Sunday, 11 December 2011

The first New Year's Resolution I've ever kept...

So this is the final post. The last four recipes have been cooked, I can return to a life of beans on toast, with occasional fish fingers and chips thrown in for good measure. This is a four recipe post, so I'll jump right in.

Firstly: pheasant. I hadn't eaten this game bird in years, to be honest, I didn't think I liked it (for the reason that it did not taste like chicken). I wasn't even be supposed to be cooking it for Green Eggs and Ham, but the butcher was out of rabbit. I pot roasted it using this recipe (it has white wine, cream and sweetcorn mash). The bird I bought was rather large, so I just used one, rather than the two suggested.

The smell of game is alarming, much stronger than meat you buy in the supermarket. I questioned whether we should eat it, but Sam was hungry and grew alarmed that I might bin it when I suggested that it wasn't fragrant, so full of trepidation I pressed on. It hadn't quite been drawn properly--and I don't mean that the giblets were included. Sam had to be a knight in shining armour and rescue me from the offending innard: I am squeamish in the extreme. However, after bubbling away on the stove for a hour and being served on its bed of mash, with carrots from the pot, it came out as a rather delicious supper. The sweetcorn complimented the strength of flavour in the meat. Pheasant, I am pleased to say, was not at all as I had remembered it.

The second dish was a pudding from Olive Magazine's December issue: raspberry and mascarpone terrine. I'm afraid it's not online, so I'll describe as best I can: it's a layered dessert, done in a loaf tin, comprising layers of: sponge fingers (should be soaked in sherry, but I used brandy); mascarpone and cream, which are slightly set with gelatine; raspberries; and raspberry coulis, topped off with more whipped cream and raspberries. Sounds good, festive and calorific, right? Well it was--although I blew my dinner guests' heads off a bit with the switch in alcohol.

As bread has been my big victory of this project, I felt it wouldn't be right to write the final post without doing another loaf of bread. This week I tackled Dan Lepard's cottage loaf from Short and Sweet. The difference with this one, is that you use half of the flour to make a 'sponge' over a few hours before you make the dough. This did make nice bread, however I really couldn't taste the difference between this and his simple bread--perhaps my bread tasting palate is defective. Becoming able to make bread has taken the best part of this year, but now I am quite smug with the pleasure of being able to do it.

So, lastly: lasagne. My mum's lasagne is one of my favourite things ever and I've never bothered learning how to make it, as I always put an order in when I go home. I'm finishing up with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's butternut squash and fennel lasagne, which is not at all like Mum's. This is from his Veg Everyday book. It has a bechemal sauce, which is infused with peppercorns, onion, celery and bay leaves, pasta, a layer of roasted butternut squash, a bit more sauce, another layer of pasta, a layer of sautéed fennel (I used a third of the 750g recommended, as I think massive amounts of fennel make food taste like soap, so I replaced with caramelised onions), goats cheese (lots), the rest of the bechemal and a layer of cheddar. Vegetarian lasagne is often an extremely dull meal of mean ratatouille slapped in between pasta sheets and a poor replacement for it's meaty, savoury cousin. Hugh F-W has come up with something altogether different, and it seemed to go down well with carnivores and vegetarians alike. Friends E and G and baby O came to join us for a final lazy blog lunch. The lasagne takes a while to make, so I made some vanilla ice-cream the day before, and also bought the starters from a farmers' market. It was the perfect to celebrate the end of 2012 and this challenge: with an old friend, her husband, their baby who was born this year and Sam. I may not cook as many new recipes in 2012, but I'm fairly sure that boozy lunches and dinners with friends will remain on the menu. Thanks so much for reading.

Friday, 25 November 2011

What's for pudding?

This week a special on puddings. One of the greatest compliments which Sam ever paid my cooking was to start liking desserts as they ones I make 'are so nice'. However, the potential for morbid obesity in Kirkstall Towers is now soaring.

Firstly, this week, a clafoutis, which I made from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's bread and pudding Daily Telegraph pamphlet that I have become so attached to.

I didn't technically make a clafoutis, as they are always cherry, apparently, and as the fairly unpleasant looking cherries which you can buy in November cost four quid a punnet, I used plums. So it was technically a flaugnarde. From the ingredients, I thought I was making some kind of plum pancake., but this was like nothing I've ever tried. Sort of like a warm custard, or possibly a pastry free flan. In the words of Greg Wallace, or what I imagine he would say if he got his chops round this: 'soft, sweet with a sharp kick of fruit'.

