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Monday, 14 December 2009

Chinese broth with noodles and salmon with crispy skin

During the festive season I often long for something light, spicy and dairy free to give my taste buds much needed respite from all the pastry-based nibblery.  I devised this dish in response to Mr. F's request for an "Asian soup".  It's probably more generic "Chinese" than anything else, but I used often to make Thai-inspired spicy soups, using chicken or pork stock, fish and soy sauces, chillis, garlic, ginger and sugar, as well as a generous squeeze of lime juice right at the end.  These soups are delicious with prawns and with sliced grilled steaks or chicken breasts. 

Salmon with crispy skin works well here, and gives the dish a much needed richness.

For two people you will need:

For the broth:

750ml of water
4 teaspoons of Marigold bouillon powder
Soy sauce to taste (start off carefully)
One red chilli (remove the seeds if you want a milder soup), sliced
Three cloves of garlic, sliced
An inch-long piece of ginger, sliced into slender batons
2 spring onions, sliced

2 pieces of salmon fillet with the skin on (about 500g)
Chinese five spice powder
Vegetable oil for frying
Salt and pepper

Egg noodles (one nest each or more if you are particularly hungry)

Bok choi, each head cut into quarters
2 spring onions, sliced
Small handful of coriander
Bamboo shoots (tinned ones are, in my experience, preferable to the ones in plastic pouches)
Sliced mushrooms

Boil the water in the kettle, and then pour it into a sauce pan.  Add all of the broth ingredients, bring the broth to the boil, and then turn off the heat.  Cover the pan and then leave the broth to infuse.

I generally cook the noodles for this dish by steeping them in hot water until they reach the requisite tenderness - this method makes it less likely that you will over cook them whilst concentrating on other things.  Keep checking the noodles periodically.  They should take between three and five minutes to reach al dente perfection.

Heat the vegetable oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Season the skin side of the salmon and sprinkle it with five spice powder. When the oil is hot enough place the salmon in it skin side down. Allow the salmon to do the majority of its cooking on the skin side down. Turn off the heat after you flip the salmon - this will ensure it remains coral coloured on the inside.

Whilst the salmon is cooking, arrange the sliced bok choi and mushrooms in two soup bowls.  They don't need cooking: the hot broth that is poured over them will do the job.  Place half of the chopped spring onions and coriander on top of the vegetables in each bowl.

The noodles should now be cooked through.  Divide them between the two soup bowls and immediately ladle over the broth.  Top with the salmon, skin side up.  Serve with additional soy for those that want it, and ensure you have a plentiful supply of napkins!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Lentil and grilled aubergine lasagne - for Nicole

I make this dish on a fairly regular basis, such is the gusto with which Mr. F devours it.  It has also proved successful with my in-laws who have exacting standards.  I therefore commend it to you.  Chargrilling the aubergines gives the dish a wonderful smoky flavour and silky texture.

One note of caution should be sounded.  Lentils absorb a lot of flavour and seasoning.  I would therefore entreat you to check the seasoning for the lentil sauce and make sure that it is salty enough.

The following recipe makes enough for 4 to 6 people (a baking dish that measures about 25cm by 25cm).  Any left over lentil ragu is good over pasta or with some soft cheesy polenta.

Ingredients

Two large aubergines, green tops removed and then sliced lengthways into slices about 1cm thick
Two balls of buffalo mozzarella, sliced
Large bunch of basil
50g of freshly grated Parmesan
25g of breadcrumbs (optional)
1 box of lasagne sheets (wholewheat if you absolutely must, but really, you shouldn't)

For the lentil ragu:
Two tins of small green or brown lentils (or you can use Puy or Castellucio lentils which you have cooked from dried)
Two tins of chopped Italian tomatoes
One large onion, finely chopped
Two large cloves of garlic, finely chopped
Dried oregano
Knob of butter
EV olive oil
Pinch of caster/granulated sugar
Salt and pepper

For the bechamel sauce:
500ml of milk (whole milk or semi-skimmed)
100g of butter
100g of flour
One bay leaf
Half an onion
Salt and pepper

Start with the lentil ragu as it will need to simmer for about an hour.  Fry the onion in the olive oil until it is soft and translucent, but not browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for a few seconds until you can smell it wafting out of the pan.  Add the tomatoes, seasoning, sugar and oregano.  Fill both of the empty tomato tins with water and add that to the pot.  Bring the sauce to the boil.  Mix in the lentils and the butter, return to the boil and then reduce the heat.  Simmer the ragu uncovered for about an hour, or until it is thick.  You do not want to cook away all of the liquid as some will be needed to cook the dried pasta.  Tomato puree and dried chilli flakes can be added to the ragu to enhance the flavour if you wish.  Check the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.

