Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mushroom and pea risotto

Risotto for two last night. This recipe has the basic technique.

After softening the onion, this time with half a clove of garlic (I added a splash of water every so often to prevent the vegetables from catching, and used a heat disperser under the pan for the last 10 minutes of the 25-minute process), I stirred in the rice, and then added chopped (quite small pieces) mushrooms -- three portobellos. I got everything hot, before adding the stock, ladleful-by-ladleful as usual.

Green vegetables should go into a risotto at the end, so that they retain their freshness. Mushrooms can be there from the beginning, contributing their flavour to the sauce. The disadvantage is that you get a risotto that is a sludgy, grey-brown. If appearance matters, saute the mushrooms apart, and stir them in when the rice is ready.

Parmesan is what you should stir into a risotto. But I fancied a milder flavour. When the rice was al dente, I took it off the heat, adding the peas and about 100 g (I should guess) of grated Gruyere, along with 20 g of butter, cubed and chilled.

Monday, October 29, 2007

New potato and cheddar mash

For what might be called a light supper, but in fact contains more calories than most plates of meat and two veg, I often try variations on cheese and potato. Here is one; here, another. I made the following because I had a lump of cheddar to use up, as well as a half-consumed pot of cream. For two.

500 g new potatoes
30 g butter
100 ml double cream
150 g cheddar, grated
Salt, pepper

Scrub the potatoes, cover them in cold water, bring them slowly to the boil (here's why), and simmer until tender. Drain, and return them to the pan, allowing them to steam for a minute or two. Roughly mash them, with their skins. (I gave them three or four goes with a potato masher; a fork would be fine.) Stir in the butter, cream, and cheese. Taste; you may not need much salt, because of the saltiness of the cheese. I think that you need plenty of pepper, though.

Tip the mixture into a warm oven dish, and put it into the oven at gas mark 6/200 C for five to 10 minutes.

Or, as I did, warm the mixture on the hob. Stir the butter and cream into the mash, and warm above a gentle heat, stirring cautiously (to avoid releasing too much starch into the dish). Then add the cheese, stir again, and give everything another minute. Season, and serve.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Stewed neck of lamb

You can begin a stew of the saute type (one in which the meat is browned first) in a variety of ways. Do you fry the onions and any other vegetables first, then add the meat? Do you fry the onions, remove them from the pan, and add the meat? Do you brown the meat first, and add the onions? Do you brown the meat in a separate pan?

The only one of these options I do not like is the first -- although many recipes pretend that it is feasible. You need a high heat to get meat brown. On a low heat, it simply stews and goes grey in the liquid it disgorges. But if you turn up the heat when onions are in the pan, some of them will catch on the bottom and char.

All the other options will work. The easiest is the last. When I made a lamb stew the other day, I used a griddle pan for the browning.

I had neck fillet (about 650 g, for four), which I sliced into medallions. I coated them in flour. I put the griddle on to a medium to high heat for five minutes, distributed a little groundnut oil over the surface, and gave the medallions (in three batches) about a minute on each side to brown. I added them to my casserole, in which I had softened two chopped onions and two cloves of garlic. I completed the stew with chicken stock to cover, a bay leaf, a splash of soy sauce, a star anise, and salt.

The process was just like that for the oxtail stew, but with the shorter cooking time of two hours at gas mark 1/140 C. I removed the meat, strained the sauce, put the meat back into the casserole and covered it, and boiled the sauce until it was rich and thickened. I recombined meat and sauce. Then I added a bottle of strained, rinsed alubia beans. (Alubia beans are a kind of kidney bean. Bottled beans and chickpeas are a better bet than canned ones, lacking the hint of a metallic taste that can spoil the latter.) I put the stew back into the oven to warm through.

It was not quite as simple as that. You can never be sure how long it will take to warm up a heavy, Le Creuset casserole. In this case, half an hour in a low oven was not enough; so I finished the process above a gentle flame on the hob.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Fennel and pesto salad

When a bag of salad and a bulb of fennel arrive, as they often do, in the organic box, I like to make salads such as this one. Possible ingredients also include black olives, pine nuts toasted in a dry pan, sun-dried tomatoes, and mint. Cracked wheat (bulgur) instead of the lentils, perhaps. Any cheese that you can cut into chunks, and even soft blue or goats cheeses, will work.

The other day, the proprietor of our nice deli/cafe Good for Food (there's a mention of it here) gave me a sample of her home-made pesto. I stirred about a tbsp of it into a salad (for two) consisting of leaves, fennel, cheddar (about 70 g), and pine nuts; I added a dstsp of vinegar and a tbsp of olive oil, along with pepper and a little salt. It was delicious.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Baked vegetables

My usual routine is to throw vegetables in a roasting dish, coat them in oil, and bake them at gas mark 6/200C. But they can burn before they soften. Last night, I tried a hybrid method. I cut an aubergine into fork-sized chunks, sliced two red onions through their roots to about the width of a £2 coin, and tossed the vegetables with about 2 tbsps of olive oil, a tsp of cumin and ajowan seeds mixed, and salt and pepper. I covered the roasting dish with foil, put it into the oven for 30 minutes at 200C, took off the foil, and baked the vegetables for 15 minutes longer. I might have turned up the heat for the uncovered stage; but I would have needed to check the progress carefully.

The aubergine and onions were tender and caramelised. I stirred them into couscous. I shall use this technique from now on.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Chicken with vinegar and tomatoes

This is a basic version of a recipe -- which is not very complicated in the first place -- in Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken and Other Stories. It serves three: an awkward number. A single can of tomatoes does not produce a generous quantity of sauce for four: so you might, if you have that number to feed, add an extra third of a can, plus some more vinegar.

1 dstsp olive oil
6 chicken thighs
2 cloves garlic, chopped
150 ml red wine vinegar
400 g can tomatoes
Handful parsley, chopped

Warm the olive oil in a heavy pan large enough to contain the chicken in a single layer. Salt the thighs, place them skin-side down in the pan, and brown them over a moderate heat for 10 to 15 minutes, turning once. You should need only this small amount of oil, because the chicken pieces will exude their own fat.

Throw in the chopped garlic, allow it to soften in the oil, and pour in the vinegar. (You could add rosemary and bay at this point.) Simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until well reduced. Add the tomatoes, breaking them up with a wooden spoon (it becomes easier once they have cooked for a while), and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce thickens -- about 30 to 45 minutes. The oil will separate from the tomatoes: you can discard some of it if you like. (I do not.) If the sauce is still liquid as you approach meal time, remove the chicken to a warm plate, turn up the heat and bubble the sauce to reduce it. Return the chicken to the pan to warm through.

Check the seasoning. Stir in the parsley. It needs pepper, in my opinion; you might add it at the table.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Squash curry

There is a similar curry here, with a recipe. This is an outline of what I did last night, again using the excellent spices from Seasoned Pioneers.

I baked fork-sized pieces of squash (half of one), tossed in groundnut oil, with black cumin and ajowan seeds.

To give the curry some body, I simmered 50 g of yellow lentils, covered, in about double their volume of water with cayenne pepper. You need to keep checking so that the lentils absorb the water and become sludgy, without drying up. I stirred in a 40 g sachet of Biona creamed coconut.

I fried three onions, sliced (more on browning onions here). I threw in a chopped clove of garlic, along with 1 tsp of cardamom masala, and cooked this mixture for a couple of minutes. Now a really inauthentic touch: I poured in the leftover sauce from the oxtail stew. There was about 200 ml of it. I allowed this mixture to bubble, and tipped in the lentils and the squash, along with 1 tsp of garam masala. I salted the curry, and allowed it to simmer for five minutes.

My vegetable box last week included some chillis called, alarmingly, Ring of Fire. They are good, and do not have the effect on your rear end that they threaten. I chopped up two of them (without being too fussy about discarding the seeds and membranes), stirring them into the curry as a garnish.

This would have been enough for two, had I not been greedy.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Oxtail stew

The weather remains warm, but our appetites are turning towards winter dishes.

I cook many variations of this stew; the invariable ingredient is the tomato ketchup. For four.

8 chunks of oxtail; or, if they are of varying size, chunks weighing 850 g to 1 kg
Plain flour
Groundnut or sunflower oil
2 onions, chopped
I carrot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
350 ml beef stock (chicken would be fine)
330 ml beer (I used Pilsner Urquell)
2 bay leaves
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp nam pla
1 star anise

Coat the oxtail pieces in flour. You could put the flour in a bag, and shake the oxtail in it; or turn the pieces in flour on a plate. This is a simple way of getting a certain amount of thickening agent into the dish.

Warm a heavy frying pan over a medium heat, pour in enough oil to coat the bottom, and brown the oxtail pieces -- in two batches if necessary. Start with a medium heat, lowering it as the oxtail starts to brown in order to avoid burning the oil. Transfer the oxtail to a heavy casserole large enough to contain the pieces in a single layer.

Adding more oil to the pan if necessary, soften the onion, carrot and garlic. They will catch and burn immediately if the pan has not cooled down after you browned the meat, so keep stirring. Allow the vegetables to become golden. Tip them into the casserole.

Deglaze the frying pan with a little of the stock or the beer: pour it in, allow it to bubble, and scrape the pan with a wooden spoon. Pour this liquid into the casserole, along with the rest of the stock and the beer; add the other ingredients. Be cautious with the salt -- you can add more later.

The oxtail should be submerged, so that it cooks gently in its bath. (Exposed, it would be subjected to stronger heat.) Add water, or more stock, if necessary; any dilution of the stock will not be greatly significant, because you can reduce the sauce later.

Put the casserole, covered, into a gas mark 1/140 C oven. It may take an hour to come to simmering point. That does not matter: very gentle cooking is what you want. Cook the stew for about three hours in total, or until the meat is tender.

Leaving the stew overnight works well. Allow it to cool, then put it into the fridge. The next day, you will find on the surface a layer of fat, which you can lift off with a spoon.

If you are going to eat the stew today: lift out the meat, and strain the sauce into a large glass bowl. (Return the meat to the casserole, and cover.) You will see the layer of fat on top. Spoon it off (not into the sink, where it will congeal). Do not feel you have to get rid of all of it: what you leave behind will contribute flavour. Pour the sauce into a saucepan, and boil it until it reduces and thickens slightly. Keep tasting, and stop the process when you think that the flavour has the right concentration. Add salt, if necessary. Return the sauce to the casserole, and warm everything through on a low light.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Fried potatoes 2

In an earlier post, I wrote about frying potatoes in the same way as you would chips. The only real difference from chips is that these are cubed.

The second method, which I tried the other day, is to parboil the potatoes first. You cube them, cover them in cold water, bring them to the boil, and simmer them for about 10 minutes. They need to be soft, because frying in a thin layer of oil does not tenderise them much further; but if they are too soft they will break up. Drain them, and return them to the hot pan to steam. I think that there is a case for sprinkling them with flour, to add crunch to the surfaces. (I do not think that is necessary with roast potatoes.)

Warm a layer of sunflower or other oil of your choice in a frying pan. (As I wrote earlier, you will need a 28 cm pan to accommodate four medium-sized potatoes.) Tip in the potatoes, and cook them on a medium to low heat. It may take 10 minutes or longer for the undersides to brown. Turn them, to get them as thoroughly brown as you like.

In my last entry on roast potatoes, I wrote that you could turn the parboiled potatoes in cold oil, and get perfectly crispy results. Why do I not say that here? Because these potatoes have been parboiled for longer, and are softer. They might break up if you agitate them a lot; and they will absorb more oil. Tipped into hot oil, they will form a crust more rapidly.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Pasta with anchovies and roasted peppers

Anchovies go well with green vegetables (here, for example). But they also go with mushrooms (here), and with peppers. I put together this dish last night: it does not need the spring onions, which I used because I had them in the house; I included chillis because I always do. The spaghetti worked well, despite the usual advice that cream sauces suit shapes such as penne better. For two.

2 red peppers
I tbsp olive oil
4 spring onions, sliced (optional)
I clove garlic, chopped
200 ml double cream
I tin anchovies, drained
1 or more dried chillis according to taste, whizzed (optional)
250 g spaghetti

Roast the peppers in a gas mark 6/200 C oven for 20 to 30 minutes until the skin blackens. Allow them to cool. Peel, deseed and slice them, retaining the juice. (I break the peppers apart with my hands above a bowl, discarding into it skin, seeds and juice.)

Soften the spring onions (if using) and the garlic in the olive oil. Pour in the juice from the peppers through a sieve, allowing it to bubble and thicken for a minute or two; pour in the cream, the anchovies, and the chillis if using. Grind over the pepper. Allow this sauce to bubble and thicken. (The anchovies should melt.) Tip in the strips of pepper, and give them time to warm.

Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti. Drain it, and toss it through the sauce.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Barbecue marinade for spare ribs

Here is another marinade for spare ribs, this time for four people. (You want three or four ribs for each person, I think.) Four tbsps of tomato ketchup; 2 cloves of garlic, crushed with salt; 1 tbsp of groundnut oil; 1 dstsp of rice vinegar; 1 tsp of soy sauce; 1 tsp of nam pla (fish sauce); 1 star anise, chopped up a bit; salt and pepper. Spread this marinade over the joint of ribs, and roast it for two hours at gas mark 1/130 C. (Another marinade is here.)

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall included a spare rib recipe in his Guardian column on Saturday. The marinade looked interesting. But I prefer to cook the meat at a lower temperature than the one he recommended (gas mark 4/180 C for 45 minutes in a dish covered with foil, and then uncovered for 20 minutes). The steam inside the foil will cook the ribs so efficiently that it may dry them out; and 20 minutes' exposure may be enough to burn the honey and soy in the marinade. In the accompanying picture, the ribs were blackened, in a way that food stylists think appetising but that should, as I have written before, put you off.