Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Croatia, Day 4

We decided to see what other restaurants Lapad had to offer instead of going to the old town. Just like the walled city, everywhere here looks aimed at tourists so there's not much point looking for that perfect place where all the locals flock to. The place we chose looked pleasant enough- nice garden, candlelight, and a few underfed cats hanging hopefully around your table- and the service was great. My meal was not a success, however. It read well enough on the menu, shrimps in white wine, tomatoes and olive oil, a pretty standard dish here, and probably most coastal places in and around the Med. The sauce was made with half-raw onions, insipid tomatoes, and had an unpleasant acridity in the background. The shrimps themselves were rather lacklustre, in both taste and texture. A shame, given our proximity to the sea. My parents enjoyed their meals though, so perhaps I was just unlucky.
We stopped off for ice cream on the way back. I had coffee, chocolate and hazelnut flavours. Except I got that wrong too- the coffee was in fact caramel. Oh well. There's still 3 more eating out days left...

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Croatia, Day 3

I spent the majority of the day in Lokrum, an island that is about 10 minutes away from Dubrovnik's old town by boat. It's mostly a nature reserve, not somewhere where people live- indeed, superstitious types claim that an overnight stay there will cause you to go insane. We decided to bring some pastries from a bakery in Dubrovnik. I had this:

 It was filling and tasty- quite a lot of pastry though, almost like a savoury strudel.

Later on, we went for a pizza in a place called Mea Culpa in the old town. Obviously, pizza is not a traditional Croatian dish. But given the proximity of Croatia to Italy, and the sheer volume of tourists in Dubrovnik, there are pizzerias everywhere. And a very nice pizza it was too. They made the dough there, and the resulting base was thin and crisp. It was more generously topped than an authentic Italian pizza, but still very good. I probably would have dismissed the restaurant had it not been in the guide book, so I suppose there is a lesson to be learnt there. If you find yourself in Dubrovnik absolutely starving, go here- we had two pizzas between three people, and couldn't finish everything. We only noticed afterwards that the regulars were ordering half portions, much more sensible.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Croatia, Day 2

We took two trips to the old town of Dubrovnik today. We ignored the guides advice and went late morning, which is when all the tourists on daytrips arrive. But even on our second excursion in the evening, the walled city was packed with visitors. Thankfully, we had booked at a restaurant set in the courtyard of St. Helen's church, and the setting was wonderfully peaceful.
I chose Adriatic scampi, AKA langoustine for my main course. They were plainly grilled, served with a wedge if lemon to squeeze over as you wished. There is not much to say about it other than the were perfectly cooked, with sweet, tender flesh.Underneath there was a mound of tomatoey rice with diced vegetables.They'd cooked it well enough, but it did smack slightly of Uncle Ben's. Not the ideal accompaniment, but it's forgivable.

To follow, I went for what was labelled on the menu as 'chocolate sorbet with coconut'. As a matter of fact, it was like an incredibly rich coconut pannacotta, with a streak of dark chocolate sauce on top. I imagine it had been set with gelatine, as it had a slight wobble to it. There were also some artful smears, so beloved of this sort of restaurant, of sour cherry sauce. It didn't just work as decoration, the combination of the sour compote cut through the creamy coconut pudding. Something to implement on my return, perhaps.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Croatia, Day 1

The hotel I am staying in is in the Lapad area of Croatia, where the nearest strip of restaurants are beachside ones, the touristy sort I avoid like the plague. Tonight, however, I settled myself down in front of a menu with 4 languages and a cocktail list containing drinks with names like Bloody Screaming Orgasm. Why? I had been up since 2:30am, and the thought of having a wandering down side streets in search of the restaurants that the locals keep to themselves was a little too much. I let myself off the guilt that I would usually feel, I can hunt for gastronomic pleasures for the next six days. Constant self-chastising doesn't make for a restful and relaxing holiday.

And it was fine. I went for a mixed grill, Balkan-style, with smoked sausage, pieces of skewered, grilled veal, and something similar to kofte that I believe was beef and pork, and chicken. There was some ajvar, red pepper sauce on the side, and mustard. It wasn't the sort of food that I could write pages about, nor was it terrible. But we ate whilst watching the sun, huge and red, rapidly sink behind the Elaphite Islands, so as far as introductions go, it wasn't so bad.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Croatia Bound

My usual holiday preparation drill goes: book holiday, buy guide to city, read the eating out section of said guide and none of the other chapters, ask around for recommendations of foods to try, places to eat and what to bring back, make a list of these, make a shorter, more realistic list taking into account financial and time constraints, buy some terrible fiction to read and absent mindedly pack.
Well, I've packed. But I'm off in less than 24 hours with only a dim idea of Croatian cuisine and it's unsettling. Weeks ago I started looking for a book on Croatian food, but as there has yet to be a fashion for food from there, there seem to be very few on the market. I've resorted to the Wikipedia article, which wasn't especially satisfying, I would prefer an Elizabeth David-style read on the subject. All I really know is that Dubrovnik is coastal, so good seafood should be available, and that the city's food is heavily Mediterranean. 
Maybe it'll be more of an adventure, and I'll stumble across places that the guidebook would never have told me about. Or maybe I'll end up eating in tourist traps with pictures on the menu (the only restaurants where this isn't an indicator of a dire meal is in China Town). Fingers crossed for the former, or I'll be resorting to the odd drop of kruškovac to keep up my holiday spirit.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Braised Lamb, Take two.