Whilst the lentils are cooking, chargrill the aubergines (which you will have brushed with EV olive oil on both sides) until they are soft and darkly ridged.  If you do not have a grill pan then you should make a mental note to buy one at your earliest convenience.  In the meantime, you can grill the aubergines until they are golden brown on each side.  You will also need to brush the aubergine slices with olive oil before you do so.  Once the slices are cooked, place them on a plate and sprinkle with salt.

To make the bechamel, heat the milk with the onion and bay leaf until just below boiling point.  Leave the milk to infuse for about 10 minutes and then discard the bay leaf and onion.  In another pan, melt the butter, and when it is foaming, add the flour.  Cook the mixture for about a minute and then gradually add the bay-scented milk.  I use a small whisk to incorporate the milk into the butter/flour which seems to protect against the sauce becoming lumpy.  When all the milk has been added, turn the sauce down to simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes.  Season well.

When you are ready to assemble the lasagne, preheat the oven to 180 degrees.  I usually layer my lasagne as follows:

Thin layer of bechamel sauce
Lasagne sheets
Lentil ragu
Lasagne sheets
Aubergine slices
Lasagne sheets
Lentil ragu
Lasagne sheets
Aubergine slices
Mozzarella slices
Layer of basil leaves
Lasagne sheets
Bechamel sauce
Grated Parmesan
Breadcrumbs

Bake the lasagne for about 45 minutes, or until it is golden brown and bubbling and the pasta is cooked.  I let it cool for about 15 minutes before serving.  This dish is good with a green salad and buttery garlic bread.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Choc-OH choc-OH truffles!

I must confess to having a profound love for praline filled chocs: think those white and milk chocolate marbled sea shells.  It's something about the chalky, nutty filling that gets me every time.

This recipe was born of a curiosity to see whether the taste and texture of commercially-made praline filling could be recreated at home.  The result was not what I had intended (the chocolates ended up being chewy and melting, and had a flavour not a million miles away from a Dime/Daim bar), but went down a treat.  As the recipe calls for fresh cream I don't think these will keep for too long, but I think it would be possible to substitute butter for cream which would increase the shelf life.

For circa 30 truffles:

One bar (100g) of milk chocolate
One bar (100g) of dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)
100g of sugar (caster or granulated)
100g of slivered almonds
125ml of double cream
30 g of cocoa powder
1 teaspoon of glucose syrup
Pinch of salt

Melt the sugar in a non-stick pan (you can swirl the sugar in the pan, but do not stir it).  When it is a dark caramel colour remove it from the heat and add the almonds.  Pour the mixture on to a sheet of grease-proof paper laid on a plate.  Put the praline in the fridge to cool.  When it is completely cold break the praline into pieces, and blitz in a food processor until it is a fine dust (the noise made by the processor will be biblical, but fear not!).

Melt the milk chocolate with the cream in a bowl placed over a pan of simmering water.  When melted, let it cool for a couple of minutes and then add in the praline dust and salt and stir until well combined.  Place the bowl in the freezer until the mixture is firm enough to handle - it should have the consistency of putty.  This should take about 45 minutes. 

When the chocolate/praline mixture is solid, remove from the freezer and shape into little balls (with a diameter of about 2 to 2.5 cm).  Lay each ball on a plate.  When all of the chocolates have been rolled, place the plate in the freezer for about 10 minutes.  Whilst the chocolates are cooling melt the dark chocolate and glucose syrup in a bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Sift the cocoa powder all over a dinner plate.  Remove the chocolates from the freezer and one by one roll them in the cocoa powder.  Spear each truffle with a pin and use that to drop them into the melted dark chocolate.  Cover completely with chocolate.  Place the dipped truffle in a paper case and refrigerate to set the outer shell.  I would remove the truffles from the fridge about 30 minutes before you wish to serve them.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

A Russian fish pie



Mr. F and I threw a supper party on Sunday evening, inviting some of our most charming and scintillating friends over for eats.  I decided that this was a night to try to cook a coulibiac, a Russian pie which layers salmon, eggs, rice and mushrooms inside a puff pastry mantle.  A truly authentic coulibiac also calls for the addition of the dried marrow from a sturgeon's spinal column ("vesiga"), but I thought that the prospects of finding this in East London were likely to be slim, so decided to omit it from my version.

My mother makes a cracking coulibiac.  When made well it has a delicious flavour, rich fragrance and festive appearance.  But I had a vague memory of having watched Anthony Bourdain plough dejectedly through a coulibiac that had been made for him by a whey-faced Russian woman in Moscow.  Clearly, there is a risk that coulibiac can be leaden and bland.  I therefore advocate the judicious use of lemon juice and seasoning.

Provided that all of the fillings are cold, this pie can be assembled well before you wish to serve it and left in the fridge.  This recipe proceeds on the basis that this is what you'll want to do.

