Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas tips

Here is a column I wrote for the New Statesman in 2006 (here is the original). It may be of some use, or reassurance.

The most stressful cooking experience of the year approaches. In search of inspiration and reassurance, one turns to the Christmas cookery specials in the press - and finds complex timetables of tasks stretching over several days. But this is not an end-of-year cookery exam. It is a meal, albeit a big one, for family and possibly friends. Here, with apologies to vegetarians, are a few tips about what is worth doing, and about what you can happily neglect.

The turkey: The key point is to get it off to a good start. Take it out of the fridge the previous night. Turn up the oven to full heat for half an hour, and then adjust it to gas mark 6/200°C when you put in the turkey. After half an hour, you can turn the dial to as low as gas mark 2/150°C for the remainder of the cooking time. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes for each 500g and 20 minutes extra; but, with larger birds, the time side of this ratio decreases.

How do you stop the breast meat drying out? You cannot, entirely. Ignore instructions to cover all or part of the turkey in foil: they are based on the erroneous assumption that a moist environment keeps meat moist. In fact, moisture has the opposite effect, because it cooks so efficiently. I am not convinced that turning the bird during cooking has any effect, either - so that is another job you do not have to worry about. But it is a good idea to slide butter, and perhaps a couple of rashers of bacon, between the skin and the breast.

Is the bird ready an hour early? Excellent. Loosely covered in foil, it will retain heat for that time; and, in any event, lukewarm meat is fine, provided you have hot gravy.

Gravy: You do not have to thicken it. Flour numbs flavour. So making the gravy is very simple: tip the juices from the roasting pan into a bowl; deglaze the pan with water or wine, and add these juices to the bowl; when the fat rises, get rid of most of it; thin these juices with stock, made from giblets and/or the wings of the turkey (or vegetables, if you like). You can heat up this mixture at the end.

Potatoes: Parboil them, and let them dry. You have time to roast them while the turkey rests.

Stuffing: Put this into a gratin dish, which goes into the oven (below the potatoes) when the turkey comes out. Make bread sauce* in advance, remembering that it will thicken.

So, for the climax, the only new things you have to cook are the inevitable sprouts, and perhaps some glazed carrots. Get your assistants to take through the turkey, vegetables and stuffing, and to start the carving. Meanwhile, warm the bread sauce and the gravy.

Pudding: Make a lemon mousse the day before. You've already had bread sauce and stuffing; leave the starchy Christmas pud for later.

*Bread sauce - Put 400ml of milk into a saucepan. Add an onion studded with a couple of cloves, a bay leaf, a few peppercorns, and some scrapings of nutmeg or mace. Bring slowly to a simmer. Turn off the heat, cover, and leave for 30 minutes or longer.

Remove the flavourings, and throw in breadcrumbs. (You'll have to use your judgement on the quantity, bearing in mind that the sauce will thicken, and continue to thicken if you let it cool again before warming it later.) Bring to a simmer once more, adding more breadcrumbs or milk until you achieve the consistency you like. Check the seasoning; you may not need much salt, because bread is salty. Finish the sauce with a knob of butter, or some cream.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Scrambled eggs from a frying pan

Scrambling eggs requires fine judgement. You have to catch them at the moment when they are no longer runny but before the curds set and harden. The curds should be fluffy, holding the liquid content in suspension.

It is easier to spot the arrival of this state if you cook the eggs in a (non-stick) frying pan, I have found. It is certainly a good idea to avoid using a saucepan with a small base, which will not allow you to heat the egg evenly, no matter how thoroughly you stir. Of course, you could try using a larger saucepan. But I think that the gentler stirring that the frying pan encourages (so that the egg does not slop over the side) produces a better result, because overbeating results in a less pleasing, porridgy texture. The process is rather like cooking an omelette, only continuing the first stage (stirring, and pushing the set egg around to give the rest access to the base of the pan) throughout.

I admit that I've bumped up the contrast on this picture. But these eggs, which come from Nantclyd Organics, really are very rich and yellow.

Scrambled egg recipe here.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Constance Spry's honey cake

My guess is that the foodie in your life, unwrapping a book on Christmas day, would be moderately pleased to find the latest offering from a celebrity chef, but absolutely delighted to find The Constance Spry Cookbook, just out in a new hardback edition from Grub Street. This 1956 kitchen bible remains the most prized work of its kind in numerous kitchens. Even if your foodie already has a copy, he or she will welcome a new one, because the old one is probably showing the effects of heavy usage.

Here is Constance Spry's honey cake.

3 eggs
2tbsp caster sugar
3tbsp honey
Grated rind of half a lemon
50g cornflour
65g plain flour


Separate the eggs. Cream the yolks with the sugar, honey, and lemon rind until white and expanded. I did this with a stick blender, which is far less appropriate for the job than a hand-held electric whisk would be. In theory, the yolks will whiten, and the volume of the mixture will expand considerably. My mixture got only some of the way towards this state before I gave up.

Fold in the cornflour.

Whip the whites until they form peaks (see here). Tip in the egg mixture with the plain flour, and fold everything together gently, until well amalgamated. The mixture is quite loose.

Spry does not specify the size of the cake tin. I used a 20cm springform one. Line the bottom with greaseproof paper cut into a disc (see here), grease the sides with a little vegetable oil, and pour in the cake mixture. Put the tin on to a baking sheet, and bake in a gas mark 3/170C oven for 35-40 minutes, or until set. (As you can see, I overdid it somewhat.) Allow to cool before turning out.

The honey compensates to a certain extent for the slightly dry texture of this butter-less cake. Still, it would be a good idea to serve it with cream, or buttercream, or perhaps a fruity concoction. The lack of butter, which is an anti-staling agent, means that you need to eat the cake soon after you've baked it.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Poached egg with spiced cabbage

Madhur Jaffrey suggests this combination (or rather, eggs with any kinds of spiced vegetables, including leftovers), in her book Curry Easy.

I used a quarter of a cabbage, finely chopped and washed; 1 clove of garlic, chopped; 1tsp mustard seed; 1tsp cumin seeds; a few pinches of ground ginger; cayenne pepper; and salt. Normally, I like to soften cabbage by boiling or steaming it, if only briefly; but here I prefer the crunchier texture and more assertive flavour that results from simply cooking the cabbage in the spiced oil. (Of course, the washed cabbage will introduce some water, which will soon evaporate.)

The earthenware dish in the picture will go on the hob. I warmed about a tbsp of sunflower oil in it over a low to medium heat, and cooked the garlic, mustard seed, and cumin for a minute. I threw in the cabbage, with the ginger, cayenne, and salt, and cooked it for a further eight minutes or so. The cabbage cooked down and became glossy with the oil and spices. I turned down the heat towards the end, as the cabbage threatened to catch.

