Monday, October 13, 2014

Steeping coffee revisited



A while ago on here, I wrote that my preferred way to prepare coffee was to use a lot of it, but to steep it only briefly. After the four minutes of steeping that many people recommend, coffee can be bitter, I find.

Since I started using my Hario grinder, I've realised that I need to refine these rules. It all depends on how course is the ground. Most pre-ground coffee you buy is fine, and imparts the best part of its flavour very rapidly. Coarser grounds require lengthier steeping - but not four minutes. About 90 seconds should do it.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Pilaf with turmeric, mustard seeds, and cardamom

Cooking plain basmati rice, I tend to throw it into about three times its volume of boiling water, simmer for 10 minutes, and drain. That’s it. Works fine every time. The absorption method is hard to perfect, in my experience: cooking utensils, brands of rice, and other factors may vary, and have significant effects.

However, if you want a pilaf, you need to use an absorption method – try mixing pre-cooked rice with fat and spices, and you’ll end up with a sticky clump. Here is what works pretty well for me.

Measure the rice. You’re going to cook it in one and half times its volume of water. (I have little measuring pots.)

Soak the rice for 30 minutes or longer – soaking results in softer (more digestible?) grains, which need to be cooked in less water, and which will soften by steaming more readily.

Warm a knob of butter or about a tbsp of oil for each person in a heavy-bottomed pan. Add what spices you like – this week, for three people, I used a tsp of turmeric, half a tsp of mustard seeds, and the seeds from five cardamom pods. Let them sizzle briefly, then drain the rice and add it to the pan, turning it in the spicy fat.

Add the water, with salt if you like, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat to its lowest setting. Cover the pan loosely with foil, crimping it round the edges to make a seal, and clamp the lid on top. (Probably you should use a tea towel, which absorbs the steam. But foil works ok for me.) Simmer for 10 minutes, and leave to rest for a further five.


You do need basmati rice for this recipe. Long grain rice takes longer to cook, and tends to be stickier.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Hario coffee grinder


Thanks to commenters on this blog, I abandoned my blade coffee mill in favour of a burr grinder, and enjoyed a big improvement in flavour. Now I have upgraded the flavour of my coffee again, thanks to a cheaper device than my Krups electric mill: the Hario Glass Hand Coffee Grinder. Amazon is selling it at the moment for just £13.35.

The manual mill, unlike some electric machines, will not overwork the coffee. It makes you work quite hard, though: on its finest setting, it may demand that you turn the handle for 4 to 5 minutes just to process a couple of tbsps of beans. But a slightly coarser setting will reduce this time by a half.

The biggest improvement I’ve noticed is when I use a stovetop pot (a mocha pot, some call it). The coffee is rich and intense, without a hint of bitterness.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Mayonnaise - the tipping point

My early attempts at mayonnaise never failed. Then a few batches went wrong: I had got complacent. I had to relearn the tyro’s caution. One must add the oil very carefully at first, just a few drops at a time, and whisk vigorously to amalgamate it, before adding the next.

Pouring 150mls (1 egg) or 300mls (2 eggs) of oil at this rate would be very tedious. You do not have to. There comes a point at which you can be much more liberal. It is when the sauce stiffens: you can feel this process, and see it, because the sauce starts clinging to the whisk. Now, you can pour in generous glugs of oil before each whisking, and you are very unlikely to split the mixture.


Mayonnaise recipe
Split mayonnaise, and what to do with it

Friday, July 18, 2014

Pork stew with vinegar

This stew could not be simpler. The meat and onions caramelise in the pan (because they’re not submerged in liquid), and the vinegar loses some of its astringency through evaporation.

The only issue is the oven temperature, which depends on how long you’ve got, how heavy your casserole is (they can take a good while to warm up), and how warm your oven is (your gas mark S may be very different from mine).

You could stir in black olives at the end. You might also want to include herbs such as thyme or rosemary.

Serves 2

2 or 3 slices of belly pork, cut into fork-sized pieces
2 red onions, roughly chopped
6 whole cloves of garlic
150ml vinegar
Salt, pepper


Mix all the ingredients in a heavy casserole, with seasoning to taste.

I cooked my stew for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, stirred it, gave it a further 30 minutes at gas mark 4/180C, stirred it again, and gave it a further 60 minutes at gas mark S/130C.

Friday, July 04, 2014

Chickpea dip with olives

Returning home with a tin of chickpeas and a lemon, and with the intention of making hummus, I discovered that I didn’t have any tahini in the house. But I did have some black olives. So I tried this. It turned out to be delicious.

1 tin chickpeas
Juice of half a lemon
Large handful of black olives, stoned
1 clove garlic, chopped
Black pepper, to taste
Cayenne pepper, to taste
A little salt
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Put all the ingredients except the oil into the bowl of a food processor, and whizz. Scrape down the sides of the bowl between each burst of the machine.

Stir through the olive oil. (It loses its fruitiness if subjected to the harsh treatment of the blades.)

Monday, June 09, 2014

Lamb boulangere 2

I see that my technique for cooking lamb boulangère has not changed very much since I last wrote about it, seven years ago. The chief difference is that yesterday I covered the roasting tin with foil, having learned that the lowest temperature of my oven – 130C-plus – is higher than the temperature inside a covered receptacle.

I smeared a little oil over a whole shoulder of lamb, seasoned it, and laid it on a bed of two sliced onions, the unpeeled cloves from a head of garlic, and two sprigs of rosemary. I covered the roasting tin with foil, and put it into the centre of a gas mark 1/140C oven, at 8am. (It’s a good idea to check on progress after the first hour, and regularly thereafter, adjusting the heat if necessary. I can never be confident about how my oven will behave.)

At 11am, I scraped and sliced new potatoes, dropping them into a pan of cold water. I brought the pan to the boil, and allowed it to boil vigorously for one minute before draining. (The idea is to get rid of some of the surface starch – potatoes cooked around meat are particularly liable to stick, because of the caramelised juices.)

By this time, there was a good amount of sauce surrounding the lamb. I removed the meat to a board, discarded the onions, squeezed the garlic out of its skins into the sauce, tipped in the potatoes and stirred them, and put back the meat on top.

I returned the tin, covered again, to the oven, turning up the dial to gas mark 4/180C. (I checked after half an hour, and discovered that this setting was high enough but not too fierce. The extra ingredients appeared to have moderated the temperature.)

At 1.30pm, I removed the joint to a large plate, covering it with the foil. I returned the potatoes to the top of the oven, now at its highest setting, to brown – about 20 minutes. (Be careful that they do not stick and burn.)

The meat fell away from the bone. I cut it up in the kitchen, and poured the small amount of sauce that the potatoes had not absorbed on top.