Green Couscous

I love Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty, it was the first recipe book I bought where I wanted to cook all the recipes; even the ones with ingredients that I don’t really like. One of our favorites is the Green Couscous, it’s so simple and quick and is so delicious that even the kids eat it. It’s supposed to be a side salad, but it makes so much, that we normally have it as a main course, or as part of a sharing table. It’s great to do on a lazy Saturday or Sunday, when you don’t want to exert yourself, but still want something really tasty for lunch.

Entertaining

Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce

We had friends round for dinner last Saturday evening, which meant I got to do some cooking. It was just a shame that I was recovering from a bout of tonsillitis, so I’d not really been up for looking through recipe books, or even thinking about cooking for the previous week and a half. But since I needed to put something on the table, I had to break out the recipe books and try and put together a menu.

I originally thought about finally attempting some stuff out of the Terre à Terre cookbook, but realised that I wasn’t quite well enough for that level of forward planning. Which basically left it as a straight flight between Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Denis Cotter’s For The Love of Food. Since I didn’t want it to be too formal, or too demanding, I decided to go with some recipes from Plenty, not that I’m trying to say that Denis Cotter is to formal or demanding, he’s not. The starter was new, but the three things I’d picked for the main course were all recipes I’d cooked before, I was trying to make it a relatively easy and stress free day and go for more of a Mediterranean table covered in food affair.

I wasn’t sure about what to do for pudding though, but as I’d been flicking through Maria Elia’s The Modern Vegetarian a lot recently, I decided to go with her Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake. I’d wanted to make it a couple of weekends previously, but something came up and I didn’t get the chance, so this was the perfect opportunity.

The notes below are mostly to jog my memory if I ever come to cook them again for entertaining people. If you find them useful then great!

Starter: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Aubergine with Buttermilk Sauce
I followed the recipe to the letter, with the oven at 200°C, but after the stated 40 minute cooking time, the aubergine wasn’t really done enough. I wouldn’t say it was still raw, but it certainly wasn’t as soft as I was expecting. I’ll have to bare this in mind if I do it again and either leave them in for longer, or use a slightly higher temperature. The only other things I can comment on are that unless you absolutely drown the aubergines in the buttermilk sauce, you’ll have loads left over. Similarly with the pomegranate, you probably only need the seeds from half of one, unless you really want a massive pile on top.

Also just realised that I didn’t sprinkle any za’atar on top of the buttermilk sauce, not sure where my head was at that evening…

The recipe for this one is on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Itamar’s Bulghar Pilaf
Nothing to be said about this one, it’s dead easy to prepare and tastes amazing. Really this is a just a note to myself to make sure that I have all the required ingredients before starting to prepare a dish, especially tomato purée. Then you don’t have to txt your guests and ask them to pop into the supermarket on their way over to pick you some up…
Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Leek Fritters
The recipe calls for chopping the leeks into 2cm thick slices and fry with the shallots for fifteen minutes. Two things, either stir the leeks more frequently so they don’t catch and cook for a bit longer so they are soft all the way through, or chop them slightly thinner so they don’t take quite as long to cook. I found that not all the leeks were soft all the way through when prepared according to the recipe. Also, don’t whisk the egg white before it’s required, otherwise it goes a bit manky if left to sit for a bit and re-whisking it doesn’t get it back to how it was.

Finally, you really need to leave them to cook for quite awhile on each side, if you try and flip them to early, they’ll just fall to bits and be rubbish. The base should be quite a dark brown before you attempt to flip them, then you know that the fritter is solid and will survive being turned over.

This recipe is also available on the Guardian’s website.

Main: Yotam Ottolenghi’s Smoky Frittata
This recipe calls for scamorza affumicata, which is a smoked mozzarella. I know you can buy it from the cheese shop in Cambridge, but they have to order it in and it might take a week, so you really need to plan in advance. I’m sure that the oak smoked cheddar that I use instead gives a totally different taste and has different melting characteristics. One of these days I really need to get my finger out and order the real thing. Also, when adding the smoked paprika, make sure you are whisking in a big enough bowl, as it has a tendency to clump together.

Yupo, yet another recipe that’s on the Guardian’s website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake
The recipe just calls for a 20cm springform cake tin, just make sure the one you use is deep, as this is one big cake! I prepared a tin and the I just knew it wasn’t deep enough once all the ingredients had been mixed together. The picture in the book is top down, so gives no indication of depth, but the one I made was 5cm deep at the edges and 7cm deep in the middle. Also remember to put the cinnamon stick into the syrup when you’re making it, I’m sure that would have made it even more delicious.

The recipe says to cook for around an hour, until a skewer comes out clean, I ended up cooking mine for an hour and a quarter and the skewer wasn’t coming out clean from certain parts of the cake. In the end I just figured that it had had enough and took it out, I didn’t want to do my usual thing of over cooking everything.

Turns out this recipe is on the Daily Mail website.

Pudding: Maria Elia – Ginger Sorbet
Always leave a sorbet mix to cool completely, before putting it into an ice cream maker. Otherwise it’s just going to waste the ice block and instead of turning to sorbet, it’ll just cool down. I still can’t fathom why I poured hot sorbet mix into the ice cream maker, it defies all logic.

It also took longer than three hours to set, it was more of a granita than a sorbet after about five hours. Even the next day, it was still more of a granita than a sorbet, might just have been my idiocy though.

The recipe for this one is on some Australian website – LifeStyle FOOD.

Overall I was quite pleased with how things turned out. The bulghar pilaf was lovely and the leek fritters and their green sauce went wonderfully well with it. I think the smoky frittata would have been better on its own with the pilaf though, it just wasn’t on a par with the leek fritters and the flavours of those two, while they both went with the pilaf, don’t really work together for me. Maybe the pilaf and fritters with a side of some crushed beans, feta and za’atar with some flat breads would have been better, I might have to try that next time.

The Orange, Lavender and Almond Syrup Cake was absolutely delicious, even the kids were noshing their way through it the next day. I can see myself baking that one again and again. I’ll have to have another crack at the ginger sorbet too, but I’ll let it cool down before going in the ice cream maker next time.

Rowan Berry Jelly

Last year was the first time I’ve ever made preserves. My favourite was a batch of Rowan Berry Jelly, even though I only managed to collect enough rowan berries to make two and a half small jars. I’d not even realised you could use rowan berries for anything, so by the time I got round to collecting what was left from the tree in the front garden, there weren’t many left. I wasn’t about to let the same thing happen this year, so I kept a careful eye on them and even managed to find a rowan tree near Baits Bite Lock, just outside Milton, where I could get an extra few in needed.

As the crab apples weren’t ready at the same time as the rowan berries this year, I stashed a kilo of them in my mother-in-law’s deep freeze. The crab apples on the tree in the back garden took their time to ripen, but when they did, it was time to crack on a get some jelly made. This was to be my last batch of the season, I’d made some elderberry jelly and some bramble jelly in the week or so before, with varying levels of success, so knew exactly what to look for when it came to ensuring it had reached setting point.

I decided to check on the reliability of our sugar thermometer with the digital thermometer I use for homebrewing, it seems accurate enough, which is good to know. Once I’d managed to get the temperature up to setting point, I started checking it with the crinkle test. Using the knowledge I’d gained from the bramble jelly, I knew it was ready the moment I saw the merest hint of a crinkle next to my finger. The bottling went fine this time, as I used a chopping board to hold the hot jars, rather than the flimsy place mat thing.

I’m really pleased with this batch, I got plenty of jars and while I think it could be slightly clearer, it’s much clearer than last years batch was. It’s also a lot less like wallpaper paste than last years batch too, which is solely down to my new knowledge about the crinkle test and thus not over boiling it. The thing I’m most happy with though, is the colour, is so vibrant and punchy, I keep holding jars up to the light just so I can look at it. I’m really looking forward to eating my way through this batch over the winter…

Genoese Sponge

On the same day I made the brioche buns, I really fancied making a sponge cake of some description. So while the brioche was in the dehydrator proving, I broke out the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and looked through the options. I didn’t have much flour, sugar or butter, so ended up looking at those sponges that are made by whisking up eggs to provide the lightness.

I settled on the Genoese Sponge, mainly as I had all the ingredients, but also as I had a recollection that it had been one of the technical challenges from this year’s Great British Bake Off (here’s the recipe for Fraisier cake). Making the batter wasn’t too hard, but knowing when it was "thick enough to leave a trail on the surface when the whisk is lifted" was a bit harder and I probably over whisked it.

Also the folding in of the flour and butter was a bit of a chore. Normally I’m quite good at folding things in, but the flour really didn’t want to be incorporated and every time I drew the spoon through the batter, the flour just seems to reappear on the surface unmixed. The butter was slightly easier, but I think I knocked too much air out of the mixture getting it all mixed in.

I decided to make two sponges, rather than one deep one, mainly as I wanted to pack the middle with some double cream and tropical fruit. So I divided the mix into two prepared tins and gently placed them in the oven. They didn’t rise very much, but it was noticeable that they had risen ever so slightly. After they had cooled for a bit, I turned them out and left them to cool properly on a wire rack.

Just like I always do, I over whipped the double cream. For some reason, I always give it an extra whisk or two when it gets to the soft peak stage and this tips it over the edge, you’d think I’d have learnt by now. I mixed some cubed mango and a couple of passion fruit into the cream and slathered it all over one on the sponges, the other went on top and was given a liberal dusting of icing sugar.

I thought the sponge turned out OK, it had a bit of spring to it, even though it was maybe a touch on the dense side. The passion fruit didn’t come through enough in the filling though and the pips were a bit on the annoying side, so I think I’d use a couple more and sieve them in the future. Over all it wasn’t a bad first attempt, but I’ve left plenty of room for improvement.

Interestingly, the kids were divided on it, my wee boy loved it and ate quite a lot of the next few days. My daughter on the other hand, only had the one slice, she scrapped all the filling out, ate one side of it and wouldn’t touch it again. Might need to find a different filling, maybe I should try making a crème pâtissière and doing a Fraisier cake

Brioche

Brioche

I’ve been wanting to make some brioche for ages, well, ever since I got the River Cottage Bread Handbook really. Not sure why I’ve not done it before, but probably a combination of the suggestion that you use a stand mixer to knead the dough as it’s a bit sticky and not having enough confidence to attempt it free hand.

My main interest in brioche stems from seeing loads of photos of burgers on twitter and not from wanting to replace the horrendous chocolate chip brioche finger monstrosities the kids eat at the weekend, like a good Dad would. I’m sure I also read somewhere that all these trendy London burger vans were using brioche rolls, rather than white baps, so I thought that I could do something similar at home.

Being a vegetarian does have its drawbacks occasionally, and veggie burgers are one of them. It’s either some sort of textured vegetable protein, or some mass produced bread crumb encrusted bean burger, or heaven forbid, some Quorn based monstrosity. So my plan was to buy either The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet or Veggie Burgers Every Which Way and each Saturday make a burger and some brioche buns for lunch.

I keep flicking through the burger books with Amazon’s Look Inside feature, a great way to sneak a few recipes out of a book you’re thinking of buying before you splash the cash. I always come away from them with the nagging feeling that the kids wouldn’t eat what I’d make and it would all be a colossal waste of time. There’s plenty of veggie burger recipes out there on websites like BBC Good Food, so for the moment, my hard earned cash is staying in my pockets. But I’m digressing…

I suddenly decided the other Friday that I was going to stop sitting on my hands and actually get my finger out and make some brioche. So after a few beers and just before going to bed, I stumbled into the kitchen and started to get all the ingredients together. I grabbed the strong white bread flour and started to measure out the required quantity, I didn’t have enough. Never mind I thought, I have another bag, all be it a different brand, but that still wasn’t enough, so I made up with some plain white flour. I had an inkling that I should really have stopped at this point.

The eggs were the next problem, as I didn’t have any medium eggs, so instead of four medium ones, I used three large ones. I should really ensure I have all the ingredients before spontaneously deciding to make something. After combining everything in a bowl, it was time to turn it out and start kneading, at this point I realised why they recommend a stand mixture, they weren’t joking when they said it was sticky.

After ten minutes or so of slapping the dough round the kitchen worktop, it had smoothed out a bit, so I scraped it off my fingers, shaped it into a round and deposited it into a bowl, it then went into the fridge to stiffen up until the morning. Whereupon it was divvied up into eight roughly equal bits, shaped into rolls on a baking sheet, covered in a bin bag and popped into the dehydrator to prove. The only problem with this is that the dehydrator blows air onto the bag, which then collapses onto whatever is on the baking sheet, which I’m sure has an impact on how high it got as it proved. I don’t have this problem when using my banneton baskets, as the dough doesn’t rise above the side, I might have to create a support to put over the baking sheet.

After quite a few hours in the dehydrator, the dough had come alive, but had expanded out the way, rather than up the way, so I wasn’t very hopeful that they would be any good. I nearly ditched them into the bin at this point, but decided to bake them anyway, just to see if I could learn anything for future attempts. I’m glad I did, as halfway through baking they had risen quite a bit and weren’t looking too bad, so I turned them round and put them back into the oven. I should have taken them out sooner, but as I’m always afraid of under cooking things, I left them in for a too long, so they were more of a David Dickinson mahogany, than a light golden brown.

As they were ready in time for lunch, I broke out a mass produced bread crumb encrusted bean burger and set to work. I slathered some home made saucy haw ketchup on the base of the bun, then the bean burger, followed by some home made chilli pepper jelly and finally some grated cheddar. Other than the bun being slightly too small for the bean burger, the crust was a bit thick and the inside was a bit on the dense side, but overall it was much, much better than I was thinking it was going to be.

I had another for Sunday lunch, this time with added homemade red onion marmalade, which got me thinking. The brioche, saucy haw ketchup, red onion marmalade and chilli pepper jelly were all made by me, just the bean burger and cheese were bought in. Given the books and website I mentioned earlier, making my own burgers will be easy, so I need to start looking into making my own cheese, I want the whole stack to be created by me. I’ll have to grown some lettuce and tomatoes in the garden next year too, just so I can say I grew or made everything.

I’ll definitely do brioche again, but I think I’ll ensure that I have ample strong white bread flour and medium eggs before I do…

Pommes Dauphine

I make no apologies for the fact that I watch MasterChef, MasterChef: The Professionals and The Great British Bake Off amongst others. I know that some people slag them off and claim that they are dumbing down cooking and baking, but I disagree. I know it’s a contrived environment and it’s all edited, so you don’t really know what’s going on, but I love seeing what people create and how they create it under pressure. I’ve watched quite a few episodes and come away feeling like I could do what I’ve just seen, especially with the baking, but I’ve never got my finger out and actually done it, until now.

In the second episode of Series 5, which was on nearly a couple of weeks ago now, the skills test was to butterfly some sardines and make some Pomme Dauphine. I’d never heard of Pomme Dauphine before, but anything that involves deep frying potato gets my full attention. So last week, I decided to have a bash at making some, mainly as a test to see if they would be suitable for replacing roast potatoes in a Sunday roast.

I started off by simmering the potatoes until they were just cooked and then shoving them through a ricer. I had a distant memory that Heston puts his triple cooked chips in the freezer after the initial cooking to dry them out, so this is what I did too. While the potatoes were simmering away, I’d put a baking tray in the freezer so it was nice and cold. The riced potato then went into the freezer on the cold tray until I was ready for it.

Never having made choux before, I was a bit nervous, mainly due to plenty of failed profiterole horror stories I’ve been told over the years. I broke out my copy of the Good Housekeeping Cookery Book and followed the recipe for choux pastry, which was relatively easy, although I’m not sure I cooked it for long enough before adding the eggs. I’m also not sure if I added quite enough egg, although it was dropping off the wooden spoon nicely.

By this point the riced potato was really cold, although I’m not sure it was particularly dry. I mixed it into the choux and using a couple of soup spoons, started to drop quinnelled portions into some 180°C oil. As it was quite sticky making quinnelles was taking too long, so I just started to drop lumps of the stuff into the oil, after a few minutes they’d turned a nice brown colour, so I removed them and kept them hot in the oven while frying the rest of the mix.

They were nice and crisp on the outside, with little bits flaking off in the mouth. The insides felt like a slightly doughy mash potato, which I’m not sure is exactly what they’re supposed to be like, I think they’re supposed to be slightly lighter. Either way, they were quite tasty, so I tried them with a few condiments to see what they would go with. Plain tomato ketchup didn’t work very well, although Sainsbury’s Organic Mayonnaise was pretty good, as was just a plain dusting of sea salt. My homemade chilli pepper jelly was also quite nice, on its own and with the mayo.

I’ll definitely do them again, but I think I’ll bake the potato, then I can make some gnocchi at the same time, as it too requires quite a dry potato. Not sure if I’ll put it in the freezer again though, but if I do, I’ll leave it for longer to cool down before it goes in. I’ll also try cooking the choux for a bit longer and adding a bit more egg to make it slightly runnier, as it gets plenty thick enough when you add the riced potato. Finally, I think I made them far too big, so I’ll be swapping the soup spoons for dessert spoons and trying to quinnelle the whole batch.

Bramble Jelly

I was making bramble jelly the other night when I had a bit of a mishap. While screwing on one of the jar lids, I managed to knock the jar over and spilt the boiling hot contents all over the kitchen worktop and down the front of the cupboards. Rather than stick the hot jars, they’d just come out of the oven where they’d been sterilising, on the nice new wooden work surface, I put them on a cheap plastic IKEA Xmas place mat that my mother-in-law had given the kids last year. I should really have used something better, as it’s not made from temperature stable plastic, so went a bit floppy and slidy. I suppose that making jelly late a night, while very tired, does mean you’re more liable to make the odd mistake or two…

Yet Another Blog…

So I’ve decided to start yet another blog, it’s not like I update my other two (It could do with a few more hops… and You want it to do what…!?!) frequently enough or anything. I’ve got into cooking in a big way recently and I feel the need to have some where that I can jot down my thoughts and feelings about what I’m doing. So in a similar fashion to my beer blog It could do with a few more hops… containing my thoughts about beers that I’ve drank, this blog will probably start out with post about recipes that that I’ve made and my thoughts on them. Where it goes from there is anyone’s guess…