Thursday, March 31, 2011

Giant 'Couscous' Salad

There has been some talk of frogspawn round my blog recently. I put it down to being an indicator that spring is here, reason for a heartfelt *yay!* all round. By extension I think frogspawn can only be a good thing, though others have worries. For example -

Why is my frogspawn a milky colour?

It's most probable that cold weather has caused this effect, and the frogspawn will probably not develop into tadpoles. Other hatched tadpoles will eat the jelly though, so nothing is wasted!

Will my goldfish eat my frogspawn and tadpoles?

In a word - Yes! Goldfish are carnivorous and will also eat newts eggs, dragonfly larvae and anything else that moves! A contirbutor to the Beautiful Britain site shares - Several years ago I put all the spawn in a tank and it all hatched.... when I thought they were large enough I put them in the pond and the fish ate the lot!'

Yet people warm to goldfish in a way they don't to frogspawn.

It is estimated that the average female frog can lay up t0 4,000 eggs at one go although many of these eggs will not survive to turn into frogs. After a period of a few weeks the baby frogs (i.e. tadpoles) will come out of the frogspawn. They will then eat the frogspawn that is left over for the first few days after they emerge until they move on to other foods. Frogspawn is a good thing in so many ways.

Spawn was on my mind again this week when I made an experimental new salad - the making of salads, and particularly the trying out of new ideas is a sure sign round ours that spring is most definitely here. My mother gave me a packet of giant couscous to try, but it was the start of winter then and so it sat, ignored and neglected, until this week.

I had read of this stuff but not actually tried it, and for some reason was convinced it would be sort of toasty crunchy. Couldn't have been less so, it cooks up as little shiny soft balls, hence the reminder of spawn. Giant couscous is sometimes referred to as jumbo couscous, Israeli couscous, Mougrabieh, Fregola or Pearl couscous, depending where in the Mediterranean you are. Essentially it is little pasta balls, and it's easy to believe it was originally intended as a child's food.

Foodista finds the history fascinating: rice was scarce during Israel's ten year (1949-1959) austerity period, so the prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, commissioned the Osem food company to create a rice-substitute, as rice was a staple for many immigrants. For this reason it is often referred to as Ben-Gurion's Rice. The original Israel couscous was indeed shaped like rice, much like orzo, but over time has developed its round shape.

I fancied it with aubergine - I fancy a lot of things with aubergine - and that was my starting point. Had a bunch of parsley in the fridge that needed using and some fresh mint happily sprouting in the garden. Such things speak of salad to me, so I checked the instructions on the packet and they suggested frying a little onion first then adding the couscous and hot water. Worked a treat but all sans crunch. Rummaged and found a big bright bunch of radish and salad success was imminent.

Giant Couscous Salad

This looks a lot for one salad but it is pretty quick and easy, and keeps well in the fridge for a day or two, not collapsing the way some pasta salads do

Makes 6 generous helpings

1 medium aubergine, diced into 1cm cubes
1 tbspn salt
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 tspn chilli flakes
3 tblspn olive oil
250g packet of giant/israeli couscous
2 cups boiling water
1 bay leaf
6 tbspns chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1 tbspn chopped fresh mint leaves
4 radish, thinly sliced
2 spring onions, sliced into small rings, green and white parts
2 tbspn lemon juice

Put the diced aubergine into a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave to drain for half an hour.

Fry the chopped onion in one tablespoon of the olive oil till the edges are golden, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli flakes and stir for a minute. Add the couscous and stir to coat with the flavoured oil. Add the boiling water - but be careful it may well spit.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, add the bay leaf, cover, and cook for about eight minutes. The couscous should have absorbed all the liquid and be al dente to the bite. Tip into a large salad bowl, disccarding the bay leaf.

Lightly rinse the aubergine. Heat the remaining oil and fry the aubergine for a few minutes, till it is soft and tinged with colour. Add to the couscous, loosening the whole lot with a fork. Allow to cool.

Add the herbs, radish and spring onion and mix well. Add some of the lemon juice, taste and add more if it needs it. Add seasoning.

It was great as an accompaniment to quiche and simply gorgeous with grilled lamb chops next day, the small amount of mint adding a lovely freshness to the finished salad without overwhelming it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

I wanted...I bought...I made

Chocolate cupcakes with passionfruit icing - taste just like summer

Saturday I have food chain so dinner will be simple, venison stew perhaps, as I accidentally got the game stock out of the freezer and it would be a shame to waste it - lovely it was with boiled potaotes and curly kale. Sunday pasta had some rice over from foodchain so turned it into fried rice, Monday perhaps roast with salads as it seems spring might just be here - pork roasted with potato salad, fennel, carrot and celery salad and a pile of rocket, Tuesday I am out so the man will fend for himself, Wednesday noodles smoked bacon quiche with couscous salad, Thursday risotto grilled lamb chops with the rest of the salad, Friday omelette! actually sausage sarnies - Friday food.

Started at the Ginger Pig for a lovely piece of rolled pork shoulder, as well as eggs and smoked bacon - £19.45

Then to Furness for venison, a very reasonable £11 for a kilo and lovely it was

Milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £5.70

Quick in and out, spending only £36.15 but bought veg for salads, bread, pasta, nibbles, butter and bits through the week

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Passionfruit Curd

Passion fruit are rich in vitamins A and C and are a good source of potassium and iron. The seeds are high in fibre. What they are really good at though is bringing the taste of hot sunshine into your life, even if it's the tail end of winter. They are little crinkly black balls, with thin brittle shells, and when you cut one open it is full of glorious golden pulp, really intensely coloured, and spotted through with small edible black seeds. The perfume that assails you is divine. The seeded pulp is sweet and sharp in your mouth, a wonderful palate reviver after so many months of rich stews and roasted root veg.

I had forgotten how much joy they bring.

I bought a lot a few weeks ago, made some melting moments stuck together with passionfruit icing, and froze the rest of the pulp in ice cube blocks till I had a plan. Anne left a comment suggesting I try Nigella's Passionfruit Curd which was a stroke of brilliance on her part. When I was a teenager I used to make lemon curd at home, totally loved it on toast or dolloped onto hot scones for morning tea, feeling myself to be at the very height of sophistication.

The idea of using a lot of my stash this way hadn't occurred to me, but I was more than happy to go with the suggestion. Much stirring and spoon licking later I had a big pot of beautiful passionfruit curd, which mostly I've been eating on hot toast as weekend breakfast treat. Every mouthful a delight.

Passionfruit Curd

11 passionfruit
2 large eggs

2 large egg yolks

150g caster sugar

100g unsalted butter

Cut 10 of the passionfruit open and scoop the seeded pulp into a bowl then blitz with a hand held processor for a minute or two just to loosen the seeds. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug or bowl.

Beat the eggs, egg yolks and sugar together till pale and creamy.

Melt the butter over a low heat in a heavy- based pan then stir in the sugar/egg mixture and the passionfruit juice. Cook over a low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, unitl the mixture thickens to the consistency of double cream. This takes about ten minutes so you need to be a little bit patient.

Off the heat, whisk in the pulp - seeds and all - of the remaining passionfruit, let cool slightly, then pour the curd into a large clean jar.

Keep refrigerated for as long as it lasts!

As with all things Nigella the final result was rich, voluptuous and totally gorgeous.

Friday, March 18, 2011

I wanted,,,I bought....I made

The pig skin I bought last week sat in sea salt in the fridge for a week and has since been soaked and then confited. One day soon it will be crackling

Quick trip Friday afternoon for the market, good as it's quiet but one or two stalls not there. Swings and roundabouts.Friday dinner was slow roasted ham hock with cider and onions sliced hot into sandwiches, doesn't get more fabulous. Saturday will be steak and mushrooms just to be decadent and because I had some tarragon that I wanted to use before it went limp, Sunday I have some food blogger friends coming round for a lunch session - a delightful afternoon with 5amfoodie and simplysplendiferous with crisp olive oil crackers topped with a carrotty dip, gorgeous green bean and hazelnut salad, charcuterie loaf finished with chilli chocolate brownies and amazing chocolate brittle, it's a treat to have foodbloggers round for pot luck. Dinner was so simple - omelette and the last of the salads. Monday vegetable curry was the pork slow cooked in game stock served with tagliatelle, Tuesday I think some pork slow cooked in game stock was a repeat of Monday but with cyprus potatoes and buttered spring greens, Wednesday tofu and sesame spinach, Thursday pasta deliriously good lamb kofta, Friday omelette off to the theatre to see Betty Blue Eyes.

First stop Ginger Pig where I bought a piece of rump and some diced pork - £21.35 then stopped for a chat with Charlie, last ever at Borough as the lucky people of Greenwich are about to have him as their butcher. He's been so great, I hope the future works out brilliantly for him.

Went to Silfield for a ham hock - have always bought them there for some reason, old habits and all that - £3.50

Then to Monmouth for coffee - £10

Brindisa had no pancetta ready diced - they normally have little tubs of it on the counter - so I bought a thick slice from an enormous whole - £2.20

A cauliflower from Turnips - they are one of the few vegetable options now that Booths have gone, expensive but very good produce - £1.20

Eggs from Lizzie, who's delighted to be off on holidays for a week and hoping for sunshine - £3

Bread, yoghurt, sour cream and milk from Neals Yard - £11.20

Spent £52.45 and bought more in the week - tofu and minced lamb, butterbeans and leeks, a couple of bunches of spinach and some coriander, and a packet of tagliatelle

Chicken Chasseur

I made chicken chasseur to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. I know, I know it's a French bistro classic, redolent of the seventies and sleek dinner parties but my recipe comes from Cookery School - the cook book from the Channel 4 series of that name currently running most afternoons. The chef is none other than Richard Corrigan, a proud Irishman and extraordinarily talented chef. The show is great - and fast becoming a secret guilty pleasure.

There is a varied bunch of people who cook with different degrees of talent/competence and he takes them through three recipes each day, basic, intermediate and advanced, focussing on one ingredient. Food writer Gizzi Erskine oversees the process, highlighting techniques and explaining processes while wearing the most fabulous collection of sixties inspired frocks. The contestants watch Corrigan's demonstration, make notes and, after tasting his perfect version, must replicate the dish within a very specific time. As they struggle and panic he visits their cook stations, offering advice, demonstrating techniques and being at times really harsh about the food being produced. This is no mythically cuddly Oirish man but someone intent on raising the skill and realising the talent of his pupils. The whole point of the show is that they must demonstrably learn. Showing off is pointless. And it's that which I find fascinating.

Last night I made my first attempt at one of the recipes from this comprehensive book. Chicken Chasseur was from the advanced section and I suspect chef would be less than pleased with the slight modifications I made which would more realistically place it in the simpler categories. I had chicken in the freezer that the butcher had already jointed for me, but then their skill is so much greater than mine and it would be a shame not to utilise it.

The next alteration was to buy dried tagliatelle rather than make my own. Thing is, I used to own a pasta machine, and it did indeed make spectacularly wonderful pasta. But I was very very very slow, so while dinner is usually lateish round ours, if it was fresh pasta on the menu it was past bedtime before dinner was served. I got better, it's true, but never fast!

The final difference was unintentional and, it turned out, not too serious. I was convinced I had a bottle of Madeira, so sure in fact I didn't bother checking till I was actually cooking. Turned out it was Marsala. Oops. The final dish tasted divine so not a disaster. So good in fact that I have a sneaking suspicion Chef Corrigan would approve.

Chicken Chasseur

Not making my own pasta meant this was ready in less than an hour, so definitely one for the midweek repertoire

Serves 4

30g plain flour
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

20g unsalted butter

2 shallots, peeled and cut into quarters
2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
175g chestnut msuhrooms, cut into quarters
3 tablespoons thyme leaves

100ml Madeira

200ml fresh chicken stock

100ml passata

100ml double cream

4 tablespoons finely chopped tarragon

Place the flour on a plate and season with salt and pepper, then roll the chicken pieces in the flour.

Heat a large casserole pot and add half the butter and half the olive oil. Once hot, put in the floured chicken pieces. Cook over a medium to high heat for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown. Remove the chicken and leave to rest.

Put the other tablespoon of olive oil into the pot and add the shallots. Cook for 3 minutes until they begin to go soft. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and thyme. Cook for a further 2 minutes.

Pour in the Madeira to deglaze the pan. Return the chicken pieces and add the chicken stock and passata. Bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.

Just before serving add the cream and simmer for a further 5 minutes.
Serve with tagliatelle, spooning on lots of delicious sauce, and garnish with the chopped tarragon.

Recipe extracted from 'Cookery School', brought to you by Channel 4 with recipes by Richard Corrigan. Published on the 3rd March (Penguin HB, £20)

The show is back next week if you fancy learning a thing or two!

Friday, March 11, 2011

I wanted...I bought...I made

Spring onion and gorgonzola quiche as seen from above

A quiet week coming up. Saturday night I fancy fish grilled venision sausage sandwiches, Sunday we are out in the day so roast beef of old England will be a treat. Monday a delicate steamed eggs, rice and cabbage still asian but noodles stirfried with mushrooms and greens, Tuesday perhaps a vegtable curry decadently fabulous goose neck stuffed with foie gras that I crumbed and fried and served with boiled new potoatoes and salad, Wednesday some noodles used the last of the gorgonzola and some spring onions to make a quiche, Thursday chicken chasseur and Friday I simply don't know.

It is definitely a little more spring like, but only randomly, and it is still cold, specially at the market. Started at Ginger Pig for a gorgeous hunk of topside as well as both smoked and unsmoked bacon. I like having it in the freezer, it's the start of so many good dinners. Spotted an enormous roll of pig skin which, glutton that I am I simply had to have. Paid £24.30

Went to the Sussex fish stall but couldn't decide so left it. I am still a bit intimidated by fish, knowing what to cook and how best to do it. Went to Furness instead and bought some lovely venison sausages - £6.50

Eggs from Wild Beef - £3 for a dozen

Bread, milk and yoghurt from Neals Yard - £8.70

Then home spending only £42.50 but in need of veg and noodles and other things

Bread - Dough for Pizza

One millilitre of water weighs one gram. That is one of the simpler things I learnt this week at a bread making class with Paul Rhodes and his master baker Jan, organised by the real bread campaign.

Other liquids need to be weighed because there is no such simple correlation, but all liquids for baking are measured by weight not volume. Baking is such a precise art. When presented with the consummate skill and obvious passion of both Paul and Jan it is also a real joy. They take time out of a very serious schedule - Rhodes uses 2 tonnes of flour a day in its baking which translates into a serious number of loaves - to bring real bread to a wider public. They are part of this campaign to have bread made in schools and other public institutions for its simplicity and nutrional value, but mostly for its wonderful flavour and texture and the pleasure that gives.

We made a simple white dough - starts out sticky and unmanageable but add only the smallest dusting of flour or the fine balance of weighed ingredients will be lost. The dough quickly becomes manageable and then, with a couple of lessons from both bakers, I was throwing the dough onto the bench, stretching it up and kneading it into a ball, making a quarter turn before throwing and stretching and kneading and turning again. The dough went from very soft to resilient in less than ten minutes, beautifully smooth it bounces back when you make a finger indent. Almost magic.

Left it for a while to decorate our wholemeal cottage tin loaves that we made first and came back to find each ball of dough smooth and risen and smelling wonderfully of yeast. Punched it down, rolled it out and made a base for pizza. Lunch!

I have always shied away from making bread - my few previous attempts have been genuine total fail - so it was a surprise to discover how good it could be. The first thing we were told - great bread needs no more than flour, yeast, salt and water and a small amount of attention to detail is so very true. The only other trick is that a golden crust needs steam - if you don't have a combination oven then simply toss a cup of water into the base of your hot oven before you put the bread in and you will have your own steam cloud, and a lovely crust.

Basic White Bread

500g strong white flour
10g salt
325g lukewarm water - yes you should weigh it!

15g fresh (live) yeast

Sift the flour and salt together. Dissolve the yeast in the warm water.

Make a well in the centre of the flour and add the liquid. Mix it all together with your hands, it starts off a wildly sticky mess but gets better!

Very very lightly dust the bench with flour and roll the dough into a ball. Knead it well using the fat base of your thumb till it becomes smooth and elastic. This takes about ten minutes.

Leave to prove for about an hour.
The dough will have grown larger and smoother. Knead it again for about five minutes till it feels smooth and resilient rather than soft.

Flatten the dough into a rectangle then roll out till it's about half a centimetre thick. Carefully put it onto a flat baking tray being careful not to tear the dough. Leave to rest again for 15 minutes, then push the edges out if it has shrunk.

Spread with a thin layer of tomato passata and top with whatever it is you love most on pizza.

Bake for 15-20 minutes in a hot oven.


Friday, March 04, 2011

I wanted...I bought...I made

This one has my name on it!

Saturday is cinema in the afternoon with my sister and a cold collation on our return but she left a message while we were at the market to say she wasn't coming so we had cheese sandwiches for lunch and grilled lamb chops from the freezer with lentils for dinner. Sunday we are out to lunch so dinner should be low key more cheese sandwiches and crab paté with olives and nibbles and bits, there is a little cheese sauce in the freezer that would go nicely with pasta and cauliflower, Monday harissa chicken we had the cauliflower pasta, Tuesday dinner at Moro one of my sister's favourites. Wednesday sausage and lentils the last of the lovely venison faggots with mash and spinach, Thursday risotto but sadly not a terribly good one!, Friday probably omelette because I write that every week as a forecast and sometimes it comes true but this week will in fact be spiced chicken with rice and roasted cauliflower as a farewell to Jane.

We were vaguley late to the market - and wow was it cold! The number of tourists seems to increase exponentially every 5 minutes late you are. Busy busy! Didn't need anything from Ginger Pig, rare I know, so started at Shellseekers for a tub of their fabulous crab pate - £4.95

On to Fresh Olive for a melange topped with some chilli stuffed lovelies - £4.50

Chocolates from L'Artisan - £2

Gorgonzola, a semi hard cow's cheese and some truffle studded mortadella from Gastronomica - £15

Apples and pears from Chegworth - £1.80

Eggs from Wild Beef - £1.50 - stamped for the first time, some further extension of pointless bureaucracy into fresh food while the processed industry runs amok

A pork pie from Mrs Elizabeth King - £5

A stick of bread from the Marché - £1.30

A creamy cauliflower from Tony - £1

Yoghurt and milk from Neals Yard - £5.25

A change - a poppyseed loaf from Flour Power for toast - and good toast it was! - £2.20

Spent £44.50

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tartiflette - sort of

Tartiflette is an eye popping mix of potatoes, cheese and cream flavoured with bacon and onion and garlic fried in butter. The polar opposite of low fat and not really the kind of food I make, at least not all in the same dish. Yet it was dinner Tuesday night.

I blame myself. Left a few food magazines on the kitchen table. The man found came home. Found them. He browsed, flicked through the bits he wasn't interested in, stopped to read bits and share his thoughts about new ideas and good things.

Then he came upon good cheese - a magazine produced by the Guild of Fine Food and suddenly he was all attention. Cheese is one of the great loves of his life, nothing perfects a meal for him like a squeak of cheese at the end, something fine and interesting, possibly new, possibly a known delight. He was delighted to find a serious piece about matching cheese with British beer, another of his true loves. It is something we might actually indulge in one day soon.

Then he found it. A recipe from Charles Campion. Tartiflette. The potato based treat made a hat trick of his food loves - mashed, boiled, baked, fried, chipped, salad, jacket - potatoes are his constant joy. Rarely for him, he asked me to make this for dinner. Usually he is happy to eat whatever I make, the ongoing menu of our meals is my domain. The pleasure of sharing new things and good things binds us almost daily. We have learned a lot together over the years.

How could I refuse?

Tartiflette - sort of

This dish is a paean to winter food - decadent, rich, comforting and outrageously calorific. Winter has returned to London this week with a biting northwesterly wind and a heavy pressing of grey cloud. Bitter is a good description. This is the antidote.

2 for dinner with a proper serving for lunch next day

750g waxy potatoes
150g smoked bacon, cut into 1cm strips
1 large onion, sliced finely
50g butter
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and pepper
142ml double cream
250g round pie d'Angloys or similar soft well flavoured cheese, diced

Halve the potatoes then cook in boiling salted water till just al dente. Drain.

Meanwhile cook the sliced bacon and onion in a sauté pan over a low heat till the bacon starts to rend its fat and the onion becomes translucent. This takes about 15 minutes. Add the butter and the chopped garlic and stir for a couple of minutes till you can smell the lovely smell of cooked garlic. Season.

Put half the potatoes into a casserole dish, then add all the bacon/onion/garlic mix. Tip the rest of the potatoes on top then pour in the cream. Dot the diced cheese all over then bake in the oven at gas4/180C for 25-30 minutes till it is all bubbly golden gorgeousness.

Leave to sit for a few minutes then serve, with a little salad for contrast.

Blissfully good on a cold night.

It's a 'sort of' rather than a 'real' one as traditionally it would be made with Reblochon cheese, possibly without cream or possibly with lots more, and almost always served after a day on the ski slopes. This is an adaptation for a mid week dinner for a city dweller, aghast at how long winter seems to be with us.