Saturday, December 13, 2014

Easy vegetable moussaka

Moussaka-style dishes, with meat or otherwise, involve quite a deal of labour. You have to slice aubergines, paint them with olive oil, and fry or bake them. You have to prepare any other vegetables individually, because they have different cooking times and you don’t want to end up with a vegetable mush. If you’re eating meat, you have to prepare a ragout. But for a dinner for two, at the end of the week, I could not be bothered to go through this palaver. How bad could it be if I baked the vegetables together, topped them with a bechamel, and baked the dish further? Not bad at all.

I put 2 chopped cloves of garlic, a sliced aubergine, 2 chopped red peppers, and a sliced courgette, with salt and pepper, into a heavy casserole dish. I tossed the vegetables with a generous quantity of olive oil, and put them into a gas mark 8/220C oven for half an hour, stirring regularly. By this time, the aubergines were tender. I stirred in a drained tin of chickpeas. I turned down the oven to gas mark 5/190C.

Meanwhile, I had made a tomato sauce, simply tipping a tin of tomatoes into a saucepan, adding salt, a few pinches of cayenne, and a tsp of sugar. I mashed the tomatoes with a potato masher, and simmered them until they were thick. I stirred the tomatoes into the vegetable mixture.

I made a bechamel (see this moussaka recipe) with about 30g butter, a tbsp of flour (I used gluten-free), and just under half a pint of milk – it made a thick, pasty sauce. I stirred in a couple of tbsps of Parmesan, and seasoned the sauce with salt and nutmeg. Now that it was cooler, I stirred in a beaten egg – it causes the sauce when baked to puff up, souffle-like.

I spread the sauce over the vegetable mixture, sprinkled a couple of tbsps of Parmesan on top, and baked the dish for 25 minutes. Then, I browned the top under the grill.

This was a meal by itself.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

Mashed potato with an electric whisk


In Don’t Sweat the Aubergine, I had the nerve to question Delia Smith’s method of making mashed potato, with a hand-held whisk. Overworking mash turns it gluey. Surely the whisk would bash up the starch granules and release their contents?

I did add - conscious of my temerity - that I was sure that Delia had never served a plate of gluey mash in her life; but I am embarrassed to admit that only now, 10 years after I wrote those libellous and sacrilegious words, have I tested the technique.

I was prompted by my discovery that a hand-held whisk produces more flavoursome hummus than does a food processor (this post). And, as you would expect, I learned that Delia was right.

The mash I made with the whisk was not impeccably light and fluffy; but its slight glueyness – which you often get from enthusiastic stirring with a wooden spoon – was a quality that I rather like. Delia’s recipe is here.

Instead of crème fraiche, I used a little milk with about 50% more butter than the recipe recommends. (And I did not bother with the business with the tea towel.) I warmed the butter and milk in a small saucepan before pouring them over the potatoes.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Salmon and spring onion fish pie

This is a simple fish pie for a family Friday supper. The spring onions are a nice contrast with the blandness of the fish. By “a bunch”, I mean of the slim ones you find in supermarkets. Serves 3 to 4.

Maincrop potatoes – 2 medium ones for each person
Large chunk of butter
Salmon fillets – about 350g
1/2pint milk
A dozen black peppercorns
A few scrapings of nutmeg
28g butter
1tbsp flour – I used gluten-free
1 bunch spring onions, chopped
Salt
1tbsp Parmesan


Peel the potatoes, cut them into smallish pieces (about 8 for a medium-sized potato), put them into cold water with about a tsp of salt, bring to a simmer, and simmer until soft. Drain, and mash – I use a potato ricer. Beat in the amount of butter you like, with salt to taste. If the mash coheres, you don’t need milk.

Put the salmon into a saucepan, pour over the milk, and throw in the peppercorns. Over a medium heat, bring to a simmer, and cook at a very gentle simmer for just a few minutes, or until the salmon has lost its raw pinkness. (You may want to cover the pan if the fish is not submerged – in this case, just leaving the fish to cook with the heat turned off will work.)

Lift out the fish with a slotted spoon. Remove the skin, and break up the fish into fork-sized pieces.

Strain the milk into a jug. Melt the butter in a non-stick, small saucepan over a gentle heat. Stir in the flour, and allow this roux to cook gently for a minute. Turn up the heat, and add the milk gradually, merging the roux and milk completely before adding the next batch. Keep adding milk (and more if necessary) until you have a thick sauce (which the onions and salmon will thin).

Mix the sauce, salmon, and spring onions, and tip into an oven-proof dish. Cover with the mash, and sprinkle the Parmesan on top.

Bake in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 10-15 minutes. You want to get the heat through the dish, but not to overcook the salmon. Brown the top under the grill.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Hummus with a hand-held blender

I got this idea from Morito by Sam and Sam Clark, having introduced one of the Sams (him) at a lunch at the Cheltenham Literary Festival. It’s my impression that hummus tastes better made this way than it does from a food processor, perhaps because the processor blade gets very hot and affects the flavour. It’s a theory.

A pitcher-type vessel is ideal, so the ingredients don’t spray everywhere.

1 tin chickpeas, drained
1 1/2tbsp tahini
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped (it needs this, but you’ll be able to taste it all afternoon if you eat the hummus at lunchtime)
Salt (go easy if the chickpeas have been tinned in brine)
Pepper, cayenne pepper to taste
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil


Blend all the ingredients apart from the oil (which loses its fruitiness if overworked) with a hand-held blender. You may need to stop to scrape down the sides. Stir in the oil.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Chicken with paprika

This is a very simple dish, which can go wrong if the ingredients exude too much liquid. The key is putting on the lid of the pan and taking it off again as required. Serves 2.

Oil for frying
1 red pepper, seeded and cut into fork-sized chunks
100g chestnut mushrooms, washed and sliced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1tbsp paprika
1tsp caraway seeds
1/3tsp salt
2 chicken supremes, cut into fork-sized chunks
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
150ml sour cream or crème fraiche


Warm a couple of tbsps of oil in a heavy pan, throw in the pepper and mushrooms, cover, and cook over a gentle heat, stirring regularly. Both vegetables should exude some liquid.

After 10 to 15 minutes, when the peppers are starting to soften, add all the rest of the ingredients, and cook over a moderate heat with the pan uncovered, again stirring regularly. The chicken and onions may disgorge a good deal of water, most of which you want to evaporate. The chicken should cook through in 15 minutes or so.

Pour in the cream, and let it bubble and thicken. (I find that factory-produced crème fraiche tends to split. In France, I buy crème fraiche fermière, which never splits.)

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.