Sunday, 14 July 2013

A thorny issue

The gooseberry bushes in my garden have given quite a good crop this year, so I'm looking forward to cooking a few gooseberry recipes.


The simplest thing to start with is just to poach them in a light sugar syrup, which will also help preserve them. To make the syrup, put 100g sugar and 200g water in a pan and heat gently until the sugar has dissolved, then  simmer for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, top, tail and rinse the gooseberries. When the syrup is ready, add the gooseberries, reduce the heat, and cook gently for a few minutes. The idea is to cook them until they are soft but still keep their shape. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator - they should be fine for a week or two.

If you want to preserve them for longer, you can pack the topped-and-tailed gooseberries into a sterilized Kilner jar, cover completely with the sugar syrup (leaving 1/2cm or so at the top of the jar to prevent spillage during cooking) and cook in the pressure cooker. Put the lid on the jar before cooking, tighten, then unscrew 1/4 turn to allow for expansion. Place the jar on a trivet in the pressure cooker, add 3/4 litre boiling water, put on the lid and bring slowly to low pressure (5lb). Cook for 1 minute then remove from the heat and let the pressure drop naturally. When cool enough to handle, tighten the lid. Check the seal after 24 hours. They will keep unrefrigerated for a year.

I like to serve them with a buttermilk panna cotta.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
300ml double cream
300ml buttermilk
50g sugar
1tsp vanilla extract
3 leaves gelatine (see note below)

Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile warm the cream to just below boiling point. Stir in the sugar and vanilla. Squeeze out the gelatine leaves and add to the cream, stirring until dissolved. Stir in the cold buttermilk, check for sweetness (you might want to add more sugar), then pour into moulds and chill until set (about 2 hours). Note that gelatine sheets come in different sizes and may have different setting properties. The packet I used said that 12 sheets would set 1 litre of fruit jelly, but I used proportionately less to set 600ml of buttermilk and cream.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

It doesn't travel well

I was invited to a garden party at the weekend, the hosts were providing savoury food and guests were asked to bring drinks and something for dessert. English strawberries are in season right now, delicious and sweet, so I thought I'd take along a strawberry tart. This is a simple thing: a sweet shortcrust case filled with crème patissière and fresh strawberries. I rustled one up on Sunday morning, and the finished product looked like this:
The garden party was in a small village on the other side of Cambridge, a gentle 8-mile cycle ride away. By the time I got there, the tart looked like this:
Rather embarrassing, but the hosts were very understanding. Next time I'm cycling somewhere with dessert, I'll make sure it's something more robust.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Roasted romanesco with chilli and soy

This makes a nice side dish, or can be served with rice for a quick mid-week supper. The vegetables take about 15 minutes to cook, which is just long enough to get some water on and cook the rice. The recipe (Annie O'Carroll's Roast Calabrese with Chilli and Soy) appears in the Riverford Farm Cook Book and works equally well with romanesco.

Cut the romanesco (or broccoli) into florets, toss in olive oil, and roast in a 200℃ oven. After 10 minutes, add 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced, a hot red chilli, finely chopped, and a teaspoon of sesame seeds. Roast for a further 5 minutes, remove from the oven, season generously with soy sauce, and serve immediately.

I find this works best with smaller florets (so you get more crunchy bits). If the vegetables aren't cooked enough for your taste, you could increase the initial cooking time to 12-15 minutes, but don't cook for more than 5 minutes after the garlic has been added as it will burn and become bitter.

Friday, 24 December 2010

Book review: Cooking for Geeks

My shelves are groaning under the weight of cookery books, but there aren't many I've read from cover to cover. "Cooking for Geeks" is one of those gems that is both an excellent reference manual and a good read. While this book does contain some recipes (100 or so), it's not the one to buy if you're looking for a recipe book. Recipes give you quantities of ingredients and step by step instructions for transforming those ingredients into great meals. This book goes some way to explaining the whys and wherefores of each of those steps. Once you have an understanding of the processes involved in cooking and preparing food - and the science behind them - you can start adapting recipes and inventing new ones. You'll know when an ingredient can be substituted, and what with. You'll know when a step in a recipe can be skipped. You'll start to spot - and correct for - mistakes in published recipes.




The book encourages us to treat our kitchens as our own personal chemistry lab, and it builds the confidence we need to start experimenting.  Most important of all, it encourages us to have fun with our cooking. A geeky humour runs throughout the book, with the title of the first chapter, "Hello, kitchen," setting the tone. Of course there’s some serious stuff in here too, including an essential section on food safety and foodborne illness.

I'm surprised at just how much information has been packed into the 400 pages of this book. Want to know how to pasteurize an egg? The temperature collagen starts to break down when you cook meat? Where to find enzymes that will do the same job? It’s all in here. (See http://oreilly.com/catalog/9780596805890/ for the full table of contents.)

There are also plenty of helpful tips along the way. I now cook pancakes without any fat in the pan. You need a good non-stick pan to do this, but they cook more evenly this way. And on the gadget front, I’m looking out for a compressed gas cream whipper so I can try foamed scrambled eggs and instant chocolate mousse.

As expected, the chemicals used to make the foams, spheres, and heat-stable gels of molecular gastronomy make an appearance, and the book gives a good introduction to sous vide cooking. This is where food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic bag (the "sous vide" part) and cooked in a temperature-controlled water bath, a method of cooking used extensively in top restaurants where consistency is key. Sous vide is gaining popularity in domestic kitchens, with the first water bath aimed at the domestic consumer arriving on the European market just a couple of months ago. My friends thought I was crazy when I spent almost a month’s salary on a water bath and vacuum packing machine earlier this year, but once you’ve tried fillet steak cooked sous vide (a perfect medium rare throughout) and confit pork cheeks (cooked gently in goose fat for 36 hours), there’s no turning back.

If you’re really interested in the science of cooking, you’ll want Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” on your shelves and perhaps “The Science of Cooking” by Peter Barham. But you can’t have too many cookery books, and “Cooking for Geeks” is a very readable introduction to the subject with plenty of light-hearted diversions to keep it from getting too dry.  I particularly enjoyed the interviews and guest appearances by some of my favourite food bloggers -  it was like having old friends around.

The author sums up my feelings brilliantly in the afterword:

"Curiosity and the joy of discovering how something works are two of a geek's defining characteristics. I can think of very few other things that have brought me as much joy as learning to cook and providing for others. It scratches the same neurons that solving a puzzle or producing a brilliant piece of code does, but tastes better and often takes less time - not to mention that you can do it for other people and make them happy too!"

Some of my geek friends might find a copy in their seasonal festive stockings this year. Now, back to the kitchen.

This review appeared in the December 2010 issue of news@uk, the newsletter of UKUUG, the UK's Unix and Open Systems User Group.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Venison ragù

This dish was inspired by one of the entries to November's "In the Bag" blogging challenge. Phil, over at As Strong as Soup, chose venison for the challenge and made a tasty-looking venison pasta sauce. You can see his recipe here. I adapted it slightly for the ingredients I had in the house (I had already drunk all the gin). It also gave me an excuse to try out my new toy: a mincer attachment for the Kenwood Chef.

I ordered a selection of venison from Riverford Organic back in the autumn (it's only available for a short season) and had some diced venison in the freezer. Once it had defrosted, I pushed it through the medium mincer blade of the Kenwood. It worked a treat, but you have to watch out for sinew that will clog it up. If you don't have a mincer, you could follow Phil's lead and simply chop the meat finely (you could use a food processor for this).

Start by making a boquet garni by tying up some crushed bay leaves, juniper berries and black peppercorns in muslin. Pour about 1/2 bottle of red wine over the minced (or chopped) venison, and tuck in your boquet garni. Leave in the fridge for a few hours, or overnight, then drain over a bowl, reserving the wine and boquet garn.

Heat some oil in a wide pan, and fry 4 rashers of smoked streaky bacon, cut into lardons, until it starts to render its fat. Next add the drained meat and cook over a medium heat until it takes on some colour. Add a medium onion, two sticks of celery, and a large carrot, all finely diced. Give it a good stir, then add 2 crushed garlic cloves and cook for 5-10 minutes more. Pour over the reserved wine, add the boquet garni, a tin of chopped plum tomatoes and 1/2 litre chicken stock. Once it comes up to a simmer, reduce the heat to low and cover the pan.

Let it cook gently for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally, and adding more chicken stock or water if it looks too dry. I removed the boquet garni about halfway through, as I was worried that the juniper was getting too strong. The flavours will concentrate as the sauce cooks, so it's best to season at the end. I added salt, freshly ground black pepper, and a glug of Worcestershire sauce.

This made a delicious and tender pasta sauce. I served it with spaghetti, but it would also have been great in a lasagne.

Afterthoughts

I'm not sure it was necessary to marinate the meat before cooking. It makes it difficult to get the meat dry enough to brown when you fry it, and there's plenty of cooking time for the wine and bouquet garni to contribute their flavours to the sauce. I'll skip the marinade next time (but that will have to wait for next year's venison season).

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A dinner party for vegetarians

A couple of months ago I bought Yotam Ottoletghi's "Plenty" with a view to broadening my vegetarian cooking repertoire. It came in handy last weekend when Eran and Melanie came to dinner. We started with a beetroot, goat's cheese, orange and watercress salad dressed with freshly squeezed orange juice and olive oil.



Next came roasted winter vegetable cous cous from the Ottolenghi book. There aren't many recipes in this book for which I have all the ingredients in the house. For this one, I had to buy preserved lemons and harissa paste (I know they could both have been made at home, but I had left it too late deciding on the menu). Carrots, parsnips, shallots, and squash are tossed in spices (cinnamon, star anise, bay, ginger, turmeric, paprika, and dried chilli flakes) and olive oil, and roasted. Then dried apricots, chick peas, and preserved lemons are stirred through. It's finished with a couple of spoons of harissa paste and topped with chopped fresh coriander. The spices give an interesting twist to what might otherwise be boring winter vegetables. It went down a treat with my guests.


To finish, I served chocolate fondants with parsnip ice cream.


The idea was that the parsnip ice cream would contrast with the bitter chocolate in the fondant. It didn't work for me and, although Eran liked it, I don't think I'll be making it again.

Bacon and goat's cheese pizza

I found myself in London a couple of weeks ago with a bit of time to kill. What better than a visit to Neal's Yard Dairy in Covent Garden? I was quite restrained, and came away with only two cheeses. One of them was the Childwickbury goat's cheese that found its way onto this pizza.

This cheese was recommended by the shop assistant for a goat's cheese custard I planned to cook for some friends who would be visiting the following weekend.  It's a lovely fresh, zesty, cheese that I'm sure would have worked wonderfully in the custard - if only cheese could last a whole week in my house. It worked brilliantly on the pizza, along with some bacon lardons, a basic tomato sauce, and a mix of grated mozzarella, cheddar and parmesan. The custard (which I planned to serve as a sauce for broccoli) will have to wait...