For the eggs: I broke two eggs into separate cups, and slipped them into a saucepan of boiling water (with no salt, or vinegar - see this entry and the note it refers to). When the water was on the point of returning to a simmer, I turned off the heat, covered the pan, and left it for five minutes. I lifted the eggs one-by-one from the pan with a slotted spoon, shaking them gently to get rid of excess water, and placed them on the cabbage.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Spaghetti with aubergine and harissa

The single portion in the picture contains a whole onion and a whole aubergine (a medium one). As you can see, the quantity is not excessive once the vegetables have cooked down.

I prepared the aubergines according to my newly discovered, saucepan method. The anchovy is there to add some depth of flavour, not to provide fishiness.

2tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced
1 anchovy, drained
1 medium aubergine
Salt
1tsp harissa
125g spaghetti
Parmesan cheese, grated


Warm the oil in a heavy saucepan over a gentle heat. Throw in the garlic, and let it sizzle gently for 30 seconds or so. Add the onions, and cook for five minutes, or until they start to soften. Stir in the anchovy, and mash it up.

While the onion is cooking, cut the aubergine into small cubes. Tip them into the pan containing the onions, add the salt (to taste) and harissa, give everything a good stir, and put on the lid. Continue to cook, over a gentle heat and with the lid on the pan, stirring regularly. There should be enough liquid and steam from the onions to prevent the vegetables from sticking. The aubergines will be thoroughly soft in 15 to 20 minutes.

Cook the spaghetti according to the packet instructions. Drain, and toss with the vegetables. Serve with the cheese to sprinkle on top.

You could use dried, whizzed chillis instead of the harissa. Or some cayenne pepper. If you don't like hot things, you may need some other ingredient instead - a dstsp of tomato paste, say.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Chocolate cake, refined

I have learned a little bit more about how cakes work from revising and expanding my cookbook, Don't Sweat the Aubergine, for a new edition to be published by Black Swan in the spring. It made me think again about Elizabeth David's simple and delicious chocolate cake, which is often somewhat compacted after a day or so. If the egg foam cannot sustain an airy texture for very long, would the cake not benefit if one creamed the butter and sugar as well? Indeed it would. I have added a note to the original recipe.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Faster beetroot

The other day, I cooked a very large beetroot. I gave it a quick wash, put it in a pan half filled with boiling, salted water, and part-boiled, part-steamed it with the lid on. It took the best part of two hours.

On Thursday, I read this recipe by Angela Hartnett in the Guardian. You wash the beetroot, cut it in quarters, and cook it in olive oil, thyme, vinegar and water. Hartnett suggests that quarters of a medium beetroot will cook in about 15 minutes.

The quicker you cook vegetables, the better, is the usual rule - certainly as far as nutritional value is concerned. My doubt here is the juice that leaks into the water through the cut surface of the beetroot. But perhaps plenty of juice leaks out during the longer cooking period anyway. (Baking beetroot wrapped in foil does not produce a notably juicier result, in my experience.)

I tried the Hartnett method. But my quartered beetroot was nowhere near cooked after 15 minutes; nor after 30 minutes. It occurred to me that the vinegar was the problem: acidity is a highly effective delayer of the softening process.

Eventually, I ran out of patience, and drained the beetroots while they were still quite firm. Angela Hartnett makes no mention of peeling, but I did peel mine, once they were cool.

The result was good. I'll certainly try this quartering method again, leaving out the vinegar, in the hope that the flavour did not depend on it.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Squash and tahini paste

This is an adaptation of a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe in the Guardian. I spiced it with cumin rather than cinnamon; because we were eating it at lunchtime, I left out the garlic; and I didn't garnish it with sesame seeds, date syrup, and coriander. It was still delicious and, as Ottolenghi says, moreish.

Also, I didn't cut up the squash before baking it, figuring that I would waste less of the flesh if I were able to scoop it, softened, out of the shells. But it took a long time to cook. I gave it half an hour at gas mark 6/200C, with the roasting tin covered in foil; then I uncovered the tin, but turned down the oven to gas mark 3/160, and waited another 30 minutes; discovering that the flesh was still not tender, I covered the tin again, turned up the oven back to 200C, and waited for a further 30 minutes. That did it.

The two halves of squash in the picture are anointed with about a dstsp of olive oil, half a tsp of cumin seeds, and salt and pepper. I scooped the flesh into a small vegetable mill, and whizzed it. I added a tbsp of yoghurt, and whizzed again. I added a tbsp of tahini paste (it is easier to merge this thick paste with a substance that is already blended), and whizzed for a final time.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Coconut chicken curry

This is a one-pot meal, to be served in bowls and eaten with a spoon. What surprised me was that the potatoes took a while to soften - I had thought that the coconut milk would tenderise them, but perhaps I acidified the liquid with the other ingredients. (If you want crunchy potatoes, try cooking them in tomato sauce.) Nevertheless, I think that new potatoes, which hold their shape, are the kind to go for here.

Serves 2, generously.

Spices

1tsp cumin seeds
1/2tsp mustard seeds
6 cardamom pods
1tsp turmeric
1/6tsp asafoetida
1/4tsp dried ginger, or (better) fresh
Cayenne pepper to taste

Sunflower oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 tin coconut milk
150ml chicken stock (I confess I used half a cube and 150ml water)
2 sweet peppers, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
8 new potatoes, cut into fork-sized pieces
1 tin chickpeas, drained
Salt
1 large chicken supreme, cut into fork-sized pieces
3 spring onions, chopped
Chillis, chopped
1tbsp lime juice


Warm the cumin and mustard seeds in a saucepan over a gentle heat, until toasted. Grind them, with the cardamom, in a mortar.

In a large saucepan or casserole, warm about 2 tbsps of sunflower oil over a gentle heat, throw in the garlic, and then the onion. Cook gently, stirring, and adding a bit more oil if it threatens to catch. When the onion is soft, tip in the cumin, mustard seeds and cardamom, and cook gently, again stirring, for about three minutes.

Pour in the coconut milk and stock. Add the peppers, potatoes, and chickpeas, as well as the remaining spices. Bring to a simmer, and add salt cautiously (the chick peas will have been canned in salty water, and the stock cube, if you used one, is salty too). Cover, and simmer gently for 15 minutes. Add the chicken and spring onions, and simmer for a further 15 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through.

Turn off the heat. Stir through the chillis (as many as you like), and the lime juice. Coriander would be nice, too.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Aubergines in the pan

I find frying cubes of aubergines unsatisfactory. As everyone who has cooked them knows, aubergines absorb a great deal of oil; then they stick to the pan. It is not an efficient way of softening them. My usual method - in this recipe, for example - is to toss them in oil and to bake them.

However, it occured to me the other day that I could cook them in a pan if the pan offered a moist environment, such as that created by softened onions. The pan in the picture contains two red onions, softened in olive oil with some garlic. I threw in the aubergines, tossed them in the oily onions, and covered the pan, cooking them over a low flame. I stirred them from time to time. In 15 to 20 minutes they were soft, and with a more melting texture than you get when you bake them.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Lentil stew with morcilla

Morcilla is a Spanish black pudding. The stuff I bought came in balls tied with string.
Puy lentils take longer to cook than is stated on the packets and in most recipes, in my experience. Soaking speeds the process of tenderising them. It also ensures that they absorb less liquid while cooking: you can barely cover them, and be reasonably confident that they will soften. If your water is hard, you may get better results if you use filtered water.

Serves two.

Olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
150g Puy lentils, soaked for two hours or longer
Chicken stock
150g morcilla
Salt
Pepper
Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped


Warm about 2tbsps of olive oil in a heavy pan, throw in the garlic, let it sizzle gently for a minute, and throw in the onion. Cook over a low heat until the onion starts to soften - five to 10 minutes. If the onion threatens to catch, add more oil.

Drain and rinse the lentils. Tip them into the pan, and pour in just enough stock to cover. Bring to a simmer, put a lid on the pan, and simmer gently until the lentils soften. It may take 20 to 30 minutes. Add more stock if the top layer of lentils becomes exposed.

Once the lentils are soft or nearly there, you may want to uncover the pan and turn up the heat slightly, to get a less soupy consistency. You'll need to stir the lentils regularly, because they'll catch as the liquid evaporates and the stew thickens.

Add salt to taste. (But I must admit that I've never properly tested the theory that salt added at an earlier stage compromises the texture of lentils, as it does dried beans.)

Cut the morcilla into fork-sized pieces, submerge them in the lentils, and give them five minutes to warm through. Stir in the chopped parsley. The stew would benefit from plenty of pepper; I stirred harissa into mine.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Flipping an omelette

My usual method for preparing a slow-cooked omelette such as a frittata is to put it on the lowest flame on the hob until the underside is set, and to finish it under the grill. But recently I was at a party for which someone had prepared the most delicious tortilla; and he told me - as if anyone who performed the task differently was guilty of a bizarre solecism - that he always flipped the tortilla, with the help of a plate. So I tried it with the above frittata, consisting simply of eggs and Gruyere.

You place the plate over the pan, and flip pan and plate rapidly. The omelette is slippery at this stage, and can slide off the plate altogether. It is runny too: runny egg remains on the plate when you return the omelette to the pan, and has to be scraped off, back over the omelette.

Is this omelette more tender than the grilled version? It will be if you tend to grill it too fiercely. Otherwise, I'm not sure.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Pork and marinade

If you barbecue a thick or tough cut of meat, you may well need to cook it first, before marinating it and subjecting it to the fiercely hot coals. But what if you are cooking it indoors? Do you still need a two-stage process, when you can get decent results by simply putting the marinated meat in a low to medium oven?

I often buy spare rib chops, cut them into pieces, coat them in a marinade, and cook them in a low oven. But this cut gives off quite a bit of liquid, which you have to allow to evaporate before the meat browns and the marinade turns sticky. You don't know how long that will take, and you may have to fiddle with the oven temperature to speed the process. The pork can become tough.

I poached four chops (in a pot with a chicken carcass - they contributed to the resultant stock) for about 50 minutes. Then I cut them up and marinated them. Later I cooked them under the grill until browned and warmed through, first on a high heat, then on a lower one.

It works better than the one-stage method, I think. The meat is more tender, and the marinade penetrates it more efficiently.

Marinade recipes here and here.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stuffed courgette

We received this yellow courgette, the size of a small marrow, in our vegetable box. It would be useless for sautéing in the normal way, because it is too watery. But it is fine for stuffing. You can scoop out the flesh much more easily than you would that of, say, an aubergine.

My stuffing consisted of the flesh and ingredients I happened to have in the house: olive oil, 1 red onion, 1 chopped clove of garlic, 75g rice, 60g diced Gruyere, a tbsp of cream cheese (I'm not sure that this was a good idea, but I thought the bit left in the tub needed using), salt, cayenne pepper. Extra or substitutional ingredients might have been pre-soaked raisins, toasted pine nuts, a few anchovies, and herbs such as flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, or thyme.

Cook the rice in the normal way. (There's plenty of advice, only some of it inconsistent, on this blog.) Meanwhile, finely chop the onion, and gently cook it with the garlic in a tbsp or two of olive oil. Chop up the courgette flesh, throw it into the pan, and gradually turn up the heat as it exudes water. Cook it on a high heat until the water evaporates. Stir in the rice, cheese, and seasoning.

Put the courgette halves in a baking dish or roasting tin, and stuff them with the mixture. Pour boiling water into the dish to a depth of between 50mm and 1cm. Bake at gas mark 6/200C for about 25 minutes, or until the courgette is soft and the stuffing is slightly browned on top.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Greengage sponge

Figuring that a sponge pudding is simply a sponge cake, steamed rather than baked, I made this slightly raggedy but deliciously gungy effort according to the classic sponge recipe: in imperial measurements, four ounces each of butter, sugar, and flour, and two eggs. What worried me was the liquid from the greengages. But my batter was pretty stiff, and the greengages imparted the stickiness that you want in a pudding of this kind.

I realise that greengages are over now. You could use other kinds of plums, such as Victorias or damsons.

Serves 4.

115g butter
115g caster sugar
2 eggs
115g self-raising flour
1tsp vanilla essence
12 greengages (mine were small), halved and stoned

Cream the butter and sugar. I do this in a food processor: the mixture turns pale, then coheres into a ball, and then smears itself on the sides of the bowl. I stop at this point, and scrape it into a mixing bowl.

I cleaned the food processor bowl, fixed the whisk attachment, and whisked the eggs for about five minutes, until they had doubled in volume and were airy. Whether this effort to introduce more air to the sponge was worthwhile, I do not know. It is possible that the air bubbles collapse as soon as you stir the eggs with the other ingredients.

Pour the eggs into the creamed butter and sugar, tip in the flour, add the vanilla, and stir until you have a thick batter with no lumps. Gently stir in the greengage halves.

Grease a 1 pint pudding bowl with a little sunflower oil. Pour in the batter. Wrap the bowl in greaseproof paper, and then in three layers of foil.

