Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bolognese, lentils, and rice

What to cook when you're going out for Christmas drinks with neighbours, and will be back after 8pm, with several glasses of mulled wine inside you and with no enthusiasm for work in the kitchen? A one-pot meal, which you can leave in the oven on a low heat.

The dish above (for 2) consists of a Bolognese sauce (made with 150g of beef mince and 150g of pork mince), Puy-type lentils, and arborio rice. I boiled the lentils (100g) for 10 minutes, then threw in the rice (175g) and allowed the pan to boil for a further 10 minutes. The idea was to leave the lentils and rice slightly undercooked.

I drained them, stirred them into the Bolognese in the casserole, and covered the mixture tightly with kitchen paper (to enhance the effect of the steam in the pot) before putting on the lid. I put the dish in a low oven - I won't give a setting, because my thermostat is not working properly - as we went out; we ate it when we arrived home, two hours later.

(The Bolognese sauce was similar to the mince stew in this cottage pie, only with tomato puree instead of the ketchup.)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Red cabbage, beans, and cream cheese

I prefer to eat red cabbage raw than cooked. To my taste buds, it - like all brassicas - goes past its best when boiled or steamed for longer than about five minutes. However, the raw cabbage needs partners with contrasting textures, or it simply offers mouthful after mouthful of dull chewiness.

1dstp white wine vinegar
Salt, peppper
1/3tsp honey
1/3tsp Dijon mustard
2dstsp sunflower oil
1dstsp olive oil
150g cream cheese
1 tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 of a large red cabbage, shredded

Put the vinegar in a large bowl, add the salt (to taste), pepper (ditto), honey and mustard, and stir until the salt, honey and mustard dissolve. Whisk in the oils. Mash in the cheese, so that it softens.

Stir in the beans and cabbage until the lumps of cheese break up and coat everything.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Oven settings

My oven thermostat is on the blink. When I set the dial to gas mark 6 (200C), a thermometer told me that the temperature was in fact 150C. So I cooked this chicken (a 2kg, free range one from Sutton Hoo) at full blast, for 30 minutes, before turning down the dial to 6, and cooking for a further 90 minutes.

It made me think that I usually set the dial according to received advice rather than to how the cooking process is developing. Better to cook the chicken this way, by monitoring its progress and adjusting the dial accordingly. Still, I'd prefer to have a properly working oven.

The wing tips are missing because I cut them off to use, with the neck, in a stock for gravy.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Potato, cheese, and red onions

Aligot, or cheesy potato, or whatever you want to call it, can be more interesting with the addition of onion. I add one red onion per person, sliced finely, to the ingredients in this recipe. I sweat the onion in the butter, on a low heat and in a covered pan. To prevent it from catching, I sometimes use a little oil as well, and I check it quite often, because covering the pan can cause the onion to cook too furiously. Once it has softened and turned glossy, I usually remove the lid, allowing about 20 minutes cooking time in total.

Otherwise, I follow the previous recipe, stirring the buttery onions into the mash with the cheese.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Risotto balls

These fried balls are made with left-over risotto. I rolled the risotto (squash, kale and onion) into balls in my palms; then I dipped the balls in egg, and rolled them in flour. I fried them gently in sunflower oil for about 10 minutes, turning once.

They were delicious, with the crisp surfaces complementing that sticky, rich interiors.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Gluten-free batter

I am not sure whether one can make a satisfactory batter with gluten-free flour. The batter in the picture consists of 150g of Doves self-raising gluten free flour, 400ml milk and water combined (half and half), and two eggs. As you can see, it is disconcertingly pale. It is also, like the pancakes I once made to the same recipe, rather doughy in texture - not unpleasant, but not quite what one aims for.

The Yorkshire pudding recipe on the Doves website includes, as well as the gluten-free flour, cornflour and xanthan gum (a stabiliser and emulsifier). I imagine that it would produce a still more doughy result - but I won't know until I try.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Orange polenta cake

I have been meaning for some time to try making a gluten-free cake for my gluten-intolerant wife. This is a slight adaptation of a recipe I found on the Cake Baker website - which, unusually these days, gives measurements in ounces.

200g butter
200g caster sugar
3 eggs
100g ground almonds
200g instant polenta
1 orange, zest and juice

Cream the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs. Fold in the almonds, polenta, and lemon juice. You should have a stiff batter.

I cannot give very helpful advice about oven temperatures. The recipe advises you use an eight-inch (20cm) cake tin, whereas the one in the picture has a base of 15.5cms. That was one reason why my cake took a lot longer to set than the 20-25 minutes specified; another may be that my oven is behaving a bit strangely, often failing to reach the temperature on the dial.

I started cooking the cake at gas mark 5/190C (but at what may have been a good deal cooler than that). After half an hour, the centre was runny. I turned up the dial to 6/200C. Fifteen minutes later, I moved the cake to a higher shelf. It took an hour in total.

You need cream or ice cream as an accompaniment, to offset the dry graininess of the polenta.

Or perhaps this Telegraph version, with less polenta but more ground almonds, is worth trying. Like many polenta cake recipes, it includes baking powder - which usually contains gluten. I don't think my cake suffered from the lack of it.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Floury potato cakes

A potato cake is a kind of pancake with mashed potato as an extra ingredient. A floury taste is fine in pancakes or batters; but I'm not sure it's welcome here, when your taste buds, registering the potato, miss the buttery smoothness of true mash. (I wrote about flourless potato cakes here.)

Still, I may get used to them.

450g mashed potato
4tbsp plain flour
1 egg, beaten
Sunflower oil, for frying

Mix the potato, flour and egg, and form into small patties. They will be very squidgy. You will have to handle them gently, and plop them on to a plate, or half of each will stick to your hands. But you do not need to worry about the consistency, because they will firm up and form a crust when fried.

