Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas timings

You can be a little more relaxed on Christmas morning if you don’t get obsessed by an ideal of military efficiency, trying to prepare every dish so that it is cooked to perfection at the precise moment you are ready to sit down at the table.

First, the turkey. We’ve all struggled with turkeys that have stubbornly leaked blood at the moment when they were supposed to be ready. But, provided you do not try to roast the bird from a frozen or semi-frozen state, you should find that it is cooked through after you have observed the standard timings (20 minutes for each 500g, plus 30 minutes). Try to arrive at this moment at least half an hour before you’re due to serve the meal. Covered in a loose tent of foil, the turkey will remain warm, and hot in places; there will be no harm in resting it for an hour.

You now have plenty of time in which to strain some of the fat from the turkey juices, and to use them to make a gravy. You can reheat the gravy at the last minute.

Bread sauce may also be heated at the last minute. It will have thickened while cooling in the pan, and may need extra milk.

Stuffing, whether cooked inside the turkey or in an oven dish, does not have to be piping hot.

You can parboil the potatoes for roasting some time before you transfer them to the hot fat in the roasting tin. In my experience, potatoes that have been sitting around for a while emerge from their roasting no less crunchy on the outside and fluffy on the inside than those tipped into the tin while hot.

So the last-minute jobs are: cook the vegetables (which your sous-chef will have prepared earlier); warm the gravy and the bread sauce; transfer the vegetables (including the potatoes) and sauces to serving dishes. I hope you manage to delegate the carving.

Bread sauce
Christmas things - salt cod, barley pudding, sprouts, chestnuts
Christmas tips

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gingerbread, with syrup

It is often a mistake to plan a particular recipe before you know whether you can lay hands on the ingredients. The idea is difficult to abandon, even when the ingredients are elusive; I get into my head the idea that no other recipe will do.

You cannot find black treacle or candied ginger at my nearest shops on a Sunday morning. Not allowing their absence to deter me, I used instead golden syrup and ginger preserve (from Sainsbury’s) for this recipe from Geraldene Holt’s Cakes (Prospect Books). I also used a round cake tin, because I did not have a 20cm square one.

As you can see, the cake sank in the middle, probably because my batter was more liquid than Holt's. But the texture was good throughout, and the flavour was delicious.

Lightly grease the tin with a drop or two of vegetable oil.  Put a couple of slivers of butter on the base. Lay the tin on a sheet of kitchen paper, draw a circle round it, cut round the line, and attach the circle of paper to the base of the tin.

150g butter
150g dark brown sugar
265g golden syrup (I spooned syrup out of the tin until I had taken what seemed to be the correct portion of the contents)
2 eggs, beaten
265g self-raising flour
1tsp baking powder
2-3tsp ground ginger
1/2tsp cinnamon
Walnut-sized knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1tbsp ginger preserve

Cream the butter and the sugar. I lack a food mixer, so find this pretty hard work. I’m never sure when to stop, tending to do so when I cannot bear the effort any longer. The mixture is supposed to be light.

Stir in the syrup, and then the eggs. Mix the flour and baking powder, and stir them in to the mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients. Spoon into the cake tin, and smooth level.

Bake in a gas mark 3/170C oven for about 60 minutes, or until an inserted skewer emerges clean. I found that my gingerbread was still liquid in the centre after an hour, though the perimeter was quite dark. I turned down the oven to gas mark 1/140C, for a further 15 minutes.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Lesley Blanch; moussaka topping

Lesley Blanch’s Round the World in Eighty Dishes is another lovely reissue from Grub Street. Blanch was an exotic, bold, beautiful, adventurous woman, of a type that seems no longer to exist. An artist and designer, a features editor at Vogue, she roamed the world, had many admirers, and was for 15 years the wife of French novelist Romain Gary. She wrote 12 books herself, and lived to the age of 102.

Grub Street's book is what the title says. Blanch introduces the recipes with pen portraits, anecdotes, and evocations. Of Tchaktchouka, one of the various north African dishes that involve a poached egg sitting in a stew of tomatoes, onions and peppers, she writes: “I don’t know how you will like this; but I loved it, as I sat among my Arab friends in the evening twilight, and the huge stars shone in the greenish sky, while the camels tethered to the palms above groaned and snorted for their own dinner – nothing nearly so nice.”

My only complaint is that the book has no index. Having spotted a moussaka recipe, I had trouble finding it again, because it appears in the Middle Eastern section – the recipe is from Syria, Blanch says. It reminded me that the topping for a moussaka can be yoghurt-based, rather than a sort of bĂ©chamel soufflĂ©.

Blanch’s topping recipe contains 4 eggs, 3tbsps of flour, a jar of yoghurt, and salt and pepper. How large is a jar of yoghurt? I have no idea. For my version, I used a 170g pot of Total yoghurt, 1tbsp of flour (which stabilises the yoghurt, so that it does not split), and 2 beaten eggs. The mixture is runny, but sets when cooked on a moderate heat (gas mark 3/170C), and has a pleasing sharpness.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Falafels - Slater

Browsing through Nigel Slater’s The 30-Minute Cook after I had checked his spiced mackerel recipe, I came across his recipe for falafels. The version below includes far less garlic than Slater recommends, because we were eating the falafels at lunchtime, but as much cumin and coriander, even though I used one tin of chickpeas rather than his two.

The quantities below make what you see in the pan: a snack for two.

1 tin chick peas
1/2 a medium onion
2tsp cumin seeds
2tsp coriander seeds
1 clove garlic
1tbs flour

Drain and rinse the chick peas. Tip them into the bowl of a food processor. Peel the onion, cut it in half again (to aid the mixing process), and add it to the bowl.

In a dry saucepan over a gentle heat, toast the cumin and coriander. Ground them in a mortar. Add them to the chick peas and onion. Cut the garlic into a few pieces, put it into the mortar with a little salt, and grind it to a paste. Add this, too, to the bowl, with more salt if you like – but be careful with the salt if your chick peas were tinned in salted water. Whizz until blended.

Tip the mixture out of the food processor bowl into another bowl, add the flour, and squidge everything together with your hands. Add more flour if the mixture fails to cohere. Form the mixture into small balls or patties.

Warm a generous layer – about 1/2cm - of oil (sunflower, groundnut, or olive) in a heavy pan, and fry the falafels, in batches if necessary, until brown on each side and warmed through. Be careful – the moisture in the onion particularly will cause the oil to spit. Serve with Greek-style yoghurt.