Saturday, November 30, 2013

Roast chicken and Maillard reactions

The cooks’ consensus, with which I have always agreed, is that you start cooking a chicken or joint of meat at a high temperature, to brown it, before lowering the dial. But my previous observation about browning reactions (known as Maillard reactions) – that they work more efficiently once the cooking process is well established - made me realise that this initial blast may be unnecessary.

Roasting a chicken the other day, I simply cooked it at gas mark 4/180C throughout (2 hours, for a 2kg bird – butter massaged between the skin and breast, rubbed all over, placed inside the cavity; lemon squeezed over and placed inside the cavity, into which I also placed two bashed garlic cloves). It emerged from the oven perfectly bronzed.

Why do meat and skin brown more efficiently later in the cooking process? Their loss of water, which would inhibit browning, may be one explanation. But it does not account for why, when one fries meat in batches in a frying pan, the later batches brown more efficiently. The reason for their doing so may explain also why the first pancake is usually a flabby disappointment.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Sausage with chick peas and paprika

Sausage sauces for pasta are sometimes a bit like this. Cutting the sausages into discs enables you to brown the meat instead of just the skins; it also removes bursting as an issue. For 2.

Olive oil
4 sausages, or 4 chorizos, sliced into discs
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
1tbsp paprika
Cayenne pepper to taste (or dried chilli flakes)
Salt to taste
1 tin chick peas, drained

Put a splash of oil into a heavy pan, and brown the sausage pieces over a low heat. Particularly if they are chorizos, they will throw off their own fat.

Add the garlic, onion, and red pepper, with a little more oil if necessary, stir, and cover the pan. Continue cooking over a low heat, stirring regularly. The peppers and onions will throw off their liquid, so it will be safe to add the paprika and cayenne (or chilli flakes), which might have burned in the oil otherwise. Add salt, remembering that the sausages are seasoned (and that your chick peas may have been preserved in brine).

Add the chick peas, stir again, and continue to cook, covered, for a further 10 minutes.

Serve with rice. (Mashed potato would be possible too, if you wanted a richer meal.)

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Chicken with lemon, garlic, red onion, and turmeric

The chicken with lemon, garlic, and rosemary dish I made in September may be even nicer with turmeric substituted for the rosemary, and with two red onions, sliced. The turmeric (1 to 2tsps) tempers the sharpness of the lemon.

Add it after the dish has been cooking, covered, for 25 minutes or so, by which time the ingredients should have created a sauce. Add it at the beginning, and the powder may catch on the base of the pan. I was liberal with the black pepper.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chicken with vindaloo spices

Vindaloo implies garlic and vinegar rather than the hottest dish in the restaurant. But it may be hot too.

This is another recipe from Madhur Jaffrey’s Curry Easy, a lovely, tempting book. Even here, though, you have to accept that the recipes will not always work precisely as described. I’ve included my comments below. Serves 4.

4tbsp olive or rapeseed oil (I used sunflower)
1/2tsp brown mustard seeds
1/4tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp black peppercorns
15-20 fresh curry leaves or 10 fresh basil leaves, torn (I used dried curry leaves, which I’m not convinced taste of anything at all)
8 chicken thighs
6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
250ml cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 1/4tsp salt
1 1/2tsp ground cumin
1tbsp ground coriander (I used cumin and coriander seeds, which I toasted and then ground in a mortar)
Cayenne pepper to taste
1tbsp sweet red paprika

Put the oil in a large saute pan or wide frying pan – wide enough to hold the chicken in a single layer (it will need to be at least 28cms). Set over a medium heat. When hot, put in the mustard seeds. As soon as they pop, put in the fenugreek seeds and peppercorns. A few seconds later, put in the curry leaves, chicken, and all the remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to the boil (though you may find that the vinegar froths up immediately, before settling down).

Cover, lower the heat and simmer gently for 20 minutes. (I put my dish in the oven for an hour – I like my chicken tender.)

Remove the cover, turn the heat to high and cook, stirring and turning, until all the liquid evaporates and the chicken browns on all sides.

The previous paragraph suggests that you're frying the chicken at the end. I found, however, that the evaporation process left me with a sticky sauce, which would have burned if I’d continued to cook it too vigorously. No matter: the dish was delicious.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Cannellini beans and ham hock

I chaired a panel discussion at the Chorleywood cookery festival with Jojo Tulloh (The Modern Peasant) and Ms Cupcake (a.k.a. Melissa Morgan, author of The Naughtiest Vegan Cakes in Town). I’m sure I’ll get round to the making a vegan cake soon, but I’ve gone first for a rustic dish from Jojo’s book.

Here, slightly adapted, is her recipe (for 6), followed by a few comments about my experiences in cooking it.

200g dried cannellini beans
1 smoked ham hock
1 small onion or 2 small shallots, unpeeled
1 head garlic, unpeeled
Sea salt and black pepper
Olive oil
Handful flat-leaf parsley, freshly chopped

Soak the beans in cold water overnight. Soak the ham hock too. Drain them when you are ready to start cooking.

Pre-heat the oven, if using, to gas mark 2/150C.

Put the beans into an ovenproof, heavy casserole. Add the onion, garlic and ham hock and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer for two hours, either on the hob or (having brought the pan to a simmer first) in the oven.

Remove the ham hock and set aside to cool slightly. Remove the onion and garlic, and use a wide chopping knife to squeeze out the purée-like flesh from the skins. Grind the pulp in a mortar to a smooth paste, then add a little liquid from the casserole to create a creamy sauce, which you can return to the pan.

Cut off the skin from the hock and remove the meat, discarding fat and gristle.

Return the meat to the casserole and mix it in. Season to taste (you may not need much, or any, salt.) Your ideal is a mixture of creamy beans flecked with tender pink ham; if you have more ham than you need, reserve the extra for a hash or other recipe. Warm the stew, zigzag over a little olive oil, and scatter over the parsley.

As you may be able to see from the picture, I did not submerge my ham: to do so, I would have needed a good many litres of water, much of which I would have had to discard at the end. I used enough water to submerge the beans by about 2cms; even so, I had to boil the beans vigorously once I had removed the ham in order to thicken the stew.

The woman at the butcher told me that the ham hock was unsmoked, and did not need soaking. She misled me on both counts. It was pretty salty. I have suggested in the past that the notion that beans will not soften in salted water is a myth, and that instead they tend to become mealy rather than creamy; but my beans took a long time to soften.

I followed Jojo’s quantities, but used all the ham. The dish served 3.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Browning meat

When making stews, I have been wary of recipes that imply that you can soften or brown onions first, and then add meat to be browned in the same pan. If you turn up the flame to the level you need to get the browning process to work, you burn the onions. Keep the flame low, and you simply stew the meat in its juices.

Or you can take the onions out of the pan first. This seems fiddly: you need to remove every last bit of onion, or you will have charred remnants tainting the flavour of the dish. However, it occurred to me that if you followed this schedule, you might get the meat to brown more quickly – for the same reason that when you brown meat in batches, you need less time for the later ones.

This theory did indeed work out when I made a stew with slices of belly pork. They browned, over a medium heat, in little more than a minute. The only problem is one I often find when I fry larger pieces of meat: the exposed areas of the pan get too hot, and char. I’d like to cook everything in one pan, but am reluctant to do so when parts of its surface are blackened.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chicken tikka, simplified

Forced compromises can sometimes lead to happy discoveries. For example, you don’t always need to include a huge medley of spices in a dish. Because of aversions among some members of my family to cumin, coriander, cardamom, and other traditional ingredients of Indian dishes, I included only three spices in this baked chicken dish, which we took on a picnic. We all loved it.

2 chicken supremes, cut into fork-sized pieces
2 cloves garlic, crushed into a pulp with a little salt
1tsp turmeric
1/2tsp ground ginger (I would have used grated fresh ginger if there had been some in the house
Cayenne pepper to taste
About 2tbsp Greek yoghurt
Lime juice

Toss the ingredients in a baking dish. There should be just enough yoghurt to coat the chicken. If you have time, leave the chicken to marinate in the fridge, covered, for a few hours.

Put the dish in a hot, gas mark 8 (230C) oven for about 20 minutes, until the chicken has a reddish brown glaze and is cooked through.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Chicken with lemon, garlic, and rosemary

A Nigella Lawson recipe for baked chicken and lemon asks you to cover your pan at first, before uncovering it to allow the meat to brown. This is not a great idea if you use a jointed chicken: the breast pieces will overcook and toughen. But it works well with thighs and drumsticks. They become very tender, as does, in this version, the garlic. When I made it last week, I used drumsticks only.

I have a heavy, shallow, 28-inch casserole. A roasting tin, with foil as covering, would work too.

12 chicken drumsticks
As much garlic as you like, separated into cloves, unpeeled
1 lemon, quartered
2 sprigs rosemary
2tbsp olive oil
Salt, pepper

Put the ingredients in a heavy, wide casserole or roasting tin, toss them thoroughly, and bake, covered, in a gas mark 6/200C oven for 45 minutes. About half way through this time, give the ingredients another stir. If they are bubbling too fiercely, turn down the heat.

Remove the lid or foil, reset the dial to 6 if necessary, and cook for a further 30 minutes, to brown the meat and reduce the sauce.

Very simple, and delicious.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Tortilla in the oven 2 - Angela Hartnett's method

Makers of authentic tortillas or frittatas flip them, half-cooked, on to a plate, and return them to the pan the other way up. Others use the easier method of setting the tops of the tortillas under the grill.

Neither method is entirely satisfactory, in my experience. Flipping the tortillas – if one is dextrous enough to accomplish the task - leaves behind a fair amount of runny egg on the plate. Grilling the tortillas can cause the egg to toughen.

Angela Hartnett’s Guardian recipes are appealingly simple. Her tortilla goes into the oven once the vegetables are cooked and the egg poured over.

I’ve written about this method once before. This time, I used a more appropriate, 28-inch cast iron pan, which has acquired a non-stick surface through use (I wash it only with warm water, not detergent). I included 6 new potatoes, washed but not peeled, 1 medium onion, and 1 yellow pepper.

You need new potatoes, because once the diced pieces start to soften they will not break up when stirred. I gave them 15 minutes, above a gentle heat, rather than the 10 Hartnett specifies; only then were they edging towards tenderness. I threw in the onion, which I had sliced, and the pepper, which I had diced – pepper can take longer to soften. After a further 10 minutes, and regular stirrings, I allowed the pan to cool slightly, not wanting the egg that hit the pan to set immediately and therefore overcook in the oven. I poured over the egg, and put the pan in the oven for 10 minutes at gas 4/180C (Hartnett does not specify the temperature).

You may want to turn round the pan after 5 minutes. Otherwise, you are likely to find that some portions of egg remain obstinately unset after the rest has cooked.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Ratatouille, simplified

Having discovered that it is possible to cook aubergines, part frying and part grilling them, in a heavy, covered pan, I am even less inclined to cook ratatouille in the traditional manner, which involves frying each ingredient separately before merging them all for a brief simmer with a modest portion of tomatoes.

Serves 4.

Olive oil
2 onions, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
2 medium aubergines, cubed
3 red peppers, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
2 large tomatoes, dunked in boiling water for 20 seconds, peeled, chopped
3 courgettes, sliced

Over a gentle heat, warm about 3tbsp of the oil in a heavy pan with a lid. As you chop the onions, garlic, aubergines, and peppers, throw them into the pan, stirring. Add about half a tsp of salt. Cover the pan, stir the vegetables regularly as they cook, and add more oil if they threaten to stick – but the onions and the peppers should give off liquid.

As the vegetables soften, you can uncover the pan, and turn up the heat if necessary to encourage the liquid to evaporate.

The length of time this process will take is variable. It may be no more than 20 to 25 minutes; it may be 40. You do not want the vegetables to merge into a mush, but to retain their identities.

Now add the courgettes, which should soften in about five minutes.

Meanwhile, in a separate pan, simmer the chopped tomatoes until thick.

Add the tomatoes to the other vegetables, and simmer for about five minutes. Check the seasoning.

This is best served at room temperature, in my view. But hot or warm are fine, too.

Sunday, July 07, 2013

Rice and vegetables with harissa

There are certain dishes that one enjoys while acknowledging that they are not haute cuisine, and may not be as well liked by others. Such are the rice concoctions I give myself when I arrive home late, and want to eat something that will be ready in about 20 minutes.

Olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1tsp cumin seeds
1 red onion, sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into pieces
75g basmati rice
1 tin black beans, drained and rinsed
1tsp (or more, according to taste) harissa
Salt, pepper

Warm about 2tbsp of oil in a heavy pan over a gentle heat, and fry the garlic and cumin for a minute. Throw in the onion and pepper, stir, and cover the pan. Check the vegetables regularly, stirring each time. The liquid they throw off should prevent their catching – but add more oil if necessary. (Covering the pan should enable the onions and pepper to soften more rapidly.)

Bring a saucepan of water – about three times the volume of rice - to the boil. Put the rice in a sieve, and give it a quick rinse. Tip it into the boiling water, bring back to the boil, and simmer for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, tip the drained beans into the pan with the vegetables. Stir in the harissa, with salt and pepper – if the beans have been sitting in brine, go easy with the salt. Cover the pan. Again, check it and stir the contents regularly.

Drain the rice, and stir it into the spiced vegetables.

I sometimes add small cubes of cheese to this mixture.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Chicken sofrito

This dish comes from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, who suggest that you might use a butterflied chicken “if you have a wide enough pan”. That pan would be pretty wide – a 1.5kg butterflied chicken would not fit in my 28cm, shallow, cast iron dish. It might, if I removed the backbone and cooked the bird in two pieces; but the problem, as I have written here before, is that the breast is likely to become tough before the legs are tender. I used instead 6 chicken thighs, which are what my pan will accommodate. Otherwise, I stuck to Ottolenghi and Tamimi’s quantities. The amount of paprika and turmeric may seem modest, but is enough to give the dish a subtle flavour, as well as an appealing, golden red colour.

1tbsp sunflower oil
6 chicken thighs
1stp sweet paprika
1/4tsp turmeric
1/4tsp sugar
2 1/2tsp lemon juice
1 large onion, peeled and quartered (I used 3 shallots, each cut in half)
Sunflower oil, for frying
750g Charlotte potatoes, peeled and cut into 2cm dice (I used Jerseys, scraped)
25 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Salt and black pepper

Put the oil into your dish over a medium heat, and fry the chicken, skin side down, until golden brown. Sprinkle over the paprika, turmeric, sugar, 1/3tsp of salt, and 1 1/2tbsp of lemon juice.

Turn the chicken pieces over, set the heat to low, cover, and cook for 1 hour. Check that there is just enough liquid in the pan to steam the chicken and prevent it from catching. (I find that the chicken thighs give off a generous quantity of their own liquid.)

Pour enough sunflower oil into a saucepan to come 3cm up the sides. Set the heat to medium high, and when the oil causes a small piece of bread to sizzle, add as many potatoes and garlic cloves as the oil will cover. Cook until the potatoes start to brown – the book says that this takes about 6 minutes, but in my experience it may be some time longer. Lift the potatoes and garlic from the oil with a slotted spoon, put them on paper towels, and sprinkle with salt. Then fry another batch.

After the hour is up, transfer the chicken pieces to a plate. Stir the fried potatoes into the pan, and put back the chicken on top. Cover again, and cook for 30 minutes.

Drizzle with the remaining lemon juice before serving.

The potatoes, with flavours both from the frying and from the spiced chicken juices, are gorgeous.

Spatchcocked chicken

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Pork and chorizo salad

The flavour of raw spring onions and red onions in salad is often too harsh, I find. My solution is to expunge some of their acidity with boiling water. Slice them, put them in a bowl, pour the water over them, leave for 30 minutes, give them a squeeze in the water, and drain.

If you find that this treatment leaves them too soft for your taste, try soaking them in cold water instead.

Serves 3 to 4

3 slices of belly pork
2 red onions or a bunch of spring onions, treated as above
3 red peppers, turned under a grill on a low setting until blackened, then peeled and sliced (Grilled peppers)
450g Jersey Royal or other new potatoes, scraped and, if necessary, cut into even pieces
1 clove garlic
Splash of olive oil
3 cooking chorizos, sliced
1 tin chickpeas, drained
1tbsp white or red wine vinegar
1/2tsp Dijon mustard
1/6tsp honey
Salt, pepper
2tbsp sunflower oil
1tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Cover the belly pork with water in a heavy pan, bring to a simmer, and cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours, until very tender. Remove the fatty layer, and shred the meat.

Simmer the potatoes and the garlic clove (unpeeled) in salted water, until tender.

Put the oil in a heavy pan over a gentle heat, and fry the chorizos. Tip in the chickpeas, and cook until their water has evaporated and they are coated with the chorizos’ paprika-spiked oil.

In a large bowl, mix the vinegar, mustard, and honey, seasoned with salt and pepper to taste. Squeeze the poached garlic from its husk, and mash it in. Whisk in the oils.

Slice the potatoes, and mix them with the vinaigrette in the bowl while still hot. Stir through the pork, onion, peppers, and chorizos and chickpeas.

Serve with mayonnnaise.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Spatchcocked chicken

I like the idea of grilling a whole chicken, spatchcocked and laid flat on the rack. It suggests a rustic approach to outdoors cooking. But it’s a difficult process to get right. The heat from a grill may be fierce, and burn the exterior of the bird or toughen some of the meat before cooking it through.

The weather still being inimical to barbecues, I cooked my spatcocked chicken at the bottom of my grill drawer, with the heat set to its lowest. I didn’t help my cause by using soy sauce in the marinade, along with the juice of a lemon, a couple of glugs of olive oil, and a couple of cloves of crushed garlic: the sugar in the sauce caramelises, and burns. You have to turn the chicken regularly.

It took about 45 minutes. This is about half the time that would have been necessary to roast it; nevertheless, the breast was tougher, because of the intense direct heat, than the breast of a roasted chicken would have been. In future, I’d prefer to chop up the chicken, cooking breast and legs for the different times that suit them.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Belly pork, pot-roasted

The best way to produce meltingly tender meat from a joint such as lamb shoulder or belly pork, in my oven, is to pot-roast it. The heat inside a heavy casserole is lower than the oven temperature at the lowest setting (about 130C). See also Foil and slow roasting.

You can get good pork crackling, too. Following a long quest for crackling perfection (I have written numerous entries on the subject), I have so far yet to record a failure after rubbing vinegar over the skin. The theory behind this technique is that the acid helps to break down the collagen, the protein that provides the skin's rubbery texture.

I had a 1.2kg piece of belly pork, which serves four people easily.

Try to leave the pork uncovered for a while, with salt sprinkled on the skin. When you’re ready to cook the joint, use a paper towel to wipe off the moisture that the salt will have drawn out. Smear a little oil on the meaty underside. Smear a tbsp of vinegar on the skin. Season all over with salt and pepper. You may like to use fennel, too.

Put the belly pork into a grill pan, and grill the skin until it starts to brown.

Slice two onions into rings, mix them with a little oil, and put them into a heavy casserole. Lay the bellow pork on top, put on the lid, and cook at the lowest possible heat at the bottom of the oven, for five to six hours.

Slice off the skin, return the pork to the casserole, and cover to keep warm. Turn the oven to its highest setting, put the skin in a dish or on a baking sheet, and bake until it is crunchy.

The meat from the joint should be tender enough to cut with a spoon.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Risotto with chorizo

A fusion – is this word still fashionable in cookery? – of Italian and Spanish. Serves 2.

Chicken stock
Olive oil
4 cooking chorizos, sliced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red onion, sliced
1 red pepper, deseeded and cut into fork-sized pieces
200g Arborio rice
4 heaped tbsp grated Parmesan, Pecorino, or Manchego

You’ll need about 700ml of chicken stock, or more. Bring it to simmering point in a saucepan.

Meanwhile, put a splash of olive oil in a heavy pan, and fry the chorizos over a gentle heat until they have started to brown and have exuded their rust-coloured fat. Throw in the garlic, onion, and pepper, and continue to cook until they are soft. Add more oil if necessary, but you may have enough.

Add the rice, and stir it with the vegetables and chorizo until hot. Now start adding the stock. Because of the quantity of extra ingredients, you may at first want more than the ladleful traditional in risotto cookery, in order to submerge all the rice and to get it to start to soften. The heat should be just high enough to keep the liquid at a moderate simmer. Wait until the stock is absorbed, and add some more, repeating the process until the rice becomes plump, but with a faint residual bite – 20 to 25 minutes. Add a little salt to taste; but remember that the sausage will be salty, as will the cheese.

Take the pan off the heat, stir in the cheese, and serve.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Roast chicken, with its stock

Prolific cookery writers produce innumerable recipes for roast chicken, so perhaps I may allow myself to publish what is not the first example of its kind to appear here. (My entry on Heston’s roast chicken is the most viewed item on this blog.) I tend to stick to a technique for a while, and then to move on to another one. This is my current favourite. The timing is for a chicken of 1.5kg.

Gently work loose the skin above the breast bone, insert a knob of butter, and try to push it around so that it smears the breast meat. Rub the outside of the chicken with a little oil (olive or vegetable). Shove into the cavity of the bird whatever flavouring agents you like – lemon, onion, garlic cloves, herbs. Season with salt and pepper.

Put the chicken into an oven dish, along with any giblets you have (apart from the liver), and a halved onion. Pour in (but not over the chicken) 200ml water. If you do not have giblets, cut off the wing-tips and use those.

Roast at gas mark 6/200C for about 30 minutes, by which time the skin should have started to brown. Turn the giblets and onion pieces. Continue to roast at gas mark 2/150C for a further hour – but check that the chicken is continuing to cook at a steady pace, adjusting the heat if necessary.

Remove the chicken from the dish, and pour the stock into a small saucepan, adding the giblets and onions too. Having removed the lemon/onion/herbs first, you can hold the chicken by the wings with paper towels in order to pour the juices from the cavity into the saucepan as well.

I have a grill drawer above my oven, and I keep the roasted chicken in there to keep warm. It will hold for at least half an hour.

If you have just the right amount of stock (which is your sauce), simmer it further in a covered pan. If you want to reduce it, simmer it in an uncovered pan. Or you could top it up with more water before simmering it.

Check the seasoning. Strain the stock/sauce into a heated jug, and serve with the chicken.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Spaghetti carbonara, plus

With pasta sauces, less is more. But sometimes, nutrition is as important a consideration as authenticity. With two daughters to feed, and having in the house the ingredients for a carbonara and only a few vegetables (including the remnants of a packet of frozen petit-pois), I produced this. Our tastes are not particularly refined. Serves 3.

Olive oil
350g spaghetti
Olive oil
150g pancetta, cubed
1/4 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 banana shallots, finely sliced
Bunch of purple sprouting broccoli, sliced from the top, with the toughest parts of the lower stems discarded
70g frozen petit pois
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Scraping of nutmeg
50g parmesan or pecorino, grated
Salt and pepper

Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it generously, and immerse the spaghetti, allowing the submerged portions to soften so you can stir in the rest. Cook at a lively boil, stirring regularly.

Meanwhile, gently fry the pancetta in a heavy pan in a splash of oil. Allow it to brown and shed its fat, then throw in the garlic and shallots. Stir regularly. The shallots should soften in four to five minutes.

Keep testing the spaghetti. (The packet instructions will give a rough guide to the cooking time, but cannot be taken as definitive.) When it is nearly ready, throw in the broccoli and peas. After a further minute and a half, tip the contents of the pan into a colander.

Tip the drained spaghetti, broccoli and peas into the pan with the pancetta and shallots. Toss everything. Turn off the heat, and pour in the eggs (to which you have added the nutmeg, and possibly salt and pepper – but go easy with the salt). Toss again, until the spaghetti mixture is coated with lightly curdled egg. Tip in the cheese, and toss again.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

Bananas and Greek yoghurt

Many people like to swirl honey or golden syrup into their Greek (or “Greek-style”) yoghurt. To my taste, these additions smother the acidic edge that makes the yoghurt so delicious.

Instead, I add just a sprinkling of caster sugar. For a quick pudding, I use for each sliced banana 3tbsps of yoghurt and half a tsp of sugar.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Chocolate sponge cake

This chocolate cake is adapted from Cakes From Around the World (Grub Street) by Julie Duff, who says it is from Hungary. The differences from her recipe is that I used gluten-free flour (which is not for the gluten-intolerant only – you may find you prefer it), a little milk because this flour tends to make a stiffer mixture, and only half as much cream – with her quantity, I had far more filling than I wanted.

3 large eggs, separated (I had medium eggs, and used 4)
75g caster sugar
75g self-raising flour (gluten-free)
2tbsp cocoa powder
2-3tbsp milk
100g dark chocolate
300ml double cream (or 284ml, if that is the size of carton available)

Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4/180C, and grease and line a 20cm springform cake tin (see here).

Whisk the egg yolks and sugar until pale and creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks (see here).

Gradually stir the flour and cocoa powder into the egg yolk and sugar. Add a little milk until you have a liquid but stiff mixture. Fold in the egg white, and spoon the mixture into the cake tin.

Bake on a baking sheet in the centre of the oven until the middle of the cake is firm. (Duff’s timing is 20 minutes; my cake took 40.)

Leave for 10 minutes, then loosen the spring and leave the cake to cool, top side down, on a wire rack. Slice it in half.

Melt the chocolate in a small bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water. Whisk the cream until stiff – you’ll find that it goes from thick to stiff very rapidly. Fold in the melted chocolate.

Spread this mixture over the base sponge. Place the other half gently on top. Put the cake into the fridge, to allow the filling to set.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Grilled peppers

I have tended to roast peppers rather than grill them, partly because it involves less effort, and partly because it softens the peppers more thoroughly. But it occurred to me that if I put the grill pan at the bottom of my grill drawer, and set the heat to low, I could probably cook the peppers thoroughly while also blackening the skins.

So it proved. The peppers required regular turning, but ended up soft and sweet; and – this was a big improvement over baked versions – they had skin that had puffed out from the flesh and was easier to peel.

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Masala salmon

Madhur Jaffrey’s recipe for this dish in Curry Easy contains 2tbsp of Dijon mustard. Having tried it, and much as I like mustard, I would be inclined to halve the quantity, but to increase her spice measurements.

Jaffrey recommends leaving the fillets in a rub of the dry spice ingredients, before adding the mustard, oil, and coriander leaves. If you have no opportunity for advance preparation, you can assemble the sauce in one receptacle.

1tsp cumin seeds

1/4tsp coriander seeds

1/4tsp turmeric

1/4tsp cayenne pepper

1/8tsp salt

1tbsp smooth Dijon mustard

1tbsp olive or sunflower oil

2tsp lemon juice

2tbsp chopped fresh coriander

2 salmon fillets

Toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a small saucepan over a gentle heat. Ground them in a mortar, and add the turmeric, cayenne, salt, mustard, oil, lemon juice, and fresh coriander.

Put the salmon fillets in an oven dish, and smear the sauce over them. Place under the grill, until the top browns slightly. Transfer to a gas mark 6/200C oven, and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked through.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Meatballs with fennel and chilli

Rocco, our much-missed deli owner, used to make his own sausages, spiked with fennel and chilli. It occurred to me that I should try this combination in meatballs. Delicious.

Meatballs without breadcrumbs sometimes become compacted. The cheese may counter that effect here; certainly, these ones were crumbly (withoutout falling apart) and moist.

This quantity makes about 20 golfball sized meatballs, probably serving two.

150g beef mince
150g pork mince
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed with a little salt
2tbsp Parmesan, grated
1tsp fennel seeds
1 or 2 dried chillis, whizzed in a small electric mill or coffee grinder
Salt and black pepper
Olive oil, for frying

Mix the ingredients (apart from the oil) with your hands, and form meatballs between your palms.

Put a little oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat, and fry the meatballs, in batches if necessary. Turn them once. Remove when brown – they do not have to be cooked through.

Make a tomato sauce: soften a finely chopped onion in the oil in the pan – 5 to 10 minutes. There may be some bits of meat left in there too; you’ll probably need to turn down the heat, and perhaps add a little more oil, to prevent the onion from catching and the meat from burning. Throw in a chopped garlic clove for a minute. Tip in a tin of tomatoes with a little salt, and simmer, uncovered, breaking up the tomatoes. As the mixture starts to thicken, return the meatballs to the pan, and simmer them in the sauce (still uncovered, unless it appears to be getting too thick) for about 15 minutes, turning once.

Serve with rice.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Syrup sponge

This Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe for syrup sponge works just as well with gluten-free flour (I used Doves self-raising). Being someone who likes to add as much flavour to a dish as possible, even at the risk of overloading it, I also included the zest of a lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.

I greased my pudding bowl with a little oil, rather than butter. But the sponge still got stuck in places, as you can see.

I wrapped the bowl in kitchen paper, and then in three layers of foil – first placing the foil on the top and wrapping, then repeating the process from the bottom, then returning to the top. I did not need string. I placed the wrapped bowl in a steaming basket inside a large saucepan.

Like the wheat flour version, this steamed pudding turns to stodge when kept. It’s not unpleasant, but quite unlike the fluffy concoction that emerges hot from the bowl.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Crespolini with spinach, cheese sauce

I made my crespolini slightly differently this year. (Earlier recipe here.)

I used self-raising gluten-free flour, on the grounds that the xanthan gum that Doves includes might give the pancakes a more coherent texture. They turned out to be somewhat foamy by comparison with wheat flour versions, but perfectly palatable.

As recommended by Felicity Cloake, I used 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk, with 115g of flour, about half a pint of semi-skimmed milk, and a few pinches of salt. (Advice here – but this time, I added the milk gradually to the flour and egg, not being worried about developing gluten.)

Why is the first pancake so often a failure? I was careful to get my pan very hot, but my first pancake nevertheless fell to bits when I tried to turn it. All the rest were fine. My batter made six pancakes.

I cooked a bagful of spinach (advice here), squeezed it dry, and divided it between the pancakes, rolling them up and placing them in an oven dish. I poured half a pint of cheese sauce (there's advice about this too in the eggs Florentine recipe) on top, and baked the crespolini at the oven’s highest temperature for about 8 minutes, until the sauce was bubbling.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Fish curry with coriander and lime

I put together this curry from spices I had in the cupboard. Other combinations and proportions might have worked better; but I was pleased with the zing and pungency of this version. Spring onions, mustard seeds, lime juice, and coriander were the key ingredients, I feel. Fresh chillis would have been a good addition. For 2.

Sunflower oil, for frying
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds
1tsp fenugreek seeds
1tsp mustard seeds
6 cardamom pods
6 spring onions, chopped
2 fillets of white fish, such as cod, coley, or hake
1tsp turmeric
Cayenne pepper, to taste
Salt, to taste
100ml water
Large bunch of coriander, washed and chopped
Juice of 1/2 half a lime

Warm about 2 tbsps of sunflower oil in a heavy pan, throw in the onion and garlic, and soften over a gentle heat. Add more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch.

In a dry saucepan, warm the cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and mustard seeds over a gentle heat, until they give off a toasted aroma. Grind them with the cardamom pods in a mortar. Add the spice mixture with the spring onions to the softened onions, and cook, stirring, for about two minutes.

Cut the fish into fork-sized pieces, and add them to the pan with the turmeric, cayenne, salt, and water. Bring to a simmer, cover, and cook gently for five to 10 minutes, or until the fish is white and flaky.

Take off the heat, and stir in the coriander and lime juice.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Spiced cauliflower, for pasta or couscous

You can perform many variations on this theme of spiced cauliflower with raisins, a Sicilian dressing for pasta. The first version I came across was by Valentina Harris (her Italian Regional Cookery, an out-of-print BBC book), and included tinned sardines, tomato puree, and saffron.

I like the paprika in the version below, in part because I think that a dish of pasta and cauliflower, or even couscous and cauliflower, can appear too pale.

150ml chicken stock
1 cauliflower, broken into florets – I divide the larger ones
2tbsp olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 red onion, chopped
1tbsp paprika
1tsp turmeric
Cayenne pepper to taste, or whizzed dried chillis to taste
Handful of raisins, soaked for 10 minutes in boiling water, sieved and gently squeezed
Handful of pine nuts, toasted in a small pan over a gentle heat – careful: they burn easily

Bring the stock to a simmer in a large pan, throw in the cauliflower, and cover. Steam for about four to five minute, or until the florets are just starting to soften. Remove the florets to a plate with a slotted spoon.

In another pan, warm the olive oil over a low to medium heat, throw in the garlic and onion, and soften for five to 10 minutes. Turn down the heat and/or add more oil if the vegetables threaten to catch.

Add the paprika, turmeric, and cayenne or chillis, with salt to taste. Stir around for a few seconds, and pour in the reserved stock. Bring to a simmer. Tip in the cauliflower, put on the lid, and leave to warm through for a few minutes. Stir in the raisins and pine nuts, and leave for a further minute.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Rhubarb with ginger sponge

The rhubarb from last week is delicious under a ginger sponge. This recipe is adapted from Margaret Costa’s Four Seasons Cookery Book, the principal differences being the pre-cooking of the rhubarb, so that the dish is not too runny; the use of self-raising flour (Doves gluten-free) rather than plain flour and baking powder; and the halving of the quantities. Two of us, taking second helpings, ate all of it; it would comfortably serve 3, and possibly 4.

3 or 4 sticks rhubarb, cut into spoon-sized pieces
1tbsp golden syrup
1/2 cinnamon stick
85g self-raising flour
1tsp ground ginger
1/4tsp mixed spice
Grating of nutmeg
Pinch of salt
57g butter
27g brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

Cook the rhubarb as in last week’s recipe. Drain the liquid into a small saucepan, put the pan over a medium heat on the hob, and boil until the liquid becomes syrupy. (Careful: it will stick and burn if you leave it too long.) Pour it back over the rhubarb.

Stir the spices and salt into the flour. Cream the butter and sugar; because of the high ratio of butter to sugar, you may be able to do this by hand. Beat in the egg, and fold in the spiced flour. If the batter is too thick, loosen it with a little milk until it attains a dropping consistency.

Spread the batter over the rhubarb, and bake in a gas mark 5/190C oven for about 40 minutes, or until the sponge is risen and golden.

Serve with custard, cream, or ice cream.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Baked rhubarb with golden syrup

A happy discovery this lunchtime was that golden syrup – I had some left over from my gingerbread recipe – goes very well with rhubarb. Lovely, vibrant pink forced rhubarb is in the shops now.

Serves 2.

2 to 3 sticks rhubarb, cut into spoon-sized pieces
1tbsp golden syrup
1/2 cinnamon stick

Put the ingredients into an oven dish, and bake for 30 minutes at gas mark 6/200C, stirring from time to time.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

January lemon cake, gluten free

I have been sceptical about the potential of gluten-free flour to produce a decent sponge cake. You need a bit of gluten, I reasoned, to give a cakey texture. Wouldn’t a gluten-free version, in spite of the egg and the butter, fall to bits? But a good friend (and excellent cook), whose mother is coeliac, insists that sponges made with a straight swap of gluten-free flour for wheat flour are excellent. So I gave this one a go, again using a recipe from Geraldine Holt’s Cakes (Prospect Books).

Doves Farm’s own recipe specifies plain flour and baking powder (you’d have to buy a gluten-free version). I don’t know what difference using Doves’ self-raising flour makes, but I note that it includes xanthan gum, the binding agent.

The butter/sugar/flour mixture may be thicker than it would be if it contained wheat flour. If the lemon juice does not produce a dropping consistency, add a little milk.

I did not top my icing with strips of lemon zest; and, as you can see, I used all the icing as sandwich filling, rather than saving half of it to put on top.

175g butter, at room temperature
175g caster sugar
1 lemon
3 eggs
175g Doves Farm gluten-free, self-raising flour

90g butter
1 lemon
230g icing sugar

Place two 18cm, loose-bottomed cake tins on a piece of greaseproof paper, draw round the bases, and cut along the pencil mark. Smear a little butter on the base of each 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.

Cream the butter and sugar, with the zest of the lemon. I do this by hand, and may not be thorough enough. I see in the comments on the Doves recipe someone says that her cake did not rise, adding that she used butter straight from the fridge. Her butter/sugar mixture may not have been light enough.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding some flour as you go to stabilise the mixture. Fold in the flour, with the juice of half of the lemon. If the mixture is still too stiff, add a little milk.

Divide the mixture between the two lined tins, and bake in the centre of a gas mark 4/180C oven for about 30 minutes, or until an inserted skewer emerges clean.

Give the cakes about three minutes, pass a knife round the outside of them, and remove the bases. Cool the cakes, bottom sides up, on a wire rack (the bottoms would stick to the rack, but the crusty upper sides should not do so).

Remove strands of peel from the second lemon. Zest the rest. Squeeze and strain the juice, adding it to the juice from the half left over when you made the sponge mixture.

In a small pan, melt the butter with 3tbsp lemon juice. Bring to a simmer, and allow to bubble for 30 seconds. Remove from the heat, and stir in the icing sugar until smooth. Stand the pan in cold water to hasten the cooling of the mixture.

Allow the mixture to thicken. Spread half of it on to the top of one of the cakes, and put the other cake on top. Pour the other half of the icing mixture on top of the sandwich, and decorate with the strands of peel.

The result has a grainier texture that a wheat-flour version, but it also has the lightness that you want in a sponge. I’m perfectly happy to use gluten-free flour in cakes from now on, though I'm sure I'll want to revert to wheat-flour versions from time to time.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Guinea fowl, pot-roasted, with Marsala sauce

I see that the last time I cooked guinea fowl, I cut it into portions first. This may be the preferable method, because it allows you to cook the legs until tender before adding the breasts, which can dry out. But I had forgotten the lesson when I came to produce this recent version, pot-roasted whole. Still, the flavour was good, and the sauce was delicious.

Serves 4.

1tbsp sunflower oil
2 slices streaky bacon, chopped
1 guinea fowl
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves
100ml water
500g button shallots or onions, peeled
Large knob of butter
125ml Marsala

Put the sunflower oil in a heavy casserole over a low to medium heat, throw in the bacon, and fry gently, until the fat runs.

Push the bacon to one side of the casserole, and brown the guinea fowl, turning it twice and salting it as you go.

Throw in the garlic, pour in enough water to cover the base of the dish, cover, and simmer gently for 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently fry the shallots or onions in the butter in a heavy pan, until brown all over. Add them to the casserole dish 30 minutes before the end of cooking – you want them to be tender, but not to the point of collapse.

Put the Marsala into a small saucepan, bring to the boil, and simmer for a couple of minutes.

Remove the guinea fowl to a board. Pour the reduced Marsala into the sauce. Cut the guinea fowl into rough pieces, return them to the casserole, and serve.

Or you could serve the sauce separately. After you have removed the guinea fowl from the casserole, sieve the remaining sauce into another pan. (If you’d like to remove some of the fat from the sauce, do so now.) You could now reduce the Marsala in the casserole, add the strained sauce to it, and return to a simmer. Pour this sauce into a warmed jug.

Cut up the guinea fowl, and return it to the casserole (or put it on a serving dish, if you prefer) with the shallots, garlic and bacon.

Unless you have removed fat from the sauce in the jug, you will need to stir it a little before each pouring.