Monthly Archives: October 2009

Onion Soup Experiment

I have some brown miso paste, which makes very odd miso soup. It’s too dark, rich, and vaguely reminiscent of beef stock.

Hmmm. Idea.

A load of onions got cooked slowly in the sauté pan, with some butter, a single clove (crumbled), a teensy bit of sugar, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf. For about an hour, ’til they were a deep golden colour. The pan was then deglazed with a teensy splash of Madeira.

After this the onions went into a saucepan of hot miso. Looked right. Smelt right. Tasted awful. Just didn’t work at all.

Fortunately, there was another saucepan full of run-of-the-mill Marigold boullion, and I had only sacrificed half the onions. So the remainder went to the other saucepan, and disaster averted.

Croutons, Comté, and an overhead grill completed the happiness.

Still not sure what you do with brown miso paste.

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Easy Dressing

My parents used to faff and fuss endlessly over vinaigrette. Please don’t. This is the procedure used by Him What Knows.

First, taste the salad you’re going to dress. Is it sweet lambs’ lettuce and nice things? Or is it decidedly frisky and full of rocket and lollo rosso? Or that particularly awkward springy lettuce, whose only function is to flick dressing onto your clothes?

For each person, mix

  • half a teaspoon of honey
  • half a teaspoon wholegrain mustard
  • a teaspoon red wine vinegar (balsamic is a bit over the top here, but good luck if you want to)
  • three teaspoons of olive oil – now is the time to use the posh stuff.

Stir with a spoon, and hoik over the salad.

Obviously if your salad is sweet, then less honey, and maybe more vinegar. If your salad is a tad on the bitter side, more honey. And so on.

Dealt with.

Steak-Frites

Sometimes there’s just a ravening urge for protein. Maybe it’s the stress of the previous week, or the one coming up. Maybe it’s a hint that I’m about to get the flu. Whatever. What I need is meat.

I don’t think fillet is the meat for this: although useful in other contexts, it’s just not interesting enough on its own. Rump, sirloin, or onglet are the way to go. I have a pricey, but very good butcher not too far away, and I will simply say that I want some steak for frying, and they’ll suggest the most appropriate model. You want it sliced about 2cm thick.

Make sure the meat’s at room temperature, if not, get it out of the fridge. Rub it all over in olive oil; enough to make it glisten, but no more. Grind over some pepper if you fancy, but no salt. Chuck in a pre-heated grill pan and leave it for two minutes. Flip it, salt it, and leave it for another two minutes. This should give you rare. Another minute and you’ll have medium. But there is no shame in sawing off a corner to have a check: just remember that the centre will be pinker than the corner.

Pop the steak on a warmed plate to rest, and deglaze the pan with something. I use Madeira for this. If you were feeling particularly fancy, you could have a roux going in another pot, and pour the pan juices and Madeira into this. I just reduce and pour over the steak. True ritual gluttony would call for sauce béarnaise.

There must be fries. I think oven fries will suffice. They’re particularly good if you have a fan forced oven and crank it up as high as it will go for the last three minutes.

And of course a simple salad of dressed leaves to make it seem healthy.

Cooking with Pomiane

I think it best Docteur de Pomiane introduce himself by way of a few quotes.

‘There are three kinds of guests: 1. those one is fond of. 2. those with whom one is obliged to mix. 3. those whom one detests. For these three very different occasions one would prepare, respectively, an excellent dinner, a banal meal, or nothing at all, since in the latter case one would buy something ready cooked.’

‘To prepare a dinner for a friend is to put into the cooking pot all one’s affection and good will, all one’s gaiety and zest, so that after three hours’ cooking a waft of happiness escapes from beneath the lid.’

Whimsical appeal aside, what value does a book written in the 1930s, by a Frenchman born in 1875, have for the modern working kitchen? For starters there’s the uncluttered scientific approach where Pomiane (a professional scientist, but an amateur cook) describes exactly what’s taking place at a molecular level. His disdain for tradition, coupled with a scientific desire to eliminate the extraneous, results in brief, lucid recipes, which cover exactly what you need to do and no more. The magisterial section on sauces tells you everything you need to know in five and a half pages: your roux will be perfect and your Hollandaise will never curdle again.

The style is terse, and not without a certain amount of Gallic élan. This is not to say he has no sympathy for the cook. Take the recipe for bouef à la ficelle: ‘at this point you may feel a little depressed.’ I may even dare this recipe myself, although I feel I might offend cultural sensibilities if I ever followed his exact instructions for Poulet Tamara, which requires the presence of Georgian emigrés.

‘For a successful dinner there should never be more than eight at table. One should prepare only one good dish [the emphasis is his]. This should be preceded and followed by some little thing, then cheese and a sweet course if you are in France, or pudding and cheese if you are in England.’

There you go. One good dish, and off to the deli for the rest. How reassuring.

Spuds and Mackerel

I bought a pink silicone egg flip today. It looks, well, a trifle girly. Which makes it all the more odd, as when it was run up on the register, the lady says to me, “sorry, I’ve got to confirm you’re over eighteen”, before bursting into giggles. I says, “no problem, I know that even now, the estates are being stalked by gangs of hoody wearing teens, armed with egg whisks and slotted spoons, and it’s only right you should ask.” It’s almost not worth mentioning that the slightest smidgeon of a possibility that I looked under eighteen left me immeasurably chuffed.

Anyway, I’d like to point out that I am not a Nigel Slater Junkie, but he does write good recipes. Here is something else I like.

As usual, he’s infuriatingly imprecise, as Mr Barnes has pointed out, so here are my notes:

  • allow 200g of fish and 300g of potatoes per person
  • as long as the potatoes are medium sized (Mr Barnes: you’ll want them to be 105mm along the long axis, and 207mm in circumference) and not too thick skinned, the variety doesn’t seem to matter; tonight’s supper was done with some King Edwards
  • after 30 mins of roasting the potatoes, get in with some barbecue tongs and rearrange them to allow maximum opportunities for crisping

I’m afraid sheer unmitigated greed prevented me from taking photos until everything had been consumed.

Ahem.

Parmigiana di Melanzane

Another gloomy day, so something from the Med is required to cheer it up. This is a hybrid of quite a few recipes – purists will doubtless shudder – but I’ll get my supper earlier.

  • two large aubergines
  • a litre of Tomato Goop (see earlier notes – I’ve added a teaspoon of dried oregano and half a teaspoon of dried basil)
  • 250g grated cows’ mozzarella
  • parmesan to taste (I’m a noted Parmesan Pig, so won’t embarrass myself by revealing the actual quantities)

This is what you do.

  1. Slice the aubergines lengthways into 5mm slices, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with a little salt, and then put under a hot grill, ’til slightly brown and sizzling
  2. layer the aubergines, cheese and sauce in a baking dish – try and plan it so you end up with about two or three layers (note that the aubergine slices will shrink when you grill them)
  3. bake for around an three quaters of an hour at 160C, and put a layer of grated Parmesan on top about ten minutes before the end
  4. serve with more Parmesan

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Caveats

A few things to note.

  • you don’t need to peel the aubergines
  • you don’t need to salt the aubergines
  • aubergines are oil hungry – you will need to use a brush – and rapidly at that – in order to get the oil onto them
  • some recipes tell you to flour and deep fry the aubergine slices – I think this just results in the final product absolutely swimming in oil
  • you could make a very simple tomato sauce just using tinned tomatoes, garlic and onions, plus a few favourite herbs – some Italian delis will make this stuff in bulk on the premises and sell it in little tubs
  • don’t use fancy buffalo mozzarella, what you want is the hard mozzarella made from cows’ milk: if it comes pre grated in a plastic bag, all the better – you can just pop the remains in the freezer

Variations

The following ingredients will add joy and happiness.

  • about a dozen anchovy fillets
  • a handful of chopped up black olives

Jane Grigson says not to even bother with grilling the aubergine – merely blanch the slices for two minutes in boiling water. (Her Vegetable Book lists some interesting regional variations as well.)

Mrs Grigson also very sensibly points out that once layered in the baking dish, this can be popped into the freezer instead of the oven, and brought out on another date.

Sticky Chicky 2

I have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, which makes for a nice change.

The bottom of the roasting tin for the sticky chicken was awash with meat juices, marinade and chicken fat. Since the oven was still fairly hot, I popped it back in, and reduced/darkened the remains, and then popped them into the coldest part of the fridge. (A fridge thermometer is a useful gadget, and reveals that whilst a lot of my fridge is a 4C, the door shelves are at about 10C, and the back of the bottom shelf is at zero.)

The morning after, all the fat had congealed on the surface, so I removed that, leaving four tablespoons of chickeny, lemony, garlicky sweet jelly. Mmmm. This stuff ought to be bottled and sold.

It certainly made for a Most Diverting Sandwich.

Sticky Chicky

I made this.

It was very tasty, although I suspect the idea was that the lemon juice would reduce during cooking, to leave nothing but a sticky glaze, and that I should have used a larger roasting tin.

I think what he meant to say was, “put them in, skin side down, and turn them over halfway, so the skin side is up”.

Anyway, the results were very tasty, and the leftovers, below, will make for a magnificent sandwich.

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Variations

I think the removal of the mustard, and the addition of ginger and soy sauce, and maybe a bit of star anise or five spice powder might be worth a go.

The Hand Blender

There was a time when, having made my soup, I would empty it, litre by litre into the blender, then empty the blended results into another pot. Not quite a Sisyphean labour, as it finally had an end, but messy, and loads of washing up.

Enter the hand blender, a.k.a. the purée wand, as it’s called across the Atlantic.

This is a wonderful gadget. Just shove it in the pot, press the button, and off it goes. Now, it does tend to jump and buck a bit, and there’s nothing to stop you from sticking your fingers into its rotating knives, so if you’re clumsy, you might want to avoid it. Likewise, small children are more curious than you give them credit, so leave it in a high cupboard, and not unsupervised. (You knew that already, didn’t you?)

A word of warning. It can sometimes be so efficient, that your soup ends up lookiong as though it has come from the supermarket. To avoid this, always fish out a couple of ladles of the soup/stew in its “natural” state, blend, and then return the chunks. Keeps that rustic, homemade look.

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup

The pumpkins you get in England tend to be oversized, fibrous, tasteless things, suitable for making Jack-o-Lanterns; but very little else. The more modestly sized butternut squash contains a lot more flavour. Your mileage may vary in other countries: I’ve had perfectly edible pumpkin just across the channel, as well as across the Atlantic, so it can’t be all that bad. I could make the soup simply by peeling, chopping up and simmering the squash, but I don’t think that brings out the flavour the way roasting does. (And besides, the flat is cold.)

  1. Get the oven going at 200C
  2. Cut up a butternut squash lengthways into wedges – you will need a sharp heavy knife, and the vegetable is a slippery treacherous one – so take care when doing this – my 600g pumpkin yields 11 wedges, but I could have just chopped it up into six pieces
    s-DSC00740
  3. Put the wedges into a roasting tin, rub them in olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt – you could also add a grind of pepper and consider some tough woody herbs
  4. It’ll need about 40 – 60 minutes, so do the washing up or something – they’ll be done when they’ve gone dark, are singing to themselves and smelling rather good
    s-DSC00743
  5. Chop an onion finely and fry with a little butter in a saucepan or pot big enough to hold the finished product, along with some of the following (tonight I’m adding options 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5)
    • a knob of ginger, grated
    • a couple of cloves of garlic
    • a dried bay leaf
    • four cloves
    • a vigorous grinding of black pepper
    • some sage leaves (if you must)
    • chilli flakes or paprika
    • half a teaspoon of Thai red curry paste (Mae Ploy brand is good)
    • half a teaspoon of curry powder
  6. Pour over a litre of stock and bring to a simmer (I’m using a frozen tupper of some veg stock I made a few weeks ago, which is why there’s an iceberg in the saucepan)
    s-DSC00742
    …but melting quickly…
    s-DSC00745
  7. Resuce the roasted squash from the oven and allow to cool enough for you to remove the seeds and skin, and then bung the flesh into the saucepan
  8. Simmer for a bit (if you’re doing the Thai thing, you could add a couple of Kaffir lime leaves)
    s-DSC00746
  9. Use either a hand held blender, potato masher or spoon, to bring to the right consistency (if you’re blending, fish out any cloves, bay leaves etc first)
    s-DSC00747
  10. Maybe some crème fraîche? (Yeah, I know, every second post mentions it, but I’ve got a pot on the go, alright?)