Warm a thin layer of oil in a heavy pan, over a low heat. Drop in the cakes, and fry them gently, turning once. They brown quite readily, in my experience, so keep an eye on them.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Plum crumble

You do not need to pre-cook the plums in a plum crumble. Sprinkling them with sugar about an hour before you add the topping will help to soften them; and you could cook them in the oven for longer, at a lower heat, than you would a crumble with pre-cooked fruit. The plums I used were similar to Victorias, but larger.

Two of us ate the crumble in the picture. It would have served three.

12 plums, halved and stoned (not a job that you can carry out with precision - I used a small knife to work round the stone and prise it out)
2tsp caster sugar
75g plain flour
40g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1tbsp brown sugar


Lay the plums snugly in an oven dish, cut sides up. Sprinkle them with sugar, and set aside for a while.

Work the butter into the flour with your finger tips. (It's not worth getting out a food processor for this job. You can do it very quickly by hand, because you don't have to keep rubbing until every bit of butter has disappeared.) Stir in the sugar.

Tip the crumble mixture over the plums, and bake at gas mark 4/180C for about 40 minutes.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Guinea fowl stew, with shallots and pancetta

The guinea fowl may not have been free range, I am afraid. The price - £7.20 for a bird of about 1.6kg - does not suggest luxurious rearing conditions. But it was flavoursome.

As is the case with chickens, you should cook the breasts for only 30 minutes or so, to keep them tender.

1 guinea fowl, in four pieces
Knob of butter, tbsp of sunflower oil
450g shallots, peeled
4 cloves garlic - 2 chopped, 2 left whole
80g smoked pancetta, cubed
50ml balsamic vinegar
80ml chicken stock

Warm the butter and oil in a heavy casserole, and gently fry the guinea fowl pieces, salted. You may need to do this in two batches of two. Keep the heat low; you don't want the fat to burn. When browned, transfer to a plate.

Throw in the shallots, garlic, and pancetta. Cook for a minute or so to allow the garlic to soften. Pour in the vinegar, and let it bubble and reduce for a minute. Pour in the stock. Return the guinea fowl legs, but not the breasts, to the casserole, cover, and transfer to an oven. (I might have added some bay, or perhaps thyme or rosemary.)

The oven setting will depend on the heaviness of your casserole. The Le Creuset pictured above will simmer stews quite gently on gas mark 4/180C, whereas my smaller, round Le Creuset, once heated up, will perform efficiently at gas mark S/130C.

I like to cook forgiving cuts of meat until the meat is falling off the bone. I gave the legs 90 minutes before adding the breasts, and giving them another 30 minutes.

There was plenty of sauce. But stews can dry out in certain dishes or atmospheric conditions. Add more stock or water if necessary.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Egg whites

I added a tiny bit of vinegar and some salt to these egg whites before I beat them, as the books advise (or you could use lemon juice, they suggest). But it occurred to me, as I beat away to no great effect, that my discovery about the influence of salt and vinegar on poached eggs (see entry and comments here) - that they soften the whites - holds good in this case too. As you can see, I managed to raise some soft peaks eventually; but the foam was not as firm as it would have been without any additions.

As you can see below, the souffle worked anyway. (Well, maybe it was a little toasted on top.) I've commented before that I seem to have luck with souffles; and this was another that worked in spite of the imprecision of my measurements.
Here is a previous recipe. This one consisted of four separated eggs and a bechamel made with: enough butter to form a sandy roux with a heaped tbsp of (gluten-free) flour; a third of a pint of milk; about 80g of Grana cheese; a few scrapings of nutmeg; and a third of a tsp of Dijon mustard. Thirty minutes at gas mark 6/200C. Enough for two greedy people; might have served three.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A sort of panzanella

In a restaurant review at the weekend, John Lanchester mentioned that panzanella was a dish he liked more in theory than when he actually ate it. The problem is that soggy bread is not appealing; and if you try not to drench bread such as the stale baguette I used above, you might get a salad with very chewy, dry lumps.

This is of course a cobbled-together dish, the infinite variations on which might have only the bread and the vinaigrette as common ingredients.

Hunk of baguette, torn into pieces
Half a pack of feta, cubed
2 tomatoes, cut into fork-sized pieces
1dstsp black olive paste
1dstsp wine vinegar
1/6tsp honey
1/3tsp Dijon mustard
Salt, pepper
2dstsp sunflower oil
1dstsp olive oil

Sprinkle the bread with water, and allow the pieces to soak while you make the vinaigrette and cut up the tomatoes and feta.

Stir the honey, mustard, salt and pepper in the vinegar until dissolved. Add the oils, and whisk until you get an emulsion. Gently fold in the bread and other ingredients, and leave to stand for 20 to 30 minutes, to allow the sauce properly to infuse the bread.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lamb chops with garlic and lemon, and roast potatoes

The lamb chops we ate this weekend were the most delicious I have tasted in a while, with a gamey depth of flavour that they do not have in the spring.

My favourite method is to marinate them, brown them for a minute or less on each side on a pre-heated grill pan on a high flame, and roast them for 10 to 15 minutes. The oven heats them through without charring their surfaces; and it offers the second advantage of enabling you to cook the chops in their marinade.

I used new potatoes, peeled, sliced about the thickness of pound coins, put into cold water, rinsed, and patted dry. I have discovered that salting them as you toss them in oil in the roasting tin helps them to crisp (because the salt sucks the moisture out of them) and therefore causes them to be less sticky. Even so, I line the roasting tin with foil.

Prepare the potatoes as above, and toss them thoroughly in a roasting tin in a good glug or two of oil (I used sunflower) and enough salt to be distributed among them all. Roast them for 60 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, turning them half way through. If you have an efficient non-stick surface, turning them will be straightforward, though fiddly; if, like me, you do not, you may need gently to prise them loose.

