Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Mince Pies At Last

This post is a little late since I’ve missed the real mince pie season, but it’s the end of a long journey for me so I think I should record it. I admit to not being a huge fan of mince pies, and I probably wouldn’t bother with them at all if it weren’t for the fact that my wife really likes them. So it’s been a challenge for some time to produce one which I could honestly say that I liked.

Mince Pies

The first hurdle was the mincemeat itself which often feels to me like wading through fat – I don’t really get the point of suet at all. Last year I found Pam Corbin's recipe for suet-free mincemeat, based on cooking down plums before adding the more usual bits together with a drop of sloe gin. It’s healthier but, more importantly, tastes fresh and fruity.

But last year’s mince pies still didn’t really work for me because the pastry just didn’t seem right. This year we tried Orlando Murrin's pastry from the recipe Unbelievably Easy Mince Pies on the BBC site, which gives a crumbly pastry that I think is exactly what’s needed.

Finally, I read Richard Bertinet in the Times a few weeks ago saying that he felt that the ratio of pastry to filling was wrong in a conventional mince pie and that he topped his with frangipane with a drop of brandy included.

Combine those three elements and much to my surprise there was finally a mince pie about which I felt genuinely enthusiastic. Perhaps I wasn’t quite as surprised as the Frenchman I saw biting into a mince pie in a café in Devon one summer. Despite the sterling efforts of the waitress I don’t think that he’d quite grasped the strange English concept of mincemeat.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Chicken Noodle Salad

This salad could be made with leftover chicken, or, given the time of year, even leftover turkey. I try not to have too much to do with turkeys - we've always had a strained relationship. It's some years since I cooked a Christmas turkey and on that occasion the bird was still in a garage in Widnes on Christmas morning and nobody could quite remember which garage.

This recipe will serve 2 people.

A few chicken thighs with skin on and bone in; 4 maybe, but as many as you feel like eating
2 portions of medium egg noodles (around 125 g altogether, uncooked)
A good handful of green beans
6 smallish or 4 large spring onions

For cooking the chicken:
     1 scant tsp 5-spice powder
     3 tbsp dark soy sauce
     1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
     2 tsp sesame oil

For the dressing:
     2 tbsp dark soy sauce
     2 tbsp light soy sauce
     1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
     2 tsp sesame oil
     1 tbsp sherry vinegar
     2 heaped tsp soft, brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 170°C (for a fan oven, a little hotter, otherwise). Place the chicken thighs in a roasting tin, sprinkle them with the 5-spice powder and pour over the dark soy, the balsamic vinegar and the sesame oil. Cover the tin with foil and roast in the oven for 45 minutes.

When the time is up, remove the foil and continue roasting uncovered for another 15 minutes. After this time, the chicken should be very tender without being too dry. As soon as it has cooled enough to handle, remove the skin (we’re trying to be a bit healthy here) and turn the chicken in the juices left in the roasting tin. Leave to cool completely.

Top and tail the green beans and steam for 5 minutes or so. They should retain a little bite, but not too much. Leave to cool. Chop the spring onions very finely.

Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions. They shouldn’t be allowed to remain too al dente or you’ll lose out on some of the silky texture of the salad. Once cooked, refresh the noodles in cold water and leave to drain.

Make the dressing by combining all the ingredients thoroughly. I find that pouring them into an old jam jar and shaking vigorously is easiest. (This is quite a lot of dressing for two people but I like lots.)

Tear the cooled chicken flesh into bite-sized pieces – it should certainly be tender enough to come apart easily. Cut the cooled beans into lengths of random size. Place the chicken and beans in a large bowl, add the noodles and spring onions, pour over the dressing and toss well to combine everything thoroughly. This salad can sit around for a short while without coming to harm, but don’t leave it for more than about 15 – 20 minutes.

