Friday, March 30, 2012

Coconut Milk Rice Pudding with Fresh Mango – I Don’t Like Rice Pudding, But I Love This!

I’m not a big fan of rice pudding, but curiosity got the best of me, and I needed to find out how much better/different a version would be that used Arborio rice, and the same basic technique as a savory risotto. 

In addition to trying out a new cooking method, I also wanted to sneak in some coconut milk for a little tropical twist, and I’m happy to report great success on both fronts. The Arborio produced a wonderfully creamy texture, and unlike tradition long-grain rice pudding, the grains of rice maintained a certain textural integrity, instead of just disappearing into one big, starchy mass.

The coconut milk gave the pudding another layer of subtle sweetness, and also inspired the fresh mango garnish, which really elevated these bowls of comforting goodness. Of course the mango is optional, and you’re welcome to take your chances with raisins, preferably golden ones. If desired, those can be added at the same time as the sugar and salt.

Speaking of bowls, I generally don’t make dessert for three (except this one time, at band camp…), but I had some new porcelain ones I wanted to use, and didn’t bother to check the volume before ladling in the sweet porridge.

Despite my “odd” yield, you should get four nicely sized portions from the amounts below. And yes, if you can’t find coconut milk (which you can), simply use all milk. I hope you give this coconut milk rice pudding a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 4 portions:
1 tbsp butter
1/3 cup Arborio rice (Note: I haven’t tested this recipe using regular rice, so no idea if that will work here. My instincts tell me, not nearly as well)
1 cup coconut milk
2 3/4 to 3 cups milk, or as needed
1/4 cup white sugar
1/8 tsp vanilla
salt to taste
1 egg yolk, beaten with 2 tbsp milk
For the garnish:
1/4 cup finely diced mango
pinch of Chinese 5-Spice

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Spicy Orange Zest Beef – It Is What It Is

As I mentioned in the intro, this orange zest beef recipe is not supposed to be Chinese food, or even Americanized Chinese take-out food. Of course, since it’s obviously inspired by those day-glow orange, deep-fried beef nuggets (which may or may not be actual beef), comparisons are inevitable.

While I have no delusions that those crunchy bits would be preferable to most people, especially ones that just stumbled out of a Phish concert, this much-lower-fat alternative is still a quick, easy and perfectly delicious meal.

You’ll want to use a tender beef for this, since the cooking time is only 4-5 minutes. Cheaper cuts like chuck are going to be too tough, unless, of course, you pound it paper-thin, or use some kind of tenderizer. I used sirloin, which worked fine, but ideally you’ll find yourself some beef tenderloin trimmings.

Here’s another instance where you are much better off going to talk to a butcher, rather than a clerk at the supermarket. A real butcher will sell you the scraps produced when a whole tenderloin is trimmed. The meat is cut from something called the “chain” (be sure to use that word to impress the butcher), which is super-tender, and probably half the price.

One last tip: Be sure the beef is VERY well drained before it hits the hot pan. If your meat is wet, it will just boil and steam, and won’t work as well. Of course, if beef isn’t your thing, this will also work with chicken, pork, and…[gulp]…textured vegetable protein. I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

1 lb tender beef, ideally trimmed tenderloin scraps
vegetable oil spray, as needed
1/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Sambal hot chili sauce
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp brown sugar, or to taste
2 tbsp orange zest
1 bunch green onions
1/4 cup water
1 tsp corn starch
salt and pepper to taste, optional
white rice as needed

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Stuffed pancakes

I haven't dared get excited about the sunshine for fear of jinxing it - so I'm sort of ignoring it, pretending it's not there. ("Oh I see, a really sunny day again. Whatever.") I've never been that bothered about sunshine - it's nice but really any old weather will do. But with a toddler - even one refusing to toddle, such as Kitty - life is 100% easier if you can doss about all day on a patch of grass somewhere poking at beetles, rather than sweatily pulling on three layers of fleece and puffa and marching grimly down the road to stare gloomily at some goats at the City Farm.

And the good thing about my parents' house, despite it being 800 miles from the nearest shop, pub or tube station, is that is has a massive garden - beetles galore to poke at. And a slide! We may never leave.