Put the bowl into a saucepan. Pour in boiling water to come half way up the sides. Cover the pan, and simmer over a gentle heat for one hour.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Carbonnade Nimoise

My final Elizabeth David recipe (which I forgot to photograph) from our holiday was a stew, though not one cooked in beer as the name may suggest. It originates from Nimes, home also of brandade of salt cod (as featured here last week), and involves, in David's book, lamb or mutton from the leg. I used chops from the middle neck. The garlic and rosemary are also my adaptations. You must use new, waxy, potatoes, which can hold up even after stewing for three hours, at the end of which they are deliciously imbued with fat and meat juice. For 4.

4 middle neck lamb chops
1 packet lardons or pancetta; or better, 100g of pancetta chopped into cubes
1 head garlic, separated into cloves
Potatoes for 4, peeled (or scraped) and cut into cubes
2 sprigs rosemary
2tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper if you like (I usually add pepper on my plate)


This is a wonderfully simple dish. You toss everything in the oil, lay it out in a layer in a large baking dish, and brown the meat by starting it off at gas mark 8/230C for 20 minutes. Then you cover the dish with foil (or with a lid if it has one), and continue to cook at the lowest possible heat (my oven will simmer a stew at its lowest setting, gas mark S) for about three hours. That's it.

You might include other vegetables. My advice is to avoid carrots, which go dull if cooked for too long.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Brandade of salt cod

Elizabeth David, whose French Provincial Cooking was my principal guide in France, is discouraging on the subject of brandade of salt cod. "This is not really a dish to be made at home," she writes; amalgamating the fish, oil, and milk requires "great patience and considerable energy".

It is true that my first effort at brandade was a disaster. Then, I followed the advice of Richard Olney, who tells you to beat the flaked cod with olive oil over a high heat. I ended up with rubbery flakes of fried fish. The more common advice is to use a low heat.

This version worked better. The lemon juice and nutmeg come a recipe by Keith Floyd; but his quantities of olive oil and milk are excessive to the tune of about 300%.

400g salt cod (the salt cod I bought from my local shop came in a packet, which advised that the fish needed only four hours' soaking, in several changes of water)
2 cloves garlic, chopped and then crushed with the help of a tiny bit of salt
Olive oil - about 3tbsp
Milk - about 3tbsp
Juice of 1 lemon
Nutmeg
Pepper


Drain the pre-soaked cod, put it into a saucepan, cover with cold water, bring to a simmer over a medium heat, and turn the heat right down as soon as bubbles start to rise. Test the cod, which may tenderise rapidly. Remove it from the water as soon as it yields to the point of a knife. When it is cool enough to handle, pull it apart into flakes, removing any small bones.

Put the flaked cod into a small saucepan over the lowest flame. Add a little oil and milk, along with the crushed garlic, and mash it with a potato masher. Keep mashing and adding oil and milk, along with the lemon juice, until you have a substance with the consistency of mashed potato. Season it with nutmeg and plenty of black pepper.

I prepared my brandade, and warmed it later in a bain-marie before serving it with toast. It was delicious; but the fine strands of cod, perhaps as a result of having been warmed three times, were tough. I think that whizzing the flaked cod in a food processor rather than mashing it might work better.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Normandy apple tart

750g apples (sweet apples with a tart quality, such as Cox's, are good; but even the dreaded Golden Delicious, provided their textures are not too mealy, would be fine)
Juice of 1 lemon
60g butter
4tbsps caster sugar

120g flour
60g butter
1dstsp caster sugar
Cold water


While in France, I cooked a good deal from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking; but I sometimes had to adapt the recipes and techniques. For instance, she suggests that to cook apples in butter, you might put 2lbs (about 900g) of apples, sliced, into a large frying pan with 2oz (57g) of butter and three or four tbsps of caster sugar. This would be quite difficult to manage, because the apples would form several layers and would need to be stirred, under which treatment they might well break up. Though disliking fiddly operations, I cooked them in two batches.

Peel and slice the apples, and as you work toss them in the lemon juice in a bowl, to prevent discolouration. Melt 15g of the butter in a large frying pan over a gentle heat, and pack in a layer of apples. Scatter a tbsp of sugar over them. Cook them for about five minutes, turning once. They should be tender to the point of a knife, but not too soft to hold their shape. Repeat the process.

If, like me in France, you do not have a food processor, or if you prefer not to use one, grate the butter into the flour. Rub it in. Stir in the sugar. Add a tbsp of water, and bring the mixture together; gradually add more water until you have just enough to enable the dough to cohere.

Now, as David recommends, spread the dough by hand in your tart tin - mine was 28cms, and lightly oiled. At first, you may think you do not have enough, but you should find that it spreads out satisfactorily. Patch up any holes as you go.

Place a baking sheet in the oven, and pre-heat it to gas mark 6/200C.

You do not blind bake this pastry. Working outwards from the centre, arrange the apple slices in overlapping rings in the tart case. Place the tin on the baking sheet, and cook for about 30 minutes.

Melt the remaining 30g of butter in the frying pan, and pour it over the apples. Scatter the remaining sugar on top. Return the tart to the oven for about 3 minutes, or until golden.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Potatoes a la barigoule

This is from Elizabeth David's French Provincial Cooking. She calls it "a typically southern method of cooking potatoes".

The potatoes, though David does not say so, must fit into the pan in a single layer - otherwise, the bottom layer will collapse before the large volume of water evaporates. Maincrop potatoes such as King Edwards would disintegrate under this treatment in any event.

David tells you that the olive oil should come half way up the contents of the pan. What a lot of oil that would be.

So: scrape or peel new potatoes, put them into a heavy saucepan with as much olive oil as you think would be palatable when divided by the number of people at the table, and pour in just enough water to cover. Bring the contents of the pan to a rolling boil, and continue to cook until the water has evaporated. Turn the potatoes gently in the fat. David says that you cook them until they turn "a rich golden brown". Mine did not colour in this way, perhaps because I used less oil than she recommends.

Salt in the water would speed the softening of the potatoes. You may think that they do not need this assistance, and prefer to salt at the end.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Fruit tarts

I made three of these tarts, in 10cm tins. Obviously, the ingredients may be expanded proportionately to make any number of individual tarts, or a larger one. However, this is what I did, with the quantities I had.

100g flour
50g butter
1dstsp caster sugar
Cold water
1 medium apple
2 Victoria plums
Caster sugar
1 egg, beaten
75ml creme fraiche
75ml milk
1tsp vanilla essence


Grate the butter into the flour, as rapidly as possible, so that it does not go squidgy in your hand. You should now be able to rub it in - or blend it in a food processor - in no time at all. Stir in the sugar. Add a little water, and bring the mixture together; keep adding water sparingly until you are able to form a dough. (I added too much to mine, with the result that the pastry was slightly stodgier - more glutenous - than it should have been.)

