Friday 30 May 2014

Persian meatballs for Cook the Books: Funny in Farsi

cookthebooks The current (but not for much longer, this is a last-minute post) Cook the Books Club selection is Funny in Farsi, by Firoozeh Dumas.

A warmly funny memoir of her life growing up as an Iranian immigrant to America, I found this a very pleasant read. Even the parts that had the potential to be quite painful were told with a kindness and generosity of spirit that I found really winning.

The only downside, and it was a significant one in light of this book club, was that there wasn't nearly enough food. She refers to dishes quite often, but this is not the sort of memoir that contains long, loving, mouthwatering descriptions of family feasting. And since Persian cuisine contains a great many things that I absolutely love, that was a real loss for me!

Fortunately, Sabrina Ghayour, a UK-based foody of Iranian heritage, has just put out her first cookbook, Persiana. Now, I haven't actually acquired the book yet (it's on the list, but I have to make some space on the shelf before I get it!) but The Guardian ran a selection of recipes last month, and I knew that my Cook The Books meal would be constructed from that selection. I also knew there would be rice.

I made Sabrina's delicious lamb and sour cherry meatballs: what she says about kneading the mixture to make light meatballs works brilliantly. I also made her tomato salad with pomegranate molasses. I served it on a bed of buttery saffron rice, with a grated carrot salad (flavoured with cumin and orange flower water) on the side.

Tuesday 27 May 2014

Mulled wine granita and frozen caffè latte


This month's Blogger's Scream for Ice Cream challenge (Kavey's monthly blogging event which fuels my ice cream addiction) is frozen treats inspired by hot drinks.

I pondered the theme for a while. Kavey's post said "think tea, coffee, hot chocolate, bovril, maté, hot ribena, lemsip" and I did for a moment or two consider a bullshot-inspired ice cream. But I'm not Heston and I don't think I quite have the cooking chops to carry that one off. I know my limitations. Just because it is a challenge doesn't mean it has to be challenging...

I mulled the theme over for a while longer before realising that "mulled" was indeed the way to go. A light, fresh, crystalline granita with all the flavours of one of my favourite winter beverages. It was going to be perfect, I thought.

Mulled Wine Granita (serves 4)

200ml fresh cloudy apple juice
2tbs sugar
1 strip orange zest
1 stick cinnamon
4 cloves
1 star anise
2 cardamom pods, bruised
200ml dry red wine

Combine the apple juice, sugar, zest and spices in a small saucepan, and bring gently to the boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Simmer for a couple of minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 15 minutes. Strain into a plastic box and add the wine. Cover and freeze, giving a couple of stirs with a fork every now and again to ensure that the crystals aren't too big.

Flake with a fork into glasses to serve.
Now, I thought this was brilliant. Not too sweet, definitely spicy with a distinct wine flavour and a good way to end a meal. Paul, on the other hand, said it tasted like cough syrup. So I decided to try something else, for people for whom that description is off-putting.

I haven't had his assessment of my frozen caffè lattes, but I think it is a good one - strictly for coffee lovers!
Frozen caffè latte (makes 4) 

2 eggs, separated
100g caster sugar
1tbs instant coffee (I always use decaf for desserts, otherwise I can't sleep!)
1tsp Camp coffee
2tbs kirsch (or rum, brandy, kahlua, Baileys, whisky etc)
170ml single cream

Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and instant coffee with an electric mixer until the sugar and coffee has dissolved and the mixture has doubled in volume. Fold in the Camp coffee, booze and cream. Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks, and fold thoroughly into the coffee mixture, trying not to knock too much air out of it.

Divide between 4 glasses, cover with cling film and freeze. The egg whites should make the mixture separate into two layers. Remove from the freezer a couple of minutes before serving.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Best ever breakfast sandwich

It occurred to me the other weekend, as I hoovered down the best breakfast sandwich in the world, that I have been making these things for three years, and only once blogged about it, in passing. I don't think there is anything else I make this regularly, with so little variation, and that is because this is simple perfection.

This sandwich is a vegan's nightmare, but strangely (for me) contains no bacon. Seriously, this is sheer perfection that needs no pork products.

The combination of toasted brioche, chilli relish, cheese and a fried egg forms a mystical union far greater than the sum of its parts. Creamy, sweet, salty, sharp, hot and pungent in perfect balance. It's so good that it is genuinely worth making the chilli relish while you have your first cup of coffee so that you can have your sandwich with the second cup.
It's British Sandwich Week (I didn't know there was such a thing, and it is more aimed at the commercial seller of sandwiches), but this is a year-round delight.
SouperSundays And it's another one for Deb's Souper (Soups, salads and sammies) Sunday.

Saturday 10 May 2014

Blueberry croissant bread & butter pudding

I love bread and butter pudding. I usually make it with little marmalade sandwiches and add a good kick of cointreau to a very rich custard, which is utter perfection. Then a friend told me about a croissant and blueberry version she'd enjoyed, and I was so intrigued! At about the same time, I was watching the BBC's Big Allotment Challenge, where Rupert and Dimi claimed that a little coriander seed boosted the flavour of blueberries without being identifiable itself. Could there be something better than perfection? Obviously, I had to find out.

Blueberry Croissant Bread & Butter Pudding (serves many)

8 all-butter croissants
120g sugar
6 eggs
600ml double cream
500ml whole milk
juice and grated or finely minced zest of 1 calamondin (or half a mandarin)
3tbs cointreau
1/2tsp ground coriander
360g fresh blueberries
Sparkle sugar (optional)

Halve the croissants and place in a large casserole dish (I use a pyrex lasagne dish) that fits inside a larger roasting tin. Put a handful of blueberries between the halves of each croissant and scatter the rest around the dish.

Whisk together the sugar, eggs, citrus juice and zest, cointreau and coriander, then add the cream and milk and whisk until smooth. Pour the custard mixture evenly over the croissants.

Leave to soak for at least 1 hour - or it can sit in the fridge overnight if you are making it for brunch. Scatter with a little sparkle sugar (or raw sugar) if using. Cook in a bain marie for 45mins-1 hr at 180C, then leave in oven to cook in residual heat for 1/2 hour. Serve warm or cool.

Well, it was good. The coriander, calamondin and cointreau enhanced the blueberry flavour and balanced the richness of the custard and croissants. It went down extremely well at the barbecue I took it to. But it is better than marmalade-laden perfection? Not quite! Still, useful to have something different on rotation.

Thursday 8 May 2014

Apple cider pulled pork

Some weeks ago I was approached by a PR to take part in a blogging competition. They would send me two of their client's products, I would create a dish using them and then my dish would be judged against the other competitors. "I'm in!", I said and selected the two products I wanted to use from her approved list.

Time passed. I saw a dish for the competition appear on another blog. I emailed the PR, who responded saying that she didn't know if the specific ingredients I had chosen could be provided but all was well and she'd get back to me. I gave her some alternatives that I could work with, in case my first choices were no longer available and ordered the other ingredients I needed so I would have time to perfect the dish. I should have seen the warning signs and not bothered, since she didn't have the decency to get back to me at all before the closing date for the competition or respond to further emails.

As I had £30 worth of ingredients on hand, I decided to proceed with my dish anyway. It's not quite the same as I had originally envisaged, because I refused to spend more money buying the items that I had been offered. It was, however, bloody successful and well worth trying.

I hadn't had much luck in the past with pulled pork, but my recent hybrid approach to smoked brisket was so successful that I decided to employ that technique. SPOILER: It was the right decision, producing tender shreds of smoky, flavoursome meat.

And, with considerable audacity, I used the barbecue without Paul. He's still a bit grumpy about it too. He's always been the chief wielder of fire in this household and seems to feel that my Prometheus act steps on his toes a bit. It doesn't really - it just proves that I have been paying attention over the last 14 years of watching him, and that even someone undertaking their very first barbecue can make this.

I made a batch of Dan Lepard's soft slider buns, using 175g dough per bun to make large, meal-size burger buns. I think 150g per bun would probably have been a better portion size. I made a red cabbage and apple slaw, in a honey and cider vinegar dressing. They were the perfect accompaniments to the dish.

Apple cider pulled pork (serves 8-12)

3kg boned pork shoulder, rind removed (save the rind for something else)
1tbs dark muscovado sugar
1tbs celery salt
1tbs hot pimenton
1tsp garlic powder
1tsp ground black pepper
4-5 sticks cassia bark (or other smoking wood)
1 dessert apple, peeled, seeded and quartered
1 onion, peeled and quartered
500ml dry cider
1tbs chipotle paste
1/2 cup ketchup
1tbs toffee apple jam (or apple butter, or apple sauce)
3tbs cider vinegar
1tbs Worcestershire sauce
1tbs Dijon mustard

Combine the sugar, celery salt, pimenton, garlic powder and pepper. Open out the pork, sprinkle half of the mix onto the meat, then roll it back up and sprinkle the remainder on the outside, rubbing in well, then leave for a couple of hours.

Barbecue the meat, covered, for an hour over indirect heat, smoking with the cassia bark. Then place the browned, smoked meat in a large casserole dish, put the onion and apple pieces around it and pour in the cider. Cover tightly and bake at 120C for 6 hours-ish*, testing from time to time with a fork to see if it is pullable.

In a small saucepan, combine the remaining ingredients over a low heat and stir until it just comes to the boil and everything is smoothly combined. At this stage the sauce will taste pretty harsh and unbalanced but DON'T PANIC.

When the pork is ready, lift it out of the casserole and into a roasting tin (i.e, something with sides that is big enough to give you elbow room for shredding the meat). Add the pieces of (now very soft) apple and onion to the pot of sauce and mush well with a fork. Add a couple of tablespoons full of the cooking liquid to the sauce and taste - it should now be nicely balanced, not too sweet or too vinegary. Reheat the sauce, bringing just to the boil again. Shred the pork with two forks and add the sauce, turning it over well. I don't like a very saucy pulled pork, but if you want it a bit wetter, add a little more of the cooking liquid. You can now eat it immediately or cover and reheat later.

Serve in buns with a side of slaw.
You can see the smoke ring on some of the pieces

* After 4 hours cooking I cranked the heat to 200C and removed the casserole from the oven for 20 minutes while I baked the buns. When the bread came out, the casserole went back in and I turned the heat back down. I don't think that temperature blip made the slightest bit of difference one way or the other, but obviously if you have two ovens or you are cooking the meat in a slow cooker, you can keep the temperature more even.
I am sending my grand pulled pork sandwich to Deb for Souper Sunday! And then I am looking for a new brand of mustard.

Monday 5 May 2014

Tomatillo salsa
Long-term Foodycat readers with good memories may recall that a few years ago I had a few goes at making my own cheese. I had varying results - my overall conclusion was that it takes a lot of milk and a very large saucepan to make a little cheese and it's worth paying other people to do. One of the cheeses that I made in that period was queso oaxaca, a knotted melting cheese, which I had never heard of or tasted before that point. The queso oaxaca tasted good and looked like the pictures, but I had nothing to compare it to, really, to know if I was getting it right.

Fast forward to 2014 and I was approached by and asked if I'd be interested in trying some of their products. I had a look at the site and noticed that they stock Mexican cheeses, so I would finally be able to taste queso oaxaca and figure out whether I was close to authenticity.

The box that arrived did not just contain queso oaxaca. They also sent me corn tortillas, chipotle sauce, a can of tomatillos and some queso chihuahua (which has nothing to do with dogs). Obviously it was time to plan a Mexican-themed meal or two.

We started, of course, with the queso oaxaca. It was absolutely delicious just eaten on its own, like a cross between halloumi and mozzarella. A little squeak under the teeth, but a really creamy and ever so slightly chewy texture and a good salty flavour. It came into its own in a quesadilla. Of which I took no photos because I was too keen to eat it.

As the queso chihuahua is described "as a good melting cheese, the richness and suppleness of Chihuahua cheese is preferred in baking dishes, fondues, pizza, and lasagna or casserole dishes" I decided to start our Mexican meal with queso fundido (I assume fundido comes from the same root as fondue and is all about the melted cheese).
I made a version with a layer of sauteed mushrooms underneath the melted cheese. We scooped it onto warm tortillas. Divine. The queso chihuahua also had a taste reminiscent of halloumi but melted into the most beautiful long strings.
mmm - stringy.
We also had some of the queso oaxaca on tacos. I cooked a steak, sliced it into ribbons and tossed it with some chipotle salsa. Then wrapped the meat in warmed tortillas with a little of the grated cheese. I am pretty sure my home made queso oaxaca would not have grated like this! The chipotle salsa had a good depth of flavour and a nice texture for this sort of thing.

Both of these cheeses are fairly expensive - this is not your everyday essentials cheese - but not unreasonably so. I would definitely buy it for another special meal, because it is delicious and that stretchy melting quality is very appealling. I couldn't see anything that said whether it was made with vegetarian rennet, so I'd have to find that out before making it the centrepiece of a vegetarian meal.
I also made some chorizo and roasted squash tacos, which I served with a basic tomatillo salsa - drained canned tomatillos, roasted green chillis, onion, coriander and a little bit of salt.
These tacos revealed something about myself that I should have figured out quite some time ago. I actually don't particularly like soft corn tortillas. I do, however, quite like plain tortilla chips. So a couple of days later I cut the remaining tortillas into wedges and fried them in a little hot oil until golden brown, crisp and curled. I sprinkled them with a little salt and drained them on some paper towels before piling them in a napkin-lined bowl.
We had some of the tomatillo salsa leftover too, so I mixed it into a mashed avocado for a guacamole. It was the perfect thing to scoop up with the chips.
It was only when I came to schedule this post that I realised it was going up on Cinco de Mayo. Appropriate, but entirely accidental.

Friday 2 May 2014

Fig, hazelnut and fennel crackers - a work in progress.

A few weeks ago, I bought a box of these Ryvita fine rustic bakes. They were really fabulous, with stilton and brie, but I couldn't help thinking that there were other flavours I would like to try them in. Figs, with some fennel seeds, for example.

Since they very rudely don't make them in that flavour, I had a go. I made a basic yeasted dough, 2/3 strong white flour to 1/3 rye, and kneaded in hazelnuts, marinated baby figs, slightly bruised fennel seeds, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. When the loaf was cooked and cooled, I sliced it as thinly as I could and baked the slices until they were crisp and brown.

It was a good first attempt. The flavour was almost there - I think if I used a sourdough it would have more of the punch I was after, but the fruit, nuts and seeds were exactly what I wanted. I also struggled a bit to cut even slices, and they just weren't as thin as I wanted. Not quite sure what to do about that, though. The advantage of the rather chunky slices was that we only needed one with our pre-dinner drink though!


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