Sunday, 29 March 2020

Week 9 - Complete Cookery Course - Delia Smith

Of all the feast days Pancake Day must be the one that's closest to British people's hearts. When I was at primary school we would have an annual race across the playground, and letters home the week before would ask parents to supply their children with frying pans and an extra thick cold pancake which we were instructed not to eat. there were always several at the end of the race dusted in a light covering of gravel and with teeth marks around the edges.

Pancakes of pancake day must be thin lacy crepe-style ones, not my, usually preferred, puffy Americanised version. lemon and sugar is the best topping, but maple syrup or even Nutella are acceptable. this year, though, spurred on by #cookbookchallenge, I decided to make classic crepe suzette, with the pre-made crepes warmed through in a syrup of caster sugar, lemon and orange juice before being theoretically flamed in orange liqueur.

I sourced the recipe from the interminable Delia, from a copy of her seminal Complete Cookery Course, a beloved present given to me by my aunt when I finished my A Levels. And far more useful than anything I learnt at school.

As you might expect, the recipe for pancakes worked perfectly, even that tricky first one came out surprisingly well. I always think I don't have the patience for pancakes, but I make them quite a bit, both crepes and american-style, and they always turn out rather well. The Ewing says I'm a bit of a tosser, so that might have something to do with it.

There's nothing like a bit of at-the-table showmanship, and you can argue this was nothing like a bit of at-the table-showmanship as, not being in the possession of a silver serving trolley,  I had the Ewing bring the camping stove down out of the loft instead. But, lack of fancy equipment aside, it was an awful lot of fun. And I survived with eyebrows intact. Even the Ewing had to concede it was entertaining, although she'll probably add her own comment here to the contrary (I was quite impressed actually and pleased you didn't set anything else alight - TE)

She even conceded she liked the resulting pancakes, although that may have been due to the fact I had sloshed several huge sloshes of Cointreau into the pan while trying to ignite it. And several more for good luck. I topped the pancakes with the syrup, a little more orange zest and creme fraiche to serve.

Crepe suzette, adapted from Delia's Complete Cookery Course

For the crepes: (makes about 8)
110g plain flour
pinch salt
2 large eggs
200ml semi-skimmed milk mixed with 75ml water
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
butter to cook

For the sauce:
200ml orange juice (from 3 - 4 large oranges)
zest of 1 large orange
zest and juice of 1 large lemon
1 heaped tbsp golden caster sugar
50g unsalted butter
A couple of good slugs of Grand Marnier, Cointreau or brandy to flame

Sift the flour and salt into a large mixing bowl 
Make a well in the centre of the flour and break the eggs into it. 
Whisk the eggs and when the mixture starts thicken, gradually add small quantities of the milk and water mixture, still whisking, until most lumps have gone and the batter is the consistency of single cream. 
Leave the batter to stand for 30 minutes.

Melt a small knob of butter in a frying pan When it's hot add a small ladle of batter and swirl around to from side to side to get the base evenly coated. 
After about a minute lift the edge with a palette knife to see if it's lightly golden.
If it's ready, flip the pancake over (or use a palette knife) – and cook for another minute or until lightly golden on both sides. 
Slide it out of the pan on to a plate and continue until you have used all the batter.
For the sauce, mix all the ingredients - with the exception of the butter - in a bowl. 
Melt the butter in a frying pan, pour in the sauce and allow it to bubble away and thicken for a few minutes.
Place the first crepe in the pan, folding it in half and then half again to make a triangular shape. Slide this to the edge of the pan then add the next crepe. Continue like this until they're folded and warmed through in the sauce. 
Four fit perfectly into my pan, which was perfect for me and the Ewing.
To flame add the liqueur and heat through, then  tip the pan slightly and carefully light the sauce with a match or lighter.
Wait for your applause (and collective gasp of amazement or fear - TE) and then serve the pancakes with the remaining sauce poured over and a dollop of creme fraiche or cold cream.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Week 8 - Thai Food- David Thompson

David Thompson's - the Michelin-starred Sydney-born chef - distinctive pink tome on Thai food is often considered the best example of the genre. In fact, one of the best cook books full stop. Much to my shame my copy has sat, unused and only occasionally flicked-through, on my bookshelf for a good decade or more. The perfect example of what #cookbookchallenge was dreamt up for.

When I actually picked it back up and finally committed to cook from it, I was reminded of my previous ambivalence. I mean, I'm a an experimental cook, but recipes such as curried fish innards, or curried ash melon, or oyster and banana blossom salad, or recipes that require apple eggplants, or winged beans, or Siamese watercress, or langsart (a bitter sweet fruit with a pale brown skin with an inner stone, according to Google) aren't a particularly practical choice if you live in the leafy Chilterns.

Of course, you can pick up the majority of unusual ingredients even in the Home Counties, if you know where to hunt. I found thai basil in Waitrose (which, disappointingly, you didn't even need in the recipe I ended up choosing) and we found the shrimp paste (the recipe actually calls for 'small fish, smoked over coconut husks' so I improvised...) in a small corner shop selling far eastern ingredients in suburban Aylesbury, that I sometimes walk past on my daily commute.

(NB, if you ever want to visit, they only seem to open in the evenings. And more often than not, you have to call the number on the door so you can be let in, then step over an old bicycle in the doorway. They do have a great range of fish-flavoured crisps, though.)

The star of the show, however, was the majestic crown prince squash, that I ended up buying after I, quite literally, popped to the shops for a pint of milk. As it turned out to be a rather expensive impulse purchase, I wanted to do it justice and, when flicking through my cook books for some inspiration, found a recipe for a pumpkin and pork rib curry in Thompson's aforementioned Thai Food.

And, so to the big question; was it worth the effort? Honestly, probably not. That said, making the curry paste was far easier than anticipated - although I did the lion's share of the work using the Nutribullet - and the Ewing was very effusive in her praise, which was just what was needed after a long afternoon chopping, and simmering and pounding, only to end up with something far murkier than I had imagined. Nothing an extra slug of fish sauce and a judicious squeeze of lime couldn't lift, even if the final dish was more orange than vibrant red.

Pork rib and pumpkin curry
Adapted from David Thompson's Thai Food

500g pumpkin or squash
500g small pork loin ribs
3 cups coconut milk
1 cup coconut cream
2 kaffir lime leaves
1 tbsp palm sugar
4 fresh long green chillies, chopped

for the paste
2 tbs chopped galangal (I used ginger)
2 tbs 'any fish ,boiled smoked or dried' (I used half the amount of shrimp paste)
4 tbs chopped red shallots (I used red onions)
10 dried long red chillies
6 cloves chopped garlic
2 stalks chopped lemongrass

lime wedges
Thai steamed rice

To make the paste, remove the seeds from the red chillies and soak in hot water for ten minutes then drain.
Add the chillies, lemongrass, garlic, galangal, shrimp paste and shallots to a blender or Nutribullet and process until you have a fine paste (alternatively grind in a pestle and mortar, starting with the hardest ingredients first.
Wash the pumpkin in cold water. Blanch the pork ribs from a cold water start, then rinse and gently poach in a cup of the coconut milk, topped up with water if needed, until soft. About 1 hour. You can add any offcuts of galangal, shallots and lemongrass to the poaching liquid for flavour. Drain the pork, reserving the coconut milk.
Heat the coconut cream in a wok or shallow pan, stirring constantly to stop it scorching. After it has separated, add the curry paste and fry over a medium heat, stirring constantly.
After 5 minutes or so the paste should be fragrant and oily, add a little of the reserved coconut milk if it seems too dry.
Add the palm sugar and the fish sauce and then the pumpkin. After a few minutes add the rest of the coconut milk and simmer until the pumpkin is tender. Add the pork ribs and heat through.
Finish with the kaffir lime leaves and the green chillies. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for five minutes before serving with steamed Thai rice and lime wedges
The curry should taste salty, hot, sweet and creamy. Like the best things in life.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Week 7 -The Ultimate Baking Companion - Bourke Street Bakery

It started with a trip to the allotment a few weeks ago -  when the Ewing had upended a plastic barrel, and called me over to see what she knew was underneath; a small clump of rhubarb, glowing pink in the pale winter sun - and ended last weekend in our kitchen, with me asking for danish pastries that became a whole weekend's work for my wife. But worth it.

