Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Alphonso Mango Bellinis

Alphonso mangoes
When I saw that Ocado were stocking Alphonso mangoes I bought some, and figured I'd make a decision about what to do with them later. I know people go completely nuts for them when they are in season, but to be honest I've not been that impressed. I've just found them very sweet and very fibrous. Not a patch on the Queensland and Northern Territory mangoes I know best! But there must be a reason they are so popular, so I keep trying to see why.
Gloriously coloured flesh
Since I Heart Cooking Clubs are cooking along with Australian chef Curtis Stone, and mangoes are such a quintessential Australian ingredient, I thought I'd check his recipes and their themes for inspiration. And very conveniently came upon a Mango Bellini, just in time for the Wet Your Whistle round.

Now, a Bellini is usually white peach puree and prosecco, and this version very simply uses fresh mango puree and champagne.

Straining the puree is an important step because the mangoes are so fibrous, so even though my natural inclination is towards laziness I did go to that bit of effort.

Unfortunately I then tried to cut a corner and make the Bellini straight into the glass.

Which makes a heck of a mess and even when the bubbles subside leaves a messy froth of mango pulp around the rim.

So for the second round I followed the recipe properly and mixed it in a jug before pouring it into the glass. But whether messy or tidy, it was absolutely delicious. The dry champagne cuts through the sweetness of the mango, letting the fragrance show through. Just lovely.


Sunday, 1 May 2016

Project Brisket

Paul's had a bee in his bonnet lately. For over a month now, any time you walk into our study you will find him glued to youtube watching (mostly) big, (mostly) white, (mostly) men talking about pecan, mesquite, Kansas-style, Texas-style, Carolina-style. He's become obsessed with American barbecue. Specifically barbecued brisket.

We've barbecued a brisket years ago, not at all successfully. With our little Weber we weren't able to control the temperature and it ran too hot, too fast leaving dry, tough meat. Then we tried a hybrid approach, smoking the meat in the barbecue for flavour and finishing with a long slow cook in the oven. That worked very well, but it's been two years and we haven't repeated it.

But I think you've probably noticed that Paul takes his role as Chief Wielder of Fire and Knives quite seriously, and his ability to cook anything on a fire is one of the cornerstones of his identity. Without my even noticing, the brisket had become his white whale.

We ordered a whole packer cut brisket and he took a day off work (although the day off work was mostly planned because of the late finish of the Captain America marathon).
Whole brisket
Brisket point
Brisket flat
Now, a 6kg brisket is actually too big for the hot air to circulate properly in our Weber, and vastly too much food for two people, so Paul trimmed it and cut it in half. As delicious as beef dripping chips are, we're trying not to eat very much of that sort of thing at the moment, so most of the lovely clean white fat is going to go out for the birds. The brisket point is in the freezer and we just cooked the flat.

Since Paul was so invested in his research, I figured I should probably be a useful and supportive partner and do a bit myself. Which consisted of opening Hog and reading the page on live-fire cooking. That gave the inspiration for moderating the heat with pans of water for the indirect cooking. Paul's been worshipping at the altar of Aaron Franklin, where he got the tip that keeping the humidity up is important, and the pans of water helped with that too.
Indirect cooking set-up
A pan of water under the meat, and more directly over the coals (we didn't have a smaller foil pan, so an empty artichoke heart can got washed out and put into service).

A good bit of seasoning rubbed on the meat (although as it turned out, not enough and not massaged in enough)  and away we went.

We'd realised that a really important part of moderating your temperature to keep it low and slow is to actually know what the temperature is. So a thermometer went in as well. And despite all the talk about hickory, pecan and mesquite, we decided that excellent British meat cooked in Britain needed a typically British smoking wood, so we used cherry.

Of course, being a British barbecue we also had to deal with some challenging climatic conditions. Pretty much as soon as we got the lid on the heavens opened, with rain and hail. Still, it was better than Tuesday, when it snowed.  And one of the things that seldom gets mentioned when talking about barbecue is how much impact the ambient temperature has. We can and do barbecue in mid winter, but when it's really cold outside it'd hard to keep the temperature up for the fire to cook anything bigger than a steak. But when you want a long slow cook, a bit of colder air around the kettle isn't a bad thing, and helped us keep the fire between 120C - 150C for the duration of the cook.

