the daily bread
May 23, 2004
Rice Pudding: An Is My Blog Burning? submission

This is baby food, adult food, and the only recipe I've ever posted that I haven't actually eaten myself. And it has its origins with a certain Scottish television presenter. But I'm reliably informed that it's fantastic.

CLICK for a closer look at rice pudding

I'd never made rice pudding before, but a while back, my friend Lisa asked me to make some for her 11-month-old daughter. (We all know I like to cook, so when I visit them, I tend to make batches of food for the baby. I love doing this, as I often feed Hannah when I am there, and I can tell you that it's just as gratifying to see a little one enjoy your cooking as it is to see a bunch of your friends wolfing it down around the dinner table.) Lisa had purchased Lorraine Kelly's Baby and Toddler Eating Plan, written by the infectiously cheerful morning TV host with Anita Bean. The book turned out to have tons of excellent recipes for babies and toddlers, most of which have been a huge hit with Hannah. One of those was a recipe for rice pudding, and that's been the biggest success of all. The baby loves it, especially mixed with stewed fruit or apple and pear compote or fresh mango.

When I found out about the latest edition of Is My Blog Burning?, which Pim had decreed would be rice-themed, I thought I'd feature this recipe. They don't call this nursery food for nothing, but nursery food has come back into vogue in Britain in recent years. So I made some for a friend, who told me he adores rice pudding, and it turned out to go down as well with him as it did with Hannah. I've not yet tried the stuff, but it does smell incredible.

Rice Pudding for Babies and Adults

1 cup pudding rice
2 cups milk (I use soy milk, but it works with cow's milk, too)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 vanilla pod, split (or best vanilla essence)

Place the first three ingredients and the contents of the split vanilla pod* in a heavy-based saucepan, bring to the boil, then gently simmer for 30 minutes or until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed and the rice is tender. If the rice is still too hard after all of the milk has gone (in which case your simmer was not gentle enough), top up with more milk and continue to cook until the rice reaches the desired consistency.

*Discard the pod, or chuck it in a jar of sugar and leave it for a week or so to make vanilla sugar.

Posted by Jackie at 02:49 PM | TrackBack

March 15, 2004
Lemon Trout and Peas

i heart peasAs I have mentioned before, one of my favourite suppers is a bowl of peas with lemon juice. When you come in late from work, completely shattered, and just want something to make your haven't-eaten-since-noon headache go away before getting in the bath and going to bed, the value of a meal you can make in two minutes is not to be underestimated.

Until this weekend, I hadn't had this supper for a while, due to the fact that the house where I've lived for the last 18 months does not have a freezer. I can't say I've suffered terribly for it, and it does stop one from buying ice cream, but I did miss my pea suppers. Yes, I go frozen. Because, as Nigella Lawson says:

I have no shame at all about using frozen peas (or petits pois if you can get them). Fresh peas are good only if you pick them yourself, then pod and prepare them immediately — and while I don't know about you, that is just not a possibility in my everyday life. Nor am I one for the bucolic fantasy. It's simpler just to open the freezer door and get on with it.
Clever old me just figured out that you don't actually need a freezer if you buy a small packet of these things, put them in the fridge, and eat them within a day or so. And when I want something a bit more substantial than just a bowl of peas -- a different texture, more protein -- I add a trout fillet to the equation. Preparing the fish and the peas could not be more simple, more quick, or more economical. McDonald's does not have a monopoly on fast food.

Lemon Trout and Peas

1 trout fillet
frozen peas (as many as you'd like to eat)
2 cloves garlic (optional)
juice of three lemons (adjust to suit your own taste)
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp olive oil (or vegetable or fish stock)
salt and pepper

Over a medium flame, in a wide pan, warm the olive oil and cook the cloves of garlic, which you've roughly chopped, for a minute or two. After they've coloured a bit, remove them and discard. (I often skip this garlic step. It's nice, though. If you do skip it, do warm a bit of oil in the pan before you add the peas.)

Chuck the frozen peas into the pan, along with the juice of one and a half lemons and a tablespoon of water. Turn up the heat so that the liquid comes to a boil and the peas begin to steam and cook. After a couple of minutes, lay the trout fillet on top of the peas, skin-side down, and squeeze over the rest of the lemon juice. It will only take a minute or so for the darkly pink flesh to cook through quite a bit; flip the fish over and give it another minute.

Remove to a plate, season to taste, and smile smugly as you think how much more virtuous this meal is than a Big Mac.

Serves 1.

NB While I love peas, I don't think I'll be making glace aux petits pois anytime soon.

Posted by Jackie at 06:40 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

March 11, 2004
Sugar-free Lemon Meringue Non-Pie

sugar-free lemon meringue non-pieYou know when a recipe tells you to leave something under the grill/broiler for one minute only? As you can see from the photo at right, they're not kidding.

(I feel I should apologise for posting this, as it's such cop-out food. But it's actually pretty nice, for what it is, and I'm sure I'll make it again. Plus, cop-out food is all I'm making these days; this is partially here just to break up the procession of pasta recipes -- more of which tomorrow. So if this bores or horrifies you, yawn and curse me -- and don't make the recipe.)

Anyway. I came across this recipe on the web, and as I had everything on hand to make it, thought I would give it a try. I've modified the directions a bit, though.

Sugar-free Lemon Meringue Non-Pie

3 medium eggs, separated
juice and zest of 3 unwaxed lemons
5 tablespoons Canderel sweetener -- I substituted Splenda Granular, which worked fine
1 pint cold water
1 packet Rowntree's sugar-free lemon & lime jelly/gelatin(e) -- substitute whatever brand of sugar-free lemon gelatine you can get where you live

Pour the water into a saucepan, along with the lemon juice and zest. Whisk the three egg yolks into the contents of the saucepan over a low heat. Continue to whisk and raise the heat under the pan, but do not let the mixture come to the boil. When it starts to thicken, cook for a further five minutes on a medium flame.

Whisk the gelatine crystals into the contents of the saucepan and pour into an 8 inch pie pan (I think the called-for flan dish is too shallow to accommodate the meringue without a mess) or 13 cm square brownie pan. Leave to set in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

After the lemon mixture has set to a wobbly-but-firm consistency, whisk the egg whites until stiff, adding the sweetener one teaspoon at a time as you go. (The beater option on my food processor makes the thing worth its price, if only because I could never beat egg whites to stiffness without this machine.) Spread the meringue on top of the lemon mixture and put under a hot grill for one minute. After the meringue has gone golden brown, put the whole thing back into the fridge for another hour or so; the heat of the grill can make the lemon mixture go a bit liquid-y, and the additional time in the fridge will firm it up.

NOTE: Pregnant women, children, and the elderly should not eat raw or partially cooked eggs. Neither should anyone else, unless you're absolutely sure that your eggs come from a good source.

A word of warning: Don't put this in your mouth expecting it to taste like lemon meringue pie. The similarities are there, but this is -- while nice-tasting -- not temple-achingly sweet, and it won't exactly hit the spot if you're really craving lemon meringue pie. If nothing else will satisfy you but the real thing, I recommend you have a small sliver of it and don't beat yourself up. But if you just want something for dessert that doesn't have a million billion calories and is nice and fresh, make this.

Posted by Jackie at 12:46 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 10, 2004
Yoghurt Scones à la Clotilde

CLICK for a closer look at yoghurt sconesIt's been far too long since I last took a cue from my Parisian foodie friend Clotilde and tried my hand at one of her excellent dishes. When I read her recipe for yoghurt scones, I knew I had to try it. I wanted to make something to take to my friends' house, but didn't want it to be anything overly heavy or sickly sweet. These egg-less scones, which have very little sugar, were just what I was looking for.

The thing about scones is that I find them to be terribly dense, usually; you really could use most of the ones I've seen as a doorstop. And with that kind of texture and weight, you almost have to smear the things with butter, jam, and clotted cream in order to enjoy them. One notable exception to this that I've actually made is the Duchess of York's recipe for chocolate chip scones, which I saw her make on, erm, Oprah years ago. They're quite nice.

Now the latest notable exception -- Clotilde's yoghurt scones. These are unbelievably light, moist, and airy, with a very slight sweetness. Where Clotilde used lemon zest and dried blueberries in hers, I added some ground cinnamon and a bit of ground nutmeg. And where Clotilde served hers with a variety of jams, honey, and other sweet spreads, I just tried one of these (to test, you understand; the rest have been reserved to take to my friends, and are sitting snugly in their Tupperware home until tomorrow -- no bets on how safe they are there) dipped in a bit of subtly sweet non-fat yoghurt. I think that they'd be fantastic simply smeared with a little unsalted butter, too, which tells you how good they are: no clotted cream or jam required. Though obviously one wouldn't say no if offered...

Posted by Jackie at 05:45 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Patatas Bravas à la Mr Chellors

CLICK for a closer look at patatas bravas à la Mr ChellorsOne of my favourite kinds of restaurants to go to is a tapas bar, with my favourite tapas place being either Casa Don Carlos in Brighton or Laxeiro in Columbia Road, East London. Both do fantastic patatas bravas, amongst other things, and it is this dish that I chose to be my first homecooking foray into the world of Spanish tapas.

Naturally, I turned to a Liverpudlian to show me how it's done.

My friend Mr Chellors (real, less amusing name: **** -- odd spelling, I know) is a vegetarian and, if he is to be believed, an excellent cook. Never having had the pleasure of sampling his delights, I will take his word for it. He and I had discussed patatas bravas more times than I would like to admit -- let's face it, it's not really a riveting conversational topic. But Mr Chellors is apparently a bit of a dab hand with this dish, and so it was to his recipe I turned when I wanted to make it for myself.

1 small onion, minced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tin plum tomatoes
1 tbsp paprika
fat pinch chilli powder (my own diversion from Mr Chellors's guidance)
salt (I used Maldon sea salt and then a bit of fleur de sel for delicacy at the end)
3 or 4 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
olive oil

Chop the tomatoes, removing the cores and seeds (if you like -- I don't mind tomato seeds and so don't bother). Parboil the potatoes for five minutes or so. Meanwhile, cook the onion and garlic in a bit of olive oil for a few minutes, until they go soft. Add the chopped tomatoes and all of the liquid from the tin to the onions, cook over a medium-high heat for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture reduces down to a thick, chunky sauce. Add the salt, paprika and chilli powder and cook for a further few minutes.

As the sauce cooks, fry the potato chunks in a bit of olive oil until they are just golden and crisp. When they are hot and looking good, drain them of their oil on a thick layer of paper towels. Put the potatoes in a bowl or on a large platter, cover with the sauce and serve.

This is supposed to be one dish to go with many other little ones, but I can confirm that it's also nice as a very filling supper or lunch on its own. A veggie like Mr Chellors will shudder at the thought, but some good chorizo added to this dish would not go amiss.

Posted by Jackie at 01:21 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

February 08, 2004
Trashy Potatoes: An Is My Blog Burning? submission

CLICK for a closer look at trashy potatoesThis post is in response to Alberto's call for participants in his special project, Is My Blog Burning?, the theme of which is soup this time around. Of course, it would have been too straightforward for me to just make some soup. Instead, I decided to turn the theme on its head a little, and make something warm, carby, comforting and delicious that has soup as one of its main ingredients.


I first -- and, sadly, last -- had these trashy potatoes in Toronto a few years ago. My friend Maggie and her husband hosted several of us for Canadian Thanksgiving, and put on a spread so good that I still remember how lovely everything was. One of the standout dishes was this; we all had a good laugh over an unfriendly acquaintance of ours who had dismissed this wonderful food as 'trashy' -- as if that was a bad thing. People, this tastes unbelievably good, and that's what matters. If you're going to be that snobby about this stuff, I suggest that your interest lies less in good food and more in good impressions. But I tell you one thing: Nothing makes a good impression like something that tastes as nice as this.



Here's the recipe, courtesy of the lovely Maggie:

Trashy PotatoesCLICK for a closer look at trashy potatoes

2kg bag of frozen hash browns (or about 8 cups)
250ml container of sour cream (about a cup)
1 can of condensed cream of mushroom soup (Campbells for trashy, brand-name preference)
2 cups of shredded cheddar cheese
1 small onion, minced and lightly fried
garlic, pepper depending upon your personal taste

Preheat oven to 350ºF/170ºC/gas mark 3. Mix all of the ingredients together, except for the cheese, and pour into a 9 x 13 pan. Cover with grated cheese. Bake for an hour or until the potatoes are soft.

