Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Baked cod with Herby Sourdough Crumbs and Cider Beurre Blanc

Three things I adore... Chunky cod, herby crumbs and beurre blanc.

Crumbs to top fish are so easy to make, and they add a really excellent texture to the softness of the fish.  They are just as good on a rack of lamb, or a vegetable gratin, so they are a useful thing to know how to make.

I had made some sourdough semolina bread... it was alright, but I wouldn't say it was amazing flavourwise.  Look.. it looks lovely doesn't it!

But it had almost no flavour and I was looking for a lovely wheaty depth from the semolina with just a tiny bit of sourdough tang. It had neither. It was just meh. So into the food processor it went and out came lovely chunky crumbs that I knew would be really crunchy when baked.

It is a matter of moments, though you probably do need a food processor or liquidiser to make the fresh breadcrumbs - sourdough isn't essential, I've even used packaged sliced bread to make this if that is all I have. In extremis you could use panko breadcrumbs though they won't have quite the right texture.

Finely chop and sweat an onion in a little oil -  don't let it brown - and then add a couple of ounces of butter and let that melt off the heat.  Add in enough breadcrumbs to make a sandy mixture.
Finely chop a fat handful of parsley - curly or flat leaf are both good - and add that with salt and pepper to the crumbs.

Grease a piece of parchment paper and lay the skinned fish fillets on it in a shallow baking dish.  Cover the fish with the crumbs patting them into place but not pushing them too flat, you want to keep the light crunch, not squash the bread into a flat pastry.  Bake the dish for 15 minutes then rest for a couple of minutes in a turned out oven whilst you make the beurre blanc sauce. Your fish should flake beautifully, and be lovely and pearly just like in the posh cookery shows..

It is rare that I bake or fry white fish without serving beurre blanc with it. The creamy yet sharp sauce brings out the very best in haddock or cod.   For this sauce I used cider, as I had it handy, but white wine is just as good.

Very finely chop a shallot and put into a small saucepan. Add a glass of white wine or cider and half a glass of white wine or cider vinegar. Don't season at this stage. Bring to a simmer and allow the liquid to reduce to about 3 tablespoons.  Off the heat, add around 70 grams of unsalted butter, cut into small chunks and swirl the pan to melt the butter into the reduced wine. Add a finely chopped handful of parsley or dill - or chervil if you can get it - and season to taste - I used a good pinch of Essential Cuisine fish stock powder.  Use fairly quickly whilst the butter is still creamy.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Chicken and mushroom frying pan paella

I love a paella. I make it quite differently to a risotto, although I use the same rice in both (Carnaroli risotto rice for preference).   It is drier, less aromatic, with stronger meat and saffron flavours, and more veg of course.

I reckon tonight's had a good 5 portions of veggies, and only a small amount of meat. 2 chicken thighs and 3 rashers of streaky bacon for the two of us in fact.

I explained over on A Greedy Piglet how I make paella, this one didn't have any shellfish, and had extra green beans and mushrooms. 

It also had a lovely saffron flavour - I picked up on a sample offer on Twitter from Premier Saffron, and they sent me two samples of Iranian saffron powder, each sufficient for one dish. I infused the saffron in the stock without heating it first as it was powder rather than stamens (more than likely it started out as stamens, but the samples are most likely the smaller pieces that can't be sold. Saffron is, after all, the world's most expensive spice), and it really didn't look very strong at all. But as I cooked the paella, the colour and the scent intensified and the scant quarter teaspoonful was about sufficient.

I might have used a little more, as I like the metallic, iron filings flavour of saffron, but for many people that is offputting.  A little goes a long way as this proves.

Next sample I think will be another go at Scandilicious' saffron flavoured Sta Lucia buns..

Bangers and mash and balsamic onion gravy... oh yes!!

Chipolatas, finely shredded spring greens (because it is spring! ), creamy mashed potatoes and balsamic onion gravy.. oh yes!

You could say I cheated on the gravy I guess, but sausages aren't the easiest things to make gravy from the meat juices, as there aren't any. I used some Essential Cuisine beef gravy as the thickener and this added a lot of flavour too. I also had a small amount of their Pork Glace and added that for even more richness. I am a big fan of Essential Cuisine's stocks and these gravies and glaces are really useful additions to my larder. The glaces in particular are things that would only be found in restaurant kitchens until a short while ago, and I simply love them. They add a lot of intensity in just a little spoonful.

Anyway, less of the infomercial and more of the recipe...

Sliced onions. I used just the one for the two of us, that was plenty oniony enough.

Sweat it down in some olive oil, don't let it brown.

Add some beer or cider if you have some hanging around, (I had the last bit of a glass of IPA from the night before so chucked it in) and some vegetable or beef stock to cover.

Add a good slug of white balsamic vinegar. If you don't have white, use cider or white wine vinegar and a spoonful of sugar rather than the dark vinegar which I find too strong in flavour. I use white balsamic vinegar for all kinds of cooking uses, and for salad dressings too, another thing always useful in the cupboard.

Thicken with your choice of gravy powder or granules. Allow to simmer for a few minutes and check the seasoning.

Pour over your sausages :)

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

Leftovers ... and a sausage or two...

Leftovers. Not just rough scraps that are left over, but good stuff that has gained even more flavour in the fridge...

Mafalda's stew, seme de melone pasta, and a sausage or two.

What not to like?

Sunday, 15 March 2015

for Mother's Day... My Italian Mother In Law's Beef Stew RIP Mafalda

My Italian mother in law was a wonderful cook. Apart from when she tried highly experimental magazine recipes on us, with sometimes disastrous results (I will never forget (nor anyone else..) the crab stuffed pancakes whose filling resembled something the cat had brought up. (She used tinned brown crab. DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME.) Not a wild success for a Sunday dinner for the entire assembled family).

 But if she made Italian dishes, she was on safe ground. This stew was a particular favourite of hers. She would serve this with polenta for preference (the white one only really eaten in her North Eastern top corner of Italy) but as my husband has a true loathing of "that muck" we had it with seme di melone pasta - Melon Seeds, very similar to orzo but rounder larger and flatter.

I also slow roasted some pepper strips at the same time as the stew, on a low shelf. You could add them into the stew, but I think they tend to disappear, and I prefer them cooked separately

The thing that makes Mafalda's stews and ragus different to English stews is the way she used wine and milk before adding stock and tomato. It is added after the wine has reduced, and mixed with that acidity, curdles slightly but still tenderises the meat and softens and smooths out the flavour of the sauce.

 Italian Beef Stew

Olive oil to cover the bottom of your pan
Chopped celery, onion and carrot
Chopped streaky bacon or pancetta cubes
Shin of Beef cut into 2 in cubes

Cup of white wine or dry cider
slug of madeira or marsala
Cup of full cream milk - you can use semi or skimmed milk if that is all you have, but it is MUCH better with full cream.

beef stock
can of chopped tomatoes
dried thyme

chopped Italian parsley
chopped raw garlic
finely grated lemon zest

Quantities: the quantities are entirely up to you, depending on how many you are cooking for. I cook this by eye and hunger,not by scales. It is good natured, and to be honest, whatever you do to it will not ruin it.

The basis for this stew is as ever the Italian trinity of chopped onion, celery and carrot - not too small as it is going to cook for some time. Sweat these gently in enough oil to lightly cover the base of an flame and ovenproof casserole, (or in a saucepan and then transfer to an ovenproof casserole for the long cook) along with a good handful of chopped bacon.

When the bacon is starting to sizzle remove to a plate leaving the bacon fat and oil in the pan. Toss the cubed beef in a little seasoned flour and fry in the residual oil. Don't crowd the pan, you want the cubes to be nicely chestnut brown in colour and they won't brown if you add to many at once, so brown them in batches if necessary.

 Add the vegetables back to the pan, along with all the batches of meat and any juices left on the plates. Add in the wine and madeira/marsala, raise the heat and allow to reduce to about half. Add the milk, and again, reduce to about half - don't worry if the milk goes curdled and lumpy it will smooth out in the main cook.

 Add the beef stock (enough to cover the meat by about an inch), tomatoes and dried thyme. Adjust the seasoning, bring to a simmer, cover and transfer to a low oven (Gas mk 3) and cook for 2 and a half hours. Remove the lid for a further half an hour whilst you cook some green veg and the pasta.

Serve sprinkled with gremolata - simply mix together the parsley, garlic and lemon zest. This is a wonderful addition to any rich stew.

 I hope you enjoy this, and think of your own Mother and Mother-in-Law whilst you tuck in :)

R.I.P. Mafalda.  

Turning cold again... you need this #vintage post!! Beef in Cider with Dripping Dumplings

There is no doubt that the warm weather last week was lovely.. shame it didn't last, but it does mean that we have a bit more time of eating stews before we lighten up totally for Spring.

Glancing through the blog, I saw this post from last year, which had truly spectacular dumplings. Try them and let me know what you think!

From March 2014


 Stew... mmmm... Stew in cider ... double mmmmm... you just make normal stew, in your normal way, but replace half of the liquid with medium cider, preferably the cloudy sort.

I really like feather steak when I can get it, it has a seam of cartilege running down the middle, that cooks into the gravy giving it lots of flavour and body. If you can't get feather, then use any braising or shin of beef, and cook it gently for about 4 hours with some carrots and celery for lots of flavour.

Stew of course needs dumplings. Dumplings normally need suet. But when the shops are shut and you find the suet in the cupboard is very manky indeed, you get to thinking what you can use instead.

Butter would be both too soft and too rich. I could have used lard I guess, but suet is a very hard almost crystalline fat.

Dripping (the shop bought refined kind) is also very hard fat.

Grating fresh suet was the old fashioned way to use it.

Dripping can be grated... I asked on Twitter and Facebook if it would work.. have a go! people said.

I did . It did. It is better than suet!

Way to go me.

Dripping Dumplings for 2 greedy people or 4 ordinary ones.

  • 100g plain flour + one good teaspoon baking powder, or Self raising flour + extra quarter tsp baking powder
  • 50g refined dripping grated into the flour (or you can use packaged suet if you have some to use up before it goes manky)
  • Salt and pepper, herbs to taste - I used a good shake of thyme, and some chopped parsley
  • Cold water to mix. 

Mix the dripping, flour, baking powder,  seasoning and herbs  together in a bowl. Add water gradually , mixing lightly with a knife until the mixture comes together into a soft dough. Don't overmix, you are looking for a soft dough that just holds its shape, but incorporates all the flour.

Have the stew ready at a gentle boil (if you are cooking on the hob, or in a casserole dish you can't put directly onto the heat, you can strain the gravy from the stew into a saucepan and make the dumplings in that to ensure that the meat doesn't scorch then pop it all back into the stew afterwards), and drop the dumpling mix in by the spoonful, don't roll into balls, you will compress the mixture and make it heavy.  Cover the pan or the stew casserole, and either bring the heat down to a gentle simmer, or put the casserole back into the oven. Cook for about 20 minutes without taking the lid off (or you will lose the steam) and then check the dumplings by putting a knife into one and pulling it slightly apart so you can see that the middle is properly cooked.

You can serve now, or you can give it another 15 minutes in the oven to get a lightly crusty top on the dumplings.