Should I have any close followers, you may remember that I didn't end up eating the braised lamb with fennel and olives. Tonight I needed something that I could eat curled up on the sofa with just a spoon- I've hit the midweek slump. Here's what I did:

Slowly reheat the entire dish, with the lid on. When it starts to simmer, throw in a handful of soup pasta, in this case, orzo. Let it cook uncovered until the pasta is cooked through. Pick out any flavourings, and discard (bay leaf, lemon peel), or eat (carrot). Ladle the soup-stew into a bowl, grate over a little Parmesan and sprinkle with some extra chopped oregano leaves.

The creation of tonight's meal was somewhat organic, but I liked the end result so much I would make something similar again. Probably not using lamb shank, more likely something I wouldn't feel extravagant shredding and bulking out with starch, such as some bony cuts from the neck. If you like, you go about making this the same way I did, maybe in a more direct fashion, however think of this as more of a blueprint. Use any soup pasta shape you like, or not. Throw in some rice, or cubed potatoes, or lentils. If you braise a larger joint of lamb (shoulder would be perfect), save the cooking juices and give it a similar treatment. It's not the prettiest dish, but it manages to be both comforting and restorative, and certainly worth eating.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Braised Lamb with White Wine, Fennel and Olives

From time to time, I find myself utterly at a loss at deciding what to cook. For a good 5 minutes I was standing at the butchers counter waiting for inspiration to strike. There were a lot of prime cuts on show, probably because it's the weekend, and I was looking for something at the other end of the spectrum, such as pork belly or beef shin. Eventually I settled on a solitary lamb shank- not as cheap as they were, since every restaurant has one on its menu now- but not bank-breaking either. The most common way lamb shank turns up in said restaurants is slow cooked with a rich red wine reduction. Although perfect for the depths of winter, too heavy for the current humidity. Something fresher is required.

This time, I turned to Greek flavours for my inspiration: oregano, lemon and bay, as well as thyme and some chilli for heat. Still going with the slow cooking though, this cut demands it.

I tasted during the cooking, and found I needed to add something to sweeten it, hence the sugar in the ingredients list. I should have realised, really, that the bitterness of the fennel and olives would need something to counteract it. Thankfully this sort of cooking can be very forgiving, and I managed to rescue the balance.

Honesty-time: I haven't eaten it yet. I've tried it, both meat and juices, but it had gotten too late by the time the lamb had cooked to the requisite melting softness for me to be hungry. I had enough to know I like it. But I will be having it tomorrow, slowly reheated. I'm leaning towards cooking some soup pasta, orzo or similar, in the winey juices and shredding the lamb to make a comforting, upmarket broth, but we'll see.

1 lamb shank
Olive oil
1 small onion, sliced
1 small bulb fennel, sliced
1 small carrot, halved lengthways
Thymes leaves, chopped
Oregano leaves, chopped
2 bay leaves
pinch chilli flakes
strip of unwaxed lemon zest
200ml white wine
small handful black olives
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper

In a lidded casserole or similar, heat the olive oil to a high heat on the hob. Season the lamb shank with salt and pepper, and brown the meat all over in the oil. Turn the heat to low, remove the lamb, and turn the onion, fennel, carrot, herbs, lemon zest and chilli flakes in the fat for a few minutes. Return the lamb to the pan, add the olives, and pour over the wine. Add the sugar, bring liquid to a simmer, turn the heat down to low, put a lid on, and leave to cook for at least two hours, until the meat is truly tender, i.e, you can shred it with a fork. Adjust seasoning, eat.
Serves 1

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Hazelnut Loaf Cake

I spent last night searching for a cake recipe that would compliment the spiced damson curd I had just made. Nothing jumped out at me, but I did find this recipe which I adapted to make my own. I haven't tried the original, so I can't say how my version compares. But still warm from the oven, spread with some of the curd, it was just wonderful, perfect for having with friends at tea-time. Having said that, it's not just a vehicle for curd, it stands up just fine by itself.

