Friday, March 30, 2007

Blue cheese and potato pie

This recipe is based on one in Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries. He advised 225 g Stilton for six people; we shared 175 g (I should guess) between two. There is quite a lot of saturated fat here.

4 medium potatoes
3 red onions, sliced
30 g butter
175 g blue cheese (I used St Agur), cut into small chunks
I slice white bread, whizzed into breadcrumbs
Salt and pepper

Peel and cut up the potatoes, cover them with cold water, bring to a simmer, and cook until soft. Drain, and return them to the hot pan to dry for a few minutes. Mash, or pass through a vegetable mill, with a little salt.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a heavy saucepan over a low heat, tip in the onions, and cover. Stir them from time to time. The onions should throw off enough water to stop them sticking. Cook for about 25 minutes, until soft.

Spoon half of the mashed potato into a buttered gratin dish. Cover with the onions, then the cheese, grind over black pepper, and top with the rest of the mash. Cover with breadcrumbs, and bake at gas mark 6/200 C for 30 minutes.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Gratin dauphinois

One of the easy aspects of cooking gratin dauphinois is that oven temperatures ranging from gas mark "S"/130 C to gas mark 5/190 C will work. One of the difficult aspects is that you want the cream to have reduced and thickened to exactly the right consistency at the time when you are ready to eat.

At the weekend, I placed the gratin above a slowly roasting shoulder of lamb for two hours. After that time, I had planned to let the lamb rest for 30 minutes, allowing me to turn up the oven if the liquid in the gratin needed further reduction. But it did not. I covered it in foil, and put it in the lamb's place on the oven floor.

With a clear oven, I usually cook the gratin for about 90 minutes at gas mark 3/160 C.

For 6

12 charlotte potatoes (small to medium ones)
284 ml double cream
1/2 clove garlic, chopped
Pinch nutmeg

Peel the potatoes (waxy varieties such as charlotte work best, I think), slice them thinly, and place them in the cream in a saucepan of the same diameter as your gratin dish. Add milk, if necessary, so that the potatoes are just submerged. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and a little salt; over a gentle flame, bring the contents of the pan to a simmer. Tip into a buttered gratin dish, arranging the potatoes and pushing them down to cover them in liquid.

Bake at gas mark 3/160 C for about 90 minutes, until the potatoes are sitting in thickened, wobbly cream.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Apple tart

Last week, I mentioned that I had used the wrong apples in a pudding. For an apple tart, you can use two kinds: Bramleys, for a layer of puree, and eating apples (mine were Coxes) to provide the segments on top.


I again used the Elizabeth David method for the pastry. 150 g plain flour;
3 tsp caster sugar; 75 g butter, cut into small cubes and chilled; pinch salt; about 3 tbsp chilled water. Rub the butter into the flour, sugar and salt, and add just enough water to form a coherent dough. Spread the dough by hand into a buttered, 22 cm tart tin.

Prick the dough with a fork, cover with kitchen paper, and weigh down with baking beans, if you have them, or perhaps with rice or with dried beans. (I use another tart tin, with another tin on top of that.) Bake at gas mark 6/200 C for 15 minutes; remove the paper and weights, and bake for five minutes longer, or until the pastry is dry.


I Bramley, peeled, quartered and cut into small chunks
6 Coxes (or other tart eating apples -- Granny Smiths might be good), peeled, quartered, and cut into segments
Caster sugar
30 g butter
Granulated sugar

You can toss the apples in lemon juice, or place them in acidulated water, to prevent discolouring.

Put the Bramley segments into a saucepan with a little water and sugar to taste, cover, and cook over a low to medium heat until you have a puree. It should be thick but spreadable. If it is too runny, simmer it uncovered for a few minutes. Spread the puree over the pastry.

In a frying pan over a high heat, toss the Coxes in the butter until the water evaporates and the segments are golden and softening slightly. Arrange the segments over the puree, in traditional apple tart formation (if you know what I mean).

Bake at gas mark 5/190 C for 30 minutes.

I must admit that the surface of my tart was a little pale and uninteresting. I think that I should have sprinkled some granulated sugar over it, to caramelise.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Bacon sandwich

Yesterday, I made a sandwich with satisfyingly crispy bacon -- by accident.

Streaky bacon is best in a sandwich, I think. It should be of good quality, because the mass-produced stuff sheds pints of brine, and shrivels; and it should be green, because smoked bacon can become overbearingly salty when subjected to long cooking.

I use a ridged grill pan, on a low flame, turning the bacon from time to time. One has to be patient. I was starting to think that 15 minutes was long enough to wait for a bacon sandwich when my wife called me upstairs to help with a computer problem. That took a good seven minutes. When I returned to the kitchen, the bacon was crisp and brittle.