Especially not as my mother stuffs us all full of food, all day long. I don't really eat lunch these days, I can't be bothered. But my mother will not take no for an answer and follows me around with halves of sandwiches and peeled segments of apple. And every night she puts dinner on the table for no fewer than five people. Pow, pow, pow, night after night. She's never in a piss about it - like I always am - never in a screeching fury about the relentless grind of it. She just does it. I know that's what most people's mums do, what most of you do, it's just impressive to see it close up.

A recent hit was stuffed pancakes. A lot of you have probably had enough of these after Shrove Tuesday, but if you never got round to it, they are absolutely delicious. Kitty scoffed the leftovers the next day. Kitty is, by the way, roundly humiliating me by eating things out of my mother's hand that she won't touch from me.

Anyway these pancakes are just an assembly job, really. One for a Sunday night, when you've got a weeny bit more time maybe. Make the crepes with a normal pancake batter, sautee ham, mushrooms and whatever else you want, stuff and roll the pancakes and arrange in a line on a baking tray then pour over a cheese sauce (white sauce plus cheese) and cover with grated gruyere, emmenthal, parmesan or any other rubbery/hard cheese you've got knocking about. Stick in the oven for 15 mins at 180C.

No if you'll excuse me, I've got to go and have minor surgery; I'm not allowed to eat anything after 11am today so I've got an hour to raid the fridge. It's nothing serious so don't get all excited that I might finally drop dead. But feel free to be sympathetic all the same.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Easy Homemade Chocolate Sauce – I Really Wanted To Call This Hot Fudge

I would have gotten more search engine juice had I named this, “Hot Fudge Sauce,” but it wouldn’t have been technically correct, and you know what a stickler I am for using precise terminology (if you’re new to the blog, that was an attempt at self-effacing humor). 

So, while it’s true I generally play fast and loose with recipe titles, when they really do mean different things, I try to come correct.

What makes this a chocolate sauce, and not hot fudge, is the fact that it doesn’t firm up when it hits the ice cream. True hot fudge sauce is actually melted, liquefied fudge, and by the time it finishes its slow slalom down the side of your sundae, it will resemble its namesake.

Hot fudge requires the sauce to be cooked to a specific temperature, for a certain time, and is generally a trickier operation than the simple sauce you see here. Like I said in the video, I’m sure we will eventually do a hot fudge video, but in the meantime, this ultra easy chocolate sauce should work fine.

Unlike hot fudge, chocolate sauce (aka chocolate syrup) will stay in liquid form even after it hits the cold, creamy stuff. Of course it gets a bit thicker as it cools, but it will not harden into actual fudge. If you are looking for comparisons, this may remind you of a thicker version of a certain canned chocolate syrup from Pennsylvania.

Anyway, if you are a regular buyer of store-bought chocolate sauce, and didn’t realize how easy it is to make your own at home, then I hope you give this recipe a try. Enjoy!

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of Chocolate Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
1/2 cup high-quality, unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon vanilla, or to taste
tiny pinch of salt

Spicy poussin with tabula kisir

Another knockout post from @EmFrid - and just in the nick of time.

There are certain days when I like to lock myself away in the kitchen and do some therapy cooking in order to keep a tenuous grip on my sanity. Therapy cooking, while not necessarily technically challenging, involves a lot of chopping and mixing. While I do all of this I hold quiet but heated arguments in my head with people that have in some minor or major way slighted me (and I’ve got a long memory for slights, so there’s plenty of material to choose from).

Arguments I win by being terribly clever and witty and scathing. So nothing like in real life, in other words. Or I have day dreams involving massive lottery wins and/or Michael Fassbender/Benedict Cumberbatch/Ryan Gosling. Normally there would be a bottle of wine involved as well, getting me quietly sloshed as  I cook, but at the moment, as I'm pregnant, I’m forced to sip on a bottle of alcohol-free Becks while thinking hopeful thoughts about placebo effects (yeah, I know,  I know. I’ll just wait here while you all run and fetch your violins).