The Frangelico, an intensely sweet hazelnut liqueur, is not essential, so unless you really want it, don't rush out and buy a bottle. I confess, I'm quite a fan- once you've made a hot chocolate with this, you'll almost certainly be wanting to use it wherever you can.

Update: I remade this, so have some new and improved photos!

200 grams hazelnuts
125 grams unsalted butter, room temperature
225 grams sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
250 grams greek yogurt
2 capfuls Frangelico (optional)
225 grams self raising flour
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade, line a loaf tin with greaseproof paper.
Toast the hazelnuts in a dry frying pan until they start to smell fragrant and the skins begin to flake. Take off the heat and allow to cool enough for you to handle. Rub off as much of the skins as you can from the hazelnuts, then finely grind in a food processor.
Combine the flour, salt and ground nuts in a bowl.Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, one by one, and then add in the yogurt and 1 capful of the Frangelico. Fold in the dry ingredients, then pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin. Bake for around 45 minutes until a knife or skewer comes out cleanly. Pierce with a skewer all over, and drizzle over the remaining Frangelico. Let it cool slightly, before slicing thickly and serving.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Spiced Damson Curd, and Some Uses.

I bought a small bag of damsons in a flush of seasonal excitability. A lot of the fruit I buy for this reason ends up as flavouring for vodka, but I had the urge to make something more family-friendly. I don't think you can get much more wholesome then homemade preserves, in particular curd, which has a rather old fashioned feel to it. I love making and eating curd, but I'd never made it with damsons before. I hypothesized that they would be tart enough to withstand the process required to turn them into a curd, and went about my usual method, with the addition of some spices. I was rather happy with the result, which was not only tasty, but also a pleasing shade of maroon.

If you make this, or any other preserve, you'll need to sterilise the jar, which you can do by washing in hot soapy water, then drying in a low oven.

*Update 2709/15- this has been the most visited blog post by far, so I wanted to revisit this recipe- it's a lovely way to welcome autumn. Here are some newer photos:
Damsons, before cooking

Damsons, after cooking

Damson purée, eggs, sugar and spices

Finished curd

300 grams damsons
100ml water
150-200 grams caster sugar
3 eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 cloves
100 grams butter, cubed

Put the damsons in a saucepan with the water, and bring to a simmer. Turn the heat down to low, clamp on a lid and let them stew for a few minutes till softened, and some of them have split their skins.

Put a sieve over a bowl, and tip in damsons and the accumulated juices. Push the damsons through the sieve with the back of a large spoon, until you are left with just skins and stones in the sieve. Put the sieved juice and damson flesh back in the saucepan with the eggs, egg yolk, sugar and spices. Beat together to make it a uniform consistency.  Over a low heat, stir with a wooden spoon. Once it is heated through, add a cube of butter, stirring all the time until in is melted and mixed in. Continue to add the butter cubes, one by one, until they are all used. Keep cooking and stirring the curd. Once it thickly coats the back of the spoon, it is ready. Pour into your sterilised jar. Once it is cool, keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Now you can either eat it as it is, spread on bread or toast. Or try it on scones, or between the layers of a sponge cake, with some softly whipped cream. Basically wherever you would use jam, substitute curd. My housemate and I had a quick pudding of Greek yogurt with crushed meringue and the curd folded in.

Spring Onion Pancakes/Chong Yao Beng

Despite a banal ingredients list, spring onion pancakes are great when done right- soft and crisp, hot and oily, similar to paratha. Restaurants serving dim sum will normally have them on the menu. They are really cheap and easy to make at home too, where you have the benefit of being able to eat them at their peak, straight out of the pan.

The pancakes could be made as an addition to a larger Chinese meal, or as a snack served with condiments alongside. I like chilli oil, toasted sesame oil or sometimes just on their own, sprinkled with some flaky sea salt. In this instance, I made them to go alongside the sweet potato soup, which I know is lacking in any authenticity whatsoever. But I was cooking for myself, so was not tied by such constraints, or felt obliged to explain the pairing to any would-be food critics. The important thing was that they went nicely, as I thought they might.

Ingredients- makes 4
150g plain flour
125ml water
4 spring onions, finely chopped
4 tbsp flavourless oil- vegetable, sunflower or groundnut 

Put the flour in a bowl with a pinch of salt, mix in the water to make a dough. You may need a little more flour to make it less sticky, but it should be very soft. Divide into 4 pieces.
Flour a board and rolling pin. Roll out one of the dough balls as thinly as you can into a rough circle. Sprinkle over a quarter of the chopped spring onion with a small pinch of salt. Roll up like a sausage, and then roll this into a snail. Flatten the snail with your hand to push the coils altogether, reshape a little with your hands to make a circle. I made them about 10cm in diameter. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough.

