Thursday, February 28, 2008

Celeriac and swede curry

I am pleased to see that Delia Smith, in the controversial How To Cheat at Cooking (more about this book later), recommends the spices from Seasoned Pioneers. I have mentioned them here and here, but without prompting such a notable sales spike.

At this time of year, one can get bored with the root vegetables that come every week in the vegetable box. (I should be fair and say that Growing Communities varies its offerings well.) But I never tire of root vegetable curries. I apologise to vegetarians: I do like the flavour of chicken stock, or a stock cube, in dishes such as this. For 2.

2 onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/2 tsp Seasoned Pioneers black cumin seeds
1/2 tsp Seasoned Pioneers ajowan seeds
Groundnut or sunflower oil
Celeriac and/or swede and/or turnip, peeled and cut into fork-size pieces (I should have weighed the vegetables I used -- but you know how much you want, don't you?)
150 ml chicken stock, or half a Knorr chicken cube and 150 ml water
1/3 tsp cayenne (or more, or less, according to taste -- the Crazy Jack brand is good)
1 tsp Seasoned Pioneers garam masala

Fry the onions, garlic, cumin and ajowan seeds in a tbsp or two of oil (enough to prevent the vegetables from catching), until golden. Meanwhile, steam the root vegetables until tender. Throw them into the pan with the onions, along with the stock, cayenne, garam masala and salt (you may not need much salt if you have used a stock cube). Cook very gently for five minutes. The vegetables will absorb and thicken the liquid; you may want more.

Garnish with chopped chillis, if you like.

Curries may seem to be daunting dishes to cook. This one, screamingly inauthentic, is quick and easy, and tastes better than the offerings in a good many Indian restaurants.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pork and lemon stew

My butcher sells spare rib chops, which come from the pig's shoulder. They are cheaper, moister and more tender than loin chops. Versatile as well: you can grill or fry them as you would a loin chop, and slow-cook them in a stew. For 4.

4 spare rib chops (or more if they are small)
Olive oil
3 onions, roughly chopped
8 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
100 ml chicken stock
I lemon, zested and cut into quarters

I have taken to browning meat, without oil, on a ridged grill pan. Cut each chop into two or three pieces (whatever suits you), salt them, and brown them, in batches, on a high heat for a minute or two each side. Transfer to a plate when done. Meanwhile, in a casserole, soften the onions on a low to medium heat in the oil (a tbsp or two -- enough to prevent the onions from catching).

Tip the pork into the casserole, along with the whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, chicken stock, zest and quartered lemons, and a little more salt.

You do not need to bring the contents to a simmer: a gentle increase of heat in a low oven (gas mark 1/140 C) will help to keep the pork tender. Leave the casserole to cook gently for a couple of hours.

You may find that you have a surprising quantity of sauce. If there is too much, and it seems too thin, remove the pork to a warm plate, cover it, and bubble the sauce on top of the stove until reduced.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lasagne that does what it says on the packet

My latest New Statesman column concerns my liberating discovery that it is possible to cook non-pre-cook lasagne without pre-cooking it. As I say in the column, and as I wrote here, I used to find that the only way to get this product to soften consistently, and to prevent it from absorbing most of the liquid in the sauces, was to give it an initial blanching. Yotam Ottolenghi's potato lasagne, described in this entry, taught me another way.

Here is a recipe for a more conventional lasagne. Once you have assembled the ingredients, cover the dish with foil and put it into the oven at gas mark 4/180C; after 30 minutes, turn down the dial to 2/150C. After another 30 minutes, remove the foil, scatter parmesan on top, and cook at gas mark 6/200C for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the top is browned.

No more entries this week. Back next Monday.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Eggs Florentine -- final

Right: here is my definitive version. Sorry to bang on about it; but eggs Florentine is one of my favourite dishes. Previous posts are here and here; this one trumps them, because it ensures that each component is cooked for the right length of time and no longer.

Place gratin dish in warm oven. Heat saucepan or frying pan of water for the eggs. No salt or vinegar (see why in the comments section here). Crack eggs into cups. Wash spinach. Grate cheese.

Make bechamel (there's a recipe in the 11.6.07 entry). Season, and leave to simmer over a very low light above a heat disperser, stirring from time to time.

Transfer wet spinach to saucepan, clamp on lid, and place on high heat. Lower eggs into simmering water; turn down heat to lowest setting.

The spinach should have started to wilt. Take off the lid, and stir, until all the leaves are wilted and cooked. Transfer the spinach to a colander, and push it against the sides with a wooden spoon, to squeeze out the water. When you think you have done a decent job of that, take the gratin dish out of the oven, and lay the spinach in it. Grind over some salt and pepper.

The eggs should be poached by now. Lift them from the water with a slotted spoon, and lay them on the spinach. Stir the cheese into the bechamel; pour the sauce over the spinach and eggs. Put the dish under a hot grill for a minute or two, until the sauce bubbles and browns on top.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Chicken liver pate

This is not a proper chicken liver pate. Delicious nonetheless, it is a quick concoction made out of the single liver that comes -- if you buy your free range or organic chicken at the butcher rather than at the supermarket -- in a bag inside the bird. If you spread it on toast, it will make four little snacks (or six, if you spread it thinly on croutons).

