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.