Saturday, 31 October 2020

week 38 The Border Cookbook - Cheryl and Bill Jamison

While it feels like ancient history now (as I sit here writing this on the eve of Lockdown 2.0...) when Lockdown 1.0 was first announced, the public seemed to collectively lose their minds. Loo roll on the black market, hand soap stripped from the shops, pasta in scarce supply (unless you liked orzo, which remained, strangely unloved, on the shelves). 

Of course, I created a sourdough starter following instructions on Instagram, and the flour shortage meant we then trekked up to the Ewing's parent's to exchange white powder over the fence for slices banana bread. I also, in what I considered a moment of inspiration after all the sliced bread had already been taken, smugly picked up a packet of corn tortillas after braving the queues for the supermarket.

Tortillas that were bought in the early summer but, by September when their best before date loomed, still sat, slightly sweaty in their shrink wrap, at the back of the cupboard. Never one to like to see things go to waste, I looked through my cook books to see what fancy ingredients I could buy in order to save a quid on the wraps...

Enter The Border Cookbook -  featuring the cuisine of the American Southwest and Northern Mexico, which I think came into my possession via a book sale after being donated the the library many moons ago, and has sat, unloved on the shelves (and for a long while in a box in a loft) ever since.

Along with the tortillas I also had a bag of tomatillos looking for a happy ending. While only one of the tomatillo plants we tried to grow this year thrived (which also meant no fruit as, unlike their red cousins, they need a mate to pollinate) we had picked some up when we visited Worton organic garden for lunch the weekend before.

With tomatillos and corn tortillas, my fate was sealed and I settled on enchiladas verde - the tortillas stuffed with shredded chicken and topped with cheese and a green salsa made from roasted tomatillos. I also added some green tomatoes from the ones that stubbornly refused to ripen in our front garden.

To go alongside the enchiladas were frijoles borrachos, or drunken pinto beans. Slow cooked in dark Mexican beer (or Kentish lager, if that's what you have to hand) with onions and garlic and served with plenty of fresh coriander and a spritz of lime.

And also a simple, but perfect bowl of tomato rice, made of long grain rice cooked down with more Worton fruit, this time perfectly ripe ox heart tomatoes. Packed full of umami from their high glutamic acid content that makes my gums tingle when I think back to it. And that's a wrap.

Enchilada Verdes (adapted from the Border Cookbook)

One small cooked chicken, (or two/three chicken breasts) skin and bones removed and meat shredded (rotisserie chicken from the supermarket is perfect for this)
tomatillo salsa (see below)
250ml creme fraiche (plus more to serve)
8 corn tortillas
1 onion, roughly chopped
150g cheddar cheese, grated
coriander, to serve

500g tomatillos (or green tomatoes), husked and rinsed
1 fresh jalapeño pepper/green chilli
2 garlic cloves
1/4 medium onion, chopped
large handful of coriander
1/2 lime, squeezed
sea salt

Preheat the grill. Place the tomatillos, jalapeño and garlic on baking tray. Grill, turning occasionally, until they’re blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes.
Let tomatillos, peppers, and garlic cool.
When they are cool enough to handle add ,along with onion, coriander and lime juice, to a food processor/Nutribullet. Pulse until the salsa is mostly smooth and no big chunks of tomatillo remain, scraping down the sides as necessary. Season to taste

Preheat the oven to 180. 
In a shallow bowl or dish, combine the sauce with the creme fraiche.
Take a large baking dish and spread a thin layer of the green sauce on the base
Top a tortilla with a small handful of chicken, a couple of teaspoons of onion, and about a tablespoon of cheese. Roll up the tortilla snug but not tight. Transfer the enchilada to the baking dish. 
Repeat with the rest of the tortillas and filling. Top the enchiladas with any remaining onion and pour the sauce evenly over them. Scatter the rest of the cheese over the sauce.
Bake the enchiladas for 15 to 18 minutes, until they are heated through and the sauce is bubbly. 
Top with more cold creme fraiche and chopped coriander to serve.

Thursday, 29 October 2020

week 37 Everyday Harumi

When the Ewing and I were both penniless library workers and travelled to Japan, I was preparing myself for it to be so ruinously expensive that we would have to subsist on packet noodles; strange flavoured maize snacks from 7 Eleven; and odd drinks, randomly chosen from glowing vending machines down dark alleyways.

