Thursday, 30 October 2014

A late Autumn tea, with recipes

Dee:  “It’s the back end of autumn.  Winter will be upon us in a couple of days, so for tonight’s meal we wanted a warm and comforting meal to reflect the changing season.  However, we’d had lunch out, including a super slice of chocolate cake, so a hearty stew or casserole would have been too much.  We’d been planning on making up some soup earlier in the week, and I was going to bake some bread to go along with it, so this seemed to be an ideal tea.
Mushroom soup has been a long-time favourite for both of us.  We’ve been making it as part of a bonfire night feast for a few years now, and we also enjoy mushrooms on toasted soda bread, so decided that mushroom soup and a nice soda bread would go well together.  Jay prepared the soup while I baked the bread.
The soup is a quicker version than our bonfire night special, but with added black garlic, which brought a treacly richness to the soup base.  I decided to flavour the bread with some blue cheese that we had left over from earlier in the week, together with some fresh rosemary.  I considered mixing in some dried rosemary but decided against it when I came up with the idea of frying some of the fresh rosemary up with the onions and adding the rest of it as it was.
Prior to enjoying the soup and the bread, we were treated to the awesome herby aroma of the bread baking:  an added bonus as far as we were concerned.
We ended up with what we set out to achieve:  a bold and tasty tea in keeping with the flavours of the season.”

For anyone interested in trying this meal out, here are the recipes;

Rosemary, Blue Cheese and Onion Soda Bread

Makes 2 small loaves

1 small onion, chopped
Leaves from 2 sprigs of rosemary, chopped
50g blue cheese (firmer cheese is best)
300g white bread flour
200g wholemeal flour (I used spelt, but wheat is fine)
7g salt (less than the usual 10g, as the cheese will contain some salt)
2 teaspooons bicarbonate of soda
300ml buttermilk

1.       Fry the onion and half the rosemary until the onion is just starting to caramelise, then remove it from the heat, mix in the rest of the rosemary and set aside to cool.
2.       Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6.
3.       Crumble the cheese and add about three quarters to the onion/rosemary mixture.  Keep the rest separate.
4.       Add all the flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and three quarters of the onion/rosemary/cheese mixture to a mixing bowl.  Add the buttermilk and mix to a dough.
5.       Turn the dough out onto a flat surface which has been dusted with semolina and divide into two pieces.
6.       Shape both pieces of dough into round loaves, then flatten them slightly, coat the tops with a little semolina and mark a cross shape on the top of each loaf.
7.       Sprinkle the onion/rosemary/cheese mixture onto the top of each loaf, then finish with a further sprinkling of the reserved cheese.
8.       Transfer the loaves to the preheated oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. 
9.       After baking, leave the loaves to cool on a wire rack. 
10.   To serve, break the loaf into 4 pieces along the lines made by the crosses, and enjoy one piece at a time.

Mushroom and Black Garlic Soup

Makes enough for about 4

3 packs of chestnut mushrooms
3 or 4 sprigs of thyme
About 30g of rice (or a couple of slices of bread would also work)
Veg stock cube
2 cloves of black garlic (available from: The Garlic Farm  Do go.. and make sure you have lunch there)
About half a pot of sour cream
Salt and pepper

1.       Roughly chop the mushrooms and fry gently with the thyme until shrunken and cooked through
2.       Add the rice and fry for a few more minutes
3.       Crumble in the stock cube, add enough water to cover the mushrooms and add a bit more as well.
4.       Add the black garlic and simmer until the rice is cooked.
5.       Blend the soup, stir in the sour cream, season and scoff.  Or,if you’re Dee, blend the soup, stir in the sour cream , season, drizzle with truffle oil (ergh) and scoff

Sunday, 26 October 2014

K for Kazakhstan

Dee:  “Prior to getting this meal together I knew practically nothing about Central Asian cuisine.  I enjoyed seeking out the different parts of this Kazakh style feast and was very keen to get started on cooking it. 
I decided to stay clear of the horse meat and mutton that I often saw when researching the cuisine, partly for reasons of availability, partly because I lacked the space and equipment required to cook it authentically, and partly because I wanted to prepare some dishes with an all-round appeal. 
There were elements of a number of different influences on show here:  Persian/Afghan style rice with meat and fruit, Chinese style dumplings and vegetables and a Russian style sour cream sauce, yet when enjoyed together, a distinctive style emerged.
As the photos show, we served the savoury dishes all at the same time on communal platters and helped ourselves to each one.  The sweet dumplings then followed, along with the tea.
The scarcity of meat in tonight’s meal probably means that we haven’t cooked a one hundred per cent authentic Kazakh feast, but we had a delicious meal nonetheless.”

Kazakh Rice
Dee:  “This was the only element of tonight’s meal that contained meat, but it could be left out and the other ingredients increased proportionately to make a perfectly acceptable meat free version.   I’d encountered fruit being added to savoury food before, in Persian and Afghan cuisine, which this rice dish reminded me of.  In a change to the published recipe, we decided to cook the onion and garlic before adding them to the other ingredients, as we felt they might have been too pungent for our tastes otherwise.”

Gutap (Kazakh Fritters)
Dee:  “Although described as fritters, these are closer to dumplings.  They took a while to prepare as they are quite small, but are worth the effort as they taste great with the accompanying sauce.  One word of caution though is that the filling is quite fiery, so the amount of pepper needs to be adjusted for a milder version.  The recipe requires deep frying, but we decided to bake ours to keep the calorie count down.  They went into a preheated oven at gas mark 7 for about 20 minutes.  The pastry cases were crisp, but lacked the golden colour that the deep fried version would have achieved.  However, we were very taken with them.”   

Sabzi Piez
Dee:  “This tasty dish was a cross between a salad and a stir-fry.  Instead of boiling the carrots, as specified in the recipe, we fried them up along with the onions, which kept them crunchy rather than soft.  The vinegar and pepper flakes, when combined with the juices from the cooking vegetables, made a dressing with a slight kick.”

Dee:  “As with the gutap, these sweet dumplings should have been deep fried, but again we baked ours.  The combination of nuts, butter and sugar was just right to deliver a sweet nutty flavour without overbalancing either.  We enjoyed our samsa with the chai, as detailed below, but I can’t help thinking that these would be a perfect accompaniment to a nice cup of black coffee.”

Kazakh Tea (Chai)
Dee:  “Unlike the tea we are used to making, this was made in a saucepan on the hob.  The taste was not as strong as I am used to, and the flavour of the fennel seeds was particularly pronounced.  If I was to make this again, I think I would add more tea and cardamom and less fennel seeds.”

Soundtrack:  Roksonaki – Nauryz
Dee:  “I found this a fascinating album that seemed to merge ancient and modern music and then deliver it with enormous creativity.  There were all sorts of stringed and wind instruments featured which sounded unfamiliar to me.  As an example, one of my favourite tracks on the album ‘Yapur Ai' (regret) featured a lute-like instrument and what sounded like a giant mountain horn.  These were backed up with hypnotic drum beats and occasional subtle percussion.  The vocals were equally captivating, and included elements of songs, chants and ‘voice as instrument’ performances.   In terms of what this whole mixture sounded like, some of the tunes had something of an Eastern European sound, others sounded like ballads, while at the end of the album, the song ‘Aitys' (competition) sounded like lounge jazz from outer space.  This album was a winner for me and I would be very keen to hear more from this band.”

Next Week:  L for Laos

Sunday, 19 October 2014

J for Jersey

Dee:  “The channel island of Jersey has an interesting cuisine, incorporating both English and French influences.  For one reason or another we had to amend the recipes we settled on, but were pleased with the results.  The dishes we sampled were good wholesome fare which was simple to prepare but requiring care and attention to achieve the great home-cooked tastes.  One regret I have with this cuisine is not allowing enough time to prepare any ‘black butter’ which is a preserve made from apples, liquorice and spices.  I think this would have been great spread on some toasted bread.  Maybe I could make some in time for Christmas...”

Bean Crock
Dee:  “I have to confess that we didn’t cook this dish authentically, but we didn’t mess about with the recipe too much, so hopefully the end result would still be recognisable to someone from Jersey.  We used tinned beans, the only ones available being butter beans and a mixed bean salad, and added cubed tenderloin of pork, rather than a pig’s trotter.  First, we fried up the onions, added the cubed pork and browned it, then added it to a stock pot into which we had put the drained beans.  The whole lot was then stirred round and we poured in some chicken stock to just about cover the bean and pork mixture.  The whole lot was then brought up to the boil and simmered until the liquid had reduced to the consistency of a pourable gravy.  We served it with fried shredded cabbage and a slice of the cabbage loaf.  I was pleased with how it turned out.  A few simple ingredients made for a tasty and filling meal, perfect for the end of a sunny autumn day.  Better still, there was enough left over for tea tomorrow.”

Cabbage Loaf
Dee:  “I think I need to see this being made in situ, as I didn’t end up with a ‘real’ cabbage loaf.  The recipe said to lightly tie the cabbage leaves to the dough prior to baking, but I was a bit wary of doing this as I was worried that it would mess up the finished loaf, so I just laid them on top of the dough and hoped for the best.  When the baking time was up, I was left with crispy cabbage leaves covering a loaf with a pale top, so I put the dough, without the cabbage leaves, back into the oven for ten minutes to finish off the top and put the cabbage leaves to one side.  At this point, it might sound like a failure but it really wasn’t:  We ended up with a nice loaf which was a perfect accompaniment to the bean crock and cabbage, and the cabbage leaves made for tasty low fat crisps.  We should have used them as a garnish to the bean crock but scoffed them before we took the photo.”

 Jersey Wonders
Dee:  “This is another Jersey speciality that we compromised on authenticity for.  These distinctively shaped biscuits are supposed to be deep fried but in the interests of keeping the calories down, we decided to bake them instead.  There’s also a special way of folding them after slicing them down the middle to achieve their characteristic shape but we couldn’t replicate it so just went with as close an approximation as we could get.  Taste wise  they were sweet and crunchy, just like a good biscuit should be.  The deep fried versions are supposed to be more akin to doughnuts, but we were happy with what we achieved with ours.”

Soundtrack:  Nerina Pallot – Fires
Dee:  “I’d heard the single ‘everybody’s gone to war’ before, but the rest of Nerina Pallot’s music was new to me.  She doesn’t make traditional music of Jersey, but is probably the best known recording artist from there to date.  She’s very much in the country-rock-pop female singer-songwriter genre, alongside Natalie Imbruglia, Joan Osborne, Sheryl Crowe and Sophie B Hawkins.  The single was the clear stand out track for me, although the piano and vocal ballad ‘Sophia’ was quite pretty.  The rest of the album was easy on the ears and fine to listen to on a dark Sunday evening chilling out in pyjamas with a glass of wine, which is what we’re doing as we write this blog entry, so it’s all good.”

Next Week:  K for Kazakhstan

Sunday, 12 October 2014

I for Ireland

Dee:  “Now we’ve reached letter I we’ve encountered our first set of cuisines which we’ve tried all of.  After much deliberation we decided that it had been a while since we cooked an Irish meal, and with Autumn now upon us, a nice Irish Stew and a slice of fruity Porter Cake would go down a treat.  We didn’t have to make any compromises with regard to the ingredients, as all were readily available.  All we needed was enough time to get everything ready.”

Irish Stew (Mum’s version)
Recipe from The Hairy Bikers Cookbook
Dee:  “I love everything about this dish.  The stripped down list of ingredients, careful preparation and of course the amazing flavour which is achieved by the long slow cooking process.  There are myriad recipes for Irish Stew and arguments abound over which is the definitive one, but this has been my favourite so far.  We served it with steamed kale, parsnip mash and very finely diced carrot which, when laid out together presented the colours of the Irish Tricolour.”

Irish Porter Cake
Dee:  “We left out the chopped mixed peel from this recipe as neither of us are particularly fond of it and upped the glace cherries a little to compensate.  We kept checking on the cake while it was in the oven, to make sure the top wasn’t starting to burn but it was fine.  The cake was not as heavy or dense as I was expecting.  It had a pleasant chewy texture and every bite was packed with fruit.  It went surprisingly well with the Irish Whiskey that we had with it.  Just before we poured out the whiskey we realised that we don’t have any whiskey tumblers, so out came the Crocodillo glasses.”

Soundtrack:  Neck – Come out Fighting
Dee:  “Neck are based in London but they are to all intents and purposes an Irish band.  Their music takes traditional Irish folk and dance tunes and injects them with the fury of oi!-punk.  They are a spectacular live act, but have also managed to transfer that sound to their studio recordings, as showcased on this album by ‘Always upsetting somebody’ and the live favourite ‘everybody’s welcome to the hooley’.  They do slow the pace down on a couple of songs, such as ‘the homes of Donegal’ and ‘I’ll still be blue over you’ but for the most part this is a full on Irish Punk Rock assault on your ears.  Check out their web site:  ”

We’re not heading too far away next week:  J is for Jersey.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

H for Hawaii

Dee:  “Hawaiian cuisine was suggested to me during a visit to our fab local Deli/Café, the Cherry Blossom Bakehouse and it didn’t take me long to agree that it would be worth a go.
First, Hawaiian cuisine is not pizza with pineapple on it.  It’s an interesting mix of Native, Oriental and, I later discovered, Portuguese, ingredients and preparation methods.
We haven’t explored fish or seafood in the blog yet and I’d got it into my head that it would probably feature significantly in the Hawaiian diet, so that’s what we went for.”

All recipes from:

Macadamia Crusted Coconut Shrimp with Mushroom Rice and Orange Lime Sauce
Dee:  “The cooking of the prawns after being dipped in coconut milk and coated in crushed macadamia nuts was something we’d not tried before, and we did wonder about toasting the nuts before crushing them, but decided to go along with the recipe   The coated prawns still looked a bit pale after the specified ten to fifteen minutes so we left them in the oven a little longer.  The taste was initially unusual.  It reminded me a little of tempura prawns, but with a softer and slightly creamy texture, provided by the nuts.  We served the prawns on a bed of rice cooked with sautéed sliced mushroom, garlic and ginger, and topped with Orange Lime Sauce, which was made with marmalade, mustard and lime juice.  The dish was pleasant and tasty, and grew slowly on me as I ate it, but it definitely needed the sauce, which was sweet and tangy rather than fiery hot.”
Jay:  “I was the one who got messy preparing these. The prawns were lovely and while the dish needed a sauce, I wasn’t entirely convinced by the marmalade base.”

Coconut Pudding
Dee:  “We experimented a bit with this dish and, I have to admit, deviated from the stipulated recipe by using coconut flour rather than cornflour, so I can’t really call it Haupia, which was the recipe we should have been following.  The finished dish was supposed to have the consistency of blancmange, but ours came across more like a sweet, coconut flavoured polenta, and looked, I have to say, pretty dull.  However, we both enjoyed it, and it was nice with the simple salad of chopped papaya and pineapple that we served it on top of.  I think next time we cook this we’ll use cornflour as well as the coconut flour.”
Jay:  “Super sweet this one!”

Soundtrack:  Gabby Pahinui with the Sons of Hawaii (self-titled album)
Dee:  “I wanted to listen to Elvis’s ‘Aloha from Hawaii tonight, but Jay wasn’t having it so we went with this one instead.  It was an old album, from I think 1962, and sounded pretty much how we imagined it to be.  Voices and guitars gently serenading us as we enjoyed tea.”

Still deciding on next week.  At the moment it’s between Ireland, Iceland and Indonesia…

Fish Finger Sandwich Wars

Dee:  "A Bit of fun for Sunday afternoon.  We decided to both prepare a fish finger sandwich how we liked them and see which one we liked best.  After sampling both, we each thought our own was best, so we're now throwing it out to you.  

First, the 'recipes';

Version 1
2 slices of bread, thickly sliced
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Salt and Pepper
Fish Fingers
Tartare Sauce
Place the fish fingers under a preheated grill and cook them for five or six minutes each side.
Place the bread under the grill and lightly crisp it (don’t toast it completely) on one side only.
Lightly butter the uncrisped side of one of the slices, top it with the shredded lettuce, then season with a little salt and pepper.
Place the fish fingers on top of the lettuce and crush them with a fork.
Spread the tartare sauce on the uncrisped side of the other bread slice and place it, sauced side down, on top of the fish fingers.
Press down and tuck in.

Version 2
2 slices of cheap thick sliced white bread
Fish Fingers
Salad Cream
Fry the fish fingers until crispy.
Spread the bread slices with lashings of butter.
Squish the fish fingers into the bread, sprinkle with vinegar and top with salad cream.
Place the other slice slice of bread on top, squish together, cut the sandwich into triangles and scoff.

Now the pictures of the completed versions;
So which one would you go for?

Of course, we're always open to trying out new versions so if you like your fish finger sandwiches a different way and don't mind sharing your recipes, please feel free to."

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Leftover Greens and Mid-Week Veg Stew

Dee:  “We hit mid-week and I was faced with some ingredients which were left over from other recipes.  They’re mostly green ingredients:  Half a cucumber, some watercress, four asparagus spears, two green chillies, some dill, some green beans and some green and Kalamata olives.

With the help of a few store cupboard ingredients, and a quick trip up the road to the shop, I was able to use them all up;

The cucumber, dill and one of the chillies were chopped up and pickled.
The watercress went into a pesto with some garlic, pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan.

The olives were chopped up and added to a salad with fennel seeds, cumin, white wine vinegar, olive oil, thyme, oregano and mint.
The beans were steamed and then sautéed with the other chopped up chilli and some chopped garlic.
The asparagus was steamed and then finished off in the frying pan and finished with a drizzle of olive oil and some sea salt, garlic and chilli seasoning from the Garlic Farm.

The olives, beans and asparagus were served with tonight’s tea, which included a beetroot salad and Iranian vegetable stew with dried limes from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi.