Thursday, October 30, 2008

Basic fish stew

You don't have to include all the trimmings - pastis, orange zest, stock, saffron - to make an acceptable fish stew for supper. A straightforward tomato sauce, along the lines of the one in a chicken Basquaise, will do. I have to admit that the fish I used was (no doubt unsustainable) haddock from my local Tesco. For 2. (Here is a more elaborate recipe.)

1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
2tbsp olive oil
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
1 tin tomatoes
2 fish fillets, cut into fork-sized pieces

In a wide saute pan, soften the onion and garlic over a low to medium heat for about five minutes, until the onion starts to turn golden. (Add more oil if it threatens to catch.) Throw in the peppers, and cook for a further five minutes. Tip in the tomatoes, and simmer for about 20 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Add salt to taste.

Add the fish to the stew. It will take no more than a few minutes to cook.

Flat-leaf parsley would be a nice garnish. I stirred a tsp of harissa into my portion.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Chicken with cream, mustard and mushrooms

I made this for three people, with three thighs and three drumsticks. My oval Le Creuset just accommodated them in one layer. For the quantity below, you probably need a 28cm saute pan, with a lid.

4 chicken thighs
4 drumsticks
1dstsp butter
1dstsp olive oil (or vegetable, if you prefer)
70ml water
Half a chicken stock cube (optional)
More butter
150g button mushrooms, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
150ml double cream
1tsp Dijon mustard

Fry the chicken, salted, gently in the oil and butter. You may need less fat than I have suggested, because the chicken exudes its own. The oil helps to prevent the butter from burning.

When the thighs and drumsticks are golden (after about 15 to 20 minutes), pour in the water, and the half stock cube if using. (Some people don't like the taste of cubes; I think that, used cautiously, they add savouriness. Of course, proper stock would be better.) Cover the pan, and simmer gently for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, fry the mushrooms and the garlic, with a little more salt, in the butter (I'd use about 25g) over a low to medium heat. If they exude a lot of liquid, turn up the heat to evaporate it. I usually judge them to be ready when the liquid has gone. Turn off the heat, and cover the pan.

Uncover the chicken. You may find that there is now quite a lot of liquid. Continue to simmer, gently, until the liquid is syrupy.

Pour in the cream and add the mustard, and allow the sauce to bubble and thicken for a minute or two. When you have the consistency you like, stir in the mushrooms, allowing them to warm through if necessary. Particularly if you have used a cube, you should not need more salt.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Where Jamie and Hugh cut little ice

I have been a bit busy recently, helping set up a new website called BookBrunch, so I just have time today to make an observation. My local Tesco Express, on Seven Sisters Road, experimented for a while with stocking some organic chicken and pork. But I haven't seen these items there for a while. Now the Lidl up the road is advertising free range chicken; it will be interesting to see whether that lasts. In some areas, and during a credit crunch, the influence of Jamie and Hugh is weak.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Improvised lemon cake

Is it possible to make a cake as I make most of the savoury dishes on this blog: by assembling ingredients according to general principles rather than precise recipes? That is what I asked myself yesterday, when I fancied making a lemon cake (sometimes one gets these particular urges), but could find only recipes that were more complicated than appealed, and that involved ingredients I did not have.

Butter, sugar, eggs, flour: these are the basic ingredients. So: I creamed 50g of butter and 50g of golden caster sugar. I beat in three eggs, and added the zest and juice of a lemon, as well as a tsp of vanilla essence. I have noticed that some lemon cake recipes include cornflour, so I added a few dstsps of that. Then I added self-raising flour, dstsp by dstsp, until I arrived at that gloopy, "dropping" consistency. I poured the mixture into a buttered loaf tin, and baked it for half an hour.

It wasn't bad. It had risen in the centre, and cracked; and the consistency was somewhat dense, though not unpleasantly so. Perhaps I should have separated the eggs, beat the whites, and folded them into the mixture. Or perhaps a spot of baking powder would have helped. The cake was not moist and sticky, as the best ones are (thanks often to lemon curd, I believe).

If things are not right with savoury dishes, I usually know why. But I don't understand baking nearly as well.

Monday, October 13, 2008

(Tinned) tuna salad

I make many variations on this Delia-type (the Delia of How To Cheat at Cooking, I mean) salad, as an easy lunch for 4. It might include rice, artichoke hearts, lettuce - any number of ingredients.

2 tins tuna (in spring water, or brine)
1 tin butter beans, drained and rinsed
20 black olives, stoned (I like Crespo "Greek-style")
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
12 sun-dried tomatoes, each cut into 3
1tbsp mayonnaise
Salt (you won't need much), pepper

Mix the ingredients. That's it. If the sun-dried tomatoes come in oil, and you include it in the salad, so much the better.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Pepper, tomatoes and chick peas

My wife has developed a mild intolerance to gluten. I don't share it; but it has made me more aware that wheat products can sit heavily on the stomach. Coming home late, one is tempted to cook a quick and simple pasta dish, ending up with a slightly bloated feeling. Now, I usually have rice instead, probably with a more substantial sauce than I would serve with, say, spaghetti.

This is what I made for myself last night.

1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
I green pepper, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
2 tomatoes, plunged into boiling water for 20 seconds, skinned and chopped
5tbsp tinned chick peas
1tsp harissa
2tbsp creme fraiche
Salt, to taste

Soften the garlic in the olive oil. Throw in all the other ingredients, and simmer until thickened. Reducing the sauce to a rich consistency may take a good 20 minutes: the tomatoes and pepper will cause it to be very liquid at first. So you have time to cook the rice while that's happening.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Chard gratin

I should have weighed the chard before I cooked it. All I can tell you is that it was an organic bagful. The creme fraiche (Rachel's Organic) came in a tub with the quantity given by weight rather than by volume. Serves 2 to 3. The sauce may be a little runny, and need mopping up with bread or rice.

Bagful of chard
100g creme fraiche
4 heaped tbsp Gruyere
Scrapings of nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Heat the oven to gas mark 6/200C. Warm a gratin dish.

Wash the chard, and strip off the leaves. Cook them as you would spinach, tipping them (wet) into a saucepan, covering it, putting it on a high heat, giving the leaves a minute or so to start wilting, and then stirring them until they are all wilted. Drain immediately.

Chop the stalks into fork-size lengths. I put them in a saucepan with a little water (about 50ml) and a knob of butter, cover the pan, cook for five minutes, and then cook uncovered until the stalks have a buttery glaze. Some, thick-stalked chard requires longer cooking than this: I have known stalks take 20 minutes to become tender.

Squeeze the liquid from the chard leaves, chop them, and put them into the pan with the stalks. Add the creme fraiche (you could use ordinary cream, of course), cheese, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste (remember the saltiness of the cheese), and mix.

Tip the mixture into the warmed gratin dish, and bake for five to 10 minutes, until bubbling.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Another way with basmati

Cooking rice, an apparently simple matter, has been something of an obsession, as previous posts have shown. (The trail of experiments starts here.)

If you have trouble with the absorption method, and if you do not want to boil the rice in a large quantity of water, try this. The measurement and timing work for all the brands I have found.

Allow 75g of rice as a generous quantity for each person. Tip it into a measuring jug, check its volume, and tip it into a sieve.
(I have some measuring cups, one of which holds exactly one portion, and the other, two portions.) Give it a rinse under the cold tap. Now measure four times its volume of water, bring it to a boil in a saucepan (with a little salt if you like), tip in the rice, return to a simmer, and cook, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

After the 10 minutes are up (I usually count from the moment when the water has returned to a simmer), the water will probably be just above the level of the rice. Drain what is left. If you need to hold the rice, return it to the pan, put a paper towel on top, and the lid on top of that.