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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!

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