This basic recipe can be varied in many ways. For instance, substituting mangetout or sugar snaps for the beans or adding some sweet chilli sauce to the dressing.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Salad

I put this dish together as my effort to meet the Real Epicurean In the Bag challenge for December. The challenge is to create a dish using cranberries, clementines or mandarins and nuts. To be honest that sounded a bit too Christmassy for me - Christmas doesn’t come very high on my list of favourite times of the year. But then I thought why shouldn’t I be using these really good ingredients when they’re at their best? It’s not their fault that they get slopped on to turkey or turn up at the bottom of Santa’s sack. So I've had a go.

Sweet Potato and Cranberry Salad

This salad will serve 4 as part of a mezze or 2 as a light lunch with some flatbreads or something of that kind.

1 green pepper
1 onion, finely chopped
3 medium orange-fleshed sweet potatoes, around 600 – 650 g unpeeled weight
1 tsp ground cumin
¼ tsp chilli powder
350 ml vegetable stock
2 tsp lemon juice
3 tsp clementine juice
2 tsp maple syrup
2 tsp pomegranate molasses
2 clementines, divided into segments
A generous handful of cranberries
A generous handful of shelled pistachios
A sprig or two of chervil or parsley

Skin the pepper: grill it until blackened, place in a sealed plastic bag while it cools and the skin should come off easily. Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into slices of around 1.5 cm thick.

In a pan which will be large enough to hold the sweet potato slices in one layer, soften the onion in around 1 tablespoon of olive oil for 5 to 10 minutes without colouring. Add the sweet potato slices, stir in the cumin and chilli powder and pour over the stock. Add the lemon and clementine juices, the maple syrup and pomegranate molasses. Even out the sweet potatoes in the pan, bring to the boil and simmer gently without covering  for around 20 minutes – the sweet potatoes should have begun to soften but not fall apart.

Add the cranberries and continue simmering until the sweet potatoes are completely tender and the cranberries are collapsing. By this time the liquid should have reduced to a thick dressing. (If it dries out too much during the cooking, it may be necessary to add a little water).

Lightly toast the pistachios in an oven at 180°C for 5 minutes. Slice the flesh of the green pepper. Put the sweet potatoes in a serving dish, stir in the pistachios and green pepper. Place the clementine segments on top and decorate with a sprinkling of chervil or parsley.

Eat at room temperature while pretending it’s still summer.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Pepper Soup with Almond Butter

You can use red, yellow or orange peppers for this soup or a mix of colours depending on what’s available and the colour that you want to end up with. Don’t use green – or purple or black for that matter, which I think are just green peppers disguising themselves. The idea of this soup is to have some background spice with a hint of heat but without overwhelming the taste of the peppers and almonds.  To provide the spice this recipe uses ras el hanout, which varies a lot from one spice seller to the next so it may be necessary vary the amount. If the blend is already hot, then leave out the chilli flakes.

I used a jar of almond butter but you can make your own purée from roasted almonds and possibly a little salt – it’s not difficult, it’s just a bit of a faff. There’s plenty of guidance around if you want to try – on C'est moi qui l'ai fait ! for instance.

Pepper and Almond Soup 1a

This recipe makes around 4 bowlfuls.

4 peppers (red, yellow or orange)
1 onion, finely chopped
1 potato (around 250 g is about right)
A pinch of dried chilli
½ tsp ras el hanout
1 litre vegetable stock
2 generous tsp almond “butter” or purée

Skin the peppers: I grill them until blackened, place in a sealed plastic bag while they cool and the skin comes off easily. The advice is often given to carry out this last stage under running water to make the job easier but that method wastes the lovely pepper juice. If you want to retain the pure colour of the peppers, try steaming them for 5 –10 minutes instead of grilling – I don’t think the flavour will be as good, though.

Soften the onion in a fairly big frying pan with a spray of oil, adding a splash of water to prevent it burning, if necessary. Peel and chop the potato into small chunks. When the onion has softened a little (but not coloured) add the potato, chilli flakes and ras el hanout. Stir it all together and pour over the stock. Bring to a simmer, cover the pan and let it bubble away very gently for 25 minutes or so until the potato is very tender.

