Monday 17 December 2012

‘Give Me Butter! Always Butter!’

A quote from the great chef Fernand Point. I read about him here. Couldn't agree more! Butter, lemons, onions and vanilla: life would be wizened without.

Little Lamby-kins. A Revelation.

Cooked lamb for the first time... ever. Eh? Yeah, I don't like lamb but I realise that lots of people do (especially my wife).

My aversion stems from the cuts I was served as a child. With hindsight, it was probably breast or scrag end. (Scrag end? Who named that cut? Not someone from meat marketing, that's for certain.) I remember childhood lamb as being both stringy and oleaginous - a neat trick - and clumped with flabby yellow fat. I would cut all the fat off, laving tiny postage stamp pieces of meat. My father would invariably reach over to hoof up the trimmings, while complaining that I was too fussy.

Anyway... I braised ten lamb shanks, individually tin foiled, and served them with a reduction of red wine, port and the roasting juices. It was an interesting process making the gravy, having to put aside my own dislike of the flavour and try and be cheffy about it. In the end it comes down to balance and seasoning and depth of flavour so I believe and hope the final product was great. Certainly our guests sent back clean-picked bones.
The shanks were wrapped in foil on a bed of carrot, onion and rosemary with a whack of seasoned and herbed butter shoved in a pocket between the bone and the body of the flesh. Cooked for two and a half hours at 200°C then rested for 30 mins - under foil and a blanket!

The lamb was plated with wilted winter greens, parsnip purée (that I passed through a sieve four times and it still wasn't as smooth as I'd like) and meltingly soft and onion-y Boulanger potatoes. A pleasing winter combo.

The good news is it's just possible that with all the supping and tasting I may have started an inoculation process. By the end of the evening, I could even enjoy the meatiness of the roasting juices. Lamb has a sweetness like no other meat that I maybe beginning to appreciate.

This is a really useful recipe; a bistro classic and one I'll return to again I'm sure. No photos I'm afraid. With a party of ten there's no time for cameras.

Sunday 9 December 2012

The busy weekend... including a man who broke into Buckingham Palace... and a secret to life.

A school fayre, Emma's birthday party of ten, Rachel's party (catering) of 60 and Leslie's group of eight.
That was intense. I feel like I've been standing and cooking for four days. A confluence of requests lead to our most busy period.
Sarah rang me to see if we could stage a special birthday dinner for her friend, the rather glamorous and fabulous woman-about-town Emma Rigby ( I'm really glad we agreed. It was an excellent, boisterous evening. On the menu was onion soup, chicken braised in sherry and cream and cheesecake (proving very popular that one) with blackberries, which is actually my favourite fruit pairing so far, both for flavours and visuals. One of the guests told us of the drunken night he climbed into Buck House, only to be arrested at gunpoint. Wild stuff.

Emma's birthday. Louder than they look here!

I'd also agreed to do the catering for a party of 70 in Hertford the same day so Thursday night was largely spent making little polenta cakes, anchovy palmiers, szechuan chicken and slow roasting a whole pork belly. The palmiers are a bit love/hate. Some of my friends adore them and can scoff bowlfuls but others back off in horror, pastry pieces being spluttered from the mouth with indignation!

Anchovy palmiers. Not for everyone.
TIP: once you've rolled the pastry and filling, put in the freezer for 20 mins.
It makes them much easier to cut neatly. 

The night before, I been up making MANY choux buns, honeycomb, chocolate meringues and blueberry friands for my sons' school fayre. 
Saturday was Leslie's party of eight, eating polenta and mushrooms, salmon and my new sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce and home made vanilla ice cream, just perfect for winter.
The secret behind a good onion soup is, ironically, a good beef stock. I have no idea what to do if vegetarians ask for it.