Yesterday was such a day. Goblin – who have taken to the terrible twos with flamboyant gusto – spent all day perfecting her Horrible Little Shit act, and I swear Troll the Foetus somehow contrived to wedge himself in between my second and third rib where he sat bouncing all day. At the end of it I felt positively homicidal. So I scratched around the cupboards a bit and decided to cook some spicy poussin. To go with the birds I made a tabula kisir (a sort of more piquant, Turkish version of tabbouleh), the recipe to which I gotfrom Hugh F-W’s excellent book River Cottage Every Day. As I said, no ttechnically challenging, but it does involve quite a lot of ingredients and chopping, marinades, spices etc. It was all totally worth it though, because it came out bloody delicious.

I used one poussin per person, but that’s pretty much because I’m a ravenous third trimester beast right now. The more sensible among you might want to use just half a bird per person, depending on how hungry you are.Also, the quantities given for the tabula kisir will yield quite a lot, about six decent servings. Though it keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days,and makes for a lovely, healthy lunch stuffed into pita breads or similar.

Spicy Poussin withTabula Kisir

For the spicy poussin you’ll need:

Poussins (or chicken legs/thighs)
A head of garlic
1 red chilli, seeds in or out – up to you
100ml red wine vinegar
100ml lemon juice – roughly 4 lemons (reserve some of thelemon peel)
180ml olive oil or rapeseed oil
1.5tsp sea salt
2tsp Arabic Seven Spice, plus extra for sprinkling – Arabic SevenSpice might well be readily available in London/the rest of the country, butindeed not in Letchworth, so I made my own by mixing together 2tsbp groundblack pepper, 2tsbp ground paprika, 2tbsp ground cumin, 1 tbsp ground coriander,1/2tbsp ground cloves, 1tsp ground nutmeg, 1tsp ground cinnamon and ½tsp groundcardamom. This will keep well in an airtight container.

1. Score the poussins a few times with a sharp knife, thenplace in a large bowl/container
2. Put the garlic, lemon juice, chilli, vinegar, salt andArabic spice into a blender and whizz. Add the oil and whizz a bit more, then pourover the fowl. Add some of the reserved lemon peel, cover with cling film thenmarinate for as long as you can, turning occasionally.
3. When ready to cook preheat your oven to 180c, sprinklethe birds with a bit of the Arabic spice then cook until done, about 45 minutesto an hour for poussins. Brush with the left-over marinade a few times duringcooking, to keep the meat moist and add flavour.

For the Tabula Kisir you’ll need (note: this isn’t Hugh’s exact recipe – for the real deal checkout River Cottage Every Day):

200g bulghur wheat
About 6 ripe tomatoes
3 spring onions
1 red and 1 green pepper
1 pomegranate
1 big bunch each of mint, coriander and flat leaf parsley

For the dressing:

4tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp concentrated tomato puree
Pinch of dried chilli flakes
1tsp each of ground cumin, ground paprika, sea salt andground black pepper.
5tbsp olive oil or rapeseed oil

1. Place the bulghur wheat in a large bowl and pour over approx 200ml boiling water, stir and then cover for about 20 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, mix together the lemon juice, tomato puree andthe spices, then whisk in the oil. Pour over the warm bulghur and stir. Leave to cool.
3. Chop the tomatoes and pepper into small dice, finelyslice the spring onions and chop the herbs finely. Mix it all into the cool bulghur along with the seeds from the pomegranate. Season. Let stand for an hour or so to let the flavours mingle together nicely, then serve with the poussin.

We had all this with pita bread and some half-arsed home-made tzatziki. It was really, really lovely, and made me feel decidedly less homicidal.And what with the weather getting warmer and warmer, I would imagine that this would make for a lovely BBQ meal out in the garden too

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Savory Bacon & Crab Bread Pudding Eggs Benedict – Sometimes the Best Recipes Are the Ones You Don’t Make

This incredibly delicious bacon and crab bread pudding Benedict almost never happened. The original request was for crab cake eggs Benedict, but since we’d already done crab cakes, poached eggs, and hollandaise videos, I decided to go in another direction, while still somewhat honoring the aforementioned food wish.

It’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, and that includes growing the mustache. Not only do I think this is far superior to crab cake eggs Benedict, it’s way easier, and you get a lot more mileage out of the same amount of crab.

I only used four-ounces of crab, which would have made just two small crab cakes. Here it was enough for two large ramekins that seemed to be loaded with crab. Instead of just sitting on top of the English muffin, the crab flavor permeated the bread cubes during the baking time, and the results were spectacular.