Ingredients (for a pie which will serve eight people):

Two blocks of all-butter puff pastry
800g of salmon fillet
Pinch of fennel seeds
175g of basmatic rice, washed in a seive under cold water
500ml of fish stock
Two medium onions, finely chopped
Five eggs
150g of button or chestnut mushrooms, sliced
Medium sized bunches of dill and parsley, finely chopped
100g of unsalted butter butter
Zest of one lemon, juice of half
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees.

Sprinkle the salmon with the fennel seeds and season, place on tin foil, wrap loosely and bake for about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish.  You do not want the fish to be cooked through because it will receive another blasting in the oven when the complete pie is baked.  Remove the fish from the oven and allow to cool.  When it is cool enough to handle flake the fish, removing the skin, bones and the bitter grey layer (the blood bank).

Hard boil four of the eggs.  When they have been boiled for about seven minutes put them in a bowl of cold water.  This ensures that a grey layer does not form around the yolk.  When you are ready to assemble the pie shell the eggs and cut lengthways into quarters.

In a frying pan or wok fry half of the chopped onion in half of the butter and a little salt until it is golden brown and beginning to caramelise. Add the sliced mushrooms and cook until floppy, about five minutes.  When cooked, season well, add half of the dill and half of the lemon zest and juice.  Allow the mushroom mixture to cool.

In a saucepan which has a lid melt the remaining butter and add the rest of the onion.  Cook until translucent and sweet.  Add the washed rice and stir until the rice begins to turn translucent too.  Add the fish stock and then cover the pan with a folded tea towel and the lid.  Check the rice after about ten minutes; if it is still a little chalky with all the liquid having evaporated sprinkle over a little water and cook a little longer.  When the rice is cooked through allow it to cool a little before adding the rest of the dill, the parsley and the remaining lemon zest.  Check the seasoning and add slightly more salt than you think is necessary.

Before assembling the pie take a baking sheet or roasting tray and scatter a scant handful of flour over it.  Take one of the blocks of puff pastry and roll it out into a rectangle measuring about 20 cm by 30 cm.  Place the rectangle on the baking sheet.  Spread half of the rice on the pastry, leaving a border of about 2 cm.  Put the mushroom mixture in two lines down the length of the rice, and then fill in the gap with the fish, which will end up covering the mushrooms.  Season the fish well.  Arrange the eggs on the fish, and finish off the filling with the rest of the rice.  You will need to press down on the top layer of rice to ensure that you have a solid loaf shape.

Take the second block of puff pastry and role it out into a rectangle measuring 30 cm by 40 cm.  Brush the border of the bottom pastry sheet with beaten egg.  Roll the larger sheet on to a rolling pin and then unfurl it over the filling.  Press the top pastry sheet on to the border.  Trim the top pastry sheet to fit the bottom and then crimp the border.  Make a few incisions on the top of the pie, and brush it all over with beaten egg. 

Bake the pie in an 180 degree oven for about 30 to 40 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown.

I served this with a sauce comprised of equal parts melted butter and lemon juice, roasted fennel (from Tom Aikens' fish book) and peas.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Orange and Polenta Cake

I am constantly exasperated by the number of almost empty bags of pasta, polenta and bulgar wheat which accumulate in my dry goods cupboard, despite the fact that it is almost certainly me who is to blame for their presence there.  I am not sure why I repeatedly refuse simply to up end the packet and use up the last few crumbs of cous cous, but I do.  What's particularly irritating is that the failure to throw away the empty wrapper means that I do not make a mental note to buy more so that the next time I venture into the cupboard to cook (insert starchy mainstay here) there's not enough left.

The following is a recipe which I adapted from the first Moro cookbook and which could come in useful if you are at a loss with what to do with the remnants of a bag of polenta.  I had a hankering for a dense syrupy orange cake much like the "Orange Torta" which appears at page 266.  It calls for eight Seville oranges and 230g of ground almonds.  Inevitably I had an insufficient amount of almonds and no Seville oranges, so decided to see whether I could compensate with other ingredients which were readily to hand.  Here's what I used:

5 oranges and one lemon
Six eggs, separated
200g plus one handful of caster sugar
100g ground almonds
130g quick cook polenta (the stuff which purports to cook in one minute - Merchant Gourmet does one)
100ml of sunflower or other flavourless oil
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees.

Butter a springform cake tin or a bundt tin (using a bundt tin makes the cake very easy to portion and serve, and the result looks super impressive too.  If you are using a regular shaped springform tin I would line it with greaseproof too).

In a mixing bowl beat the egg yolks and sugar (200g minus one tablespoon) together until pale and creamy.  Add in the finely grated zest of two oranges, the polenta and almonds, the oil, the salt, and the juice of one orange and mix until combined.

In another clean bowl, whisk the egg whites and tablespoon of sugar together until stiff peak stage.  Loosen the orange and polenta mixture with one spoonful of the egg whites, and then add in the rest of the egg whites, spoonful by spoonful, using a metal spoon.  Try to retain as much air as possible - it's all in the wrist.  Ahem.

Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 30 to 40 minutes.  Using a bundt tin speeds up the process so I would recommend checking on the cake's progress after about 25 minutes.  Remove the cake from the oven when it is golden on top and firm to the touch.  Allow it to cool slightly in the tin and then carefully transfer it to a wire rack.  Put it on a plate once it is cold enough to handle.

Whilst the cake is cooking make a syrup from the remaining four oranges and the lemon.  Put the juice in a pan with a handful of sugar and reduce until it is darker in colour and syrupy.  I reckon on this taking about ten minutes.  The syrup should be quite sharp in order to counter-balance the sweetness of the cake, but do sweeten it to taste with a little additional sugar if necessary.  Allow the syrup to cool.

Once the warm cake is on the plate, prick it all over with a knife and slowly pour over the syrup.  I filled the centre of my cake (hollow as a result of the bundt tin) with blueberries and poured some syrup over them - the result was beautiful: golden cake and shiny black berries.  Serve the cake with thick cream or Greek yoghurt and any additional syrup.  This cake keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, although as with most things, I would recommend bringing it up to room temperature before serving.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Under pressure

As I may have mentioned in earlier posts, Mr. F and I celebrated our nuptials this summer.  Amongst the vast array of fabulous wedding gifts was a Tefal pressure cooker.  I have to admit that this was Mr. F's choice rather than mine.  My mother doesn't own a pressure cooker and I had never before used one or even knowingly sampled anything cooked "under pressure".  To be honest, pressure cooking was for me a method redolent of 1950s scrimping and saving, a technique which would be used to extract maximum flavour and texture from unsuspecting vegetables and cheaper cuts of meats.

In the past two days I have successfully used the pressure cooker to create two lovely suppers.  On the first night I cooked Rajma, a Punjabi kidney bean curry.  I cooked 225g of dried kidney beans (which I had soaked for a couple of hours) in the pressure cooker with a litre of water, two pierced green chillis and a teaspoon of turmeric.  Whilst this was cooking I fried two chopped onions in vegetable oil, adding finely chopped garlic and ginger once the onions were transparent.  When the onions had turned brown three de-seeded fresh tomatoes and a good squirt of tomato puree were stirred in.  Garam masala, ground cumin and ground coriander and a little cold water were added to the tomatoes and onions to make a fragrant gravy.  I let this bubble until the oil separated from the tomato mixture.  When the kidney beans were cooked I removed both of the chillis, discarded one and added the other to the tomato gravy.  I then blended the sauce until it was smooth.  The beans and sauce were then combined in the pan with a little more water and the curry was brought to the boil and then simmered for ten minutes.

I served this curry with raita, fresh rotis and buttery rice.  Cooking the kidney beans in this way made them taste wonderfully smoky.  They were soft and yielding, but also retained their texture.

Yesterday evening I decided to experiment with one of the soup mixes that Mr. F and I bought on honeymoon in Tuscany.  The mix is comprised of dried borlotti and kidney beans (again) and farro.  I soaked 250g of the mixture for an hour. I then added it to the pressure cooker, along with about a litre and a half of water, a bay leaf, four sliced shallots and two sliced cloves of garlic.  This mixture was then cooked, under the highest pressure, for ten minutes.  When the beeper on the cooker sounded (!) I turned off the heat and added some more hot water, seasoning, a chopped red pepper, a de-seeded and chopped tomato, a squeeze of tomato puree, some chopped fresh parsley, a pinch of dried oregano and a teaspoon of vegetable bouillon.  I then cooked this for another ten minutes. 

When I tasted the soup it needed a bit more oomph, so in went half a teaspoon of smoked paprika and a pinch of dried chilli flakes.  The soup was then brought to a simmer and cooked for another couple of minutes without the lid on.  I served it with a drizzle of E.V. olive oil and Parmesan sprinkled on top.

In place of bread I made some green olive and feta cheese scones to go with the soup.  To make eight delicious and tender scones you will need:

325g of self-raising flour, plus extra for dusting
150ml double cream
150ml milk, plus extra for glazing
2 eggs
Salt and pepper
100g of feta, crumbled
75g of pitted green olives, sliced
Butter for greasing

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F.

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl.  In a jug combine the eggs, cream, milk and black pepper.  Stir the wet ingredients into the flour.  Before the mixture has fully combined add the feta and olives, and continue to mix until you have a moist light dough (you may need to add a bit more flour).  Turn the dough on to a floured surface and form it into a circle about an inch and a half thick.  Cut the circle into eight wedges and place on a buttered baking sheet.  Brush the scones with milk and bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes.  Eat when hot and fresh!