As it turned out you could spend your monthly salary on sushi in the basement of a subway station, or buy fifty quid melons - displayed in perspex boxes, nestled in silver tissue paper - but the vast majority of meals were as cheap as at home, and often cheaper. While the huge range of places to eat - from tiny stand up counters to cavernous food halls - blew our tiny minds.

One of my favourite nights, which also turned out to be one of the most expensive, was the night we spend in Omoide Yokocho (which translates as the romantic-sounding Memory Alley, AKA Piss Alley, from the post-war days when shady characters would congregate here). A Tokyo landmark by Shinjuku Station, it features a warren of smoke-filled lanes filled with izakaya; small bars where people drink cold beer accompanied by various skewers grilled over charcoal.

These tiny little, salty, smoky nibbles soon racked up into a sizeable bill (no doubt aided by the beverages). So I reasoned, how hard could it be to create my own at home? Luckily I had my trusty ex-library copy of Everyday Harumi; written by celebrated homemaker TV personality Harumi Kurihara, who has been described as Japan's answer to Martha Stewart. Although I see her more as a Delia, minus the striped Canaries scarf.

Anyway, onto the skewers. I decided to make the ever-dependable yakitori - chicken thigh and Japanese leek, or spring onion, glazed with a tare of teriyaki sauce. And the less-known but equally great tsukune - meatballs, in this case beef and pork, which are also glazed with a teriyaki sauce. 

After all chopping, soaking, threading and grilling (sadly in my top oven in the absence of charcoal). Not to mention the sauce, which demanded the reduction of a whole bottle of soy and a whole bottle of mirin  - although it did make plenty of leftovers which I have used to anoint all sorts of other things, and even just to eat with teaspoon when slightly drunk - so I can now understand why they aren't the cheapest way to eat. However, the splinters were all worth it.

Tsukune (adapted from Harumi Cooks)

1 small onion peeled and finely diced
1 stalk celery, finely diced
300g mince - beef or pork (I used a mixture), but chicken works well, too
1 medium egg
1 tbs plain flour
5-6 fresh basil leaves (optional)
Sunflower or vegetable oil-for frying
Shichimi togarashi or chili pepper
Lemon wedges to serve 

Teriayaki sauce
250ml soy sauce
250ml mirin
4 tbsp caster sugar

To make the teriyaki sauce: combine the soy sauce, mirin, and sugar in a pan and slowly bring to a boil. Turn the heat down low and simmer for about 20 minutes, until it has thickened. Skim the surface if necessary and set aside.
Preheat the grill/barbecue.
To make the tsukune; put all the ingredients, except the basil, into a bowl and knead to combine well. Shred the basil, if using, and add to the mixture. It is important to add the basil at the last minute so it keeps its colour
Shape the mixture into rounds about 5 inches in diameter, and flatten slightly. Thread on to small skewers, two or three per skewer.
Grill until cooked through, turning halfway and brushing with a little teriyaki sauce.
Glaze with more sauce and sprinkle with shichimi togarashi/chili pepper flakes.
Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Monday, 19 October 2020

week 36 - Simon Hopkinson Cooks

Once upon a time lamb shanks, like pork belly, oxtail and oysters - the latter famously ending up in Victorian pies to bulk them out (although considering they also drank beer as the water was so polluted, I'd probably stick to meat and veg) - were unloved wobbly bits now one wanted and priced accordingly. Now, thanks to gastropubs and TV chefs (and slightly mediocre food bloggers) these gnarly cuts are no longer the bargain they once were. 

But what is better than being served up your very own personal hunk of meat on the bone? With soft and tender meat that  should shed apart like shoulder, but also with something to gnaw on too. They also remind me of Grandad, as when we take him out for lunch and he sees a lamb shank on the menu, he always orders it, as 'it feels like a treat'.

And so when I saw Welsh leg shanks on offer I thought of lovely Grandad (who I haven't been able to see this year because of the small matter of a global pandemic and all that) and decided to buy a couple as a treat to raise our spirits from what sometimes feels like the unrelenting doom of 2020.

The recipe I chose to celebrate the shanks was from Simon Hopkinson Cooks; a cheering kind of cookbook that features a dozen carefully curated menus, each starting with aperitifs and nibbles and ending with puddings and digestifs. As all good meals should.