Let the potato mixture cool a little and then liquidise it together with the pepper flesh. Stir in the almond butter and adjust the seasoning. Make sure that you add the almond butter before seasoning since it can be a little salty.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Toulouse Pork and Beans

I like to use Toulouse sausages for this recipe (or at least English versions of Toulouse sausage) but I wish to make it very clear that this is dish has no connection with cassoulet. I went to Castelnaudary fairly recently and I now realise just how seriously that dish is taken. My internal picture of Castelnaudary is a little like this:

Internal Castelnaudary

Unfair, of course, and I'm sure that  La Grande Confrérie du Cassoulet de Castelnaudary would see it differently.

This should warm up 2 hungry people on a very cold day.

100 g pancetta cubes or lardons (one of the small packs you can get  in the supermarket is just the right size)
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
½ - 1 tsp paprika
½ glass red wine
400 g tin of chopped tomatoes
400 g tin cannellini beans
½ tsp sugar
1 tsp sherry vinegar
1 tbsp tomato purée
6 Toulouse sausages (that is English-sized sausages)
1 tbsp freshly grated parmesan
A few chopped leaves of oregano
2 – 3 handfuls of breadcrumbs (any sort will work, but really crisp ones are best – like the ones you can buy rather than make)

Preheat the oven 170°C (for a fan oven).

Add half of the pancetta cubes to a large frying pan and fry until some of the fat is released. Add the onion and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add the garlic and continue fry for another minute or so – be gentle and don’t let the onion or garlic brown. Stir in the paprika and then deglaze with the red wine. When the wine has all but disappeared add the tomatoes, the sugar, sherry vinegar and tomato purée. Drain the beans and add to the pan with a generous amount of salt and pepper. Simmer this mixture very gently for 10 minutes.

In the meantime, get another frying pan and brown the sausages in a little oil. When lightly browned all over, cut each sausage into 3 or 4 pieces. Transfer the bean and tomato mix to a casserole dish and push the sausage pieces down into it. If the mixture seems a little dry at this point, add a dash or two of water.

Now make a topping. Finely chop the rest of the pancetta and put into a bowl. Add the parmesan, breadcrumbs and oregano to the bowl and mix them together thoroughly. Sprinkle the topping over the bean mix as evenly as is reasonable and place the casserole in the oven, uncovered, for about 45 minutes until the sausages are fully cooked, the flavours have mingled thoroughly and the topping is nice and brown.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Jerusalem Artichoke and Carrot Soup

This recipe makes around 6 bowlfuls.Jerusalem Artichoke 3

1 medium onion, finely chopped 
500 g Jerusalem artichokes (unpeeled weight)
1 baking potato (ideally around 300 g in weight – definitely not more than this, anyway)
500 g carrots, peeled and sliced
1 or 2 garlic cloves
A generous splash of marsala
1 litre vegetable stock
A few thyme leaves (don’t overdo it)
A squeeze or two of lemon juice

Take a big pan - one that you have a lid for - and soften the onion in it with a spray of oil. If the onion looks like it might take on some colour add a little water. While that’s happening, peel the Jerusalem artichokes as carefully as you can be bothered (as long as they’re clean a little bit of skin won’t really hurt), cut them into chunks and drop them into water with lemon juice added to prevent them going brown.

Peel and cut the potato into chunks. Crush the garlic, stir it into the onions and continue cooking for a minute or so. Add the Jerusalem artichokes, carrots and potato, then pour over the stock and marsala. Sprinkle the thyme leaves over the vegetables. Bring to a simmer, cover and continue cooking until everything is nicely softened – about 25 minutes or so.

Cool a little and then liquidise the lot. Adjust the seasoning and add as much of the lemon juice as you think it needs. Add a little more stock if the soup seems too thick, though don't add too much – I think this soup is best if left fairly thick and creamy (but without any cream, so nice and low in fat).