I ate it in white bread, with a little butter on one of the slices. (I softened the butter, to make it spreadable, by placing it in slivers on the bread and putting the bread under the grill for about three seconds.) On the other slice, I spread some Blue Dragon hot chilli sauce. There was nothing I would rather have eaten.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Apple and bread pudding

This is a recipe that did not quite work. The fault was in part mine; but also in part -- I hesitate to say it -- that of the recipe, which comes from my favourite cookbook, Richard Olney's Simple French Food (available in hardback from Grub Street).

500 g apples, quartered, cored, peeled, sliced
Large handful stale breadcrumbs, without crusts
About 125 g butter
Pinch cinnamon
250 ml milk
2 eggs
75 g sugar
Small pinch salt

Cook the apples in 60 g butter, tossing from time to time, until tender. Cook the breadcrumbs in the remaining butter over very low heat, stirring regularly, until they are golden and crisp.

Spread the crumbs in the bottom of a lightly buttered gratin dish, arrange the apples on top, and sprinkle lightly with cinnamon. Whisk together the milk, eggs, sugar, and salt, and pour the liquid over the apples. Bake at gas mark 3/160 C (3 is the equivalent of 170 C in Olney's book) for about 30 minutes.

Olney advises that you use russets. My mistake was to use bramleys, which you cannot saute as he instructs, because they break down. So they turned the breadcrumbs soggy. But if they had not, the custard would have.

What you want here is three, distinct layers: crisp breadcrumbs, tart apple segments, fluffy topping. Perhaps a topping of whisked egg whites, forming a meringue, would work best.

Monday, March 19, 2007


I used the meat loaf recipe, leaving out only the lemon, because there would be acidity in the tomato sauce. Having mixed the ingredients by hand, I rubbed quantities of the mixture gently between my palms to form balls of about the size of golfballs. I fried them in a layer of olive oil on a low to medium heat in a large, 28 cm frying pan; there was room for them all. They were brown after about five minutes' frying on each side. I transferred them to a plate.

This is the tomato sauce I made.

1 tbsp or more olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 dstsp tomato puree
1 400 g tin tomatoes
Pinch sugar

Soften the onion and the garlic in the olive oil over a low heat for about 10 minutes, adding more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch.

Tinned tomatoes can have a sharp, slightly bitter flavour. I have some, inconclusive evidence that it is softened if you dilute them. Add the puree to the onion and garlic, and tip in the tomatoes; half fill the tomato tin with water, swirl it around to dissolve the remnants of tomato, and pour into the sauce. Add the sugar and a grinding or two of salt, and simmer (uncovered) until the sauce starts to thicken (about 20 minutes). Pass it through a vegetable mill.

Put the meatballs and sauce into a pan wide enough to hold the balls in a single layer. Simmer gently, uncovered, for about 30 minutes, until the sauce is of a coating consistency.

We ate the meatballs with mashed potato. Rice might have been more appropriate, if less luxurious.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Salad with croutons

Croutons, like aubergines, will soak up as much oil as you give them. You have to impose a ration, insisting that they make do with it. One way is to toss the croutons in oil, lay them on a baking sheet, and put them in a hot (gas mark 6/200 C) oven for five to 10 minutes; but I also fry them. For two slices of cubed bread (crusts removed), I warm 2 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan on a medium flame, throw in the cubes, and toss them gently. They suck up the oil instantly: I stir them round the dry pan until they are crisp.

The croutons I made for lunch yesterday (for two) disintegrated a little, giving me a mix of cubes and crumbs. That did not matter. I washed and tore up some lettuce, and cubed about 150 g Gruyere; I tossed them in a vinaigrette made with 1 dstsp red wine vinegar and only 2 dstsp olive oil (because we were also getting the fatty contents of the cheese and of the croutons). Plus a little salt, and generous grindings of pepper. I scattered the croutons on top.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Key lime pie

My obsession with biscuit-based puddings continues. At the weekend, I tried key lime pie, from Delia Smith's How To Cook: Book Two. The recipe is here.

I used a conventional (digestive biscuits and butter) base, made in the same way as last time (see obsession link, above). I do not own a loose-based flan tin, so I used a springform, 20 cm cake tin -- given the quantity of filling, I would not have wanted it to be any larger. I did not try to spread the crumbs up the side of the tin; the problem then being that the creamy filling did not come cleanly away from the sides, and had a raggedy edge.

Another piece of equipment I do not own is a hand-held beater. I used the whisk attachment on my food processor. It barely skimmed the surface of three egg yolks; but it did a good job of thickening the filling once I had added the condensed milk and lime juice.