This would certainly make any brunch special, especially a Mother’s Day brunch, which will be here before you know it. So, whether you’re desperately trying to finally gain your mother’s approval, or just want something awesome for breakfast, I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 portions (I used 10 oz ramekins):
3 cups small dry bread cubes or plain croutons
1 tsp vegetable oil
1 strip bacon, sliced
1/4 cup minced onion
1/4 cup minced red bell pepper
1/3 cup chicken broth or water (more as needed)
1/3 cup cream
1 tsp fresh lemon zest
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp fresh chopped tarragon
1 large egg 
4 oz fresh crab meat
salt and pepper to taste
cayenne to taste
2 or 4 poached eggs
1/4 cup hollandaise sauce

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Harissa – Once You Go Tunisian, Other Hot Sauces Aren’t as Pleasing

Harissa is probably my all-time favorite hot sauce, and one I’m sure you’ve seen me use in a bunch of recipes here. As I mention in the video, a small spoonful of this makes virtually any savory dish better.

Now, I’ll admit to usually buying mine in convenient tubes imported straight from Tunisia, but I decided to show you my homemade version, since I do get the occasional note saying, “Chef John, I’m in the witness protection program, living in rural North Dakota, and they don’t carry many North African condiments at the market...what else can I use?”

As with any similar recipe, there are countless variations using many different combinations of fresh, roasted, boiled, and dried chili peppers. Same goes for the spice, but I really like the blend listed below. Dried mint really has a unique, and much different flavor than the fresh herb, and as I hope you experience, toasting the caraway and coriander does wonderful things.

I could do a 5000-word essay on what you can do with this sauce, but just for starters consider these ideas; Harissa aioli, pizza sauce, sandwich spread, steak sauce, chicken marinade, and rubbed on your knee to help that arthritis (warning: check with your family doctor before starting any sauce-based treatments).

Anyway, if you’ve seen me use Harissa, and were frustrated that you didn’t have access to any of this magical product, now you can make your own. Enjoy!

2 red bell peppers, fire roasted, peeled, seeded
6-7 red Fresno chili, seeded
1 habanero, seeded
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled
1⁄4 to 1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1⁄4 to 1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1⁄2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp dried mint
1 tsp kosher salt or to taste
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, added to blender at very end (do not blend more than a few seconds)

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Happy Saint Patrick's Day!

Instead of wearing something green in honor of Saint Patrick's Day, I decided to post something green. There are robins in the garden, baseball on the radio, and soon you’ll be cooking out on the patio; and what better sauce to have around for those occasions than the delicious-on-anything chimichurri? (click here to get ingredients, and read the original post)

Besides being very green, this recipe is also perfect for a St. Paddy’s Day re-post because, as legend has it, an Irishman named Jimmy McCurry (who fought alongside Argentinean rebels in the early 1800's) is credited with introducing this sauce to the America’s. Thanks, McCurry, and a happy Saint Patrick's Day to you all! Enjoy!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Broken Spaghetti “Risotto” – There’s a Good Reason for Those Quotation Marks

This broken spaghetti “risotto” is many things – a fun-to-make recipe; a visually unique pasta dish; and a great alternative to the same old starchy side dishes – but one thing it’s not, is a risotto. No rice was harmed in the making of this video.

The “risotto” refers to the similar technique used for that famous Italian dish. Like the grains of Arborio rice, the pieces of broken pasta are tossed in hot butter or oil before the liquid is added, but here we’re going even further, and toasting it to a gorgeous nut-brown.

This gives the dish its signature look, as well as adds a subtle nutty/toasty flavor. The rest of the process is similar to risotto as well, with the broth being added in increments, to be absorbed by the noodles before the next splash is added.

The broth amounts below should be very close to what you’ll need, but as I said in the video, depending on the pan, heat, and size of batch, you’ll have to simply adjust on the fly.

As long as you don’t walk away, you should be fine. Just keep stirring until the liquid is almost gone, then taste, and if the pasta is cooked, you’re done. If it needs more, add a little broth and keep going.

I did this as a simple side dish, but if you added some vegetables and shredded chicken, you’d be looking at quite an impressive main course. In fact, don’t be surprised if you see this dish re-imagined here in the future. In the meantime, I hope you give this a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for 2 small portions:
1 tbsp olive oil
1 cup cut spaghetti, or regular spaghetti broken into very small pieces
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
about 1 1/2 cups hot chicken broth or stock, as needed
salt and chili flakes to taste
1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley
2 tbsp Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, or to taste

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Chicken Parmesan Casserole 2012 – New HD Version of the Most Popular Chicken Recipe on the Internet

On Thursday, February 21, 2008, we published a post called, “The End of Chicken Parmesan As You Know It,” offering an easy casserole version of this iconic Italian-American restaurant favorite. 

The title was hyperbolic, but inexplicably, the poorly lighted, lamely voiced, low-res video actually did go on to become the most popular chicken recipe video in the history of the Internet.

Thanks to YouTube, and social media sites like Pinterest, this alternative to the much, much messier and time-consuming chicken Parmesan went viral, and literally millions of people have watched and made this dish. So, with all the massive traffic visiting that old post, I felt the need to upload a nice, new version in HD.

Besides culinary vanity, I wanted to repost to address the concerns of a few that the cooking time wasn’t long enough. This recipe has generated more positive comments and emails than just about any recipe we’ve done. People LOVE this recipe, and seem to enjoying spreading the word with unbridled enthusiasm, so I found these occasional “doesn’t work” emails very mysterious.

Anyway, I’m happy to report that just like in the original recipe, 350 degrees F. for 35 minutes, plus a 10 minute rest, was plenty long enough to cook my fairly large chicken breasts. So, why did some people have a problem? Breast size and temperature.

I believe that most of the people that had issues were using just-thawed chicken that was still very, very cold inside. Of course, the optional quick sear in a pan as shown here will take care of that issue. Also, grocery store chicken breasts can range in size from 6-ounce up to 10-ounce, which obviously will have much different cooking times. So, the best thing to do is forget time, and simply use a thermometer.

I like to pull at around 155 degrees F. internal temp, and after a little rest, they are perfect. I would start checking at the 30-minute mark, and be sure to test in the middle of the thickest part of the breast. Besides cooking time, the rest of the recipe is ridiculously easy, and really does provide a very high-quality chicken Parmesan experience.

So, if you are one of the few people in the civilized world who has not given this recipe a try yet, I hope you like the new HD version, and give it a whirl soon. Enjoy!

1 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed, optional
hot red pepper flakes, to taste
6 boneless skinless chicken breasts
2 1/2 cups marinara sauce (more sauce is fine)
1/4 cup chopped basil, if available
8 oz mozzarella, shredded, divided
3 oz Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated fine, about 3/4 cup, divided
*by the way, the same amount of fake Parmesan will not taste the same, and the amount may need to be adjusted…go buy some real Parmigiano-Reggiano!
1 (5-oz) package garlic croutons

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Haddock chowder

We have moved out of our house and are living with my parents, in order to allow our builders to build a kitchen extension in peace, without Giles tearing down the stairs every few minutes telling them they're doing it all wrong.

I sort of hate myself for having the extension done. It's so predictable. But we did such an awful, half-arsed job of dragging the house into the 21st Century during the last round of building works that this is sort of essential. Didn't Simone de Beauvoir say something about those being confined to the domestic sphere contrive to make it complicated or something...? Well I am confined to the domestic sphere and I contrive to make it flipping complicated.

So we're living in my parents' giant house in Hampstead Garden Suburb, back in my old room, Kitty banged up downstairs in a room that has only ever, I think, been a spare room.

My overwhelming emotion being here is one of penance. I wasn't a particularly horrible child or teenager, I don't think, but I was very untidy. My room, really one of the nicest in the house, was always strewn with clothes and general crap and I would leave dirty mugs and plates lying around everywhere.

Now I'm back, I am hellbent on being fastidiously tidy. I want to let my mother know, without actually saying anything, that I am sorry for not understanding when I was a teenager what a fucking pain in the arse keeping a house tidy is and how depressing it is walking into someone else's incredibly disgustingly messy room is.

Over the last few weeks, in my new mania for trying to keep my own house tidy, I have learnt this: if you tidy something away, or fold something up, or wipe down a surface, you instantly forget about it. And when you return, it is AS NICE as if SOMEONE ELSE has done it for you.

Of course a major benefit of living with one's parents is 1) free evening babysitting and 2) someone else making dinner.

Last night we had haddock chowder and it was just sublime. This is technically cullen skink, but I didn't want to call it that because every time I have come across a recipe for cullen skink I have skipped past it, assuming that it is some monstrously fishy yukky horror using a mackerel-like thing called a skink - and I can only assume that you are as thick as me.

My quantities here are not exact, but it's not an exact thing.
Haddock chowder (or cullen skink)
1/2 fillet haddock per person
bunch parsely
medium onion, chopped
two sticks celery, chopped
2 rashers bacon, CHOPPED
salt and pepper
1 potato per person, diced
1 litre fish stock, made with any old fish stock cube
300ml single or whipping cream

1 Sweat the onions and celery with a generous knob of butter - about 50g - for at least 15 mins. If you want to be really classy, lay a sheet of greaseproof paper between your pan and your lid. It is very important to cook the onions through because otherwise the cream will curdle later - I don't know why.

2 Add the bacon and turn in the pan for a few minutes, then add the potato. Add the fish and then pour over the fish stock until everything is covered. Simmer all this for about 10 minutes, or until the potato is tender. Finish with the cream and some chopped parsley. Season. We ate this with sheets of cheddar laid across the top, which was terrific. Kitty ate the leftovers the next day.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Colcannon – The Name Has Nothing to Do with Viking-Killing Leprechauns

You’ll be happy to know that since finishing this St. Patrick’s Day-inspired colcannon video, I’ve come to learn what the name actually means. Apparently, “colcannon” is Gaelic for "white-headed cabbage," which I’m sure everyone will agree is not nearly as interesting as my explanation.

Regardless of its etymological origins, colcannon is probably my favorite St. Patrick’s Day recipe. It combines the lovely, Spring-is-finally-here-greenness of kale and leeks with the always-alluring comfort of buttery mashed potatoes. Thinking about this next to some beautifully roasted lamb, makes me wonder why it’s only made once a year?

There are so many holiday-inspired recipes that are certainly easy and delicious enough to be added to the regular rotation, but for whatever reason aren’t. Why don’t we roast a turkey with all the fixings other times of the year? Wouldn’t Easter bread be just as awesome in November? Why we deny ourselves these things the rest of the year is one of the great culinary mysteries.

In fact, I think I’m going to heat up the last of my colcannon, sip on a Guniness or three, and carefully ponder this and other great questions. Anyway, I hope you give this a try soon, and may you all have a very happy and safe St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Enjoy!

For the green mixture:
4 oz trimmed kale leaves
1 leek, light parts only, chopped
1 bunch green onions, chopped
2 tbsp room temp butter
*boil kale and leeks for 5-6 minutes in salted water, then puree with butter and onions in blender
For the rest:
3 pounds russet potatoes, boiled tender, drained VERY well
2 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup cream or milk, or to taste
butter and green onion for the top

Bonus Colcannon Coverage!

Check out this great video from my new friend, Jay del Corro aka The Aimless Cook. He's using a variation on colcannon as a base for lamb stew. Why didn't I think of that? I invite you to get the recipe, and read the original post here. Enjoy!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Now and Then

I’m not a huge dessert fan, so it was a little ironic that the first few things I ever cooked at culinary school were sweet, not savory. It was too long ago to remember why, but I think we divided the class into different groups for our lab times, and I just happened to be in the one that started with basic baking.

I distinctly remember sticky buns being the first recipe we did, but the second one was a pineapple upside-down cake. It’s such a cool recipe for a new culinary student, since it just looks like a simple, rustic fruit cobbler when it comes out of the oven, all browned and bubbling, but a few minutes later, when it’s turned over and that gloriously caramelized surface is revealed, it becomes so much more.

As I basked in the shiny glow of this iconic American dessert, not only did I feel like maybe I knew what I was doing, but I had edible proof sitting right there on the table. Of course, what I’m not telling you is that most of my pineapple slices stuck to the pan, and I had to piece it all back together before the chef came over to see my work, but all’s well that ends well.

I was actually kind of hoping that would happen here, so I could demonstrate how easy it is to simply put all your “puzzle pieces” back in place. So relax. Once the cake cools, no one will be able to tell the difference. As long as the syrup is warm, your reconstruction will be fine.