Friday, 30 October 2009

A decent little stir fry

Healthful and delicious.  You will need (for one)

Soba noodles (about the same or slightly less as a portion of spaghetti)
Rice wine vinegar
Sesame oil

Two eggs, beaten
Vegetable oil

Ginger, about an inch, peeled and cut into fine batons
One clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
Four spring onions, sliced
One small courgette, cut into slender batons
Mange tout or sugar snaps, a handful
Soy sauce

Sesame seeds, toasted
Bonito flakes

Boil the soba noodles until tender.  Drain well and return to the pan and dress with a few drops of sesame oil and rice wine vinegar.  Toss and set aside.

In a wok, heat a drop of vegetable oil.  When hot, pour in the beaten eggs and make a quick omelette.  When cooked through, transfer to a plate and cut into strips.  Wipe out the wok with kitchen towel.  Heat another drop of vegetable oil and quickly fry the ginger, garlic and spring onions.  Do not let them brown.  After about a minute add the vegetables, sprinkle with a few drops of water and soy sauce and stir fry.  After a minute or so add the dressed noodles and omelette.  Break up the noodles to distribute the egg and vegetables evenly throughout.  Add another sprinkling of soy.

Transfer to a plate and top with the toasted sesame seeds and bonito flakes. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Eggs is eggs

I can honestly say that I don't know where I would be without eggs, as my fondness for quiches and custard-based ices demonstrates.  As the basis of a light lunch or a brunch they are satisfying and filling, and are nutritionally sound, being high in protein but not too fatty.

I tend to buy medium-sized organic eggs after having heard that large eggs are more difficult for hens to lay, which makes sense really.  Mr. F and I are also lucky in that we live near a deli which sells italian "Machiavelli"-brand eggs which have vibrant orange yolks and which I am sure would make wonderful fresh pasta.

The following two recipes make regular appearances on the weekend breakfast menu at Chateau Forkful.

1.  Poached eggs with smoked salt and grilled bread (for two)

4 organic eggs
4 slices of good bread (this recipe works well with good rye bread that's not too dark or a really fresh baguette)
Butter
White wine vinegar
Smoked salt
Chilli flakes
Rape seed oil or best quality extra virgin olive oil

Boil a pan full of water and place a ridged griddle pan over a high heat.  Butter the slices of bread on one side.  Once the water is boiling add the vinegar and turn the heat down.  Using a wire whisk stir the water in one direction and then drop an egg into the well that's created in the middle.  Poach each egg for about 3 minutes, or to your liking, and then remove to a warm dish covered with a cloth.  When you have finished the third egg (or the second egg if you need to cook the bread in two batches) place the slices of bread on the griddle pan buttered side down.  Let the bread get darkly ridged.  When the eggs have poached place two slices of bread on each plate and top each with an egg.  Sprinkle the eggs with the smoked salt and a small pinch of chilli flakes and drizzle lightly with oil.  Serve at once, with a steaming cup of cafe au lait.

2.  Han's eggs (for two)

4 eggs
Three tomatoes, de-seeded and diced
Pitted green olives, sliced
Capers
Fresh coriander or flat leaf parsley, chopped
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

You will need two small frying pans to make this for two people who are set on eating together at the same time!

Heat the oil in the pans and when hot add the tomatoes, olives and capers.  Fry for a few minutes, then break the eggs on to the mixture.  Cover the eggs with the chopped herbs and season very well.  Put a lid on each pan and cook until the whites of the eggs are firm but the yolks are still wobbly, or to taste.  Serve immediately with hot buttered wholemeal toast.

This dish also works well when spring onions are cooked with the tomatoes.  For a more substantial supper, try scattering feta cheese over the eggs at the same time as the herb are sprinkled over.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Twitterist

I am now on Twitter (search for forkful).  Join me!

PizzaEast

Mr. F and I treated ourselves to a meal out on Saturday evening.  A girl can't come up with delicious imaginative suppers seven days a week after all.   Never keen to venture too far from our locale, we thought we would give PizzaEast a try.  It's a new pizzeria/restaurant that opened on Friday and is situated at the bottom of the Tea building, at the corner of Bethnal Green Road and Shoreditch High Street.  I've often walked past this building and wondered what went on in there.  It turns out that since Friday it's a great space (the epitome of edgy industrial chic - all exposed brickwork and ventilation ducts), serving interesting pizzas and other well-priced tidbits.

We shared the following: a 500 ml carafe of the house red; Cipolletine onions with puttanesca sauce (from the "fried" antipasti section); a shaved fennel, rocket and parmesan salad with almonds; a pizza topped with clams, tomato, garlic and pecorino; a pizza topped with potatoes, fontina, pecorino and rosemary.

Verdict?

Pretty darned good.

Wine was decent and good value (£10 for 500ml).  The pizzas were really delicious: the dense, springy crust was toothsome and flavourful, and the toppings were lush.  They're not cheap (£10 for the potato job and £12 for the clams), but they are immensely satisfying and don't leave one feeling as though one's gorged oneself.  I could take or leave the starters that we shared.  The salad had been soused with too much lemon for my taste, and the onions were a bit too waxy and raw to make that dish truly enjoyable.  The puttanesca sauce was exemplary.