My best beef stock (so far). A round of applause please.
The secret to beef stock, and all stocks, is a pressure cooker. I urge you to invest in one. Also, clarifying stock is a doddle. Whisk in a couple of egg whites and their shells and slowly, slowly, slowly bring to the boil. It is immensely satisfying to push back the white crust after an hour or so to reveal the exquisite clear liquid, effortlessly de-murked. It seems to be one of those not-difficult-at-alls along with choux pastry, soufflés, mayonnaise and hollandaise sauce.
The other secret, to stock, to so many dishes, maybe to life itself (along with lemons, vanilla and good Italian butter) is slow roasted onions. Roasted to a singularity; like the primordial soup! Take the time to reduce a kilo of onions down to a sticky, chocolate-like mass in a heavily set pan and you will be rewarded with the ultimate umami base (Ooooh Mammy!) for so many dishes.

Was once a kilo of onions.

Sunday 4 November 2012

Easy Salmon Supper - Part 2

This title is a bit of a cheat. Yes, I did serve salmon en papillote (French for baked in a paper bag) last night but it's also a little experiment in interneting. Most of my posts get a modest number of reads; around 30-40 but the one titled 'Easy Salmon Supper' has been read over 750 times. Do people really love salmon? Actually yes, I've served this three times now, more than any other single dish. So... let's see how many admirers this attracts.

And you people in Sweden, Russia, Slovenia, Germany and Australia who are apparently reading this, make yourselves known via the comments. Some overseas input would titillate greatly, unless, of course, you're heading up some massive spam factory. In which case... sod off.

Great night last. Carol's gang of four who came blinking out of the night and Eme's 'fun-loving' party of five, which should have been six.

This is what we served:

My warm spiced nuts (not to Carol as one of her guests was allergic and you don't want to start the evening with anaphylaxis.)
Warm griddled bread with olive oil and balsamic. You know the drill. It's that combo that used to fox your parents. "Where's the butter?"
An amuse bouche of mushroom and white truffle velouté.
Starters of curd cheese and chive soufflé with red onion marmalade and rocket salad.
Mains of the salmon with tarragon creme fraiche, sweet and sour crushed squash, French beans and roast pepper. The crushed squash was enjoyed by all. It's an Italian job - agrodolce - and features pine nuts and raisins (with Fish! I know.) Recipe to come soon (it's based on one of the Oliver boy's). It's also a fabulously colourful plate.
Pre-dessert of iced tea ice. I'll publish a recipe for this too, as soon as I work out what the hell I put in it. The trouble (and the joy) of a supper club is that you can fiddle all week with an idea, making adjustments as your attention allows and your wont demands. My iced tea ice started life as Heston's green tea sorbet but then I added mint and bourbon in proportions I'll endeavour to report.
Dessert of baked vanilla cheesecake with raspberries. The berries are served in a simple coulis of reduced juice and sugar. This is fast becoming one of my favourite desserts. It's simple and delicious with a depth of flavour that seems to belie it's simple list of ingredients.
Coffee and chocolate macaroons. And/or more wine if you wanted, and most did.

Apols for the picture quality. I simply don't have enough light (especially since one of my dimmers failed and I've lost a whole line of downlighters) but I want neither tripods nor 2Ks cluttering up my kitchen.

Goats Cheese Soufflé with Red Onion Marmalade and Rocket

Iced Tea Ice
Vanilla Cheesecake with raspberries

 The onion marmalade is great with cheese and cold meats (and probably hot meats, but let's not go mad). Here's the recipe. Takes yonks so plan to do other things in the kitchen.

Thinly slice four medium red onions (no, I have no idea what medium means either. We need a chart, people.) I used a mandolin. But I imagine a banjo would work just as well. Cook these in about 100ml of olive oil/butter for about an hour over a medium heat. I use a diffuser as I have a gas hob. Stir often. You're trying to get a deep colour but without straying across into bitter black. To this mass, add 220g of soft brown sugar. Cook more. You want deep colour and soft, almost melting texture. Add  300ml of white wine vinegar. Cook this off; takes another 20 mins easy. It's at this stage that your concentration can waver (Halo 4 calls!) and you end up not with a tender, unctuous, deep caramel coloured condiment... but a briquette. Salt and pepper to taste.

Friday 26 October 2012

Home made honeycomb

Home made honeycomb is a doddle. Just don't do it with bare arms, or sandals. You will need a sugar (jam) thermometer or a food grade temperature probe.

In a big, TALL, pot, on a large heat, add 400g sugar, 5 tablespoons of water and 75g clear honey

You also want 20g of bicarbonate of soda to hand. Make sure there are no lumps in it.

Heat the sugary mix gently until it all dissolves and then whack up the heat. When it's just approaching 150°C take it off the heat, drop in the bicarb and whisk like frenzy for a few seconds to integrate. The mix will expand and rise alarmingly. This is why I stipulated a tall pot. If you have oven gloves to wear while you do this part, I'd recommend doing so. I have sugar scars, man.

Carefully pour the foam (because it burns like napalm) onto something that doesn't stick: an oiled board, non-stick baking sheet like Silpat or baking parchment. Let it cool and trap all those air bubbles. This doesn't take long. It will look something like this.

You can also pour it into molds (apparently). This might be fun.Either use it immediately or wrap in baking paper and store in an airtight jar. It is important to do this soon afterwards. Honeycomb takes in water from the air (deliquesces) and will turn into toffee within a few hours.

You will probably notice many sweet, delicious but very pointy crumbs, on the surface, on the floor, upstairs in the bedroom, bizarrely. Pick these up or you'll be prowling tacky for weeks to come.

It's said that the ancient Britons stuck several very large honeycomb into the ground just outside Salisbury for reasons unknown, but someone kept sucking them in the night so they restored to big old stones instead.*

In Hawaii, surfboarding began when a family dog snatached a large honecomb and ran into the ocean with it. A small but brave boy waded out and rode the piece home. By the time he'd caught a wave and hanged ten (or whatever) the honeycomb had softened and collapsed and this is how Americans first made saltwater taffy, so popular now in country fairs.**

Now you can eat in in chunks or use it to make honeycomb ice cream.

*This isn't true.

** Nor is this.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Savoury French lightning for a man with no shoes

I'm beginning to get the hang of this, I hope. The last few parties haven't felt micrometers from madness. I've been calm and collected (when else are you collected? It's always C&C isn't it, never just collected?). Possibly a little shouty just before people arrive but these things are said in the heat of the kitchen and shouldn't be taken too seriously (family).

Karen and Ben came for the second time, part of an ebullient party of six (including @karenpine and @jesschivers). Couldn't help noticing that one man arrived barefoot but I forgot to ask why.

Baked some mini savoury eclairs (French for 'lightning') just for fun. This was the logical extension of my recent gougere dalliance. I made some choux pastry with some roasted onion and thyme milk (milk in a bowl in the fridge with things added for a couple of days) and a pinch of smoked paprika.

I filled these with some cheese mousse, made from gruyere, parmy and whipping cream, dispensed from a syphon. It was a real trial getting the mousse out of the syphon. I think my mistake was using a hard cheese which when cold just sulked in the bottom of the syphon, refusing to come out and party, but when too warm just flopped out like... well, floppy cheese which is never good. Maybe goats cheese next time (and let's not have the debate about the apostrophe in goats cheese. I'm using the adjectival form here BTW).

The eclairs were topped with a rather delicious but ridiculously time consuming roast shallot puree.

Anyway, the end result looked like a sweet eclair (I'm such a wag, me) and was both fun to serve and to eat.

Wish I'd taken a photo now.

Saturday 20 October 2012

Easy salmon supper

See. That is easy. For some reason, people often say they can't cook fish. Anyone can do this. Fresh salmon with dill, lemon and toms. Oil the fish first, including the skin so it doesn't stick. Season with salt and pepper. It's important to keep that gap between the pieces BTW, as this allows the air to circulate for even cooking. Wrap up the paper into a parcel, nothing fancy, just keep the edges sealed. Bake on a tray at 220°C for between 12 and 18 minutes depending on how well done you like your fish. We normally do 14 mins.

Tonight, we're serving this with crash potatoes, (waxy roasties with fennel seeds), honey baked chicory,  French beans and a beurre blanc sauce.

Monday 15 October 2012

My no-bacon, cheese and bacon gougères

I was trying to find a way to keep these light and crisp but make them more interesting. I filled them with a light cheese mouse mousse(!) but they then go soggy very quickly. Instead I infused a pint of milk with a pack of fried, smoked streaky bacon and a chipotle chilli for a couple of days and made the choux paste with that. I also added a half teaspoon of smoked paprika and 30g of parmesan.

Quite inspired by this infused milk thing. Will be trying more combinations. Caramelised onion and thyme milk could be good. Might be fun to have a bowl of same-looking but very different-tasting gougères.

Might also try savoury eclairs. Light creamy cheese filling with... what on top? Smooth, glossy tapenade maybe? 

Sat 13 Oct. Tomato Tarts and Baked Chicory.

Party of 4 followed by a raucous party of 5 (mentioning no names, Maureen.) By far the most relaxed evening to date. It's all about prep. Tomato tarts followed by baked salmon; both easily baked in 15 minutes. The only risk was a classic beurre blanc that accompanied the fish (and went well with the pan fried French beans) but that cooperated all evening, happily sitting in a bowl above a pan of simmering water. It didn't even pretend to split. I found I was looking for things to do, rather than run around swearing under my breath.

The chicory was baked for an hour (180) following a stern rub down with butter, honey and orange juice. It's a complex flavour of contrasting sweet and bitter, cutting well with the soft fish and unctuous butter sauce.

The dessert was a vanilla cheesecake. Another recipe from Anthony Demetre. I love his sophisticated bistro style cooking. This was my first ever baked cheesecake (set with egg yolks and not gelatine) but it was wonderful (most of the credit goes to his recipe), smooth, light and very creamy. The only trick is to be brave enough to de-oven it when it still wobbles and allow the residual heat to set it. This was served with local raspberries picked with son-number-one on Friday.

Some heritage toms from Borough Market.

Chicory shimmering with butter, honey and OJ.

Sunday 30 September 2012

White Bean Bruschetta

I was asked for the recipe for my White Bean Bruschetta. I think this is based on a Phil Vickery recipe.

Toast thin, diagonally cut, slices of ciabatta, brushed with olive oil, in the oven (about 10 mins at 160°C, turning once).

Mix one tin of white beans (butter bean, cannellini etc) with a good tablespoon of freshly picked (eschew the supermarkets, there's always some in a neighbour's hedge!) and finely cut rosemary, a clove of fat garlic, olive oil, salt and white pepper. I use a hand blender so I can keep tasting. You want a coarse paste, much like hummus.

To this mix add: teaspoon of white wine vinegar, teaspoon (or more) of toasted sesame oil, pinch of cayenne and dry oregano.

Spoon (or pipe if you want fancy schmancy) onto the cool, dry toast. Drop or stripe each with a thin line of balsamic reduction. This last bit is important as it adds some essential acidity, sweetness and general stand-up-and-be-counted to the paste.

I wish I had photographs. I'm so rubbish at remembering to do so while I'm cooking.

Week three - party of eight... no seven.

An unfortunate incident for some of our guests en route reduces our numbers to seven. Get well soon SL. This also means we start a good 40 mins later than anticipated. No matter, the potatoes en papillote are very forgiving. Reduce the oven temp to 120°C and leave them in.

The soft polenta and mushrooms are good and, I think, my most accomplished dish to date. The polenta is cooked for (it turns out) 90 minutes. Anthony Demetre (of Arbutus) recommends cooking polenta for at least an hour to develop the grain's flavour. For the first time EVER, I get lumps. This is quickly resolved by Belinda remembering that we have a huge sieve hanging up in the utility room with a fairly coarse mesh (from our Thai cooking days - can't remember what we used it for - maybe draining vast quantities of jasmine rice). Polenta passes through sieve and meal is saved. I add lots of Jersey butter, parmesan, smoked salt and, at the last minute, white truffle oil.

