Saturday, June 6, 2009

Proper cheese on toast

Serves 4-6

This effectively is as good a Welsh Rarebit as you're likely to make, and the home made garlic wine vinegar (a great storecupboard component for salad dressings) served as a condiment really does work to add an acidity to the richness of the glazed cheese. If you can't be faffed with the vinegar, an extra splash of Worcestershire sauce stands in as a forgiveable deputy. This is really easy weekend stuff too, late in the evening when you've been running around all day doing what you do, this is just the thing to fall back on, I had as good a night in as I can remember with just some great dahl and bread last night, and this is in the same league - rich and packed with flavour but warm and comforting at the same time.

For the topping
50g unsalted butter
50g flour
250ml strong ale
250g grated mature cheddar
20ml Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp English mustard
1/2 tsp grain mustard
1 egg yolk
Salt, pepper and fleur de sel

For the garlic wine vinegar
1 bottle dry white wine
10 cloves of garlic, peeled and squashed
1 sprig each of rosemary, thyme and tarragon
1 tsp black peppercorns
Good-quality white wine vinegar

For the base
1 loaf of sourdough bread

Melt the butter and stir in the flour to make a roux. Heat the beer until hot but not boiling and gradually add to the roux, stirring constantly over a low heat, but taking care not to overwork.

Melt the grated cheese in a bowl over a pan of boiling water and pour into the mixture; stir once to amalgamate, and then remove from the heat. Add the Worcestershire sauce, both mustards, the egg yolk, salt and pepper, then pulse a few times in a food processor until emulsified (it will look matt and pale). Again, do not overwork. Check the seasoning. Allow to cool before refrigerating - it will keep for a week in the fridge no problem.

To make the vinegar, bring the wine to the boil in a non-reactive pan (such as stainless steel or enamel). Add the garlic, herbs and peppercorns, then boil rapidly for 3-4 minutes. Take off the heat and strain through a fine sieve. When cool, add 25ml of white wine vinegar to every 100ml. If it is stored in a sealed bottle or plastic container in a cool, dark place, the garlic wine vinegar will keep for months.

Preheat the grill or turn the oven to 225c/gas mark 7. Cut the loaf into 1in slices, allowing 1 or 2 slices per person. Brush both sides of the bread with melted butter and grill or put in the oven for 5 minutes to toast. Melt 40g-50g of the cheese mix per slice, pour over the bread and cook at the same temperature for 4-5 minutes until golden brown.

Sprinkle a few grains of fleur de sel on top and serve, with the garlic wine vinegar, as a condiment.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Plum and almond sponge pudding

Serves 6

To make individual puddings, heat the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Grease 6 x 200ml dariole or ramekin moulds and divide the plum and sponge mixture between them. Cover the moulds with small pieces of greased foil, pleated in the middle. Put them in a deep roasting tray and pour in boiling water to come halfway up the sides of the moulds. Bake for about 25-35 minutes.

300g ripe dark red plums, quartered and stoned
250ml marsala
140g golden caster sugar, plus 2 tblsp
140g softened butter, plus extra for greasing
70g self raising flour
70g ground almonds
2 tsp baking powder
3 eggs
¼ tsp almond essence
50g toasted flaked almonds
Custard, to serve

Lightly butter a 1.2 litre pudding basin. Put the plums in a saucepan and pour over the marsala. Stir in two tblsp of sugar, then bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for no more than ten minutes until the plums are tender.

Remove from the heat, drain the plums and reserve the marsala. Purée half of the plums in a food processor until smooth. Pass the purée through a sieve, then combine with the remaining poached plums. Pour the plum mix into the pudding basin.

Put all of the ingredients for the sponge mixture in a large mixing bowl and beat with an electric hand whisk until light and creamy. Spoon the mixture into the pudding basin, taking care not to disturb the plum layer, and level the top.

Lay a large sheet of greaseproof paper on top of a piece of foil the same size. Grease the paper with butter, make a pleat in the middle and lay it, paper-side down, over the basin. Tie tightly with string and trim away the excess paper. Scrunch the foil up and over the paper to make it watertight.

Steam for 1½ hours, keeping an eye on the water level every 30 minutes or so, topping up the water if needed. To check the pudding is ready, unwrap and insert a skewer into the sponge. The skewer should come out completely clean. Boil the reserved marsala in a small pan until syrupy. Turn out the pudding and pour over the reduced marsala. Sprinkle over the toasted almonds and serve with lots of custard

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Lamb meatballs with beetroot and dill

Makes 12-16 (enough for 4 or more)

Beetroot, a finer vegetable which is often totally underated I think you'll struggle to find, in the same league as celeriac and Jerusalem artichokes I feel. More often than not we're too used to the pickled jars of beetroot, which has clouded the products real depth of flavour and diversity as an ingredient. Here I'm taking raw specimens and folding them into a meatball recipe, and as you'll see they make up a significant percentage of the mix to ensure their flavour is noticed rather than masked.

75g fine or medium cracked wheat
250g raw beetroot
A small to medium onion
400g minced lamb
2 large cloves, or even 3, of garlic
2 heaped tblsp of chopped dill
A small handful of parsley

For the dressing
1/3 of a cucumber
the leaves from 4 or 5 sprigs of mint
1 tblsp capers
200g yogurt

Put the cracked wheat in a bowl; pour over enough boiling water to cover, then set aside to swell. Peel the beetroot and the onion then grate them coarsely into a large bowl. Add the minced lamb, the peeled and crushed garlic, the dill, parsley and a generous grinding of salt and black pepper.

Squeeze any water from the cracked wheat with your hands and mix into the meat. Mix everything together thoroughly, then squidge the mince into little patties about the size of a flattened golf ball, cover with cling film (tight, to stop the garlic infusing the fridge!), then chill for at least an hour.

Set the oven at 180c/gas mark 4. Make the dressing by grating the cucumber coarsely and leaving it in a colander, lightly sprinkled with salt, for half an hour. Squeeze it dry then mix it with the chopped mint, capers and yogurt. Season with salt and black pepper.

Heat a non-stick pan, brush the patties with a little groundnut oil and fry till golden on both sides. Try not to move the meatballs around very much when they are cooking, otherwise they may fall apart.

Once they are lightly browned on each side, carefully lift them into a baking dish and finish in a hot oven for 15-20 minutes. (You can only tell if they are done by tasting one, as the beetroot gives them a rich red colour, making it impossible to gauge by sight whether they are cooked.) Drizzle with the cucumber dressing and eat

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Brunch BLT

Serves 4

Not a day passes me by when I don't think of a sandwich as part of my routine. Anything stuffed into a crusty roll or wedged between two slices of doughy bread constitutes a culinary journey I'm not even close to getting tired of. There can't be many better examples of a food group without limitations as the sandwich, and I love each and every one so far. You can vary the ingredients of this sandwich to taste. For example, you could add sliced buffalo mozzarella or roasted and peeled red pepper quarters, depending on your mood.

2 medium red onions
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 ripe avocado
A few drops of lemon or lime juice
Tabasco to taste (optional)
16 slices smoked back bacon
4 mini baguettes
Butter or mayonnaise
6 flavoursome tomatoes, sliced
2-3 handfuls of rocket

Set the oven to 180c/gas mark 4. Slice the onions and place on a small nonstick roasting tray. Mix in 1 tbsp olive oil and season with salt and pepper, then slip them into the oven (which won’t have reached the correct temperature yet). Roast for about 25 minutes or until they are soft and lightly caramelised.

Meanwhile, halve, stone and peel the avocado, then slice and place in a small bowl. Season with lemon juice, salt, pepper and Tabasco. Set aside.

Preheat a nonstick frying pan over a medium-high heat. Trim the bacon of excess fat. Once the pan is hot, add 1 tbsp oil, followed by as much bacon as you can fit in the pan. Fry briskly for about 2 minutes on each side or until lightly coloured and beginning to turn crispy. The cooking time will vary according to the thickness of the bacon. Remove from the pan and keep warm in the oven while you continue to cook the remaining bacon with a further tablespoon of oil.

About 5 minutes before the onions are ready, place the baguettes in the oven to warm up. As soon as the bread is hot, remove and slice each baguette in half lengthways. Lightly spread the bottom half of each roll with butter or mayonnaise and cover with 4 slices of bacon, followed by a quarter of the onion, tomato and rocket. Place a quarter of the sliced avocado on the cut side of each baguette lid, then firmly squash down.

Cut each of the baguettes in half and serve immediately, with plenty of paper napkins.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Broad bean and dill pilaf

Serves 4

This pilaf also works well with peas. If your individual broad beans are longer than 1.5cm, I'd suggest to peel and blanch them, otherwise they will be unpleasantly tough. But should you be rummaging through your freezer and come across a frost crusted bag of baby beans, this recipe is just up your street.

75g unsalted butter
6 spring onions thinly sliced (with all the green leaves)
a pinch of ground allspice
150g basmati rice, soaked as below
500g podded broad beans or 1.5kg in pods
1 medium bunch fresh dill, roughly chopped
½ small bunch fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
sea salt and black pepper

To serve
200g homemade or Greek yoghurt, thinned with 2 tblsp milk and seasoned with ½ crushed garlic clove or a pinch of allspice

To soak the basmati rice, put it in a bowl and cover with cold water. Rub the rice with your fingertips until the water becomes cloudy with starch. Strain off the cloudy water and repeat the process 3 times (or until the water runs clear). Finally, pour off the water, replace with warm water and stir in 1 tsp salt. The rice is then soaked in the fridge for at least 3 hours. The salt stops the rice from breaking up, and the soaking reduces the cooking time by half.

Over a medium heat melt the butter in a saucepan and fry the spring onion and allspice for 10 minutes until sweet. Stir the drained rice into the saucepan and coat with the butter. Add the broad beans and two-thirds of the dill and parsley and stir in well. Cover the rice by 5mm water and season with salt and pepper.

Lay some damp greaseproof paper on the water and bring to the boil over a medium to high heat. When it comes to the boil, put a lid on the pan and cook quite fast for 5 minutes. Now turn down the heat to medium to low for another 5 minutes before it is ready to serve.

Sprinkle the rest of the dill and parsley on each serving. We serve this rice with seasoned yoghurt as here, but it is also good with lamb kibbeh cooked in yoghurt, or roasted or grilled fish.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Chicken liver parfait

Terrine making is a huge labour of love, one which I'm fixated with, and when in the mood have assembled some great combinations to last through the week. Late night munchie snacks have never been more rewarding than a slab of pâté, fridge cold, spread onto a thick wedge of hot toast. This wonderfully rich chicken liver version is delicious with a sprinkling of rock salt and black pepper, on fresh hot toast of course. Please don’t baulk at the amount of booze used in this recipe. It makes a big difference to the end result - and all the alcohol boils away in the cooking.

100g shallots, peeled and finely diced
1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped
1 bunch thyme (6-8 sprigs), tied
150ml dry Madeira
150ml ruby port
75ml white port
50ml brandy
400g chicken livers
1½ tsp sea salt
4 eggs
400g unsalted butter

Place the shallots, garlic, thyme, Madeira, ruby port, white port and brandy in a bowl. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge for 24 hours. Place the livers in a bowl of milk, cover and leave in the fridge overnight to reduce the bitterness.

The following day, bring the marinated shallot mixture to the boil, then reduce it until there is no liquid left; do not let it catch or burn.

Preheat the oven to 150c/gas mark 2. Drain the chicken livers, rinse and pat them dry. Trim them, place in a bowl and add the salt. Put the livers on a plate and leave to warm to room temperature. Crack the eggs into a separate bowl, cover with cling film and, again, leave to warm to room temperature.

Meanwhile, melt the butter in a pan. Remove the thyme from the warm shallot reduction, and place the reduction, together with the chicken livers, in a food processor and blend until smooth. Add the eggs and blend again. With the food processor still running, gradually pour in the hot melted butter. Keep processing for a good five minutes for a smooth pâté.

Pass the blended liver mix through a fine-mesh sieve and pour into a terrine dish that comfortably holds 500ml. Place on an oven tray with high sides and pour hot water into the tray until it reaches the same level as the liver mixture in the terrine dish. Cover the terrine with foil and place the tray in the oven.

After 20 minutes, check the parfait by carefully agitating the terrine: it should be set at the edges, but still wobble slightly in the centre. If it is not ready, put it back into the oven and continue to check regularly. (If you have a probe, the internal temperature should be 65c)

Once ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Leave to set for about half a day in the fridge before serving.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Smoked duck and peach salad with basil dressing

Serves 4

For sure it's way too warm today, and it's Sunday after all, to be doing anything in the kitchen apart from assembling. I can't speak for anyone else, but the peaches I've been getting the past week or two are good enough to kill for, and the novelty hasn't yet worn thin (peach eating rather than murder plotting that is)
You really should use ripe fruit for this salad, but if you only have rock-hard peaches in your fruit bowl, and it isn't too labour intensive and hot to fire up the hob, brush the peach slices with a little butter and griddle or pan-fry for a few minutes until tender and golden brown at the edges.
Crusty just baked bread with some chilled butter is all you need bother with on the side, a few select cheeses to finish off and I think you have a winning combo with minimum stress.

300g smoked duck breast
4 ripe peaches
1 head of crest or oak leaf lettuce, washed and torn
Handful of basil leaves, torn
1 tsp runny honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
4-5 tblsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Thinly slice the duck breast and set aside. Remove the stones from the peaches and cut into eighths. On a large serving plate or salad bowl, arrange the duck and peach slices on a bed of lettuce leaves, and then scatter over the basil.

Stir together the remaining ingredients for the dressing and season to taste. Spoon over the salad just as you are ready to eat.