Monday, November 24, 2008

No-bake lemon and lime cheesecake

A return to a subject that at one time was threatening to be an obsession, but that I haven't tackled for a while. There is a similar recipe to this one in my book, but with digestive biscuits. I reckon that this 3:1 biscuit:butter ratio works as well, or better, than the 2:1 I have recommended previously.

You need a 20cm flan dish or tin. Serves 6 to 8.

150g ginger biscuits
50g butter
227ml double cream (that is the size of the Yeo Valley pot)
200g cream cheese (a standard pack)
397g condensed milk (a standard tin)
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 lime, zest and juice

Whizz the biscuits to crumbs in a food processor. Melt the butter over a low heat in a small saucepan. Tip in the crumbs, stir until thoroughly coated. Grease your dish or tin, and tip in the biscuit mixture, spreading it over the surface and compacting it with the back of a spoon. Put the dish into the freezer for 30 minutes to an hour.

Whip the cream until it stands in soft peaks. You have to be careful to stop as soon as it gets to this stage: from there, it moves rapidly to complete stiffness.

In a separate bowl, whip together the cream cheese and condensed milk. Some recipes suggest you can thicken the milk by whipping: that does not work for me, perhaps because I am lazy or impatient. No matter. Mix in the lemon and lime zest and juice.

Fold the cream into the cheese/milk/citrus mixture. Pour the filling on to the frozen (or very cold) base, cover, and return to the fridge for at least a couple of hours before serving.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sauce without flour

My wife has developed, or become aware of, a gluten intolerance. That means no pasta, obviously; no breadcrumbs; and no flour-thickened sauces. The last constraint is good for stews, I think. But sometimes, in other recipes, you want an ingredient to bind things together.

Last night, I made some spinach with cream and cheese. Normally, I would use a bechamel sauce. This time, I put about 150ml of creme fraiche into a saucepan, and simmered it until thick. Meanwhile, I cooked a bagful of spinach, drained it, and squeezed out as much liquid as I could. I stirred about three heaped tbsps of Gruyere into the cream, and tipped in the spinach.

The sauce turned runny. Perfectly pleasant, but not what I had aimed for.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Boeuf Bourguignon notes

Sometimes, I give a recipe without explaining what's going on. It's a habit that I sometimes find irritating in others, so I thought I'd revisit last week's beef Bourguignon, and give a few notes about what I did.

Marinating. Sometimes, marinades do not have much effect. But this one should do, because of the acid in the wine. And sugars in the wine caramelise on the surface of the meat when you brown it - so you get two effects that enhance the flavour of the dish.

Browning the onions. See this entry.

Browning the meat. See this entry (but you don't need the oil this time).

Deglazing. The liquid picks up the flavoursome, stuck bits from the pan; and, as it bubbles furiously, it loses a good part of its alcohol. Raw spirit in the dish would of course be overpowering.

Covering the meat with the liquid. In theory, the liquid will help to keep the meat tender. The gently bubbling sauce cannot get hotter than 100C; whereas exposed meat within a covered casserole may be subjected to a higher temperature. However, unless you want a thin, runny sauce, you'll need to reduce it later.

Cooking the mushrooms apart. They are the "garnish", and should be distinctive, rather than part of the stew.

In his comment below, Elwyn suggests lifting the fat from the chilled stew the following day. That would be healthier, certainly; but it also involves discarding something very flavoursome. I am inclined to leave the fat, but to serve the stew with a plain accompaniment.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Boeuf Bourguignon

Boeuf Bourguignon is one of those dishes you assume to be sacrosanct. In Floyd on France (now out of print), Keith Floyd insists that you follow his Bourguignon recipe "with no deviation". But I think that home cooks can recognise that this is a provincial stew, permitting any number of adaptations. The essential point is that the beef is marinated in red wine (I used an inauthentic, but roughly appropriate, Costieres de Nimes), and then simmered in the marinade.

I simmered my stew on the hob, uncovered, allowing the sauce to evaporate and concentrate. The meat was not as tender as it might have been. A better method would have been the one I suggest below.

The pig's trotter, costing 50p, lifted the dish, giving it a rich, unctuous savouriness.

Serves about eight.

1.7kg chuck steak, cubed
1 bottle red wine (Burgundy or Rhone)
20 peppercorns
3 bay leaves
Several pinches of grated nutmeg
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
50ml brandy
1 pig's trotter
4 more onions, sliced
150g butter
250g mushrooms, sliced
30g more butter

Marinate the beef, overnight if possible, in the wine with the peppercorns, bay, nutmeg, onions and garlic.

In a large, heavy casserole, melt the 150g butter and cook the (4 more) onions in it, over a low flame, until brown. This may take 45 minutes to an hour. Do not be tempted to hurry the process, because bits of onion will catch and burn if you do. Add more butter if necessary.

Drain the beef, reserving the marinade. Pick off the marinade ingredients that stick to the meat - this is a pain. Brown the meat in batches on a ridged grill pan, over a medium heat. The wine should help the surfaces to caramelise, and the browning should take not much more than a minute on each side. Transfer the meat as it is cooked to a plate, reserving the juices that come from it.

When you are finished with the meat, deglaze the pan with the brandy, scraping at the stuck bits. Reserve this liquid too. (I found that almost all of it evaporated.)

When the onions are brown, add the meat and its juices (and the deglazing liquid, if you have any) to the casserole. Put in the pig's trotter. Pour in enough of the strained marinade to come to a level with the top of the meat. You can put the bay leaves in there as well, and salt to taste.

Cook, covered, in a low oven, until the stew has simmered very gently for about two hours and the meat is tender. (You may find that you can have the oven as low as gas mark S/130C, although if you are in a hurry to get the stew simmering you may want to start at a higher temperature.)

When the stew is nearly ready, cook the mushrooms in butter, until the liquid they throw off has evaporated. Turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Remove the meat from the casserole, perhaps by tipping it into a colander over a saucepan. Return the meat and onions to the casserole, without the trotter (which has done its job); put the casserole back, covered again, into the low oven.

Boil the sauce to reduce it by about half. Stir it back into the meat, with the mushrooms.

This stew, you may have noticed, is rich. Plain rice is the ideal accompaniment.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Squash and couscous

A good many squashes will arrive in the vegetable box over the next few months. Although some recipes specify boiling, I almost always bake them - either in halves, and then scooping out the flesh for a soup; or peeled and cubed.

Peeling them is a pain. The skin is tough, and hard to peel away neatly. I cut the squash into quarters first. The flesh is quite tough too: it can take cubed, fork-sized pieces of squash 45 minutes to soften in a gas mark 5/180C oven.

I toss squash for stirring into couscous in oil - olive or sunflower - and a generous portion (about 2tsps) of cumin seeds. I like toasted pine kernels in there. The dish needs colour to relieve the beige: the other night, I added sun-dried tomatoes and raisins (which I had softened for 20 minutes in hot water), along with garlic fried in olive oil for a minute, and harissa.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Chicken with garlic and lemon

When I cook something that works well, I tend to go back to the recipe - or a version of it - shortly after. So this chicken with garlic and lemon is a version of the chicken and mushroom dish from last week.

4 chicken thighs
4 drumsticks
1dstsp butter
1dstsp olive oil (or vegetable, if you prefer)
150ml chicken stock
1 lemon, quartered
1 head garlic, separated into cloves
Sprig rosemary

In a casserole (if it can contain the chicken in one layer) or large saute pan, gently brown the chicken, salted, in the butter and oil.

Add the stock, lemon, garlic, and rosemary. Cover, and simmer over a low flame for 30 minutes. Uncover the pan, and allow the sauce to reduce until it is syrupy.