Saturday, May 07, 2011

Cinnamon, spice and all things nice

I love hot cross buns, even the cheap and nasty ones from unnameable supermarkets. Yes, I know it's a deplorable confession from one who pursues all things slow.

But to be honest, I can't help it, and if I was honest, I am sure that I could think of at least another ten foods, where I embrace the culinary ready-made.

Food is an odd thing - its culture, history, sensory, it fills us with nostaglia and longing. That's the beauty of it. So when I surcome, it's because of a yearning for all the memories and sensations, the feeling of comfort that I get from that heavenly, ohh so heavenly combination of cinnamon, dried fruit and butter. The promise of this combination undoes me everytime, leading me to a state of non-discrimination and then disappointment.

So with Easter approaching, I am obsessing about hot cross buns and vow to myself to exercise the same discrimination that I do for every other food type! So here I go, here is a hot cross bun recipe.

325 gm raw caster sugar
1 lemon
1½ Granny Smith apples, unpeeled, cored, diced
1 cinnamon quill
750 gm (5 cups) plain flour - (Iused gluten-free flour)
150 gm sultanas or golden raisins
50 gm dried apple, diced 30 gm
candied orange, diced 14 gm
(2 sachets) dried yeast 3½ tsp
ground cinnamon
½ tsp allspice
Finely grated rind of 1 orange and 1 lemon
380 ml milk
100 gm butter coarsely chopped
1 egg

Preheat your oven to 220C.

Stir together 260gm sugar and 375ml water in a saucepan. Squeeze in the juice of half a lemon and stir over a medium heat until sugar dissolves. (This will be later used to glaze the chopped apple. Trust me, this is worth doing. The smell and taste is lemon fresh but equally warm and cozy.)

While the sugar and water are dissolving, cut the lemon into slices, add the Granny Smith apple and cinnamon quill. Bring to a simmer and then reduce to a medium heat. Cook until the lemon and apple are translucent. In this recipe, this is 20-25 minutes. Strain, reserving fruit and syrup separately. When cool enough dice lemon and combine with the apple.

Now it is time to prepare the dry ingredients -place the flour, sultanas, dried apple, candied orange, yeast, 3 tsp ground cinnamon, allspice, rinds, remaining sugar, reserved apple mixture and 1 tsp salt in a large bowl. The sight of this alone makes it worth doing.

Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan, warm over low heat until butter melts and mixture is lukewarm. Whisk in egg, then add milk mixture to flour, stirring to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic.

Place in a lightly buttered bowl, cover and stand in a warm place until doubled in size. This should take 30-40 minutes.

Divide your dough into 20 even pieces, then knead each piece into a smooth ball. Arrange dough balls into two concentric circles on a large round or rectangular baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving 1cm between each for dough to expand.

Cover with a tea towel and stand in a warm place until doubled in size (30-40 minutes).

Combine remaining flour and 70ml cold water in a bowl and stir to a smooth paste. Spoon into a piping bag fitted with a small plain nozzle and pipe a cross shape onto each bun.

Bake for 10 minutes, reduce oven to 200C and bake until golden and buns sound hollow when tapped (8-10 minutes).
Take the reserved syrup and cinnamon and heat in a small saucepan until syrupy. Brush thickly over hot buns, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

The verdict: What can I say, I don't get gluten free flour. Whatever is not in it makes a huge different to the texture, no vicosity of the dough - is that a word, she asks. The buns were heavy, almost scone like. The taste and smell were wonderful but really... really, she cries. Mr Sloweater can do his own in future.

That's it... I'm returning to the store brought!

This recipe is from the April 2010 issue of Australian Gourmet Traveller.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Food to live by: Terrine de Campagne

There are very few things that I shy away from in the kitchen. I love the promise of adventure that beckons from empty pans and a full larder.

So when a friend invited us to some house warming drinks, I immediately thought Terrine de Campagne. Rustic, warming with the promise of perfectly chilled champagne, there was no doubt that this was the dish of choice.

It’s a simple dish, uncomplicated despite being made in two stages. The first is the preparation of the ingredients that then sit overnight and the second is the cooking and the eating!

Served with bread, cornichons (those crisp, tart pickles), and some chutney, it’s a perfect dish that lasts up to a week.

Terrine de Campagne is a basic of the French kitchen, as you can see from every charcuterie and market that you visit. Everyone has a different recipe but the fundamentals remain the same – a earthly terrine with a depth of flavour, using local ingredients.

Where to begin
250g sliced bacon
a tablespoon of butter
1 onion, chopped
500g pork minced
250g veal, minced
250g chicken livers, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
A pinch ground cloves
A pinch ground nutmeg
2 small eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons of cognac (the original recipe called for brandy)
salt and pepper to season
bay leaf
sprig of thyme

If you are feeling adventurous you could add pistachio nuts OR just jump right in there and include some preserved truffles. This I had intended to do but forgot! This is despite the fact that I had prepared all the recipes in advance.

Before moving onto the cooking process – the question of the terrine dish needs to be explored.

My desire to make a terrain came from my first visit to E. Dehillerin, that Aladdin’s cave of culinary wonderment, where I found in the basement, cast iron Chasseur dishes. I was sold except there was no way that I could cart home a terrine dish on the Eurostar. I would get one in London at the sales I told myself.

Well of course I didn’t, so when preparing to make this terrain I also looked at purchasing a terrine dish. Ummh, who would have thought they were so (and I mean so so) expensive. Seriously! So I used a cake tin instead – perfectly acceptable, especially when one has a petite kitchen, where space needs to be bartered for!

So let’s get to the cooking.

Start by lining your terrine dish (or in my case, a cake tin) with bacon. Make sure that you retain a few slices that will be used to cover the terrain at the end of this first stage.

Melt your tablespoon of butter and cook a finely diced onion, until it is soft. Now mix together the onion with the pork, veal, chicken livers, garlic, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, eggs cognac and salt and pepper.

Now a quick word about my ingredients. The pork and livers came from my favourite butcher. The pork was minced; the livers were not. So be prepared to dice your livers -very roughly. A much less queasy experience that I had imagined. Now the veal proved more troublesome as my butcher does not do veal, presumably for ethnical reasons. I'm not sure; so, I ended up getting veal from Waitrose. Perfectly acceptable.

Spread the mixture into the lined terrine, packing the terrine as you go. Note how the bacon hangs slightly over the edge of the dish. This makes folding easier, as you can see from the next picture. Use the remaining bacon slides to cover the terrine. Then cover with cling wrap and leave overnight in the fridge.

Cooking of the terrine
Set the oven to 180ºC (35OºF).

Now here I departed from my original recipe and turned to Julia Child, that original domestic goodness, who understood that careful instructions are needed for those women without domestic help!

So to cook this is what you need: aluminium foil to cover the terrine, a heavy lid (that I will explain in a moment), and a pan of boiling water.

Cover the terrine dish in aluminium foil and place in a pan of boiling water. The water needs to come half-way up the pan. I used a heavy roasting dish.

Place the terrine in the lower third of the pre-heated oven and bake for 1.5 hours.

Now this is where I got all very nervous and thought I had undercooked the terrine and that I was likely to kill my host and partner! This did not happen. The terrine was absolutely perfect.

Julia recommends that the terrine is done when it has shrunk slightly from the dish. This it did and that the juices were clear. Now this is where I got confused. The side juices were clear but the middle juices were slightly pink.

Post-cooking and checking of juices, remove the terrine from the water and remove the foil. This is the stage, where you need to weigh down the terrain. All very easy: a cake tin, some cans and when it’s completely cool, put it in the fridge.

Now it was my intention to photo the terrine perfectly presented. That didn't happened but I promise you, the terrine was good, exceptionally good.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate soufflé in a tiny kitchen

2011 is my year of imperfection – a curious notion I know but one I have become very attached to. The idea of devoting a year to being imperfect dawned upon me last December. It came from my increasing frustrations with a very small kitchen and a desperate need for sunlight.

So it’s Sunday and it seems an appropriate day to practice being imperfect. My dish of choice is a soufflé; not any soufflé but a Julia Child’s soufflé. I loved the film and when I was in the States last year, I brought that wonderful classic – Mastering the Art of French Cooking.

Now in my year of imperfection, I am making no aspirations towards mastery; instead, all I want to do is cook. So here is:

Chocolate soufflé in a tiny kitchen
The first thing I need to do is get my ingredients sorted and to turn on the oven. I might want to embrace imperfection but a little organisation in the kitchen will be needed. This is a souffle. Conversion via Google and the oven is on, so it heats to 425 (218 C).

Next to my ingredients:
2 cups of milk,
½ cup of white sugar;
1/3 cup of strong coffee;
200 grams of dark 70% chocolate
1/3 cup of what Julia calls all purpose flour and by this I presume that she means plain; and finally six egg whites and four egg yolks, separated of course.
Also vanilla extra – 1 tablespoon and yes, a pinch of salt.

Now it is good thing that this is an imperfect soufflé because already there is yolk in the whites. I have no idea what this means for the final result but the separation of egg is a new experience for me. (I am not a cake baker: the domain of cookery, where such dexterous precision is required.) In a year of perfection, I would have started again, but not this year. My one concession is note to self – buy an egg separator!

Now, and I confess according to the film, The Mastering the Art of French Cookery was originally written for American cooks who did not have domestic help. So I’m hoping given this promise of handholding, so that what followings will not be the collapse of my delicious airy and light soufflé through stress.

(Now just as an example of how frightfully small this kitchen is, I have to balance the cookbook on the side of the sink, so I can read it. This is because the ingredients are taking up the available bench room…)

And so we begin …
Place chocolate and coffee into a bowl over a simmering saucepan of water – the aim is to begin the melting process.

While this is happening, prepare your soufflé dish. Cover the surface with butter. Now I am going to deviate from Julia here and follow Gordon or what I think is Gordon. It’s a half-remembered tip from an online soufflé recipe.

Butter inside of the dish. Place it in the fridge for five minutes and then rebutter it. Finish by coating the inside with some drinking chocolate. Now I have Valrohona and its perfect for such a purpose. It is 100%cacao and when drinking it, it is like drinking silk.

(I’m now having the rest of the coffee that I made earlier – fab stuff from Bon Marche. Very very retro- it’s caramel coffee. The only reason why I am using it is that I have run out of everything else!)

Now Julia says create a collar of butter tin foil. Well I’ve decided that this is getting a little complicated, especially as my chocolate/ coffee mix has now melted and nothing else is prepared!

Now one of the ways to cope with a small kitchen is not to have a lot of stuff – it’s a great excuse only to have GOOD stuff. So with a quick dry, my saucepan is now being used to make the chocolate basis of the soufflé.

Add the flour to the saucepan and slowly add in the milk. This is where I need to stop writing as it is lumpy and the only way to get out of this is to whisk. So I’m whisking.

Crisis averted, or so I think. It is meant to be whisked into the consistency of a smooth cream! Add the butter and stir over moderate heat until boiling. Let boil for two minutes and continue to stir. (Note: it has turned into a smooth cream! Thank you, Julia)

Skimming forward to see what is next, I realise that I still haven’t whisked my egg whites into submission. I have no idea of timing and so I am starting to panic a little. I’m new to this imperfection thing. I want to default to my normal position – extreme multi-tasking. But my second whisk has gone missing and I am forbidden for using the KitchenAid.

So where was I?

Take the chocolate/ coffee mixture from the heat and allow it to cool. Julia says to stir every minute or so to help with the cooling. Taste wise, it’s uninspiring - just butter, milk and flour. It tastes like and is batter. You can see from the picture that it is slightly lumpy.

One by one the egg yolks are whisked into this batter. Finally, you add the melted chocolate/ coffee combo and finally vanilla extract.

My co-conspirator has just come to my rescue and is going to beat the egg whites for me. In a kitchen this small, you need all the outside help that you can get. I stand back in full admission, as he uses his KitchenAid.

So the chocolate sauce is complete and attention now needs to be turned to the egg whites. Unsurprisingly, whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Then slowly, almost sprinkle by sprinkle, add the sugar. What you should get is glossy Disney-like peaks.

Fold in the chocolate mixture and add to the soufflé dish. (I added the chocolate mix a little at a time, so as not to collapse (is this the right word?) the soufflé mixture

Now I can already tell that I have way, and I mean way, too much egg mixture. At this stage, the kitchen is a complete mess. I find myself turning in circles trying to work out what to do next.

Whatever you do turn the temperature of the oven down to 190 as the soufflé goes in.

Now we wait….
Twenty-two minutes in and it’s looking good. Slightly lope-sided as this is not an oven that cooks evenly. I’m too frightened to open the door and besides I’m exhausted.

I’ve just washed all the dishes that I used and my complaints about lack of bench space and resulted in a reshuffling of monumental proportions. Our idea of having music in the kitchen is now unplugged; the rest, much more bench space.

This whole experience makes me think that my idea of removing everything from the bench-top to cook (like I did at Christmas) is a damn fine idea!

OK… five minutes to go to reach the minimum of 30 minutes. Now I need to wait until the top has cracked. The good news is that it appears to have evened out and can I say it smells fantastic!

I need a skewer to test if it is ready – add to the shopping list. (A word of caution – the problem of coating the inside of the soufflé dish with chocolate is that it will look burnt – it’s not!)

What it has left me wondering is how you could possibly do this for a dinner party. Well, Julia has the answer! You can make this mixture an hour before cooking it. You place it in the prepared soufflé dish and cover it with aluminium foil.

So to the taste…
The texture is light and airy. I can’t taste the coffee but otherwise it is wonderful.

As to what I would do next time – reduce the eggs to five (so five white and four yolks). I think I’d also reduce the chocolate by half.

So as Julia would say Bon Appetite!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You've got to love Delia

You've got to love Delia, well at least before she released - How to cheat at cooking (more about this later). She was the first British celebrity chef.

Her Seasons collection was my first TV experience of real cookery - not cooking for necessity but cooking as a passion; cooking inspired by ingredients; cooking by the seasons.

Her clipped Britishness, her poshness, her kitchen were exotic to me. It was food with beauty and I was inspired by it. It made me want to cook.

So when looking for something to cook last Saturday night, something simple, something easy; I asked myself, what would Delia cook?

Chicken and leek pie
You'll need:

4 small chicken breasts (I just picked up a four-pack from Waitrose)
3 leeks
3 carrots
A bottle of cider
Some fresh thyme (go for 3-4 sprigs)
Two small bay leaves (or a large one. I have a small plant in my small kitchen)
Packet of store brought short-crust or puff pastry

Like most of Delia's recipe, there is a beautiful simplicity to this recipe. You start by placing in a saucepan, the carrots, thyme, cider, bay leaves, and simmer for five minutes.

As I said, you have to love Delia's understanding of the simple and by this I mean her pairing of favours. In this instance, the sweetness of the cider with the carrot and leek.

Then add the leeks that you have washed thoroughly - think all that grit that you want to avoid. Also add the chicken that you have prepared into pie-sized pieces. Cook for ten.

Once the chicken is cooked, drain, making sure that you collect the cider that the vegetables have cooked in.

Place this broth (for want of a better description) back into the saucespan and reduce. Delia's says to reduce to about two tablespoons. I didn't do that but I did reduce it by a least half.

At this stage, turn on your oven to 200 degree or what Delia calls gas mark 6. I was fascinated by gas mark metrics when I watched her shows as a teenager- we didn't have such ovens in Australia.

White sauce ingredients - straight from the larder
275 ml of milk
20 g plain flour
20g of butter
25g of parmesan cheese

Again, we return to Delia's simplcity in this white sauce. Forget the melting of the butter and swift adding of flour and the juggling of pouring milk and whisking. Instead it all goes in there at once (except the parmesan, salt and pepper) and whisk like crazy. The result much to my surprise is a smooth white sauce.

Once you finish the white sauce, add the parmesan and season. Gently mix the pie mixture into the sauce. The result is a wonderfully sweet and fragant filling.

Next use your store pastry and cover each dish. I went for the short crust. From the ingredients, I made a medium-sized pie in a souffle dish and two individual pieces. I folded the pastry into folds and then brushed with milk. Place in the oven and cook for twenty minutes. The result - a fabulous pie, warming, simple and absolutely, Delia.

One final word...

It's about the cheat book. It's a tough one, as I get where Delia is coming from. When most children don't even know what a vegetable is or where food comes from, then the basics shift a little or a lot.

There is no denying that it's probably better for people to cheat and sit down with their kids and eat food than buy pre-made food from a supermarket.

Living in London and being on a London wage, it's easy to forget, some of the harsh economic realities of how people live in Britian. I've always presumed that it is cheaper to buy fresh ingredients and cook them than it is to live on take-away. The reality is... it probably isnt.

What I miss about Australia is the availability of fresh, good food. You don't have to go to a farmer's market, you just go to your local fruit and veg. Here in London at least, I've never really found one. There's Broadway market and Borough market but these aren't cheap.

So is Delia so wrong I ask myself.... what do you think?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Rabbit stifado and a year of imperfection.

2011 is going to be my year of imperfection. In fact, it is the only resolution that I made this year and so far it is going well, I have to tell you.

Today is the perfect case in point. I have the flu. I have no appetite. My taste buds are refusing to register anything of consequence good OR bad. And I am blogging.

Normally, I wouldn't. I like to craft my words, pausing and deliberating. A state that has often lead to lengthly procrastination and then abandonment. But under the mandate of imperfection, I have to write. That's the point.For all you self-confessed perfectionists, you will appreciate the radicalness of my gesture. To embrace imperfection is to expose your mistakes and recognise that waiting for perfection can be a very long waiting game instead.

So rather than wait, at least until this flu subsides, I did what I had planned to do all weekend - cook Rabbit stifado. This is Greek peasant dish, earnest and rustic, that uses either chicken or rabbit. I went for the rabbit supplied by my local butcher at Highgate.

I love Greek food - from the spices used you can trace the histories of discovery, invasion and colonisation. The sweetness of cinnamon meets the smokedness of all spice in the dish, while also using the essentials of Greek life - olive oil and oregano.

Rabbit stifado (as borrowed from Australian Gourmet Traveller)

As you can see this is not a hard dish nor a particularly expensive one. This rabbit would have easily served four.
A rabbit cut into six pieces by your local butcher; 4 tbsps of olive oil; 5 large shallots, left whole; 1 tbsp of tomato paste

150 ml red wine; tbsp red wine vinegar; 2 garlic cloves; 3 fresh bay leaves; 1 cinnamon stick; 4 cloves (which I forgot to put in - as I said I have the flu); 1 tbs of dried oregano (if you can get your hands on the wild greek stuff that would be my preference. The flowers are tigher and the aromatics are wilder and more intense); 1 tbsp of whole allspice berries.

Now to the cooking ... As I suggested earlier, Greek cooking is not hard; well not in my experience of it. There is no particular care required and by that I mean technique. Food was meant to be sustaining in a life that was already hard, so what you see if often cheap ingredients cooked well and made with care.

Begin by marinating the rabbit, preferably overnight. Return to either stir marinate occasionally or use a flat dish.

Using your oil, cook the shallots until softened; remove from the pan and then add your rabbit and brown.

Once browned, return your onions to your cooking pot and add the marinate, tomato paste and enough water to cover the ingredient.

Cook for between 1-1.5 hours or until rabbit is tender. Serve with crusty bread according to GT or cook some polenta like I did to mop up the juices.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Merry Christmas 2010

With all the hope that Christmas brings, Merry Christmas 2010 from Sloweater.

This is a photograph of the beautiful Christmas decoration that my loving co-conspirator brought for me. It is a piece of silver mistletoe.

12.14 pm and seven hours

It is one of those strange winter days in London. Everything seems dulled after the festivities of Christmas and the New Year. So what's the solution for a day like this - seven hour lamb.

So back from our local supermarket, I am armed with a very small boneless piece of lamb. Not ideal but my thinking is if you cook something for long enough it always tastes good.

Besides I'm in the mood for some nuturing slow cooked goodness. Good food feeds the soul and for me to cook is about love.

So, here are the ingredients - perfect for any larder.

4 anchovy fillets
1 1.8 - 2 kg leg of lamb
3 large cloves of garlic, quartered
Pepper and salt
Olive oil
2 bouquets garnis
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup of dry white wine

Pre-heat your oven to 120 degrees. Dry anchovy fillets on kitchen paper and cut in half. Make six deep incisions into each side of the lamb. Insert a piece of anchovy and a sliver of garlic. Do your normal seasoning with pepper rub in some salt. Seal your lamb and then place in a large french cooking dish in the oven with your stock, wine and bourquet garnis.

That's it. Well it normally is but my piece of lamb is just over a kilogram as there are only two of us and it is also boneless, so I'll check mine around 4.14. I'm let you know.

Anyway, you normally serve with mashed potato. It is a fabulous French dish. The anchovies and garlic combined with the long cooking process turn this dish into butter. Incredible and as I said perfect for the day after new years!

Christmas day 2010 menu

  • Chilled pear-infused vodka served with buckwheat blinis with beetroot-cured and orange-cured salmon.
  • Ruinart champagne with brie and carmelised onion tartlets and slice of Christmas pork pie with cranberries from Borough market
  • Rolled pork loin stuffed with apple, cranberries and fresh walnuts with roast carrots and parnsips and baked apples and beetroot.
  • Yuletide cake

Many many thanks to Al and Luke for such a wonderful and special Christmas Day!