Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Week 3 Salt Sugar Smoke - Diana Henry

I've started a new job this week, which is both exciting and exhausting in equal measure. At least they serve good coffee. Which makes me think I'm already turning into the kind of person who appears on daytime lifestyle programmes and is horrified to learn the reason they've got no money is they've spent more than their mortgage repayments on skinny cappuccinos with an extra shot. Oh, and I'd better take one those of cereal bars while I'm here, too.

In order to prepare myself, I elected to spend most of last weekend doing as close to nothing as I possibly could manage (I've had previous practice). Catching up on sleep, going for walks and trying to recover from my leaving drinks. I'm still not quite sure I'm over it  but at least I know my limit when it comes to drinking pints of Deya's Steady Rolling Man pale ale...

As a bit of a distraction technique, and so we'd have a few treats to enjoy in-between napping, I also decided to rope the Ewing into assisting me with a couple of mini projects from one of the Ewing's favourite books, Diana Henry's Salt Sugar Smoke, for this week's #cookbookchallenge. And as an added extra she even made a loaf of Nigella's Finnish rye bread. Oven gloves model's own.

First up was gravlax, something we've made a few times, but this time it came with a twist, being cured in brown sugar, grated apple, dill, whiskey and sea salt. The recipe asks for a peaty whiskey, but I used Rittenhouse Rye as that's what we had knocking about in the cellar cupboard under the stairs. Probably a good time to invest in a jar of maraschino cherries and whip up a few manhattans. (we have maraschino cherries in the fridge - TE).

While I'm not sure the apple really came through in the finished dish, I very much enjoyed the balance of flavours. Plus we managed to judge the curing time perfectly so the fish was cured throughout without being overly salty or tough at the edges. If you're missing that fruity hit, then the book also features a recipe for a green apple and red onion salad to eat alongside, but we ended up eating most of it with the Ewing's home made rye bread and lots of cream cheese. 

If you haven't made it before, it's really worth a bash, especially if whole salmon is on offer. Very easy and very impressive if you've got guests. Alternatively just eat it  in your pjs, in front of the cricket with a glass of fizz in hand; like we did.

Whiskey and brown sugar-cured gravlax 
adapted from Diana Henry

1 kg piece of salmon in two halves, filleted and pin boned, skin left on (buy whole salmon on offer from the fish counter, cut into pieces, freeze then defrost before curing - TE)
50ml peaty whiskey
100g soft light brown sugar
100g coarse sea salt
1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper
bunch of dill, roughly chopped
1 tart apple, peeled, cored and coarsely grated

Line a dish, big enough to hold the salmon, with a double layer of clingfilm. 
Put one of the pieces of salmon, skin down, on top. Rub it all over with half the whiskey. Mix the sugar, salt and pepper, dill and apple together in a bowl and spread it over the salmon. Pour on the rest of the whiskey and put the other piece of salmon (skin side up) on top. Pull the clingfilm round the fish then put a chopping board or plate on top and weight down (cans work well). Put into the fridge and leave to cure for two to three days, turning every morning/night and pouring off any liquid. We made it on Thursday evening and it was ready to eat on Saturday morning. Perfect timing for brunch.
Remove the clingfilm and scrape the cure off both pieces of fish.
To serve, slice the salmon thinly with a sharp knife just as you would smoked salmon (leave the skin behind). Wrapped in the fridge it will keep for a week.

While the salmon was curing it was also the perfect weather to make labneh, a kind of 'cheese' made from strained greek yogurt strained in a muslin cloth over the sink. You can also do this in the fridge, but ours is predictably packed to the gunwales, making winter the best time to do this so it doesn't get too warm while it's hanging up. 