The second pudding I made was a beauty, but in all the hustle and bustle of taking part in A's Thanksgiving extravaganza, I forgot to photograph it. As you will know, darling reader, once I find a source of recipes that works for me, I'll cook a large number of recipes from it and bore you with them. So we're back to Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet. A, who I think I might have mentioned, is American, throws a magnificent Thanksgiving feast for his lucky English friends every year, and I usually make an American pudding for it. This year I picked banana cream pie. This was quite a bit of work, it involved making some very short pastry, then making a caramelised banana filling, which had huge potential for burning. I went to bed on Wednesday, having let A know that I had filled a pastry case with what looked like banana porridge, quite worried I'd made something inedible. The following evening, I introduced a layer of caramel into the recipe, to sit on top of the banana, (I figured it couldn't possibly hurt) whipped the cream to go on top, and folded in some flaked almonds. You should probably only eat it once a year, along with many of the delicacies on A's menu, but it worked very well.  Greg Wallace (can you tell I'm glued to Masterchef at the moment?) would say 'sweet, rich, creamy, and amazing idea with the caramel, Sally, you are a genius'. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Whopping Whoopies!

For those of you who are fans of my photographs, you know the ill-lit ones which divide my posts so you can get a rough idea of the aesthetic qualities of the dish, I'm very sorry, there aren't any this time. And, also, hello, it's been a while.

For starters, something so simple, I can barely believe I haven't ever made them: dumplings. These were to go in a buffalo stew. I really couldn't believe how easy they were. Just a combination of flour, suet and water. And so satisfying. I'm very glad I've discovered that there are absolutely no tricks to making these--or am I, this could lead to my rapidly becoming as wide as I am tall.

So, my love affair with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's cooking continues. I have had a month of buying lovely new cookbooks, one of which is River Cottage Veg Everyday. I bought it because I want to eat less meat. Sam is also, currently, of the mind that a bit less meat might be good for us--I shan't bore you with our reasons. Anyway, I made porotos granados a hearty soup of squash, beans (green and canellini) and sweetcorn--straight off the cob, natch! This is quite spicy from the smoked paprika (and I could only find hot not sweet) but it's everything an autumn soup should be: filling, warming, and a bit like a stew, so you don't feel cheated out of your dinner on a cold night.

Ok, and lastly, the second cookbook I picked up in a post payday Amazon frenzy is Dan Lepard's Short and Sweet, an amazing baking bible, beautifully packaged and wonderful in its variety (there are also some savoury recipes in there). I decided to have a go at whoopies, as I like the name and they're not widely available in Leeds (beyond Harvey Nicks).

Some time ago, whoopies were heralded by certain foodie types as 'the next cupcakes', but I think they are nicer as they have a marshmallow filling, rather than diabetes inducing amounts of buttercream on top. I made Lepard's raspberry varient on these half soft cookie/half cake but a bit like a scone American mallow filled treats--although I used blackberry jam for the filling instead. These also had coconut in them. I mis-read a direction somewhere along the line, and instead of having several small and dainty mini cakes, I ended up with eight truly prodigious ones. No matter, they were good, and easy to make--certainly no harder than cupcakes. I would like marshmallow to glue more of my foods together.

So, I am now a mere dinner party away from completing my 111, which is quite exciting. See you next time.

Monday, 17 October 2011

I heart Hugh (he's bready brilliant)...

A little while ago my mothership sent me a pamphlet of Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's breads and puddings from the Telegraph. Much as I dislike the tory press, their cookery booklets are not to be argued with and this one has proved (hur, hur) a gem. I'm about to tell you about three recipes from it.

First off, his basic bread recipe. I actually looking at the kneading diagrams for this, and stretched my way into some of the lightest loaves ever to come from my hands. 

I love bagels, they are one of my favourite things to eat of a weekend morning, and the fact that the dough needed poaching was intriguing enough to inspire me to have a go. The steps are thus: mix (quite a dry dough, presumably that is because they are soaked through in the pan of  water), knead, prove, shape, prove and then BOIL. I shaped the ring-doughnut shape pushing a hole in the middle and then stretching, rather than Hugh's way of rolling a sausage shape and then sticking together, because, as he even admits to in the recipe, they can come apart in the water if made like that. Poaching them (one minute each side, and I timed it) was fun, not least because they smelled amazing. Once out of the water, glaze with egg (I left some glazed, topped some with sesame seeds and others with Malden Salt and black pepper). Brilliant, I am now a bread genius, these were delicious--despite every one being a slightly different size!

Finally: brown bread ice-cream. When I first heard of this a few years ago, I assumed it was some hideous high fibre version of my favourite food. Not so--the bread is toasted in the oven with lots of sugar, the ice-cream itself is made from a custard base, with no fibre in sight, just lots of cream, sugar, whole milk and egg yolks. the toasty bits are mixed in as the mix is firming up in the ice-cream maker. I really enjoyed this, it tasted like premium ice-cream, and the bread was sort of caramelised and, although its flavour was distinctly recognisable, it worked.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Tinker Tailor Sorbet Pie

I hope you will forgive the trial of a third focaccia recipe this week--in an effort to become a Jack of all trades and master of one, I have given myself focaccia to try and work on in this project. The other recipes, I can assure you, are all completely new to me.

 This week I had a theme: literary food. I put out a call for this on Twitter and N came up with the Lamb Shank Redemption and, between us, Tinker, Tailor, Sorbet, Pie. (Actually, I meant food which had appeared in books, such as Proust's madeleines--but N's ideas made me laugh, so I was game.) I'm not really a fan of Nigel Slater's shows--the faux notes on notice boards reminding him to cook for a fisherman he probably met at a production meeting two weeks ago being one good reason for this--but he does produce recipes that work. He came up with Lamb Shank with anchovy last week on his new series, which I nicked and applied our much more fun title to.

The butcher had sold out of lamb shanks, so it had to be the Lamb Shoulder Redemption. I scaled up the recipe for five. The anchovies merely flavour the sauce in which you braise it, so you don't end up with fishy meat. It's extremely easy, produces lamb so tender that you can cut it with a spoon, and--even though I hit the white wine before I'd finished cooking and therefore the sauce was somewhat thinner than I might have wanted, and the parsley stayed in the fridge and never made it into it--it still elicited these words from H when she was polishing it off: 'I'm a bit sad my dinner's ending'. I served it with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's foccacia. This is less messy than Paul Hollywood's version, and more authentic than the recipe I tried a few months ago. However, Paul Hollywood's recipe, despite the fact that my kitchen table was resurfaced in sticky, sticky dough, wins on taste. (Hugh F-W's is much easier to make when you're doing other things, like cooking the rest of dinner.)

And finally: Tinker, Tailor, Sorbet, Pie, or Baked Alaska. As plums were in season, I went for a plum middle, and made the following: sorbet. Which I then spooned into a large novelty coffee cup (lined with cling film so I could get it back out) and froze for an hour. While the sorbet was freezing in its 'mould' I chilled an all-in-one, two-egg sponge cake in the fridge (I'd made it whilst the ice-cream worker was doing its work). The trick to a Baked Alaska is to keep everything really cold till the eleventh hour, so I lifted the sorbet out of the cup after an hour, turned it upside down to make a dome, put it on the cake, covered the whole lot in more cling film, and stuck it in the freezer for three more hours. When it came to nail-biting cooking time (and I admit at this point I wasn't at all sure it would work: images of weeping meringue and melting sorbet haunted me all day, and there was some back-up Ben and Jerry's in the freezer) I whipped up the meringue from this recipe from Waitrose, quickly took the sponge and sorbet out of the freezer, smeared the meringue on, stuffed it on the oven as fast as I could, and started praying!
I'm afraid I only took this after we had eaten the rest--hence melting!

This was the best dessert I have made all year. The sorbet was fruity and sharp (and, praise be, frozen), the meringue did not weep and was crispy and fluffy and you could taste the cake was home made. I am blowing my own trumpet, but this was a day on which I made sorbet, cake, and meringue for one dish, so I feel as though I deserve it!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Pollocks to it!

I'm getting more lax than ever with these posts--nevermind, be assured that cooking is continuing and I'm grinding my way onwards to culinary enlightenment (or at least expanding my imagination beyond cooking pesto pasta three times a week). Although, the first of the dishes for this week is not so exotic: fish fingers.

Fish fingers are one of my favourites, perhaps because they were one of the few convenience foods that were allowed over the threshold when I was little (how I yearned for Findus crispy pancakes and chicken kievs [Mum I am grateful you didn't make me obese, really]). ANYWAY, there have been a few recipes around for home made ones and I've been, as a new age (desperately scrabbling for a word which isn't 'foodie') nibbler, I wanted to know if homemade meant better.

