Tuesday 30 April 2013

Sausage and chicken pie

When I set out to make this pie, I thought I had more leftover chicken than I did. I was originally going to follow this recipe but with the amount of chicken and sausage I had it was going to be under-filled. So I added the leeks and mustard from this recipe and also chucked in 300g of mushrooms. I used bought puff pastry for the bottom crust and leftover home-made red wine and mustard rough-puff for the top. And totally failed to get a picture of the finished article. You'll have to take my word for it that the unlovely-looking filling looked considerably more appetising when it was oozing out from between layers of crisp, golden pastry.

Thursday 25 April 2013

Road-testing Tate & Lyle Sugars

Regular readers will remember that last month I went to an amazing event to launch a new range of Tate and Lyle Fairtrade cane sugars. As part of that, I was given a goody-bag of the sugars to try.

It has taken me a while to decide how best to showcase the three samples.

The Mediterranean-inspired light soft brown sugar is described as "Medium bodied butter, flavour strength 4". Whatever that means. A "moist sugar with fine sized, quick-dissolving crystals, lending its delicate, subdued flavour to Mediterranean-inspired sauces and fruity preserves".

Well, the middle of the Hungry Gap is not really the right time to be preserving and I couldn't think of any Mediterranean-inspired sauces that needed sugar in any appreciable quantity. And it was almost Easter and I wanted to bake some buns.

I'd also been craving Apricot Delight. A delight which seems unknown outside Australia. It's cubes of dried apricot and coconut and was always seen as a "healthy" treat. Gorgeous stuff. I found this recipe for homemade Apricot Delight and decided to use it as a filling for my spring buns, substituting the Tate and Lyle soft brown sugar for the honey and leaving it a bit looser.

I made an enriched yeast dough flavoured with saffron, cardamom and cinnamon. After the first rise I rolled logs of the apricot delight mixture in portions of the dough and shaped them into rosettes. Another rise and into the oven.

Now, at this point I asked Paul's opinion and I shouldn't have because he was wrong. I asked whether he thought I should brush the hot buns with a lemon syrup or if I should drizzle them with glace icing and he wanted the icing.

So once they were cooled I iced them with lemon glace icing and topped them with balls of the remaining apricot delight. The flavours were excellent but the buns were just a bit too hard on the outside - which would have been mitigated by the hot syrup. The buns we didn't eat fresh made a really majestic bread and butter pudding though.

The Barbados-inspired dark muscovado sugar ("Full bodied rich, flavour strength 5") was of particular interest to me because dark muscovado sugar gets used almost daily in our house. It's our preferred sugar for adding to our coffee because it adds a real caramelly depth.

What I really wanted to make with it was Gypsy Tart, an old-fashioned (and very sweet) dessert from Kent which to me seems like alchemy. You chill a can of evaporated milk, whisk it into muscovado sugar and pour it into a pastry case. After a few minutes in the oven apparently it sets to a caramelly custard. Just evaporated milk and sugar. Extraordinary. But I couldn't face the 15 minutes of sustained whisking required and all the recipes seemed to make lots more than two people should sensibly eat.

Instead, I went back to an old favourite, which really is a perfect showcase for the deep flavours of muscovado sugar. I don't know why I've never blogged about Steven's Butterscotch Allspice bars. They are a very simple shortbread base topped with a mixture of butter, sugar, allspice and pecans (I usually use walnuts) and they are one of Paul's absolute favourite things to have with his morning coffee.

The Tate and Lyle sugar seemed finer-grained than the muscovado in our sugar canister and had the most wonderful molasses aroma. It's this that stops the butterscotch topping from being too overwhelmingly sweet. It's 70p/kilo more expensive than our usual sugar, but it is a fairtrade product, so I think we will shift over to that one when we next buy sugar.
Sorry to disappoint - the colour is from the sugar, not chocolate

The last sugar sample was the one that had Lorna Wing, the food consultant and flavour expert at the Tasting House, most excited. British-inspired golden syrup sugar "rich, bold and beautifully distinctive with a luscious, lingering sweetness" - it was certainly  the one that had stood out the most in my tasting, because it just smelled so much like golden syrup. Which, for you poor ignorants who haven't had the pleasure, is lovely and very distinctive.

There was only one way I could go with this one. It had to be a steamed syrup sponge pudding. I mostly followed Felicity Cloake's recipe, but added the zest of the lemon to the sponge mix and used the juice of the whole lemon in the syrup topping. It still wasn't strongly lemony, it just had a discreet tang that brightened the rich pudding. We ate it with cold double cream. Some would say anything but custard is heresy, but I don't mind a bit of iconoclasm.

Sunday 21 April 2013

Dirty Rice

I thought the next dish in my exploration of the food of the southern states of the USA would be grits. But it's turning out to be tricky to get grits. I could substitute polenta but apparently grits really are quite different, so until I can get it (without paying an arm and a leg on Amazon), I'll look at some other dishes.

Paul and I both like liver. But he likes it done to the point of abuse: leathery and bitter. It's worse than how he likes his eggs cooked. I feel so horrible treating food with such disrespect that I don't cook liver for him very often. I kept thinking about dirty rice as a way for us to eat liver without having to cook it to leather. It seemed like good end-of-the-week comfort food, requiring a bit of preparation but not a lot of effort in the cooking.

I looked at a few recipes before branching out on my own. I wanted a lot more bits to less rice because we were having it as a whole meal, not as a side dish. Also, even though most recipes used cooked rice, they also then added a lot of chicken broth, which I thought would make it wetter than I wanted. They also cooked the chicken livers much harder than I wanted to, although Paul would have approved of that.

So this is my version of a Southern classic. Hertfordshire dirty rice.

Dirty Rice (serves 3 as a main)

1 cup rice, dry weight
Vegetable oil
3 sticks celery, diced
2 large onions, diced
2 green peppers, diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400g pork sausage meat
100g chorizo, diced
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried marjoram
250g chicken livers, pulsed in a food processor until finely diced
Hot sauce, to serve

Cook the rice however you do. Spread out onto a plate to cool.

Saute the celery, onion and peppers in a bit of vegetable oil until starting to soften, then add the garlic, chorizo and sausage meat. Brown the sausage meat well and season with the paprika and herbs.

Stir the rice through the sausage mixture, then add the chicken livers and cook until it changes from an alarmingly bloody mass to a steaming hot brown mess. Taste for seasoning and serve with a good slurp of hot sauce.

Thursday 18 April 2013

'Nduja bean soup

It's a funny thing, but when you see a bowl of soup, no matter where it is from, lensed with red oil, you know you are in for comfort. Coconutty laksa, or a thick Spanish broth of greens and chorizo, the red oil floating to the surface is a sign of something good to come.

This simple little soup of mainly store-cupboard staples tastes rich and hearty but is pretty low-calorie, if you are interested in that sort of thing. A massive, meal-sized bowl comes in at about 280 calories.

'Nduja soup (serves 2 as a meal)

100g soup mix (that combination of lentils, barley and beans)
25g 'nduja
300g soffrito (or a small onion, a carrot and a stick of celery, finely diced)
1 litre vegetable stock
400g can chopped tomatoes
Juice of half a lemon
Handful of chopped parsley

Soak the soup mix in water over night.

About an hour before you want to eat, soften the 'nduja in a large saucepan. When the oil flows, add the soffrito and cook gently until it softens a bit. Add the drained soup mix and the vegetable stock. Bring to the boil and then cover and simmer for about half an hour. Then add the tomatoes and simmer for another half hour, covered, stirring from time to time.

Fish around in the soup with a spoon until you find a haricot bean - these take the longest to cook, so if they are tender you are in business. Add a squeeze of lemon, some chopped parsley and correct the seasoning.

Tuesday 16 April 2013

Packed lunches

Since Easter, Paul has been working on a new contract. After his second day on the site he staggered through the front door and gasped "I need to take packed lunches". The poor love. For some reason contractors only have access to the cafeteria when accompanied by a member of staff, and all the staff were on a training thing that week.

I had a rummage in the freezer and pantry, and decided to make him a loaf of stuffed bread to see him through the rest of the week. I made a batch of basic bread dough (450g strong white flour, 50g rye flour, 2 sachets of yeast, a glug of olive oil and as much water as it needed). I kneaded in some dried thyme and parsley.
Sausage and chilli filling.

While the dough rose I sauteed a sliced onion, 6 pork sausages (casings removed) and a couple of diced green chillies.
Dusted with polenta for some extra crunch

When the filling was cool and the dough had doubled in size I patted the dough into a big rectangle, spread the filling over it and rolled it up. Then I let it prove again before baking.

It was very successful. Savoury, filling, and very well suited to the way he likes to graze through the day.

There was one problem with it, from my point of view. I just couldn't really consider a bit of chilli and onion to bring an actual vegetable component to his meal. And he really isn't one to snack on fruit if I gave it to him. I had to consider how to get some other food groups into his lunch.

When I made the custard burger buns, I only shaped a third of the dough, and used the rest to make another filled bread.

I warmed 100g of nduja so it was spreadable, and painted it across the dough. I sauteed an onion, some chopped spinach and some sun-dried tomatoes and spread that across too.

It was pretty funny really. I was wracking my brains to remember the last time I bought sun-dried tomatoes, or deliberately ate anything with them in it. Weird how ingredients fall out of fashion. But I wanted their sweet, salty chewiness and fashion be damned.

Then I tore a ball of mozzarella over it and rolled it up tightly. It made a very, very big loaf, so I cut it in half. One loaf got a second proving and baking, the other was wrapped and frozen (I thawed and baked it half way through the week so it was fresh for the second half of the week).

These loaves didn't rise as well as the previous loaf, which I think was mainly due to the wetter filling. I thought it was interesting that there was no significant difference between the one baked straight away and the one that was frozen and thawed. The combination of flavours was excellent, and I did feel much better about the addition of vegetables.

For this week's lunches, Paul asked for sandwiches. On home made bread. Easy enough - I made a loaf of Dan Lepard's milk bread, substituting 60g of rolled oats for 60g of the flour, and soaking the oats in the hot milk. I'd bought a selection of ham, cheese, salad stuff and whatnot, but on Sunday evening we barbecued a piece of beef rump, so his Monday sandwich was leftover beef and horseradish. He vetoed the addition of lettuce.

Thursday 11 April 2013

Don't get your hopes up but spring may have sprung

After the snow over the Easter weekend, I was beginning to fear that spring would never arrive. Day after day of bitterly cold winds, flurries of snow and ice that didn't settle but didn't stop and unrelenting grey skies had me feeling that this year we were just going to have twelve months of winter.

Then on Saturday, the sun came out.

Of course, we were terrified that it would be the only day of sun for the whole year, so we determined to make the most of it. We jumped in the car and went for a country drive, followed by a walk at Ashridge Estate. Paul was particularly keen on the idea, because there was a stand of Scots pines that he wanted to photograph.

As we pulled up to the pines, we spotted these lovely creatures wandering through the trees.

There have been fallow deer at Ashridge since the 13th Century, and while the stags kept an eye on us, they weren't particularly bothered. It makes the "deer crossing" signs on the roads around here quite pertinent. They put the hert in Hertfordshire.

After our walk, we skipped the delights of the National Trust tearoom and went home to barbecue some burgers. Paul thought venison burgers, but I felt that would be a bit rude. And anyway, we had some very nice beef burgers in the freezer that have been waiting for a fine day.
East London Steak Co Blue Label burgers

While the burgers thawed, I made Dan Lepard's slider buns and a quick celeriac slaw.

We melted slices of pepper cheese over the patties. Because we trust our meat supplier, we were able to leave the burgers deliciously pink in the middle. No additional sauces, just a few thin slices of raw onion.

It's grey and wet again today, but at least we had a taste of spring.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Tapas Brindisa Soho

I know a couple of people who enter competitions. We all do from time to time, of course, but these people take it really seriously. They are on internet newsgroups about them. At one stage I didn't buy tea for a couple of years because a friend had bought so many boxes of the stuff for a competition.

The thing that I have learnt from these friends who enter competitions is that it is a numbers game and you do, indeed, have to be in it to win it. My friend with the teabags? Ended up winning two Ceylon sapphires in that competition.

I don't enter that many competitions, but every now and again I do. And this time I also won a sapphire. Sadly, it was but a Bombay Sapphire. Happily, that means free gin! Hurrah!

Bombay Sapphire (which some people at gin club sneer at but I still love. The bottle is blue!) teamed up with Brindisa to produce the "ultimate" G&T and tapas pairing. They ran a competition on their facebook page, and I won it. The prize was the G&T pairing for two people at one of the Brindisa restaurants.

Since I was overdue for a catch-up with a gin-drinking pal, I invited her to join me. And since a single plate of tapas can not be eked out for the full duration of a proper natter, we turned it into dinner and ordered a bunch of other stuff (not part of the prize).

We did, of course, start with the prize. A very large (but not particularly strong) gin and tonic garnished with a caperberry and topped with the "tapa" or lid of sliced jamon and roasted almonds.
Ultimate Gin and Tonic pairing.

It was absolutely gorgeous. I never would have thought of putting a caperberry in a gin and tonic (although you garnish a martini with an olive, so why not?) but it added a subtle salinity to the aroma of the drink without actually altering the flavour much. And that breath of salt tied it beautifully to the ham and almonds.

That ham. Oh that ham. I've raved about the Brindisa jamón ibérico de bellota before when I have bought it at their Borough market shop. It doesn't suffer from being eaten in a restaurant, within sight of the gentleman slicing it. Sweet, nutty fat-edged slices of heaven. If it isn't the single most delicious thing in the world I want to know what is.

I could easily have eaten another three plates of that ham, but alas my bank account would not have co-operated. And anyway, there were loads of other tapas greatest hits that we wanted to try.
Patatas allioli

Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of the grilled chorizo on toast, with rocket and piquillo pepper. I mean, I did, but not a useable one. The fat chorizo, butterflied and striped with grill marks, was pretty easily divided by two. Which is a good thing because there would have been blood on the floor if we hadn't been able to share.

The patatas allioli was a generous portion - too much for us to finish despite my best efforts. Perfectly crisp chunks of potato and a massive dollop of gorgeously rich pale green allioli. It had just the right degree of pungency from the garlic and a little grassiness from the olive oil and was generally wonderful.

Our table was right next to one of the cash register, ordering gizmos, so there was never a shortage of staff when we needed one. And had the comedic bonus of one of the waitresses sitting on my shoulder a couple of times.

I felt that the service was very well paced, with the dishes coming when they were hot and fresh, but with reasonable pauses between them so we weren't fighting to find space for them on the table. The croquetas weren't as fluid in the middle as some I have had, but the creamy filling, studded with little cubes of jamon, was delicious.
Ox cheek with purple potatoes

The ox cheek with red wine sauce and purple potatoes was the only dish that I found less than eye-rollingly, toe-curlingly, mouthwateringly wonderful. It was far from tough, but didn't have quite the melting gelatinous quality I like in ox cheek. The potatoes were very smoky - I don't know how they were prepared but they were a little on the bitter side, like getting a gust of bonfire smoke caught in the back of your throat.

Our final savoury was this gorgeous slab of fried monte enebro cheese adorned with beetroot crisps and lovely floral honey. I was so pleased that Sharon isn't one of the goats cheese loathing community, because it would have been a crying shame to miss this. Quite strong, but still creamy and somehow mellow, tempered with the sweetness of the honey. Divine.
Deep fried monte enebro goats cheese

We did have desserts, but I didn't get a picture of them. I had an exemplary crema catalana, with the perfect degree of spice in the custard, exactly the right wobble and a finely judged bitterness to the toffee. Sharon had a slice of tarta de Santiago, which looked very good and disappeared without putting up too much of a fight. 

The bill, including service charge, came to £26 each. Extremely good value, given how full we were and the quality of the food. It would have been higher, of course, had we bought drinks. The Ultimate G&T is available for £10 until the end of May, apparently.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Toad in the hole - a work in progress

I am going to get this right if it kills me. Toad in the hole is supposed to be a simple little dish of batter pudding, with sausages embedded in it. But try as I might if it rises it doesn't brown evenly, or it just doesn't rise, or my dish is too big so the batter doesn't fill it properly.

Still tastes good though. I use nice, meaty sausages, and embed chunks of black pudding and onion into it as well. Even dodgy batter soaks up gravy nicely.

Monday 1 April 2013

Happy Easter

This Easter hasn't involved much fancy or festive cooking - we've had a couple of lovely pub meals which have rendered other meals pretty well obsolete. Normal cooking, eating and posting will resume shortly!


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