I can also assure you our muslin was freshly washed, unfortunately it has been dyed an attractive beige by the Ewing using it to strain her homemade cold brew coffee....(why, thank you - TE)
adapted from Diana Henry

1 kg greek yogurt
1tsp  fine sea salt
herbs and spices (see below)
rapeseed/olive oil

Line a sieve with a piece of muslin or a brand new J-cloth and set it over a bowl. 
Mix the yogurt with the salt. Tip into the cloth, tie it up and hang somewhere to drain. Over the sink is ideal if it's cold enough, or in the fridge over a bowl.
The yogurt will lose moisture over the next 24/48 hours. Help it along by giving it a gentle squeeze every so often.
When it is firm enough, take small amounts and roll into balls before rolling in herbs and spices.
We used fresh, finely chopped chives, dried chilli flakes, dried mint, dried dill and sumac.
Place the balls in a sterilised glass jar and cover with rapeseed or olive oil.
These will keep in the fridge for up to two weeks.
The leftover oil can be used for salad dressings/pasta dishes etc.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Week 2 - River Cottage - Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

After finding some elusive new season scrag end of lamb (the old-fashioned cuts have the most romantic names) on the butcher’s counter in Waitrose I knew I had to make Ivan’s neck of lamb with lemon and thyme. A recipe that was originally published in the first River Cottage book, this was later adapted by Hugh F-W to include barley and kale, which is the version I have gone with here. Partly because I absolutely adore pearl barley with lamb and partly as the Ewing had just discovered a clump of kale that has escaped the interest of the rabbits on the allotment.

Growing up my mum’s lamb stew with barley, carrots, swede and suet dumplings was the one dinner the whole family always agreed on. There is something of Proust’s madeleines when I think back to days of getting home from school and eating a big bowlful while sitting around the fire watching Neighbours. Before fighting with my sister over who would get the last dumpling (me, of course).

I love lamb neck and lemons, and thyme, and barley and kale, I did worry slightly that it wouldn’t quite live up to my Mum’s lamb stew. But, worry not; while it was a simpler affair (the original recipe has just five ingredients) it was still a big, sticky hug in a bowl. The lemons brought a pleasing astringency to the fatty lamb, cooked long and slow until the meat divested itself from the bone. Proper, old-fashioned cooking that gets the maximum flavour from the fewest ingredients.

Lamb neck with lemon, barley and kale
serves 4
1kg scrag end or neck of lamb on the bone, cut into slices (I couldn’t find enough neck on the butcher’s counter, so I also added some lamb neck fillet, cut into big chunks)
1 tbsp of vegetable oil
Juice of 1½ lemons
4–8 sprigs of thyme
Water or lamb stock to cover
A big handful (200g-ish) of pearl barley or pearled spelt
A handful of, kale, shredded savoy cabbage or spring greens, roughly chopped, tough stems removed, per person
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Season the lamb with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a large, heavy-based flameproof casserole, add the lamb and allow it to brown (you may have to do this in batches), turning until it is lightly browned all over. Tip out any excess oil, add the browned lamb, lemon juice, thyme and some salt and pepper, then enough water or stock to barely cover the ingredients.
Bring to a gentle simmer, cover and put in an oven preheated to 140°C. Cook for an hour and a half, then add the pearl barley or spelt, check the liquid, adding more if needed (the pearl barley / spelt will swell up as it cooks) and cook for a further hour or until it is nearly tender and the lamb is falling from the bone.
Remove the casserole from the oven. If you want to serve it straight away put the pan on the hob, skimming any extra fat from the top if there seems like a lot, and bring to a simmer. Add the greens and simmer for a couple of minutes, until they are just cooked through. You could also steam the greens separately, or any other veg of your choice, and serve alongside the stew.
If you want to make in advance, as I did, to allow the flavours to improve, then cool the stew once it is cooked and chill in the fridge overnight. The next day reheat thoroughly (removing any fat on top beforehand, if you wish) and cook the veg as above.

Sunday, 12 January 2020

Week 1 - Kitchen Diaries - Nigel Slater

New year new you, or so the saying goes. Although, really I’ve reached a stage in life where I’m quite happy with the old me. Even more so when it means the highlight of the weekend is going to the butchers to pick up some premium free range Dorset pork chops (from Webster family butchers in Southbourne) and then making this recipe, from Nigel Slater’s Kitchen Diaries, glass of wine in hand. 

Nigel Slater is the author whose books most frequently line my bookshelves. And of his books, this is probably my joint favourite (stay tuned to see which tome it shares a podium with). Written, as the name suggests, like a diary, it’s perfect to curl up with for inspiration. Ideal for planning seasonal eating or, if you’re anything like me, skipping ahead to the summer when you’ve had enough of the all the cold and damp and you want to dream about ripe peaches dribbling down your chin and warm sand between your toes (or vice versa).

This recipe is quick, easy and perfect for a chilly January afternoon, enjoyed alongside the remnants of the bottle I hadn't yet drunk, before curling up on the sofa beside the Ewing to watch the football.

Pork chops with mustard sauce
adapted from Nigel Slater's Kitchen Diaries
For 2
2 large pork chops
big glug of brandy/white wine
100ml of double/whipping cream
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
Sprinkle of Bisto Best for chicken/chicken stock cube

Turn the oven to 180°c. Heat a frying pan over a high heat and add the pork, with a little oil if the chops don't have much fat, and fry for a couple of minutes on each side until golden. Don't forget to crisp up the fat. put the chops on a tray and into the oven for 8/10 minutes to finish cooking while you make the sauce.

Over a medium heat add the brandy/wine to the pan you fried the chops in and let it reduce, scraping up any bits from the bottom of the pan. Add the cream and mustard (and a little Bisto if, like me, you wanted some extra oomph) and leave to bubble and reduce for a few minutes. Taste, season with salt and pepper, add the cooked and rested chops back to the pan to heat through and then divide between two plates.

I served this with two types of cabbage; red cabbage slow braised with a chopped green apple, cider vinegar, a spoonful of cranberry sauce and and couple of spoonfuls of brown sugar; and sweetheart cabbage, lightly steamed and crisp. 

I'm sure my Irish grandmother, were she still with us, would have admonished me for not including potatoes (and I'm sure the Ewing would agree). But while mash, or a few floury boiled spuds, would have been good, I found it quite enough with the rich meat and the rich sauce. Although the Clare Valley Riesling we drunk alongside had an acidity that was very welcome.

As if that wasn’t worth the price of admission alone, I also made Nigel’s frosted marmalade loaf cake from his Kitchen Diaries 1. Made with the remnants of a jar of homemade whiskey marmalade, 2017 vintage. This is a recipe that the Ewing has made a few times (although never for me, I note) but this time I made it for her. Or more precisely, I made it for her to take into the office for her new workmates. Apparently her boss had a slice, and she hasn’t been sacked yet, so I’m taking it that it went down well.

My only amendments this time were to use a mix of white flour (plain, with baking powder added) and wholemeal spelt flour, as I found some in a jar on the shelf as I was rooting about and thought the nuttiness, slightly crumbly spelt would work against the bitterness of the marmalade.

I also misread the '2 tbsps of orange juice' in the icing as 'juice of two oranges'... Luckily I had only added one orange by this point, but the mix was still far too liquid and I ended up adding more icing sugar after my initial application barely glazed the top of the cake. Well, the whole point, according to Nige's blurb, is to end up with the crisp crunch of the topping as a contrast to the soft sponge.

Frosted marmalade cake
For the sponge:
175g butter
175g golden, unrefined caster sugar
a large orange, finely grated
3 large eggs
75g orange marmalade
175g self-raising flour (I used 125g plain white and 50g wholemeal spelt plus 1tsp of baking powder)
For the frosting:
100g icing sugar
2 tbsps orange juice

Set the oven at 180 °C. Line a loaf tin about 25 x 11 x 7cm deep.
Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat, with a mixer or electric whisk, until pale and fluffy.
Whisk in the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each addition.
Beat in the marmalade and the grated orange zest.
Gently fold in the flour and baking powder. Do this slowly, firmly but carefully, till there is no sign of any flour. Gently stir in the juice of half the orange.
Spoon into the lined cake tin, lightly smoothing the top. Bake for 40 minutes, checking it after 35 with a metal skewer. Leave to cool in the tin, then remove and cool on a wire rack.
Sieve the icing sugar and mix it to a smooth, slightly runny consistency with as much of the remaining orange juice as it takes. Drizzle the icing over the cake letting it run down the sides, and leave to set.

