Thursday, 23 October 2014

Chai Masala Babka for a very multicultural Diwali

This week, Paul's office has been awash with treats, as his colleagues have brought in mithai as part of their Diwali celebrations. Well, as you know, I'm not one to hesitate to adopt someone else's cultural practices, especially when they involve nice food and goodwill to others. The world news is increasingly grim so anything that celebrates "the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair" seems like a festival worth keeping to me, so I thought I should reciprocate and send something in to work with him.

Having spent quite a bit of time in Maya, in Sydney, I know there is no shame in buying your sweets, but I wanted to make something. And as much as I'd like to try making my own burfi or halwa, I was a bit hesitant to put my first attempt up for scrutiny by people who know what is what (we've got a tub of chicken curry from one of Paul's colleagues in the fridge for our tea tonight, it smells so amazing - this guy knows good food!).

But I am pretty confident with enriched breads. So. A nice Jewish babka, but instead of the chocolate or cinnamon filling, I used lovely Asian flavours - jaggery, chai masala and coconut cream.
Dough smeared with filling
I followed this method and recipe, substituting Australian 250ml cup measures throughout, because I couldn't be arsed doing a proper conversion. My substituted ingredients list is below. And my kitchen was so cold yesterday that I didn't need to do the rise in the fridge, I just gave it 3 hours at ambient temperature and it could have gone longer.

Chai Masala Babka ingredients (adapted from the Brown Eyed Baker)

For the Filling

1 cup palm sugar, grated
2 tbs strong white flour
2 teaspoons chai masala
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons creamed coconut, melted and cooled
1 egg white

For the Dough:

½ cup milk, heated in the microwave for 30 seconds with a teabag in it, then allowed to infuse 10 minutes
2 egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups strong white flour
¼ cup caster sugar
1½ teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
½ teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened

For the Egg Wash:

1 eggwhite, lightly beaten

For the Chai Masala:

8 black peppercorns
Seeds from 20 cardamom pods
1/8 of a nutmeg
Pinch fennel seeds
2" piece of cinnamon
2" piece of fresh ginger, grated

To make the chai masala, grind together the dry spices, then add the grated ginger. I grated the jaggery first, which gummed up the grater quite a bit because it's very fudgey, and then grated the ginger so the ginger juice collected the rest of the jaggery goo.

I iced the baked and cooled babka with a simple water icing, flavoured with a little rosewater and vanilla. I haven't had detailed feedback yet, but I'm told the locusts descended and left not a crumb behind. Happy Diwali!

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

The road to hell is paved with... salmon tartare

Several of my pals in the blogosphere take part in an event called I ♥ Cooking Clubs, where they cook their way through a different cookbook writer's output for six months or so. It's been going for ages, but I've never really felt drawn to participate before. But now, they have announced that their featured writer for this Autumn/Winter is Diana Henry. As my love for her is well-documented, I just had to get involved.

So the theme for last week was Icy Cold - which played beautifully into my hands as I had the end of a side of salmon left over from some other dishes. Just perfect for a salmon tartare with rye crisps. I thought I'd be able to sneak it under the wire as a light lunch on Sunday, and post about it on Sunday evening. Unfortunately last week it was me who was Icy Cold and Thoroughly Stuffed Up, so on Sunday I found myself being fed a lamb kebab for lunch, having no power to actually make a decision or do any cooking.

My good intentions having come to nothing, the salmon tartare was my lunch on Monday, and I am letting it stand as this week's Pot Luck theme. It's delicious. It's not scary raw fish. It's light and fresh and very quick to put together. Mine was not entirely as it should have been because the supermarket let me down on dill, and I couldn't find the capers. I substituted a pinch of crushed fennel seeds to add the missing aniseed note from the dill, and doubled up on the pickled cucumbers.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Mamta's Lucknowi Biryani for National Curry Week

Turns out it is National Curry Week. I was unaware of this, and actually unaware that curry was particularly in need of promoting in this country. Although based on the quality of many of our local curry houses, maybe there is a need for awareness of what constitutes a good curry?

