Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Shepherd's Pie with Cheesy Potato and Parsnip Mash

Exciting news... I have my very own magazine column, with Appetite magazine, a new North East foodie publication. They featured a lovely piece about this blog and my Autumn Graze market back in October, and I wrote a little piece about Christmas cooking for them in December. This will now be a regular column in every edition!

My first article is about comfort food... What is it, what does it mean to you, what is your favourite comfort food recipe, would you sit in a bath of risotto? I just discovered a new favourite to add to the list this weekend, Cauliflower and Mascarpone Risotto with Chorizo, creamy and delicious with spicy hot chorizo... You can pick up a copy of Appetite in lots of cafés, restaurants and foodie shops all over the North East, including Stewart and Co, Carruthers and Kent, The Broad Chare, Caffe Vivo, Cafe 1901... To name a few...It is full of recipes, interviews with local chefs and suppliers, recommendations, tips and restaurant tales. The latest edition with my little comfort food article is out right now if you want to seek one out...

This Shepherd's Pie formed part of my 'research' it was really hard work getting cosy in front of the tv with a glass of red wine and a bowl of rich meaty, creamy potato delicious Shepherd's Pie. Really hard work I tell you... Apparently it is the nations favourite comfort food, not sure how this is calculated but I enjoyed mine a lot.

I've made quite few Shepherd's pies over the years, I don't have a consistent recipe, but I think this one is perhaps a keeper. My potato topping to mince ratio was a bit out, too much topping, so I've reduced the amount here and yours should turn out perfect...

Simmer a large potato and a large parsnip cut into chunks in salted water until tender. While they are cooking fry a chopped onion and a diced carrot in 3 tablespoons of butter until they are soft and golden. Then add 450g of raw lamb mince to brown, don't stir it too much, just now and again until it has coloured all over, leave it to cook for about 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of tomato purée and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, stirring as it cooks. Then pour in 250ml of chicken stock and add a bay leaf and a sprig of thyme, some salt and pepper and a teaspoon of Worcestershire sauce. Bring it all to the boil and then simmer for 30 minutes.

Pre heat the oven to 190°C and mash the potato and parsnip with some butter and a splash of milk, not too much as you need the topping to be firm. Add the lamb to an oven proof dish and top with the potato and parsnip, add it a little at a time from the centre of the dish, so you get an even spread and it doesn’t just sink in a big lump... Fork the potato into rough peaks so you get good crispy bits when it is cooked and top with a scattering of a grated cheese of your choice... Finally bake for about 25 minutes until golden brown. Leave it to rest for 5 minutes when it is ready, it gets as hot as a volcano in the middle and you just can't appreciate it properly when the first mouthful burns your tongue... Serve with peas or greens, whatever you fancy.

The leftovers the next day are even better I think, if that's possible. I'm currently laid low with a bit of a nasty bug, I think comfort foods like this can cure illness sometimes, or warm you up more than the heating even can, right to the middle... I wish there was some left. I'll have to settle for a new favourite... Haggis and Mash. That should see me right...

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Courgette Fries with Roast Garlic Aioli

There is a house opposite mine that doesn’t open its curtains. Ever. I've been observing it for months now. I thought perhaps it was empty at first, then worried that someone had died in it and was just lying there, morbid I know... But there's a cat, that sits in the window, and it doesn’t look distressed or hungry, perhaps a bit bored, but generally ok. No lights ever come on at night. The other odd thing is that the velux window in the roof is wide open. Come rain or shine, in frost, in storms, high winds... Wide open. Are there people in there? Have they just forgotten it is open? The carpet must be soaked... Maybe they are growing a forest of marijuana in the loft and they need ventilation? Is there anyone in there? Someone must feed the cat? I've never seen anyone use the front door, and the curtains never even so much as twitch...

Until today... They have opened one set of curtains... I have seen a fleeting glimpse of a man and a light on. I've seen movement at the back of the dark room a few times as I have tried to stare discreetly into their house. Why don't they close the velux?! Am I obsessing over my neighbours perhaps... Perhaps.

So I stood in the kitchen and made some courgette fries with roast garlic aioli and watched for further movement or clues! The recipe is from a lovely blog I found this week, A Cozy Kitchen, it's cute, I have blog envy... I thought these looked incredibly unhealthy and naughty at first but actually they really aren’t, they are coated courgettes, baked, not even fried. The aioli is probably a bit naughty, but you need it...

Start by roasting three cloves of garlic in the oven, tossed in a little oil and salt, still in their skins. You want them to be soft and gooey, they should take about 10 minutes at 200°C.

While they are roasting cut three courgettes into batons. Wizz up some stale bread into bread crumbs, mine was a little fresh so went a bit sticky, a few slices... Add a tablespoon of finely grated parmesan, a pinch of salt and pepper, half a teaspoon of dried oregano and half a teaspoon of chilli flakes. Whisk an egg, then dip each piece of courgette into the egg then the breadcrumb mix. Line them up on a baking tray on greaseproof and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes at 210°C until golden.

While they are baking take the roast garlic out of their skins and mash them to a paste with some salt and pepper, add 2 tablespoons of mayonnaise and a splash of olive oil and mix everything up. Dip the hot creamy courgettes with their crunchy, spicy, cheesy crust into the roast garlic aioli and enjoy.

As I'm munching on the tasty fries a light comes on in the mysterious house opposite and I can see right in as it's beginning to get dark. There's no sign of any people...

Sunday, 22 January 2012

Bread and Butter Pickle

I am warm... The heating is fixed, the boiler works, Ted saved the day... It means that I can think about foods for reasons other than the amount of heat they give out. Like this little pickle... I made a few jars of it for Christmas hampers, and now that Christmas is all but a distant memory I am still thoroughly enjoying it. It is based on a Bread and Butter Pickle that Rick Stein sells in his Cornish empire, I was given a jar as a present a few years ago and loved it. I haven’t found an exact recipe so this is a combination of a few that I may continue to tweak further, but is still pretty damn tasty...

The name is confusing, it doesn’t have any bread or butter in it... I've struggled to find an explanation, well at least a consistent one. It does define it from a sweet pickle or a dill pickle, and is often served with hamburgers in America, but I don’t know why exactly it is called bread and butter. I find it delicious with cold or smoked fish, salmon, cooked ham and even with cheese and biscuits.

As a process it is much easier to make than many other pickles, just heating the vinegar sugar and spices and adding the cucumber. That's it really... So in a large bowl thinly slice 1 large cucumber, 1 large onion and 1 green pepper. If you like a crunchy pickle go a little thicker, but I like the way all the ingredients mingle when really thinly sliced. Add 30g salt to the sliced vegetables and mix it well so the salt is evenly distributed. Cover the whole lot with a layer of ice cubes and leave to stand at room temperature for 2 hours.

In a large pan mix 100g caster sugar, 120ml cider vinegar, ¼ of a teaspoon of ground turmeric, 1 tablespoon of mustard seeds, 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds and ¼ of a teaspoon of celery seed. Bring it to the boil and then add the cucumber mix. Drain off any melted ice water but the salt should stay so don’t rinse anything... Then bring it all to the boil again, remove from the heat immediately it starts to boil and then leave to cool. Store the pickle in sterilised jars and keep them in the fridge once opened, it is ready to eat after about 24 hours.

It is a tangy spiced pickle but also quite sweet, not in the same way as a sweet apple pickle, perhaps a bit more sweet and sour at the same time. It is delicious in a sandwich, it goes perfectly with pastrami and salad on thick brown buttered bread... Have it with cured meats, charcuterie or smoked salmon or with some hard cheese and oaty biscuits...

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Pot Roast Brisket

So I'm sat in my house wearing five layers, I also have gloves on, and a scarf, I would put a hat on but people can see me from the street and I think I look odd enough. My boiler isn't working, just in time for the first frosts we've had all winter. I have a coffee and a relatively ineffective gas fire to huddle by. I also have some ox tail in the fridge which we are going to stew for supper with wild mushrooms, and perhaps we'll open a nice bottle of red and it won't seem quite so cold... A man called Ted is coming to fix it after the weekend, well at least I hope he's going to fix it or it's going to be a pretty cold winter here is my little leaky house...

I bought the ox tail and this piece of brisket from a new butchers in Jesmond called The Meat Merchant. I was impressed, they have a wide range of meat, it wasn't expensive, and they have everything from rabbit, to proper pancetta and metre long sirloin steaks if that's what you are after?

This isn't a very complicated recipe, just some chopped vegetables and herbs, red wine and three hours in the oven. The brisket is a cut from the front of the cow, just above their front legs, it takes all the weight of the animal most of the time, so is pretty fibrous and strong... and as a result it needs some long slow cooking to loosen it up, for those fibres to begin to fall apart and become all soft and tasty... It is also brilliant for leftovers, we had warmed through soft slices on chunky hunks of bread with loads of horseradish and watercress, and then had the leftover juices and vegetables as a stew slash soup with a bit of crusty bread.

Chop 2 leeks, 2 carrots and 2 onions and put them in the bottom of a big casserole dish, one that is about the same size as your piece of meat. These amounts would have fed four people easily. Add 2 whole heads of garlic, ten peppercorns and a bundle of herbs tied up, parsley, thyme, bay... Lay the piece of brisket over everything and pour over 1 litre of chicken stock and 2 glasses of red wine. You want the brisket to be still poking out of the top, not submerged entirely. Cover with tinfoil and put it in the oven for 3 hours on a medium heat. You want it to be soft and delicious, not falling apart totally, it still needs to be sliced, but only gently.

I served it with a little scoop of mash, lots of horseradish, some of the juices and vegetables spooned over the top, a pile of buttery cabbage, a glass of red wine and the heating on full... those were the days...

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Apple Crumble Cake

This cake is pretty special. Three layers in total; cake, fruit, then crumble. What's not to like? It's a pudding and a cake all in one. Soft lovely sponge, sweet sticky apple with tangy orange zest and then crunchy nutty golden crumble. This is going to be my cake of choice to make for quite a while. The recipe is from Beyond Nose to Tail from the clever people at St. John who write that you can also use rhubarb, apricots, nectarines, gooseberries, pears and ginger, plums or damsons. Plenty of scope to roll this one out a few times then...

Start with the fruit layer. First peel the apples, I used 3 Cox eating apples. Core them and cut them into cubes about 1-2cm squares. Put them in a bowl and add 50g of caster sugar, 50g of demerara sugar and the zest of an orange. Mix it all up and leave while you move onto the next layer.

Next for the cake. Cream 125g of unsalted butter together with 125g of caster sugar until it is light and fluffy. I loath this bit, it is hard work, much harder work than I think baking should be... Then gradually add 3 lightly beaten large eggs. Just add them a tiny bit at a time to avoid it curdling, I think mine did curdle slightly, maybe why my cake layer wasn't so light and fluffy at the end perhaps... but it still tasted damn good. When all the eggs are beaten in fold in 160g of sifted self raising flour, followed by 50ml of full fat milk. Put the cake mix to one side.

Now the crumble. Sift 125g of plain flour into a bowl and add 95g of unsalted butter cut into small cubes. Rub them together with your fingers until they are like large bread crumbs. Add 60g of demerara sugar, 30g ground almond, 30g of flaked almonds and a pinch of salt and mix it all up.

So now you have the three layers ready to assemble... Butter a cake tin and heat the oven to 180°C. Add the cake mix to the base of the tin and spread it out evenly, it seemed like I didn’t have that much cake mixture but it turned out fine. Then spread the apple mix on top of the cake mix, I poured over the sweet sugary orangey juices that had formed also. Finally cover everything with a thick layer of nutty crumble mix and bake in the oven for 1½ hours. If the top starts to get too brown cover it with tin foil for the rest of its baking time. You can serve it warm with cream or it is just as good cold. Cake? Pudding? Who knows, who cares, it's delicious...

Sunday, 8 January 2012

White Sourdough Loaf

I have baked my first ever loaf of bread... it was not without disaster but has turned out much better than I expected, and I'm pretty proud of it to be honest.

Over Christmas I have been growing and feeding my own 'culture', it was passed on to me by artist Alex Charrington and I have been keeping it alive since just before Christmas. I understand you are meant to pass it on and share it with people, so if anyone wants some of mine I will be happy to make you a little jar up, I like the idea of one starter feeding lots of loaves all over Newcastle and beyond! I am very inexperienced in the world of bread making, I still don't really understand why I have gone through all of the processes I have, and whether I have even carried them out correctly. I need to read more and get a better understanding of what I'm doing. I can easily follow a recipe and complete every step, but I'd like to know why I am doing each step and what is happening to the dough while I do. I want to learn more culinary skills this year and bread and yeast is one of the areas I'm going to try and get to grips with.

So I fed the 'culture' every five days as instructed by Alex, with one cup of organic milk, one cup of flour and one cup of sugar, I'm still a bit unsure about the sugar bit, other recipes I have read don't do this, but I proceeded as instructed and it grew and bubbled as it was meant to... I left it unattended while we went up to Bamburgh for a few days for New Year and it kind of took over the kitchen, bubbling out of its pot all over the kitchen counter and beyond...

I gave it a final feed a few days ago, then you have to wait 24 hours before you can start with the bread. I followed a St. John recipe for a White Sourdough Loaf, I trust they know what they are doing when it comes to baking much more so than I do...

Step one was to add 500g of strong white flour, 130g of the culture, or Mother as St John call it and 320ml of water at 5°C to the electric mixer bowl. I couldn't find my thermometer so this was a guess really, I just went with cold... I used the dough mixing attachment and was meant to mix it for 6 minutes on a low speed, but... my mixer doesn’t really do slow, so it went pretty fast for about 4-5 minutes. This was when I began to be concerned that I wasn't going to be much good at bread making, it did form into a ball of dough though. The next step was to add the 'bathe' which was 90ml of cold water which you add a third at a time until totally combined.

This was the first disaster, as when I took the mixing bowl off the machine the dough had somehow managed to leak under the mixer attachment and down and out of the bottom of the bowl, and was everywhere! It is pretty difficult stuff to clean up, so while the dough sat and rested for 20 minutes I ruined most of the cloths in the kitchen trying to clean it all up, at which point I was not at all confident that this was going to turn out ok. After 20 minutes I added 10g of sea salt and mixed for another 4 minutes. St. John said until the dough looked 'smooth and leaves the sides of the bowl' but I think mine was a bit too wet, maybe I should have mixed it more, or kneaded it a bit more. This was the main problem throughout I think, that the dough didn’t become as firm as I expected?

Next I formed the dough into a ball, of sorts, sprinkled with flour and put it in a bowl in the fridge for 1 hour. After this, remove and form into a ball again, sprinkle with flour and cover with a cloth. Leave it somewhere warm, about 20°C for about 3 hours until slightly risen. My house is pretty chilly most of the time so I put the heating on, left it by the radiator and went out to watch Newcastle struggle to keep a place in the FA Cup. They did, thankfully, and the dough had risen slightly when we returned.

The next stage was to form the dough into one large ball, or two small ones, depending on what size loaves you want, I went for one large one, and place on a floured tray, sprinkle with flour, cover and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Finally place the loaf into a floured plastic bowl, sprinkle with flour, cover with a cloth and leave for 4-5 hours until it is doubled in size. I ended up leaving it over night, as the process is so long it takes up more than a day...

This worked out quite well though as it meant I had bread ready to bake first thing on Sunday morning, which is a bit of a treat. Even though I was in no way sure it was going to work... Preheat the oven to 230°C and place a baking tray of water at the bottom of the oven. This produces lots of steam and helps to form a good crusty crust.

Place the ball of dough onto a baking sheet, mine was still not firm enough as far as I was concerned but had risen to almost twice the size. I put it in the oven for 30 minutes and was amazed when I opened the door that it was an actual loaf of bread, that looked like ones you can buy in the shops. I couldn't have been more proud! Take the tray of water out and continue to bake for another ten minutes. This is when I got a bit nervous as the loaf already looked quite brown and I didn’t want it to burn, so I think I only ended up leaving it for about 5 minutes... Which was probably a bit of a mistake.

Apparently if you knock on the bottom of the loaf and it sounds hollow it is done, I did this, it sounded kind of hollow, so I took it out... and left it to cool on a wire rack. I maybe cut it open a little soon in hindsight. So on the positive side the crust was lovely and crisp and crusty and delicious, it smelt amazing and was an actual loaf of bread! On the negative side I think it is a bit too damp and slightly heavy, this may have been for any number of reasons that I have to figure out with continued baking! I think my dough was too wet, but I did use the correct amounts of liquid, flour and culture... I think I should have baked it a bit longer, an extra 5 minutes or more, but I was nervous of it burning, and then I think I should have left it to rest a little longer than I did. I'm a bit in the dark still to be honest, but I will read more and try again, today even perhaps... Saying all that, it tasted pretty good with large amounts of butter melting into it and I think it will make amazing toast... Conveniently I have some leftover slow cooked Brisket which will make an amazing sandwich with a dollop of horseradish and some green herb sauce... Delicious.