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.