After a few hours, when the internal temperature of the meat was 78C, just through the plateau, we wrapped it in foil and kept cooking for another couple of hours. Then it rested until we couldn't bear it any more.
Not bad
Pretty good really

It's actually a tribute to Paul's knife sharpening skills that he was able to cut it into tidy slices, because it was soft as jelly and could have been cut up with the side of a saucer.
Pretty pink smoke ring
We had it with spicy chipotle slaw, pickles, and a chunk of bread for mopping the plate. Absolutely gorgeous (but slightly underseasoned - more salt during the cooking next time).
leftovers
As tempting as it was to just nibble at the leftovers every time we walked by the fridge, I did something a bit more substantial with them. An old-school Stroganoff, with paprika, brandy, vermouth, lots of mushrooms and a little bit of crème fraiche.    

Brisket Stroganoff

Friday, 29 April 2016

The "Get that kid a sandwich" sandwich

Last night, for the first time in years and years, we went to a movie marathon. All three Captain America movies, back to back (no spoilers - but 3D adds nothing to Captain America: Civil War, so save your money there). 7.15pm - 2.45am. It was great. I mean... Chris Evans for 7 hours can't be bad. But the problem with the cinema we went to is the snack situation. Those very peculiar-looking British cinema nachos and even worse looking hotdogs.

So I made a sandwich to smuggle in for fortification.

It's not quite a muffuletta, but that was the inspiration. A loaf of rosemary sourdough, split and with some of the crumb removed (it's, of course, waiting in the freezer for me to do something else with it), layers of olive & fennel paste, roasted peppers, serrano ham, chorizo, smoked cheddar, salami and gherkin mustard relish. Squashed overnight in the fridge under a weight, to make it sliceable.

We only took half in, and had a quarter each. Along with popcorn, some pretty horrible beer and a shared scoop of ice cream, it saw us through to lunch time today.  Steve wouldn't have been a 90lb weakling with a few of these to fortify him.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Diana Henry's chicken with sour cherries and parsnip puree


I wasn't intending to post anything for this week's I Heart Cooking Clubs potluck. Time got away from me and I didn't get around to cooking anything specially. But I woke up to the news on twitter that Diana Henry had won the James Beard Foundation award for Best Single Subject Cookbook for A Bird in the Hand. Which is such a fantastic achievement I thought I should have a rummage through my photos for one of Diana's dishes that I haven't already posted about!

And lo! I found this fabulous, elegant dish of chicken legs with pinot noir, sour cherries and parsnip purée that we enjoyed a few weeks ago. Normally chicken leg recipes are aimed at weeknight, workaday meals, but this lifted them into a special occasion meal.

Not that we had them for a special occasion, just as our Sunday roast. Which I suppose is a little celebration.

At Easter we'd bought another cockerel which I'd jointed and frozen, so I used the cockerel legs for this. They are huge, so I had to adjust the cooking time, but other than that I followed the recipe. The parsnip purée was creamy and luscious, with a sweetness that worked extremely well with the tartness of the sour cherry sauce. Divine, and definitely to be recommended. You can see why this book won a James Beard award.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Sour cherry, pistachio & coconut fridge cake


Paul was very generous with the Lindt bunnies this Easter. So generous that we actually got a bit tired of eating delicious, smooth milk chocolate by itself.

And I had a day of dance workshops requiring a portable high-energy snack, so I delved in the cupboard for things that would be nice with chocolate. I came up with lovely unsweetened dried sour cherries, sweetened coconut flakes and shelled pistachios. I thought about adding some crumbled shortbread as well (tiffin/fridge cake things usually have some biscuit mixed in) but the only ones we had were Walkers shortbread Scottie dogs, and while I have no qualms about biting the head off a biscuit, I thought maybe melting down bunnies was enough animal carnage for one recipe.

It's incredibly easy, and adaptable, but this really was a very good combination.

Sour cherry, pistachio and coconut fridge cake (makes about 12 pieces)

200g milk chocolate (2 bunnies worth)
50g dried sour cherries
50g coconut
50g pistachios

Gently melt your chocolate in a heatproof bowl over simmering water.

Line a loaf tin with baking parchment. Combine the cherries, coconut and pistachios and place in an even layer in the loaf tin.

When the chocolate is melted and smooth, pour it into the loaf tin and give everything a bit of a wiggle with a spatula to make sure the chocolate gets through to the bottom.

Set in the fridge for an hour or so.


Saturday, 16 April 2016

Steamed pork bun

Last weekend, we went to IKEA. There were a few bits we needed - some bathroom storage, some shelves - but it's always a trial. So as a sweetener, whenever we go to IKEA we also do a side trip to the Chinese supermarket, Wing Yip, which is more or less on the way.

We'd hoped to have yum cha in the Wing Yip restaurant, but when we got there it was utter chaos. A crush of people milling around, trying to attract the attention of the woman handing out seating tickets, but she was also taking bills to tables and collecting money, so we decided it was futile and just hit the supermarket.

There are things (Chinkiang vinegar, different grades of soy sauce) that are now available in supermarkets, so our visits to speciality shops like this are less frequent now than they were when we first moved to the UK. It means we fill our trolley with other things. Frozen dumplings, tofu puffs, sake and some nice lacquered chopsticks. And I spotted these frozen Taiwanese buns, par-cooked, ready for steaming and filling.

I've tried to make my own steamed buns before, but they weren't very good, so this seemed like a much better idea.

For brunch this morning I thawed some leftover barbecued pork belly, covered it with a mixture of hoisin sauce, some dried chilli in oil, a little soy and some Chinkiang vinegar and put it in a hot oven to get crisp around the edges and melting in the middle. In 15 minutes the buns steamed to light fluffiness, ready for filling with the pork and some cucumber and spring onion. Infinitely better than making the buns myself.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Orecchiette with broccoli, proscuitto and cavolo nero

"My grandfather, who preferred bread dunked in wine - which he had regularly for breakfast until his eighty-eighth year, when he died prematurely of snakebite - sought to console me on such occasions by telling me what he had had to eat when he was a boy. The sermon was his version of the familiar one which has left grandchildren grumbling since the first grandfather mumbled it in his beard" - Angelo Pellegrini

Funny and ferociously opinionated, Pellegrini's 1948 book The Unprejudiced Palate is the current Cook the Books choice, picked by Simona. I read it and made a dish inspired by it in really good time, but I've had a blank blog post staring at me, trying to come up with something to say about it and now the deadline is tomorrow.

It's a curious book. It seems both to be extremely contemporary and from such an ancient past as to be completely alien. His writing is very dated, with a verbosity that most food writers wouldn't get away with now, but his concerns for eating fresh food, locally obtained and simply prepared are bang up to date. His bisection of humanity into civilised people and barbarians based on whether they ate macaroni salad would cause a twitter storm today that would only be eclipsed by his taste for eating songbirds.

I'm currently reading Judith Jones's memoir, The Tenth Muse, which has coincidentally been an excellent companion piece, providing an interesting background to Pellegrini's concerns. Her memories of the good but very plain and utterly garlicless food in her parents' house would have been startling to an immigrant from a different tradition. And her struggles to bring Mastering the Art of French Cooking to print suggest that Pellegrini's view of mid-century American housewives was not completely baseless. Many then, as now, found cooking stressful and unrewarding but without the options we have to not cook. The trends were towards labour saving and processed foods with a background of puritanism and a degree of shame in the idea of finding food pleasurable. Anathema to Pellegrini.

The recipes Pellegrini included were impenetrable to me. I just couldn't be bothered reading them carefully enough to make sense of them and actually attempt cooking them. And while his wine recipe was fascinating I don't think my landlord would tolerate me digging a basement big enough for the vat.

One thing that did stand out to me - which actually made me question all of his recipes - was his assertion that pasta needs to be cooked for about 20 minutes to be al dente. Now, maybe the pasta of his day was much thicker than we get now, but orecchiette is the only pasta I've ever had that can tolerate boiling for that long. So that was a start. And his love for bitter greens showed me the rest of the way. I sauteed tiny cubes of proscuitto with loads of garlic, shredded cavolo nero and chopped broccoli then cooked it slowly with a little chicken stock until the vegetables were soft. As much as I love a tender crisp vegetable, cavolo nero needs to be cooked to buggery to be palatable. I added some halved cherry tomatoes and let them just soften, and stirred it through the cooked orecchiette, with a little of the starchy cooking water to help the sauce emulsify. None of it was local produce, but it tasted good.
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