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Breadmaker Lemon and Almond Brioche

No doubt I should be far more authentic and homely and do my own proving and kneading without the aid of a machine. Well I do sometimes, but I really like my breadmaker. This recipe is a simple extension of the basic brioche loaf recipe provided with the machine but I’ve added ground almonds and flavoured it with lemon and vanilla in line with some brioche that I’ve seen on sale in France.

I use a Panasonic breadmaker for this recipe, but for most other machines the liquid will need to go in first. I really like vanilla bean paste, but extract will do fine instead.

1 tsp dried, fast action yeast
Brioche400 g strong white bread flour
50 g ground almonds
Zest of 1 lemon
3 tbsp sugar (golden caster sugar works well)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp (or thereabouts) vanilla bean paste
100 g softened, unsalted butter
3 medium eggs, lightly beaten
150 ml milk

Ideally, the ingredients should be at room temperature. Add the ingredients in the order stated and bake with the following settings:

“Basic” bake
“Medium” size
“Light” crust

Couldn’t be easier, really.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Cornbread Muffins

I’ve tried various different ways of cooking cornbread but I tend to come back repeatedly to this recipe which is a bit of a hybrid from a number of the other recipes I’ve tried. These muffins are quick to make and go well with a chilli or any spicy casserole. They also freeze well.

This recipe makes 6 biggish muffins.

125 g self-raising flour
125 g fine cornmeal
1 tbsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
A few twists of black pepper
1 tsp dried chilli flakes (or more if you feel inclined)
½ tsp dried thyme
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tbsp olive oil
225 ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 210°C (for a fan oven, a little hotter otherwise). Unless you’re using a silicone mould, you’ll need to grease the muffin tins.

Sift the flour, cornmeal and baking powder into a bowl and mix in the salt, pepper, chilli flakes and thyme. Make sure all the dry ingredients are nicely mixed up and make a well in the centre.

Mix together the egg, oil and buttermilk, pour the mixture into the well in the dry ingredients and stir the lot together. The mix should be fairly thick but loose – if it seems too claggy then add a little more liquid (preferably more buttermilk).

Spoon into the muffin tin or mould (they should be about two thirds or three-quarters full) and bake in the oven for 15 minutes. If in doubt over doneness, prick with a skewer and check that it comes out clean. Allow to cool a little and then turn out onto a wire rack in the time-honoured manner.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Fruity Pork Cottage Pie

Autumn’s definitely here and the darker evenings call for comfort food. Cottage pie is definitely comforting. Since I didn’t have any leftover meat to make it with, I decided to try some pork mince rather than the usual beef or lamb. (Despite using pork I can’t quite bring myself to call it a Swineherd’s pie.) Fruity, sour flavours often go well with pork so I decided to throw in some sour stuff and balance it with some sweet bits. This is a bit over the top, maybe, but if the balance of sweet and sour is right, then it makes a refreshing alternative to the usual taste of a cottage.

For the “filling”:
2 small or 1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
500 g pork mince
5 or 6 mushrooms – common button ones will do – chopped coarsely
1 apple, cut into big chunks
Skin of ½ preserved lemon, finely chopped
½ tsp dried chilli flakes
2 tsp cumin
2 tsp sumac
1 tsp ground dried lime
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
2 tbsp honey
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tbsp tomato purée
10 smallish dried apricots, cut in half

For the topping:
900 g potatoes, suitable for mashing
3 spring onions, finely chopped
2 tbsp mango chutney, the fruitier and sweeter the better
Small knob butter

In a nice big frying pan, start to soften the onion in a spray of oil. Add the carrot after a minute or so and pour in about ½ glass of water. Let this cook gently for about 7 or 8 minutes until the water has gone. Add the pork to the pan and stir over a medium heat until it starts to take on some colour. (If the pork produces a lot of fat, I think it’s worth pouring some of it off at this point).

Add the mushrooms and cook for a few more minutes. Add the preserved lemon and apple and cook for another minute or so. Stir in the chilli flakes, cumin, sumac, dried lime, pomegranate molasses, honey, lemon juice and tomato purée. Pour in just enough water to just about cover everything but don’t drown it – you may need as little as 100ml. Bring to a simmer, add a few grinds of pepper (don’t add salt at this stage, since the preserved lemon will be salty already) and stir in the dried apricots. Put on a lid and let it simmer gently for 90 minutes or so. Check and stir every so often. Add more water if it needs it – you don’t want it too thin but you definitely don’t want to let it dry out.

Adjust the seasoning for the mince mix and place it into a reasonably shallow ovenproof dish. Cook and mash the potatoes, but don’t add any butter, cream or milk while mashing however tempting it might be. Stir the mango chutney, the spring onions and the knob of butter into the potatoes and spread over the top of the mince mixture. Fluff the mash up a bit with a fork.

At this point you can set the dish aside and keep it chilled until you want to eat. Reheat the pie at 180°C (for a fan oven) for 30-40 minutes. Make sure that the dish is thoroughly heated through before serving. Personally I don’t mind if the potato picks up a bit of burnt-looking brown because I think it adds a different texture, but if you do mind, then cover with foil for most of the time the pie is reheating.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Thyme Sorbet

I’ve no idea why I’m making a sorbet when the winter seems to be setting in and hot food seems more appropriate, but I suppose that’s the way I am. Thyme sorbet has become a bit of a cheffy cliché in the recent past but I still wanted to see what it was like to make. Most recipes that I’ve seen follow a pretty straightforward sorbet formula, often with lemon, which is additionally infused with thyme. There’s nothing at all wrong with that but I’d seen a sorbet with a milky quality in France and I thought I’d try adding milk to this sorbet before the thyme in the garden is too ravaged by the winter.

This recipe only makes a small amount, but I think this works best in small amounts as an accent to other flavours – perhaps a dessert made with some of the blackberries you collected and froze earlier in the year. I used a mix of lemon and ordinary thyme in this recipe but I think it works with either

5 sprigs of thyme
Zest of 1 lemon
300 ml full cream milk
300 ml water
200 g caster sugar

Bring the milk, water and sugar to the boil, stirring now and then to make sure that the sugar has completely dissolved. As soon as it reaches boiling point take the pan of the heat and add the thyme and lemon zest. Cover and leave to infuse for 30 minutes or so.

Strain through muslin and chill thoroughly. Pour into the ice cream maker and let it do its business in the usual way.

There’s a good chance that this will not freeze fully in a simple home ice-cream maker like mine and it might need to spend a little time in the freezer to firm up. If it’s in the freezer for too long, though, it will need to be taken out to soften a little before serving.

While I’m on the subject of little bits and pieces for dessert, I came across a chilli and lime milk chocolate bar in the Montezuma’s chocolate shop in Kingston recently. Lovely chocolate on its own, but it makes an interesting dessert if you melt five or six squares and drizzle it over a chopped up, ripe mango.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Unaccustomed Parsnip Soup

The supermarket had cheap parsnips yesterday, which seemed like a good opportunity for more soup making. More often than not I’ll make the old standby of a curried or spicy parsnip soup, but today I thought I’d make use of the sweet potatoes I had lying around and the stray Bramley apple in the fruit bowl.

I use marsala in this recipe because I think it complements the taste of root veg and squashes really well – I use it quite a lot during the winter, but you could use sherry or leave it out altogether, though that would be a shame, I think. The recipe will make around 5 portions of reasonably thick soup that will be just right on cold and dreary day – like today, funnily enough. Like a lot of the soups I make this is virtuously low in fat.

Parsnip Sweet Potato & Apple Soup

1 onion, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh ginger
3 cloves garlic, crushed
Small glass of marsala
A generous pinch of crushed, dried chilli
2 teaspoons dark brown sugar
375 g parsnips (prepared weight), peeled and chopped

190 g sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1½ litres vegetable stock
1 decent sized Bramley apple, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons lime juice

Give a large pan a quick spray or two of oil and start to soften the onion over a gentle heat. If it starts to dry out completely or looks in danger of taking on any colour, then add a splash of water. After a few minutes add the ginger and garlic and continue to cook on the gentle heat for another minute or two.

Throw in the marsala, increase the heat and wait until the marsala is reduced to next to nothing. Add a couple of turns of black pepper and the dried chilli, then stir in the sugar.

Tip in the parsnips, the sweet potato and 1 litre of the vegetable stock. Bring to a simmer and add the apple. Allow to simmer for about 25 minutes, or until all the chunky bits are properly softened.

Take the pan off the heat and allow it to cool a little and then liquidise the lot. Add some of the reserved stock as you go to get the thickness you like – you may not need it all. Adjust the seasoning and add the lime juice to taste. It’s difficult to say just how much lime juice you may need since parsnips seem to vary a lot in sweetness; you may not need it all but you just might find you want a little more.

You could serve the soup prettied up by some small dice of a red-skinned apple, if you were so moved.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Dear Old Red Cabbage

Braised red cabbage is a pretty standard recipe and I don’t do much that’s really different. There are one or two small tweaks that mean it’s just the way I like it, though. The idea of using the two different apples is that the Bramley will add the tartness but will break down, while the eating apple adds a sweeter, more obviously appley taste and may retain some texture. The blackberry vinegar will heighten the colour and give extra depth to the flavour but is generally sweeter than most vinegars, which is partly why I add the lemon at the end.
This dish has the major advantage that it can be made well in advance (even the day before), chilled and reheated. It also freezes pretty well.

If you do happen to have any cold red cabbage left over then try thinning it with a little more lemon juice, vinegar or just some water and then purée until at least reasonably smooth. It makes a very good relish for cold meats.

This recipe will serve 4.

Braised Red Cabbage with Lemon

1 medium red cabbage
2 small onions, finely chopped
1 large Bramley apple
1 decent-sized eating apple, preferably a firm Cox
90 ml of water or vegetable stock
3 tablespoons light, soft brown sugar
2 tablespoons blackberry vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Zest and juice of 1 unwaxed lemon
½ tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

Preheat the oven to 160°C (for a fan oven, a little hotter otherwise).

Soften the onion gently in a large, lidded, flameproof casserole with a small amount of olive oil. If the onion looks in danger of taking on some colour, add a little water. Discard any outer leaves that don’t look too good then cut the cabbage in half, cut out the really hard stalky bits and finally slice it finely. Peel and core the apples, then cut them into fairly chunky slices.

Add the apple slices to the onions and continue cooking for a couple of minutes. Stir in the cabbage, then add the lemon zest, sugar, vinegars, thyme leaves and water or stock. Add a little salt (not too much at this stage) and a few turns of pepper.

Give it all a good stir, place the lid on the casserole and put it into the oven. The cabbage should take between 1½ and 2 hours to cook but it will need stirring every twenty minutes or so. If the cabbage seems to be drying out too much at any stage, add another couple of tablespoons of water.

Once the cabbage is tender, take it out of the oven and stir in the lemon juice to taste – you may not need it all. Add more salt and pepper if you think it needs it.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

The Accustomed Carrot Soup

My regular carrot soup started out as a pretty standard potage de Crécy, or at least what I thought was a potage de Crécy. I quickly found myself changing it to add other bits and pieces and to make it as low fat as I could. I don’t really like being too fussy over this soup and I’ll change proportions and some of the flavourings now and then, but this is as close to a standard as I get for a satisfying lunch on a cold day.

This recipe makes 4 to 5 portions depending on how thick you like it and how much wastage you get with your carrots. I sometimes make a fair bit extra and load the freezer.

600 g carrots, unprepared weight
2 small onions, finely chopped
2 litres vegetable stock – you could make your own, of course, but a stock from Marigold vegetable bouillon will do fine. You could also use chicken stock.
1 rounded teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons basmati or long grain rice
2 tablespoons orange juice
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (it should be a decent one but it doesn’t have to be the best)
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
Squeeze or three of lemon juice

Get the onions going in a large sauté pan or saucepan with a spray of oil over a low heat and when they start to sizzle add around 90ml of water and let them soften as the water boils gently away.

Top, tail, peel and chop the carrots into fairly small pieces. When the water has disappeared from the onions (or near enough), stir in the carrots and add 1500 ml of the stock. Add 4 or 5 turns of black pepper, a pinch of salt, the thyme and chilli flakes. Don’t season too much at this stage; you can adjust the seasoning at the end. Throw in the rice and pour in the orange juice and balsamic vinegar.

Bring to the boil and the leave the mix to simmer very gently for 30 – 40 minutes. The time this takes will depend on how small you’ve chopped your carrots, but the carrots need to be nice and tender.

Cool a little, then liquidise the lot. You’ll probably need to add all or most of the remaining stock at this point to get the thickness you want. Adjust the seasoning and add the lemon juice to taste. A little chopped chervil sprinkled on top is always nice.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Tagliatelle with Chicken and Plums

This dish might sound as if it just wouldn’t work, but oddly it does – as long as you like plums. I came across a French recipe using chicken and plums and since there were plenty of cheap plums around, I thought I’d try something along the same lines. It might sound a little complicated, but it’s not really and can be prepared largely in advance.

This recipe serves two hungry people, but the size of plums and chicken thighs will vary a lot so you might want to vary the amount of pasta or other ingredients to suit your appetite.

3-4 chicken thighs, skin on and bone in
3-4 plums, ripe but preferably still on the firm side
2 medium courgettes, topped and tailed
Zest and juice of 1 small lime
150 g (or thereabouts) tagliatelle – or use whatever pasta you have
Balsamic vinegar, olive oil, dried chilli flakes, salt and pepper and maybe a little sugar

Cut the courgettes into thin slices lengthways. Dry these slices out by placing them on silicone sheets on baking trays in an oven heated to 110°C (for a fan oven) for around an hour (the exact time will depend on how thick the slices might be). Don’t worry about some of the slices taking on a bit of colour, but don’t let them brown and crisp up too much.

Once dried (or semi-dried, really), fry the slices in a splash of olive oil until they are golden (or maybe a little brown) all over. This won’t take long so watch them carefully. Set the courgette slices aside.

Roast the chicken thighs. This will take about half an hour at 180°C, but this time will vary according to size. I like to roast them on a bed of thinly sliced onion with a splash of wine or water. This flavours the chicken and you can then drain and freeze the onion ready for another recipe. But I digress ….

Allow the chicken to cool, then skin the thighs and chop the flesh into small chunks. Discard the skin and bones. Chill the chicken and courgettes until you know your wife is on the way home.

Cut the plums into 6 or 8 pieces, discarding the stone, of course. Fry the pieces of plum in a little olive oil with a pinch of chilli flakes and some seasoning for around 5 minutes. The pieces should be soft but not falling apart and should have a touch of colour from the frying. If you think the plums are not as sweet as they could be, then add a pinch or two of sugar towards the end of the frying time.

You could pause briefly again at this point, but assuming that your wife has now walked in the door, start cooking the tagliatelle in the usual way. Add the lime juice and zest to the plums together with a splash of balsamic vinegar and dollop of olive oil. Once combined, add the chicken and let the mixture warm through.

When it’s ready, drain the tagliatelle and toss it together with the chicken and plum mixture. Toss the courgettes into the mixture, adjust the seasoning and serve at once in nicely warmed bowls.

