Archive for the ‘winter food’ Category

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Baker’s delight

June 22, 2010

How I love winter.

Well actually I don’t love winter, at all; I hate the cold. Ugh. Awful. But I do love winter food, specially the long-cooked, rich, stick-to-the-ribs decadent weekend variety.

And this potato bakey number, which I proudly invented on the weekend and then discovered to be an aeons-old classic called pommes boulangère, is my new favourite thing in the world. It’s got stock. It’s got spuds. My version’s got cream, and it’s got leek. If you can name one thing that’s not to love in this dish, I will personally come to your house and take it off your hands. It is also possibly the simplest potato gratin you’ll ever make, and your dinner guests will get down on their hands and knees and kiss your little toes for it.

I learn the origin of the name (‘baker’s potatoes’) from Damien Pignolet’s lovely book , French: “Tradition has it that one assembed the gratin at home and took it to the baker for cooking in the residual heat of the oven when the day’s baking was finished.”

Quantities and times are a little loose here and will depend on your oven,  the dish and the spuds, but the idea is that the spuds slowly absorb the creamy stock and brown to a lovely chewy crisp on top while remaining soft and creamy beneath.

Pommes boulangère a la Marrickville  (serves 4-6 greedy people)

  • 1kg potatoes, peeled and sliced
  • 1 leek, finely sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups (ish) chicken stock
  • ½ cup thickened cream
  • salt & pepper
  • small sprig rosemary
  1. Layer the potatoes and leek & garlic mix in a shallow, oven-proof glass dish.
  2. Pour the stock and cream over the top, and push the rosemary sprig into the middle of the dish till hidden. The liquid should be just enough to come up to the top layer of potato – don’t drown them.
  3. Season (but be careful with the salt, depending on the saltiness of your stock as it’ll intensify as reduces).
  4. Cover with foil and bake in a moderate oven for about 20 minutes.
  5. Remove from oven and check whether spuds are too dry – add more stock and press the potatoes down into the creamy stock if needed.
  6. Return to the oven without the foil and bake for around 1 hour, or till golden on top, occasionally pressing the spuds into the liquid if necessary.

Remove the bubbling, golden, glistening joy of it from the oven, rest for a few minutes while you carve your roast lamb or chook and pour the wine, and serve hot from the dish at the table.  Then swoon.

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Sweetness and light

June 10, 2010

With all the slow cooking and braising we’ve been doing lately, the question of accompaniments arises. It’s easy to tire of couscous, polenta can be tricky and for some reason I’ve never been a big fan of plain rice with non-Asian food. Which is where Skye Gyngell’s sweet potato mash comes in.

You may know of Gyngell, the Australian chef whose Petersham Nurseries Cafe at Richmond in south-west London is now internationally famous. It is a beautiful place to visit when you’re next there – even if you discover, as I did, that the cafe is closed because Gyngell is back in Australia cooking at Sean’s Panaroma! But the nursery’s inexpensive tea house is lovely too, and the whole place is infused with that warm, gentle green softness that only comes with an English summer.

To get there from central London you just jump on a train to Richmond and then take a leisurely walk along the Thames. It seems so peaceful, and yet of course I kept thinking of how much Virginia Woolf is said to have hated living in Richmond (“if it is a choice between Richmond and death, I choose death,” Michael Cunningham has her say in The Hours), and of the river, and the stones in her pockets …

Hmm, how to segue into sweet potato from here? Um … it makes life worth living?

Well, if made with  love, it certainly might help.

This mash recipe is from Gyngell’s book A Year In My Kitchen and is a very classy side dish. Its main claim to fame is Gyngell’s secret-weapon combo of tamari and maple syrup, which give many of her dishes their mysterious richness of flavour.

Add to that the single chilli in the boiling water, and you have a lovely warmth and complexity in what could otherwise be a rather dull side dish. Give it a shot. It’s especially good with Middle-Eastern style braises or tagines.

And buy the book – it is one of my favourites.

  • 2 large sweet potatoes
  • 1 small red chilli, halved
  • Small bunch coriander, washed
  • 50g butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • Salt & pepper
  1. Peel sweet potato and cut into large chunks. Cover with salted cold water and add the chilli. Bring to the boil, then lower heat and simmer  for about 15 minutes or till soft. Drain.
  2. Blend potato, chilli and all remaining ingredients in a food processor, pureeing till very smooth. Adjust seasoning to your liking – the final result, Gyngell says, should be ‘a deep, sweet, hot, velvety taste’.

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A fine kettle of fish

May 23, 2010

Sunday lunch in winter is a very fine thing, and a big pot of shellfish stew has gotta be up there as one of the easiest ways to make it happen. I don’t think I’ve ever made a proper bouillabaisse according to a recipe, but over the years various versions of this fishy number have made their way to our table.

Great for a crowd or just few, as we discovered today it must also be one of the easiest meals to take to someone else’s place – just make the stock base at home, stick it in a container, then throw it in a pot with the seafood five minutes before you’re ready to eat. The prawn stock is the important bit. This quantity makes a hefty bowl for four.

Ingredients

  • 12 large prawns
  • 1 small fennel bulb, roughly chopped
  • 1 leek, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 stick celery, chopped
  • splosh white wine
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 3 strips orange peel
  • few threads saffron
  • pinch dried chilli flakes
  • ½ kg black mussels, cleaned
  • ½ kg perch or other firm white fish, cut into 4cm chunks
  • 1 blue swimmer crab, cleaned & quartered
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  1. Peel & devein prawns, leaving tails on and setting aside the shells & heads.
  2. Heat oil & toss in shells & heads, stirring over high heat till pink, then add leek, fennel, garlic & celery and stir till softened & starting to caramelise.
  3. Deglaze with the wine, then add stock.
  4. Remove as much of the prawn shells & heads as much as you can using tongs – but if a bit of leg or shell remains, what’s a smidge of crunchy crustacean between friends?
  5. Add tomatoes, saffron, orange peel & chilli flakes. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 30 minutes.
  6. A few minutes before you’re ready to eat, add the fish and cleaned seafood and turn the heat to low or even off.
  7. Check for seasoning, serve in big bowls with a drizzle of olive oil.

Make sure you have some great bread for dunking. Today our family from the beachside burbs provided some incredibly good sourdough baguette from Iggy’s Bread in Bronte – I’d never heard of this guy before today, but he’s obviously the business.

And if you have any other fishy stewy recommendations or ideas for giving this version some extra zing (a la a splash of Pernod), I’m all ears…

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Purple reign

May 19, 2010

Aren’t aubergines beautiful?

I routinely wish for a luxury garment in that exact glossy colour, and have never found anything near it. The search goes on …

Winter has  finally arrived here. Last weekend while staying at our friends’ cocoonish beach house (thankyou Caro & D…) I revisited Neil Perry’s recipe for ‘Cinnamon Scented Lamb’  casserole, of which eggplant / aubergine is a central ingredient.  The recipe is a corker, from that big fat white book of his (and theirs) called Food I Love. I don’t yet have it, but it does have an awful lot of good things in it and I think it must go on my list.

Not only because I love pictures of aubergine, but also because it is a very good recipe, I’m sharing here a very slightly adapted version of Mr Perry’s dish, which is full of those irresistible Middle Eastern flavours. This quantity is quite generous for seven or eight, I’d say.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg lamb shoulder, cut into chunks
  • 2 solid small aubergines, cut into large chunks
  • 6 baby aubergines, thickly sliced into rounds
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons currants
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 brown onion, halved & then sliced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 can diced tomatoes & juice
  • 1 small red chilli, split
  • 1.5 cups chicken stock
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • juice 1 lemon
  • ½ bunch chopped mint
  • ½ bunch chopped coriander

Method

  1. Sprinkle the aubergine generously with salt and leave for half an hour. Then rinse salt and any liquid away, and dry eggplant with paper towel or clean tea towel.
  2. Soak currants in vinegar in a cup or bowl.
  3. Using a cast iron cassserole or heavy pot, fry eggplant in batches in hot olive oil until golden on both sides; remove & drain on paper towel.
  4. Add lamb pieces to the pan in batches over high heat till lightly browned; set aside.
  5. Fry onion & garlic  till soft, then add tomatoes, currants, chilli, spices & stock, return lamb to pan and bring to the boil, then simmer gently for 1 to 1.5 hours or till lamb is very tender.
  6. Return cooked aubergine to pan along with lemon juice & seasoning, and stir to combine. When well combined, remove from heat and add herbs.

This dish is great served with plain couscous (or rice) and steamed green beans.

While winter evenings are fab for cooking, not so great for photography – but here’s a pic of the casserole anyway to give you an idea. Shame about the lack of natural light … it actually looks much more luscious than this in real life.

Anyhoo, if you’re a meat eater, I urge you to have a go with this one. And I think I might have a crack at a vegetarian version too, with chickpeas – do you think that would work?

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Cauliflower please!

May 13, 2010

Well hello there once again – if there’s anyone still out there, that is!  I’ve missed you all during my time in hermitage, and funnily enough I think my cooking has suffered too. Without the impetus of this blog to try new things – not to mention having my head down on the novel – we’ve fallen into a bit of a culinary rut round these parts. But now seems a great time to get back into the kitchen. All this cold weather finally, and all that wintry stuff to play with. Only trouble now I think is that what with the early darkness and evening cookery, the pix might suffer – but cest la vie. It’s good to be back.

So! On my first day back at the post I wanted to share my newest infatuation – roasted cauliflower.

I love a good cauli any old how, and in fact have been indulging in a bit of excellent cauliflower cheese lately too. But the other week,  through sheer laziness, I just chucked a few hunks in with some other roasting veg. And discovered for the first time how beautifully the whole flavour changes when it’s lightly browned – much nuttier, and super good.

Not rocket science, I hear you say – and you’ve all probably been doing this for years. But just in case you haven’t tried it, you must. I toss & turn the cauli florets in oil first with my hands, to make sure they have a good coating (you could spray them with olive oil too I guess, which might give a more even slather), and then whack them in the oven with whatever else you have going on, for a good half-hour or more, turning a couple of times. The best flavour is when it’s well browned all over.

I note here that Mr Oliver is a fan of the roasted cauli too, but he blanches it first and goes in for a bit of additional flavoursome whatnot, whereas being a girl of simple tastes, I am totally hot for the easy bung-it-in-the-oven version.

Love to hear of anything you do to give your cauliflower some power … and thank you for coming back.

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Love that lasagne

July 22, 2009

stephlasagneI have always loved a good lasagne myself – but a really good one is hard to find, no? Not for the Empress though – she winkles out three excellent versions of lasagne in this big wide city in her  SMH Good Living Three-of-a-Kind column for this week, online now. Says she:

Lasagne is believed to be the earliest form of pasta, which makes sense given the flat sheets result from simple rolling. But it isn’t always layered with bolognaise and bechamel sauce; there’s a more elaborate version, known as vincisgrassi, which can contain sweetbreads or other offal, spices, porcini mushrooms, prosciutto or a combination.

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Lady Marmalade

July 19, 2009

marmaladeMy husband recently returned from a visit to his mum, Annie, bearing Gift: this jar of cumquat marmalade, made on a whim from the cumquats in her own garden and last week’s Good Living recipe (I think this recipe here is the one, right Annie? Let me know if not!).

Anyway, it wasn’t till yesterday that I had some of it slathered on toast (sourdough from the excellent Bourke St Bakery which happily for us has opened a new shop just a couple of blocks from our house). And my, that stuff was good.

This marmalade is magic – I’m not much of a jam person, having a reasonably low sugar tolerance, and so absolutely love this stuff which is sweet but tart and just with that teeny subtle bitterness that  makes marmalade so much more interesting than jam.

So this is, as you see, a cheat’s blog, given that today’s recipe is not only someone else’s but I didn’t even make it  – but it’s so good, and looks so beautiful, that I thought the Lady Marmalade wouldn’t mind me sharing her triumph with you.

The Lady reports in her comment on the polenta posting that this recipe is easy and results in feelings of industrious virtue.  And I am sure that if there are any tricks or tweaks required, she will let us know.

I have never made jam or anything like it in my life, but I heartily recommend you all rush off and make jars of this stuff (and then pop one  in the post to me…)


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A corny issue: how I cured my polenta paranoia

July 16, 2009

polentaCulinary confession  #93475 – I have always been terrified of polenta – that lovely-looking bright yellow corn meal that other people cook beautifully.

Before last weekend, the only time I’d attempted it was long ago, trying to make those little grilled-polenta fingers you see about the place. The result when I did, in a word: unspeakable.

Sooo, I have since then steered clear. However, my friend Jane is the queen of supercreamy, smooth-as-silk polenta and serves it with the kinds of slow-cooked shanky, meaty things we’re enjoying at the moment. So I emailed her asking for her secret.

She sent me a very brief reply, headed Piece O’ Polenta (hmm, I guess this means she’s hitherto known as the Potentate of Polenta? I’m running out of p-words…)

I tested it out on some unsuspecting chums last weekend, and it was great! And so simple – a fair bit of stirring involved, but the result, my friends, is worth it. We ate with a delish osso bucco (Karen Martini’s recipe, natch).

Here’s the recipe, short and oh so sweet. My thanks to the P of P for sharing. I doubled this quantity for eight people, and it was plenty, with a smidge left over. I also threw in some grated parmesan at the last minute but it’s completely unnecessary if you’d rather not.

Soft polenta

4 cups milk
1/2 onion
2 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf
75g polenta

1. Combine milk, onion, thyme and bay leaf in a heavy-based saucepan and slowly bring to the boil.

2. Remove from heat and stand for 15 minutes. Strain, return milk to a clean saucepan, bring to the boil, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and slowly whisk in polenta.

3. Cook polenta over lowest heat, stirring regularly with a whisk for about 30 minutes or until soft. Season to taste. Should be soft and flowing – if too stiff, add some boiling water.

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Neil Perry’s lamb, mint and pea pie

July 9, 2009

lambpie(or How I Got My Bottom Crispy)

I wanted to make some freezable food for a friend’s father who has been having a rough time, so I turned to an old favourite, this lamb, mint and pea pie from Neil Perry’s Good Food – it is a chunky, hearty little number full of comfort, but with the zing of the mint to give it a lift.

The only trouble is that I hate pies that have no bottom – in my book that’s not a pie, right?

And as I am no pastry-chef (my sister, on the other hand, makes the best flaky pastry this side of paradise) I pretty much always use the frozen stuff. (Except for one great pastry made with suet for rabbit pies – hmm, must get that one out again. Sooo delicious.)

Anyway, even with frozen pastry I have too often failed in the past to get a crispy bottom (vale Mrs Slocombe), and as the only thing worse than no base on a pie is a sludgy, undercooked one, I determined to get it right this time. And it worked – shortcrust pastry on the bottom, which I made sure for once to really thoroughly blind-bake, which also provides an excuse to use my lovely ceramic bauble pastryweights. And puff pastry on the top, well-brushed with egg wash.

And if I say so myself, these little babies turned out beautifully crisp on the base, reasonably rich on the innards and suitably golden on top. And if you cook them in these disposable aluminium trays you can chuck them in the freezer and then distribute to the needy as your heart desires.

PS: As I keep saying, just buy Good Food – it’s a great book; every recipe is a winner. Saves faffing around all over the internet…

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Bean bewildered too long…

June 30, 2009

legumes and cerealsCulinary confession #76843.

I am deeply confused about beans. Dried ones, that is – I think I have a handle on the fresh green/flat/snake/broad variety. And I’m all over the lentil and the chick pea (kinda).

But for the life of me, I cannot fathom the difference between a great Northern bean and a haricot and a cannellini and a ‘white bean’ when I’m in the wretched grocer.

I have decided to get into dried bean cookery, when I have time, rather than going the canned route every time, especially when things need a longer cooking times and I don’t want them to fall apart.

But of course my search for haricots at the veg shop yielded only great Northerns, or ‘white beans’. Are these just differently named versions of the same thing? They sure look similar.

While we’re on the subject, a little while ago a friend asked me the difference between a fava bean and a (dried) broad bean, and I had no clue.

Are there actually really four million different kinds of beans, or are they just called different names in every region of every state of every country? Because when I see, on this helpful-looking site that:

“fava bean = broad bean = butter bean = Windsor bean = horse bean = English bean = fool = foul = ful = feve = faba = haba = haba”

I simply despair of ever getting to know my navy from my haricot from my cannellini, let alone my eye-of-goat bean from my black-eyed pea!

Is there some simple resource to turn to here? Do you have rules about when to use one bean in preference to another? Or an easy rule of thumb for substitution? Are beans that look very similar likely to be of similar density and cooking times and methods?

Or should I just give the whole beany game away and go back to the tinned ones – at least there are only five or six kinds of those!

Awaiting your expertise….

PS: If you stick with canned beans, you could do a lot worse than pop over to stonesoup for these excellent recipes – scroll to the end for extras. Stonesoup has it going on with beans in a can.