Monthly Archives: September 2009

Hot Chocolate

Humph. Double humph.

I’m grumpy.

I’ve taken this as an indication that I’ve not had enough chocolate recently, so after a lacklustre supper (details not necessary) I’ve decided to make some hot chocolate from scratch.

I’m using Waitrose Dark Continental Cooking Chocolate, which melts easily, and is very tasty. It also has the advantage of being cheap. For each person I use about 60g chocolate, a tablespoon of cream, and 200mL milk, but you can adjust the ratios to suit. It can happily be done without cream, but I happened to have some lurking in the fridge.

It cannot be done with milk chocolate.

  1. Get a double boiler, or a Pyrex jug atop a saucepan of water, and bring the water to the boil, and then reduce as low as possible.
  2. Break the chocolate into small pieces and add.
    s-DSC00731
    It will take a few minutes to melt, do not stir it, although the occasional poke and prod are acceptable.
    s-DSC00732
  3. Whilst that’s going on, heat up the milk. I use the steam nozzle on my espresso machine for this, but otherwise do it in an adjacent saucepan. Do not boil.
  4. Stir in the cream if you’re using it. This should add easily, and make the next steps less hazardous.
  5. Add a small amount of the hot milk to the chocolate and stir vigorously. If the milk is too cold, or you add too much, the chocolate will separate, and you’ll need a balloon whisk.
  6. Turn up the heat underneath the chocolate, so the water will come to the boil, but don’t wait for it to come to the boil, carry on with the next steps.
  7. Keep on adding the milk, bit by bit, until you’ve added about half the milk.
  8. You can then add the rest of the hot milk in one go, but keep on stirring.
    s-DSC00734
  9. Serve in pre-heated cups.
    s-DSC00735

Variations

Here are some other ideas.

  • If you follow this procedure, just using equal quantities of chocolate and cream, this makes quite a passable chocolate sauce.
  • You could also add some liqueur, e.g. Frangelico or even some whiskey, but be subtle; no more than a half a teaspoon, to make it “mysterious”, as Pomiane would say.

Improvisation

The bloody raspberries haven’t been finished, and they’re looking decidedly limp, and still fairly tasteless. So they, plus the water that’s clung to them after rinsing, and a teaspoon of vanilla sugar have made it into a saucepan on a low heat, until the berries have mainly collapsed and are sitting in a pool of sticky red sludge, which doesn’t taste too bad.

This gets served with porridge.

Pudding for breakfast.

Vegetable Curry

DSC00729

A staple from the student days.

You will need chopped onions and similar volumes of chopped up carrots, sliced courgettes, and maybe some mangetout, baby corn, etc.

In a large pot, fry the veg in a small amount of oil, with a sprinking of salt, until the onions are soft and translucent, and the courgettes and carrots are showing a bit of colour. Whilst that’s happening, get some hot stock ready: enough liquid to cover the veg. Decant the fried veg into a large bowl, and reduce the heat, so you can build up the spice paste without burning it.

Into the pot in this order…

  1. some more oil; not too much
  2. put as much chilli as you dare and some cloves, fry for about a minute
  3. add as much chopped up garlic as you like, fry for another minute, stirring
  4. ground cumin, turmeric, ground cinnamon, stirring – the powdered spices will soak up the oil, and everything will form into a sticky paste – make sure this doesn’t burn, so only fry for about thirty seconds
  5. then add the stock, and scrape any bits off the bottom of the pan

Now, some drained tinned chickpeas, and some tinned chopped tomatoes, with about half the juices strained off. Return the veg to the pot as well.

Bring back to the boil, reduce the heat immediately to a minimum and allow to simmer quietly for about half an hour.

Serve with couscous.

Ratios

I didn’t mention any quantities above, as it will vary according to personal taste. Today’s effort, however, was produced with:

  • two medium onions
  • one large carrot
  • four tiny courgettes
  • a pint of vegetable stock (Marigold Boullion)
  • a teaspoon of chilli
  • six cloves
  • four fat cloves of garlic
  • a teaspoon of cumin
  • half a teaspoon of turmeric
  • half a teaspoon of cinnamon
  • a 450g tin of chickpeas
  • a 450g tin of chopped toms

Essential Ingredients

You can vary this to taste, but the essential ingredients are the spice paste and the chickpeas.

DSC00730

Variations

  • make up the spice paste in advance, and marinate some chopped up lamb in it overnight, taking care that the meat gets vigorously fried on the outside, but then gently simmered
  • similar thing with roughly cubed aubergine (no need for overnight marination, just a couple of hours)
  • use double the amount of stock, and then blitz the whole lot darned lot with a hand-held blender to make soup

Raspberry Idiot

This is a very similar dish to Raspberry Fool, but occurs when your raspberries – despite being soft, dark red, and unctuous – turn out to contain no flavour.

Make as usual, but loads of lemon juice, and the dessert cooks’ secret weapon: the vanilla sugar. My stash has about a kilo of sugar, and has had up to four pods lurking in it at once; it’s potent stuff.

Shepherd’s Pie

There is leftover garlic mash from the other night. It was pushed into a square sandwich bag, and squished into a flat slab, about an inch thick. The slab is conveniently the same size as my smallest square baking dish. Muwhahaha.

Some minced lamb and a chopped onion get fried in olive oil with salt, pepper and a half a teaspoon of sugar. I realise that there’s no red wine handy, at least of the sort I’d use to deglaze the pan, so I pop in a splash of vermouth and, for the hell of it, some squished up juniper berries. A sprinkle of dried thyme, a tin of chopped tomatoes (minus their juice) and the results go into the bottom of my baking dish. A layer of frozen peas and then the slab of mash. The mash turns out not to be exactly the right size, so there’s some artistic carving with a serrated bread knife to make it fit.

Finally, into a hot oven for half an hour. Joy.

Variations:

  • Worcestershire sauce
  • tomato paste (not keen on this as it makes the whole thing tomato flavoured, whilst the pieces provide just the occasional nugget of fruitiness)
  • chopped up dried tomatoes

Frozen Parsley

Funny stuff, parsley. Tastes really rather bland, buts adds an indefinable zing to loads of dishes. And totally useless dried.

When I was a kid, Mum would sometimes have way too much parsley, so she’d chop it, mix it with water and pour the resulting goo into an ice-cube tray. Once the cubes were done, she’d shove them into a plastic bag, et voilà, teaspoon sized portions of parsley ready to go. That was the theory. The reality was that getting the springy, bouncy parsley leaves into the ice cube tray was harder than it sounds, no matter how finely chopped they were.

The simple approach is to chop up a bunch of parsley, and simply stuff into a rectangular plastic “sandwich bag”, and put that into the freezer. The trick here is, once the bag is sealed, to squish it around the contents are evenly spread and the bag is almost flat. This way you can easily snap off a corner.

Same thing works for leftover mash, too. The flatter you squish it, the easier it is to stack in the freezer and the quicker it is to defrost. (I try and make my frozen slabs of mash line up with the dish in which I make Shepherds’ Pie…)

Scrambled Eggs

Nothing quite sets the world to rights like a proper fry-up, but I don’t have the right ingredients to hand, and going shopping this early would destroy the effect of a Sunday morning altogether.

So second choice is scrambled eggs. I do mine in what is apparently the French way, using a bain-marie, or in my case, a Pyrex jug balanced on top of a smallish saucepan.

  1. Half fill a small saucepan with water, bring to the boil, and then reduce the heat as far down as it will go. If you’re using solid electric hotplates (as I did for several years) you’ll need to move it to another hotplate.
  2. Break as many eggs as you fancy (2-3 per person) into a glass jug or bowl, add salt and pepper (you know how much you like), and beat lazily.
  3. The water in the saucepan will have cooled a little by now, so put the jug into the saucepan, so the edges of the jug (or bowl) rest on the edges of the saucepan, and the bottom of the bowl is in the water. You may need to fiddle with the water levels to get this right.
    s-DSC00723
  4. Put a knob of butter on top and leave for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. The eggs will gradually thicken, so serve when they reach the desired consistency.
    s-DSC00725

Stovetops are treacherous things, so on your first attempt, be prepared for the following contingencies.

  • If the eggs start cooking almost immediately, then there’s too much heat from below so turn the heat down and/or take the bowl off the saucepan – be careful not to scald yourself
  • If the eggs show no sign of cooking, then you’ll need to turn the heat up a whisker, but again keep an eye on it

Once you’ve mastered this approach, the eggs are simply a background activity, requiring almost no attention, and very little risk of going horrid. This frees up time to concentrate on important tasks such as the rapid delivery of the First Coffee of the Day.

Spinach Binge

There seems to be a lot of it about in the shops, and I can’t get enough of it. Not the boiled since last October thing that my gran did, or worse still, the yech that comes out of a tin. Just simple steamed spinach.

I’m often surprised at how much fuss people make over it.

You’ll need 100g per person.

Simply wash it, squeeze it dry, and bung it in a pan with a knob of butter and a pinch salt like this. It’s quite bulky so you may need to wrestle with it slightly.

s-DSC00715

Cover with a tightly fitting lid, and turn the heat on high for two minutes, until you hear some hissing and see some steam coming out from under the lid. Remove from the heat, wait another two minutes, and you get this.

s-DSC00719

No further faffing required, although you could stir in about a teaspoon of cream per serving if you want to be fancy.

Bangers & Mash

What a horrid day. Tension just seemed to have worked its way into the office: even the boss squared, normally tranquil in the face of all adversity, was irritable. I caved in to the mid afternoon slump, and had the dreaded Coke and Kit Kat Combo, whose sugar rush is as pleasurable as it is transitory. Then walking home in the cold past houses for sale that I can’t afford.

On days like this, one needs a bit of sausage to keep the glint in one’s eye and the spring in one’s step.

I always do mine in the oven – in a roasting tin with no need for oil – just 160 of the best degrees centigrade that my fan-forced oven has to offer for about 45 minutes. This leaves them with a nice all over tan, and reduces the risk of them bursting. (And don’t prick them, please. All the flavour just runs out.)

Meanwhile got busy with some garlic mash and steamed spinach. The garlic butter had surprisingly little effect on the mash, so wondering whether the effect was too subtle. Some other good things to put in mash:

  • mustard: wholegrain, Dijon, or English are all good, although be careful with the last of these
  • thinly chopped spring onions (no need to cook them)
  • cheese: grate and stir in at the last moment (hard cheeses are best: Cantal, Grana, Cheddar, Doddington, etc)
  • chopped up chives or parsley
  • garlic butter: peel and squish three cloves of garlic and fry gently in a little butter for about five minutes, making sure the garlic doesn’t brown, then fish out and discard the garlic, and tip the butter into the spuds during mashing

All of these particularly effective, and almost necessary, if you’re using Aunt Bessie’s, as it’s just a little too smooth otherwise.

The Sauté Pan

This is just about the most useful piece of kit in my kitchen. It’s used for sauces, curries, soups, poaching eggs, steaming spinach, and sometimes, just for a change, I even sauté things in it.

Mine is 25cm in diameter, 6cm deep, with vertical sides, made of heavy stainless steel, with a copper bottom. It cost half a week’s wages at the time, but is fifteen years old and getting better with age.

There are plenty of places where you can compromise, but this is not one of them.

If you’re shopping, some of the things you should look for:

  1. Vertical Sides make all the difference when you’re vigorously stirring, frying, or shaking the pan, and you don’t want your dinner on the floor. I’m not sure I see the point in sloped sides.
  2. A matching tight fitting lid is essential.
  3. A non-stick lining will peel away in time, and turn into an ultra-stick lining. Best avoided.
  4. I’ve had mixed experiences with cast iron, and think stainless steel is the way forward. Perhaps if I used the pan every day I’d have a different opinion.
  5. That’s heavy stainless steel, and preferably a copper bottom. This is so the heat distributes evenly. It won’t come cheap, I’m afraid.
  6. A stout handle, preferably heat proof. The one flaw with mine is that it doesn’t have a heatproof handle, which is a shame as I can’t stick it under the grill or in the oven.