The mushrooms were simple chestnuts, dry fried. I added a glass each of sweet Madeira and then nutty Manzanilla sherry and reduce this liquid to a glaze. Finally a little butter and a teaspoon of cep and truffle paste.

I piped the hot polenta (Ow!) in a ring on each plate and filled with the mushroom mix. Into the middle was pushed a roast shallot (30 mins on 180°C). These were wonderfully sweet Roscoff shallots; bought from Borough Market. The polenta was then sprinkled with fresh marjoram and parsley from the garden.

Saturday 29 September 2012

Even though profiteroles are easy to make, there's is still something very satisfying with making perfect rows of these little choux buns.

Thursday 27 September 2012

A bad picture of a very good tart

Charlotte's Higgledy Piggledy Tart in all its glory. 
In retrospect I think the walnut pastry maybe a tad heavy. Next time, I'll replace the walnuts with almond meal, or simply use a paté sucree. Looks delicious even with my awful photography. These people with food blogs, are they all very good mates with food stylists?

Sunday 23 September 2012

Brisket. Nailed.

This was my third go at brisket this week. The first one was AWFUL. You know that soggy grey rope that hangs wistfully from large ships when they are moored to bollards at port... yeah, that bad.
Second one was much better, using a HFW recipe. He normally knows about meat.
However, the third one was even better. Now, such is the nature of brisket (and skirt, flank, chuck etc) that the improvement might have been pure fluke. I will let you know about the repeat performances. For what it's worth, these are the changes I made.

I bought two 1kg rolled joints, unrolled them, put garlic, dried oregano and caramelised onion slices in the middle and rerolled the two pieces of meat together. I got some beef fat from my butcher, beat it flat, like sheets of paper and wrapped the new joint in this. The whole was then trussed together.
I used a heavy iron casserole. After 30mins of lidless roasting at 180°C, I added a half bottle of red wine, some chunky carrots and a bay leaf.
Lid on, and cooked for 4 hours at 140°C with basting every 30 mins. I also drained off much of the cooking juice, so not to boil the meat. These juices were retained and reduced, naturally.
Lid off for the last hour and temperature up to 160°C. Keep an eye on the juices/wine in the dish at this stage, don't let them get too sticky and burn.
After five and a half hours total cooking, I removed the beef and wrapped it doubly in foil and a blanket. This was rested for 30mins.

To the reduced juices, I added a splash of port and recurrent jelly.
I split the sauce into two pans. One was reduced even further to make a thick daub that I used to brush on the beef. The other I reduced slightly and then allowed to cool slightly before whipping in 50g of unsalted butter for gloss, mouthfeel and flavour. Both sauces were also seasoned.

When combined, this was delicious. Proper BEEFY flavour. The fat had all melted away into the joint. Great texture: soft and yielding and not even slightly tough. A huge umami hit. Like being hit in the face by a slightly charred but very polite bull. I'd say this was some of the best meat I've ever cooked. Of the eight people who eat it, none left a scrap.

Saturday 22 September 2012

Walnut Pastry a pig to roll out and even worse to try and lift. It's very friable and quite heavy. Tastes good though, an unexpected savoury hit in a fruit tart. I haven't made it for years. Now I know why.

I used this recipe: 

110g butter
140 g ground walnuts
220g flour
60g caster sugar
1 egg (ish) to bind.
Wap it in the FP and breadcrumb it. Then add the egg. Then curse and swear for an hour as you try and roll it out and transfer it to a tart tin.
25 mins @ 190°C

BTW. I have much in common with the walnut. Walnut and Welsh (for I am so) both come from the Anglo-Saxon word walh meaning 'foreign'.