I would count on spending about £25 - £30 per head.  The antipasti and puddings are very good value, although I wonder whether they might creep upwards in a few months time.

Service was attentive, informative and relaxed, which was impressive given that it was only the second night that the restaurant had been opened to the public.  I'm pretty certain that we'll be back again soon.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Madhur made me mad

As it was Diwali yesterday Mr. F and I decided to make Indian food for supper.  He had a hankering for aloo gobi, so off I trotted down Brick Lane to purchase the ingredients specified in Madhur Jaffrey's recipe for potato and cauliflower curry in "The Ultimate Curry Bible".

Elements of the recipe work really well: asafoetida and cumin seeds are fried briefly, after which a paste of onions, garlic and ginger is added, followed by grated fresh tomato, ground coriander, ground cumin, turmeric and cayenne.  This makes a wonderful (and all purpose?) sauce.  But Madhur requires you to fry the cauliflower and potato in 8 tablespoons of oil before adding to the sauce and allowing them to simmer for a couple of minutes.  Mr. F and I concluded that this not only makes the dish rather oily,but it also prevents the veg from absorbing the flavour of the sauce.  Secondly, after the vegetables have been added Madhur states that a pint of water should be poured in, the dish brought to the boil and then simmered (covered) for two/three minutes.  This last instruction prevents any of the liquid from being boiled away and made the sauce very watery.

We ended up with an insipid plate of mushy, greasy vegetables, although the roti and raita were a success.  Does anyone else have a better recipe for aloo gobi?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Smoked mussel quiche and a recipe for roasted squash with sesame and sumac

Apologies again for being less than regular in posting on here (it would seem that I am blog-stipated).  Life has been pretty hectic recently, and not in a good way.  I've cooked on through though with varying degrees of success.  Here are some of the most notable highlights:

1. SMOKED MUSSEL QUICHE

I must say that I find pastry an incredibly versatile and convenient substance.  I've never tried to make puff pastry, although I know a man who has.  When he made it for me it tasted exactly like decent shop-bought all-butter Saxby's, which was something of a relief.  Now I use and serve up ready-made puff with total impunity.  Short crust on the other hand is a different story because it's quick (save for the resting time) and easy.  Yes easy.  Anyone who wants to know more about why short crust (or pie crust as our American friends would say) can become tough if handled too much is directed to one of the later chapters in Jeffrey Steingarten's utterly brilliant book "The Man Who Ate Everything".  Essentially, the addition of water means that ones pastry is generally more likely to become tough and shrink.  A revelation.

200g plain flour, 120g unsalted butter, one beaten egg, and salt (usual method: fat and flour rubbed together with the salt, egg added gradually to bring the crumbs together, kneaded together to form a disc and then placed in the fridge for anything over 30 minutes) yields enough pastry for a shallow 25 cm fluted tart tin.  Some people insist that adding something acid to the mix (sour cream or Greek yoghurt for example) makes the pastry wonderfully tender, but I must confess that I've not had much luck with this mix.

A couple of weekends ago Mr. F and I went to the lavish wedding of two friends.  The starter was a mussel quiche which was absolutely delicious.  I decided to create an approximation of it using the smoked mussels sold by a chap on Broadway Market.  They're about £3-ish for around 150g which I think is decent if not exceptional value.  The mussels keep for a week or two and are a good standby: I've used them in a mexican black bean soup and also as an accompaniment to a glass of dry sherry.

To fill the aforementioned 25cm fluted tart tin you will need:

150g smoked mussels
A medium sized onion
Five eggs
Greek yoghurt or cream
Fresh dill
Smoked paprika (the sweet kind)
Salt and pepper

Blind bake the pastry case for about fifteen minutes in an 180 degree oven. 

Whilst the pastry is baking, saute the onion in a mixture of butter and olive oil until soft and translucent, not browned.  Beat the eggs and yoghurt/cream together.  I would reckon on needing three dessert spoonfuls of cream or yoghurt, but I don't like my quiche too wobbly.  Add more dairy if you do.  Season with the salt, pepper and paprika (half a teaspoon).  Roughly chop the dill so that you have about two dessert spoons worth.  Add to the egg mixture with the onions.  Mix thoroughly.

Remove the pastry from the oven.  Place the mussels in the case, spreading them about evenly.  Pour over the egg and onion, and return to the oven for about twenty minutes or until lightly golden on top. 

Once cooked, leave to cool for ten minutes before eating.  I serve this with a tomato and onion salad, with dill, capers and cornichons.

2.  ROASTED SQUASH WITH SESAME AND SUMAC

Living with a vegetarian I find I often tire of eating pasta, and am frequently depressed by the impact that a carbs-heavy diet has on my waistline.  I am always eager to try alternatives to rice and couscous.  On honeymoon in the Garfagnana region of Tuscany Mr F and I were struck by the deliciousness of various soups and stews which relied on farro to provide the bulk.  Farro is a type of grain, similar to spelt.  Unlike spelt however it cooks in around twenty minutes and does not need soaking.  It tastes similar to bulgar wheat: nutty and wholesome.

