Friday, 29 November 2013

Week 41- Back to my roots!

I don't know whether they release a pheromone into the air at the beginning of December- one that makes you start craving spice and citrus, brassicas and root veg- but I'm definitely susceptible to it.

Having a birthday in December has always made that month special for me- so many childhood tastes, smells and expectations. So, in common with Baldrick, I find myself getting excited when I see all the delicious root vegetables stacking up on the shelves when I'm shopping.

This is the season for cabbages and kale, sweet potatoes and swede , turnips and 'taters, parsnips, celeriac and carrots...

OK- enough.

This week's menu (I expect you've guessed) makes the most of the season's root veg: sweet potato and parsnip crisps with spicy dip followed by a celeriac gratin (with or without meat to accompany it) and finished off with a carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese topping.

Also, all of these dishes freeze well and can be brought out to the Christmas table next month.

Sweet potato and parsnip crisps

For the starter- sweet potato and parsnip crisps- a mandoline was recommended to produce the fine rondelles needed. I also experimented with a sharp knife and a food processor and - depending on the thickness of your sweet potato, either of these will do fine if you don't have a mandoline.
The main thing is to keep your slices as thin as possible, and as consistent.

Pre-heat your oven to 200 degrees.
Scrub your veg but don't peel unless there are obvious blemishes.
Slice as thinly on the round as you can- with a knife, mandoline or processor.
Coat in a bowl with olive oil, fleur de sel, ground pepper and dried rosemary or thyme.

Line two large baking trays with greased foil and lay the rondelles out in a single layer. Bake for 15 minutes or so, watch them to see if they begin to over-colour. You want them to curl up at the edges and brown evenly but not burn.
Allow them to cool for 5 minutes before serving- sprinkle with some more salt and pepper and serve with dips ( take a look back at blogpost 'Mexican Lucky' or search in the cloud above for 'salsa') for an idea.

These crisps will freeze well in a plastic container. When you are ready to use them, spread them out on a baking tray again and warm through until crispy.

Main course uses that ugly but scrumptious vegetable- celeriac. Think celery, meets potato, meets 'Day of the Doctor' and you have a celeriac.
So, any recipes that suit potatoes or celery (or even Doctor Who) go nicely.

I have made a celeriac gratin- with celeriac, creme fraiche, cheddar cheese and not much else.

Peel and thinly slice the celeriac and place in a bowl of acidulated water (water with lemon juice or white wine vinegar) to prevent browning.
When you are ready, rinse it off and put into a bowl with a small tub of creme fraiche, lots of salt and pepper, some chopped rosemary and a good handful of grated cheddar cheese.
Lay out evenly in a gratin dish and top with some more grated cheese.
Bake in a hot oven (200 degrees) until the celeriac is tender and the top is golden and bubbling.
Celeriac gratin

This dish is great on its own- or with meat such as pork chops- or next day as leftovers with salmon. In fact it did us all three!

For pudding I made a carrot and walnut cake- simple sponge mix, 2 grated carrots, 2 tablespoons of chopped walnuts and a teaspoon of mixed spice- mixed together and baked in a loaf tin for 25-30 minutes at 190 degrees until golden and risen- and when a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a wire rack - and then decorate with cream cheese frosting ( a small tub of cream cheese mixed with a teaspoon of vanilla essence and 1-2 tablespoons of icing sugar) and shelled walnut halves.
Carrot and walnut cake with cream cheese frosting

So, a three course meal using an assortment of root vegetables.

Not expensive, nicely flavoured November nosh!

Friday, 22 November 2013

Week 40- Crunchy!!

I'm playing around with texture this week. Smooth and creamy, contrasted with crunch.

I've chosen a menu which reflects the theme: creamy butternut squash risotto with crispy prosciutto ham, my healthy take on crispy fried chicken and a caramel crunch pain perdu pudding.

All of them simple, quick and economical.

I heard the food critic Jay Rayner say on TV this week that there are very few dishes which aren't improved by the addition of crispy bacon. The man is talking sense.

Whether it's bubble and squeak with crispy pancetta

or cheeseburgers with crispy ham

or risotto, as in today's recipe. The salty crunch of the bacon makes all the difference.

For the risotto, roast a butternut squash in some olive oil and salt and pepper in a moderate oven until soft. Soften 1 small onion in a little more olive oil with some garlic. Add a cup of arborio rice and stir until the grains have absorbed the oil. Add a glass of white wine and stir until it has all been absorbed. Now add hot vegetable or chicken stock, a ladle at a time, stirring it in until absorbed. Keep going until the rice is tender and the risotto creamy. Add the diced butternut squash, plenty of seasoning to taste, a splash of cream and some grated parmesan cheese (if you like it). Spoon the

risotto into bowls and top with crispy grilled pancetta or prosciutto ham (or streaky bacon).

butternut squash risotto with crispy prosciutto

Any leftover risotto is wonderful made into arancini: shape the cold risotto into balls or cakes, roll in breadcrumbs and fry in hot oil until crispy. Again a lovely mixture of creamy and crunchy.

Arancini with dipping sauce

The main course today is crispy fried chicken- except it isn't fried, it's baked. It remains juicy and tender though and doesn't dry out thanks to it's clever marinade.

Butterfly two chicken breasts or slice them into goujons (popular with children, I promise you.) Coat them in natural yoghurt and some salt and pepper. Leave to marinade for half an hour or so in the fridge.
Chicken in yoghurt- looks yucky but trust me!
Lay out some fresh breadcrumbs on one plate (I always keep some ready in the freezer) and some blitzed tortilla chips (or Pringles or crisps)on another.
Ready to roll
Again, once they are past their best, I blitz them up in a food processor and they keep well in the freezer.
Blitzed tortilla chips

Take the coated chicken and roll it in first the breadcrumbs then the crunchy crisps. Place on a lightly oiled baking sheet and bake at 200 degrees for 20 minutes or so until brown and crispy.
Crispy chicken- finger lickin' good!

I have any leftovers cold with a salad in my lunchbox the next day.

Dessert is simple but scrumptious.

Lay slices of brioche or Madeira cake (I have used trifle sponges too) in a dish. Spread them with caramel condensed milk (the sort you use for banoffee pie) and pour over 2 beaten eggs in some milk. Let it all soak in for half an hour or so in the fridge.
Spread with caramel

Bake in a moderate oven (180 degrees) for 20 minutes until firm and golden. Sprinkle the top with demerara sugar (or icing sugar if you prefer) and glaze with a blowtorch or hot grill until bubbling. As it cools, it sets and becomes crunchy and chewy like toffee.
Glaze with blowtorch

Delicious with cream or custard.
Crunchy caramel pain perdu

So, there are my crunchy a nutshell..

I'll let you crack on with them..

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Week 39- Sussex Winter Recipes

The soggy autumn draws to a close- and there is a definite nip in the air this morning.

Time to dig out the hats, scarves and gloves - and have some hearty winter menus.

Back in June, I came up with some Sussex summer recipes- so now, at the change of season, I've researched some winter fare.

To start, I'm suggesting Beachy Head crab cakes with a sweet chili dipping sauce, followed by a Chiddingly hotpot and finished off with biscuits and cheese- Windmill Hill thin biscuits in fact.

Beachy Head lighthouse emerging from the mist

Beachy Head is a beautiful and eerie place- the land ends abruptly as if sliced with a huge knife and the white cliff drops down vertically to the sea. Alas, this lovely place has a sad reputation as it is a favoured spot for tortured souls to throw themselves off,
The Beachy Head chaplain is always there- talking to walkers and worriers alike. One of life's unsung heroes. Just this week the team responded to 8 different incidents - and saved those lives. Nobody died here this week.

Less well known, the seas around the cliff are home to some of the finest crab and lobster in the country.

I've used this crab for my starter. Take 120g of crab meat (you can always use a tin of course), 100g of cooked peeled prawns, 2 slices of stale bread, 1 teaspoon each of finely chopped garlic, finely chopped red chili and ginger and some parsley or coriander. Blitz the whole lot in a food processor and pour into a bowl. Add a dash of light soy sauce (or Thai fish sauce if you have it) and mix together. Shape into little cakes with wet hands, chill in the fridge for half an hour
Chill the crab cakes before baking
 and then place on an oiled baking tray. Bake at 190 degrees for 15 minutes or so until lightly brown and serve with a sweet chili dipping sauce.
Beachy Head crab cakes

The next recipe I found in a magazine. It is a hotpot of beef and potatoes- surprisingly with olives. The flavours and textures work really well though. According to the research, this recipe was devised by Mr Edward Shoosmith of Chiddingly in East Sussex in 1917. It is a beef casserole with a layer of thinly sliced potato running through the middle, and then again on the top. The casserole is enriched with olives (which are now grown in The potatoes in the middle are soft, whilst those on the top are crispy. Try it- it's delicious.

I used leftover beef casserole to make this dish - but you can make it from scratch and let it cook for 2-3 hours.

I mixed olives into my leftover casserole. I layered casserole, potatoes, casserole, potatoes in a gratin dish and baked it in a moderate oven for an hour until the potatoes on top were brown and crispy.
Chiddingly Hotpot

The dessert is a cheeseboard. Excellent cheeses are now apparently made in Sussex- if you like goat or sheep cheese.

The biscuit recipe intrigued me though (from a book of old Sussex recipes). It is simple and quick and uses hardly any ingredients but produces lovely little crisp biscuits that you can flavour any way you want. There are windmills all over Sussex- so a recipe involving flour shouldn't surprise me really.
Windmill Hill windmill
You need just 75g of flour, 20g of butter, 1/2 tsp of baking powder. a pinch of salt and milk to mix.

Pre-heat the oven to 170 degrees. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients. Mix to a soft dough with the milk. Roll out very thinly and cut into shapes. Brush with a little more milk and bake until golden and crisp.

Decorate as you wish- I used pumpkin seeds and fleur de sel.

Windmill hill thin biscuits and cheeseboard

So there you have it, my Sussex winter menu. That should warm the cockles. (Plenty of those in Sussex too...)

Monday, 4 November 2013

Week 38- Menu Auvergnat

There are places that everyone says are 'the place to be'- Paris in the springtime, New England in the fall.

Forget all that. The place to be in the autumn is the Auvergne in Central France.

We've just got back from a glorious week in the Gorge d'Allier - and gorge we did on the hearty food, beautiful scenery and sensational autumn colours.

People in other regions of France laugh at Auvergnat cuisine: too heavy, peasant food, all meat and no vegetables. Nothing could be further from the truth.
OK- the portions are ample (I didn't manage to finish my main course in all 5 of the restaurants we ate in- and you know I would do anything not to waste food) but the flavours were delicious, the combinations of vegetables showed care and attention from the cooks and the rustic authenticity of the dishes contrasted very favourably with 'tourist menus'elsewhere.

The Allier river is full of trout and salmon (there is even a salmon museum in Brioude), the le Puy volcanic area is famous for its delicious green lentils (much lauded by chefs over here), nuts and dried fruits,  and the whole region is famous for its dairy products- St Nectaire cheese, Bleu d'Auvergne, le Fourme, Cantal etc

chou farci with aligot

As for vegetables- the Auvergnat motto seems to be- stuff 'em. We had stuffed cabbage, mushrooms, tomatoes, courgettes....cuisine very much after my own heart, as you'll know if you follow the blog. We were never served a plain vegetable- they were all embellished with stuffing, sauces or baked in a gratin with cream and cheese!

As a tribute (but rather pale imitation of the lovely food we ate), this week I've prepared an Auvergne inspired menu: terrine of vegetables, prunes and nuts with a rich mushroom sauce for starter, then salmon on a bed of creamy lentils and cake aux myrtilles (blueberry sponge) for dessert. No stuffed vegetables this week- sorry, if you were hopeful!

On our first night we ate in a restaurant in Clermont Ferrand- the largest town in the region. I opted for the terrine du jour as starter and it was quite simply one of the best dishes I've tasted in a long while. I asked the waiter what was in it- and he listed swiss chard, cream, prunes and nuts. To my surprise, it was served hot with a thick coating of creamy mushroom sauce- a bit like a sauce diane.
Vegetable terrine with mushroom sauce
I tried to recreate it at home, using the vegetables I had to use up in the veg drawer. I made a puree of courgettes and creme fraiche,  added some chopped spring onions, some chopped nuts and prunes (I used tinned). I beat in two eggs and some seasoning. I lined a loaf tin with wilted spinach and poured the mixture in.

I then heated the oven to 170 degrees and cooked the terrine in a bain-marie for 30 minutes or so until it was firm to the touch.
My terrine with mushroom sauce

The result was tasty- for a first attempt. Next time I would use leeks to wrap the terrine as the spinach was a bit wet, and would separate the eggs, beat them and then fold them into each other like a souffle. Watch out for the improved version on the blog one day.

The main course is one of my store cupboard stand-bys: salmon with creamy lentils.

I had some leftover mustard cream sauce from the previous day- but it's simple enough to make some as and when you need it.
Soften some leeks or spring onions in butter and add a splash of white wine. Boil to remove the alcohol and then add a tablespoon of  coarse grain mustard and 2 tablespoons of creme fraiche. Stir in a tin of rinsed lentils and keep warm.
Poach or microwave a salmon fillet per person, lay on top of a bed of creamy lentils. Simple, quick and very delicious.
Salmon on a bed of creamy lentils

Lastly for dessert, I made a blueberry cake (actually I made two versions as you will see). Blueberries were everywhere in the Auvergne. The hardy bushes sprouting out of rock faces below us as we picnicked- just out of reach without ropes and harnesses! It was the same for walnuts and hazelnuts- crunching under foot as we walked along tracks. No wonder they featured everywhere on restaurant menus.
On my return home however, the only ones I could find were from Greece! Come on, supermarket guys! There must be local ones around in the autumn.
Anyway- simple sponge with blueberries (rolled in flour to stop them sinking) dropped in and a bit of vanilla sugar sprinkled over the top, baked at 190 degrees in a loaf tin and served warm, sliced with some cream. Lovely!

However, I also poured a tiny bit of the mixture into ice cream cones (1/3 full at most). These baked alongside the cake and made a cute cupcake to serve with cream or ice cream (or a swirl of whipped cream on top Mr Whippee style would be good.)
This ice cream cone idea is great- try it with chocolate sponge mix and frosting too.

Blueberry muffin cones

So, my interpretation of a regional Auvergne menu. I've got lots more ideas too, inspired by my visit (admittedly mostly involving stuffed vegetables..) so watch out for Menu Auvergnat II- just when you thought it was safe to open the salad drawer!

Minjaz bin!

(Bon appetit!)