I may be in the minority, but I don’t like to top this with anything. Of course vanilla or coconut ice cream would be fine, or maybe a dollop of whipped cream, but for my tastes, “as is” works best. Anyway, I hope you give this classic pineapple upside-down cake a try soon. Enjoy!

Ingredients for a 9-inch skillet:
For the pineapple base:
4 tbsp butter
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tbsp pineapple juice
1 tbsp dark rum
1/2 small pineapple, trimmed, sliced (see video below)
For the batter:
1/2 cup melted brown butter (works same w/ regular melted butter)
1 1⁄2 cups flour
1/8 tsp ground cardamom
1⁄2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1⁄2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1⁄2 cup milk

How to Prep a Pineapple

As Promised, here's a video on how to peel and slice a pineapple from my friends at Allrecipes. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Garlic Parmesan Dinner Rolls – Can Something Look Too Good?

Let me start by saying that these garlic Parmesan dinner rolls were really great – crusty and cheesy on the outside, tender and garlicky inside, and visually gorgeous. Ironically, it’s that last adjective that may cause problems.

These looks so inviting, so tasty, and so beautiful that it’s almost impossible not to be let down when you bite into one of these and realize it’s just a dinner roll. It’s a great dinner roll, a special dinner roll, but a dinner roll nonetheless.

As I said in the video, when the towel is pulled back (we call that, “breadbasket burlesque” in the business), and these lovelies are finally revealed, your guest’s eyes will send messages to their stomachs to get ready for something way more awesome than a dinner roll.

So, this becomes a classic case of having to manage expectations. You need to make sure your diners know this is a humble bread bun, not some mini calzone, or other stuffed wonder of modern baking.

Anyway, it’s a great problem to have. So the next time you want something a little above and beyond the plain roll, I hope you give these a try. By the way, the leftover rolls make about the best salami sandwich, ever. Enjoy!

1 package dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
2 1/4 cups flour, divided (add 1/2 cup to the sponge, and the rest as shown). 
NOTE: Don't add all the flour at once. Add some, and continue adding until your dough looks like mine. You may need more flour as you go for the board.
1/2 tsp white sugar
1 tsp fine salt
1 tbsp olive oil
1 egg
freshly, finely grated Parmesan, as needed
1 1/2 tbsp melted butter
2-3 cloves crushed garlic
2 tbsp freshly chopped Italian parsley
black pepper and cayenne to taste
*Bake at 400 for about 20 minutes

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Spring green noodles

This is a really marvellous thing to do if you feel like you ought to be eating leafy greens, but you'd rather have a plate of pasta instead. Particularly relevant to me because my diet is so awful at the moment. What I ate today:

- half a bagel with jam
- chocolate croissant
- 1/4 of a large pork pie
- I am about to eat some chocolate cake

Anyway, we had this the other night with baked gurnard (don't ask) and it was absolutely terrific and made me feel better about the straight white carbs and e-numbers of the day.

Spring green noodles
for 2

2 nests medium egg noodles (I like Blue Dragon but any old thing will do)
about 4 shakes of light soy sauce
3 splats of oyster sauce
two big handfuls of spring greens

1 Boil and drain the noodles. Drizzle over a bit of olive oil to stop them sticking

2 Roughly cop or scissor your spring greens. And I mean roughly - they will wilt down a lot on cooking

3 Cook down your spring greens in a frying pan with a sprinkling of water and some veg oil. When they look quite collapsed toss in the noodles, soy and oyster sauce. If you wanted to add anything else like chilli or spring onion, I'm sure that would be delicious.

Monday, March 5, 2012

St. Patrick’s Day Special: Irish Shepherd’s Pie (the real one, not the stuff they eat in cottages)

I know I may have used a few atypical ingredients in this, but as far as I’m concerned, the only two things that are mandatory to make a “real” Shepherd’s Pie are potatoes and lamb. While the ground beef version is also very delicious, it’s not considered a “Shepherd’s Pie,” since shepherds raise sheep, not cows.

The real mystery is why the beef version is called “Cottage Pie,” and not “Cowboy Pie,” or “Rancher’s Pie.” When I think about cattle, many things come to mind, but cottages aren’t one of them. Okay, now that we have all those search keywords inserted, we can moooo’ve on.