These livers are stringy. If you are making a proper pate, you get rid of the unwanted bits by shoving the cooked mixture through a sieve. Here, you scrape the liver off the stringy tissue. You reduce it to an unprepossessing mush; but that does not matter.

You do not need to flame brandy to evaporate the alcohol. I have done tests, and discovered that reducing the liquid in the normal way works just as well; indeed, it seems to work better, resulting in a milder flavour. Perhaps flamed brandy is scorched.

1 chicken liver
1 clove garlic, crushed with salt
Large knob (about 20g) butter
1 tbsp brandy
Ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne pepper

Cut up the liver, scraping it away from the stringy bits, which you should discard.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and add the garlic. When it starts to cook and to give off its aroma, turn up the heat to medium, and add the liver. Toss it around; it will be cooked in about 10 to 15 seconds. Tip it into a small bowl. Put the pan back on to the heat, pour in the brandy, and boil it for a few seconds, until reduced to about a dstsp of syrup. Pour it on to the liver; add the peppers. You may not need any more salt.

Crush the liver with a fork, scraping at the bits that stick to the tines with a knife, and recrushing until the mixture is smooth. Cover the bowl with a saucer, and put it into the fridge for an hour.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Greens and baked eggs

This recipe (the first one -- scroll down) by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is essentially an eggs Florentine, but with kale rather than spinach. The difference is that you mix the green vegetable with the cheese sauce, rather than pouring the sauce on top.

One way of making eggs Florentine is to prepare the spinach and the sauce, put the spinach into an oven dish, crack the eggs on top, pour over the sauce, and bake for about 20 minute. The problem is that it's hard to tell whether you are overcooking or undercooking the eggs. Or you can prepare the spinach and put it into a dish, poach the eggs to your desired consistency, rest them on the spinach, pour on the sauce, and flash the dish under a grill. This time the problem is that it's easiest to prepare the spinach first -- but then how do you keep it warm? In a low oven, perhaps. Fearnley-Whittingstall's technique seemed worth a try.

Never again. After 10 minutes, both the egg yolks and whites were runny. Arriving at set whites and soft but not runny yolks took 25 minutes, by which time some of the white was hard and adhering to the sides of the dish. The washing up was a pain.

In this entry, I described a hybrid between the two methods mentioned above. It now seems to me to be best to put the spinach in a warm dish in a warm oven while you poach the eggs and allow your bechamel to simmer. Put the poached eggs on to the spinach, stir the cheese into the sauce (it need only be melted, rather than cooked), pour the sauce on top, and place under the grill (I put the dish into the grill pan with the rack removed) until bubbling.

Monday, February 04, 2008


My latest New Statesman column is about marmalade. Seville oranges are still in the shops, but will not be there for much longer.

The recipe I used was from Nigella Lawson's How To Eat. Its appeal is that it saves you the business of separating pith and pips from the uncooked oranges, and with muslin bags. Nevertheless, Nigella confesses -- or confessed when she wrote this book (published 10 years ago) -- that she has never made marmalade; and the recipe illustrates the drawback of writing about a procedure that you have not carried out yourself. She does not tell you whether to cook the oranges in a covered or uncovered pan; and she does not emphasise, when she tells you to return the cooked, cut-up oranges to the pan, that the pan also contains the cooking water. These points are obvious, no doubt, to an experienced cook, but were not obvious to me.

I cooked the oranges in a covered pan. That left a high proportion of liquid to orange mixture; but the marmalade did set, albeit after 30 minutes rather than the 15 that Nigella specifies. A friend tried the recipe with an uncovered pan, successfully. I would worry that too much liquid would evaporate, and that the oranges, incompletely submerged, would not cook properly. A compromise is in order.

I did not have enough caster sugar. I used about 900 g of caster, and 500 g of muscovado. The marmalade is so delicious that I shall use this mixture every time from now on.

700g Seville oranges
1.2 litres water
Juice of 2 lemons
900 g caster sugar
500 g muscovado sugar

Put the oranges and the water into a saucepan, bring to the boil, and simmer, partly covered, for two hours. Remove the oranges, reserving the water, and cut them up, pulp and all, into whatever size peel you prefer.

Remove the pips, along with those from the juiced lemons, put them in a small pan, cover them with a little of the orange cooking liquor, and boil for five minutes. Strain this juice back into the cut-up oranges. Add the lemon juice.

Pour the sugar into the pan with the cooking liquor, and cook over a low heat until dissolved. Tip in the orange mixture, turn up the heat, and simmer until set. You test by putting a teaspoon of it on to a saucer, putting the saucer in the fridge for a few minutes, and stroking the mixture with a fingertip. If the surface wrinkles, the marmalade is ready. If you are worried that the marmalade might become too set, take it off the heat while the sample portion is cooling.

When it is ready, stir the marmalade to distribute the peel. Spoon it into pots; it should fill about five standard-sized ones.