For three chops, I crushed a clove of garlic with a little salt, and stirred in the juice of half a lemon and a tbsp of olive oil. I poured this marinade over the chops, turned them in it a few times, and left them, covered, for a couple of hours. I heated the grill pan for five minutes, browned them quickly (with the marinade scraped off) as outlined above, and put them into the roasting tin with the potatoes, pouring the marinade over the top.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Beetroot in foil

I have written (here) that beetroot baked in a bath of water and covered seems to be moister and sweeter than when it is cooked dry, in foil. But I read again recently that the latter method produces the sweetest results of any. So I tried both again, with beetroot from the same source.

The beetroot above was cooked for an hour, at gas mark 6/200C. My impression was that it was slightly drier than the beetroot I cooked in a little water the day before, but that there was no discernible difference in sweetness. As the foil method is easy and involves no washing up, I may switch to it.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Omelette in a small pan

When writers state the utensils we need for a recipe, we use whatever we have that most closely follows the specification. But it is an obvious point that the equipment will have a big influence on the quality of the dish.

Take this six-egg cheese omelette - a frittata I suppose you'd call it, because of its size, and the slow cooking. I made it in a 20cm pan. That seems much too small. But I liked the cake-like texture; and, strangely, the base of the omelette was not overcooked, despite the lengthier cooking time that the small pan required.

It helps if the pan has an effective non-stick surface. You can stir the eggs for a while, rather as if you're scrambling them, before allowing the omelette to set.

I used 80g of Cheddar cheese, grated.

Lightly beat the eggs. Add salt.

Melt a knob (large walnut-sized) of butter in the frying pan, over a low heat. Pour in the eggs. Stir them around from time to time, until they are starting to set properly.

When about two thirds of the egg is set, but the omelette is still runny on the surface, scatter over the cheese. Place the pan on the rack below your overhead grill, set at its lowest. Remove as soon as the omelette starts to look solid - the fierce heat of the grill can easily overcook it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Mayonnaise with cold eggs

I've just got back from France, where I had only limited internet access. It was refreshing.

One thing I learned was that I could get away with breaking an apparently important rule when making mayonnaise (previous entries here and here). All the ingredients for the sauce, Harold McGee says, should be at room temperature. But a batch of my mayonnaise went wrong; and I had to make do with a couple of eggs from the fridge. They did the job fine.

The problem, when I mess up mayonnaise, is not that I split the sauce, but that I produce a runny yellow liquid. I amalgamate the oil with the egg yolk, but don't allow it to thicken too before adding the next drops. Once you've made that mistake, you cannot get the mixture to thicken no matter how vigorously you beat it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Lamb and aubergine stew

The latest in Grub Street's hardback reissues of Elizabeth David's works - as long as you don't mind weights in pounds and ounces, they are lovely editions to have - is Spices, Salt and Aromatics in the English Kitchen. The following is based on one of David's recipes. Of course, to insist that cumin isn't English is a bit like claiming that tomatoes aren't Italian.

Serves 4

750g stewing lamb (I used pieces of middle neck)
Sunflower oil
2 medium aubergines, cut into largish cubes
2 onions, roughly chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2tsp cumin, toasted gently in a small saucepan, then crushed in a mortar
2 lemon husks (optional)
1/2 stock cube (optional)
2tbsp olive oil

Coat the lamb in a little sunflower oil, salt it, and brown it quickly on a ridged grill pan over a high heat. Remove to a plate.

Put the aubergines, onions, garlic, cumin, and lemon and stock cube if wanted, in a heavy casserole. (I had used the juice of the lemon to make some hummus at lunchtime; and I think that stock cubes, though often frowned upon, add savouriness to dishes.) Toss everything in the olive oil.

The onions and aubergines will stew, and don't need frying first, unless you think that this dish will benefit from the flavour of browned onions.

Tip in the lamb and any juice it has exuded. If you have used half a stock cube, be careful how much extra salt you add.

Cover, and put in the oven at gas mark 4/180C. If you have a heavy pan, the stew may take a good 45 minutes to get simmering. Once there is activity, you can turn down the heat - perhaps to as low as gas mark S/130C. You may want to give the stew another 90 minutes from that point. Stir it from time to time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Cannellini bean dip

This is hummus, only made with cannellini beans. You need the lemon, cayenne/harissa, and black pepper, or it will be bland and sludgy.

1 tin cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
3dstsp tahini paste
Juice of 1 lemon
1tbsp plain yoghurt
Several pinches of cayenne pepper, or 1/4tsp harissa
Black pepper
1 1/2tbsp olive oil

Put all the ingredients except the oil in a food processor, and whizz. (You may not need more salt, because the beans have been preserved in briny liquid.)

Stir in the olive oil. In my view (as also stated in the entry on mayonnaise), the flavour of oil is damaged by the whizzing blade of a food processor.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Mayonnaise in the Guardian

The latest article in Felicity Cloake's very useful “How To Make Perfect...” series in the Guardian concerns mayonnaise. Online, you get readers' comments as well.

In Cloake's own recipe, she adds oil to egg yolks and salt. I have always mixed Dijon mustard with my egg yolk(s) first. (And I have used a pestle and mortar, which have never given me as much grief as she seems to experience with them.) But yesterday I found that I had run out of mustard, so I tried her method. I ended up with a thin yellow liquid - my first ever failure.

The mustard - I generally use half a teaspoon of it with one yolk - helps to emulsify the sauce. As soon as the oil is incorporated with the yolk, the emulsification occurs. But that was not the case when I carried out my sorry experiment. The oil and yolk combined but did not thicken - perhaps I should have used a whisk. Nevertheless, I carried on, rather as if I were in a hole and persisting to use a spade.

I never use a blender. Blades damage the flavour of oil, in my view.

Here is my mayonnaise recipe. Nowadays, I use a ratio of sunflower/groundnut oil to olive oil of 125g/25g.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Toasted sandwich on a grill pan

You don't have to use a sandwich maker to produce a toasted sandwich. A ridged grill pan will do.

I think packet white bread is good in this context. The sandwich above consists simply of buttered bread with slices of cheese in the middle. I buttered the bread on the inside; but I might also try buttering it on the outside, as I have to do when I use the sandwich maker. I set the flame under the pan to low/medium.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Chicken with red onions, white wine and tomatoes

Various ways of cooking chicken stews have been almost as strong an obsession on this blog as has cooking rice. Here's another, enabled by the ability of my shallow oven dish to sit above a flame on the hob as well as in the oven. Serves 3.

2 red onions, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
Oil for frying (I used sunflower)
1 bay leaf
1/2 chicken stock cube (optional - but it does add savouriness, in my opinion)
1 glass white wine
3 chicken thighs, 3 drumsticks
2 plump tomatoes, skinned and chopped


Over a gentle flame, soften the onions and garlic in a tbsp or two of oil (enough to stop them catching). Five to 10 minutes.

Pour in the wine, with the bay leaf and stock cube (if using), and bring to a simmer. Place the chicken pieces in the sauce - you don't need to brown them first, because they will brown in the oven. Put the dish in the oven at gas mark 6/200C, for about 30 to 45 minutes, or until much of the wine has evaporated. Turn down the heat if the liquid is bubbling too fast, or if the chicken is browning too quickly.

To skin the tomatoes, bring a pan of water to the boil. Turn off the heat, and drop in the tomatoes. Drain them after about 20 seconds. The skin should slip off easily. (If you need to skin them right away, cool them under the cold water tap.) Chop them up, and add them to the stew. Put the dish back into the oven for another 45 minutes, taking it out for occasional stirring.

If the sauce is too runny, strain it into a saucepan - returning the chicken to the oven meanwhile - and boil it until it arrives at the consistency you like.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Chicken, harissa, potatoes, fennel, and preserved lemon

A very simple, one-pot meal for one. But, as you can see, I was a little careless in allowing the coating on the chicken to char.

The foil - without which the potatoes would stick to my pan - is Bacofoil non-stick, which works well.

2 chicken thighs
Olive oil
2 medium potatoes, peeled, sliced, rinsed, and patted dry
Unpeeled garlic cloves (as many as you like)
1 fennel bulb, tough and discoloured outer layers removed, sliced
1 preserved lemon, roughly chopped

Coat the chicken in a little oil (with your hands), then spread the harissa all over (with a spoon or knife). Put the pieces in a non-stick roasting tin, or in an ordinary tin lined with non-stick foil. Put in the potatoes and garlic too, and toss them in oil. Season everything, and bake at gas mark 6/200C.

After about 40 minutes, toss the fennel slices with the potatoes and garlic. Cook for another 30 minutes or so, until the potatoes and fennel are tender. About 10 minutes from the end, toss the preserved lemon pieces with the potato, garlic and fennel mixture.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Belly pork, new potato and asparagus salad

This salad consists of belly pork, new potatoes, asparagus, rocket, spring onions, and olives. I won't give the quantities - any ratios would work. Instead, I'll offer a few comments about cooking the pork, and preparing the vinaigrette.

I had three slices of belly pork, but of course a whole piece would have been just as good, if not better. The two questions I asked myself about poaching it were: should I cover the pan, and should I salt the broth? Both might have cooked the meat more vigorously and therefore toughened it: the covered pan because it causes an agitated simmer, whereas an uncovered pan can be kept at below boiling point; and the salt because it raises the boiling point of the liquid. On the other hand, salt has a tenderising effect. Another point to consider, if I wanted to use the cooking liquid again as a stock, is that I'd have to be careful about the seasoning of anything made with it.

I covered the pork with water, and threw in a peeled onion, a couple of sticks of celery, some peppercorns, and some juniper berries; and added salt. I covered the pan, brought the contents to a simmer, put a heat disperser underneath, and put on the lid. I cooked the pork for two and a half hours, allowing it  to cool in its broth before shredding it by hand. It was beautifully moist and tender.

I like this recipe, from the Guardian's "How to make the perfect..." series. My vinaigrette differed in two respects: I simmered an unpeeled clove with the potatoes, and mashed the flesh into the vinegar; and I used a 2/1 oil/vinegar ratio. Combined with the pork and the potatoes, the sauce does not taste too sharp.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Spiced cheese crumpets

I got the idea for crumpets with a savoury topping from a magazine recipe. The harissa reflects my perverse taste for chilli with everything, and is obviously optional - though a pinch or two of cayenne pepper would be a nice, less controversial alternative.

The egg causes the mixture to puff up appealingly. If you were using twice as much cheese, you might mix it with a whole beaten egg rather than with two yolks.

Makes three crumpets

80g grated cheese, such as Cheddar or Gruyere
1 egg yolk
1tsp harissa
1tsp mustard
(Also possible, instead of the harissa: Worcester sauce, nutmeg, black pepper, cayenne)

Toast the crumpets. Mash up the cheese and other ingredients with a fork.

Spread the mixture on the crumpets, and grill (I use the lowest setting) until puffed up and browned.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Rhubarb, orange and cinnamon

Unless you want to make a compote or a fool, you may prefer to bake rhubarb rather than to stew it on the hob - the pieces will not break down and turn to mush. Serves 2.

4 sticks rhubarb
1 orange
Cinnamon stick, or sprinkling of ground cinnamon

2 heaped dstsp dark brown sugar

Cut the rhubarb into spoon-sized chunks. Give them a wash, and put them in an oven dish. Squeeze over the juice of the orange, and throw in the orange husks. Add the cinnamon. Bake at gas mark 8/230C for about 10 minutes.

Now stir in the sugar, which might have caught and burned if you had added it before the rhubarb threw off any liquid.

Bake for a further 20-30 minutes, until the rhubarb is very soft.

There will be too much liquid. Spoon it into a small saucepan, and boil it until syrupy. Pour it back over the rhubarb. Serve hot or warm (but cold would be fine too), with cream or yoghurt.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rice - yet another way

I got this method (for Basmati) from the back of a packet. It's my new favourite. The advantage over this one is that the rice doesn't clump together if you hold it in the covered pan.

  1. Measure the volume of rice. (In weight, about 75g is a good single portion.)
  2. Put twice that volume of water in a pan, with a little salt.
  3. Wash the rice, and add it to the pan.
  4. Bring to a simmer.
  5. On a medium heat, simmer the rice until the water level drops below the surface, which shows bubbles.
  6. Turn down the flame to the minimum, put a heat disperser under the pan, and cover the pan.
  7. Cook for a further five minutes.
It's probably ready now: I usually leave it, covered, for a few minutes longer.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Grilled (and baked) lamb cutlets

It's certainly not worth firing up the barbecue for just a few lamb cutlets. So how otherwise to get that summery, grilled flavour? A ridged grill pan over a high heat will do it - the risk being that you will burn the surfaces of the meat before cooking the interiors. A mix of grill pan and the oven is the answer.

Crush a couple of garlic cloves to a paste with a little salt, and smear the paste on the meat. Turn the meat in a tbsp or two of olive oil, and squirt over the juice of half a lemon. Leave to marinate for an hour or more.

Put a grill pan over a high heat for at least five minutes. Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8/230C. Scrape the marinade off the cutlets, and grill for about a minute each side - that should be enough to get them well browned. Transfer to an oven dish, pour over the marinade, throw in the lemon husk if you like, and put into the oven for five to 10 minutes, according to taste.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tortilla in the oven

The thickness of tortilla or frittatas presents a challenge to the cook, because it necessitates a long cooking time, which can produce eggs with the consistency of Styrofoam. If, like me, you don't fancy tipping the half-cooked tortilla on to a plate and returning it to the pan the other way up, you may have to set the top under the fierce heat of the grill, further increasing the risk of toughening the eggs.

An alternative is to use the oven. It worked pretty well for me.

Serves 3 to 4.

6 medium-sized new potatoes
1 large, Spanish onion, sliced
Olive oil
6 eggs
Large knob of butter
80g hard cheese, such as Manchego or Pecorino (but the cheese on the omelette above is Cheddar), grated

Scrape the potatoes, cut them into slices roughly the thickness of 2 £1 coins, put them in a saucepan of lightly salted water, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender. Drain.

In a heavy pan - the one above is 20cms, and has, as you can see, a detachable handle - and in a tbsp or two of oil, gently fry the onions, lightly salted, until golden. It will take 10 to 20 minutes.

Lightly beat the eggs with a fork. Lift the onions from the pan with a slotted spoon, and stir them into the eggs, along with the potatoes. Add a little more salt, if you like.

Over a low heat, melt the butter in the pan. Tip in the egg mixture. My inauthentic addition - a regular theme of this blog - is the grated cheese on top.

Put the pan into a gas mark 4/180C oven for about 20 minutes, or until the egg is set.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Inauthentic moussaka

Elements of this recipe (for 4) repeat my earlier recipe for moussaka. But this one is even less authentic. Moussaka should contain lamb, I believe; and I don't suppose that Greek cooks add Worcester sauce to it, or use Cheddar in their bechamels. I included potatoes - waxy ones would have worked better than the maincrop ones I used - because I didn't have enough aubergine. 

Since writing the earlier entry, I've discovered a new favourite method of stewing mince.

2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Olive oil
200g pork mince
200g beef mince
1 bay leaf
Chicken stock
1/2 chicken stock cube
1tbsp tomato puree
Few splashes Worcester sauce
1 large aubergine, cut into rounds the thickness of 2 £1 coins
3 medium potatoes, cut into rounds the thickness of 2 £1 coins
3dstsp plain flour
35g butter, or enough to make a roux with the flour
300ml milk
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp Cheddar

A few scrapings of nutmeg

Over a gentle heat and in a heavy-bottomed pan, soften the onions and garlic with a little salt in a tbsp or two of olive oil. After about five minutes, add the mince, breaking it up with a wooden spoon as it starts to cook. Continue to cook the contents of the pan gently, stirring from time to time. After about 25 minutes, and once the liquid from the meat has evaporated, the mince will start to brown. (I used to worry that the onions would burn before the mince browned - but for some reason they do not.) When it is browned, add about 100ml of chicken stock, or just enough to produce a stew that is moist but not runny. Stir in the stock cube (which is not necessary, but does add extra savouriness), puree, and the Worcester sauce if you like, and add the bay leaf. Allow to bubble for a few minutes. Test the seasoning - the cube and the Worcester sauce are salty, and you may not need more salt.

Meanwhile, pour some olive oil into a saucer. Dip in a fork, and brush the aubergine rounds with the back of it. Place them in a roasting tin or on a baking sheet. Season with salt, and with pepper if you like. Bake at gas mark 6/200C for 20 to 30 minutes, until soft. (This is a far easier method of cooking aubergines than frying.)

Put the potatoes into lightly salted cold water, bring to the boil, and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Drain.

Make a thick bechamel. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Add the flour, and stir it in. The roux should have the consistency of wet sand. Cook it for a minute. Pour in the milk gradually, stirring to incorporate each portion before adding the next. Let the sauce bubble for a minute or two, stirring constantly, then turn off the heat. You want a thick, almost pasty consistency. When the sauce has cooled a little, stir in the egg. (After baking, the sauce should puff up.) You could season the bechamel with nutmeg as well as salt.

Assemble the "moussaka". I spread a little of the bechamel on the bottom and sides of the oven dish. Then I built up the layers: potato; stew; potatoes and aubergines; stew; aubergines; bechamel.