I made a few substitutions here. First, I cut up potatoes in home fries-sized cubes, because as far as I have found, you can't get frozen hash browns in the UK. (And I anyway don't have a freezer.) I also used low fat naturally set yoghurt in place of the sour cream, and would do so again -- it worked well. I omitted the garlic, because I don't really think it's necessary here, and also because of previously mentioned fears of dragon breath and garlic stench seeping out of my pores. I used fully constituted (as opposed to condensed) cream of mushroom soup. I think it would make a thicker sauce with the condensed, but my local cornershop only offered the Heinz stuff that doesn't need any milk adding to it. Finally, I used much less cheese than called for; I can't eat much dairy these days without getting a headache and general feeling of a head stuffed with cotton, and a little bit goes a long way here anyway.

Also, if you're concerned about not having loads of baked-on smears appear on your glass casserole dish (like mine has in the photo -- click the thumbnails to view all the gory details close up), mix this in a bowl and then transfer it to the baking dish. I just mixed the wet ingredients and the onions in a jug, then combined them with the potatoes right in the casserole. As we've already established, though, I can live with a bit of rough in my cooking.

Adding some chopped ham or chicken can make this a one-dish supper. If you take your trash seriously, you could even use Spam.

But you know what else takes this to a whole new level of trash? Cornflakes, crushed and scattered over the cheese before baking. I am not fooling you. Not being a breakfast person, I don't keep cornflakes in the house and so didn't use them here, but I swear that it tastes awesome. And if eating cornflakes and cheese for dinner isn't trashy, I don't know what is.

Posted by Jackie at 10:20 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

February 07, 2004
Panettone and Butter Pudding

Yes, yes, I know. How pretentious it sounds. And, after all, what is wrong with good old bread and butter pudding?

Nothing it all. In fact it is hard for me to think of anything that fits the description of comfort food better than the classic B&B pudding made from a stale English loaf. But when you live abroad everything gets turned upside down.

For me, simple English rectangular loaves are a treat produced only once a week, on Saturday morning, by the Il Forno bakery just down the road. The English style bread, which is a nice and nostalgic change from our weekday regulars - ciabatta, arabo and more often than not filone - gets eaten in no time because it is simply much, much better for sandwiches than the heavier, crustier Italian breads.

So an English loaf, in my house, is a treat and I wouldn't dream of having it go stale enough to be used in a pudding. More often than not I use old croissants or brioche, which work superbly. It is especially good if you add a liberal lashing of honey about ten minutes from the end of the cooking. That gives it a slightly sticky, sweet topping reminiscent of some Turkish desserts.

Anyway, yesterday I noticed that a half eaten Panettone, Italy's Christmas cake, was still sat in its charming box going stale and so I decided to give it one final chance of making itself useful.

If you've never eaten it, Panettone is a much lighter, breadier cake than our Yuletide favourite. I prefer Panettone Milanese which has raisins and candied fruits in it, to the more plain Veronese version, and it worked very well in the pudding.

Being very light it needs a slightly larger than usual amount of milk in the mix because it takes in so much as it expands in the oven. My usual routine is to give the bread or cake a good dunking but to leave the upper parts relatively dry to ensure that you get those nice half-burnt peaks at the top of the pudding.

I also add a good amount of sugar and one or two vanilla pods into the mix. Although I have found that infusing warming milk properly with the pods before cooking can work better, I think you can get enough of a yellow look and slightly custardy flavour simply through the pudding process.

To add a bit of extra life to the thing I banged in a good handful of raisins and candied fruits throughout the whole mix. Panettone doesn't usually have enough of the fruits for my liking and this turned out to be a good move. Some broken biscuits can also be a fun addition.

I like messing about with the tops of B&B pudding and this time, instead of the honey, I went for flaked almonds, springled on half way through the baking, which got enough time just to toast nicely and add some crunch on top.

With the vanilla and the candied fruits, the pudding has a wonderful aroma and if you really want to treat yourself, a little side serving of cream or even ice-cream works well especially, if like I did, you slightly overdo the baking and are left without much liquid.

Now I know that Panettone is expensive in the UK but I reckon you would get similarly interesting results from using leftover hot cross buns at Easter or, if you are in the right region, a fruit loaf.

And have you ever eaten the leftovers, cold and out of the fridge, for breakfast with a cup of tea or a capuccino? You really should.

Posted by The Pieman at 12:58 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

February 06, 2004
Fairy Cakes

CLICK for a closer look at fairy cakesSayeth Nigella:

At about the time I really started getting into top cupcake and fairy-cake mode, ostensibly for children, I noticed that the people who really seemed to get excited by them were the children's parents. I think it's not till you hit 30 that nostalgia is even a remotely comforting option. [Wrong! But anyway. --jd]

Since then, I've decided that cupcakes and fairy cakes - by which I mean the plain-bottomed prettily iced cupcakes - are the perfect things to make for dinner. And by this I mean not some shiny tabled, silver-laid grand dinner party but those evenings when you have friends for supper in the kitchen (the only kind of dinner party I know).

She's right about that -- adults love these things, and while I think they taste fine, the real fun is in making and decorating them. So I threw together a batch of Nigella's own ridiculously easy recipe (metric measurements here, US measurements here), made like a five-year-old and played around with decorating these fairy cakes. I didn't follow Nigella's advice of cutting off the mounded peaks to make flat surfaces for decorating, though; first of all, throw away food? Second of all, throw away cake? (I did think afterward that you could keep the severed tops, save them a few days and then use them to make a trifle -- as if one needs an excuse to make a trifle.)

In any case, I didn't get terribly creative, because all I had were some chocolate strands and hundreds and thousands, but the big surprise hit of the bunch was the light dusting of cinnamon over the buttercream frosting (beat one part butter with nine parts icing sugar/powdered sugar and a scant teaspoon of milk) -- it looked elegant yet cute, and tasted nice, too. But tell me: What are your favourite fairy cake decorations?

Posted by Jackie at 08:59 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 05, 2004
Chicken and Sweetcorn Risotto

CLICK for a closer look at chicken and sweetcorn risottoPeople seem not to love making risotto, because it involves standing at the stove and stirring for about 20 minutes, but I kind of like that part. Good music helps, or perfect silence if you've got something on your mind. Monotony can be comforting for such a short amount of time. It's nice not to have to think too much about what you're doing, and if you've made risotto even once, you'll be on autopilot every subsequent time you make it.

I made this with some chicken that had been marinated with sweetcorn and buttermilk -- don't ask me how, because I didn't do that bit. The chicken came already cooked from a Sainsbury's packet, from their low-fat fridge. Sorry; I know this is not the "free-range-organic-not-necessarily-corn-fed-rare-breed chicken" at £8 per kilo that I should only ever regard as worthy of eating, but I don't think many people really eat or cook that way all the time. Perhaps we all should, but we don't -- I don't, not always. But this would also be a good way of using up chicken leftovers, especially bits picked off the carcass of a roast chicken dinner.

Anyway, who doesn't like risotto? I mean, apart from people on Atkins, who probably like risotto but won't eat it. Their loss.

Chicken and Sweetcorn Risotto

1 onion, finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil (or 1 tbsp olive oil and 1 tbsp unsalted butter)
2½ cups risotto rice, preferably Vialone Nano
5 cups vegetable or chicken stock
2½ cups chicken, cooked and cut into chunks or shredded
1/2 cup sweetcorn, tinned or fresh (if fresh, boil first to cook)
salt and pepper to taste

In a saucepan, heat the stock until it is at a low simmer. Heat the oil in a wide saucepan and, in it, cook the onion over a medium heat until the pieces go translucent. Add the rice, stirring to coat each grain in the fat. Pour a ladleful of the hot stock into the pan, bring to the boil briefly, and then lower the heat under the rice to a simmering point. Stir the mixture until the stock is absorbed, then add another ladleful and keep stirring. Continue doing this until the rice is al dente. (You may not need all of the stock to get to this point, or you may need to add plain boiling water to get there. If you keep things at a low simmer, resisting the urge to go for an actual boil, you should just use all the stock and not need to resort to the electric kettle.) When the rice is almost done, add the chicken and the sweetcorn to warm through.

Finish off with salt, if you need to (I didn't), and a good dose of freshly ground black pepper.

Serves 4 as a main course, even more as a side dish.

Posted by Jackie at 08:17 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

February 04, 2004
Pineapple Upside Down Cake

CLICK for a closer look at pineapple upside down cakeA few weeks ago, I was perusing Elise's excellent Simply Recipes and came across this recipe for pineapple upside down cake. Pineapple upside down cake is one of those things that I think of as a quintessentially American recipe (though, America being America, it was probably brought over from some Polynesian island or Norway or China or something). If you go to a bake sale, church picnic or potluck supper, there's bound to be a pineapple upside down cake there. I've never seen one in Britain, and it's probably been about a decade since I've had this; I'd certainly never before made one myself.

I liked the look of Elise's recipe, though with it yielding 12 to 14 servings, it was a bit much for my requirements. I did a quick Google search, and found this recipe from former Minnesota Senator Rod Grams. He got it from Betty Crocker's Picture Cook Book, and who knows if he's ever even made it himself, but the idea of making a politician's recipe sort of cracked me up. Also, it looked very simple and as if it would make a smaller cake.

And it was terribly, terribly simple. I really love using American cup measurements where I can, as it is so much easier than fiddling with scales and trying to convert everything to millilitres and grams, so this recipe gets bonus points for that. Plus, I love the kitsch factor of baking with tinned pineapple rings. If only I'd had maraschino cherries to stud the cake with, too, it would have been super trashy and cute. The important thing about this, though, is something that Nigella says is crucial about trashy food: It can seem like a joke until you put it in your mouth, but it must not taste like a joke. And this cake doesn't; I promise that you will not crease up with laughter upon tasting it, though you may smile and blush a little.

I made this for someone who claimed beforehand that he wasn't a huge fan of pineapple (yes, I like converting people), and he ate it all up, proclaiming it "quite good, really," in a surprised tone. Well, duh. You can never go wrong when you follow a politician's lead, right?

Posted by Jackie at 11:56 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 27, 2004
Chocolate Caramel Shortbread

chcolate caramel shortbreadIf you're in the UK, don't go to Sainsbury's and buy their chocolate caramel shortbread in the bakery section, okay? It's unspeakably rich, the kind of thing where the 2x2 squares they give you are far too much to consume in one sitting; you have to cut them in quarters and consume them over several hours or days. Because, for all that richness, they are muy bueno. Made in Scotland, with shortbread that I swear must have a stick of butter in each serving and a very pretty, smooth, flat surface of chocolate on top of the caramel, someone bought me a packet of these (they come in threes) some time ago and forever landed themselves on my list of people whose kindness had gone overboard into cruelty.

So I bought some for Clotilde. I hope she still speaks to me after trying them and realising they're not sold in Paris. If she wants, she could try this recipe for them, but I wouldn't advise it. Some things are just too good.

Posted by Jackie at 12:32 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

January 25, 2004
Roasted Red Pepper, Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onion Timbales

Roasted Red Pepper, Goat's Cheese and Caramelised Onion TimbalesThis is something I had thought about putting together for a while, based on one of my very favourite combinations of flavours, and is more assembly than recipe, but here goes:

1. Roast, peel, and deseed four red peppers, as described here. Cut them into half-inch wide strips.

2. Get some caramelised onion confit (as appreciated and spoken of in glowing terms by the lovely Clotilde, who calls it "Le Délicieux Confit d'Oignon de Jackie"; I am unspeakably flattered) and goat's cheese. You'll need about three cups of each.

3. Butter some timbale moulds. (I don't own timbale moulds, so I did this with my ramekins. You could also use tin cans that you've opened at both ends, though you don't want them to be much taller than about three or four inches.)

4. In the timbale moulds, layer the strips of red pepper in the bottom of each. Follow that with a layer of goat's cheese, and finish with a top layer of onion confit. Refrigerate the moulds for at least 20 minutes to set, and plate them up on a bed of frisée leaves dressed with lemon juice and olive oil just prior to serving.

These go especially well with lamb and steak, and would make a good starter for a meal of lamb shank stew and couscous with toasted pine nuts and almonds. But they're also fun just to look at, all stripey and bright.

Posted by Jackie at 09:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 24, 2004
Lentil and Frankfurter Soup

CLICK for a closer look at lentil and frankfurter soupOne last lentil recipe for now, okay? And one last soup recipe for a while, too. I'm going to start in on the summery stuff soon, in the hope that it will bring sunshine and longer days.

Speaking of summer, you know what's nice about it? Barbecues or, as we called them in Ohio, cook-outs. Baseball games are nice, too. And you know what summer, baseball games and cook-outs have in common? Hot dogs. As my friend Mike Smyth writes in his ode to the hot dog:

Yes, they are so unsanitary that a unit of measurement (the "fecal matter count") had to be invented to describe accurately how much animal shit was in them. No, I don't think that they are so good for me that I shouldn't feel ashamed every time I eat them. Yes, I realize that it's like throwing dice with God, except instead of piles of rumpled cash, I'm betting my gastro-intestinal health and losing very frequently.

But they are so tasty and so easy to prepare, so summery and salty and casual. There are better foods, tastier foods, foods I eat more often, but nothing to which I am more sentimentally attached than hot dogs.

(Aside: When I had dinner with Clotilde and her boyfriend Maxence at The Wolseley last weekend, I was charmed when he ordered a hot dog. "There is something very cute," I said, "about coming to a place like this and ordering a hot dog." And of course it wasn't a real hot dog; it was more of a Toulouse-style pig-in-a-blanket, a fat sausage wrapped in pastry. But I admired Maxence's style all the same.)

I haven't eaten hot dogs in the years since I moved to Britain, because you can't really get them here. I mean, the best ones in the world come off the grill at my Dad's house or from a vendor at the Jake ("Always, my visits included hot dogs buried in brown stadium mustard; if the game was less than exciting, those hot dogs made the trip memorable."), but what burger stands hawk as "hot dogs" here are actually spicy, chewy sausages, shot through with gristle and nothing in common with a hot dog but the heat and the shape. You can imagine the disappointment of biting into one of those suckers when what you thought you were getting was a honest to goodness ballpark frank.

So why am I blathering on about hot dogs in a post about a lentil soup? Because this lentil soup is really hot dog and lentil soup, a modification of the yellow split pea and frankfurter soup from Nigella Lawson's New York Times column for this week.

As the NYT site requires a subscription, I will give you the original recipe and then tell you how I altered it.

1 onion, peeled and cut into chunks
1 carrot, peeled and cut into chunks
1 stalk celery, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 to 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
2 1/4 cups (1 pound) yellow split peas, rinsed
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock (may be made from concentrate), more as needed
2 bay leaves
Approximately 8 frankfurters, cut into 1-inch pieces.

1. In a food processor, combine onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Process until finely chopped.

2. Place a heavy, wide saucepan over medium heat, and add oil. When hot, add chopped vegetables, and sauté until soft but not colored, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in mace. Add split peas, and stir to mix well.

3. Add 4 cups stock and the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Cover, and reduce heat to low. Simmer until peas are very soft, about 1 hour. Stir soup with a wooden spoon. If desired, adjust thickness of soup with additional stock.

4. Add frankfurter pieces to soup, and simmer until well heated. Ladle into bowls and serve. (Alternatively, soup may be ladled into bowls and frankfurter pieces heated in a microwave oven, and added to each bowl as desired.)

Well, all I did was replace the yellow split peas with lentils, substituted nutmeg for the mace, and used 1.5 litres of chicken stock rather than a measly four cups. I wanted more of an actual soup than a bowl of mushy peas with some hot dogs mixed in.

And about those hot dogs: you can actually get them in the supermarket here and, much to my surprise, they are pretty good. I mean, they're hot dogs -- it's not Beluga caviar, but you want a hot doggy taste, not some poor imitation (see above). I was sort of embarrassed to buy hot dogs, but if it's good enough for Nigella, surely it's good enough for all of us.

I didn't really know what to expect from this soup, but it is fantastically filling and very, very good; the nutmeg really does add something unexpected, so I'm curious to try it again with mace. You should read the fact that I plan to make this many more times as a total endorsement of my modification of Ms Lawson's recipe -- if I do say so myself.

Posted by Jackie at 08:14 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 23, 2004
Roasted Red Pepper and Mango Pita

CLICK for a closer look at roasted red pepper and mango pitaApologies if all of the mango-centric recipes are becoming tedious, but I have bad news for you: This one is only here to break up the repetition of lentil-centric recipes, of which there is one more on the way. I promise to make it up to you, though. (And then there will be one last red pepper-centric recipe. No kidding.)

And this is, to be honest, no real recipe. I had one mango left, and it was slightly more unyielding than I like mangoes to be. I'm too impatient to wait a few more days for it to really ripen, so I cut it up and doused the shards with a mixture of two parts orange juice, two parts olive oil and one part balsamic vinegar, sprinkled them with a little fleur de sel, and let the whole lot marinate for a few hours.

In the meantime, I roasted a red pepper -- drizzled with olive oil -- in a hot oven (450°F/230°C/gas mark 8) for 45 minutes, turning once after 22.5 minutes exactly. (Okay, not really. I threw caution to the wind and turned the pepper after 20 minutes.) At the same time as I turned the pepper, I added two whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic to the roasting tin. After the pepper had had its time and was blackened and soft, I stuck it in a bowl with the garlic cloves, covered the bowl with a plate and got on with a bunch of awful chores.

After about twenty minutes, the red pepper's skin was ready to peel away quite easily from the flesh of the vegetable -- though I actually left it for a couple of hours, because I had to. After peeling the pepper, I cut it in half, scraped the seeds away with a knife and spread each half with the garlic paste I had squeezed from the skins of the roasted cloves. A few crystals of fleur de sel and the peppers were ready to be stuffed into a split pita with the marinated mango.

This is a good, sweet, and juicy sandwich, but I can't help but think that (vegetarians and vegans, look away now) some seared lamb might go well with the tangy fruit and vegetable. And yes, it takes a bit of time to get the ingredients ready, but for most of that time the mango is marinating and peppers are in the oven -- and you can get on with cleaning the bathroom, doing the ironing and vacuuming the whole house. Doesn't that make you want to make it right now?

Posted by Jackie at 06:05 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 22, 2004
Vanilla Spiced Fruit Salad

CLICK for a closer look at vanilla spiced fruit saladOkay, this is obviously a rip-off of the vanilla spiced poached pears from the other day -- but it's also a bastardisation of a recipe that came with the Asian pears I'd bought. I didn't notice until I looked at the picture of the pears in their package that they came with a recipe idea tucked into the product information. That recipe was for a fruit salad with a lemongrass-infused syrup, and I thought I'd make that. Then, once the 85 grams of (brown) sugar and 170 millilitres of water were already in the pot on the stove, I realised I didn't have the lemongrass that I thought I did. (Yes, ensuring you have the ingredients you need for a recipe before you begin is a basic thing. No, I usually don't do it. Yes, I am somewhat dim.)

So I decided to chuck a split vanilla pod and broken cinnamon stick in with the sugar and water, since I knew the flavours would work well together. They did, and went fantastically with the pear, mango and satsuma I'd chosen for the salad.

This is a doddle to make. Once the sugar has dissolved in the water, bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the liquid reaches a syrupy consistency. Let the vanilla and cinnamon infuse the syrup for about ten minutes, then strain and let cool completely before tossing with the fruit.

It doesn't sound like a huge quantity, but using one of each fruit yields enough fruit salad for about four breakfast, snack or dessert portions.

Posted by Jackie at 05:15 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 21, 2004
Smoky Potato and Garlic Soup

CLICK for a closer look at smoky potato and garlic soupWhen I made chestnut and lentil soup the other night, that recipe required me to get my food processor out of the cupboard and set it up on the kitchen counter -- something I don't do often, and something I like to do as seldom as possible. I have quite a lot of counter space, but only one electrical outlet along any of those counters, so it can get a bit crowded with the electric kettle and the toaster.

Sorry, this is so boring. But I'm just telling you this by way of explaining why I spent hours making soup on a Saturday night. While I had the food processor out anyway, I figured I'd try to use up some potatoes, garlic, and celery that I had. Potato soup seemed the way to go, but I didn't feel like looking up any recipes online or in my books, so I decided to just wing it. So brave, I know!

Smoky Potato and Garlic Soup

1.5 litres stock (vegetable or chicken)
potatoes -- a bunch, quantity depending on size (I used 8 medium sized ones)
celery -- one or two stalks (I used four, because I had to use the stuff up; this just made the soup more green, not tasting especially strongly of celery)
1 onion (I used a red onion because it was what I had on hand)
garlic -- I used two huge cloves, but three or four more normal sized would do
3 strips of bacon (optional, but then the soup isn't terribly "smoky")
olive oil
herbs (I used thyme, parsley, and marjoram)
salt and pepper to taste

Chuck the onion, celery and garlic into the food processor and blitz until finely chopped. In a heavy-based soup pot, cook the processed mixture in a tablespoon or two of olive oil over a medium heat for about ten minutes. Cut the potatoes into dice-sized cubes, add to the pot and cover with stock. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the potatoes are quite soft and a knife cuts through them with little effort -- about 20 or 30 minutes.

Decide how chunky you want your soup to be and remove an appropriate amount of it to the processor for puréeing. While the soup cools a bit, cook the three rashers of bacon until crispy, and add to the soup in the processor. Blitz until the soup reaches the consistency you desire, then pour it back into the pot with the unprocessed portion.

Serve with bread rolls and butter to someone who says he hates garlic, and read his enthusiastic approval of this soup as yet further evidence that he doesn't really hate garlic or even know its taste well enough to say so. Reheat leftover bowls of this aromatic, filling soup for supper for days in a row, chasing away the cold January weather and yet wishing that the little chunks of potato floating in the soup didn't look like bits of congealed fat. Discover through trial and messy error that eating this soup with one's eyes closed is not a good idea. Decide to skip the processing of soup next time. Wonder at how strange the word "soup" sounds when you say it several times in the space of a few sentences.

Posted by Jackie at 05:11 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 20, 2004
Hot Potato and Onion Pita

CLICK for a closer look at hot potato and onion pitaI really hate to waste anything, and I especially hate to see food thrown away. When I go to stay at the home of my good friends Paul and Lisa, I love to cook for them; they are quite happy with this arrangement. Normally, all I have to do is go through their fridge and cupboards and ask Lisa, "Are you going to use this before it goes off?" about anything that looks interesting -- and, if it's in the fridge, even boring things. (They throw away what I consider to be an obscene amount of food, and as they do their grocery shopping at M&S and Waitrose, the expense of this horrifies me. I know, I worry too much.) Before long I know what I'm working with and will think of what I can make in order to save it all from the scrapheap.

It was with this attitude that I yesterday turned to my own kitchen cupboard.

I wondered how I'd use up a variety of things, including the opened packet of pita bread and sack of potatoes that I knew would have to be consumed in the next week or so. I went to the bookshelf and pulled down my copy of Nigel Slater's Real Fast Food -- "350 recipes ready-to-eat in 30 minutes". Nigel Slater is second only to Nigella Lawson in my hierarchy of favourite food writers, and his definition of fast food has absolutely nothing to do with burgers or packets of crisps. Dolcelatte gnocchi, grilled scallops with garlic butter, bulghur wheat and aubergine pilaf, grilled chicken livers with mustard and thyme butter -- you get the picture.

And on page 33 of this little paperback begins a list of a few good things to stuff into pita bread: deep fried courgettes with Turkish tarator sauce, cauliflower and bacon with coriander cream sauce, labna balls with aubergine and chilli, hot mackerel, tomato and sweet onion, and fried potato with spices and basil vinaigrette. It was the last one that piqued my interest, using up as it would two items from my cupboard that needed to go. But while Nigel's idea -- potatoes and onions fried with lemon juice, garam masala, and cayenne pepper, then stuffed into a warm pita with shredded fennel or white cabbage dressed with basil vinaigrette -- sounded okaaay, I had a better idea. A much better idea, as it happened.

I boiled two medium sized potatoes, which I had first cut into smallish (not tiny) cubes. I warmed a bit of olive oil in a pan, then added the potatoes and one minced clove of garlic. After letting the potatoes get a tiny bit brown and being careful not to burn the garlic, I sprinkled over a bit of sea salt and ground over some black pepper. I then stuffed some of the hot mixture into a split pita into which I'd already smeared a spoonful of onion jam and a little Greek yoghurt (though sour cream, crème fraîche or even fromage frais could be easily substituted). Then I ate this little sandwich and marvelled at how sometimes the most slapdash experiments end up yielding the most unexpectedly successful results.

It's quite a filling lunch, what with all those carbs (and the quantity I've listed here will generously serve two; the potatoes can be microwaved for a future pita if you're eating alone), but do try to eat it with a side of simply dressed -- as in lemon juice only or balsamic vinegar only -- frisée or rocket. This is the kind of thing that could convince you that perhaps being a vegetarian isn't so bad, but I do imagine that a sliver of thinly sliced, very rare steak sitting between the potato and the onion confit might be quite nice.

Posted by Jackie at 01:07 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 19, 2004
Vanilla Spiced Poached Pears

CLICK for a closer look at vanilla spiced poached pearsPears are one of those fruits that don't strike me as anything special -- and certainly not anything I'd think to serve to guests -- but I get a good one and wonder why I don't buy them more often. We must not get many good pears here, because I haven't thought that for a while. (I do like fresh pear juice mixed with fresh orange juice and fresh apple juice, though.) But the thought of poire pochée with foie gras mi-cuit and country toast sounded intriguing, and I'd been noticing recipes for sweet poached pears all over the place for what seems like years now.

So, after picking up some Asian pears (which are supposed to be a cross between an apple and a pear, and which look unnervingly like baking potatoes), I thought I'd freestyle a bit and see what I could concoct. Yes, freestyle: this is extreme cooking, people.

Vanilla Spiced Poached Pears

1 litre water (or white or red wine)
juice of two satsumas (or lemons or oranges)
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
2 whole cloves
1 vanilla pod, split
1 tsp fresh nutmeg
Pears, peeled and cored but otherwise whole

Put everything but the pears, whisking well to combine, in a deep saucepan. Bring to the boil and allow to boil rapidly for five minutes. Lower to a slow boil for another five minutes and add the pears. The pears will take anywhere from 8 minutes to an hour to poach, depending on how ripe they are. (I suggest using pears that are ripe, yet still firm and not squishy.) Remove from cooking liquid and allow to cool, then serve either warm or cold with subtly sweet Greek yoghurt or vanilla ice cream or vanilla mascarpone. Eat and wonder why you don't buy pears more often. Remind yourself to serve this to guests sometime.

Posted by Jackie at 06:01 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 17, 2004
Chestnut and Lentil Soup

CLICK for a closer look at (steamy) chestnut and lentil soupIn the comments to a recent post, Meg of Let's Eat with Meg and Ted commented on the oeuf cocotte recipe from Clotilde's Chocolate & Zucchini that has been doing the rounds of food blogs lately. I've made it (more than once, actually), as has Alberto, a commenter at Alberto's called Niki, and now Meg. (And, as he points out in the comments to this post, Paul made it -- for New Year's Eve dinner, no less -- too.) Now I think a new viral recipe may have arrived on the scene: Maki's lentil and chestnut soup, which I found via Clotilde's velouté de lentilles aux marrons.

When I told Clotilde that I'd never had lentils, and only had chestnuts in a chocolate chestnut refrigerator cake from Nigella Lawson's Nigella Bites book, she insisted I make this. Yesterday, when I told Clotilde that I thought I was coming down with something, she suggested I make this soup to make myself feel better. This morning, she even called me to ask if I had made the soup! Talk about persistence. I was sold. (Okay, she really called me for something else -- but more on that tomorrow.)

I had planned on doing a lot of cooking this evening anyway (and exactly why shall also remain a mystery for the time being), so I thought I'd add this easy-looking soup to the list. I had no problem finding chestnuts -- vacuum-packed roasted ones from Merchant Gourmet, who also do an excellent tinned chestnut purée, as featured in the above-linked chocolate chestnut cake recipe. At the same time, I picked up a box of Merchant Gourmet puy lentils for the soup.

I made the recipe according to Clotilde's guidelines, altering it only to use red onion in place of yellow onion, chicken stock instead of vegetable stock, and Greek yoghurt as a substitute for crème fraîche. And I have to tell you -- it is delicious. At first I wasn't so sure, because lentils seem a bit sludgy when you look at them, but they didn't taste sludgy at all. The chestnuts, too, were velvety with a hint of subtle sweetness that was a revelation to me. Definitely leave lots of chestnut chunks in this soup, rather than puréeing them all, because when you get one in your spoon it's quite a cheering occasion.

In fact, the next time I make this, I will probably double the amount of chestnuts used and make it a more chestnutty soup. I'm sure that will please Clotilde, as she is as evangelistic about chestnuts as she is about leeks and her ramekins. Well, she's converted me. And, in turn, let me insist that you too must make this soup. All the other blogs are doing it, so why not you?

Posted by Jackie at 10:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 16, 2004
Tell me what to make with...

Celery. I have a fridge full of the stuff, and I hate it in its raw form. (You can't buy just one stalk of celery for making soup or stuffing or a ragu, which is a shame.) I can't let anything go to waste, so please leave your celery recipe suggestions in the comments. Otherwise, I shall be forced to just boil it and eat it like that, whether it's enjoyable or not.

UPDATE: How funny! James Lileks, one of my favourite bloggers -- and author of The Gallery of Regrettable Food -- is the number two result on Google for the word "celery". Take a look at why.

Posted by Jackie at 06:05 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 11, 2004
Subtly Sweet Greek Yoghurt

CLICK for a closer look at brown sugar dissolving into Greek yoghurtYesterday morning, watching Saturday Kitchen on BBC2, I saw Jill Dupleix make something rather interesting -- if "make" is even the word for such an effortless endeavour.

Jill was demonstrating her recipe for banana muffins (yawn -- the recipe looks good, but banana muffin recipes seem annoyingly ubiquitous these days), and suggested serving them alongside some sliced banana and butterscotch-esque Greek yoghurt. But the way this yoghurt was prepared was interesting: Jill scattered a tablespoon or so of dark muscovado sugar (she said any dark brown sugar would do) over the yoghurt, then let it sit in the fridge for about 20 minutes. When she took it out, the sugar had dissolved into the yoghurt. Jill gave it a quick stir, and sure enough she had a sweet, caramel-coloured yoghurt to go with the banana.

CLICK for a closer look at subtly sweet Greek yoghurtOf course, I had to try this for myself (I used simple dark brown sugar), and it really worked well. I'm a fan of Greek yoghurt anyway, and particularly like it with a spoonful of runny honey, but this method does produce more subtly sweet results. I served it as dessert, with banana slices, though my taste tester refused to eat it; he once saw a friend of his get very ill after eating Greek yoghurt and now won't touch it. (Yes, he's being slightly irrational -- it's just thick yoghurt, nothing especially dangerous.) His loss, though, because it's quite a nice combination. I think it's a bit indulgent as a breakfast (which was kind of the point of Jill's spot; she was showing some easy breakfast treats for a lazy weekend morning), though if you sprinkled a bit of granola or muesli on top, that would make it slightly more virtuous. But I imagine you could happily pair this with any fruit -- or even a bit of dried out cake.

It is my understanding that Greek yoghurt isn't as easy to find in North America as it is here in the UK and in other countries. But I am reliably informed that the Total brand of Greek yoghurt is available at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Fresh Fields supermarket chains, and Nigella Lawson says that the tester who works on her recipes for her column in the New York Times maintains that wholemilk yoghurt is an excellent substitute.

Posted by Jackie at 03:14 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 10, 2004
Confiture d'Oignon (aka Onion Jam)

CLICK for a closer look at onion jamI'm going by the French name for this because a) I had it for the first time in France, and b) it -- like most things -- sounds nicer in French. Pretentious? Possibly. Do I mind? Not in this case.

I shared the recipe for this before the holidays, when I was gearing up to make little jars of it to give as edible Christmas gifts. But I discovered something interesting when I made it again recently, in a much smaller quantity: The red wine in the jam is entirely optional. Just use brown sugar and balsamic vinegar and it'll still turn out tasty; in fact, I don't think you'd be able to tell the difference between the wine-less jam and the boozy one if you tasted them one after the other. Sure, use the wine if you've got it to spare, but if you're like me and like to drink your wine rather than eat it, know that you can keep it out of this recipe and still yield excellent results. (Eliminating one ingredient -- and a costly one at that -- is also a good way of ensuring that this will be made more frequently than it might otherwise be.)

The very best partner for this condiment is a warm, melty disc of freshly baked goat's cheese next to a pile of simply dressed frisée and rocket leaves. That said, see below for a recommended serving suggestion -- lemon and garlic roast chicken, confiture d'oignon, and grilled courgettes. A few steamed or boiled new potatoes would go well with this meal, too.

CLICK for a closer look

Posted by Jackie at 12:00 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

January 08, 2004
Crumble de Courgettes et Champignons

CLICK for a closer look at zucchini and mushroom crumbleI haven't turned to Clotilde in Paris's Chocolate & Zucchini for inspiration since last year -- egads. Okay (lame joke), it was only 28 December when I made Mendiants, but I spotted an item from Clotilde's family Christmas meal that I had to try: crumble de courgettes et champignons, or zucchini and mushroom crumble.

I altered somewhat the recipe that Clotilde and her mother, Sylvie, had devised. I was making this as a main course, so I didn't want to do individual servings in ramekins -- a gratin dish or other small casserole would work best here, but I used a Springform pan. Why? Because I just found my two Springform pans in a box of kitchen stuff I hadn't opened since moving over a year ago, and using them feels like using new stuff. (Sad, I know.)

Also, my taste tester said to me, when I proposed making this for dinner: "I can't imagine liking anything that has courgettes in it." So I decided to use only two medium courgettes instead of the six called for by Clotilde's recipe, but I kept the amount of mushrooms (about a pound, or 500g) the same. I also increased the amount of finely chopped onion from one quarter of an onion to a whole -- albeit smallish -- onion.

The results were, as I have come to expect from my reproductions of Clotilde's recipes, incredibly tasty. I wondered how the crumble topping would come out -- oatmeal is absolutely called for in a sweet crumble, but in a savoury one? No need to worry, because it makes for a crunchy, golden topping, yet it doesn't taste at all oat-y.

Best of all, my courgette-hating taste tester wolfed down two gigantic portions of this, so I think calling it a success would be fair. I served it as a main course, and it's the kind of thing one could do as a side dish to a meat course -- roast chicken or lamb -- but serve in larger quantities to a vegetarian guest.

And as is also par for the course with what I read at and try from Chocolate & Zucchini, this recipe has a great deal of versatility: I want to try this next with broccoli in place of the courgettes.

Posted by Jackie at 12:01 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 06, 2004
Caramelised onion pie

CLICK for a closer look at caramelised onion pieI call this "What you get if you've lent your copy of How to Be a Domestic Goddess to a friend and decide to try and make Supper Onion Pie from memory." So, in that sense, caramelised onion pie owes -- as so much that I make does -- quite a lot to Nigella Lawson.

This is something that is always greedily consumed by those I have made it for; in fact, people often ask and even insist that I make it for them. Since I think that one would have to be made of stone not to enjoy caramelised onions, and because this recipe is such a doddle to put together, I am usually happy to comply. I made it today as a last minute lunch for a friend who had popped in to say hello. As I say, I don't have my copy of the original Nigella recipe, so I can only tell you how I winged it today -- and the mistakes I made in doing so.

First, chop five or six large(ish) onions. The original recipe calls for only red onions to be used, but I like it just as much made with white or yellow ones. Sometimes, as in this instance, I use a mixture of the two.

Over a low flame, cook the onions in a bit of butter that's been melted in a small amount of olive oil for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the softened onions have started to go a bit brown (that is to say, until they caramelise). I know that 30 minutes seems like a long time to stand at the stove, but the uncomplicated nature of the supervision here provides a good opportunity to let your mind wander a bit. Or listen to the radio. Whatever you do, don't let the onions stick to the bottom of the pan.

After the onions have had their time, season them with salt, pepper and some fresh or dried thyme. Then lay them in the bottom of a pie pan or Springform cake pan; if you use the latter, encase the pan in foil; if even the tiniest amount of the butter and oil that the onions have cooked in seeps through the sides of the pan, you will be annoyed.

Scatter a good handful -- up to a cup, I'd say -- of shredded cheese over the onions. Cheeses that work well here include cheddar (of varying maturity), double Gloucester and even red Leicester. I'm now considering trying this with goat's cheese, so perfect is the combination of that white wonder with caramelised onions; if one was to try that, more cheese would have to be used in order to account for the less melty nature of goat's cheese.

Leave the onions in their pan, and then get on with making a cheese scone dough. (When I do try this with goat's cheese, I will just make a plain scone dough to go on top of the onions.) Apologies once again for the rough estimates on amounts, but I used a couple of cups of flour, a cup of shredded cheese, a quarter cup or so of milk (Nigella's recipe calls for full fat, but I only ever have skimmed milk on hand and so have only ever made this using that -- with no problems), one beaten egg, a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of English mustard (optional). What I left out, I remembered afterward, was a quarter cup or so of melted butter and a teaspoon of baking soda (bicarb). The result of my forgetfulness was a dough that baked into something that was more like a pizza crust than a scone, but this consequence was not unpleasant; I had no hesitation about serving it for lunch anyway, and it tasted fine.

This dough comes out very sticky, so I never roll it out as advised in the original recipe. It's a bit messy, but I usually just take bits of the dough in my hands and spread it out over the onions until there are no big gaps in between sections of dough; it will spread anyway because of the cheese, so you won't end up with any holes in the crust after baking.