As it happens, though, on Sunday night we had a biryani, which, for the purposes of this post, I will consider a curry.

It was one of Paul's requests, but unfortunately he didn't like it very much. I used Kavey's mum's recipe for Lucknowi biryani, reducing the quantity of rice to 300g to fit Paul's aim for more meat and less rice. It still made four generous portions! With the fresh mint and coriander, the hint of rosewater and the pieces of lemon (I used a small lime) it ends up smelling quite unlike any other curry I have made - much more like a North African dish. I thought it was lovely. I think Paul had in mind your regular curry house "biryani" of mutton curry stirred through rice. Oh well. I enjoyed not having to fight him for the leftovers.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Meat Free Monday: eggs baked with cream and asparagus

This simple but rich and gorgeous dish is just a take on oeufs en cocotte, born out of the need to use up a bit of double cream and the existence of British autumn asparagus.

The asparagus spears were very skinny, so I washed them, cut them into 1" pieces and microwaved them with a small nut of butter and the water still clinging to them for a minute. Then I broke on two eggs and the cream - a bit more cream than I'd thought was left, actually, about 1/4 cup. Then I baked it until the eggs looked set. By which time, of course, they were a bit overdone. But delicious.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Picture, Great Portland Street (back so soon!?)

Just in case you were wondering, the food at Picture is still really good even if you have to pay for it yourself.

My regular dance partner and I happened to be in the neighbourhood at noon today and decided to take advantage of the Saturday light lunch deal, of two savoury plates and a dessert for £16.50.

We both started with gin and tonic. Mine was a fairly standard one, done well, with Sipsmith gin and Fevertree tonic. Sharon's was a prettier and more seasonal affair made with damson gin and garnished with blackberries.
Damson gin & tonic
As much as I'd enjoyed some of the dishes I'd tried the last time I was at Picture, I decided to order entirely differently this time. But as I'd thoroughly recommended the broccoli with goats curd, and the beef, Sharon had those.

I started with ravioli of greens and ricotta. Three ravioli, served on a smear of chestnut puree and topped with tiny little tender brussels sprouts and some sprout tops. I swear this would turn around the most ardent sprout hater, and would, in fact, make a brilliant main course for a vegetarian Christmas. Buttery, herbal, with superbly silky pasta, I would happily have eaten it twice.

For my second savoury dish, I had wild boar sausage with braised celery, apple and hazelnuts. I wasn't sure how sausage would work as a small plate, but I needn't have worried - it was one generously sized sausage cut into chunks. The flavours were superb, but the apple chunks were served chilled and I thought they should possibly have been warm.
For dessert I chose a blueberry and almond tart, which was absolutely gorgeous. Incredibly thin, crisp sweet pastry, with a slick of blueberry jam, a frangipane and fresh blueberries, it was served slightly warm and topped with some of the best frozen yoghurt I've ever had. I like fro yo to be very yoghurty, and this was - light, tart and velvety. Just lovely.

So, the two dishes and dessert, with more of their lovely sourdough and whipped butter, made a satisfying but not bloating lunch. With a gin and tonic a piece, a (very good) coffee and service charge, it came to £30 each. Slightly more than I had planned for a quick bite, but definitely worth it.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Picture, Great Portland Street

I've made a new friend this year. It's quite exciting really, because the difficulty of making new friends in your 30s and 40s is conventional wisdom. Anyway, she's recently moved to the UK and posted in one of the dance groups on Facebook that she wanted someone to jam with and I had the time to do it. Of course, we've ended up spending much more time gossiping and drinking coffee than actually dancing, but never mind.

It meant that when I received an invitation to join a group of bloggers at Picture, on Great Portland St, a five minute walk from her house, on a day that we'd planned a jam, there was no earthly reason to turn it down. Serendipity!
Photo courtesy of Picture restaurant
Of course, with the gossiping and drinking coffee, I ended up having to rush that five minute walk, so I arrived a bit warm and out of breath, making the welcoming glass of prosecco with elderflower very refreshing. And I don't even like elderflower.
We were experiencing Picture's six-course tasting menu, which comes in at an exceptionally reasonable £35. Manager Tom and chefs Alan and Colin had previously worked together at the highly regarded Arbutus group of restaurants (I've only been to Le Deux Salons, but one day I will get to the others!) so I was reasonably confident that we were in good hands. The excellent sourdough bread with whipped butter confirmed that belief.
The first course was a squash veloute. I was disproportionately thrilled by this, because one of the (few) laments I have about living in the UK is that people here don't really seem to understand the winter squash family. It isn't a staple the way it is in Australia. Fortunately there was a fellow Antipodean at my end of the table, Emma from Adventures of a London Kiwi, who agreed with me that butternut or pumpkin soup is one of life's great pleasures and a winter essential. The veloute was very good, with a nice bite of cumin, if not the most exciting bowl of soup I've drunk.
Grilled tenderstem broccoli, with fresh goats curd was better, although I could have done without the broccoli and just smeared the goats curd on some more of the lovely bread. Not that there was anything wrong with the broccoli, I just really like goats curd, especially with good bread.
Picture used with permission of Kavita of Kavey Eats
Pork cheek was up next. With celery, celeriac and hazelnuts. I don't know if it is because of the current ubiquity of pulled pork, or I am at an age where I appreciate having all my own teeth, but I am getting a bit tired of spoon-soft meat. I like to chew! So this was a bit of a disappointment because the meat was as tender and sticky as can be. If "melt-in-the-mouth" is your measure of success, this was a winner. It was quite a large portion for a tasting menu too, and I honestly don't think I could have eaten more of it - particularly knowing there were still three courses to come.

The fish course was my dish of the day. Perfectly cooked sea bream with chard and a scattering of lentils: it was beautifully fresh and deliciously seasoned. I'd been a bit confused by the menu moving from veg to pork to fish, but it was a very intelligent decision - the pork was so rich that to go from that straight to the beef wouldn't have shown either of them to advantage. As it was, the bream was almost a palate cleanser.

28 day aged beef with kale, sweet potato and salsify was quite heavily smoked, to the point where it almost tasted like bacon, but the meat had a lovely (chewable) texture. I always like eating salsify when other people prepare it too. The sweet potato and kale made it all taste very autumnal, which seemed a little incongruous two weeks ago when the weather was lovely and warm, but now seems like just the right thing.
The photos haven't done it justice, but the crockery at Picture is beautiful. The only bum note was the dessert plate - a brown plate just doesn't show a lovely chocolate mousse to its best advantage. And it was a lovely chocolate mousse, if a little sweeter than I usually like it. That extra sweetness did the blackberries a bit of a disservice, making them taste a little sharp by comparison. The peanut cream also didn't entirely float my boat - taken in a bite with the mousse and a bit of blackberry, it was a balanced mouthful, but by itself it was a bit flat. Of course, I was very full by this stage of the evening, so being pickier than I would otherwise have been.

So, overall verdict? A fantastic neighbourhood restaurant, which I would happily frequent even if I had to pay for it myself. I will have to maintain my new friendship in order to provide opportunities to do just that. Maybe on a Monday night, when they offer free corkage for BYO? With any luck, our husbands will even get along.

 Many thanks to Picture restaurant and Sarah and Jenny at Salt PR for a lovely evening.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

British Turkey Awards and a 5kg bird

On Thursday I had dinner at The Savoy. This is not, it pains me to admit, a normal sort of weeknight activity. But it was the British Turkey Awards, where I found myself crowned (no crown actually involved, but I got a trophy and a certificate) British Turkey Blogger Recipe of the Year for my turkey b'stilla.

It was a very grand event. Champagne reception, grace, Loyal Toast, the whole shebang. There were several women in floor-length gowns and opera-length gloves and all but one of the men wore a dinner jacket. Paul, the notable exception, looked like Columbo.

I felt very lucky to be seated next to Robert Clark and Karen McQuade, veterans of the British Turkey Awards, who were able to explain some of the elements of the night. Like the bizarre "heads and tails" charity collection game and the boo-ing at some of the award nominees. Every group has its traditions! Anyway, unfortunately we had to hurtle off mid-ceremony, to catch the last train. Everyone else seemed settled in for the duration, so I suspect The Strand was populated by very hungover turkey farmers and retailers on Friday.

It only seems appropriate for me now to share a turkey post.

One of the things that British Turkey is trying to do is get people to see turkey as an every day meat and not just a Christmas thing. Which means that fresh turkey is increasingly available outside the Christmas season.

At Easter, in fact, we bought a 5kg fresh free-range Bronze turkey at a 50% discount, so it was £22. Clearly, for a family of two people a 5kg bird is a ridiculous size, so I assembled poultry shears and a sharp knife and watched a couple of youtube tutorials on jointing poultry and set to work. I vividly remember laying out the pieces on the board to take pictures of them, but I can't find any pictures of the completed butchery.

We ended up with a turkey crown, 2 wing portions, 2 thigh portions and 2 drumsticks, and the carcass, wing tips, leg joints and giblets for stock. All but the crown went into the freezer for later consideration.
Roast turkey crown
The crown, which weighed 2.2kg, we ate roasted. I lifted the breast skin and smeared the flesh with a compound butter, flavoured with lemon zest, garlic and anchovies. I gave it 30 minutes at 200C, then 45 minutes at 170C. We had it hot with roast potatoes and peas and it was just delicious - crisp-skinned with moist, flavourful flesh. The potatoes were also some of my better roasties.
Of course, 2.2kg is still a big roast, even if that includes a fair amount of bone. It left 700g meat to be stripped from the carcass. That meant two portions of a warm noodle salad with a chilli peanut dressing...
My 6" springform tin pays for itself again and again
... and three portions of pie. The pie was very Christmassy, really, with bacon, sage and onion, some of the jellied juices from the roast, a couple of tablespoons of dried cranberries and 50g Stilton, broken into chunks.
As you can imagine (or have experienced at Christmas), after that turkey-filled week we were quite happy to leave the rest of the pieces in the freezer for a fair while after that. But eventually, we were ready to face turkey again.

I boned out the wings and stuffed them with minced prawns and waterchestnuts, then pan-fried them. They were delicious as part of a dim sum meal, but would have made a good supper just with rice and vegetables.
The thighs I also intended to bone-out and stuff, but I ended up with much more stuffing than would fit. I butterflied them and made sort of a sandwich with the stuffing (which was rice, spinach and 'nduja) in between and baked it.The dark thigh meat has enough flavour to stand up to robust 'nduja without being completely overpowered.
Turkey thighs sandwiched with rice, spinach and 'nduja.
Then the drumsticks got a Mexican-inspired treatment. They were barbecued with a lot of smoke so that the skin was crisp and lacquered, and the meat falling off the bone, and served with a spicy peanut mole sauce.

That just left the bag of bits for stock. I added the turkey trimmings and giblets to a couple of roast chicken carcasses and the usual aromatics and simmered them to a rich broth. Some of the broth I then reheated with a couple of dried porcini mushrooms steeping in it, while I made some dumplings filled with minced turkey, more dried porcini and herbs. I roasted cubes of butternut and some sage leaves. Then I cooked the dumplings in simmering water before serving them in the broth with Asian mushrooms and the butternut - and there were three portions of that. My freezer is now empty of turkey and I am ready to start planning Christmas (I know it's still September!). We might have turkey this year.


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