For this recipe (for two) you will need:

For the squash
One large butternut squash (or two small ones), peeled and cut into chunks approximately 2 " by 2 "
Olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
A teaspoon of: cumin seeds, coriander and sumac
Half a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
A dessert spoon of sesame seeds
A medium sized onion
Salt and pepper
75g of feta cheese

For the sauce
4 dessert spoons of Greek yoghurt
Fresh dill and fresh mint (about a dessert spoon of each, finely chopped)
Cucumber, about 2 " worth, de-seeded and chopped
One clove of garlic
Salt

100g of dried farro
A lemon

Pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees.

Place the cumin and coriander seeds in a pestle and grind to a fine-ish powder with the mortar.  Add the sumac, cinnamon and sesame seeds and reserve.  Finely chop the two cloves of garlic.

Slice the onion into half moons and place in an oven-proof dish.  Cover with the squash cubes, and pour over a generous glug of olive oil.  Season very well, particularly with salt.  Pour the spice mix on to the vegetables, scatter over the garlic and toss well.  Put in the oven and roast for about 45 minutes to one hour. 

Boil the farro in salted water for twenty minutes, or until soft.  When cooked, drain well and allow to stand for a couple of minutes.  Then transfer to a serving bowl and dress with olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.

Mix the yoghurt with the fresh herbs, finely chopped garlic, cucumber and salt, and set aside.

When the squash is ready (golden and fragrant) remove from the oven and scatter the feta cheese over it.  Make a well in the middle of the farro and fill it with the roasted squash and cheese.  Top with the yoghurt sauce.

This is now a firm favourite in our household.  It is nourishing and delicious.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Apologies....

...for the hiatus in posts.  Time has gotten away from me.  I have had some successes in the last few days and will post proper recipes and more in the next few days.


Saturday, 19 September 2009

A kitchenista's Roman Holiday

Mr. F and I were on honeymoon in Rome a few weeks ago.  As you can imagine, we ate and drank some remarkable things.  We also discovered a fantastic kitchen shop called "Cucina".  I think there is more than one branch, but the one we went to was close to Via Condotti.  Here are some snaps to give you a flavour...



Mocha machines.  We went wild and bought the tiniest Bialetti available.

 

I bought some of the fluted aluminium moulds on the bottom right of the picture above.  I think they'll be good for large madeleine-type cakes



This is me considering the bill at Gusto - a lovely restaurant albeit with an English translation of the menu which is prone to mislead.  It also has a lovely kitchenware shop attached to it



Fish: how to ruin it and how to save it

Fate would have it that as soon as I start a blog designed to inspire me (and you) to create delicious suppers I end up cooking one of the worst dinners I've ever made.  Or tasted.

To be fair to myself, it wasn't entirely my fault, but it was a disaster that I could have averted.

Last Saturday Mr. F went to Broadway market and bought a really lovely piece of cod.  We didn't eat it that day, or the day after, but I thought it would last until Monday.  Our fridge is pretty cold.  So, come Monday I had hatched a plan to cook roasted cod with roasted squash and chargrilled sweetcorn. 

I had three types of squash to hand, one turban, one butternut, and chunk of another with a really thick green skin.  I peeled them all (quite an undertaking) and cut them into cubes.  Whilst doing this, I melted butter and oil together, added an indecent quantity of salt, two cloves of garlic that I had minced, dried chilli flakes and pepper.  When that mixture started smelling wonderfully fragrant, I poured it over the squash chunks, tossed squash and butter together, and put the whole lot in the oven (at about 180 degrees, for forty minutes).

Then I pulled the fish out of the fridge and unwrapped it.  It smelt really fishy.  I called Mr. F into the kitchen.  He took a lungful, thought for a moment, and pronounced it fine.  I smelled it again. Whilst I was also able to convince myself that it was fine, a top note in the odour tickled some basic, primeval area of my brain which urged me not to eat it (it must be the same part of the brain which predisposes us not to like blue food).

Carrying on gamely I contrived to think of something that would mask the flavour.  I made a classic pesto (in the pestle and mortar to boot), and added breadcrumbs.  That mixture was packed on to the fish, which was then put in the oven for about seven minutes. 

Fish and squash emerged from the oven, both looking and smelling deceptively appetizing: the breadcrumbs had toasted up nicely, and the squash was burnished and bubbling.  I dished up.  We sat down.

My first mouthful of fish was bitter and mushy and completely inedible.  It went into the bin.  The next few minutes of my life were going to be spent in an almost-vegan suppertime hell.  I suddenly felt glad that I had used butter to roast the squash.  I speared a couple of chunks of it with my fork and made a start.