Dough in place on top of the onions, bake the whole thing at 190°C/gas mark 5/375°F for a half hour, or until the top crust has gone golden and a bit brown in places. Once out of the oven and slightly cooled, place a large plate on top of the pan and flip the whole thing upside down, so that the crust is on the bottom and the onions on the top. Serve -- either as a side dish or main course -- just like this, or with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream.

Posted by Jackie at 07:06 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

January 02, 2004
Salmon fishcakes

CLICK for a closer look at salmon fishcakesI wandered into my local cornershop yesterday, totally clueless as to what I'd be making for tea that night. I had friends coming round, but I didn't want anything fussy; I don't know why, but I think New Year's Day calls for something that's not too jarring (says she who had Greek salad with black olives, feta and watermelon for breakfast). And on a freezing, wet day like Thursday, something warm was definitely in order.

Fishcakes, shepherd's pie, bread and butter pudding, spotted dick and other nursery foods went through something of a renaissance in British restaurants in the '90s. Suddenly, traditional and homey was trendy. (I am reliably informed that the salmon fishcakes at J Sheekey are "epic".) Hating trends, I always resisted this kind of eating; I assumed one had to have been raised on the stuff to really appreciate it. I was, for not the first time, dead wrong.

As I mentioned in the post about kiwi juice, I was most pleased to find that my cornershop was having a sale (since it stopped being independent and joined the Londis chain, there are lots of sales) on tinned wild salmon. I'd never purchased tinned salmon before, but a discount from £2.39 per tin to 99p per tin seemed to require me to act boldly. I remembered that Nigella insists that the best salmon to make salmon fishcakes with is tinned salmon, and that The Pieman had told me he'd successfully made Nigella's recipe for salmon fishcakes with his young daughter, and so I thought, "Well, let's get our hands dirty and make fishcakes."

Despite the many words which follow, there isn't much to say about this recipe; it's easy as anything, and if you're cooking with kids, you can get them to stick their hands in the bowl and combine everything for you. The uncooked mix, as Ms Lawson notes, does smell absolutely foul. The recipe calls for the pink patties to be refrigerated for at least 20 minutes -- so if you (like I do) live with someone who is very fussy about what the fridge smells like, if only for 20 minutes, you might want to make this while they're out of the house. And if anyone does complain, just feed them the results and they'll hush soon enough.

Just a bit of advice: I halved the amounts called for in Nigella's recipe and still got nine good-sized fishcakes (fat hockey pucks, if that visual helps) out of it, easily feeding three people. My cornershop doesn't carry matzo -- this is a predominantly Muslim and Sikh neighbourhood, so we're good for ghee, dessicated coconut, halal meats and so forth, but you've got to walk a couple of miles to Sainsbury's for the most basic kosher ingredients -- so I used breadcrumbs instead. The results were good, but the outside coating was less dry and crumbly than it would have been with matzo; you could use crushed Saltines or even potato chips/crisps here if you wanted, and this would still be an exercise worth undertaking.

I also found that the amount of butter and oil that the recipe suggests using to fry the fishcakes in was rather too much, even when halved. Go by sight, but you really don't need to fry these in much fat at all. I estimate that I used a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil to cook all nine fishcakes.

I just had these with a blob of tomato ketchup and garlicky lemon peas, but I served them to my guests with mashed potato and parsley sauce (make a roux, season with salt, pepper and parsely; that's it), which is slightly more traditional, I am told. These boys don't do salad, so I didn't serve one. For dessert, in keeping with the homespun comfort food thread, I gave them slices of dense chocolate loaf.

Posted by Jackie at 05:17 AM | Comments (12) | TrackBack

January 01, 2004
New Year's Eve Cake

I did not want a big to-do for New Year's Eve, having just gotten off a plane from New York late the night before. My daughter would be with friends, so I bought some caviar, two steaks, a bottle of champagne, and the makings for a chocolate cake. Din (my husband) is very partial to the molten babycakes I make, but I wanted something more festive, and turned to Maida Heatter's Best Dessert Book Ever, one of five cookbooks I have not packed in preparation for our move. I have always thought Heatter divine, and more so when I reviewed a book of hers for Bon Appetit magazine, and later received a hand-written thank you note!

I decided to go with the Sonrisa Chocolate Cake, which is attributed to Sonrisa Bakery in Rancho Santa Fe. As I seem to do with every recipe, I changed it, omitting the rum and decreasing the sugar. The result, which I served with vanilla whipped cream, was lustrous and rich, the sort of knock-out chocolate cake you always hope to receive at restaurants and rarely do. Eating our slices in bed, Din surmised that this may be because restaurants can't keep their desserts fresh. I countered that if I had a restaurant, I'd offer only three a night and each would stupify the eater into silence.

The cake, which sat overnight in the fridge, has attained the consistency of an all-frosting cake; never a bad thing.

New Year's Eve Cake

10 ounces bittersweet chocolate
4 ounces (1 stick) butter
6 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar

Preheat oven to 375. Butter an 8-inch springform pan, line with a circle of parchment, butter that, and dust the whole thing with flour. Wrap pan in aluminum foil, as it will sit in a water-bath and you don't want water to get in the pan.

Melt chocolate and butter (I use the microwave), and set aside. Beat whites with two tablespoons of the sugar, to soft peaks. In separate bowl, beat yolks with remaining sugar until thickened, mix in chocolate, then fold in whites. Pour batter into prpeared pan.

Set springform pan in a baking pan that is wider but not deeper, and pour in one-inch of hot water. Bake for 15 minutes, reduce temperature to 350, bake 15 minutes more, then reduce temperature to 275 and bake 30 minutes (one hour total). Turn off oven, crack oven door, and allow cake to sit for 30 minutes. Remove cake from oven and allow to cool completely.

Unmold cake carefully: take off ring, loosen cake from pan bottom with long thin spatula or spreader, then invert cake onto a serving plate and peel off parchment. If you want to be festive, dust a little confectioner's sugar in a pattern onto cake.

Beat a cup of heavy cream with a half-teaspoon vanilla and two teaspoons sugar. Plop a bit alongside each slice of cake.

Posted by nancy at 07:31 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

December 31, 2003
Spicy tomato chutney

CLICK for a closer look at spicy tomato chutneyHaving so horribly maligned Cornish pasties (which, make no mistake, deserved it), I thought I might try to balance out my coverage of western English foodstuffs by saying kind things about a condiment (home)made in West Somerset: spicy tomato chutney.

My friend Lisa's parents have a holiday house on the coast in Dunster, a village that was described by Geoffrey Chaucer as "fair as is the rose in May" and that sits just across the Bristol Channel from South Wales. On one trip over to Dunster, Lisa and my friend Paul, her partner, brought back for me a jar of spicy tomato chutney, homemade by Brendon Hill Crafts, that they'd picked up in a local shop. I very much appreciate being given jars of local products like this -- the one that came to me from the furthest distance was a jar of La Salamandra dulce de leche that a boyfriend brought back from Argentina -- so this souvenir was a big hit with me. (And yes, if you know me in real life, that's a massive hint.)

The best thing about this chutney -- whose ingredients are fairly basic and easily discernible from a sampling -- is the smell. Stick your nose over the lid of the jar, inhale deeply and you're suddenly at a summer barbecue. The strong, sweet tomato aroma really does transport you to a warmer time, which in the winter months is no mean feat.

CLICK for a closer look at spicy tomato chutney

A little bit of this chutney goes a long way, and I think it works best as part of a traditional ploughman's lunch: in a splodge on a plate, to eat with a bit of salad, a couple of slices of cheese (mature cheddar and Caerphilly for preference), some fresh bread and perhaps a bit of ham. If you'd like to make your own, I've developed a recipe for spicy tomato chutney which really could not be easier.

1 kg (2.2 lb) tomatoes, peeled, deseeded and chopped
Cooking apple, peeled, cored and chopped
Onion, chopped
Sultanas or raisins (one large handful -- or two, if you like)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
2 small chillies, finely chopped (optional -- decide how spicy you want your chutney to be)
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons fresh nutmeg

Chuck all ingredients into a large saucepan. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until you have a non-soupy, tender chutney. Allow to cool and remove cinnamon stick before serving, or decant to sterilised jars.

If you're a carnivore, I'm reliably informed that this also goes well with roast lamb and burgers.

Posted by Jackie at 05:00 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 30, 2003
Dense Chocolate Loaf

I have a confession to make: I am not a good baker. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, more than missing whatever gene it is that makes someone a baking virtuoso, I am missing whatever gene it is that allows most creatures with opposable thumbs to put together a cake from scratch and have it come out as they intended. My cakes are edible, certainly, but rarely do they attain the blissful heights that my other culinary pursuits regularly do. (Modesty does no good here: I know I can cook. I know I can't bake. That is it.)

CLICK for a closer look at dense chocolate loaf cake

Thanks to my gastronomic hero, Nigella Lawson, I have nevertheless managed to build a repertoire of baked goods that I can manage to make without much fuss, fairly confident that the results will be not only merely adequate, but outstandingly good. I would recommend her book How to Be a Domestic Goddess to anyone interested in food and good writing, regardless of whether or not they aspire to actually bake or cook themselves, but it would be especially useful for those who would like to bake but have always found themselves useless at doing so. Apart from the confidence that Ms Lawson's guiding voice encourages, the recipes that I've tried from this book have been pretty foolproof (and yes, I'm the fool).

The first cake I ever baked successfully, from scratch, was the dense chocolate loaf from HTBADG. I was sure I had messed up at some point along the way -- perhaps by dispensing with the recipe's advice to add the flour and boiling water in alternating spoonfuls, instead opting to bung them into the mix in alternating great splashes -- but when all was said and done, I had two incredibly fabulous chocolate cakes. (The recipe calls for the cake to be made in one 23 x 13 x 7cm loaf tin, but I divide the batter between two smaller, more normal-sized loaf tins.) The slightly sunken middle, with a bit of a crack down the centre, is the result of the moisture and density of the crumb. Not liking for things to look too perfect, I find the centre the most attractive part of this cake.

You can find the American version of the recipe for dense chocolate loaf here, and the British version is here. I would encourage you to try this, even if you are an expert baker; despite using only 100g of best dark chocolate (that's 50g in each cake), the damp chocolate intensity of this cake makes one small slice unbelievably filling, without being cloying or overly rich. If I'm serving this to guests, I often frost it with a dark chocolate ganache (melt 100g of best dark chocolate with 100ml double cream, swirl until well combined, then pour over the cake and let set for a few minutes), but this cake really does not need icing or any other accompaniment. If I'm giving it away as a gift -- and since not even the greediest eater would want two of these cakes sitting around the house, I always do give at least one of them away -- I make it the night before, let cool completely and then wrap it well in clingfilm, often handing it over with the suggestion that the recipient eat the cake with ice cream and sliced strawberries, or raspberry coulis and cream. Nigella likes hers spread with cold cream cheese, but I can think of no better pairing for this than a glass of ice cold milk, lactose intolerance be damned.

Posted by Jackie at 12:05 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 28, 2003
Mendiants

It's been more than a week since I made a recipe based on something I saw at Clotilde's excellent Chocolate & Zucchini. Obviously something had to be done about this. CLICK for a closer look at mendiants

After reading about the mendiants that Clotilde made for her family and friends, and the history behind them, I decided I would make some for a friend of mine who is a very picky eater. Even though I don't exactly deal in terribly foreign concoctions, Dcake's English toffee has been the only thing I've made recently that I've been able to tempt him into eating. But he loves chocolate (he's not that picky), so I was confident that mendiants would go down well.

My friend doesn't like nuts, dried fruit or anything like that, so I topped my mendiants with white chocolate buttons. I suppose I should have used Montgomery Moore or some other really good brand, but for my purposes Nestlé Milkybar buttons were just fine.

The mendiants turned out perfectly well, if not perfectly shaped; I kind of like a haphazard look to homemade things like this, and these were nothing if not haphazard. Or, as my friend put it, "They look like fried eggs that have gone very rotten." Thanks! But he ate them all, so the look must not have been very off-putting.

I used Lindt Excellence Dark Chocolate with 85% cocoa solids as the base for my mendiants. I'm really not a fan of dark chocolate, but a) these weren't for me, and b) Sainsbury's didn't have any Lindt milk chocolate. If I ever do make these for myself -- and I can't imagine when that will be, as I'm still recovering from the overindulgence of the Christmas season -- I shall use milk chocolate and top my mendiants with mini-pretzels, if I can find them.

Posted by Jackie at 01:24 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

December 17, 2003
Roast Garlic and Cheese Dip

So after you've had a slice of your Port Salut and don't fancy having any more -- at least not in its original form -- what can you do besides just throw it away?CLICK to see Roast Garlic and Cheese Dip up close

Well, if you've got some leftover breadsticks hanging around -- as I did -- you make some kind of dip out of it. You could even make this one, which I threw together based on what I had on hand. The end result only yielded about one half cup of dip, but it's not in my genes to throw away even the paltry remainders of a wheel of cheese.

First, roast a few unpeeled cloves of garlic in the oven for 20-25 minutes at 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Roast garlic has a very mild taste, so use more cloves or fewer depending on how much you like your garlic.

Just before you take the garlic out of the oven, nuke your cheese in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds -- though it may only need 10 seconds if it's been sitting out on the counter for several minutes. (Keep the cheese on, but not wrapped up in, its paper while microwaving.) This will soften it so that you can easily scoop the oozy cheese from its rind, which you should discard; I know it's edible, but it's not nice on its own and I can't think of a good use for it, so even I, the queen of not letting anything go to waste, would pitch it.

In a small saucepan, melt the tiniest knob of butter -- no more than a teaspoon -- with the softened cheese over the lowest flame. Pour in a splash of dry white wine (or vermouth) and stir in some paprika or finely chopped herbs; a combination of thyme, rosemary, parsley and marjoram is good, or you could just use one of those. The mixture will look a bit like scrambled egg.

Take the garlic out of the oven, squeezing the paste from the cloves and directly into the cheese mixture. Give it a good stir, turn off the heat, and chuck the whole mess into a bowl or ramekin. Serve with breadsticks, cubes of bread (fondue-style, if you like), crisps, chips, or fresh vegetables like chicory, fennel, and peppers for dipping. If you don't wish to eat the dip as soon as you've made it, put it in an airtight container and warm, uncovered, in the microwave for a few seconds before serving.

ADDENDUM: In the comments to this post, reader Mike suggests topping a hamburger with this. I haven't had a hamburger in many months, but that idea strikes me as particularly good. Note to self: Try that when summer rolls around.

Posted by Jackie at 04:14 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 16, 2003
Oeuf Cocotte

You're never going to guess: I made another recipe from Clotilde's Chocolate & Zucchini.
CLICK for a closer look at oeuf cocette
This time, I picked oeuf cocotte. Clotilde expressed horror that I have owned two sets of ramekins for years and never once used them; in fact, I had to take the plastic wrapping off of my Pyrex ones, purchased a couple of years ago, and wash them before making this tonight. So I resolved to use them, and on a night where I felt like cooking but didn't feel like eating much, this little egg dish seemed a good option.

I spread a tablespoon of garlic and herb Boursin Deli (a spreadable version of Boursin) in the bottom of the ramekin, then layered four small squares of thinly sliced ham on top of that. Next, I broke the egg over it all and put it in the oven at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 for 25 minutes. From past experiences I had deduced that Clotilde's oven runs cooler than mine does, so I have no idea why I had to cook my oeuf cocette for 10 or 15 minutes longer than she does hers, but it took the full 25 minutes for the white to go white, though it was still quite soft. The yolk was half-set and just the way I like it; click on the somewhat artsy-fartsy picture to see a close-up of the whole thing, sprinkled with paprika, after I'd taken a bite out of it.

Not to sound like a broken record (considering the post on Penne Fiorentina), but this was much better than I would have imagined -- warm, creamy, flavourful and more filling than you'd think. I know a recipe is good if my immediate reaction is that I can't wait to make it for someone else. Friends reading this should be warned: there is an oeuf cocotte in your future.

Posted by Jackie at 01:59 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

December 12, 2003
Chicken and mango salad

As you may have noted from this recent post, I'm pretty much over the holiday season already. Or, rather, I'm over the food that is pushed upon us during the holiday season. Perhaps it's because I had Thanksgiving dinner with my friends not so long ago -- and I'm sure all of my recent baking and fudge-making for the holidays doesn't help here -- but I am quite tired of the roasted, the stodgy, the hot and the cloying.

To help see me through this most difficult and trying time, I've been making a lot of salads. More accurately, I've been making the same salad over and over: chicken and mango salad.

This was largely based on Nigella Lawson's recipe for Golden Jubilee chicken (the turkey version is on her website). I was staying with my friends Paul and Lisa, and when I go to their house I like to cook for them; I live with a very picky eater, so it's rare that I have a willing crowd for whom to cook, and I like to make the most of it when I do. One of my pet peeves is throwing food away, and -- love them though I do -- Paul and Lisa throw a lot of food away. So I come over and rescue things that they are not likely to use before they go off, which is how we ended up having guacamole before Thanksgiving dinner (as well as chilli con queso dip the next night, to get rid of some shredded cheddar), and chicken and mango salad on this occasion: a mango or two were within a few days of expiring and, as it happened, perfectly ripe and juicy.

There really isn't much of a recipe here, but assemble the following:

Cooked chicken, in chunks
Little gem lettuce, romaine or even a mixture of cos and iceberg -- crunch matters here
1 mango, peeled and cut into chunks
1 spring onion, finely chopped (optional)
1-2 red chillies, deseeded and finally chopped (optional)

Toss all ingredients to combine and dress appropriately. I first used a non-fat mint yoghurt dressing, which went unexpectedly well with this, but your standard vinaigrette recipe will do just fine -- and make sure you incorporate any juice from the mango into it.

I like to use the leftovers from a roast chicken -- or, even better, a garlic roast chicken -- to make this, and ensure that it's warm before I do so. (I sprinkle the meat with a bit of water before heating it up in the microwave for a minute so that it doesn't dry out.) And I once made this with a couple of rashers of hot, crispy bacon crumbled into it as well, just because they -- you guessed it -- needed using up.

I was a latecomer to mango (weirdly, some people in some parts of America refer to green peppers as mangoes), and it was a bit of an acquired taste for me. In this salad, though, it's somewhat addictive. If you're growing weary of the homebaked goodness of December, give it a try.

Posted by Jackie at 09:45 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 11, 2003
Serendipitycakes

Yesterday, I tried my hand at Clotilde's chouquettes. My small test batch turned out tasty, but a tad overdone, as my oven is slightly hotter than Clotilde's.

CLICK for a larger view of SerendipitycakesTonight, I tried again, lowering the temperature of my oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and reducing the baking time from 25 to 20 minutes, as well as cutting to 5 minutes the time for which the chouquettes are left in the oven once it has been turned off. I also baked the pâte à choux dough in balls somewhat larger than the hazelnut size recommended by Clotilde; my spoonfuls were more walnut-sized.

This time, the results were a bit underdone -- at least if I was making chouquettes, as I intended to do -- but that turned out to be a rather happy accident. Instead of setting up firm and puffy and staying that way, they set up puffy and then deflated a bit, taking a soft, golden pancake-esque shape. Continuing my recent mission to explore the limits to which I can push the stock on offer by my local cornershops, I heated up 2 tablespoons of Nutella over a low flame until it melted. This I placed in modest dollops in the middle of each ovencake, then served them, still warm, to my taste testers. And they loved them.

One thing I didn't think to do until after they'd been consumed was to fold the cakes over the filling, forming little turnovers. You could even, if you so desired, fold them into little Hamantaschen-like triangles (even though the recipe and method are both quite un-Hamantaschen-like) and fill them with fruit preserves, poppy seed or nut roll filling. I almost used low fat custard in these tonight, but the cake is eggy enough that you want more of a contrast here.

So, Clotilde, perhaps the third time will be my charm and I'll end up with actual chouquettes. Either way, I'm pleased with the results of my trials, which reminded me of one of my favourite things about cooking and baking: sometimes the mistakes are entirely fortunate ones.

Posted by Jackie at 11:53 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

December 10, 2003
Quasi-quiche and chouquettes

Just the other day, I linked to what has quickly become my favourite food blog: Chocolate & Zucchini.
CLICK for a close-up of quasi-quiche
After spending some time perusing the archives of Clotilde in Paris's gorgeous site, I am slightly sheepish that I originally linked to, of all things, an entry where she wrote about Heinz Baked Beans. Now that I've feasted my eyes upon Carrés de Noix de Pécan à la Vanille, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Chocolate Cake (which looks far easier than my usual chocolate cake recipe), and Gâteau de Mamy à la Poire -- amongst many others -- I have been inspired to pull my finger out and start doing some experimenting.

Tonight, that meant two things: quasi-quiche and chouquettes.

Clotilde's salmon and leek quiche recipe made me decide to make what I believe is my first ever quiche-type thing. As is typical for me, I decided to fly by the seat of my pants and make a totally different quiche altogether. Out went the crust (I couldn't be bothered with crust making, and I don't actually enjoy crust enough to justify eating it), and as this was a last minute dinner decision and my local cornershops -- while better than average -- don't do fresh salmon or leeks, I opted for the clichéd, slightly 70s version of quiche: one made with diced onion, chopped bacon and shredded cheese. I even put tomato slices on top to make it extra naff. (I do make my own fun, as you can see.) But I do actually like tomatoes on my quiche, so this was no triumph of style (ahem) over substance.

Quasi-quiche

4 large eggs
100g Greek yoghurt (or sour cream, or crème fraîche, or double cream, or even cottage cheese)
half a small onion, diced
2 rashers bacon, fat trimmed off (or not -- your call) and roughly chopped
25g shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tomato (optional)
salt, pepper and herbs (parsley wouldn't go amiss here) to taste

Preheat your oven to 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 and grease whatever pan you have that you think would do the job; I do own round, flute-edged pans that would have been more appropriate, but a 20cm square one was closest to hand, as I had used it last night to make Dcake's delicious fudge recipe.

In a small bowl, whisk the eggs with the yoghurt until well combined and fold in the diced onion, bacon and cheese. Pour into your pan and top with tomato slices if you so desire. Bake for approximately 30 minutes, or until the eggs have set and the top has gone as golden as you like it. Mine looked like this.

You should feel free to alter this recipe to suit your own tastes and pantry; that is, after all, what I did with the recipe that inspired it. I can imagine that pancetta cubes or prosciutto would do well in place of the bacon, with some good Gruyère or Edam substituting quite nicely for the cheddar. And I'm a big fan of courgettes (zucchini) and red peppers in quiche; if I'd had them on hand, I would have included them in this.

Also, if you're trying to eliminate high glycaemic index carbs from your diet, this recipe fits well into such an eating plan.

After reading Clotilde's chouquette story and perusing what seemed like a fairly straightforward recipe for them, I tried my hand at these. They came out pretty well, except that (as Clotilde warns) my oven is apparently a bit hotter than hers, so my chouquettes were well browned when I took them out, even though I'd reduced the cooking time by 5 minutes. (Happily, I only did a small test batch of 9 chouquettes in order to gauge exactly how long and at what temperature I should bake mine.) As luck would have it, I came across a recipe for profiteroles -- this being the same pâte à choux recipe that is used as the basis for those, as well as éclairs and other treats -- in a magazine I was reading tonight, and it suggested baking this dough at 200°C/400°F/gas mark 6 for less time. I shall do that with the rest of the mixture tomorrow. As confirmed by my test eater, they still tasted good as they turned out. I didn't have any of the coarse baker's sugar with which these are supposed to be topped, so I sprinkled three of them with chocolate strands, I sprinkled three with, er, sprinkles (aka hundreds and thousands), and I sprinkled three with some dark brown sugar. None of these tasted badly, but obviously they're not made for the job.

Perhaps tomorrow I will use this batter to make profiteroles, éclairs or something of my own creation. Thanks to Chocolate & Zucchini, I feel inspired enough to do so.

Posted by Jackie at 11:25 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

December 07, 2003
Powerless in the face of kitsch: decapitating Nigella

One of my favourite food blogs is the beautiful Chocolate & Zucchini, which is written and maintained by Clotilde in Paris. The writing is engaging, the photographs gorgeous and the food makes you want to up sticks and head to Paris for the day. (Living only a couple of hours' train ride away, it's harder to talk oneself out of this at the best of times, but reading C&Z makes it seem even more urgent.)

This entry, about Heinz Baked Beans, reminded me that Heinz currently has a promotion offering Heinz Baked Beans-branded plates and Heinz Soup-branded bowls in exchange for soup tin labels and a bit of cash. I can never resist such kitsch, as my Kellogg's Cornflakes bowls (deep and durable porcelain) and Oreos clear plastic drinking glasses attest.

And speaking of kitsch, well, surely a life size chocolate sculpture of Nigella Lawson, as seen in the window of Selfridge's department store in London, counts. If you're not sure what to get that special someone for Christmas, you can bid for the chocolate statue on eBay, with all proceeds going to benefit Barnardo's children's charity.

As a friend commented, "I can imagine there being an almighty row over who gets dibs on which body parts," so perhaps this is a gift best not shared. If someone bought it for me (the opening bid is only £200, so it could happen), I'd melt all of it down, except for the head, and make hundreds of Nigella's dense chocolate loaf cakes to give away. I'm a good cook, but baking is a challenge for me, and this is the most successful thing I've ever baked -- people have actually offered me money to make them.

And what would I do with Nigella's head? Give it away as a prize on this blog, of course.

Posted by Jackie at 07:55 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

December 04, 2003
Christmas isn't here yet, but the detox suggestions are

It's been at least two posts since I mentioned Nigella Lawson, but I feel I must call your attention to her Christmas mini-site. Strangely enough, I've never made any of these festive recipes. Though I've always liked the look of her Christmas cupcakes, I think one must have been born in Britain to truly appreciate royal icing; for me, nothing beats buttercream, and I always peel off and discard the icing one routinely gets on British cakey things. As someone with both a sweet tooth and an ingrained aversion to throwing anything away, that's saying something.

Nigella also says:

I think it’s all right to give people leftovers if they’re coming for dinner around Christmas, but in that case make a pudding. It needn’t be complicated, but it looks as if you’ve made some effort. Soup, too, not out of a carton, gives a hospitable uplift to the inevitable leftover offerings.
Hmm. I know I wouldn't be offended in the least to be served leftovers at someone else's house, but I don't think I could serve them at mine. And really, by the time Christmas is over, I feel badly in need of a detox; I don't want to so much look at a roast potato or another cookie.

Perhaps one should just cook with the desires of one's guests in mind, but I'm far too selfish for that. I do, however, offer a compromise: hot-and-cold salad -- and one with which Christmas leftovers could be used -- with a cool and festive dessert.

First, the salad:

Chicken and mushroom salad

Bag(s) of designer salad leaves (romaine, cos and iceberg give the crunch you want here)
Roast chicken (or turkey, if you're working with leftovers), in chunks
Mushrooms (I like a mixture of shiitake and plain white mushrooms, but use your favourite kind)
Tomatoes (against Ms Lawson's diktat stipulation that tomatoes don't belong in a salad with green leaves; they taste good here)
Roquefort, Stilton or other blue cheese
Honey mustard dressing (see below)

Sautee the mushrooms over a medium heat in a bit of olive oil until they go soft and brown. Add the pre-cooked chicken and cook for a further couple of minutes, until the chicken is warmed through.

Assemble salad leaves on plates, tomato segments arranged along the perimeter, and pile the chicken and mushroom mixture in a mound in the middle of the salad. Top with chunks of blue cheese and drizzle with honey mustard dressing.

For the honey mustard dressing:
Whisk 3 parts runny honey, 2 parts French mustard (or 1/2 part English mustard), 1 part olive oil and 1 part lemon juice (I've substituted freshly squeezed orange juice and it was fantastic), season with salt and pepper

I make this all year round, so there's nothing particularly festive about it, but it's a cool retreat from the cloying homebaked goodness of the holidays, without being real summery food.

As for the dessert, this came from Ainsley Harriott's Gourmet Express 2. Yes, his style is grating (perhaps more so in print), but some of his recipes are quite good. Ainsley recommends serving this with evaporated milk, but I substitute a bit of cream. He also suggests stirring in some vodka or Cointreau to the gelatin(e), but I hate boozy flavours like that and so wouldn't; feel free to do so yourself, of course.

Cranberry and pomegranate jellies

4 leaves gelatine or 1x11.5g powdered gelatine
600ml (1 pint) cranberry juice
50g (2 oz) caster or granulated sugar
seeds of 1 pomegranate (I love pomegranate, so use 2)

Heat the juice and sugar in a pan over a high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from the heat just before it comes to a boil. Allow to cool for two minutes.

Prepare the gelatine according to the package directions, substituting the juice and sugar mixture for the called-for water. Pour into four glasses or small dishes, then add the pomegranate seeds (and any of their juice that you've also squeezed out). They will float to the top, forming a layer of pink beads across the surface of the cranberry juice.

Let the jellies cool, then put them in the fridge for at least an hour or until ready to serve. Ainsley suggests resting the glasses at an angle in the fridge shelf so that they set at a slant, and it does look quite -- dare I say it? -- funky.

When chilled and set, serve with the cream in a jug so that people can mix it into their jelly themselves.

Posted by Jackie at 01:49 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

December 02, 2003
Are breasts best?

The Daily Bread's own Keckler has been the expert in residence at Tomato Nation lately, and today she answers a question about chicken breasts and how to cook them in the oven and keep them from drying out. Keckler advises:

[F]or maximum juicy tenderness I always bake my breasts in a 375º oven for 12 to 17 minutes. Do a temperature check around minute 12 to see how far your oven thinks you are. Covering the breasts with foil will speed cooking time slightly and it will also keep them moist. You'll end up piercing the breasts when you temperature test them, and if the juices run clear and without blood, they are definitely done.
All very good recommendations. But I feel compelled to say that, although boneless, skinless breasts are less fussy to prepare, I think chicken thighs actually yield better, juicier meat. I'm all thumbs and so don't exactly enjoy removing the bones, but it's actually quite a doddle -- a couple of strategic cuts and it's out of there.

I didn't realise this until a couple of years ago, when I started collecting Nigel Slater's works. In one of his books -- Real Food, I believe -- he offers a super simple, outrageously delicious way of cooking chicken thighs, and grudgingly allows for the substitution of breasts if necessary. After trying the dish with both, I was no longer a breast woman: I was a fully converted thigh admirer. Here's the recipe, such as it is:

Chicken thighs, bone removed (leave the skin on if you're throwing dietary caution to the wind)
Lemon juice
Balsamic vinegar
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Open the windows (my smoke detector always goes off when I make this) and put a stovetop grill pan over a high heat, letting it get very hot for a couple of minutes. Pound the meat flat, drizzle over and rub in enough olive oil to coat, and sprinkle with not too much sea salt. Lay the chicken in the hot pan -- it will smoke and spit, but let it do so for a good three minutes. Then turn the chicken over, turn the heat down and brush with more olive oil, squeeze over some lemon juice and a pour a scant teaspoon or so of balsamic vinegar over it, too. Sprinkle with more salt and a bit of pepper, and give a further few minutes cooking until the chicken is cooked and the juices run clear.

And that's it. I make this all the time, or replace the balsamic vinegar (which, oddly, doesn't make the meat taste of vinegar at all) with a big spoonful of honey or honey and French mustard whisked together.

And it is always, always better with thighs. Opt for the breasts if you must, but at least know what you're missing out on when you do.

Posted by Jackie at 10:16 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Panther Sauce

In addition to the recipe for my Gramma D's pierogies that my father posted to me last week, he also included the recipe for Panther Sauce. It's made from actual panthers.

Okay, not really. Panther Sauce takes its name from the mascot of the high school from which I graduated in 1995. When I was a senior there and my brother was a freshman (guide for the uninitiated: I was in my last year and he was in his first), he was starting his glittering high school athletics career as a star player on the football, basketball, baseball and golf teams. At around the same time, my father got involved in the school's Booster Club, the sole purpose of which was to, er, give the athletes a boost. They raised money for new uniforms and equipment, and also did things like make sandwiches for the teams to take on their long bus journeys to away games.

One of the fundraising activites of the Booster Club is to run the concession stand at every home game, making the food and selling to the punters. Upon joining the Booster Club, my father took it upon himself to volunteer me to work the concession stand as often as possible, a situation which filled me with despair. Why? Well, because I am terrible at maths and was afraid of embarrassing myself by not being able to make change by doing sums in my head (no cash registers or even calculators in this operation). Unfortunately, I still haven't shaken such silly paranoia, or fear of mathematics.

Despite my anxiousness over making change, I loved working the concession stand. And by far, the most popular menu item was the Panther Dog. A proper hot dog -- none of this spicy sausage that Brits try to pass off as a frankfurter -- with a generous portion of Panther Sauce spread across it and wrapped in foil to retain warmth, people bought more Panther Dogs than popcorn, candy and trays of nachos combined. (No, we didn't succumb to governmental pressure and offer salads. There was no market pressure, because people don't go to football games to eat salad. This system has worked for decades, and long may it continue.)

A few years ago, my stepmother managed to procure the recipe for Panther Sauce from one of the quesos grandes in the Booster Club. The value of this coup is not to be underestimated, and I present it to you now as a token of my appreciation for The Daily Bread's readers.

Panther Sauce

2.5 - 3lb ground beef
1 tin tomato soup (regular sized)
1/2 - 3/4 cup ketchup
1/5 cup brown sugar
chili powder to taste

Brown ground beef and drain well. (Rinse it in cold water and drain again if you're a real health freak, in which case you perhaps should reconsider making this recipe at all.) Put drained ground beef in a crockpot/slow cooker with remaining ingredients and simmer as long as possible on the low setting. The secret is a long, slow simmer.

Just my luck, I have no crockpot. They're not commonplace in Britain at all, which is just plain wrong. But don't let that stop you from making this; carnivores everywhere will appreciate the Panther Dog, even if it's not made from actual panthers.

Posted by Jackie at 01:34 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 30, 2003
Messoda's Cauliflower

Messoda was my Moroccan grandmother (see biog) and her way of cooking cauliflower is still my favourite. She used to make it very haphazardly. If the beaten egg ran out, she cracked another. If the flour disappeared, she'd tip a bit more on to the plate and continue. She used a frying pan with no handle to fry in and held the side of it with a rolled-up teatowel. Do not try this at home.

This is good as an accompaniment to things, but is best of all (like a lot of stuff) next day, cold from the fridge.

NB. The stalks and leaves at the bottom of the pot are also scrumptious.

INGREDIENTS: for six people. It's best to make lots, so as to ensure leftovers.

2 cauliflowers, divided into florets. Keep the green stalks and wash and chop these.
2 large eggs, beaten
120 gms plain flour, plus extra if necessary
salt and pepper
Sunflower oil to fry.
Juice of three lemons
50 ml or so of water.

METHOD:
Prepare the cauliflower by dipping each floret first into the beaten egg and then into the flour, previously seasoned with salt and pepper. Heat the oil in a big frying pan and fry the florets a few at a time until they are golden brown. They're awkward to turn around and a pair of tongs is a useful tool.

Line the bottom of a big saucepan with the green stalks etc and when the florets are the right colour, lay them on the stalks. When all are in, pour over the lemon juice and the water, cover the saucepan and simmer for about twenty minutes or so. At the end of this process, taste the lemony juice and add more salt and pepper. There shouldn't be a huge amount of liquid slopping about, but just enough to ensure that the cauli can cook without any sticking. This lemony, floury, cauli-y sauce is delicious and can be spooned over the florets when you're serving them. Roast potatoes go very well with this and so did a roast chicken in the days before I became a vegetarian.

Posted by dcake at 09:14 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 29, 2003
Christmas cake....

Okay, that seems to have worked, so here is my first recipe. I'm delighted to be associated with such an excellent site. This recipe comes from my neighbour Nora, who has made it since the end of the Second World War. It has no booze in it and tastes great. I'm a bit late for this year, but never mind.

I always make it during the October school half term, even though our kids left school ages ago. I insist on someone other than me, and preferably more than one other person, stirring it once and making a wish before it's baked. My wish always comes true because I only ever wish for things that are likely to happen. Works every time. The recipe is scribbled on the corner of a folded piece of foolscap paper. Remember foolscap? I am leaving the measurements as they were. You can all do the conversions into metric, right? Of course right.

INGREDIENTS:
1 lb currants
8oz raisins
1 lb sultanas
6 oz mixed peel
4 oz glace cherries
4 oz chopped almonds
10 oz margarine
10 oz caster sugar
8 eggs
12 oz plain flour
pinch salt
2 teaspoons mixed spice
Grated rind and juice of one lemon
Milk to mix.

METHOD:
Cream marge and sugar till light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well between each addition. Add dry ingredients. I use a hand held mixer and change to the dough hooks at this point. Then add lemon juice, rind and milk to make a soft dropping consistency. Put into a lined, greased 9 inch cake tin. Bake at 350 degrees for about two hours. Test after one and a half..may need more than two...but cover top with double circle of foil if things start to smell burny. Allow to cool, turn out of tin, keep in airtight container till ready to ice and decorate. I do marzipan and royal icing, but you could do frosting of any kind, I guess. Decorate as elaborately or simply as you like. ENJOY!

Posted by dcake at 11:16 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 26, 2003
Revisiting an old favourite

It always amazes whenever I return to the UK how widespread the influence of Italian food is now. Sometimes it actually annoys me, as a returning expat, when I am desperately searching for the taste of a decent pork pie or just want a nice cheese and pickle sandwich, that I have to fight my way through piles of pseudo-Italian snacks.

After all you will search long and hard in Italy to find such items as sun dried tomato bread. I'm really not sure how the sun dried tomato became such a fashionable food item in the UK. In Italy it is rarely used and I have most often found it accompanying anti-pasti cuts of salami and pancetta. The idea of a ciabatta panino featuring pesto would also raise eyebrows in my local sandwich shop.

Of course I'm nitpicking because the Italian influence has certainly been a good thing for office workers in the big British cities - there is a much wider choice of snacks, sandwiches and you can get decent Italian pizza pretty easily these days.

And who would want to go back to the days when Spag Bol was the only Italian dish most English families ever ate?

Well, hold on a minute, for while now considered utterly naff in foodie circles, a ragu bolognese remains one of the best pasta sauces there is and perhaps if they just called it ragu it might be able to reappear on some menus.

It's one of the student standards isn't it? Dead easy - fry up some mince and onions and bash in some tomato puree, pour over some overcooked spaghetti and sprinkle on some pre-grated parmesan and you've got dinner for the whole flat. Well, no, not really. That's probably the reason why Spag Bol (and I hate that name) disappeared.

So how do the Bolognese cook their ragu? I recently got a recipe for the traditional and believe me it is a million miles away from the old British student version.

Start off in a large pan with a little base of celery, onion, carrots and pancetta (or chopped up bacon) in roughly equal proportion and get them moving in some butter for about five minutes. Then bang in the minced meat - half minced beef and half minced pork (or veal if you fancy it). Give it a good ten minutes to get it coloured and then add a glass of red wine. Let that evaporate and then add some stock (not too much just enough to keep the thing bubbling).

After about ten minutes add the tomato puree or even better passata , season with salt and pepper and then add some hot milk and bring the whole thing to the boil. Reduce flame and leave it to cook, covered, for at least an hour and maybe up to an hour and a half if you can.

The milk really makes a difference - as well as making the sauce creamier it also takes the sharpness off the puree.

What to put it over? Well personally I don't think a thick meaty sauce like this does work best with thin spaghetti - leave that for simple and light tomato and basil sauce.

My preferred choice would be tagliatelle or gnocchi. It is also superb layered in lasagne or even over polenta. And leftovers are of course magnificent as a baked spud filling.

Posted by The Pieman at 09:02 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 25, 2003
Nigella Gobbles

Nigella Lawson (get used to reading about her here; she's my culinary goddess) has a good feature on her website today: recipes for using up your turkey leftovers.

The golden jubilee turkey looks excellent. I've made the chicken version of this before, for myself and some friends, and it's simple, fresh and surprisingly addictive -- the cold, juicy cubes of mango really make the dish. We ate it over romaine lettuce, with a lowfat mint yoghurt dressing and some spicy roasted butternut squash on the side. (Nigella herself, after hearing about this*, suggested replacing the mango with cubes of the roasted squash sometime. I've yet to try that.)

And I can't help but think that the bang bang turkey ("[O]ne of the things I particularly adore about this recipe is its name, so very resonant after a long and clamorous family lunch...") would, like crispy aromatic duck, be quite nice rolled up in Chinese pancakes.

*Check out Nigella's online forum, where she frequently posts and replies to fans' messages and recipes. She wants to know what you do with your holiday leftovers, so leave a message there for her and she'll be quite pleased -- and may even reply.

Now we just have to get her to start a blog of her own...

Posted by Jackie at 11:35 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 24, 2003
Miss Seipp's Almond Cookies

Journalist and all around fancy lady Cathy Seipp writes:

I made up a good [recipe] for almond cookies last night...my take on those Chinese restaurant almond cookies but better.
Miss Seipp is an incredibly modest woman, so I know these must be really good -- even though I have no idea what Chinese restaurant almond cookies she means.

Miss Seipp's Almond Cookies

1/2 cup margarine or butter
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 egg
1 c almond butter
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 c ground almonds
2/3 c whole wheat pastry flour
pitted prunes

Cream together butter and sugar. Add other ingredients except prunes and mix till blended. Roll into balls, put one prune in middle, and press flat. Bake at 375 degree oven about 10-12 minutes.

I'm not a huge fan of prunes, so Cathy has me up to that point. My stepmother flavours her buttercream frosting for cookies with almond extract, though, and I can imagine that would be good with these. But then I think buttercream would be good with just about anything, so proceed at your own risk with that one.

Posted by Jackie at 10:16 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Author Nancy Rommelmann, directed to this site by her friend, the lovely Cathy Seipp, writes in the comments to this post:

I offer you what actually is the world's best chocolate chip cookie recipe. If anyone does not believe this, they may ask Cathy, or Cecile, or Luke. There is no use in my being humble about this fact. If you were the tallest person in the world, or the richest, you would just have to admit it. Me, I make the best cookies.
You want the recipe now, right?

Here it is:

The World's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 F

1 cup salted butter, soft but not too
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups plus 1 Tb. flour
1 t. baking soda
1 scant t. salt
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups walnut halves, given one chop, or not

In a mixer, combine butter and sugars until just mixed. Add eggs and vanilla, and mix until just mixed. Add flour, soda and salt; again, until just mixed (no one wants a fluffy cookie!). Add chips, mix, and mix in walnuts by hand (the mixer will crush them to wee bits and you don't want that).

Place in globs about the size of an egg on a heavy baking sheet; if yours are flimsy, double the sheets. Bake about 8 minutes, turn the pan, then bake about 3 minutes more. You don't want the cookies all wet on top, but you don't want them all browned, either. Take from oven, and transfer cookies immediately onto wax paper. These are best eaten the day [of baking].

I'm just going to have to bake these, now.

Posted by Jackie at 09:53 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Gramma D's Pierogies

I hope this is a good omen for The Daily Bread: I received, in the post this morning, two treasured family recipes from my father. One is my (deceased) paternal grandmother's recipe for pierogies, presented as three photocopied pages in her own handwriting.

It's funny how much three sheets of paper that you never had before can so quickly turn to prized possessions. I will make every effort never to lose them.

Do you want the recipe, and the story behind it?

As this site says:

Pierogies are a delicious "old world" treat which started in Eastern Europe in the late 1800's and have been served as a side dish ever since. The Poles (who may be the originators), call them pierogis, which translated into English means "small pies"...

Although served many ways, pierogies are usually boiled, pan-fried in butter, or baked, with sour cream as an accompaniment.

Various cultures call pierogies by different names: to the Poles they are called pierogis; to the Jews they are pirogen; to the Russians they are pelmeny and arenike; and even ravioli to the Italians. To everyone else, they are incredibly delicious.

Growing up, we had pierogies on an almost weekly basis, although they were usually Mrs T's. When we went to my grandmother's house, though, it was homemade all the way. Unlike most American families, our Christmas meal wasn't turkey or ham, but a spread of Polish delicacies that my grandmother spent all day preparing, even well into her 70s. (That was our Christmas Eve meal, actually: Christmas Day at lunchtime we all went back to Gramma and Grampa's for her unparalleled homemade chicken soup.) Along with pierogies -- served with chanterelle mushroom sauce, bowls of cold sour cream and bowls of sauteed onions -- we had stuffed cabbage, kapusta, homemade bread and various other dishes. Because my grandparents had such a small house, we had to eat in shifts: my aunts and uncles and their respective children would take over the eat-in kitchen for a while, then retire to the living room while the next group ate. The women would wash the dishes and try to get my grandmother to sit down and take a break, often to no avail.

These memories mean as much as the food ever could.

So here, adapted from my Gramma D's own recipe, is how you make pierogies.

Pierogies

Filling:

5lbs potatoes
1/2lb cheddar cheese, cut into cubes (Velveeta melts the easiest, but if you're a snob, use something else)
5 onions, chopped and fried in butter (my grandmother's instructions call for "oleo")
salt & pepper to taste

Saving the potato water for the dough, boil and mash the potatoes, then stir in the cheese and onions, seasoning to taste.

Dough:

7.5 cups flour
3 eggs
4.5 tablespoons Crisco or other shortening
1.5 teaspoons salt
potato water

Put flour in a large bowl, then add salt and cut the shortening into the flour as you would if you were making pie crust. When that looks crumbly and combined, make a well in the centre of the mixture and put the eggs in it. To the well, add a few tablespoons of potato water at a time as you bring everything together. (My grandmother notes that it may be necessary to add a little more flour if you use a bit too much potato water, or if the dough seems too wet.) Knead the dough until it isn't overly sticky, then put it in a bowl and cover it with a dishtowel/tea towel while you get on with other things, or proceed directly to the next step.

Flour your work surface and roll out the dough thinly -- but not so thinly that it might split during cooking. (Just imagine the thickness of sheets of pasta for ravioli, and use that as a guide.) Use a glass or a cookie cutter to cut out dough circles of about 3 inches in diameter. In the centre of each circle, place a spoonful of filling -- don't be stingy (we don't want pockets of air) and don't be greedy (we don't want pierogies so stuffed that they split) -- then fold the dough over to make a half-moon pierogi. Press the edges of the dough together with the tines of a fork to seal them.

Into a large stockpot of boiling, salted water, add the pierogies and give a gentle stir with a wooden spoon so that they don't stick to the bottom. When the pierogies float to the top of the water, give them another minute or two and then remove them with a slotted spoon to a colander. Let drain for about a minute, then carefully and gently combine them with a bit of butter so that they don't stick to one another. Serve with cold sour cream (and more sauteed onions if you're keen on them), and chanterelle mushroom sauce if there's any on the go.

I'm not a fan of rolling out dough, but how can I not try this? Even better, my grandmother included the recipe for her chanterelle mushroom sauce. Dried chanterelles are a bit expensive, but worth it. (I often use them in risotto, in favour of the ubiquitous porcinis.) And you only use a few here, so they should last you a while.
Chanterelle Mushroom Gravy

1lb fresh white mushrooms, sliced, stems discarded
1/4 cup (about a handful) dried chanterelle mushrooms
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups warm water
salt & pepper to taste

To thicken:

4 parts flour OR 2 parts cornstarch combined with 2 parts cold water

Soak the dry chanterelles, preferably overnight, in a bowl of warm water. (My grandmother advises that the colour is better if you can leave them a full day.) When you're ready to make the gravy, combine the chanterelles and their soaking water with the fresh mushrooms and chopped onion in a saucepan. Cook over a medium heat for about 10 or 15 minutes, then thicken with the cornstarch/flour paste and mix well, cooking for a further few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

My grandmother notes at the end of the three pages:
It should be good eating. You will all enjoy the pierogies, I'm sure...Ha Ha!
I can't quite remember anymore what my Gramma D's laughter sounded like, but I have this recipe and I will have the pierogies. That will do me.

Posted by Jackie at 01:51 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Cupboard Curry Soup

I'm a little embarrassed to admit this, but when I moved house over a year ago, I brought with me a tin of coconut milk that had been sitting in my cupboard since September 2001. It was good until March of 2004, but last weekend I finally decided I had to use it, because I was sick of seeing it every time I opened the cupboard.

I had next to nothing in the house -- no vegetables, no meat, not even an onion -- but took what I did have and made what turned out to be a really gorgeous soup.

Cupboard Curry Soup*:

1 tin coconut milk
10 pints chicken/fish/vegetable stock or broth
3 tablespoons Moglai curry powder
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon dried coriander leaf
3 kaffir lime leaves
2 tablespoons nam pla (Thai fish sauce) -- optional

In a big pot, over a medium heat, make a paste with a few tablespoons of the coconut milk, the curry powder and the garlic powder. Add a bit of stock and whisk well to eliminate any lumps. Add the rest of the stock, the fish sauce (though if you're using chicken stock and the idea of mixing fish sauce with chicken stock bothers you that much, don't do it), the coriander and the crumbled lime leaves. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and simmer for a half hour.

I think this will make a good base for a variety of soups. It's quite mild, and I imagine a chopped chilli or two in the paste would lend a nice amount of heat. The addition of chopped or shredded chicken (or prawns, if you're using fish stock), spinach and some rice would be lovely.

*This recipe was inspired in part by annoyance and an empty pantry, and in part by Nigella Lawson's recipe for Thai Seafood Pumpkin Curry from her book Nigella Bites. Pumpkin or butternut squash would be really, really good in this.

Posted by Jackie at 06:04 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack