Friday 29 May 2015

Bulgur & Spinach Pilaf

It's Potluck week again at I Heart Cooking Clubs, and it just so happens that last night I cooked a Diana Henry recipe, so I can join in. It's a bulgur and spinach pilaf, (from her first book, Crazy Water Pickled Lemons) layered up with lovely garlicky labneh, sweet and spicy roast tomatoes and cinnamon-scented frizzled onions. Which you must admit sounds like the most appetising thing in the world.

I confess, I took a few liberties. For one thing, I told Paul I was doing an Ottolenghi. Using Tim Hayward's phrase, we love to Ottoleng. It has become shorthand in our house for very pretty dishes that look beautiful piled up on platters and have lovely contrasting colours, flavours and textural elements. All of which this pilaf fulfils abundantly. But as we were having this conversation via facebook message it was just easier to use the shorthand rather than explain properly.

I committed a few more substantial crimes against the dish too. I was trying to use up a few things before today's grocery delivery, so I used frozen spinach, thawed and drained, instead of fresh. I used crumbled feta instead of making my own labneh. I used halved cherry tomatoes instead of plum. I used frozen chopped mint. So, despite the several processes involved in making it, it ended up coming together as a very useful little meal of pantry and freezer staples. It'd be lovely as a main meat-free dish, but the weather was nice last night so we sat outside drinking red wine while a boned shoulder of lamb, marinated in garlic, oregano and lemon, grilled over charcoal. Very Ottolenghi. Very Diana. Very delicious.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Raspberry and lemon dacquoise

I have historically had a lot of trouble with meringue. They tend to collapse and stick to the paper and generally just not work out right. I was determined to turn that around: this dessert represents a break through for me. I had to watch a lot of Mary Berry videos, but I think I have the knack now. The method is a bit more precise than I usually do, because I have tried to incorporate all the tips.

I'm really delighted with how this turned out. It's fab. Thin layers of meringue made macaroony with almond meal and spiked with freeze dried raspberries, pillowy whipped cream, lemon curd and gorgeous fresh British raspberries.
Cream and lemon curd swirl
You end up getting a better distribution of fruit and cream in each bite than you normally do in a pavlova. And you chill it for a few hours before serving so it all melds together a little bit and it slices quite easily.

Raspberry and lemon dacquoise (serves 6-8)

4 egg whites, at room temperature
175g golden caster sugar
50g ground almonds
2tbs freeze dried raspberry pieces
1tbs cornflour
2tps white wine vinegar
300ml double cream
150g good quality lemon curd
300g raspberries

Preheat the oven to 140C. Draw 2 22cm circles on baking parchment, and use the parchment to line baking sheets (I drew my circles with a permanent marker, so I turned the paper over to avoid getting any of the ink in my meringue).

In a very clean glass or metal bowl, whip the egg whites to firm peaks. According to Mary Berry they should look "like clouds", which is as good a description as any. Add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking it in completely between each addition. Once it is all added, continue to whisk until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Sprinkle the ground almonds, freeze dried raspberries, cornflour and vinegar over the meringue and gently but thoroughly fold it all in with a metal spoon, trying not to knock the air out.

Divide the meringue evenly between the two baking parchment circles, not being too precious about shaping it into discs (although if you are a precise sort of person, I think you could put the mixture in a piping bag and pipe the circles instead), and bake for about 45 minutes or until firm, dry and lightly golden. Don't open the oven if you can avoid it, and if you can't avoid it (if, say, your oven door is so discoloured by years of roasts that you can't see the colour of the meringue through it) be gentle and try not to bang. Turn the oven off and leave it open a crack for the meringue to cool slowly and dry out completely. I did this the day before so it could cool over night.

Line a 23cm springform pan with clingfilm. Place one of the completely cold meringue discs in the base of it. I'm tempted to say use the less-pretty disc for the base, but I did that and then cracked the prettier one that I was putting on top, so I really don't think it makes a difference.

Whip the cream to firm peaks - not so firm that it's about to split. Splodge 1/3 of the cream and 1/2 the lemon curd onto the meringue and swirl it together. Arrange most of the raspberries in an even layer on top of the cream and lemon curd, keeping back a few large pretty ones for decorating the top. Splodge half of the remaining cream and the rest of the lemon curd on top of the raspberries and swirl that together too.

Top with the second meringue disc and decorate with the last of the cream and raspberries.

Cover with clingfilm and refrigerate for 3-6 hours before serving cut into wedges.

Sunday 24 May 2015

St Clements Brownies

Just like the T1000 melting at the end of Terminator 2.
I know some people laugh at the notion of "leftover chocolate", or even "chocolate you haven't eaten yet", but around Easter I realised I had some chocolate left from Christmas and wanted to use it up. It was dated best before October this year (better not to think about what they did to it to give it that shelf life), so I could have kept it for longer, but I felt that it was time.

I also had most of a packet of Marks & Spencer nuts which had sounded really tempting at the checkout but didn't really float my boat as a snack. They were very sticky and the pack wasn't re-sealable and it was all a bit messy. Plus after about a minute I found the random use of italics on the pack irritating.

The milk chocolate was too sweet for me, so I added 100g of very dark chocolate to it as it melted, poured it over the nuts and let it set. It made a fantastic, sustaining snack for a long day of dance workshops.

But then I still had quite a lot left over of that. And for a couple of weeks it sat in the cupboard, never quite tempting me. So, since it had been ages since I sent anything in for the gannets Paul works with, I turned it into brownies. This is fairly typical of the way I approach leftovers - I try really hard to avoid food waste and some things go through a couple of different incarnations on the way.

St Clements Brownies

125g butter
300g St Clements chocolate, chopped (or any dark fruit & nut chocolate, but without the orange and lemon bits it won't be St Clements)
3 eggs (I actually used 2 whole eggs and 1 yolk, because I wanted the white for something else)
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Line your favourite brownie-baking tin with baking parchment.

In a double boiler, or heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the butter and chocolate. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs and sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the cooled chocolate mixture. Fold in the flour. Pour into the lined tin and bake for 20 minutes or until the top is firm and the inside is still a bit soft. Cool in the tin before cutting into squares.
Definitely delicious - I kept some back for myself

Friday 22 May 2015

Chicken and pumpkin laksa: For Flora Elizabeth Christensen

This week I Heart Cooking Clubs is taking some time to stand alongside Deb, one of the hosts of the event, supporting her as she grieves the loss of her mother. As well as IHCC, Deb hosts Cook the Books and her own Souper (soups, salads and sammies) Sunday event: she's a blogging powerhouse. Anyone who has read her blog more than once knows that she is a great eater of soup - which she says she got from her mother, so it really could only be a soup.

Deb avoids meat and dairy products, but I decided that this laksa, from Diana Henry's A Bird in the Hand, was just the thing. It's basically this recipe, with the addition of shredded cooked chicken. I used some of the leftover piri piri chicken mentioned in my last post, and even without the skin it gave the broth a deep, smoky richness. It was a very comforting meal in a bowl, with a beautiful colour to lift the spirits.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Diana Henry's A Bird in the Hand

Chicken with leeks, apples & cider (p 192)
A couple of months ago I posted about Diana Henry's chicken with leeks, apples and cider, the first dish I'd made from her new book, A Bird in the Hand. Well, since I bought the book, we've been eating a lot of chicken. A LOT of chicken. I'm not done with it yet, but I had to draw a line in the sand somewhere, so I thought I'd run through the recipes we've tried so far. I haven't been particularly methodical - I just cooked things I felt like eating rather than strategically providing a broad view. It's worked out pretty balanced, I think, although the recipes I've cooked have veered more towards Asian flavours. I think that is a seasonal thing - I tend to cook more European dishes in winter, so I have lots of things bookmarked that probably won't happen until October.

It's been produced by Diana's usual team, so the design and photographs are typically beautiful. The only real qualm I have with the book is the index, which I only found useful if I remembered the exact name of the dish I wanted to cook. For something like this where chicken is in everything, having dishes indexed by major secondary ingredients or cooking methods would have worked better, I think. I found myself using Eat Your Books a lot for this, once it was indexed.
Turkish-spiced chicken in a wrap with Greek yoghurt
Turkish-spiced chicken with hot green relish (p 32) was one of the dishes served at Diana's book launch party. It's incredibly delicious. Not super hot, but spicy and spiky with salty, herbal, acidic flavours. We don't have a griddle so I cooked the chicken in a cast iron frying pan - it didn't need extra oil for cooking because of the oil in the marinade.
Thai chicken burgers with Asian slaw
I couldn't get minced chicken for the Thai chicken burgers with Asian slaw (p 20), so I put chicken thigh fillets, the lemon grass, onion, ginger, lime zest and coriander through the mincer, then added the breadcrumbs and other seasonings. As you can see from the disconcerting purple speckles on the burger, I used a red onion. They were succulent, with a pleasant lightness from the breadcrumbs and had a very good flavour. The Asian slaw was excellent - just the thing if you find a mayonnaisey slaw cloying.
Royal chicken korma with chapattis and tomato katchumber
The book is divided into sensible (the starter/main/dessert structure doesn't really work with chicken!) but overlapping chapters - every day dishes, comforting dishes, salads, feasting dishes for when you have more time and so on. The Royal chicken korma (p 146) could easily fit into The Spice Route: scented, perfumed, hot chapter, but really it is in the right place in Feast: let's celebrate. It is a fiddle. I have a well-stocked spice cupboard, so I only needed to buy the perishables but even so when I looked down the lengthy ingredients list and read the method my heart sank. But take courage! This is probably the best curry I have ever, ever made. Disgorging and deep frying the onions for the spice paste gives an extraordinary depth of flavour. It is not a dish for every day but it is sublime. And I say that as someone who would never order a korma in a restaurant because I find them bland, sweet and dull.
Vietnamese lemon grass and chilli chicken - served with sauteed cabbage
Infinitely quicker and simpler, but still utterly delicious, was the Vietnamese lemon grass and chilli chicken (p 22). The red chillis I have been getting recently have no heat at all, so I used two without de-seeding and still needed to add a slosh of hot chilli sauce to give it a boost.
Roopa's lemon grass and turmeric chicken
Roopa's lemon grass and turmeric chicken with potato salad and date and tamarind chutney (p 50) is in The Spice Route chapter, but could so easily have fit into Feast. Not that it's particularly involved or that time consuming, but the potato salad accompaniment makes it taste extremely special. I used ground turmeric instead of fresh so my spice paste wasn't very pasty, but it still stuck nicely to the chicken. The potato salad with the chutney ends up tasting a bit like an aloo channa chaat, which is a very good thing for a potato salad to taste like.
Rice cooked in the fragrant chicken juices
The lemon grass and turmeric chicken also produced vast quantities of juices, far too much to serve with the chicken. So I saved it and cooked some basmati rice in it to have with a mutton methi curry later that week. It was so luscious I would do the chicken again just to make some more rice.
Balinese chicken, bean and coconut salad
This Balinese chicken, bean and coconut salad (p 112) was another one from the book launch party. Deliciously fresh and zingy, with a creamy underpinning from the coconut, it's lovely fresh and even though the herbs wilt a bit and lose some crunch, it's very tasty as leftovers.
Soothing North Indian chicken
So far, there has only been one dish that has really disappointed. The soothing North Indian chicken (p 185) just didn't work for me at all - very bland, and the yoghurt split even without boiling the sauce after adding it. The following day I turned the leftovers into a sort of biryani, stirring it through rice seasoned with cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and turmeric, which was much more to my taste.
Negima yakitori cooking
I've made negima yakitori before, so I was very interested in Diana's version (p 172). Mine were not the dainty morsels of her method, because I wanted to use my big, flat, metal skewers, but the flavour was excellent. I particularly appreciated the instruction to start grilling the seasoned chicken before basting with the sauce - so many recipe writers don't seem to understand how quickly things burn if they are marinated in a sugary sauce before cooking. The skewered spring onions add a lot of moisture and flavour to the chicken, and the little sprinkle of shichimi togarashi at the end adds a nice spicy kick.
They were very small aubergines - which we also basted with some of the yakitori tare
For Easter we decided to do something really extravagant and indulgent. Not just the indulgence of Roast chicken with truffles (p 150): we made it with a 3.95kg cockerel.
Steam rising from Roast cockerel with truffles
Obviously we ignored the cooking times for the massive beast, following the instructions on the box instead. We also ignored the serving suggestion of sauteed potatoes and watercress, going instead for Sunday lunch accompaniments of roast potatoes and sweet potatoes, and some peas. The buttery truffle sauce meant that no butter was needed on the peas. This was lovely, definitely worth getting a slow-grown chicken for, and we still have half a jar of black truffle slices left, so we're considering doing it again at Christmas (which is probably the next time fresh cockerel will be available).
Extravagant Sunday roast
Clearly an almost-4kg bird left us with a good supply of leftovers. Which amongst other things got turned into Vietnamese chicken and sweet potato curry (p 204), a super quick, fragrant and delicious use for leftover cooked chicken. And I think it would be very good with leftover pork too. Because of the sweet potato in it we decided we didn't need any other starch with it and just had generous bowlsful. I had a couple of courgettes that were slightly past their prime, so I chucked them in for a complete one-pot meal.
Vietnamese chicken and sweet potato curry
Chicken piri piri (p 156) is a Portuguese dish, but there is a pretty big Portuguese community in South Africa and a couple of South African piri piri chains, so Paul has very definite ideas about it.
Piri piri
I used a bottled piquillo pepper instead of roasting my own. And I used 2 of my home grown pickled habanero chillis because of the aforementioned problem with red chillis being really mild at the moment. The marinade had kick. Rather than using bone-in chicken portions or spatchcocked poussin, I spatchcocked a large chicken - because the weather was beautiful and we wanted a long, slow cook in the Weber.
Marinaded spatchcocked chicken
South African barbecuing is usually done over wood, so Paul added hickory chips to our charcoal, which added a really deep brown patina to the skin as well as a strong smoky flavour. As well as smearing the piri piri on both sides of the spatchcock, I lifted the breast skin and smeared some under it, so the flavour and heat of the chilli really penetrated. Another very, very successful dish.
Chicken piri piri, grilled sweet corn and tomato salad

Friday 15 May 2015

Pulled Pork Nachos

Just after Easter we went to a Jim Butcher Q&A at Waterstones Piccadilly. It was a Friday so Paul didn't want to hang around at work; we met up early to have a drink and a snack in the bar on the fifth floor. We thought we'd have a little sharing plate, see how that went and then maybe have another. The mezze plate we started with was excellent, and Paul had his heart set on pulled pork nachos. Unfortunately the glacially slow service reminded me why we'd stopped going there and we ran out of time to order anything else.

But he still had his heart set on nachos. So a couple of weeks later he came home with some bits and pieces and we made nachos. They were fine, but the cheese didn't melt right and they were a little dry and it just wasn't the dream nachos experience.

After that disappointment, I had to have another go. This version is much better.

Pulled pork is ubiquitous at the moment (you can get pulled pork products at EAT, Pret and M&S) and from what I have tried it is mostly not very nice. Gloopy, very sweet and not very porky. I decided to season it more like a cochinita pibil, with lovely acidic Seville orange juice (I froze a bunch of Sevilles when they were in season for just these occasions) and a bunch of spices. And to get a bit of smoky barbecue flavour into it, I used a smoked brined pork hock and some chipotle paste. And yes, adding jerk paste to all of this seems a bit weird but it had all the flavourings I wanted with a bit of extra heat. I kept the seasoning of the pork itself really simple, because I only needed half the meat for this meal and wanted to keep my options open for the rest. Plus when I have made pulled pork in the past I've felt that none of the seasonings actually penetrate the meat, it's all in the sauce at the end.

Cook the pork the day before, so when you want to eat the nachos it's really quick and low effort.

Pulled Pork Nachos (serves 2 as a meal in a bowl)

1 brined and smoked pork shank
1 small onion, studded with 2-3 cloves
1 tbs oil (vegetable, olive, whatever)
1 small onion, extra, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced or crushed
1 tsp chipotle paste
1 tsp jerk paste (I used home made, but Walkerswood is my favourite bought one)
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin seeds
Knife tip of ground cloves
1 tsp peppercorns
2 tbs achiote paste
juice of 3 Seville oranges (or 2 sweet oranges and 2 limes)
Corn chips, grated cheese, guacamole, salsa, sour cream

Put the pork and clove-studded onion in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer with a lid on until the meat falls from the bones (2 hours ish). As soon as it is cool enough to handle, strip the meat off the bone, remove excess fat and the rind and shred with two forks. Divide the meat in half, freeze one portion for another meal (also reserve the broth from cooking it for making lentil soup, and you might need a splash to loosen the nachos mixture).

In a medium sized saucepan, sauté the onion and garlic in the oil until softened but not coloured. And the other seasonings and the orange juice and simmer to a thick sauce. Check for seasoning, keeping in mind that the pork is quite salty and you'll be adding cheese.

Add the shredded pork shank to the pot of sauce and combine well, loosening with a bit of the cooking broth if necessary. You are aiming to be able to pick bites up on a corn chip, so it can't be *that* dense. At this point you can cool it and refrigerate it over night before assembling the nachos the following day. Or just carry on.

Preheat the oven to a moderately high heat - 180Cish

In an ovenproof dish, layer up corn chips, grated cheese and the saucy pork, finishing with grated cheese. I used a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella: you want something that will melt well. Bake for 15-20 minutes until it is all golden brown and bubbling and melted. Then top with whatever else you want on top - salsa, sour cream, guacamole etc. Or all of them. Eat immediately - a fork to shove extra toppings on the chips might be useful.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Fish with wild garlic walnut pesto crust

I think about food almost constantly. I fall asleep considering menu plans and recipe ideas: last night I was musing over what summer fruit would work in a coffee and caramel pavlova to give some balance. Didn't come up with anything, so that might have to go on the backburner until the pears come into season. This simple fish dish was the product of one of my bedtime contemplations, and it actually worked on the plate just as well as it did in my head, which is always gratifying.
If you can get hold of some wild garlic I urge you to try it.
Fish with wild garlic walnut pesto crust (serves 2)

6-8 wild garlic leaves (stems, flowers & all)
50g walnuts
50g parmesan
2tbs olive oil, divided
1tbs butter
2 thick fillets of meaty white fish (I used cod loins)

Put the wild garlic in a colander over the sink and pour about half a kettle of boiling water over it. As soon as it is cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture. Chop the wild garlic, walnuts and parmesan together finely. This is one of the few things I use my mezzaluna for but a knife is absolutely fine. Put the chopped mixture in a small bowl and add 1tbs of the olive oil.

Preheat the grill (that's a broiler to you Americans, not a barbecue). In an oven-proof frying pan on the stove top, melt the butter and the remaining oil. Cook the fish on one side only until you can see it's opaque about half way up the side of the fillet. Divide the wild garlic mixture between the two fillets and press on well. Put the pan under the grill for a couple of minutes until the pesto forms an appetising golden crust and the fish is cooked through.

We had it on a bed of blanched samphire, with asparagus, a little hollandaise (unnecessarily indulgent but lovely and I had a bit leftover that needed using) and a tomato salad.

Thursday 7 May 2015

Baklava buns

Last weekend was a Bank Holiday in the UK, so I decided that we needed something sweet for our breakfasts. I still had half a batch of the enriched cardamom dough I'd used for the semlor at Easter, so the easiest option was to make some sort of bread thing.

So what I did, was thaw the dough, stretch it out into a rectangle and smeared it thickly with softened butter. Then I pressed on chopped nuts (hazelnuts, pistachios and walnuts) mixed with 2tbs of sugar and 1tsp cinnamon, rolled it up and sliced it into six buns. I really should have done nine...

When they came out of the oven, I drizzled a little honey over each one. And there you have it - all the flavour of baklava (with a bit less sugar) in a bun.

Monday 4 May 2015

Wild garlic gratin

There hasn't been a lot of cooking round these parts for a couple of weeks. First Paul had the flu and for about 5 days could only face chamomile tea and a small slice of pizza a day. Then I got it and subsisted on chicken soup and iced tea for about the same length of time. And after that for several days we both just wanted really basic, small meals that didn't require standing up for too long to prepare. It's been a dark time.

But now - other than both of us having persistent coughs - we're back on deck.

I was pretty happy with how this potato gratin went. It's the time of year where all the foodies are doing wild garlic dishes, and I was determined not to miss out this year.

So I did layers of potato (sweet and regular spuds), with wild garlic chiffonade between the layers. Then white wine, stock and cream, a good grinding of black pepper and into the oven. The smell of it baking was pungently garlicky, but the flavour was much gentler and more mellow. And fortunately there was enough wild garlic to serve as a green vegetable, because my peas and broad beans had a very meagre yield once podded.


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