As an addendum, my colleagues found out about the cake for the Ewing's colleagues, and so I baked another one this weekend just for them, As its my last week before starting my new job (eeek) I'm not so worried about being sacked, just hoping there are no ill-effects so they can all come for a farewell drink on Friday.... 

Monday, 6 January 2020

Cooking the books - my 2020 challenge

In this life things come and go, but my two enduring loves remain eating and reading (Ummm...surely this should read 'my three enduring loves remain eating, reading and The Ewing?? - TE). So I guess it stands to reason that I have always had something of an obsession with cookbooks. As a child I would often be found sitting at the kitchen table after dinner, flicking through my Mum's well-worn Dairy Book of British Food or the Heinz Beans cookbook, or, most favoured of all, the Australian Women's Weekly Children's Birthday Cake Book. This was a book my Mum didn't seem so enamoured by, as I don't remember anyone ever being presented with a cake actually baked from it.

Anyway, despite culling my collection over the years on several occasions - and, for the first time since I moved out of home, no one in my household works in either libraries or bookshops - I've still accumulated far too many. And I use them far too little (other than the pile upstairs currently making a makeshift bedside table). So this year I'm resolving to give them the attention they deserve by attempting to cook from a different one every week.

It also feels like a while since I set myself a challenge - I’m sure much to the Ewing’s delight, who has had, amongst other things, to traipse around Greater Manchester looking for rag pudding and Brussels looking for eels in green sauce during some of my previous ‘challenges’ – so I’m looking forward to getting my teeth into this one. Both literally and figuratively.

As well as attempting some of the more outlandish recipes/projects and sourcing some of the crazier ingredients, I’m also hoping to find some easy after work ideas beyond the same hackneyed pasta bakes and stir fries that have become indelibly lodged in the weekly repertoire. That said, I will always have a huge affection for pasta bakes – particularly a version I invented when I was at university, featuring jerk pork chops, black olives and Campbell’s condensed tomato soup. Which certainly won’t be found in any recipe books. But definitely should be.

I also want to find ways to maximise the produce we (well, mostly the Ewing) grow on the allotment and in our garden/windowsills at home. From the first forced rhubarb through to the fresh peas, garlic, tiny new potatoes and the gluts of courgettes that everyone ends up with through the dog days of summer. 

Plus I hope to find some fitting uses for all the jams, marmalades, chutneys, liqueurs and preserves that seem take up all the available space (along with Imelda Marco’s my wife’s shoe collection) under the spare bed and the cupboard under the stairs. A friend’s dad has taken to calling us the ‘jam girls’, an epithet I rather like, and saves us all his empty jars to refill. And while there may not be many finer uses beyond jam being slathered thickly on buttered toast, it would be good to find some more creative uses for some of the things we make.

Yes, it’s hardly a revelatory concept, and God knows if I’ll see it out past Easter, but it feels like something that’s doable and most importantly, enjoyable. And which will also allow me to carry on writing the blog without feeling horribly over-committed to going out and eating things and writing about things. Instead I’ll probably feel horribly over-committed to staying in and eating things and writing about things; but that’s another matter…

I'm hoping there will also be time to write about various other events and memorable meals. Probably not on the same scale as previous years - I'm rather looking forward to eating more meals out without the write ups and the attempts to get a good photo on a mobile before things get cold, as I'm sure my wife will heartily agree -  But with this New Year heralding new jobs for both the Ewing and I; a special anniversary; a special birthday; a road trip (or two); my best friend's wedding and three visiting parties from Down Under I'm sure there will be more than plenty to write about during 2020.

So, despite finding it almost impossible to properly follow a recipe - through a mixture of my lack of patience, disorganisation; frequently finding I don't have all the ingredients; and, most critically, thinking I always know better; I'm not sure what can go wrong....

NB, that's not my own kitchen above, but a student kitchen the Ewing and I found ourselves in a couple of years ago, having a beer (but definitely not any food) with a guy we had rescued from the churchyard on our way home from dinner. Long story. I took a picture of it for posterity and it still makes me laugh.