Sadly, there was just the Ewing and I to partake of this feast, so I skipped the starters and jumped straight in at the deep end with his recipe for gloriously sticky, slow-cooked shanks, braised with white beans and smoked bacon, followed by a baked vanilla custard (for four, but poured into two ramekins). I have faint memories that I also said I wasn't drinking, but the bottle of rioja in the pictures suggested something changed my mind....

Lamb shanks with white beans 
(adapted from Simon Hopkinson)

4 lamb shanks (I used two and had the leftover beans and bacon for supper the next day)
500g white beans (I used haricot, as I couldn't find cannellini)
300g bacon, in a piece, cut into chunks (I ended up using a small joint of smoked gammon)
2 bay leaves
2 carrots, peeled and chopped into small chunks
400g cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
2 onions, peeled and diced
3 sprigs thyme
1 tbsp olive oil
350mls chicken, vegetable or lamb stock

Put the beans in a roomy pan and cover with water (no salt) to at least 4cm above the beans. Bring up to a boil, boil for ten minutes, switch off the heat and leave in the water for 1 hour.
Whiz the tomatoes in a liquidiser together with the garlic, thyme leaves and process until smooth. Now put this mixture to one side.
Using a large, preferably cast-iron pot heat the olive oil over a moderate flame. Tip in the bacon and allow to fry quietly for about 5 minutes lift out the bacon and reserve on a large plate.
Season the shanks and slowly fry in the bacon fat until all surfaces are nicely browned. Lift out and place alongside the bacon. 
Add the onions and carrots to the pot and sweat for about 10 minutes, or until lightly coloured. Add the tomato mixture, bring up to a bubble and allow to cook for a further 10 minutes. Stir in the bay leaves and stock before adding the bacon and lamb shanks and push under the liquid to cover them. Bring up to a simmer.
Preheat the oven to 150°C. Drain the beans, rinse well and return them to the pot with the lamb.
Stir together well, thoroughly distributing the beans among the meat and place pot into the oven. Cook for a further 2 -3hours, uncovered, until both beans and lamb are tender and the liquid surrounding them has somewhat reduced, having by now formed a burnished look to the surface of the stew. Remove from the oven, and serve with green veg, to contract the red wine.

I love custard so much that a family member bought me a pot of creme anglais instead of flowers when she came to visit once. I ate it cold with a spoon. That said, I'm not as fond of custard tarts or creme brulee and I only decided to make these vanilla custard pots as I lacked the motivation to make pancakes or pastry, I half a carton of cream hanging around in the fridge.

I have to say that not only were they deceptively simple, but they were also bloody delicious. In fact so good, we actually ate them as an afternoon snack before our dinner. Well, working at home has to have some perks. Hopkinson uses single cream and makes his custards in small ramekins but, being greedy, I think you could add a little milk too, bunging in an extra yolk to thicken, and make a larger portion that is slightly less rich but no less wobbly.

Baked vanilla custard pots

300ml single cream
tiny pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla paste
3 egg yolks
50g cater sugar
freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 170C.
Whisk the egg yolks in a bowl together with the sugar, vanilla paste and salt until thick, pale and creamy. Add the cream mixture to the egg yolks, and whisk until well blended. 
Pour the mixture into a small pan and cook over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for five minutes or until the mixture has thickened slightly.
Carefully pour into four small ramekins (about 100-120ml each) - or two larger ones, if you're greedy like me, and grate a little nutmeg over each pot. 
Place the ramekins in a deep roasting dish and pour tap-hot water around them so it comes up three quarters of the way up the sides of the ramekins.
Carefully slide it into the oven and bake for around 25 minutes, or until just set; give them a little shake; they will wobble nicely they are done.
Remove from the oven, take the custards from the tin and allow them to cool for 20 minutes. Put into the the fridge for at least two hours to chill thoroughly. Eat on the day of making (not a difficult instruction to follow).

Saturday, 10 October 2020

week 35 - Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat - Samin Nosrat

One of the things I was most looking forward to about #cookbookchallenge was creating fancy confections with involved instructions, precise weighing and measuring and the kind of accuracy that normally I have no time for when rustling up dinner. In my mind I imagined embarking on Bake Off-style technical challenges and Food Network-style multi-tiered cakes that resemble anything that isn't actually a cake. But in reality I'm just not patient enough to be a master baker. 

I mean, in a plot twist I could announce that this pie was actually a cake that looked like a pie, but it was definitely a pie. Made from pastry weighed and measured and rolled out by my own hot little hands. And, although it's pretty rustic, I'm also pretty proud of it.

The recipe comes from Samin Nosrat's cult Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, which also gave us the lockdown hit recipe of the summer; buttermilk brined chicken - I use use semi-skimmed milk with a tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice - which sounds like a faff but is actually dead easy if you remember to do it the night before (or even the same morning) and gives the chicken the most incredible bronzed carapace and tender flesh.

Anyway, back to my pie. As well as pastry you need a filling, and what is more classic than good old apple. Our apples were from the allotment, picked by the Ewing's fair hand. For a pie, I think you need an eater (so it doesn't disintegrate too much when baked). Something tart with a bit of crunch is perfect. Good old granny Smiths work, as do Braeburns or a Pink Lady.

I also added a handful of blackberries, as they are were also growing rampant at the allotment when we went to pick the apples. Although I think these are some sort of hybrid - maybe a loganberry? - as they are twice the size of the wild blackberries in our front garden.

And now to the pastry; my bête noire, Although, in all honesty, if I can make decent pastry it must be pretty simple. The key things seem to be get everything cold before you start; don't over-mix - you don't want gluten development as the pastry will be tough, a little vinegar also helps with this - don't add to much water to the dough; and allow the dough to rest before rolling it out. Seeing chunks of butter in the dough is also good, as the water in the butter creates stream when you put the pie in the oven, which expands into little air pockets and creates lovely crisp layers.

While the recipe included instructions to freeze the mixer bowl and the processor blades, as well as the flour and butter chunks, and then to freeze the whole pie again before baking, I skipped all that. You'd be pushed to fit get another pea in our freezer, and it all turned out fine. 

Classic Apple (and Blackberry) Pie with All Butter Pie Dough

300g plain flour
220g butter, cut into chunks - fridge cold or put in the freezer 30 minutes before you start
1 pinch salt
1 tsp cider vinegar
1 tbsp caster sugar
1/2 cup iced water

7 medium eating apples, peeled cored and sliced
handful blackberries, washed and dried
half a lemon
2 tbsp light brown sugar
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

2 tbsp double cream (or one egg, beaten)
1 tbsp demerara sugar

Add salt and sugar to the flour, add to the bowl of a food processor. Add butter, a few chunks at a time, and pulse until the butter is in pea-sized pieces.
Add the vinegar and then slowly add the water, pulsing until the mixture just comes together, you might not need it all.
Tip the dough onto a large piece of cling film and bring the sides of the cling film up, squeezing together gently, to shape the dough into ball. Cut the dough into half and flatten each half into a disc. Re-wrap each disc in cling film and place the dough in the fridge, preferably overnight but for at least an hour, to rest.
When you are ready to make the pie, preheat the oven, and a metal baking sheet at 220 C
Place the apples, berries, lemon juice, brown sugar, cinnamon and allspice in a bowl and stir carefully to mix.
Flour a surface and a rolling pin. Unwrap one disc of dough. Roll dough to about the thickness of a pound coin. Use this to line a pie tin – 20-22cm round and 4cm deep – leaving a slight overhang. 
Roll out the second disc to about the same thickness, ready to lay on top of the filling.
Tip the fruit mixture into the pie dish, leaving behind any liquid, which may make the base soggy. Brush a little water around the pastry rim and lay the pastry lid over the apples. Crimp edges or press down with a fork to seal.
Brush the pastry with the cream or beaten egg, and sprinkle over the sugar.
Place the pie on the baking sheet and cook for 15 minutes
Turn the oven down to 200c and cook for another -15/20 minutes
Turn the oven down again to 180c for another 30 - 40 mins (cover the top with foil if it is becoming too brown)
Allow to stand for half an hour before cutting (the most difficult part of the whole recipe) and serve warm or cold with lots of double cream.

Friday, 9 October 2020

week 34 - Nigella Bites - Nigella Lawson

Despite my 'normal' working life ceasing on a grey Thursday at the end of March, work has continued at a manic pace, unabated by global events. If anything, things have been even busier than normal. And while I feel fortunate to still be working, I was also very much in need of having the first proper break from my makeshift desk at my dining room table since this whole global pandemic thing started.

And while our original plans were thwarted (much like everyone else) we have finally made it away and I can report having time off is great, not least as it is finally allowing me some time to catch up with the blog. I'm now so far behind that I'm now sat here, in the misty Lake District in mid-October, trying to desperately cast my mind back to warmer days when I attempted to cook my way through most the 'Trashy' chapter in Nigella Bites. 

Carrying on the general theme of 2020 why make anything easy and cook one just recipe, when you could cook several. Although the centrepiece of the feast was this ham joint cooked in cola and then glazed and baked until golden. A simple showstopper that Nigella loves so much that it features in two of her books (although the second time with Cherry Coke, which is arguably even better). For this I used a mixture of the two and, as it's not Christmas and large gammon joints are in short supply, a smaller piece of meat. Probably a good thing, as there's only two of us. Although I could happily eat this cold for days.

Ham in Coca Cola
All recipes below from Nigella Bites

1- 1.5kg gammon joint
1 onion (peeled and cut in half)
1 litre coca-cola or Cherry Coke (not diet)
1 handful of cloves
1 heaped tablespoon black treacle
2 teaspoons english mustard
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Put the gammon in a pan, add the onion, then pour over the Coke.
Bring to the boil, reduce to a good simmer, put the lid on, though not tightly, and cook for about an hour.
Preheat the oven to 240°C
When the ham's ready (and ham it is, now it's cooked, though it's true Americans call it ham from its uncooked state) take it out of the pan and let cool a little. Then remove the skin, leaving a thin layer of fat. 
Score the fat with a sharp knife to make fairly large diamond shapes, and stud each diamond with a clove. Then carefully spread the treacle over the ham and gently pat the mustard and sugar onto the sticky fat. 
Cook in a foil-lined roasting tin for approximately 10 minutes or until the glaze is burnished and bubbly.

Alongside the ham, what better than this creamy, sweetcorn pudding made with tinned creamed corn, a childhood favourite. Although it's not a difficult to make - although Nigella does suggest a slightly more labour-intensive version where you separate the eggs and whisk the whites to make a lighter pudding - if you were pushed for time, or just wanted an easy life, a tin of creamed corn would also work very well as an accompaniment. And maybe some buttery mash for the ultimate plate of comfort food.

Sweetcorn pudding
5 eggs
500g tinned sweetcorn, drained
300g tinned creamed corn
300ml cups milk
300ml double cream
60g plain flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt

Grease an ovenproof dish with a little butter, and preheat the oven to 190°C.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, the beat in the rest of the ingredients.
Pour the pudding batter in the greased dish and bake for around an hour. The cake should turn golden and be slightly puffed on top. Insert a knife or skewer to make sure it’s completely cooked through.

You might think that the leftover, salty cocoa cola mixture wouldn't be good for much, but Nigella suggests whipping up into this easy black bean soup. Not really my thing, a bowl was quite enough, but was a big hit with the Ewing for a quick working lunch.

South Beach Black Bean Soup
500g dried black beans
Coca-Cola ham stock (see above)
Juice of ½ lime
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
Sour cream
Fresh coriander, chopped
Lime wedges

Put the black beans in and the stock in a large pot. Let the liquid come to a boil and then reduce the heat to low and cook, partially covered, for 1 to 1½ hours. Remove about 3 ladles of the soup to a blender, add the lime juice and ground spices, blitz to a muddy purée and stir this back into the pan of soup. And that’s it.
Swirl some sour cream, and freshly chopped coriander to finish and serve with lime wedges.

And finally, a little glitz and glamour with some frozen watermelon daiquiris, that we knocked up for our friends back when the weather was still good and you could actually visit other people's houses....
Frozen watermelon daiquiris
350 grams watermelon (without the seeds) cut into cubes and frozen
60 ml white rum
60 ml freshly squeezed lime juice
1 tablespoon icing sugar
Add frozen watermelon cubes, rum, lime juice and icing sugar to a blender (I used the Nutribullet)  and blend until smooth.
Serve immediately, garnished with a wedge of lime if you want to be extra.