Heat the oil over a medium heat in a frying pan. Put in the uncooked pancakes, and fry on each side until golden brown and crispy on the outside and chewy in the middle.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Spiced Pineapple

Generally, I don't 'do' cooked fruit, excepting poached plums and other stone fruit, or if it's contained in pastry. Having a pineapple that desperately needed eating, I considered re-making some char siu pineapple buns from the wonderful Sunflower's Food Galore blog, but whilst perusing, I came across this recipe. It appealed to me, as I wasn't in the mood for complicated cooking, and I also have a slight allergy to fresh pineapple. It's only very mild- it makes my skin prickle and sting slightly,  but I'll put up with the discomfort rather than go without.

My version is very, very similar. I didn't use chilli, as I had been eating this for dinner. After a day in the fridge the chilli flavours were starting to come through, and I wanted something that tasted different. I did however use peppercorns for a touch of heat. I also decided to use palm sugar instead, as I love it's honeyed sweetness. If you can get hold of coconut ice cream to serve it with, you have a really easy summer pudding. Vanilla would be great too.

180ml water
3 slices of ginger root
3 cardomom pods
2 star anise
1/2 tsp black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 stick cassia bark
1 large pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into chinks
3 tbsp palm sugar
1 lime
pinch salt

Put the water, whole spices and ginger slices into a saucepan. Pare a strip of lime zest off the fruit, and add that to the pan. Simmer over a medium heat for around 10 minutes until the water is fragrant.

Add the pineapple, palm sugar and salt, and squeeze in the juice from the lime. Put back on the heat, and cook for another 10-12 minutes. Allow to cool, serve chilled. Make sure you remove the ginger slices, you don't want to mistakenly bite into one of them.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Thai-ish Sweet Potato Soup

I'm still working my way through the Thai red curry paste. My attention span for the food I've cooked is short, I always want to move onto the next thing so I can try something new out. Even though I was really pleased with the paste and the subsequent curries made from it, I was guiltily ignoring the remainder in favour of new dishes. Luckily it lasts for a long time in the fridge, long enough for me to make something tonight that rescued both the paste and some sweet potatoes that had seen better days. I also took the opportunity to use some chicken stock that I'd made from the carcass of this roast chicken. Vegetable stock is fine too, but do remember that most Thai curry pastes contain shrimp paste and are therefore unsuitable for vegetarians.

Ready made curry paste would certainly be acceptable here, especially as you can get some very good shop bought versions- check the ingredients on the tub for a list that reads nicely- i.e. consisting of what you would make it up with at home. I've heard good things about the Mae Ploy red curry paste, which is not a particularly obscure brand.

This is a wonderfully restorative soup, warming and salving. Sweetness and chilli together are madly addictive, as the creators of Walkers Sensations well know.

1 litre stock-chicken or vegetable
100g creamed coconut
700g sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
3tbsp red curry paste
Fish sauce and palm sugar, to taste
Chopped coriander leaves

Bring the stock to a simmer, crumble in the creamed coconut, stir to dissolve. Add the sweet potato pieces, and cook over a medium heat until tender. Add the curry paste, cook for a few minutes more. Take off the heat, and add the fish sauce and palm sugar in roughly equal proportions to taste. It is this step that harmonises the flavours all together. Ladle into bowls, adding a little chopped coriander leaf as you go.

Macaroni Cheese

Totally unfashionable and utterly delicious, macaroni cheese is probably my ultimate comfort food- starch in starch sauce, baked with cheese, there's nothing cosier to eat when it's freezing outside. I love it so much I'll eat it in August. I had made extra white sauce from the chicken pie, so the preparation for this was minimal, but making up from scratch isn't labour intensive. The most involved part is some therapeutic sauce stirring- you do have cheese to grate, but you can delegate that to anyone pretending to want to help.

Four things:
You can assemble the dish before putting it in the oven in advance, and bake it about half an hour before you want to eat.

I don't always infuse the milk with the usual bay/mace/onion for the white sauce, it is good though. But sometimes the need for dinner sooner rather than later is too much, and if this is a more impromptu meal, then forgo this stage.

I use penne, not macaroni. I like the way the tubes hold more sauce. I always felt like I needed to apologise for this. until I read Simon Hopkinson's wonderful Prawn Cocktail Years and was reassured with the knowledge that he did the same.

This macaroni cheese is white, not orange:

*Update 15/10/15*
Well, this is something I make a lot, and I usually serve it with roast leeks- cut into 4cm ish chunks, and roasted in olive oil and sea salt.

 300g penne, or macaroni.
Strong cheddar- few handfuls. I never weigh it out, just be generous. I presume you like cheese if you are making a macaroni cheese,
Parmesan (optional)
30grams butter
15g flour
pinch mustard powder
300ml milk (full fat, for preference)

Make your sauce: Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, then stir in the flour and mustard powder. Toast the flour-butter mix over the heat for a minute. Add a little of the milk to the pan, stirring. Continue to add the milk, bit by bit and stirring all the time until it is all used up and you have a creamy sauce. You may need to add a little extra milk.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil, add salt and the pasta, cook until al dente.
If you are making it up in advance, run the pasta under the cold tap until it is thoroughly cold, and mix it with the sauce when that has cooled too. If you are proceeding straight away, have the hot bechemal waiting and just tip the hot pasta back into the pan you used to cook it, then pour the sauce over and stir it in. Stir in some grated cheddar, and a few spoons of grated parmesan, if using. Put in an ovenproof dish, sprinkle with more grated cheese and bake in a preheated oven at 200 degrees till piping hot and browned. If you've made it up and are cooking it from fridge temperature, cook it at 180 degrees for slightly longer.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Jeepers Creepers

This is a horrible drink, and shouldn't be attempted by anyone. If you are curious, the recipe can be found on the alt-text on this Achewood strip.

Leftovers, Day 2- Chicken, Bacon, Leek and Thyme Pie

Making a pie from the leftovers of a roast chicken is something I have internalised the recipe for over the years. I started, I expect, following a recipe to the letter, moving through to the odd consultation and adding my own touches, and now it is just something I do without thinking. It certainly helps that the component parts all feel very familiar to me. The first thing I ever learnt how to make was Béchamel sauce, adding milk whilst my Mum stirred. I also used to watch her make pastry, which is probably why I don't have a pathological fear of making it, like some perfectly competent cooks do. Yes, the ingredients have slightly changed-I don't recall her ever infusing milk to make the classic white sauce- but my 'feel' for making it all stems from her instruction.

There are many variations on the chicken pie theme. Bacon can be used or not, use mushrooms instead of leeks, or neither. Whatever you decide, remember to keep the chicken as the main character. Herb-wise, tarragon is wonderful, maybe better, than thyme. If you do decide to use tarragon, use the stalks to infuse the milk instead of the thyme. And have a light hand with the amount of chopped leaves you use, a little is wonderful, too much will overpower the dish with an unpleasant level of aniseed.

I occasionally borrow an idea from the Domestic Goddess herself, and crumble in a third of a chicken stock cube in with the flour when making the sauce, and it certainly adds to it. This time, I stirred in the (now jellied) winey-Marsala-y-chicken juices at the end, and it was the best pie yet. But I don't expect anyone to make the same meal in order to create the goods for what is a leftovers dish, even an especially delicious one.

For the milk:
2 bay leaves
1/2 onion
1 clove
1 blade mace/  nutmeg
Parsley stalks
Few Sprigs thyme
300ml full fat milk.

Put all the above except the nutmeg, if using, in a heavy based pan and bring just to the boil, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. If you are using nutmeg, grate a little over the milk and stir in before you leave it to infuse.

For the pastry:
125 grams unsalted butter, cubed
225 grams plain flour
pinch salt
1 egg yolk
a little milk, if needed.

Put the butter, flour and salt in the freezer together for 10-20 minutes, beat the egg yolk with 1 tbsp cold water and refrigerate. Put the flour, butter and salt into the processor, and pulse till you have a flaky mix. Pulse in the egg, and add the milk if you need it to bind the mix together. I keep pulsing until it looks like it is just about to form a cohesive mass before pushing it together with my palms, in order to handle it as little as possible- the less you work the dough, the better result you will get. Pat into a disc, wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest in the fridge for at least an hour. I have made this up to a day in advance with no ill effect.

For the filling:
Cooked chicken,enough to just fill your pie dish
Bacon, pancetta or ham- enough so that is more of a seasoning, not the whole point of the dish, diced (or use lardons or ready cubed pancetta)
 1 leek thinly sliced
Thyme leaves
30 grams unsalted butter, plus a little extra for frying and greasing
15 grams plain flour
1/3 chicken stock cube, or leftover juices from cooking the chicken (optional, see above)

Preheat oven to 200 degrees centigrade, put a baking sheet in the oven to heat on the middle shelf. Butter a medium pie dish.
Strain the infused milk into a jug. Melt the butter in heavy bottomed saucepan, then stir in the flour and crumble in the stock cube, if using. Toast the flour-butter mix over the heat for a minute. Add a little of the milk to the pan, stirring. Continue to add the milk, bit by bit and stirring all the time until it is all used up and you have a creamy sauce. You may need to add a little extra milk. If you have leftover cooking juices from roasting the chicken, stir them in now. Set aside to cool.
In a frying pan, cook the bacon over a high heat, then set aside in a bowl large enough to hold all the filling. In the same pan, sweat the sliced leek in the butter till soft. About a minute before the end of cooking time, add the thyme leaves. Add this mix to the bacon, along with the chicken. Stir in your Béchamel sauce.