The squash was soggy, and one sort, the green one with the thick skin, had become so mealy that I had trouble swallowing it.  I ploughed on regardless.  The chargrilled sweetcorn saved the day.

So, the moral of this particular story is: eat fish on the day you buy it if you're not going to freeze it.  Not exactly rocket science.  I am filled with self-loathing.

If you do have a nice piece of fish and you're not sure what to do with it you could do worse than roasting or frying it and serving it with a buerre noisette and boiled potatoes.  My mother taught me a really good cheat version:
For two

Half a pack of butter (so, about 125g)
Soy sauce (1-3 teaspoons)
Decent balsamic vinegar (1-3 teaspoons)
Curly parsley (about 4 big sprigs)
Capers (1-2 packed teaspoons)

Melt the butter in a heavy-ish pan.  Let it cook until it turns deep golden brown (if it goes too dark and starts to smell burned then you'll probably have to start again).  Let it cool for a moment and then strain through a very fine seive (I have used kitchen towel for this procedure) to remove the milk solids.  Add a teaspoon of soy sauce and the same of balsamic.  Taste and adjust accordingly: you might prefer a sauce that is more piquantly tart.  Roughly chop the capers, and finely chop the parsley.  Add to the butter mixture.  Serve with roasted fish (skate is especially good in this context) and boiled new potatoes.

Friday, 11 September 2009

The wonder of custard Part II

So, the banana icecream turned out rather more like banana kulfi, which isn't that much of a surprise given that the principal ingredient was condensed milk. It's good, if slightly on the sweet side. I think it would go well with strawberries, particularly the less sweet ones that are available right now at the very end of the berry season.

I had rather more success with a malted chocolate icecream that I made at the weekend and which I adapted from a recipe for dark chocolate icecream that's in the new Morfudd Richards book on ices. I replaced the dark choc with milk choc, and substituted Ovaltine for the cocoa. I halved the quantities (to avoid uncontrollable gluttony and so the mixture would fit in the icecream maker all at once), and presto! Delicious icecream, the taste and texture of which improved after one day.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The wonder of custard

So, this evening has offered up a custard-based meal: a leek and gruyere quiche followed by homemade banana icecream. The latter is still churning away contentedly in the background whilst I write...

The quiche was the product of yesterday's efforts. Mr. Fork had been down to Broadway Market, our local weekly open-air extravaganza, on Saturday, and came away with half-a-dozen slim, creamy-white tipped leeks. I sauteed them in butter until they were soft and catching ever-so-slightly to the bottom of the pan. Then I added them to a mixture of 250ml double cream, three eggs and 130g of grated gruyere (plus S & P). I lined a fluted tart case (25 cm in diameter) with shortcrust pastry and blind baked it for about ten minutes. Then, I smeared the bottom of the crust with grainy mustard, poured in the custard and baked the whole thing for about 25 minutes. Mr. Fork pronounced it the best quiche he'd ever eaten. Personally, I prefer a quiche lorraine, but he's a vegetarian, so it may well have been the best he's ever had.

Now, I'm not one for puddings too often, but sometimes I have an insatiable hunger in my sweet stomach that simply refuses to be satisfied by another half glass of wine. Friends recently gifted Mr. F and me a lovely icecream maker (a Magimix Le Glacier 1.1), which has had a cataclysmic impact on my consumption of cream-and-sugar based foodstuffs. Despite being all out of cream (as a result of quiche-making), and having almost consumed my weekly egg allowance (how many is it nowadays anyway?) I couldn't resist attempting to whip up some banana icecream from the following:

2 perfectly ripe bananas
A tin of condensed milk
2 x the volume of the tin in milk
3 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of sea salt


I heated the condensed milk and the milk together until just below boiling and then took it off the heat. The condensed milk had browned a little, infusing the milk with a caramelly flavour and sheen, and dispersing small pieces of caramel throughout. I let it cool slightly and then poured it on to the egg yolks, which I'd whisked til frothy with the vanilla. Then I heated this mixture to 80 degrees (using a "candy" thermometer given to us by some other lovely friends) and mashed the bananas, finally combining the two. The final mixture (with the salt added at the end) went into the freezer in a jug to cool asap (I'm impatient), and is now being churned to perfection courtesy of Monsieur Le Glacier.

I'll report back on the finished product tomorrow if the gout doesn't get me first.

It's only 6pm and my stomach's already a-rumblin'...

Welcome to Forkful (has anyone else tried recently to set up a blog with a vaguely food-related name? It has taken me the whole afternoon just to get this far.), a little blog that I've launched to allow me to focus and develop my love of eating and cooking and thinking about food.

I work long hours in a relatively exacting job. As I suspect is the case for many people, obsessing/worrying about what I'm having for my supper takes up a good proportion of my day. So, the plan here is for me to share dinner-time successes, failures and discoveries with anyone who cares to read about them. And of course, contributions and suggestions will be gratefully received.

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