Whatever the taste may have been like the fact that I was using pollock and not cod automatically made the fish fingers 'better' than the vast majority of shop bought ones, as pollock are much more plentiful than cod. I used Jamie Oliver's recipe for fish fingers, from his recent fish supplement for the Telegraph. Jamie, I am sorry, I pillaged your recipe--I completely forgot to do any shopping, bar getting the fish--there was no parmesan or lemon for my crumb coating, middle-class disaster if ever there was one! Instead, I rolled the fish strips in flour (trick of my mum's for when you're coating things, makes the egg stick better), dipped them in a beaten egg and then coated them in a mixture of bread crumbs and parsley.

I failed to make them uniform in size, so Sam referred to them as goujons, H, who was visiting for supper as fish finger pieces. Anyway, they were good, despite the fact that they cooled extremely quickly and were tepid when we ate them. They were crispy, and the taste of the fish was much more present than in Captain Birdseye's variety. Excellent chips by Sam.

Sam, doing the only permitted eating on the day of making
The other dish for this post was in honour of F, who popped over from Australia for a visit. As it happened to be her birthday I created a sticky ginger cake with lime icing. It's this exact recipe, but I was using a cake pamphlet from Olive Magazine. The biggest problem with this one is the self restraint it requires, as after baking it has filled the kitchen with a lovely gingery cakey smell, and it has cooled and it looks ever so inviting, you have to pack it up to mature! No eating allowed. Until that is, you unwrap it two days later, cover the top in butter icing flavoured with lime zest and juice.

It's nice. No scrap that, it's delicious and several people have verified this. I recommend this it's sticky, the treacle gives it a dark toffee flavour and the lime icing, despite it being a buttercream, stops it from being all too cloying, and, please forgive me for sounding like a second-rate food critic, gives it another dimension. This is one for the list of favourites.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

A tale of a tea loaf

And so back to the more chatty style of post. This week I have returned to that which I am most comfortable with: baking.

New recipe number one was supper on a miserable Thursday evening and cooked as comfort food for the other half as he found himself bogged down with work. We whittled red meat out of the things we fancied and settled on some kind of pie--I had just been paid so this pie, complete with a near full jar of Waitrose's grilled artichokes, was slapped on the evening's menu.

I could not find wild mushrooms in Leeds city centre, and had to settle on closed cup and chestnuts. Also, I did as the recipe suggested and was lazy enough not to make my own short crust pastry. I came to regret this, as I have now reached the proud point of being able to make better-than-shop-bought pastry (gentle readers who have been with me throughout this journey will remember I used to be Sally Carrie Cackhands with pastry: it scared me, and that which I made was not nice to eat). Anyway, Mr Waitrose's slightly tough pastry aside, it was very good. The mushrooms gave it a really autumnal taste and because it was filled with veggies, sharing a rather large pie between us for supper did not leave us feeling as sordid as we might have. Before I move onto the next recipe, the pie is not blind baked, and you can avoid the problem of a 'soggy bottom'--which seems to have plagued those commenting on the BBC's webpage with the recipe--by cooking it on a chip tray with holes in it.

I have also successfully made my Grandma's tea loaf (or rather loaves: the recipe makes a brace). All families seem to have foods which are traditional to them; whether it be your mum's Sunday roast, or your dad's bar-be-que sauce, most families have recipes which are tweaked to become their own or things which are the taste and smell of home. Although this year has mostly been about branching off into new things, I have also realised that there are some things closer to home which I wanted to learn to make. This seems to be a recipe which my great-grandfather brought home from his travels and, presumably, gave to my great grandmother; it is a much treasured heirloom.

It is also a recipe which I thought might go wrong: all the measurements were imperial; I had to guess at the cooking times, as I knew my thermonuclear oven would char on the time and temperature stated (it was cooked in 30 minutes under the time, so my caution paid off); and I had never made a cake that doesn't contain fat before. What it does contain is sugar and dried fruit which have been soaked overnight in tea, and a flour and some egg which are stirred in in the morning. There is no creaming, no folding, no whisking--it is so simple. It is also the best use for dried fruit I am yet to come across and I have eaten slice after slice slathered in butter this afternoon.

Here I will leave you. I need to work out how to skin some pollock fillets, but that's another story for next week.