Remove the pastry from the fridge. Flour the surface where you are going to roll it out. Roll out 2/3rds of your pastry to fit the base and sides of the pie dish, with a little overhang. Line the dish with the sheet of pastry, and spoon in the filling. Brush the edges of the base part of the pastry where the lid will meet. Roll out the remaining third, and cover the filling. Press the edges together. Put a few slits in the lid with a sharp knife to allow steam to escape. You can use any excess pastry for decoration, if that's your sort of thing. Brush the top with more beaten egg, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, till golden brown.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Nutella Buns

This is a variant of the Norwegian Cinnamon Buns that I have previously written about. I thought Nutella would be good in place of the cinnamon butter, and it was. Admittedly, adding Nutella to baked goods will never be that much of a risk. I also added chopped, toasted hazelnuts. You can either buy them whole, like I did, or ready chopped. The whole ones taste nicer, but you do have to resign yourself to extra effort and the inevitability of the odd nut ricocheting off your chopping board.
I left my roasting pan at a friend's house when I brought round a batch of the cinnamon rolls, so I had to do this one free-form on a baking sheet. I quite like it- it looks like a tortoise's shell.  I have shamelessly copied and pasted the majority of the original recipe, as it's basically the same. 

For the dough:
600 g flour (I added some extra flour as the dough was too sticky)
100 g sugar
½ tsp salt
3 sachets easy-blend yeast. (This seems like a ridiculous amount, but butter and eggs have a slowing effect on yeast growth, so go with it.)
100 g butter
400 ml milk
2 eggs

For the filling:
1 jar Nutella
75 g hazelnuts, chopped (see above)

Line the bottom and sides of  a roasting tin (or baking sheet!) approximately 33cm x 24cm or large brownie tin. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Melt the butter and whisk it into milk and eggs, then stir it into the flour mixture. Mix to combine and then knead the dough either by hand or using the dough hook of a food mixer until its smooth and springy-add extra flour until the dough becomes a good rolling consistency. Form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it to rise for about 25 minutes.

While the dough is rising, toast the chopped hazelnuts in dry frying pan, i.e. no oil, until golden and they release their scent. Take one-third of the dough and roll it or stretch it to fit your tin; this will form the bottom of each bun when it has cooked. Roll out the rest of the dough on a lightly floured surface, aiming to get a rectangle of roughly 50x25cm. Spread the rectangle with Nutella, sprinkle the nuts over evenly and then roll up into a sausage.

Cut the roll into 2 cm slices which should make about 20 rounds. Sit the rounds in lines on top of the dough in the tin, swirly cut-side up. Don’t worry if they don’t fit snugly together as they will swell and become puffy when they prove. Brush them with egg and let them rise again for about 15 minutes to let them get duly puffy.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade. Put in the hot oven and cook for 20-25 minutes till golden brown.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Leftovers, Day 1

And now for something altogether more low-rent. The leftover mashed potato, bound with a little egg, shaped into discs, and fried over a low-medium heat till golden. The gravy from the night before, heated and poured over. Gravy, like soups and curry, it tastes even better after a night in the fridge. This, with some bacon fried alongside the potato cakes, makes a Monday almost bearable.

Chef Ray's Famous Citrus-Brined Chicken

If you've never read the webcomic Achewood, then the title of this post will be lost on you, as will the fact that the idea behind the recipe comes via a cartoon cat. Such is my love for Achewood and food, I'm attempting to make all the meals mentioned, save a few ridiculous/totally unaffordable/horrifically unethical recipes. See here for this one's namesake.

Brining is a fairly new technique to me, the only other way I have implemented it is in the making of salt beef. The idea behind this isn't very different, you're simply soaking your chosen meat in saltwater. The soaking time was much shorter, however, as you are not using the brine to preserve the chicken. What you are doing is enhancing the flavour of the chicken and giving yourself a much juicier result. Do be careful on what sort of salt you buy- all the bags of salt available in my local supermarket had an anti-caking agent (sodium aluminosilicate) added. You'll have more luck in a health food shop, where they sell sea salt with no additives in large bags, cheaper then buying tubs and tubs of Saxo.

I've had successful results of making a sauce to go with roast chicken by putting white wine and marsala in the roasting tin and sitting the bird on a rack above it. Butter and juices from the chicken drip in, making a gorgeous savoury gravy- I find it difficult to roast chicken any other way now. It's not the most revolutionary technique, but I'm proud of it. You can just roast the chicken without this step, if you don't want a sauce to go alongside, or if you want a more traditional gravy. Personally I prefer this, not just in terms of taste, but because there is no scraping away of roasting tins over a fearsomely hot stove, which I find stressful when I'm trying to tie all the elements of the meal together. This is altogether less involved.