Bake in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 30 minutes, or until the top is brown and everything is bubbling.

Moussaka is particularly delicious warm, rather than piping hot. We ate ours after it had been sitting in the turned-off oven for 45 minutes.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Cheese souffle

Some dishes are bogey dishes, while others seem to come right every time. My mother, a very good cook, was hopeless at making chips. I, as I've recorded on this blog, have a hit-and-miss record with crackling. But my record with souffle - a dish with a scary reputation - is good.

Yesterday, I pushed my luck by cooking a souffle without referring to any recipes, and guessing on the quantities. It worked.

For 2

About 30g butter
2dstsp plain flour
About 175ml milk
100g Cheddar (or Gruyere, or similar), grated
A few scrapings of nutmeg
Ground black pepper, or cayenne (optional)
3 eggs, separated

Melt the butter above a low heat in a small saucepan. Stir in the flour. Adjust the butter/flour ratio if necessary to get a roux of the consistency of wet sand. Allow the roux to cook for a minute, without browning. Turn up the heat, and add the milk in stages, beating it into the mixture before pouring in more. Keep adding milk until you have a very thick, pasty sauce. Allow the sauce to bubble for a minute, stirring all the while. Turn off the heat. Stir in the cheese, and add your preferred seasonings. (Remember, if adding salt, that the cheese is salty.)

Beat the egg yolks. When you're sure the sauce is cool enough not to curdle them, stir them in.

A drop or two of vinegar or lemon juice in the egg whites will help them to set. Whisk them (I always do it by hand) until, when you lift the whisk from the egg, it forms soft peaks.

Pour the cheese mixture into the egg white, and fold it in without beating (which would drive out the air). I use a turning and lifting motion, until the mixture is amalgamated.

Tip the mixture into an oven dish. In my experience, the shape of the dish does not matter. Bake at gas mark 5/190C for about 30 minutes, until set. (The dish in the photo is not particular efficient at conducting heat. After 25 minutes, my souffle was not making much progress, so I turned up the dial to 7/220C for a further 10 minutes.)

Monday, March 22, 2010

Fried chicken with rosemary

I did not make a very neat or thorough job of coating my chicken pieces. The mystery is that the chicken emerged from the frying pan with what appeared to be a complete, crispy covering.

Plateful of plain flour
1tbs rosemary leaves, chopped (I used an old coffee grinder)
Pepper (black, cayenne, or both)
1 egg, beaten
6 chicken drumsticks
Sunflower oil

Mix the flour with the rosemary and seasonings. Dip the chicken pieces in the egg, and roll them in the flour. Lay them on a rack (as above) until you're ready to fry them.

Half fill a large frying pan with the oil, and place on a low to medium heat. After about five minutes, drop in a tiny piece of bread. If it sizzles readily, place the chicken pieces in the oil. Once they're frying, you can turn down the heat almost to the minimum.

Cook for 30 minutes, turning once. Remove to paper towels before serving.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Aubergine cheesecake

An adaptation of this Yotam Ottolenghi recipe from the Guardian. Serves 2, as a main course.

2 small to medium aubergines
Olive oil
Salt and black pepper
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tin tomatoes
100g feta
100g cream cheese
2 eggs, beaten

Cut the aubergines into discs, brush them with olive oil, season them, and lay them on foil or greaseproof paper on a large baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, until tender.

In a heavy saucepan, gently heat the garlic in a tbsp of olive oil. Tip in the tomatoes, bring to a simmer, and mash them with a potato masher. (You can add a little sugar, if you like.) Simmer until thick.

Beat the feta and cream cheese with the eggs, until smooth. Add a few scrapings of nutmeg, and grind in some black pepper. (The feta, and to a lesser extent the cream cheese, are salty.)

Spread the tomato sauce in a 20cm baking dish. Arrange the aubergines on top. Pour over the cheese custard.

Bake in a gas mark 2/150C oven for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the custard is set.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Haddock fishcakes

 As you can see, these fishcakes broke up a little in the pan. It's hard to avoid. Perhaps an extra egg in the mix would have helped. The ingredients for what you see above were:

3 large potatoes
300g haddock fillet
300ml milk
Bay leaf
Six peppercorns
1 egg (but perhaps 2 would be better), beaten
Sunflower oil

Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks, cover with cold water, add a little salt, bring to a simmer, and cook until soft. Drain and mash.

Put the fish in an oven dish. In a small saucepan, gently heat the milk with the bay leaf and peppercorns until simmering, pour it over the fish, cover with foil, and bake at gas mark 6/200C for 10 to 15 minutes, until tender. Lift the fish from the liquid, and flake it into the mash.

You may well want to add, as well as some salt, ingredients such as chopped spring onions, toasted and ground cumin, saffron, and cayenne pepper.

Mix the potato, fish and any other ingredients with the beaten egg. Form the mixture into six patties.

On a medium heat, melt the knob of butter and a tbsp of sunflower oil in a heavy frying pan. Carefully add the fishcakes, and fry for a few minutes until browned on the undersides. Again carefully, turn them, adding another knob of butter.

When both sides are browned, transfer the fishcakes to a piece of foil on a baking sheet, and warm them through for 10 minutes in the oven (at the same heat as above).

I used the milk, strained, to make a bechamel, into which I stirred chopped leeks, which I had steamed for five minutes.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Sausage and lentil stew

This is an adaptation of an Allegra McEvedy recipe in the Guardian. Stewed sausages have a different texture, obviously, from fried or grilled ones; I can find them offputtingly flabby. But I didn't this time. For 2.

4 sausages, cut into fork-sized discs (you can't do this neatly - no matter)
80g smoked pancetta, cubed
2tbsp olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
150g lentils, Puy or Puy-type, rinsed
250ml (or more) chicken stock (I used half a cube, and water)
1 bay leaf
1 dried chilli
A few splashes of Worcester sauce

In a heavy pan or casserole, fry the sausage chunks and pancetta in the oil, over a low to medium heat. Don't turn up the heat too high: the oil will burn, and bits of sausage will stick to the pan and burn too. Be patient until the meat starts to brown - about 10 to 15 minutes.

I don't think you need to remove the sausage from the pan now, as McEvedy advises. Throw in the onion and garlic, and keep everything moving until the onions have softened - five to 10 minutes.

Tip in the lentils with the stock, bay leaf, chilli, and sauce (optional). You want enough liquid just to keep the lentils submerged. Bring the contents of the pan to a simmer, cover it, and continue cooking on a very low heat. Check from time to time, because the lentils will absorb some of the liquid, which you may need to top up.

The trick is to maintain the liquid at a level that will cook the lentils but that will not leave you with a very sloppy stew. They may take 45 minutes to an hour to tenderise - about twice as long as normal. When they're soft enough, remove the pan lid to allow some liquid to evaporate.

Test the seasoning. You can add salt now: if you had done so earlier, it might have toughened the lentils. If you have parsley, chop it and stir it in.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Gluten-free crespolini, with spinach and cheese

Six days after Shrove Tuesday, a pancake recipe.

Gluten-free flour makes a passable bechamel, but is no substitute for wheat flour in pastry, in my view - even with the addition of the recommended xanthum gum. It has a dry, powdery quality. That quality affected these gluten-free pancakes as well. But it was less noticeable, partly because of the rich filling; and gluten-free pancakes are better than no pancakes.

After I had rested the batter, I discovered that flour had settled on the bottom of the bowl, and needed to be stirred into the liquid again.

Pancake batter: see recipe for Toad in the Hole; but use an extra egg.

Bechamel and spinach: recipe in this Eggs Florentine entry.

Once you've cooked the sauce, allow it to cool and thicken. Drain the spinach, and squeeze out the liquid, without being absolutely thorough. Stir the spinach into the sauce.

Heat a 20cm, non-stick pan above a medium flame. I don't have a proper pancake pan, but use a cast-iron one (a bit heavy for flipping). Swirl a little sunflower oil in it, then tip out any excess. Pour in half a ladleful of batter, spread it out, and cook for 30 to 45 seconds. Flip the pancake using your preferred method (I do it, gracelessly, with a spatula). Repeat, adding a little more oil when necessary.

I added spinach filling to each pancake, rolled it up and put it in an oven dish while the next pancake was cooking.

Cover the dish with foil, and bake the crespolini in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until hot.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Roasting in paper or foil

I have discovered the advantages, first mentioned in this post, of roasting meat alongside potatoes in a tin lined with kitchen paper or non-stick foil. (It is a good idea to use two layers.) You sacrifice the crispiness of potatoes that have been parboiled first and then roasted; but you get instead a sweet earthiness in the potato flesh that would otherwise be lost. The potatoes stick even to paper, but not as thoroughly as they do to my roasting tin.

Another advantage of this method, particular when roasting chicken, is that you get a lot more juice. Yesterday, I rubbed a chicken (2.2kg) with a little butter, salted it, and stuffed it with a quartered lemon and with the cloves from a head of garlic. I pre-heated the oven at its highest setting, then turned it down to gas mark 6/200C, and put in the chicken, with the neck part of the giblets next to it. After 30 minutes, I turned down the dial to gas mark 3/160C. After another 30 minutes, I surrounded the chicken with peeled, sliced, washed and drained potatoes.

The chicken was ready after two hours in total. I removed it to a hot plate, which I kept on the grill shelf above the oven. It left behind plenty of juice, which I spooned off into a saucepan, with the neck.

I tossed the potatoes in the tin with some olive oil, and returned them to the oven (with the shelf raised a level) at its highest setting. After 20 minutes, I tossed them again. They were browned in half an hour. The chicken was still warm.

There was enough buttery, lemony sauce, which I warmed in the pan, for four.

The lamb above is studded with slivers of garlic and rosemary, rubbed with oil, salted, and roasted with a foil covering for three hours at gas mark 2/150C. (It browns in spite of the covering.) The procedure with the potatoes was the same as above.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Aubergine with tahini and lemon

1 large aubergine
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2tbsp tahini paste
2tbsp olive oil
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper

Heat the oven to gas mark 8/230C. Prick the aubergine in various places with the point of a knife (otherwise, it might explode), put it on a baking sheet, and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until tender. Allow to cool.

Peel the aubergine. With your hands, squeeze the liquid from the flesh - up to a point. You can squeeze and squeeze, and still more liquid will come out, until you are left with a fraction of the vegetable you had before. I stop before then.

Mash the aubergine flesh with a potato masher. After each push of the masher, you'll have to scrape off the aubergine that sticks to it; when you've broken down the larger chunks of vegetable, you can switch to mashing with a fork. Stir in the garlic, lemon juice, tahini and olive oil, and season with the peppers and salt to taste.

Serve with pitta or flatbread, and alongside other salads.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Cheese on toast

I have long been ambitious to make a Welsh rarebit-type cheese on toast without seeing the mixture ooze over the sides of the bread and congeal at the bottom of the grill pan. The answer, as it is with potato cakes, seems to be an egg.

80g Cheddar or Gruyere
1/2tsp Dijon mustard
A few splashes of Worcester sauce
Scraping of nutmeg
1 egg, beaten
Pepper (you shouldn't need salt, because of the salty cheese and sauce)
4 slices bread

Mash together the ingredients (except for the bread).

You don't want the toast to burn before the cheese softens and bubbles, so set the grill to medium/low. Lightly toast one side of the bread. Turn over the slices, and toast just long enough to begin crisping the bread. Remove, and spread with butter and then the cheese mixture. Return to the grill until the cheese has browned on top.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Spiced eggs

There are various recipes for spiced, scrambled eggs in Anglo-Indian cuisine. This is a very simple version (for 1), which might have benefited from some cardamom. Fresh chillis are essential, I think, because the zing nicely offsets the creaminess of the eggs. I used one red and one green torpedo-shaped chilli, and included the seeds and the pith. (The pith, not the seeds, is the hottest part.) No pic today: the browny yellow image does not do justice to the deliciousness of the dish.

1/2 onion, chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
2 chillis, finely sliced
1tbsp sunflower oil/butter
2 eggs, lightly beaten

In a small, non-stick saucepan, cook the onion, cumin and chillis, with a little salt, in a mix of sunflower oil and butter. Use a low heat, and add a little more oil - which helps to prevent the butter from catching - if necessary. Cook until the onions are golden and have shed all their moisture.

Add the eggs, and stir rapidly - they will scramble immediately. Cook until curdled and creamy.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Belly pork and bean stew

One of my favourite things. A lot of garlic is important.

225g cannellini or other dried white beans
5 cloves garlic - 1 chopped, 4 unpeeled
3 slices belly pork
A little sunflower oil
1tbsp olive oil
1 small pack (80g) smoked pancetta
100ml chicken stock
2 bay leaves

Soak the beans in filtered water, preferably, for five hours or longer. (This process is not essential, but speeds the cooking of the beans and ensures that they soften more consistently.) Drain and rinse. Cover with fresh water (again filtered, if possible) by about 3cms, throw in the garlic cloves, bring to the boil, and simmer, with the pan partly covered, until soft. Times vary; my cannellini beans took 75 minutes. (Top up the water if necessary.) Drain, reserving the liquid in a clear jug. (Cooking dried beans)

Rub a little sunflower oil over the pork slices, and brown them quickly on a hot griddle or frying pan. (Browning meat for a stew)

In a heavy casserole, soften the chopped garlic in the olive oil for a minute or so. Pour in the chicken stock. Sludgy bean liquid will have settled at the bottom of the jug; pour off (but keep for some other purpose) the thinner stuff on top, leaving about 100ml, and pour it into the casserole. Add the pork slices.

Squeeze the softened garlic from the cloves you drained with the beans. Throw away the skins. Tip the beans and the garlic into the casserole. Add bay leaves, and salt to taste. Compress the stew slightly to submerge everything in liquid, but do not worry if the beans are not covered.

I started the stew in a gas mark 4/180C oven, turning it down after 30 minutes (when it was bubbling) to gas mark S/130C.

However, after an hour I wanted to use the oven for some roast potatoes, so I moved the casserole to the hob. There was more liquid by this time, and I simmered the stew gently, uncovered, until thick. Then I replaced the lid, and put a heat disperser under the casserole, so that it carried on cooking very gently. I cooked the stew for two and a quarter hours in total.

Pork and bean stew
Pork and bean stew 2

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beetroot, lentil, feta salad

Serves 2

3 medium beetroot
100g green lentils, such as Puy
1 garlic clove, unpeeled
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1tsp Dijon mustard
2tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper
110g feta, goat's, or cream cheese

Clean the beetroot, and cut off any stalks. Put them in a bath of boiling water about 2cm deep in an oven dish, cover with foil, and bake for 60 to 90 minutes in a gas mark 4/180C oven, or until tender to the point of a knife. Remove to a board, and allow to cool.

Rinse the lentils, put them in a pan with the garlic clove, cover with cold water by about 2cm, bring to the boil and simmer, covered. They may take from 20 to 40 minutes to soften, so taste from time to time, and top up the water if necessary.

Meanwhile, make a dressing by dissolving the mustard in the vinegar with some salt and lots of black pepper, and whisking in the oil.

Drain the lentils, shaking the sieve to get rid of as much liquid as possible. Squeeze the softened garlic from the clove. Stir the lentils and garlic flesh into the dressing.

Peel the beetroot by scraping the skin with a knife. Slice, and mix with the lentils.

Distribute between two plates. Scatter portions of the cheese on top. 

Beetroot - braising is best
Similar salad - rocket, beetroot, goats' cheese

Monday, January 04, 2010

Chicken, potatoes, lemon, garlic, and fennel

The standard method of roasting potatoes, discussed previously here (and in previous entries), is to parboil them, rough them up a bit while draining, and tip them into a roasting tin with hot fat. You get crunchy surfaces and fluffy interiors. But most of the flavour is in the crunchy bits. If you want to retain, or even enhance, the sweet earthiness of the potatoes themselves, don't parboil them first.

There are two disadvantages to roasting potatoes from raw. First, the surfaces can become leathery. Second, the surface starch, even after you give the potatoes a thorough rinsing, can cause them to stick to the roasting pan. You can see in the picture above that I've broken up the potatoes as I've tried to turn them. A good portion of them refused to come loose at the end of cooking, and had to be left behind.

The problem of the leathery surfaces in lessened if you slice the potatoes rather than cutting them into chunks. To avoid sticking, get a roasting pan with a better non-stick surface than mine possesses, or use non-stick foil or greaseproof paper.

6 chicken drumsticks (an ungenerous portion for three)
3 large potatoes, peeled, sliced (I cut them in half, and sliced the halves lengthwise), rinsed and drained
1 head of garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 lemon, quartered
Olive oil
2 fennel bulbs, stalks and tough outer leaves removed, sliced, tossed with a tbsp of olive oil and a little salt

Arrange the chicken, potatoes, and garlic cloves in a roasting tin, lined with foil or paper if necessary (see above). Toss with a generous portion of olive oil, and salt. Add the lemon slices. (Don't toss the lemon with the potatoes yet - the acidity might hinder their softening.)

Roast for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C. Now toss everything together again; the lemon juice will flavour the potatoes. Check that you've turned any potatoes that threaten to burn on their undersides. Make room for the fennel, and add it to the pan. Roast for a further 30 minutes.