While I have no patience for anything in the kitchen, the Ewing is a careful and methodical baker and so I delegated the latest #cookbookchallenge to her (my challenge, my rules). The recipe was taken from the Bourke Street Bakery Cookbook, from the Sydney-based mini bakery chain of the same name that I first visited nearly a decade ago for their signature chocolate, lemon and creme brulee-topped tarts. It's a beautiful tome for a baker, of which I am certainly not. That being said, I did make their chicken and lime pickle pies. and I still think about them now.

Lamination is a laborious, if not strangely relaxing process (at least when I wasn't shoving my phone in the way to take pictures) that involved a whole block of Lescure dry butter and much folding and resting to get the signature layers of good viennoiserie. 

As if all the dairy products and roasted rhubarb wasn't enough, the Ewing also made bear claws filled with homemade frangipane with Cointreau that she also whipped up from a recipe in the book. And we finally used a jar of jam bought on our last trip to Paris. Which is lucky, as we're going back there next week and will certainly return laden down with more confitures.

The piece de resistance were a couple of off-cuts she rolled into traditional croissant shapes and that I stuffed with mortadella and sheep cheese studded with pistachios that we picked up in Sicily. A very tasty petit dejeuner.

Their recipe is for basic croissant dough, which can then be adapted into different shapes and filled or topped with whatever you would like. The pictures above show the croissant/pain au chocolat rolling instructions from the book. There are lots of danish designs, we Googled a few YouTube videos for inspiration. Ones that cut and 'twist' the dough show off the layers better than ones that are just folded over, although they are a little trickier to make. Bear claws are probably the easiest and probably my favourites. Probably because they remind me of the Ewing's toes.

Bourke Street Bakery croissant dough
(we halved the recipe below and made 8 rhubarb danishes, 4 bear claws and 2 croissants)

For the ferment
100g strong white bread flour, chilled
50ml whole milk, chilled
1 tsp soft brown sugar
Pinch salt
5g fresh yeast
20g unsalted butter, softened

For the croissants
935g strong white flour, chilled
500ml whole milk
60g soft brown sugar
15g salt
35g fresh yeast, chilled
500g unsalted butter, chilled

Ideas for the fillings
Jam, cooked fruit, chopped nuts, dried fruit, chocolate, frangipane or creme patisserie

Make the Ferment (the ferment is a small amount of dough that needs to be made first and will help your croissant dough develop and rise)
Mix all ferment ingredients together in a bowl until it becomes a ball. Knead it for about 10 minutes until becomes elastic and smooth.
Put the ferment in a bowl covered with plastic and leave at room temperature for 2 hours to ferment. After, store the ferment in the fridge overnight (this can be kept for few days in the fridge).

Make the dough
Divide the ferment into 8-10 small pieces, mix it together with all other ingredients, except butter, in a mixing bowl until a dough ball is formed.
Transfer the dough ball to a bench and knead for 10 – 15 minutes (by hand) until the dough becomes smooth and elastic, and doesn’t tear when stretched gently.
Put the dough in a bowl covered with plastic bag or cling film and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight.

Laminate the dough
Remove the butter from the fridge. gently pound the butter with a rolling pin between two sheets of baking paper into 20 cm flat square. If the butter becomes too soft, put it back in the fridge for 15 minutes before using.
Take the dough out of the fridge, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 20 x 40 cm. Place the butter in the centre of the dough and fold the dough over the top. Seal the edges of the dough together to ensure the butter is completely enclosed in the dough.

Carefully roll the butter-filled dough into a rectangle, about 20 x 90 cm (approximately 3 times longer than the piece you started with). Fold the rectangle from one long end by one-third, then fold the other third over the top so your dough is now 20 x 30 cm – the same as you would fold a letter three ways to fit it into an envelope. Wrap the dough in cling film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Repeat this folding and resting process twice more, each time rotating the dough 90 degrees. After the final roll, place in the fridge for 20 minutes to rest, then remove and roll into a rectangle approx. 25 x 100 cm and 5 – 8 mm thick, trimming the edges if needed.

Cut the dough into squares/triangles/rectangles depending on what pastries you are making, then place the pastry shapes on lined baking sheets and chill for 10 minutes, covered with a damp tea towel.

Take the pieces of dough from the fridge and shape as required, adding fruit, chocolate, fruit, jam, frangipane or creme patisserie as you wish. Place the shaped pastries back on the lined baking sheets and cover again with damp tea towels.

Let the pastries stand at warm room temperature for 2 hours, or until they are almost doubled in size.

To bake the pastries
Preheat the oven to 240 C 
Whisk the egg wash ingredients together and brush the surface of pastries with the wash before baking. Put the croissants into the oven, then immediately reduce oven temperature to 190 C and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until deeply golden brown.

Monday, 9 March 2020

Week 6 - The Book of Jewish Food - Claudia Roden

When I first left uni I ended up, thanks to a conversation with my Dad about 'going to get a job' that coincided with me walking past a book shop window with a poster advertising vacancies sellotaped to the door (remember those days), working in a book shop.

Looking back now, it was a very happy time in my life. We were on the cusp of the internet becoming ubiquitous, and I was still reading lots of 'proper' books, I was going through a big George Orwell phase, and had cast myself as the protagonist in Down and Out in Paris and London (especially as I had also worked as a kitchen porter when I was at uni).

One of the best things about my job was finding out that when books arrived damaged, and couldn't be sold, instead of returning the whole book to be pulped, the publisher would ask for just the title page to be torn out and sent back. Meaning the book was left in a pile, along with other damaged titles and proof copies, for the strange bunch of misfits who worked there (me included) to rifle through.

One of my favourite finds from that era was Claudia Roden's The Book Of Jewish Food. It's not how you would imagine your typical cookbook. There are precious few pictures, and lots of dense text. Not something I would have considered parting with my own cold hard cash for, but I quickly became fascinated by the history, the anthropology and the stories of Jewish cuisine and culture. 

I've still, however, never actually cooked anything from it. So this week's #cookbookchallenge saw me not just attempting my first dish from the book, but also my first attempt at boning a lamb shoulder. Which was actually far easier than it seemed, despite attempting it with a vegetable knife and a hangover. Although, I must say the BBC video I found on you tube twas about three minutes long, and my effort was probably around the half hour mark. Still, I managed to keep all my fingers.

The lucky recipient of this feast was the great Stealth. I especially chose the book with her in mind as she studied history and RE for her GCSEs, and took the persecution of the Jews as a kind of personal cause and would frequently try and bring it into debates in the pub over pints of Stella. It's a shame our beverage choice wasn't as cultured as our conversation. And also because she loves lamb. And has a very sweet tooth. 

The original recipe contains just salt and pepper and ground ginger and cinnamon, which seemed a bit parsimonious, even with all the dried nuts and fruit. So I added a few more spices from my cupboard, based on the typical ingredients of ras el hanout, a spice blend used in a typical Moroccan tagine. To serve with it, I made some steamed couscous with saffron and chickpeas and also a dish of tabbouleh. Partly because we needed some greens and partly because one of my life's greatest pleasures in hearing Stealth say 'tabbouleh'. She didn't disappoint.

Lamb with raisins and almonds
Adapted from Claudia Roden

1.5kg boned shoulder or neck fillet of lamb, trimmed and cut into chunks
3 tbsp vegetable oil
2 onions, finely chopped
1/2 tsp saffron threads
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
salt and plenty of black pepper
2 cinnamon sticks
1-2 tbsp honey (optional)
250 g raisins
To garnish: 100 g blanched almonds

Heat 2 tbsp oil in a lidded pan or casserole dish, put in the meat and brown it lightly all over. You may have to do this in batches.
Remove the meat, add the onions and cook until they start to brown. 
Stir in the saffron and dried ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, turmeric. 
Add the meat back to the pan, season well and and the cinnamon sticks. 
Cover with water and bring to a simmer, skimming any scum that comes to the surface. Put a lid on and simmer gently on the hob (or a 160 degree oven) for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender, stirring occasionally.
Take the lid off and add the raisins, cook on the hob until the sauce is reduced, stirring regularly to stop it catching. (You can do this stage a day in advance, as I did, and reheat thoroughly just before you want to serve)
Fry the almonds in the remaining oil, or toast in a non-stick pan, until lightly golden. sprinkle over the lamb to serve.