If you gently bring the dough together, it may fall apart when you try to roll it. If you knead it for a minute or two, it will be more coherent, but may be tougher as a result of the gluten that has developed. I didn't roll my pastry, because I tend to make a mess of the procedure, but got out the grater again and grated the dough into the tins. Then I spread it over the bases and up the sides with my fingers. (Experts recommend that before rolling you chill the dough, wrapped in cling film, for 30 minutes or longer.)

Put the pastry-lined tins on a baking sheet (which helps the bases to firm up) and bake for about 20 minutes, or until dry and golden. You might cover the dough with foil, weighed down with an ingredient such as rice or dried beans, for 15 of the 20 minutes, to stop it from buckling as the water content evaporates.

Peel the apple, quarter and core it, and slice it thinly. Quickly, before it discolours, transfer it to a heavy pan in which a small knob of butter is starting to sizzle over a gentle heat. Turn the slices to coat them in butter, and cook them gently until tender. Place the slices in one of the pastry-lined tins.

Halve the plums, stone them, and slice them. Put them into the two other pastry cases. Scatter a little sugar over the fruit.

Mix together the egg, creme fraiche, milk, and vanilla essence until smooth. (Use double cream if you can find only factory-made creme fraiche, which always splits, in my experience.) Spoon the custard mixture over the fruit in the tins. I didn't need all of it.

Bake the tarts, again on the baking sheet, at gas mark 3/160C for 20-30 minutes, or until the custard is set.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Salt cod, potatoes and onions

Salt cod (morue) is widely available in supermarkets here in Normandy. I should guess that it is even more prevalent in the south. The kind I bought carried the claim that you could desalinate it in four hours; it remained salty after that time, but pleasantly so.

This is a Keith Floyd recipe. I ignored his recommendation that one cook the fish in a court bouillon, which seemed unlikely to be very influential during such a short procedure. Also, Floyd tells you to fry the potatoes in a covered pan. There are eight medium-sized potatoes in his recipe - how large a pan does he have in mind? A much larger one than I can lay my hands on at present, in any event. I roasted them instead.

Serves two.

400g salt cod, soaked according to the packet instructions
Butter and olive oil
4 medium potatoes, sliced
2 onions, sliced
Pepper


Drain the salt cod, cover it again in cold water in a saucepan, and bring to a simmer over a medium heat. As soon as the water starts to bubble, turn the heat right down, to avoid overcooking the fish and toughening it. It may be tender in just a few minutes. (Floyd gives a timing of 15 minutes, which is surely too long for even the thickest cut of fish.) Remove the cod to a plate, allow it to cool, and flake it.

Put a generous layer of olive oil into a roasting tin - one with a non-stick surface you can trust. Put the tin into a gas mark 6/200C oven for five minutes. Take it out, and tip in the potatoes, turning them to cover in hot oil. Roast them for 30 minutes, or until tender. Remove them to a plate, and mash them roughly with a fork.

In a heavy frying pan (one with a lid) or casserole dish (I used a Le Creuset), gently fry the onions in just enough oil and butter to prevent their sticking. Give them about 15 minutes, until they're golden.

Tip in the potatoes, and spread them out so that you're frying a potato and onion cake. Spread out the flaked cod on top, season with plenty of pepper, cover, and cook for 10 minutes, or until the base of the mix is crispy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Courgette and aubergine stew

This would have been a ratatouille - albeit a cheat's one - with the addition of peppers, which I had forgotten to buy. Normally, I roast and skin them, and add them at the end. But I'm feeling a bit lazy during these early days of my holiday, so probably I would have cut them up and added them with the onions, before the courgettes.

The key is not to stew the dish for too long, allowing the ingredients to turn mushy. So you reduce the tomatoes before adding them. Authenticists might sauté each ingredient separately, before merging them for a brief simmer.

Serves two as a main course, or four as a side dish.

1 medium to large aubergine, cubed
2 plump tomatoes, or 1 tin tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, chopped
2 onions, roughly chopped
2 courgettes, sliced
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Aubergine is difficult to tenderise by frying, I think. Instead, put the cubes into an oven dish, toss them with just enough oil to coat them, as well as with salt and pepper, and bake at gas mark 6/200C, turning once. French ones, which have meltingly soft flesh, are ready in about 20 minutes. The aubergines I buy in England take longer.

Put the fresh tomatoes, if using, into boiling water for about 20 seconds. Allow them to cool, and peel off their skins. Remove their cores, and chop them roughly. Simmer them in a small saucepan over a gentle heat until thick and mushy. (Another method is to chop up the unpeeled tomatoes, cook them, and push them through a sieve or through a food mill.) Or: pour the tinned tomatoes into a saucepan, and simmer until thick.

Warm a couple of tbsps of olive oil in a heavy pan over a gentle heat, and throw in the garlic and onions. Fry, adding more oil if the vegetables are in danger of sticking, until the onions soften - about 10 minutes. Turn up the heat to medium, throw in the courgettes with a little salt, and continue to cook, stirring almost continuously. The courgettes are soft when their rings of seeds show vividly.

Tip in the aubergines and tomato sauce, and continue to cook very gently for 10 minutes, stirring regularly. Check the seasoning.

I prefer to cover the pan, leave it, and eat the stew at room temperature.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Greengage and blackberry fool


A very simple pudding. You use roughly the same quantity of cream as of fruit compote. The amount of sugar you need will vary according to the kind of fruit (or, in the case of rhubarb, vegetable). This fool includes about 20 greengages, two small punnets of blackberries, 2tbsps of caster sugar, 400ml of double cream, and 1tsp of vanilla essence.

Put about 50ml of water into a heavy saucepan, and throw in the greengages and blackberries with the sugar. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook gently, stirring from time to time, until the fruit is very soft - no more than 15 minutes, probably. Force the compote through a sieve into another saucepan, pushing and stirring the fruit with a spoon.

Bring the sieved compote to a simmer again, and cook until it is lava-like in consistency, with big bubbles breaking the surface. Test for sweetness. Pour the compote into a bowl, and allow to cool. (It will thin the cream if it is hot.)

Whip the cream, with the vanilla if using, and stop as soon as it stiffens. (If you keep beating, it will become almost solid, and grainy too.)

Blend the cream and the compote, and chill for a couple of hours.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lamb leg steaks

These are steaks, which you would fry or grill, but from the leg, which you would roast. So how to cook them? I chose a compromise.

The marinade includes a garlic clove, crushed with salt; the juice of half a lemon; and about three tbsps of olive oil. The steaks sat in it for only half an hour.

I got a ridged grill pan very hot, scraped excess marinade off the steaks, and seared them (one at a time) for only a minute each side, just long enough to give them a griddled appearance. I returned them to the marinade in the oven dish, and roasted them for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C. Those who prefer their lamb to be less well done could allow at least 10 minutes fewer.

As you can see, they produced a fair amount of sauce.

Saturday, July 09, 2011

Chocolate cheesecake

150g digestive biscuits
75g butter
3tsp gelatine*
500g ricotta or cottage cheese (drain the cottage cheese)
1 397g tin condensed milk (about 300ml)
200ml double cream, whipped until slightly thickened
100g dark chocolate

Rub a tiny bit of oil over a 20cm flan dish, or line and grease a 20cm springform cake tin (see here).

I whizzed the biscuits in a food processor, cut the butter into pieces, threw them in, and whizzed again until all the crumbs were buttery. But this base did not have the crunchiness I like. So my advice is to melt the butter in a saucepan over a very gentle heat, remove the pan from the heat, tip in the biscuit crumbs, and mix thoroughly with a spoon. Tip the crumbs into the dish or tin, and compact them with the back of a spoon. Put the dish or tin into the freezer to firm up.

Put about 4tbsp of cold water into a small saucepan. Sprinkle over the gelatine, and swirl the water about until the powder is thoroughly soaked. Set aside.

In a bowl, stir together the ricotta, condensed milk, and cream until thoroughly blended. (You may prefer to use 500ml cream alone, without the condensed milk. In which case, throw in 60g caster sugar too.)

Place a bowl in a saucepan of gently simmering water so that the base of the bowl does not touch the water. Break up the chocolate, throw it in, and stir until melted. Remove from the heat.

Add a few spoonfuls of the cheese and cream mixture to the chocolate - stirring them together will help to release the chocolate from the side of the bowl. Tip this mixture into the bowl of cheese and cream, and blend.

Put the saucepan with the gelatine on to the lowest possible flame, and stir. As soon as the powder dissolves and the mixture clarifies, remove it from the heat. (Boiling gelatine disables its setting qualities.) Keep stirring until thoroughly dissolved. Pour the gelatine into the cheese mixture, and blend thoroughly.

Remove the biscuit base from the freezer, and pour over the cheese mixture, levelling it with a knife. Cover the dish or tin with foil (create a tent above the filling if you're using a flan dish), and refrigerate for at least three hours.

This cheesecake is based loosely on one in CLASSIC CHEESE COOKERY by Peter Graham (Grub Street). Graham also includes 3 limes, creme de menthe, and mint leaves; his cheesecake contains a hefty 280g of chocolate. The disadvantage of my quantity is that the pale brown of the filling is not particularly attractive. But 280g would be a bit much, I think. You could leave out the chocolate altogether, and just have lime juice (and zest), or lemon, or a combination of the two. Three fruit in total, I think.

*Graham's recipe has 20g of gelatine, which is far more than I used, or needed, or would have needed even had I included the lime juice. Different gelatines (and particularly different leaf gelatines) have different strengths. Check the recommended quantities on the packet. If you use leaf gelatine (three leaves may be the equivalent of 3tsp), you can prepare it in the same way: soaking, and then warming very gently.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Chorizo and chick pea stew

New potatoes for 2
Olive oil
4 chorizos (the kind you cook, not the salami-type), skinned and cut into pieces
1 clove garlic, chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
2 medium red onions, sliced
2 red peppers, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
1 tin chick peas, drained and rinsed
1tsp harissa, or cayenne pepper to taste


Scrape the potatoes. Cut them into even-sized chunks, put them into a pan of cold, salted water, bring to the boil, and simmer gently until tender.

While the potatoes are cooking, put a splash of oil into a heavy pan, and fry the chorizos over a gentle heat, until they release their own, paprika-hued oil. Throw in the garlic and cumin, and fry for a minute; throw in the onion, and cook for about five minutes, until slightly softened. (Add more oil if the slices threaten to catch. But you may not need it.) Tip in the peppers and chick peas, stir in the harissa or cayenne, cover, and cook gently.

When you have drained the potatoes, stir them into the stew. Continue to cook until the onions and peppers are soft.

This dish might also include tinned or whole, chopped tomatoes (to skin them, drop them into boiling water for 20 seconds, cool them under cold water, and peel off the skins), added with the peppers and chick peas. You may want to cook the stew uncovered, to thicken the tomato sauce.

You might also poach a couple of eggs with the stew - a common recipe in Middle Eastern cooking. I crack the eggs into a cup before tipping them, very gently, on to the surface of the simmering ingredients. They will cook in an uncovered pan, but I usually cover it, and give them about five minutes.

P.s. I've decided to switch to the verdana typeface. It is spacier than arial, and more readable, in my view.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

A non-Victorian sponge

Most Victoria sponge recipes (this one, for example) instruct you to cream butter and sugar, mix in the eggs, and fold in the flour. An alternative way of making sponge cake is to blend the butter, sugar, and flour first, before almagamating the eggs. You give the flour more of a going over, developing more gluten, which helps to give the cake a coherent texture as it rises. In theory, a Victoria sponge will be lighter, because the flour is merely folded in to the other ingredients. But this version was not stodgy at all. I'm afraid that my effort collapsed slightly in the middle, in spite of the bizarre attempt I made to stabilise it (see below), probably because I took it out of the oven too soon.

These proportions are slightly different from those in the Victoria sponge recipe. But I did not use all the egg. If I had been making a sponge sandwich, I would have doubled the ingredients, dividing the batter between two tins.

100g self-raising flour (or plain flour, plus 1tsp baking powder)
100g caster sugar
100g softened butter
1tsp vanilla essence (optional)
2 eggs, beaten


Pre-heat your oven to gas mark 4/180C. Put in a baking sheet.

Place a 20cm springform cake tin on a piece of greaseproof paper, draw round it, and cut along the pencil mark. Smear a very small piece of butter on the base of the tin, stick the round piece of paper on top, and smear a little oil on the surface of the paper and round the sides of the tin.

In a food processor, blend the flour, sugar, and butter, in short pulses, until you have a stodgy mass. Tip the mixture into a bowl, and stir in the vanilla (if using) and a portion of the egg. Keep adding egg until you have a gloopy batter; it should drop off a spoon, but reluctantly. If you've used up all the egg before you get to this stage, add a little milk too.

Tip the batter into the cake tin, spread it out and level the surface, and put the tin on top of the baking sheet in the oven. Bake for about 25 minutes, or until an inserted skewer emerges clean.

Now the bizarre trick, recommended by Peter Barham in The Science of Cooking: drop the cake tin from a height of about 30cms on to a hard surface (I hope the spring is secure). The theory is this: as a cake cools, the air bubbles in it deflate, like collapsing balloons. Dropping the cake allows some of the bubbles to break, letting in air, which sustains the structure. It didn't work for me - but I'm pretty sure my mistake was complacently to neglect the skewer check.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Crackling perfection

A feature of this blog has been its obsessive revisiting of certain dishes - crackling, rice, cheesecakes - in a largely futile search for perfection. As the last crackling I made was perfect, I won't apologise for writing about it.

Frying was the answer. In my previous blog on the subject, I recommended grilling. But frying enables you to control the heat more easily, particularly because of the layer of fat in the pan.

I had braised slices of belly pork, for an hour and a half, in a broth flavoured with onion, juniper berries, and peppercorns. (The pork went into a salad.) At the end, I sliced off the rind, and let it dry.

I warmed just enough sunflower oil to give a thin layer in a heavy frying pan. On the lowest flame, I fried the pieces of rind, turning them frequently to prevent their burning. Until the water had vaporised, they crackled and bucked alarmingly. After about 15 minutes, they were crisp and golden; they shattered in the mouth like honeycomb.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Pasta with ricotta and spinach

A sauce made with ricotta left over from the cheesecake recipe. For 2.

250g spinach
1 clove garlic, crushed with a little salt
Small knob of butter
200g ricotta
150g double cream
200-250g pasta (depending on your appetite) - we had spirals
Salt


Wash the spinach, and discard any tough stalks. Lift it from the water, cram it into a saucepan, and cover. Put the saucepan over a high heat for a minute. Lift the lid; if the spinach is starting to wilt, stir it so that the leaves at the top hit the boiling liquid at the bottom of the pan. As soon as all the spinach is wilted, drain it. Either leave the spinach to cool and squeeze it dry with your hands, or do your best to push out the liquid with a wooden spoon. Chop up the leaves.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, throw in a generous portion of salt, throw in the pasta, stir, and simmer at a generous bubble until al dente - just on the firm side of tenderness.

While the pasta is cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat, add the garlic, and allow it to cook gently for a minute. Throw in the spinach, ricotta, and cream, stirring and mashing to blend the ingredients. Add salt to taste. Keep stirring over a low heat until warmed through.

Drain the pasta, and toss with the spinach and ricotta. The sauce is quite bland, even with the garlic: you may like to add a little cayenne, or quite a lot of black pepper. It occurs to me now that the sauce would have been enhanced by the grated rind of half a lemon.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Lemon mousse

This mousse is gorgeous. It has a delicious balance of citric acidity and sweetness, as well as a lovely, foamy texture. The trick - not one about which recipes are very helpful - is to blend the gelatinous mixture and the egg white at the right moment. Do it too soon, and the mixture separates and sinks; too late, and the mixture is too well set to be blended.

It is another recipe, following last week's cheesecake, from Reader's Digest's CLASSIC FAVOURITES. The RD version has an extra 125ml of cream, which you're supposed to pipe on top, as well as flaked almonds.

2tsp gelatine
2tbsp water
3 eggs, separated
150g caster sugar
2 lemons, juice and grated rind
125ml double cream


Put the gelatine and water into a small saucepan, and leave to soak for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl, and beat them with a wooden spoon until they turn pale yellow. Beat in the lemon juice and rind.

Put the saucepan on to a ring on the hob at its lowest setting. The gelatine mixture may seem thick, but will quickly turn watery. Stir it until all the gelatine has dissolved, and do not allow the mixture to boil - overheating disables its thickening qualities. Add it to the egg and lemon mixture, stirring gently but thoroughly.

You leave this mixture until it starts to set. How long is this? RD does not say. I put mine in the fridge; after just over an hour, it still swirled around as I shifted the bowl, but was no longer runny. I decided that this was the moment. I turned out to be lucky.

Whisk the cream until it thickens, but stop before it becomes stiff – the transition is rapid, so take care. In a separate bowl, and with a separate – or at least clean – whisk, beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks (advice here).). Fold in to the whites the cream and the egg yolk mixture, which should have the consistency of a collapsing jelly. Again, perform the action gently, but do so until the mousse is thoroughly blended.

Spoon the mousse into a bowl, cover with cling film, and refrigerate for at least six hours.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

New York cheesecake

I have an amazingly useful Reader's Digest book called CLASSIC FAVOURITES. I say "amazingly" because the book is where I go for every classic recipe, yet appears to be only a slim hardback, at 200 pages.

Finding the recipe and having the ingredients to hand are different matters. So I had to substitute certain ingredients in this New York cheesecake (which the book calls "American cheesecake"). I've marked the heretical ingredients with asterisks, and commented on the RD version below. My method is slightly different, too.

Crust
150g digestive biscuits
50g butter*

Filling
300g ricotta
200g cream cheese**
125g caster sugar
2 eggs, separated
125ml double cream***
2tbsp flour
1tsp vanilla essence
1tsp grated lemon rind (the rind from 1 lemon, roughly)


Blitz the biscuits in a food processor. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a very low heat, and mix in the digestive crumbs.

Spread a little butter on the base of a 24cm cake tin, and place a circle of greaseproof paper on top. (Draw a ring on the paper round the base, and cut along it.) Tip in the crumbs, spread them out, and compact them with the back of a spoon. Put the tin in the fridge for a couple of hours, RD says; I put mine in the freezer.

Blend the cheeses. Beat in the sugar and egg yolks. Stir in the cream (I whipped mine first, until it had started to thicken), flour, vanilla essence and lemon rind. Beat with a wooden spoon until the mixture is smooth. Whisk the egg whites until stiff but not dry (advice here), and fold them gently into the mixture. Pour the mixture on to the crust in the cake tin. Spread smooth.

Put the tin on to a baking sheet (an aid to even heat transmission, some books say), and bake in the centre of a gas mark 4/180C oven for one hour. My cheesecake took an hour and 10 minutes, by which time it was only very slightly wobbly in the centre.

Allow the cake to cool (the picture shows it still in its tin). Then chill it in the fridge. When it's properly chilled, release it from the tin.

The RD cheesecake has a very sweet topping, made from black cherries in syrup, cornflour, lemon juice, and caster sugar. Not my thing.

* RD suggests 200g digestives, so you have enough crumb to spread up the sides of the tin. I'd be likely to make a mess of that job. I've left out the 2tbsp of caster sugar that the book includes in the crumb mix. It suggests 100g butter; but I've come to think that a ratio of 1/3 butter to digestives works fine.

** The recipe has 250g cottage cheese and 250g cream cheese; or 500g cream cheese. Cottage cheese might give a lighter filling.

*** I was disappointed not to have sour cream. I would definitely use that (or creme fraiche) next time.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Victoria sponge

Geraldene Holt's CAKES, from Tom Jaine's Prospect Books, is a lovely book, its loveliness uncompromised by a lack of pictures. Many glossily produced works will fall into disuse while this handsome, authoritative, wide-ranging paperback endures as a kitchen bible.

Here is Holt's recipe for Victoria sponge.

175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
3 eggs
1/4tsp vanilla essence
175g self-raising flour


Cream the butter and sugar until the mixture is soft and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating them in well. Mix in the vanilla essence. Gradually fold in the flour, sifted. Divide the mixture between two 20cm cake tins, and smooth level.

Put the tins on to a baking sheet, and bake in a pre-heated oven at gas mark 4/180C for 30 minutes, or until the cakes are golden brown and just starting to shrink from the tins. Cool in the tins for 2 minutes; turn out to cool on a wire rack. Spread the filling of your choice on to one of the cakes, and make a sandwich.

Holt advises that you use the base of the tins to draw circles on greaseproof paper. You cut out the discs, butter the bases of the tins, and put the paper on top. You grease the sides of the tins with clarified butter - the solids in unclarified butter, she says, can cause cakes to stick. Not being bothered to prepare clarified butter, I used sunflower oil, spreading it on the tins with a paper towel.

I had one springform tin, and one receptacle made of some rubbery substance, and borrowed from a neighbour. The rubbery version worked fine.

I had no vanilla essence, being able to find only inferior vanilla flavouring (one bottle was sneakily labelled "vanilla flavouring essence") in the shops. I flavoured my sponge with the zest of a whole lemon.

I do not have an electric hand beater, which is supposed to ease the creaming process. I started off by crushing the ingredients with a spoon, and then had a go at them with an electric stick blender. It immediately got clogged, of course. But I think that it did help me to produce a lighter mixture.

Is it necessary to add the eggs gradually to the creamed butter and sugar? You're trying to prevent curdelling. But the flour will do that. I simply chucked in the eggs and the flour all at once. I got a sticky batter. Nigella Lawson (whose version in HOW TO EAT has 225g of butter, sugar and flour (of each of them, that is), with four eggs) says that you want a pouring consistency, and suggests that you add a little milk. But my cakes were spongy enough, I thought.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Lamb stew with aubergines and turnips

Ideally, one should add vegetables to a stew to give them just enough time in which to cook. Incorporating them at the start is a bad idea, because they will be overcooked before the meat is ready. But you cannot be confident of the optimum timing with the aubergines and turnips in this dish. One hour worked for me; but I needed to fiddle around with temperature settings, and to give the stew regular stirs, to ensure that the pot continued simmering and that the vegetables softened evenly.

(I know that carrots are a standard ingredient of many stews, but I don't like using them in this way. Overcooked, as they usually are, they lose all flavour. The exceptions are baby carrots cooked whole in a dish such as poule au pot or bollito misto.)

For 4

750g stewing lamb (I used pieces of middle neck)
Sunflower oil
Salt
2 red onions, roughly chopped
1 head garlic, separated into unpeeled cloves
1 bay leaf
200ml chicken stock
1 large aubergine, cubed
4 small turnips, peeled and sliced, or cut into chunks if you prefer


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

Put 2tbsps sunflower oil over a low to medium heat, and soften the onion for 10 minutes or so. Throw in the garlic cloves and bay leaf, and pour in the stock. Put the lamb pieces into the stew. You'll find that the liquid comes about half way up the meat; but after the pot has been in the oven for an hour or so, the meat will probably be submerged. Add more salt, if you like.

I put this dish into the oven for three and a half hours at gas mark S/130C. That setting will cause a stew in my Le Creuset pot to simmer gently. But your oven, and pot, may behave differently.

Stir in the aubergine and turnips with about an hour to go, and bring the stew to a simmering point before returning it to the oven. Turn up the dial temporarily to gas mark 6/200C, until the stew is simmering again - you may be surprised to find, if you have a heavy pot, that even at this setting the stew make take 20 minutes or longer to return to simmering point. Return to gas mark S. Check the ingredients at intervals, stirring them.

I served the stew, with its generous quantity of sauce, in bowls with couscous. So I might have spiced it (along the lines of this version), had there not been objectors to spicy food at the table. For myself, I mixed some of the sauce with harissa.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Chicken salad with yoghurt and pesto

I am not keen on the flavour of bottled pesto, finding it assertively sharp, with the dusty quality of dried herbs. But used in moderation, with other ingredients, it can offer some zing. New potatoes tossed with mayonnaise and no more than a tsp (for four people) of pesto are very nice. Or there's this simple chicken salad, a change from coronation chicken and much quicker to make.

For four people, I poached eight chicken thighs in water in a covered pan for 75 minutes. (I put onion and peppercorns in the poaching water, and kept it for stock.) I shredded the chicken, and allowed it to cool.

I mixed 1 heaped tbsp of Greek yoghurt, 1 heaped tbsp of (bottled) mayonnaise, 1 tsp of pesto, a clove of crushed garlic, some salt, and a squirt of lemon juice. I tossed the chicken in this mixture.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Split mayonnaise

The more experienced I become at making mayonnaise, the more often I mess it up. Complacency is fatal. You really do have to add the oil very gradually, and to make sure that it is properly amalgamated before adding the next drops, until you have used at least half of it. On my first attempts, I was so nervous about separating the mixture that I dripped in the oil with huge restraint and care. Now, I am tempted to think I can get away with splashing it in, and as soon as I do the stiffened mixture in the bowl collapses and turns runny.

These blunders can be repaired, however. Pour the runny mixture into a second bowl. Put another egg yolk into your original bowl, which can have some of the botched mayonnaise adhering to it. Now amalgamate the botched mayonnaise, bit by bit, with the yolk; then start adding oil again. My method is to continue the process until the mayonnaise is too thick to stir, thin it with a little lemon juice or vinegar, and resume pouring in the oil, allowing 150g of oil (mostly sunflower, with about 25g of extra virgin olive) for each yolk.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Almond cake

This is a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe from the Guardian (here - scroll down).

My springform cake tin leaks, so I used an ordinary one; it is 22cms, rather than the 25cms Fearnley-Whittingstall asks for. The cake came loose very easily. But what you see here is upside down.

Two observations. Whisking the sugar and egg mixture is quite hard work: the mixture is stiff. Perhaps in part because I used a more narrow tin but also because cakes always seem to take longer than recipes suggest they should, this cake took about 55 minutes to set.

It was good, and stayed moist for several days. I think that it would have been even nicer had I used the zest from 2 lemons.