You can do the obvious accompaniments, I'm going to confess to heresy by saying I'm not that bothered with the traditional English roast, all endless bowls of plainly boiled vegetables. Maybe that's just me. I'd rather have a couple of well made sides than many varieties of vegetables all given the same hot water torture. Roast potatoes of course, are in a league of there own. I did mashed instead this time, but this was purely because it was what I wanted to eat on that day. Potatoes baked in the oven above the chicken, flesh scooped out and mashed with hot milk and butter, salt, pepper and nutmeg, and green beans with garlic, bacon and parsley. Perfect.

For the brining:
2.5 litres water
250g caster sugar
750 g seasalt
1/2tsp black peppercorns
3 cloves
2 bay leaves
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed orange
2 star anise
1 roasting chicken

Put all the above ingredients except the chicken in a large saucepan over a medium heat, stirring to dissolve the salt. Bring the whole thing to the boil, then remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Put the chicken in a non-metallic container and cover completely with the brine. Leave for 4-6 hours, then rinse it thoroughly with cold water, and pat dry. Leave to air dry for another hour before moving onto the next stage.

For the roasting:
75g unsalted butter
thyme leaves from 4 sprigs, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
zest of one unwaxed lemon
250ml white wine
100ml Marsala/Madeira
1 onion, sliced
1 tbsp cornflour (optional)

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade.
Mix together the lemon zest, garlic and thyme leaves with the butter, and season with pepper. Loosen the skin from the breast of the chicken, so you can push your fingers under it. Practice some caution, you don't want to tear it. Push the seasoned butter over the breast, under the skin, smearing it as evenly as you can. Use most of the butter for this, but rub a little on the legs and wings too. Half the zested lemon, and place one half inside the chicken's cavity. If you have more thyme, you can put some sprigs in there too. Place the chicken on a rack that fits neatly in a roasting tin.

In the roasting tin, pour in the wine and Marsala, add the sliced onion. Place the chicken, on the rack, on top of this and put in your preheated oven for 30minutes plus 20 minutes per 500grams of the weight of your chicken.

When the cooking time is up, remove the chicken to what you are going to carve it on, and cover it with some tented foil. Allow it to rest while you get on with the sauce making. Strain the juices into a saucepan, and reduce over a high heat. Keep tasting until you are happy, I usually add a little extra Marsala at this stage. Don't worry if it tastes right but is too thin. If you want to make it thicker,
turn the heat down so it is simmering, slake the cornflour in a little water and stir in. Continue to stir until it has thickened. Serve alongside your chicken and your chosen embellishments.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Norwegian Cinnamon Buns

I'm a shameless Nigella wannabe, and this recipe is taken directly from How to be a Domestic Goddess. My housekeeping skills are strictly confined to the kitchen, but if I want to feel like a Domestic Goddess, then this is one recipe that never disappoints. I'm rather taken with a the idea of Nutella buns, or maple and pecan buns, so watch this space for my own take on them.

For the dough:
600 g flour (I added some extra flour as the dough was too sticky)
100 g sugar
½ tsp salt
3 sachets easy-blend yeast. (This seems like a ridiculous amount, but butter and eggs have a slowing effect on yeast growth, so go with it.)
100 g butter
400 ml milk
2 eggs

For the filling:
150 g soft, unsalted butter
150 g sugar
2 tsps cinnamon
1 egg, beaten, to glaze

Line the bottom and sides of  a roasting tin approximately 33cm x 24cm or large brownie tin. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a large bowl. Melt the butter and whisk it into milk and eggs, then stir it into the flour mixture. Mix to combine and then knead the dough either by hand or using the dough hook of a food mixer until its smooth and springy-add extra flour until the dough becomes a good rolling consistency. Form into a ball, place in an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave it to rise for about 25 minutes.

While the dough is rising, mix the filling ingredients in a small bowl. Take one-third of the dough and roll it or stretch it to fit your tin; this will form the bottom of each bun when it has cooked. Roll out the rest of the dough on a lightly floured surface, aiming to get a rectangle of roughly 50x25cm. Spread the rectangle with the buttery cinnamon texture, then roll up into a sausage.

Cut the roll into 2 cm slices which should make about 20 rounds. Sit the rounds in lines on top of the dough in the tin, swirly cut-side up. Don’t worry if they don’t fit snugly together as they will swell and become puffy when they prove. Brush them with egg and let them rise again for about 15 minutes to let them get duly puffy. The photos below show a 'before and after' of the second prove.

Heat the oven to 200 degrees Centigrade. Put in the hot oven and cook for 20-25 minutes till golden brown. Take to the table and as soon as they are a bearable temperature you can demolish them with a cup of tea.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A bit of latte art

The humidity and a virus have mostly depleted my appetite this week, so I haven't had anything to write about. Just so you know that I haven't given up on the blog, have a photo of a coffee I made today:

 As soon as I get better, I'll put some more recipes up, which I'm sure is a great relief to you. Probably not as much as relief that customers will have knowing they won't be getting their drinks photographed anymore.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Egg and Lentil Curry

I know egg and lentil curry sounds like a grim dish served in some grim vegetarian café, served with fun-free zero fat yoghurt raita, and badly cooked brown rice (we all have our prejudices). But this is a regular favourite fallback recipe of mine. I don't think I've ever cooked it exactly the same way twice, what I have in the cupboard, what sort of mood I'm in all dictates how it's made. Sometimes I want something fiery, in which case I add more chilli and less coconut, and sometimes I want something altogether less challenging, and I might stir in some yoghurt at the end to make a creamier and more comforting dish. Even the eggs aren't strictly necessary, leave them out and have dhal. Here I've attempted to pin it down to a more exact recipe. I've also labelled it under 'Indian', although this is not strictly true as it comes directly from my kitchen. Hopefully it wouldn't seem too out of place amongst some actually authentic curries as part of a larger meal.

Ingredients-for 4
2 tbsp Oil or ghee
1 onion
3 cloves garlic
thumb-sized piece of root ginger 
1 cinnamon stick
3 cloves
2 cardamom pods
1 tsp black mustard seeds
2 tsp cumins seeds, ground
2 tsp coriander seeds, ground
chilli powder- quantity to your taste
1/2 tsp turmeric
pinch asafoetida (optional, but it does add a certain something)
1 tin tomatoes
1 tin coconut milk
250grams brown lentils
4 eggs
tbsp garam masala
2 tbsps yoghurt (optional)

Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy bottom saucepan saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion, garlic and ginger and cook until golden and aromatic. Turn up the heat slightly and add the cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom and mustard seeds. Fry for a minute, stirring all the time. Add the rest of the spices except for the garam masala, and continue to cook for a few more seconds. When the spices have released their scent tip in the tinned tomatoes. Cook, stirring, until the oil has separated from the tomatoes. Add the coconut milk and lentils, and water to cover. Turn the heat down to a simmer. Let the lentils cook, top up with water if necessary.
Meanwhile, boil the eggs for 8 minutes- you want them hard boiled, but still with a creamyish yolk, no tell-tale dark circles of overcooking in the middle. Once the time is up, run them under the cold tap for a minute to stop them cooking before shelling them. Cut them lengthways in half.
When the lentils have become soft, and the whole thing is looking nice and thick, turn off the heat and add the garam masala and salt. Taste, and do any adjustments- if you want yoghurt, stir it through now. Add the eggs, let it sit for just a minute to all come together, then serve.

Salt Beef Hash

Only halfway through the salt beef, I decided to make hash. It was perfect for a late Sunday night supper, but then it is also perfect for lazy morning breakfast. The really nice- and convenient- thing about it is that the best sort of hash is an imperfect one. That is to say, don't worry about cutting up the component parts nice and even, a mixture of sticky crispy brown bits with softer melting parts is the whole point of the dish.

Potato-wise, leftover cold potatoes are ideal, but you can boil uncooked ones if you are starting from scratch. My preference is for floury potatoes, as they crumble in the pan, soaking up more fat to give a crunchier finish. New potatoes cook more neatly and evenly, but have less charm.

I added some thyme leaves, as I had them in my fridge, but they are a mere suggestion, not an instruction. The tougher herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage) would all go well if you have them, but don't rush out to buy extras, thus starting an endless cycle of leftover ingredients. For similar reasons, I haven't specified exact quantities. Use what you have to hand. Obviously you don't want a dish that is all mostly just meat or just potato, just go with what looks right and what you feel like eating.

A fried egg is not actually part of the hash itself, but for me it completes its, as does ketchup and a good shake of Tabasco.

Oil, dripping or lard
Cooked potato
Onion (I reckon 1 large onion for 4 people is about right)
Cooked meat (in this case, salt beef, but you can also use leftovers from a roast or corned beef)
1 or 2 eggs per person (if you like)
salt and pepper.

Heat your chosen fat in a large, heavy based frying pan. Dice up your potato into a size that pleases you, and once the oil is hot, add the potato pieces to the pan. Even out over the pan so they get browned on one side. Meanwhile, chop the onion and meat. Turn the potatoes over when they are nicely coloured, making sure to scrape the browned bits off the base of the pan. When all the potatoes have a golden colour, add the onions and cook for a few minutes until they start to soften. Add the meat and allow to crisp slightly- you may need to turn the heat up towards the end. If you are having eggs, push the potatoey mix to one side of the pan and fry them alongside. Done.

Cooked Hash