By the way, I know it’s something of a Food Wishes tradition that I do a cheap, culturally insensitive joke about Irish-Americans drinking too much in our St. Patrick’s Day video, but this year I decided not to do any. In fairness, I know hundreds of Irish people, and several of them have no drinking problem whatsoever, so it just didn’t seem inappropriate.

Anyway, as I say in the video, this would make a lovely alternative to the much more common corned beef and cabbage that you may have been planning for dinner. Also, I really hope you find some nice Irish cheddar. I used one called “Dubliner” by Kerrygold, which can be found in most large grocery stores.

If you’re curious about beverage pairings, may I go out on a limb and suggest a nice Guinness, or other Irish beer…just hold the green food coloring, please. Erin go bragh, and as always, enjoy!

For lamb mixture:
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 diced onion
2 pounds lean ground lamb
1/3 cup flour
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp paprika
1/8 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tbsp ketchup
2 1/2 cups water or broth (use more or less to adjust thickness as needed)
12 oz bag frozen peas and carrots, thawed, drained well

For the potato topping:
2 1/2 pound Yukon gold potatoes
1 tbsp butter
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of cayenne
1/4 cup cream cheese
1/4 pound Irish cheddar
1 egg yolk beaten with 2 tbsp milk

Saturday, March 3, 2012

In Defense of Rounded Wooden Spoons and Being Wrong in the Kitchen

There are few food folks I enjoy and respect more than Michael Ruhlman. He’s a celebrated, award-winning author; an influential and generous member of the food blogging community; and my favorite Iron Chef judge (best perplexed look in the biz). 

However, in this amusing “Had Something to Say” video, produced by friends Diane and Todd from White on Rice, Mr. Ruhlman reminded me why, when it comes to cooking at least, being right isn’t as important as being happy.

Everything Michael says about the rounded wooden spoon’s design in this “Stupid Kitchen Tools” video is correct. A squared-off, flat-edged wooden spoon is the superior stirring implement, but that doesn’t change the fact that my mother used a rounded wooden spoon, which was the same one that my grandmother used, which was exactly like the one that my great grandmother used.

So for me, it looks right, feels good in my hand, and contrary to what Mr. Ruhlman believes, serves as the perfect tasting instrument – lovingly associated with all kinds of delicious memories. I’m sorry, but tasting spaghetti sauce off a square wooden spoon is like a chef using oven mitts instead of kitchen towels; it works, but it’s just not a great look.

Squares and right angles are the work of man. It’s the shape of industry, not art. Nature is round, food is round, and people are, well, you know. Cooking equipment, like life itself, is much more about what you want, than about what you need. Our brains may grab for the square wooden spoon, but the soul of a cook reaches out for the rounded one every time. What say you?

Sincere thanks to Michael Ruhlman, and to Todd & Diane for sharing this great video with us! You can follow this link to get more information and read their original post. Enjoy!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Cinnamon buns for the weekend

Another absolutely terrific recipe from my editor-at-large, Emfrid... take it away you hot crazy Scandi mutha:

A warm cinnamon bun is my favourite sweet thing to eat, and it’s an EXCELLENT choice for comfort food. Trust me. They’re pretty much a staple throughout Sweden – you’ll find them in every bakery, cafĂ© and shop across the land. Subsequently there are approximately 3745 different recipe versions for these bad boys. The one I use is a bastardisation of the recipe my mum always made and my own modifications. I do use a lot of cinnamon –if you think it might be a bit too strong for you reduce the quantity. But it is MEANTto taste strongly of cinnamon is all I’m saying.

It may seem a little faffy to make these but it’s really not that hard and anyway, the end result is well worth it. I like to swing the dough together in the morning, leave it to rise for a good while and then put Goblin down for a nap, pour a glass of wine, plug the iPod in (I’d recommend the soundtrack to ‘Drive’ for this) at a tinnitus-inducing volume and proceed to knead the SHIT out of that dough. It’s therapeutic. Yes.

I prefer to use fresh yeast if possible, because that’s what my mum – and the rest of Sweden - use. You can get fresh yeast from certain supermarkets (Morrisons in Letchworth stocks it, which is the only positive thing I have to say about THAT place), health shops, or, if you’re in London, