Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Jamie Oliver's Winter Coleslaw

I made this for a lunch party where Giles baked a ham (I've no idea how he did it, so can't explain it here), and it was totally brilliant.

This isn't the exact Jamie Oliver recipe, but it's close enough.

In the food processor, with the coarse shredding attachment, I shredded some

carrots
celeriac
fennel

and put it all in a massive bowl and squeezed lemon juice over it to stop it from going brown. Then we sliced up some

white cabbage and
red cabbage by hand, because putting it through the food processor kind of minces it up: no good.

I added the cabbages to the other veggies and tossed it around by hand. Then for a dressing I used

some large dollops of good quality plain yoghurt
some salt and pepper
one or two dollops of grainy mustard
a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped up

And it was out of this world. Jamie: the master.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Halloumi and quinoa salad

Oooh what a scrumptious thing this is. It's a Greek-inspired, fresh thing of lovliness, which can be tailored to suit your exact tastebuds. I had it for lunch just now and mine went something like this:

(For 2)

1 packet Halloumi cheese
80g dried quinoa
half a red chilli, deseeded and chopped very small
2 spring onions
1 stick celery, chopped
1 small bunch fresh mint, chopped
2 dollops natural yoghurt
pinch of salt

1 Cook the quinoa for about 16 mins and drain
2 while in the sieve, mix in all the ingredients except the halloumi
3 slice and fry as much of the packet of halloumi as you fancy - one packet is slightly too much for two people
4 pile up the quinoa mixture onto a plate, put a dollop of yoghurt on top, followed by the halloumi and sprinkle some more mint on top

Yummy

Monday, 14 December 2009

Carly's salad

I don't like salad. I don't even, really, like vegetables that much. I like hot, fried things, salty, fatty things. I like meat. And pies. And, most of all, meat in pies.

But I've got to eat salad. Got to. I am a grown-up and a sensible person and what separates me from animals is the ability to act now for my future self - thus I must eat vegetables to be healthy and not die from heart disease before then next series of X Factor starts.

The other problem is that I'm not that great at making salad - especially not salad dressings. What will always prevent me, and anyone else, from being anything other than a perfectly competent home cook is a lack of clever taste buds. What makes, in my view, someone like Jamie Oliver, a genius, is his mastery of taste. He can create with taste in the way that a brilliant novelist can create with words. When it comes to taste, I'm barely past my ABCs.

Anyway, I put out a plea on Facebook for a great salad and my old friend Carly Chenowyth (try typing THAT when you're drunk) replied with a lovely asian fusion confection, that involved mung beans, which I've always dismissed as little more than tapwater in fancy dress.

But Carly is an Australian, you see, and does asian fusion off the top of her head, poof, just like that. So I went for it and it was magnificent (although I did add a lot of chopped, grilled chicken, just because I felt like it). Giles, who had initially made his just-seen-a-gross-mouldy-thing face, hoovered it up.

So here we go (this is not the exact recipe as Carly gave it to me, but this is my interpretation)

Carly's salad

Mung beans
carrots
alfafa
sesame oil
large clove of garlic
sherry vinegar
0.5 fresh red chilli
light soy sauce
salt
grated ginger
juice of half a lime
a small sprinkling of sugar

This is a very long list of ingredients, and you could skip out most of them except the beans, the sesame oil, the soy, chilli and garlic. Everything else is just vaguely asian salady-stuff I had hanging around.

Anyway, so start off with a base of about 3 parts sesame oil to 2 parts soy. Then add the garlic if you like garlic, or for just a hint (raw garlic at lunchtime doesn't work for me) chop up a really large clove into 3 chunks and let it sit in the dressing until you're ready to eat, at which point you can fish it out.

Add a sprinkling of salt and then the chopped chilli and you're done. If you want to add the other ingredients, add a little of each one and keep tasting as you go. The dressing tastes pretty overwhelming when it's neat, but over the mung beans and the carrots and alfafa, it's perfect.

I blanched the mung beans for one minute just to take the edge off and julienned the carrots rather than grated them as grated carrots always taste a bit weird to me. Throw the veggies in a bowl, pour over the dressing and that's that. If you want to add a bit of grilled chicken, brush it with the dressing before it goes under the grill and really grill it hard, to make it nice and crispy.

If anyone out there has a failsafe, tasty salad idea, send it my way.

A note about potato dauphinoise

Ok, I don't know a lot about a lot, but I do know about potato dauphinoise and enough people have expressed dismay at how their dauphs have turned out - 'practically raw' 'bland' and so on, for me to write about it.

The trick is to bung a LOT of salt and pepper and garlic inbetween your layers of potato. More than you think you need. A good sprinkle of salt, a good four twists of the pepper grinder and at least half a clove of garlic, chopped or microplaned.

Then you must, must, cook the sucker for ages. Like, two hours. You can just about get away with 1.5 hours if your oven is top-class. But nothing bad will happen if you blast it for 2 hours, so just throw it in there and forget about it.

A good dauph is the best thing ever, but it's not worth making an average one.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

O! For a Scotch Egg


God I love Scotch Eggs. I had forgotten how much until I rediscovered them at my amazingly food-fabulous local pub, The Bull and Last. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/food_and_drink/eating_out/giles_coren/article4935099.ece


Here they have them on the bar, as a snack, although they are big as your fist (if you're a girl with small-ish hands) and they have, somehow, contrived to make them so that the EGG IS RUNNY when you cut into it.


Anyway, it turns out that they are a sublime doddle to make in one's own kitchen. Have a go, it's very jolly. And you can make three, put them in the fridge, forget about them and then be thrilled the following lunchtime because you've got a Scotch Egg to eat.


Scotch egg


1 egg

another egg, beaten

2 sausages' worth of sausagemeat (as good quality as you can get your hands on, I used Cumberland)

some bread - a bit stale if possible, whizzed up in the food processor to make breadcrumbs - about one, 1.5 slices

flour

groundnut oil for frying


Preheat your oven to 180


1 Boil one egg for 9 minutes. Or for less, maybe 7 mins, if you are feeling brave and want to have a go at keeping the egg runny. Cool the egg in cold water and peel

2 Dry the egg off and roll it in seasoned flour

3 extract the top-end, high quality sausagemeat from your two sausages by scoring the sausage skin from top to bottom with a knife and peeling it away. mash it all together with your hand and then pat out in a circle about 1cm thick on a floured surface

4 place the egg in the middle of the sausage circle and then bring the sides up around and over it, bbeing extra careful if you've got a 7 minute egg not to squish it. smooth the sausagemeat around the egg until there are no gaps. This is very easy.

5 roll your ball of sausage and egg into the beaten egg and then roll it through the breadcrumbs, gently pressing as many crumbs into the surface of the egg as you can.

6 get your groundnut oil really smoking hot and then shallow fry the egg for about five or six minutes, until the breadcrumbs are a nice golden brown all over

7 transfer to a baking tray or sheet and bake in the oven for 20 minutes.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Easy tomato and courgette gratin


What with all my pork pie and turkish delight making, I'm getting a bit fat. And it's not even, really, Christmas yet. I haven't even had the first mince pie of the year (more of which later).

So I'm going on a post-Christmas run-up, pre-Christmas diet, in anticipation of all the chocolate and potato and salmon-on-bread I'm going to be eating, starting in about a week's time.

Staring at the larder at about lunchtime yesterday, all I could think about was have a very large egg sandwich (or maybe 2) with a lot of butter and homemade celery salt:

(Celery salt:

The leaves from a head of celery
salt

Cut from a head of celery all the leaves and arrange them on a baking tray. Put in the oven at 180 for five minutes until they are dry and crispy. Remove to a pestle and mortar and bash up, then add rock or sea salt.)


But I couldn't have that, all that bread. But what I did have was a quantity of tomatoes and some courgettes and remembered a Delia recipe for a tomato and courgette gratin. The secret with a gratin, I find, is to use about four times as much cheese as you think is reasonable and scatter, over the top a small quantity of breadcrumbs, which give a smidge of crunch and a tiny thrill of carbohydrate to the stodge-dodger.

Tomato and courgette gratin:

I used six large-ish tomatoes and two courgettes for this. It fed two hungry people, with a salad, with leftovers.
A large block of parmesan
a handfull of breadcrumbs
salt
pepper
sage or other herbs

1 Slice up the courgettes thinly and sautee them for about ten minutes with sage and garlic (or thyme, or whatever herbs you have) and salt.
2 Slice up the tomatoes and the parmesan, leaving about a third of the parmesan to grate over the dish
3 arrange the tomatoes, courgettes and parmesan slices in layers. Delia recommends overlapping them, like tiles on a roof, but I simply don't have that kind of dexterity, so it all went in sort of higgledy piggledy.
4 grate over the remaining parmesan and scatter over the breadcrumbs and season generously with salt and pepper
5 stick in the oven at 190 for 30 mins

Monday, 7 December 2009

Mass catering

At the end of every dinner or lunch I give, by myself, I always - no matter how well everything has gone - think to myself "Next time I'm going to make a lasagne."

But, like a mad person expecting different results from the same actions, I always end up making something with multiple moving parts, vegetables to be timed at the last minute, something different for my Pescetarian, two different types of nibble. Madness.

At my Saturday lunch Giles, who is massively helpful in the kitchen (I'm not being sarcastic, he really is) was out for the day, so everything fell to me. And what did I decide to make? Risotto? Bangers and mash?

No. The full menu was as follows:

- Smoked salmon on brown bread
- cocktail sausages in a cranberry sauce

- Roast chicken with thyme and lemon
- Potato dauphinoise
- cod in breadcrumbs for the P
- brussel sprouts sauteed in chilli and garlic

- spotted dog

I mean, it was fine - I didn't cry, everything was really nice (I'm not too sure about the cod in breadcrumbs. The P is famously polite and would eat all of whatever hideous thing you put in front of him and go 'yum is there any more?') But by the time we sat down I was MAGENTA in the face and the kitchen was total and utter chaos, despite all my very Hyacinth Bucket preparations.

So, no more. Next time I'm by myself and want to have eight people round - which was great, incredibly jolly and fun - I really am going to make a massive lasagne, or a risotto, or bangers and mash and a salad. Because, in all honesty, if I went round to someone's house for lunch and found out they were doing a great big macaroni cheese, I'd be thrilled.

Spotted dog

This is really just spotted dick in disguise. The author of the recipe, (I can't see who it is now because I tore it out of a newspaper and tore off the byline), I remember, included a long preamble about how embarrassing the name 'Spotted Dick' was.

I don't think it's embarrassing, I think it's quite funny and sweet - a old-fashioned name for something from 1850 (the year the phrase "Spotted Dick" was first used) when Dick didn't mean dick. Or maybe it did, but they didn't mind so much that they had to find another name for it.

The author also, I think, made some changes to the recipe so that it was internally distinct from a Spotted Dick but I can't now remember what they were. Perhaps a Spotted Dick afficiondo can point them out to me.

In the meantime, here is the recipe for Spotted Dog I did on Saturday. I had never made a steamed pudding before and it could have gone wrong in any number of ways - but it was really, really fun and delicious and a total doddle. Anyone who quite likes messing around in a kitchen will get a thrill out of making a string handle for the pudding basin and lifting it out of the boiling water at the end of the cooking time.

By 3.30pm on Saturday, making custard was a bridge too far, so it was served with cream, but another time, under less pressure, I'd make the effort.

Spotted Dog

25g butter for buttering the basin
2 tbsp golden syrup
125g raisins
125g currants
2 tbsp brandy or whisky
225g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
75g butter for the mixture
50g suet (I used vegetarian suet for my Pescetarian, which worked fine)
2 eggs
milk
1 litre/2 pint pudding basin
foil and string

1 Generously butter the pudding basin with your 25g of soft butter. Spoon 1tbsp golden syrup into the bottom (although if I was doing this recipe again, I'd use 2 tbsp here)
2 Put the raisins, currants, brandy or whisky, 1 tbsp golden syrup and 1 tbsp water into a pan and cook gently, stirring as it all heats up and smells very fruity and boozy. Put a lid on and cook for 10 mins. Then remove the lid and cook for 2 more mins until the fruit is bouncy with liquid.
3 Sift the flour and salt into a mixing bowl. Cut the 75g butter into the flour and rub in until it's crumbly, like pastry dough.
4 Add the suet and mix thoroughly.
5 Whisk up the eggs and make the mixture up to 150ml with milk
6 Stir the fruit into the flour and add the egg gradually, use a knife to mix into the dough until it's cake-mix like and damp
7 Turn it into your buttered basin and smooth the top or give it a jiggle to even out the top (although my top was very uneven and it sorted itself out during boiling.
8 drape a large-ish piece of foil over the top of the basin, making a sort of small tented peak or ridge in the middle. Then wrap the string twice around the basin, under the lip and tie off. Then make a handle by tying another piece of string from one side of the basin to the other, secured to the string wrapped round the middle, so that you can lift it out of the boiling water. Frankly, this isn't really that neccessary as you could just lift it out with a pair of oven gloves. But it's FUN and looks cool and you'll feel like it's 1850, so I say go for it.
9 Put the pudding in a large pan with a lid that fits and pour boiling water 2/3ds up the side of the basin. Boil for 2 hours, remembering if you can to check the water level after 40 mins and top up with more water if neccessary.

Friday, 4 December 2009

A Saturday lunch for 9

Continuing on a theme, my other least favourite thing about myself is that I am the world's most stressed and neurotic hostess. I just can't take the pressure. I hate this. I want to be a bit more like my mother, who constantly filled our house with people, managing to divide one leg of lamb between 35, while cradling the phone between her cheek and shoulder, inviting more people round. Or like my sister who, when something goes wrong with dinner, just brings out more smoked salmon on tost, opens another bottle of champagne and acts like that eating at 10.15pm, so drunk you can't feel your face, is just the chic thing these days.

My dinner party crises leave me bruised and tearful for weeks. My first dinner at my flat, I made a mess of my mother's Idiot-Proof Chicken Stew (nothing is so idiot-proof I can't spazz it - recipe soon) and my guests were left eating raw onions and flabby chicken. I still actually writhe around in my chair with shame when I think about this. When a guest asked if there was any cheese I snapped "No" because I was so angry and upset and more or less threw them all out. Then, the other day, I set down a pan of potato dauphinoise on my new Corian surface in the kitchen, which you are strictly not supposed to do, and the Corian cracked from one end to another with a loud bang, like a gunshot. We waited weeks for that Corian, and it was magnificently expensive. I nearly comitted hara-kiri right there with Giles' Japanese sushi knife. I think at that point, he might have helped me.

Anyway, I won't have this. I want nice people to look forward coming to my house, not dread it for weeks. And neither do I want to dread it for weeks and be reduced to a freaked-out wreck if an extra person comes at the last minute. So I'm going to keep giving bloody dinners and lunches until I crack it.

Tomorrow, for example, there are 8 people (one pescetarian) coming to my house for lunch. At the moment, I feel quite relaxed about it all because my latest plan for stress-free entertaining (yeah, whatever) is to organise everything weeks in advance with military precision. There are lists all over the house of things to buy (logs, brussel sprouts, cream) lists of what to do when (night before: boil and chop sprouts, lay the table, cook cocktail sausages) and lists of my expanding and contracting guest list. At one point there were 11 people coming, as I was trying to get over my fear of too many people, but then three dropped out thank the Lord, so now I've just got the eight.

I am breaking a promise to myself that I made last time I had a dinner party, which was that I'd never again cook something for the first time for friends. But these two new things I'm doing tomorrow, I don't think can go wrong (can't believe I just said that - the house is going to blow up now). The first thing is a Christmassy cranberry sauce for the cocktail sausages and the second is a steamed pudding. Everything else (Nigel Slater's potato dauph, chilli and garlic brussel sprouts, roast chicken, fish in breadcrumbs for my pescetarian) I've done before.

My dad always says that as long as you can take a coat and get a drink in to a guest's hand within one minute of their arrival, you don't have to worry about anything else. And he's lived with my mother and her non-stop entertaining for 30 years, so knows a thing or two about having people round. Send me your top tips for having friends over without having a nervous breakdown and if I get enough I'll do a post. If I don't, I'll just assume no-one cares and, well, that sushi knife may start to look very tempting. No pressure.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Kitchen equipment - new cooks only


I remember the first time I scraped out a cake-mixing bowl with a spatula designed for that very activity. It was a revelation - truly, a marvel. If I had been a cartoon character, a small light would have pinged on over my head.

Up until then I had gone at a smeary cake bowl with wooden spoons, teaspoons, my own fingers and there had always been stuff left on the sides, which had to be swilled down the sink in gluey clumps. But with a slim, springy spatula, there's none of this waste and sadness, just clean bowls.

It was then I realised the importance of having the right kit in your kitchen. And when I say right, I don't mean expensive. So this is a guide to the most useful things that I have in my kitchen. I've called this post kit for new cooks only because it's really only for people just starting out. If you've been a cooking enthusiast for a while, you'll have our own treasured stuff - (Nigella Lawson swears by her microplane and Delia Smith declares that she couldn't cook without a skewer) - and just be annoyed by my recommendations.

So, the above photo, starting at the top, going clockwise shows:

1 A timer. My first teenaged attempts at cooking were cursed with my thinking that cooking was too easy for words. I never timed anything and it was always either charred and alight or scarily pink. I now time everything - and I mean everthing. If a recipe recommends letting something stand for 2-3 minutes, on goes the timer. And it has made cooking at least 50% less stressful for me. It's in use even now, in the photo - I am timing the dough which is resting in the bowl (3).

2 A knife. I think most people think that a kitchen knife has to be some giant, terrifying thing, with which you chop things up very finely, very fast. I do have one of those. In fact, it belongs to Giles and it is a huge, very sharp Japanese sushi knife purchased, I think, in Tokyo itself. Anyway, this is not a knife I reach for very often; the knife I reach for is my paring knife made by Victorinox (the same company that makes Swiss Army Knives). I'm sure it's not the right knife to use for all sorts of things I use it for, but I'd be lost without it and its dainty serrations and pointy end. They are available from John Lewis and cost about £9.

3 Stainless steel mixing bowls. I am very clumsy, but you don't have to be especially malco-ordinated to drop things in the kitchen, especially if you are doing something under time pressure or having mixed yourself, and then drunk, a too-large 'calming' drink. What I like most about these bowls, which cost about £4 each (again, these are John Lewis, but I think you can get them in most kitchenware departments), is that they are indestructible, light and very easy to clean. The downside is that they don't exactly scream 'Kitchen chic', but then neither do I, so we get along very well.

4 A plastic chopping board. (Only just seen in the picture - it's a rather similar colour to my worksurface.) I resisted getting one of these for a while, because I don't like the way they look. Yes, that really is how shallow I am. But it had got to the stage where if I had to wash up another wooden chopping board that smelled strongly of onions and garlic when I applied the hot water tap to it, I thought I might be sick. So I bought two of these anti-bacterial plastic chopping boards and have never looked back. They are just great and you can sling them in the dishwasher and boil the shit out of them and there'll be no more scrubbing stinking wooden boards.

5 A pair of tongs. I feel like Doc Ock from Spiderman 2 with a pair of these in my hands. They are basically an extendable pair of flame-proof, heat-proof fingers for turning things, poking things, picking things that have fallen into other things, out. When it comes to tongs, I find that the cheaper they are the better. I've got a pair of very snazzy ones with rubber grips on them and stuff, but they're just not as nimble as these, which come in a packet of 2 and were £3.99, made by a company called "Kitchenware" and purchased from a hardware shop very near Tufnell Park tube station.

These are my top five most useful things but when it comes to kitchen stuff I always think the more the merrier. There's nothing better than coming to the point in your life where you don't actually need to go out and buy a massive roasting tin because you've got one already, and you don't have to skip over recipes which call for measuring out anything, because you haven't got a set of scales, or stewing anything, because you haven't got a casserole.



Coming soon: chilli hot chocolate.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

A word about gelatine

Whenever I fall into a conversation about pork pies (obsessed, me?) someone will eventually say "The jelly sounds scary" or "I don't understand gelatine". At which point I want to clutch them to my bosom in sympathy. My first few pork pie attempts, I just couldn't do the jelly. Sad things, they were - just a ball of seasoned pork roughly encased in pastry, the one coming apart from each other, underlining the basic uselessness of actually making a pork pie rather than buying one.

I couldn't do the jelly because I didn't understand what was going on. What do you mean boil up a pig's trotter? Calves' foot what? The alternative, to set some run-of-the-mill stock with gelatine seemed similarly alientating. How much? Which gelatine? Powdered, leaf? Argh! Can I pour the leftovers down the sink or will it clog up the plumbing for all of north London? The whole thing sent me screaming to re-read The Pedant in the Kitchen for absolution.

But, I've sorted a few things out for myself in my head about jellies and gelatine. So, for anyone who remains confused about the matter, here's my beginner's guide to gelatine use. This will be, to a lot of people, bleeding obvious and I don't, would never, claim to be an expert - this is just something I wish I'd read a few months ago.

Boiling bones to get jelly.
The reason that you boil up pig's trotters or veal bones is that they naturally contain gelatine. Pig trotter or veal stock, when cold, is jelly-like; when it is hot, it is liquid. It's amazing - you have to see it to believe it, but that's what happens. So when you're making a pork pie, the gold standard is to make a stock out of either a trotter or veal bones (but not chicken, because it doesn't contain enough gelatine), with vegetables and all sorts of delicious stuff in it. Once it's made you warm it up so that it's runny enough to get through the hole in the top of your pie and then when it's cool, it sets round the pork. Bingo.

Using gelatine to set stock
The trouble with gelatine is that the packets are so not user-friendly. They say things like "This packet will set 1.5 litres of liquid" - but I don't want 1.5 litres! - or "To set hot liquid, stir slowly into the mixture when it is cold, then heat gently, let cool, leave to stand and remove" or "One leaf of gelatine is equivalent to two teaspoons of powdered gelatine" - which will set HOW MUCH LIQUID? For someone who is useless at those "If it takes one man six hours to dig a hole" blah blah questions, this all drove me quite potty. But then I found a powdered gelatine by Dr Oetker, the instructions for which were, thank God, written for dimwits like me. One 30g sachet of powdered gelatine sets one pint of liquid. Finally. Thank god. I make pretty small pies, so I use only half a pint of stock, which is half a 30g sachet, which is 15g.

Like all things good and holy, Dr Oetker's beef gelatine is available at Waitrose.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Glorious Jin Kichi - Japanese food for the soul

I am quite dim and also pretty shallow, so I was very surprised when I found out that the Japanese grill things, as well as plucking them out of the sea, strangling them and eating them raw with green horseradish.

I like sushi, (I mean I genuinely think 'mmm' when I think about it), ever since I found out that the way to eat it is by paying about twice as much for it as you think is reasonable. Sushi, I was interested to find out, is not really that stuff you get at Pret.

But however much I can thrill, in the right mood, to a really fresh bit of fatty hamachi, when I catch a whiff of something grilled, fried, hot, fatty, salty, I can't really concentrate on the sushi stuff. I want dripping porky flavours, charred salty meat.

And really, there is no better place for this kind of thing than Jin Kichi in Hampstead. A tiny place, with a bar facing an open grill upstairs and more seating downstairs (but really you want to be at the bar), it's not the kind of place where you can just walk in off the street and hope for the best. Regulars know that you have to book in advance for any hope of a table, or if you want to sit at the bar (yes, you want to sit at the bar) you can usually get a spot for two or three people on the day, ringing when they open at 3pm.

I'm going tonight and I can't wait. The open grill, the delicious skewered niblets of meat, the fun of watching idiots who haven't booked being turfed back out in to the cold night and the soothing warm sake slowly denting my mental faculties... I mean... denting them even further.

Giles' Tartafin


My most unappealing trait, to my mind, is my hypochondria. At the moment, with a couple of aches and pains and with my tonsils playing up, I am entirely convinced that I am going to die. Of what, I'm not sure; I have to leave it for a bit before I go to the doctor again (I was in there about a fortnight ago convinced I had haemorrhagic fever) or she'll put me on her 'heartsink' list and I do, genuinely, want her to like me.
Coming a close second is my terror of getting fat. Some people carry a bit of extra weight and just look glossy and healthy. I look like a pudding. But still, I am unnaturally obsessed with not putting on weight. So for the last four years I have been a massive carb-dodger and hardly ever eat pasta, potatoes, rice or bread. And when I say never, I mean I eat them from time to time and feel horribly guilty.
Anyway, what with me certain to die any moment from my mystery terminal thingy, when Giles suggested last night that he make a Tartafin, a sort of layered potato pie, covered in cheese, I said okay, sure, why the hell not. For such a mega carb-dodger himself and general health freak, Giles certainly has a suspicious number of potato dishes up his sleeve (his other former signature dish being egg and potato pie).
I'm dying anyway, I yelled weakly from the living room to the kitchen, so I might as well go out with happy potato-and-cheese memories. And so off dear Giles went and made me a Tartafin. I'm still alive this morning (JUST) and, frankly, feel a bit more robust for a bit of potato loving. It'll be a carb neutral day for me today though.
Tartafin - for 2 as a main (if you're going to eat potatoes, you might as well make them the focus of your meal, accompanied by a few cold cuts and some kind of pickle, rather than eating it as a side to an enormous roast).
2 cloves garlic, finely slice or microplaned
3 waxy potatoes, like a Maris Piper, sliced as thinly as you can. If you are Angela Hartnett, they will be very thin, if you are me, some will be really thin, others less so. This is ok, just do your best.
Some olive oil
Some butter
Salt and pepper
Some cheese - ideally a kind of hard-ish Swiss cheese. Nothing blue and, if you can help it, not too much cheddar, which will just make everything taste like cheddar and it's SO greasy...
1 Cook the garlic in the olive oil over a low heat until the garlic is softened but not brown. Ideally, you'd use some kind of cast iron, Le Creuset-type pot, but we used a crappo stainless steel sauepan of a medium size and it worked fine.
2 Add the potatoes, a generous scrunch of salt and pepper and some butter and swirl around for a bit, maybe 2 minutes, until everything has been coated in seasoning and fat (but be gentle so that the potato slices don't snap in half.
3 Then with whatever kitchen implement you fancy, lay the potato slices horizontally in layers and put the lid on.
4 Cook on a very low heat for about 30 minutes: you know they are ready when you can sink a sharp knife through all the layers and pull it out with ease.
5 Layer your cheese on the top of the potato - we used the hard ends of the cheeses we had lying around - a comte, parmesan, some truffle brie and a bit of old cheddar. Cook for another five or six minutes until the cheese is all melty.
After cooking, the bottom of the pan will be very brown and hard-baked. This is the best bit, if you can hack it off the bottom. To clean, leave overnight soaking in some cold water with a couple of drops of washing up liquid. Trust me - it will defy any dish washer. A long soak is the only answer

Monday, 30 November 2009

The perfect snowflake biscuit cutter


Christmas biscuit enthusiasts will sympathise with my search for a good snowflake-shaped biscuit cutter. They just don't really exist. Or perhaps they just don't exist in John Lewis and Divertimenti, the only cookshops I go to. Oh, and Selfridges - none in there either. You can get half-arsed ones, or ginormous stars or Stars of David (I like Jews; I am marrying a Jew, but a star of David is not right for a Chrimbo biscuit) but nothing decorative. Nothing just right.

So you will join in with my rejoicing now I have discovered the perfect snowflake-shaped biscuit-cutter, made by Tala - a brand of cookware whose blue, white and red packaging you'd recognise if you saw it. Unfortunately, Tala only supply products, you can't buy directly from them, only in bulk. And for some reason the above cookware departments haven't seen fit to stock these particular cutters, only tree-shaped ones (too big) and Father Christmas-shaped ones (too ambiguous). So all you can do is go round cookware shops until you find one that has a clever bakeware buyer and stocks snowflake cutters.

For what it's worth, I finally tracked these down in a dimly-lit corner of Whole Foods in Kensington.

Perseverence and Turkish Delight


The other day I fell to thinking about things like fate and about making your own luck. So often in life, (sorry, I'm feeling a bit philosophical), I find that when I struggle and struggle and push and push for things, all I meet is resistance and when I just sit back and think 'Heigh ho, can't be helped', good stuff eventually happens by itself.

But to be honest, this is a bit frustrating for an impatient girl like me. When I make an effort, I like to see some kind of result. Which is why, I think, I've become so attached to cookery. Cooking is an area of my life where perseverence really does pay off - and fast.

If something goes wrong the first time you make it, you remember what you did wrong and do it better next time. And it works, and you are rewarded with something: a great pie, a delicious biscuit, happy supper guests.
Which leads me to Turkish delight. I just love it - the rose-flavoured ones in particular, and if they've got chopped up bits of pistachio in them, so much the better. Creamy and sweet, bursting with perfumey flavour - it was enough to get Edmund to grass up his whole family to the White Witch of Narnia and it's enough to give me a sugar high and put me in a good mood.
I wanted to make Turkish delight rather than buy some from a shop (and when I say shop, I mean Selfridges food hall) because I feel like less of a crazed sugar junkie if I make it myself - the element of home economics and creative endeavour cancels out, for me, the tooth-rotting, fat-ladling overtones.

So I made some yesterday, leaving it to set overnight and cutting it up into cubes and dousing it with icing sugar just now.

Has it worked? Yes and no. The taste is lovely, sweet and rosy, and the colour is charming, a blushing pink. But the texture? I might have to work on that. It's a touch chewy, and not quite creamy enough. I've got a feeling that I used a bit too much gelatine and I improvised with leaf gelatine rather than the powdered gelatine as directed; it's also possible that I stirred it a bit too much while it was all cooking.


Anyway, I will be try, try, trying again. But if you'd like to have a crack at the recipe I used, it's very simple and fun and you get little pink squares that are plump and delicious, if the tiniest bit of a mouthful...


25g powdered gelatine (here I impatiently used leaf gelatine, but you might get a better result if you use the powdered as specified - I will be trying again with the powdered stuff).

255ml water

4 tsp rose water (you can also add a drop of rose essential oil for extra floweriness)

450g caster sugar

3/4 drops red food colouring (although I only used 1.5)


icing sugar to coat


Before you start, oil a loose-bottomed tin in which the turkish delight can set. Oil the bottom and all the way up the sides of the tin with a flavourless oil like groundnut, or almond oil if you've got it.


1 Mix the gelatine, water and rose water in a pan and add the sugar

2 Heat very gently until it has all dissolved, stirring all the time

3 Bring to the boil without stirring

4 Reduce the heat and simmer for 20-25 mins. Here the mixture in the pan behaves quite strangely - rearing up and bubbling like it's alive and angry if you so much as touch it while it's cooking. I think I prodded it about a bit much at this stage...

5 Remove from the heat and add the food colouring

6 Leave to cool for 2-3 minutes and then pour the mixture into the tin and leave for 24 hours to set

7 Cut into squares and toss in the icing sugar







Friday, 27 November 2009

The most wonderful cheese in the world

If you live in London, or you are heading up to London to do a bit of Christmas shopping, stop by, if you can, La Fromagerie in Marylebone High Street.

Their cheese room alone is worth a visit, just to gawp. When I was there last week, tourists were taking photos of it. But at the moment, it's a doubly exciting place because they are making on site a really extraordinary cheese, which is a Brie with a layer of truffle inside.

http://www.lafromagerie.co.uk/brie-aux-truffe/

Normally I think that that kind of thing - foie gras wrapped in veal, truffles in gold soup, caviar on a bed of crushed diamonds - is sick-making and gross, but this cheese gets away with it by being the most delicious and also unusual thing I've had since I ate that banana and peanut butter sandwich.

Monstrously expensive and you have to ring ahead to make sure they've got some in stock, but well worth it if you're looking for something a bit different for Christmas lunch.

Easy brownies


There is something so festive about brownies. Perhaps it's because they are, fundamentally, American, and American food is all about that first, frontal-lobe taste-hit, (I'm also thinking, here, about pancakes the USA way, fluffly and dribbled with maple syrup, eaten with crispy bacon), and to hell with the calories.
I guess that's why Americans taking eating to the other extreme as a reaction to all this out and out yumminess: Giles has just come back from New York, where he's been writing about the Calorie Restriction Society - a movement whose followers eat hardly anything and never cook anything to more than a lukewarm temperature.

Anyway, before all that, there were brownies. I've searched high and low for a good brownie recipe - I find that a lot of them are comically over-indulgent: sticky, gacky, grossly super-sweet, like a hilarious mis-translation of American over-consumption. A real American brownie, to my mind, ought to be more light and cake-light and should be eaten not in a massive daunting slab, but in a small-ish square, popped in the mouth to accompany a cup of weak diner-style filter coffee. Mmm.

This recipe, below, from the New Penguin Cookery Book, is perfect. The nuts used here are walnuts, but you could use hazlenuts instead if you prefer.

Makes about 16 bits
125g butter
250g caster sugar
2 eggs
1tsp vanilla extract
60g plain flour
30g unsweetened coco powder
1/2 tsp baking powder
125g walnuts bashed or chopped
1 tbs milk

Preheat oven to 180 (gas 4) and grease a baking tin. I use an 8in loose bottomed square tin from John Lewis but you can use any tin, really - the size only affects how deep your brownies will be.
Cream the butter and sugar until they go pale, then beat the eggs in one at a time.
Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder together and then fold them into the butter and egg mixture.
Then add the nuts, milk and vanilla extract.
Pour into your tin and smooth the top.
Bake in the oven for 40 minutes.

Edible glitter fans can shake a little into some icing sugar and dust the brownies for a sparkly finish.

Thursday, 26 November 2009

Crazy parmesan lollipops

Breakfast for a sore throat

I was woken up this morning by my tonsils. Furious, they were - furious and red and angry. But I can't be that ill because I'm hungry for my breakfast. Alas, my usual breakfasts - either museli or toast - are not exactly fun on a raw tonsil.

So I reached for my tin of oatmeal, just the thing for an empty tummy and a hurty throat.

I'm quite evangelical about oatmeals and porridges. I spent 3 months eating porridge at least once a day when I was 19, working for Raleigh International in Namibia. At first I couldn't believe how digusting it was, hated the sight of it, dreaded having to eat it every day. But then I developed a sort of Stockholm syndrome about it - I started to think that porridge was the best thing ever.

Then, after another 9 weeks, I hated it again.

I didn't eat it for years, couldn't stand the sight of it. But in the last few years, whenever the chips are down, I have started to yearn for porridge. These days, only John McCann's Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal will do. The most flavoursome, with none of the dusty yak of rolled oats. But, it's one for sick days and weekends only, as it takes half an hour to make. The other problem is that what all porridge and oatmeal really loves to do is stick to the bottom of the pan and, if possible, burn, so a good stir every few minutes is also required. You could always make it in a non-stick pan but for some reason, I feel like that's cheating.

Off-sick Oatmeal

Into four parts boiling water, pour one part oatmeal (I use an espresso cup as a measurement - it swells in the water so that's all you need for one person, I find.)
Cook briskly until it starts to thicken up and then turn down the heat and simmer for 30 mins. I always find that I need to add more water along the way.

I've never really thought of oatmeal or porridge as any kind of health-giving, angelic food, to be eaten in a bracing wind, seasoned only with salt - I have always seen it as simply a warm vehicle for butter, sugar, honey, jam, cream, maple syrup or anything else fatty or sugary I've got to hand. And today is no different, topped with a splodge of Damson jam to lift my spirits. My throat feels better already.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Edible glitter

Chilli brussel sprouts

I think people don't like brussel sprouts because they had bad sprout experiences when they were little.

My mum is a fantastic cook and never made us eat anything we didn't want to and I was still freaked out my sprouts when I was small. They were always just boiled, very plain, perhaps with butter on and were quite big for little mouths. If they were a bit hot, you'd ram one in your mouth and it would explode, boiling and bitter. Not really that nice.

But, like most people, I have a huge amount of residual affection for sprouts, nevertheless. The trick is clearly to find a way to make them a bit more interesting.

Chucking all sorts of stuff over it - bacon, chestnuts, herbs - is the answer and my favourite topping is garlic and chilli. Singapore Garden, every north londoner's top singaporean rezzy http://www.singaporegarden.co.uk/ does Chiew Yim brussel sprouts, where the sprouts are dipped in, I think, batter, then deep fried with chilli and garlic. And they are outstanding, one of the best things on SG's menu.

I don't deep fry my sprouts, because I want to see my 30th birthday, but sauteeing them with the chilli and garlic works just as well to give the general cabbagey atmosphere a bit of a kick. And the marvellous thing about sauteeing a sprout is that you can cook them the night before if you're doing a big lunch/dinner.

It's essential, to make the sprouts a more manageable mouthful for adults and children alike, that you cut the little buggers in half before you fry them.

Chilli brussel sprouts
Boil your sprouts in salted water for 3 mins. When cool, chop in half.
Heat some butter, dripping or veg oil (or whatever you like most to fry with) in a pan and add the sprouts.
Then add your chopped garlic and chilli and swoosh round the pan for about 5-8 minutes. Keep the pan on a medium heat so that neither the garlic nor the sprouts burn and taste even more bitter than God intended.

Monday, 23 November 2009

A pork pie for Giles




A pork pie is a wonderful thing. But it is also complicated and can go wrong in a number of ways, because there are three elements to this: a pastry, a filling and jelly, which each come with their complications.

If you'd like to make one, I say go for it, but make sure you have an entire day - or even a day and  a half clear to attempt it - especially if it's your first go.

This recipe makes a medium-sized pork pie, using a 7in loose-bottomed cake tin from John Lewis. A similar version of this recipe can be found in Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's River Cottage Meat book, on p.444.

You will need for the pastry:

275g plain flour
100ml water
30g diced butter
70g diced lard
1 beaten egg
3/4 teaspoon salt

1 Heat the fat and water in a saucepan until it is melted and warm - hot, even - it but don't boil it. While the fat is melting, put the flour and the salt into a mixing bowl and make a dip in the centre. Pour the egg into the dip and half mix it in with a knife. Once the fat and water have melted together, add it to the flour and mix until it is a dough. Here the dough will probably be a bit too sticky, so sprinkle on flour until it takes on that glossy sheen of pastry. Form it into a ball, cover in cling film and chill for an hour.

2 For your filling you will need:

400g pork shoulder/leg
200g streaky bacon
200g pork belly

Or similarly ratio'd quantities. Mince this finely the best way you can see how.

Do NOT - are you listening? - do NOT, NOT, NOT use only pork shoulder, or only bacon, or only belly because the result will be grim. To your pork mixture add 1/4 tsp mace (if you want), a pinch of salt, 5 twists of black pepper and a dried chilli (if you want).

2 Grease your pie dish with butter or vegetable oil. Roll out the pastry to about a 0.5cm thickness and lay as best you can in the dish. This isn't especially easy, as you're fitting a flat thing into a rounded, 3D thing. The most important thing is that the pastry doesn't tear - nothing else really matters. This is so important that I often cut my nails very short before doing it.

I always recall Delia Smith's advice about pastry when I'm making a pork pie, which is to handle the pastry "with confidence". Like horses and naughty children, pastry can smell fear.

3 Fill your pastry casing with your filling. Really ram it in, as this will shrink on cooking. Sometimes I add a whole boiled egg, hidden in the middle, if I want to freak people out.

4 Trim off any excess pastry hanging over the side of your dish and re-roll to form a lid. You must brush the edges of the pie and the lid with beaten egg to seal it. You absolutely cannot use water or milk because it won't stick properly.

5 Seal the edges of the pie and then make a blow hole in the surface of the pie, about 1cm in diameter, for the pork juices to bubble out of during cooking. Then brush the whole of the top of the pie with beaten egg.
6 Shove it in the oven for 30mins at 180 degrees and then for 1 and 1/4 hours at 160 degrees.

7 Once the pie has cooked you must allow it to cool. And I mean really cool down - ideally leave it overnight, although I know it's torture to have to wait. During cooking, the pork will have shrunk away from the sides of the pastry to form a natural cavity to be filled by the jelly.

The point of the jelly - so unbeloved by those understandably squeamish about savoury food the wobbles - would originally have been to make an airtight casing for the precious porkstuff, which would help it to keep for a couple of weeks without refrigeration.
You can make the jelly in two ways: either make up a pint of warm stock - any will do, out of a packet or whatever - and set it with powdered gelatine. I find Dr Oetker's powdered beef gelatine to be the most user-friendly. 1 x 30g sachet sets one pint of liquid - easy peasy. You will need in total about half a pint of gelatine to be on the safe side.
If you're feeling very serious, ask your butcher for some veal bones or a pig's trotter. Boil it all up for a couple of hours with some carrots and celery and the stock will turn to jelly when it sets, without needing the help of manufactured gelatine.

Pour the jelly through the hole in the top of the pie while the jelly is still warm and it will set around the pork as it cools.

This is the trickiest part of the process, so you must keep your nerve - never attempt this in a hurry. You can use a turkey baster if you've got one, or a jug and funnel. It's a pretty messy business, so don't lose heart if the stock bubbles out of your pie's blowhole and goes everywhere.

This kind of pastry is very resilient and can withstand having quite a lot of stock splashed all over it without becoming soggy. You may have to repeat the pouring-in of the jelly as after you've poured in the first lot, as it will slowly disappear into nooks and crannies of the pie and suddenly there will be a 1cm gap between the lid of the pie and the top of the pork.

Then once you think there's as much gelatine in there as you're going to get, leave this to cool again - or chill in the fridge, ideally for three or four hours.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Recipe Exchange

I got an email the other day, with the title Recipe Exchange - a sort of chain letter for recipes. I'm supposed to get 360 recipes out of it, which sounds a bit many. But still, it's a nice idea and I can try out some new things, that aren't all out of Nigel Slater.

Although frankly, they all WILL be.

Lamb shank stew for a blustery November night

I've always been a bit scared of stews, I don't know why. But the other day I found some lamb shanks in the freezer and some haricot beans in the larder and decided to put them together, with the help of my NBF Nigel Slater.

He recommended using leeks with the beans, but I didn't have any of them, so I used some celery and carrots instead.

The exact recipe can be found in Volume 1 of NS's 'Tender' cookbook, but it goes something like this:

(For 2)
- Soak 150g haricot beans overnight, or for approx 6-hours, then change water and bring to boil, skim off the gross froth bit and then simmer for 40 mins. When they're done, leave them in the water they boiled in.
- Season lamb shanks all over and then brown in some oil in whatever casserole pot you're going to cook the whole lot in. Takes about 10 mins to brown lightly all over (but it's going to cook for 2 hours, so you don't have to be really neurotic about it. And anyway, I always tell myself, lamb won't kill you if it's a bit rare). Then put aside, on a plate.
- Chop up your carrots and celery - maybe two of each? - and a clove of garlic and add, with a thick slice of butter to the casserole. Then cook gently for 20 mins. Here, NS recommends putting a sheet of greaseproof paper underneath the casserole lid, but if you haven't got any (and I frequently haven't) it's probably ok just to put the lid on.
- Take the casserole off the heat and sprinkle a tablespoon of plain flour over the veg and stir it round. Then drain the beans and add them, then pour in about 150 ml stock (just made with a cube or whatever), give it a stir and then place in the lamb shanks.
- Cook at 160 for 2 hours.
NS says it's best re-heated and he's right, athough it's also great first time round. It goes really well with Haimisha cucumbers on the side, just to cut through a bit of the fattiness of the lamb and the delicious gackiness of the beans.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Coriander roast chicken

I've had a lot of coriander hanging around recently and applied it, the other day, to a roast chicken.

I'm one of those people who does that thing where I push butter, salt and garlic under the skin of the breast of the chicken before roasting. Not everyone likes doing that, but I think it's a great way of keeping everything moist as well as making it taste a bit different to the 98,000 other chickens I've roasted.

Anyway, I took some scraggy old coriander (why does it go scraggy so quickly?), a good lump of butter, salt and garlic and rather than mixing it all up by hand, I ran it through the food processor (I do love my food processor) and spooned it under the skin.

Then I roasted the chicken as normal, turning a couple of times during cooking.

Curry without the bleurgh

I love curry, but I'm always freaked out by the recipes for it - about 16 ingredients, all things that I haven't got and that if I bought I'd invariably use once and then have to throw away ten years later when I moved house.

I was also always so fazed by coconut milk - you could only ever buy huge cans of it and although I like curry, I'd never eat enough of it to use a WHOLE can and would have to throw away most of it and then feel guilty.

So I never really make curries. But staring at a massive bunch of coriander the other day, I was reminded of a recipe I made a few years ago that I found in a newspaper, that called itself a 'Keralan curry'. I also discovered that coconut milk now comes in little 160ml cans, which are perfect for making a curry for one or two peopl.

I'd lost the recipe, but vaguely remembered that there was also chilli, garlic and ginger in it. That sounded pretty nice, so I whizzed up the vaguely scraggy coriander, some garlic, an ancient piece of ginger and the last bits of a chilli, much the worse for hanging around in the kitchen for about 3 weeks, and it turned itself into the most delicious, fresh curry paste-thing. It works with anything - chicken, lamb, fish - and its freshness yet spicyness is brilliant for when you get that feeling that you MUST HAVE a curry, but don't want to be tasting it for days afterwards.

Keralan curry

Large bunch of coriander
1 clove garlic (or 2 if you like garlic)
2 de-seeded red chilli (or leave some seeds in it if you want it hotter)
About 2cm cubed of ginger
Lime juice out of a bottle (if you've got it)
About half a cup of stock - just made with a cube or whatever
Half a teaspoon of cumin powder - if you've got
Two onions
A few glugs of cream or one of those 160ml mini cans of coconut milk

Chop the onions and cook for 15 mins over a low heat. Whizz up the coriander, garlic, chilli, ginger and lime juice (optional) in a food processor.
In a separate pan cook the meat until it's browned.
Once the onions are done, sprinkle over the cumin and shake around in the pan for a bit. Then add the coriander mixture, then the meat, including any juices or bits at the bottom of the pan.
Add the cream or coconut milk and stir. Turn the heat right down and pour in enough stock for the curry to be well-hydrated but not actually soup-like, a couple of tablespoons.
Put a lid on the curry and simmer for about 15 mins.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Cookie Buffet: White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies

I totally dropped the ball on taking pictures of these while baking. Even though I make them all the time, this is the only picture I seem to have:

White chocolate macadamia nut cookies are one of those cookies that I make pretty often. It was the very first recipe I considered "mine" because I just threw it together one day, and it worked great.



Ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 C flour
  • 2 sticks of butter, softened
  • 1/2 C brown sugar
  • 1/2 C white sugar
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 11 oz bag of white chocolate chips
  • 6.5 oz container of lightly salted macadamia nuts, coarsely chopped
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy
  3. Add eggs one at a time, and mix until well combined
  4. Add the vanilla and mix
  5. Add the flour, baking soda and salt, and mix until just combined
  6. Add the chips and nuts, and combine on low until just combined
  7. Scoop with a #60 scoop onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, and bake for 9-11 minutes until edges start to turn golden brown.
  8. Cool on sheet 2 minutes, and then transfer to racks.

The Cookie Buffet: Pierniczki

Because I had included Greek cookies in my cookie buffet, I figured it was only fair to include some Polish ones too -- the only problem was that I didn't know of any! A little research online, and I found what seemed to be the perfect cookie choice: pierniczki, a Polish ginger-honey cookie. These are traditional Christmas cookies. They are also traditionally rolled out and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter, but I decided to bypass that and convert the recipe into a drop cookie dough. In order to do that, I adapted the flour to fat ratio of one of Paula Deen's ginger cookie recipes, and tweaked it into a pierniczki dough that could be dropped by a cookie scoop.


Here is what I ended up with:
Ingredients:
  • 1 1/2 C solid shortening
  • 2 C sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 C honey
  • 4 C flour
  • 4 tsp baking soda
  • 2-3 tsp cinnamon (depending on how you like your cinnamon)
  • 3-4 tsp ginger (depending on how you like your ginger)
  • 1 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 350F
  2. Cream the shortening and sugar until well combined
  3. Add the eggs and honey, and beat until completely incorporated
  4. Sift together the flour, baking soda, spices and salt
  5. Add to the mixture in 2 batches, mixing each time until just combined.
  6. Scoop dough with a #40 scoop onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet, 2" apart
  7. Bake about 10 minutes. Cool on sheet for 3 minutes, and move to wire racks.
And viola:

The Cookie Buffet: The Greek Cookies

When I finally decided to do the cookie buffet for my bridal shower, I knew that I had to include some Greek cookies to honor my heritage. My favorite Greek cookie of all time, finikia, is a honey-dipped spice cookie perfect for autumn, but believe it or not, I've never gotten around to making them before. I usually just make the rounds of local Greek festivals to get my fill. So, because I didn't feel like debuting yet another new recipe (I already had 2 other new cookie recipes planned), I decided to stick with what I know.

In my house, we make two kinds of Greek cookies, mostly around the holidays: koulourakia and kourambiedes. I forgot to take pictures while baking, so I included a later pic of koulourakia as an example of the traditional shape. The pictures of the cookies in the basket below are the ones from my shower.



Koulourakia
Koulourakia are Greek butter cookies, typically made around Easter time. They often have an egg glaze, and sesame seeds sprinkled on top. The dough is normally rolled into ropes, and then twisted into circles, spirals, or simple hairpin twists:


My recipe for koulourakia comes from my Aunt Sondra. Although it also calls for twisting the dough, I opted to make them as drop cookies using a cookie scoop because, well, it was just easier! My mom typically does the same thing, so I knew they would still taste great, even if they weren't in the traditional shape. Here is the recipe:

Ingredients:
  • 1 3/4 C butter
  • 1/4 C solid shortening
  • 4 tsp vanilla
  • 1 C sugar
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 3 eggs
  • 4 1/2 C flour
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 375F
  2. Cream the butter, sugar and shortening together on medium for 5 minutes (trust me)
  3. Add eggs one at a time, reserving one yolk to brush cookie tops with
  4. Add vanilla
  5. Combine baking soda, baking powder and flour in a separate bowl
  6. Add half of flour mixture to the butter mixture, and mix until just combined, then add the second half of the flour mixture
  7. Using a #40 scoop, scoop out dough and drop onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet 1" apart
  8. Lightly brush tops with reserved yolk and a tsp or two of milk


  9. Bake about 12 minutes, until golden brown
And you get about 8 dozen of these:

Kourambiedes
Kourambiedes (also spelled kourambiethes, kourabiedes, etc etc) are Greek almond cookies normally made aroun Christmas time. They are close relatives of Kahk and Mexican Wedding Cookies. The traditional shape is a crescent, but they are often formed into balls as well.

Again, I opted for balls, because drop cookies are always easier to make than a hand-formed cookie, especially when you have a lot of cookies to make! This recipe comes from my Aunt Ellen.
Ingredients:
  • 1 lb unsalted (sweet) butter
  • 1/4 C confectioner's sugar
  • 6 oz almonds, corsely chopped
  • 4 C flour
  • 2 yolks
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 jigger of whiskey
Directions:
  1. Preheat the oven to 325F
  2. Cream the butter and sugar on medium for 10 minutes
  3. After the first 5 minutes of creaming, add the vanilla, yolks, whiskey, baking soda and powder, and continue to beat for 5 minutes
  4. Add the flour in 2 batches and mix until just combined
  5. Using a #40 scoop, scoop the dough onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet 1 1/2" apart
  6. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, until bottoms start to brown
  7. Cool completely, and then roll in powdered sugar. Also, add powdered sugar to whatever container they will be stored in.
Although we store them in a cookie tin filled with powdered sugar, we tend to put them individually into cupcake cups when serving, and I know a lot of other people do the same. It is just neater.
And when you are done:
Yummy Greek cookies, ready for the taking at the cookie buffet!

The Cookie Buffet: Details

I knew fairly early on that I wanted a sweets buffet as part of my bridal shower. Well-coordinated candy buffets have such a stunning effect, that I fell in love with the idea of a Halloween or autumn themed candy buffet, something gorgeous like this or these. But, budgets are always an issue, so I downgraded to the idea of a Halloween candy buffet, for the reason that there would be plenty of Halloween candy around in the middle of October, so it would be easier and more economical. I was right on this point, it would have been cheap (relatively) and easy, but something about the concept of a Halloween candy buffet 2 weeks before Halloween still wasn't sitting right with me. And then I hit upon a great idea, and I have no clue why I didn't think of it earlier: a cookie buffet filled with homemade cookies!


This had all the elements I wanted: homey, rustic, baked, etc etc. And although I love baking anything and everything, cookies make me especially happy. So I chose my cookie types and got to baking, starting about 3 weeks before my shower. And I had to figure out a way to turn this: into the cookie buffet of my dreams!



I started with containers, I wanted something to remind me of fall, with a rustic feel. While I was at Michael's, I saw these great apple bushel baskets (I think they are technically 1/4 of a bushel baskets, or maybe 1/2), so I decided to use those. But I knew right away that I'd want to line them with something, to protect the cookies from the baskets and vice versa. I figured that some of those large cellophane bags meant for gift baskets would work well. So, I bought some wide (1.5") ribbon in fall colors:
and used a combination of double-sticky tape and a glue gun to adhere the bags to the baskets, and then the ribbons around the rims to hide the bag edges. I ended up with this:
which pretty much looked exactly how I had envisioned.
Now, all of the nicest candy buffets I have ever seen have these cute little signs identifying the contents of each container, and seeing as my containers were not see-through, I figured I should definitely log some sign-making time. I used rectangle labels to print out all the names of the cookies I planned to make, and then I adhered them to a dark brown cardstock backing. I made a giant Cookie Buffet sign as well, so there would be no misunderstanding at my shower as to the purpose of all the cookies!
The last real thing was the goodie bags -- what would I provide for guests to take their cookies home in? I went through many ideas until I finally settled on Kraft brown paper bags, which still preserved some of the rustic feel I wanted. Plus, I found great autumn-themed twist ties that looked great paired with the bags:
Add a brown tablecloth, and this was the final product:
See that blue box next to the bags? Bakery wax paper grabs, incredibly economical, and saved me from having to buy tongs or grabbers for every container!
On to the cookies themselves. I made 8 different varieties. I originally wanted them all to be reminiscent of traditional autumn flavors, but then I decided to go for a mix of traditional cookies, autumn cookies, and cookies honoring my heritage (I am Greek and Polish).

Here are the Spice Cake Balls:
Pierniczki, which are Polish ginger cookies:
Gluten-free Chocolate Chip Cookies (plus candy from the local orchard in fall colors):

Koulourakia, a Greek butter cookie:
and Kourambiedes, Greek almond cookies:
All in all, it was definitey time-consuming, but I wouldn't exactly call it work. I loved every minute of baking the cookies, and I loved watching people enjoy them. I'm happy to say that, after making and displaying 56 some-odd dozen cookies (I averaged at least 7 dozen per type), there were only crumbs left by the end of the 3 hours...

Aubergine Parmigiano

Oh what, what to do when you've got a dinner party for 5 and one of them is a blasted vegetarian? The answer is Aubergine Parmigiano, which you can give to veggies and non-veggies alike. Mozzarella, being a bit of a meaty cheese, is a marvellous substitute for carnivores - no-one will notice it's meat-free - and it has the summery tang of a lasagne, without being stuffed full of pasta.

A thing to beware with this recipe is that you must salt your aubergines properly before use  - even though it's a bit of a hassle - or they will leak water like mad when they are cooking and you will get a horrible watery sludge at the bottom of your pan - yuk.

To salt aubergines, cut them into rounds or into strips, about 1cm thick and lay out flat. Salt both sides and then lay chopping boards over the top and press down with something very heavy, like a couple of big cookbooks. Leave for 30 mins and then rinse off the salt and any leaked water - then they are ready to use.

For 4 people you will need:

3 aubergines
400g mozzarella
1 jar passata (or just make your own with chopped tomatoes fried with onions and garlic)
bunch of basil
salt and pepper
approx 80g parmesan, flaked
oil for cooking - prob best to use groundnut oil so it can get v hot without burning

1 Switch oven on to 180C. Cook your salted aubergine slices in oil until golden-ish and leave to drain on kitchen roll (aubergines really drink oil, so make sure to have a lot on standby).

2 In a large gratin dish or casserole, start layering up your ingredients like a lasagne; one layer aubergine, then mozarella, then basil, salt & pepper, tomatoes and parmesan flakes. Do this until you've run out of stuff. Finish off the top with mozarella so that it goes brown and bubbly in the oven. Bake for 1 hour

This reheats very well, so make more than you need and if it doesn't get eaten shove it in the oven for later.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Bridal Shower Preparations: Little Details

As a scientist, I am very detail-oriented. I love details. Big details, little details, any minute way to tie together a theme: I'm there. The great thing about fall is that there are so many little ways to incorporate an autumn-theme into what you are doing. But be careful, not to overdo it, or it might end up looking like this:
This was my house prior to leaving to go set up for my shower. Yes, all those boxes on the floor were just to set up for the shower. It was a lot of work to put together, but I wouldn't change it, I loved how it turned out!
The flowers below I bought the year before, on sale. I bought up all of the flowers that I thought would make nice centerpieces, and then my mom and I arranged them into awesome copper pails I found at A.C. Moore for $1 each (just as awesome for the price as for the look)! In the below pic, they are in the boxes already in their pails, so you can get a feel for how the arrangements were put together. I have a picture of a table a little further down, so you can see the pail too.






A long time ago, I had seen these Bride and Groom Apples online, and fell in love. And since I had made Apple Favors, they fit in with my theme perfectly. But they were so expensive! So I bought some Wilton camdy melts in white and midnight (hooray for it being Halloween season!) and tried my hand at making my own:

I wasn't really expecting much, so I have to say that I am pretty pleased with how they came out!
Here is the Mr...

And Mrs.!
I was a little haphazard because I was really just experimenting, but they came out nice enough that I displayed them on the punch table at my shower. The Bride Apple's necklace is made out of silver dragees that I dipped carefully in white chocolate and make into a necklace-like pattern.

Unfortunately I have no pictures of them at the moment, but I enclosed autumn recipe cards in my shower invitations with instructions to share a recipe with me. This is the holder I got to keep the cards in...


Gartner Studios makes escort cards lined in pearl in either white or ivory. Ivory was a perfect fit, so I printed escort cards in the brown font I was using for everything. As an added touch, I punched a hole into each escort card, and inserted a maple-leaf shaped brad in either red, orange or yellow:

And here are some shots of the tables at the shower, with brown napkins, the flowers and pail centerpiece, and booklets that I designed and printed up. These booklets housed, amongst other things, Bridal Bingo. I also sprinked fall leaves and the occasional mini-pumpkin or gourd here and there. And, of course, the apple favors:
Here is a closed shot of a strange looking "apple" -- it's actually a caramel covered pear that I made for one of my bridesmaids since she is allergic to apples. It didn't come out quite as pretty as the apples (hence why I didn't dip the apples myself), but I am assured that it still tasted yummy!
Next up: Cookie Buffet, with each cookie recipe posted individually. I made 7 different kinds of cookies, plus spice cake balls!

Bridal Shower Preparations: Favors and Prizes

As a December bride who also dearly loves autumn, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to plan my October Bridal Shower! The next several blog posts will be bridal shower-related, and although there will be a few which are not directly baking-related, most of them eventually come around to baked goodies in the end (or at least are related to baking).

My shower was this past October 11th of '09, not even two weeks have gone by yet. I hatched on the idea of a fall themed bridal shower pretty early on, in the fall of '08 in fact, which made it a lot easier since I was able to buy a lot of my items last year after the season, at a pretty steep discount. If you have the time to plan, I highly recommend doing the same.




I saw these invitations online, and fell in love with the whimsical design of the falling leaf. The falling in love concept is one that I keep returning to, leaves in October, snowflakes in December. I decided to match the cream color of the invitations and the brown throughout the entire shower.

I knew pretty early on that I wanted caramel apples as favors, and looking online, I thought that diamond-shaped hang tags around cellophane-wrapped caramel apples would fit into my rustic harvest theme perfectly. So I ordered some hang tags that were inkjet compatable, and designed some labels using the leaf motif from the invitation, which I colorized and photoshopped. Pretty close to what I had envisioned!
At first I was thinking that I would use curling ribbon to tie on the tags, but then I spied some lovely raffia (for those who don't know, the strips are made from dried raffia palms) in autumn colors that had the perfect rustic feel that I wanted. So I bought up every fall color I could find. Sadly, there was no true orange, however there was a lovely rusty orange that I paired with the yellow for a lovely effect.

The apples themselves are from Shop Rite. I had investigated ordering them online (too expensive!), and I had so many other things to do, I just didn't feel that I would have the time to dip 65 apples. But a word of advice to anyone who wants caramel apples as favors for anything...talk to the produce manager at your local grocery store. Sam and Jack at the Spotswood Shop Rite were both great, and had no problem ordering my apples for me, which I purchased for the same price as they were in the store (no extra shipping)! They cost me 0.83 cents per apple, a pretty good price considering the quote most candy shops and orchards quote!
And they turned out just lovely:
One of my bridesmaids, Rachel, came over to help me with wrapping them the morning before the shower. And they were a huge hit!

Now, for the games...I am not a huge bridal shower game person. In fact, they mostly make me cringe. But there are 2 games I decided were acceptable: Bridal Bingo, and the Timer Game. Now, most of you are probably familiar with Bridal Bingo, but let me explain the Timer Game. It is the easiest game ever -- a timer is set to certain intervals while the presents are being opened. If it rings when your present is being opened, you get a prize. It's as simple as that. I like both of these games because they give people something to do while the presents are being opened, without requiring too much effort on the part of guests. So, for my two different games, I needed two different prizes. I wanted them to be fall-related, and also baking related.
For the timer game, I chose ceramic pie plates (with recipes printed in them) in fall colors and flavors - orange/pumpkin, red/apple, brown/pecan, etc. All of the dishes had a colored rim that matched the recipe printed on them, which looked very festive. I had found special fall-themed cellophane meant for dishes and such (as well as smaller matching bags), so I used that to wrap the prizes and distinguish them from the favors.
You can just see the recipe printed on the inside of this pie dish, I believe this one is cranberry apple pie...
And here is one of the pumpkin pie plates. I only had 5 of these because they were a more expensive prize. By setting the timer to every 20 minutes, I was able to make these prizes last for the entire gift-opening.
For the Bingo prizes, since I needed more of them, I chose small ceramic loaf pans with fall motifs on the side.

But because I figured "what's a pan without a recipe??" I modified a pumpkin bread recipe, printed them out using the same font and cream paper I had been using for everything, rolled them up, and popped them into the loaf pans before I wrapped them. And I got some more use out of my "fall in love" theme in the process:

And here they are wrapped:
All in all I am very pleased with how the favors and prizes came out -- they were quaint, rustic, fall-sy (is that even a word?) and baking related. They were also a huge hit, and I hope people enjoy them!
Next up, I have some other little details about the shower that I want to share (this post is getting a little long...), and then to the focal point of my entire shower, the Cookie Buffet!!!!