had a fried egg on top - poached eggs would be good too. And if you wanted to make the recipe go a bit further, serving one potato cake per person with some baked beans would work really well, or adding some leftover cabbage or sprouts to make 'nduja bubble and squeak would be delicious.

'Nduja Potato Cakes (makes 4)

400g cold mashed potato (leftovers would be good but I didn't have them, so I used a pack of bought mash)
100g 'nduja
1 tbs oil
Cherry tomatoes (on the vine is pretty but more expensive so suit yourself)

Place the tomatoes in a baking dish and roast at 180C for about 15 minutes, until slightly wrinkled and bursting.

Microwave the 'nduja for 20-30 seconds in a large bowl to make it softer and more mixable, then add the mashed potato and mix until evenly red. Divide into 4 and pat firmly into cakes, dusting well with flour. This bit can be done the night before, covered and then left in the fridge until you are ready to cook them. Fry them in a splash of oil for about 5 minutes a side, not moving them at all in between times and turning them very, very carefully.

Serve with the roasted tomatoes and a large, spicy bloody mary.
My datterini roasted a bit unevenly

Monday 17 December 2012

BSFIC - Amaretto Nougat Glacé


I'm not feeling very Christmassy yet. It's certainly frosty enough, and all the neighbours have their lights up, but somehow I'm just not there yet. I've even managed to make some plans and more or less organise the menu so I am not under-prepared, I am just not feeling it. I haven't even had a mince pie yet, although I had my first glass of mulled wine for the season about a month ago.

I am sure I will get there at some point. Preferably before the 25th.
Even without feeling full of the joys of the season, I think I have managed to come up with a very Christmassy dessert for this month's Bloggers Scream For Ice Cream challenge. The challenge Kavey set was a nice, flexible, seasonal one - frozen treats containing booze.

Well, I like booze. And the selection of alcohol in my kitchen at the moment is unusually large (Ocado keeps having special offers). I decided to make something that we could have as our dessert on Christmas Day, rather than making something extra that I would then be tempted to eat.

While I'd been intending to repeat the whisky marmalade ice cream I made last year for Christmas, I really felt that this challenge deserved a new recipe.

I opened the cupboard for a bit of a poke about and found quite a lot of Spanish nougat - turrón. It was a gift from a friend who stayed last month; she had said that her family feels deprived if they don't get turrón at Christmas.
There are many kinds of turrón - this is the hard one.
With crunchy almond nougat as a starting point, my choice of booze was clear. I don't particularly like sweet cocktails, particularly not the creamy ones *shudder* but I do have a fondness for an amaretto sour. I wanted to make an ice cream reminiscent of an amaretto sour, interspersed with crunchy bits.

Something else to punctuate the sweetness was also called for. Now, apparently Disaronno actually contains no almonds. The almond flavour in it is the result of apricot kernals, making apricots the natural fruity partner for it.
Dried apricots marinated in amaretto
For the ice cream base, I decided to try something different. I wanted something reminiscent of nougat, so I tried a Swiss meringue with whipped cream folded through. More of a fiddle than my recent condensed milk ice creams, but certainly achievable (it is a two day process, but not a labour-intensive two days). Although I think the motor on my hand beater is on its last legs.
Amaretto Nougat Glacé

3tbs amaretto
100g dried apricots, finely chopped
3 egg whites (100ml-ish)
150g caster sugar
200ml cream
finely grated zest of a lemon & juice of half
200g turrón de Alicante (hard almond nougat), finely chopped

Combine the apricots with 2tbs of the amaretto in a small bowl or plastic box, cover and leave to soak over night.

The following day, combine the eggwhites, sugar and lemon juice in a large glass bowl and place over a pot of simmering water. Beat slowly for a couple of minutes until the sugar dissolves completely, then remove from heat and whisk on high speed until firm peaks form (up to 10 minutes).

In another bowl, whisk the cream with the remaining tablespoonful of amaretto to soft peaks. Fold together the cream and meringue, then fold in the boozy apricots with any unabsorbed liquid, the chopped turrón and the grated lemon zest.

Spread into a loaf tin lined with cling film. Cover with more cling film and freeze over night. It doesn't freeze hard, and can either be scooped or sliced straight from the tin.
Sampled for photographic purposes, the rest can wait for Christmas day

Friday 14 December 2012

Happy Birthday Hurricane!

Chocolate cake, as per the Be-Ro recipe (half quantity, using vanilla yoghurt instead of evaporated milk, baked in a 6" tin). Chocolate buttercream icing. Pink & yellow sugar pearls. I think it looks rather good.

Wednesday 12 December 2012

Venison Pie

For Christmas you could put a cranberry in the little air-vent...
The main thing about this venison pie is not the filling, which was a basic but delicious mirepoix/venison/beef stock stew with copious amounts of gravy. And it wasn't my adorable antler decoration. No. The really important thing about this pie is that it was my first attempt at rough puff pastry. Look at that lamination!

Saturday 8 December 2012

Beef fillet - pho and salad

When Paul and I eat steak, it isn't generally fillet. Fillet is tender, of course, but that tenderness comes at the expense of good flavour. We'll choose something a little chewier, but with a beefier flavour, like onglet, rump or ribeye every time.

But Paul is working away from home again, so I am back to making the most special and delicious meals I can come up with on the weekends to make up for the fast-food dross he is mostly consuming during the week. Last week, I decided to welcome him home with a big bowl of pho, that fragrant, warming Vietnamese soup that I was quite sure he hadn't been able to get in Aberdeen.

In Sydney, we used to be able to buy very thinly sliced beef for making pho bo. You can probably get it here too, but I've never seen it. I decided that buying some beef fillet and slicing it myself was the way forward.

Of course, the other reason why we wouldn't buy fillet very often even if it was our favourite is that it is bloody expensive. That meat was going to have to work really hard for me.
Two beautiful 250g fillet steaks.
I equipped myself with two 250g fillet steaks. Because the beef for pho is cut so thinly I knew that one steak would feed both of us generously. I decided to cure the other steak and serve it like carpaccio, making it stretch for two people as well.
In the cure
Cured Beef

250g fillet steak
2 tbs coarse sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 knife-tip ground cloves
1/2 tbsp freshly ground black peppercorns
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp brown sugar

Mix the spices together and press into all sides of the beef. Place in a non-reactive container, and refrigerate for 3-4 days, pouring off the liquid that collects daily. To serve, wipe off the spices and slice thinly. Serve with salad - will serve 2-4 people.

Sliced beef piled on top of the other ingredients, waiting for the hot broth
The most important thing about pho is starting with a good broth. I had a rich beef stock left from braising some short ribs, which I then reduced further with chunks of ginger, spring onions, star anise and cinnamon.

I put the piece of beef in the freezer for an hour to make it easier to slice thinly.

In each bowl I piled rice noodles, bean shoots, mint, coriander and basil, topping it off with slices of chilli, spring onions, the sliced beef and wedges of lime.

Just before serving I corrected the seasoning of the broth with fish sauce, lime juice and a bit of sugar and brought it back to a rapid boil, then divided it between the bowls. Then, as we swished the pieces of meat in the broth, we added chilli sauce and hoisin to our bowls to taste.

Delicious, fresh and comforting.
The meat starting to cook in the broth
On Monday (i.e when the meat had been in the cure for 3 days) I decided to serve it. Only problem being that it was very, very cold on Monday and I didn't want an entirely cold salad for lunch. So, after wiping the curing spices off the meat I seared it in a very hot frying pan (with the windows open, the extractor fan on and the kitchen door shut) for about a minute on each side, then sliced it and piled it onto dressed leaves. Absolutely divine. The cure did its work, so the meat didn't taste raw (I prefer my steak cooked medium, so believe me when I say this!) and it was insanely tender. I don't like the phrase "melt in the mouth" but this really was. With some bread and butter or some boiled potatoes this could have served four of us instead of just two. Although it was too delicious to share.

Beautiful beef. You can see how the curing intensified the colour

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Cherry ripe rum balls

Not as good as it looked

A month or so ago Paul asked me to make him a chocolate cake. This is a pretty unusual request for him, but when he does ask for a dessert he is quite specific about what he wants. He didn't want a layer cake. He didn't want a light chocolate sponge. He wanted a dense, moist, thin chocolate cake with a layer of chocolate glaze. This Martha Stewart recipe seemed like just the thing. Only, it wasn't.

It wasn't particularly moist and it just wasn't the cake he was after. It was fine but not wow, and if we are going to eat a cake it really should be wow.

So we weren't going to eat it as it was, but there was no way I was going to waste it, either. Years ago I made a brilliant trifle with a disappointing chocolate cake and I thought this might meet the same destiny, so I tucked it away in the freezer for an opportune moment. As the glaze was just a ganache, and I wasn't planning to serve the cake in its original form I wasn't too worried about it thawing strangely.

There it sat.

Then last weekend our sister in law came to lunch. I decided not to make a full-on dessert, but instead to turn some of my frozen cake into rum balls.
Chocolate dipped rum balls

A lot of recipes I found were American, using crushed wafers and marshmallow fluff and weird processed things, but I wanted an old-school Australian-style rum ball. I followed this recipe, substituting some of my birthday boozy cherries and their preserving liquid for the rum and raisins, in a tribute to the chocolate, cherries and coconut of the classic Cherry Ripe. Then, instead of rolling them in chocolate sprinkles, I dipped them in tempered dark chocolate. It wasn't my most successful attempt at tempering; it was so cold in the kitchen that I think the temperature fell too quickly, so while they had a good texture, they weren't quite as glossy as I would have liked.

I still have enough cake in the freezer to make another batch, so I might make some more for Christmas. With even more booze this time.

Monday 3 December 2012

Meat Free Monday: Truffled twice baked potato

Bake a potato, cut off a little lid, scoop out the flesh and mash with a knob of butter and a spoonful of truffle paste. Pack back into the skin, make a hollow with the back of a spoon and crack in an egg. Put the lid back on and bake until the egg is cooked.


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