Courgettes prepared in the above way are good with an aperitif, too: just sprinkle with sea salt and maybe some chopped mint and drizzle with a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar after frying. They can also be used in other pasta dishes with whatever vegetables you have and some pancetta.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Rosemary & Olive Oil Soda Bread

Soda bread is quick and easy to make and, of course, is good to eat. But classic soda bread doesn't really work when served alongside the kinds of dishes I often cook, such as pasta. This recipe doesn’t stick to the classic soda bread ingredients in that it adds both baking powder and olive oil. Flavoured with rosemary, or with other herbs if you wish, this is a light and tasty bread that will accompany a whole range of dishes.

350 g white bread flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
The leaves from 2 or 3 large sprigs of rosemary, finely chopped
Black pepper
3 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
250 ml buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 200°C for a fan oven (a little hotter for a non-fan).

Sift together the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt into a bowl. Add the rosemary and a few twists of black pepper. Make sure that they are well mixed together. Make a well in the centre.

Pour in the oil, egg and buttermilk. Quickly mix in with a wooden spoon just until the dough comes together.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it briefly. The dough should be smooth and not too sticky. If it’s not smooth knead a little more, though don’t overdo it. If it seems very sticky add a little more flour.

Shape into a 20 cm round and cut this into 8 wedges. Place the wedges on a baking sheet lined with silicone or non-stick paper, allowing about 3cm between them. Bake for 15 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack as usual.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Collioure and the Parmesan Sablé

Sometimes I do actually get out of the kitchen and I've just come back from the South of France, so let's start there. I’m all for trying and using local ingredients but sometimes this can be pushed a little far. For instance, I once had a salad in Normandy that combined all the local ingredients that the chef thought were significant, namely fish, apples and mustard (there was a mustard producer nearby). It was truly horrible

But you can’t go to Collioure without trying the anchovies. The prospect of small, salty fish wasn’t filling me with excitement but having tried the anchovies of Maison Roque with the traditional red pepper, I have been persuaded that they can be a serious delicacy with a lot of possibilities.
I particularly enjoyed the anchovy salad in the restaurant “Ma Maison” in Sorède which was served with a parmesan sablé. A little difficult to eat elegantly but it worked. The following is my way of creating a savoury sablé, albeit not really a professional looking one - nobody would mistake me for a professional. Unlike most biscuits I’ve had that are flavoured with parmesan, the sablé is not crisp – far from it. Look at these biscuits the wrong way and they’ll fall apart. But that’s what’s so nice about them. Good with an aperitif as well as a salad provided that you don’t mind the risk of crumbs in the carpet.
Parmesan Sablés

This makes around 20 – 25 biscuits of about 5cm diameter.

120 g unsalted butter, softened
A generous pinch of salt
130 g plain flour, sifted
18 g finely grated parmesan
1 egg yolk

Beat the butter until very smooth and creamy. Mix in the parmesan and salt without beating too vigorously and then do the same with the egg yolk. The mixture should be well blended and smooth but don’t overwork it. Fold in the flour.

Once the flour has been incorporated, the dough will seem a little crumbly and that’s the way it should be. Turn the dough out onto a work surface and gently work it into a sausage shape, about 20 cm long. Carefully wrap the sausage in cling film and chill in the fridge until the mixture is quite firm. This will probably take a couple of hours or, if it’s easier, leave it overnight.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven 170°C (for a fan oven, a bit hotter for non-fans). Cover a baking tray with a silicone sheet (or non-stick paper). Unwrap the cold dough sausage and cut it into slices of at least 0.5cm but no more than 1cm width. Place on the baking tray, leaving a gap of 2cm – 3cm between each biscuit. Sprinkle with some sea salt flakes and a quick twist or two of black pepper.

Bake for 15 – 18 minutes; when ready the biscuits should be only slight browned.

Allow the biscuits to cool for a few minutes on the baking tray then carefully lift them onto a cooling rack (preferably non-stick) and wait until they’re cold before eating.