I needed to zest four limes to get a tbsp of zest, but I got 150 ml of juice from three limes. They are not always so juicy, however.

Another comment about quantities: this would be an ungenerous pudding for 10. Seven of us -- one of whom had a tiny portion -- ate it all.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Dolpettes of meat

Recipe books with precise, apparently fail-safe instructions are mostly modern phenomena. Earlier books required interpretation. Here is a recipe for "dolpettes of cold meat" from The Breakfast Book by Georgiana Hill (1865), one of three Victorian collections reproduced in The English Breakfast by Kaori O'Connor. (I reviewed The English Breakfast in the Guardian.)

"Prepare the meat as for a hash -- or some hashed meat that has become cold will answer for the purpose -- add to it some bread-crumbs, enough to stiffen the consistency, mix it together with the yolk of eggs, shape it into small balls, dip them into egg, roll them in bread-crumbs and grated parmesan cheese, and fry them brown. Glaze them or serve them with tomato sauce."

I had a cereal bowlful of cold chicken, which I chopped into small pieces. I seasoned it and mixed it with one egg yolk, and added breadcrumbs gradually, until the mixture was sticky and coherent. I formed the mixture into six balls, about the size of golfballs. With my new enthusiasm for breadcrumbing, I rolled the balls in flour, then in a beaten egg, then in breadcrumbs; I half-filled a saucepan with sunflower oil, heated it on a low to medium flame until a breadcrumb start sizzling in it, and deep-fried the dolpettes for about seven minutes, until brown.

You have to learn not to worry if the mixture threatens to fall apart. Mould the balls gently. Once breaded and frying, they cohere.

By chance, I later came across a recipe for "crochette di pollo" in The Food of Italy by Claudia Roden. You mix 300 g cooked chicken with a double strength bechamel made with 300 ml milk, and add an egg, 3 tbsp Parmesan, and nutmeg. I'd like some cayenne in there, too.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Bubble and squeak

I have always been wary of breading things (coating them in breadcrumbs and frying them, I mean). The breadcrumbs never form an even layer; they fall off; they stick to your hands. Nevertheless, if you expect that to happen, and learn to be relaxed about it, you can get reasonable results.

I had a cereal bowlful of leftover mashed potato, and slightly more leftover kale. (Equal quantities would have been ideal, but the imbalance did not matter.) I put some flour on a plate, beat an egg in a bowl, and, in a third bowl, put about 5 tbsp of breadcrumbs. I added some pepper to the mash, which I merged with the kale and formed into two patties the size of chunky hamburgers.

I warmed a frying pan, and heated a layer of sunflower oil until a breadcrumb started sizzling in it. (The heat means that the potato cake will form a crust quickly, and therefore will not absorb a huge amount of oil.) I turned the patties in the flour, then in the egg, then in the breadcrumbs, and fried them for about three minutes on each side. The flour helps the egg to stick; the egg helps the breadcrumbs to stick.

As I have written before, potato cakes of this size will brown before they are warmed through. I transferred them to a baking sheet, and put them into a gas mark 6/200 C oven for 10 minutes.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jam roly poly

Here is a Guardian recipe by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall for a baked jam roly poly (scroll down). It involves the proportions -- two parts flour to one part suet -- that you would use in a dumpling. But the dough should not be as moist as dumpling dough. Be careful, is my advice: you find, as you do when making pastry, that at one moment the dough will not cohere, and that at the next moment, after you've added more water, it's soggy.

My roly poly was a sticky mass, which collapsed, leaking jam, when I attempted to roll it. It was perfectly edible, though -- but, again like over-moistened pastry, tougher than it should have been.

I was pleased to learn, from Nikki Duffy's accompanying Source It column, that the Atora Light suet in my roly poly contained no hydrogenated fat.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Meat loaf

Twenty years ago, Sainsbury's brought out an excellent series of Classic Cookbooks, edited by Jill Norman. They were neat, square hardbacks, costing £1.99 each. I bought Middle Eastern Cooking by Claudia Roden (particularly good, containing all the standard dishes), French Cooking by Anne Willan, and Regional Italian Cooking by Valentina Harris.

This meat loaf is an adaptation of the "Bolognese meat loaf" in Valentina Harris' book. She includes milk as well, moistening the loaf further; then she forms it into a sausage shape, rolls it in breadcrumbs and fries it (to "seal it", she writes, misleadingly), before laying it on a bed of fried onions and baking it. I'd be worried that the meat would stick to the pan; and wouldn't it be hard to manipulate? Instead, to get the flavour of browned meat, I fried it as I usually do when making a ragu or a cottage (or shepherd's) pie, forming it into patties first.

I cooked the loaf in the 7 cm x 16.5 cm tin I had used for the chocolate cake. You could also make meatballs with this recipe.
Serves four.

200 g beef mince
200 g pork mince
Groundnut or sunflower oil
2 heaped tbsp grated Parmesan
Pinch of cinnamon
Salt and pepper
3 tbsp breadcrumbs
1 egg, beaten
1/2 lemon -- juice and zest
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp olive oil

Form the meat into eight patties. Heat a heavy frying pan, pour in a thin layer of oil, and fry the patties -- in two batches, if necessary -- over a medium to high heat. The temperature should be fierce enough to brown each side in about a minute. Tip the browned meat into a bowl.

Mix the meat with the Parmesan, cinnamon, salt and pepper, breadcrumbs, egg, and lemon juice and zest.

Clean the frying pan, pour in the olive oil, and soften the onion in it over a gentle heat until golden -- about 10 to 15 minutes.

Grease the loaf tin. Tip the onions into the bottom, and gently pack the meat on top. Bake at gas mark 4/180 C for an hour.

You may find some juice floating on the surface. Tip it out. Run a knife round the edges of the loaf, and turn it out on to a plate.

You can serve the meat loaf hot or cold. We ate ours hot, with mashed potato, tomato sauce, and lentils.

Note about this blog. I have just landed a deal for a new book -- not about cooking, but about a racehorse called Eclipse. (The Observer Sports Monthly yesterday carried a feature by me about him.) I shall blog slightly less frequently -- perhaps two or three times a week. Some people, rather than going to blogs to see if there is anything new, subscribe to RSS feeds, which alert them to entries in which they might be interested.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Chicken fricasse with vinegar

Cooking terms are slippery. In France, a "fricasse" (if I knew how to do an acute accent, I would put it on the "e") is usually a white stew, such as a blanquette. The fricasses in Marcella Hazan's Marcella's Kitchen (o.p. in the UK) would be, according to some other writers, sautes (again, the "e" should have an acute) -- except that there are authorities who insist that the sauce in a chicken saute should not cook with the meat.

This is what I did with the chicken pieces left over after I had roasted the breasts. Serves three.

2 chicken thighs, 2 drumsticks, 2 wings
Sunflower or groundnut oil
Flour, spread on a plate
Salt, black pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chopped rosemary
1 tsp chopped garlic
3 anchovy fillets
4 tbsp red or white wine vinegar

Heat a thin layer (1 or 2 tbsp) of sunflower or groundnut oil in a frying pan. Dredge the chicken pieces in the flour, and fry on a medium heat until golden and crisp, turning once. Do this in a couple of batches, if necessary. Transfer the browned chicken to a plate. Season with a little salt, and pepper according to taste.

In a casserole, warm the oil, and throw in the rosemary, garlic and anchovy fillets. When the anchovies have dissolved, pour in the vinegar, and let it simmer for a minute or two. Tip the chicken into the casserole, cover, and cook over a very low heat for about an hour, turning the chicken pieces from time to time.

In a heavy casserole with a tight-fitting lid, the stew should not dry out. If it does, add a tbsp or two of water. You might find that there is more liquid than you want -- about 3 tbsp of concentrated sauce for each person is about right. Transfer the chicken to a plate, and boil the sauce, uncovered, to reduce it.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Chocolate cake

Another Elizabeth David recipe. There is a similar one in Don't Sweat the Aubergine; but hers is better. It's moist and gooey.

Unlike the recipe for cheese tart, this one needs only tiny adaptations -- except that it may take longer to set than she suggests. The cake in my book sits in a bain-marie; and I wonder if that method would cook this one more efficiently.

Serves six.

110 g dark chocolate
84 g butter

100 g caster sugar
2 tbsp flour
3 eggs, separated

Cut up the chocolate, and melt it in a ceramic bowl suspended above a pan of barely simmering water. Remove from the heat, and stir in the butter*, cut into pieces; when the butter has melted, stir in the sugar, flour, and egg yolks. Beat the egg whites until they form firm peaks. Fold them into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mixture into a buttered loaf tin -- mine, 7 cm x 16.5 cm, was just the right size.

Bake in a gas mark 4/180 C oven. Elizabeth David gives a time of 35 minutes; my cake took 10 minutes longer than that. A skewer inserted into the middle of the cake should emerge clean.

When cool, turn out the cake on to a rack. I wrapped it in a layer of greaseproof paper, then foil.

*Update, 19/11/11: This cake, delicious when fresh, becomes compacted after a day or so. I tried introducing extra lightness by creaming the butter and sugar first; then I stirred in the chocolate, flour, and egg yolks. It produced a better result.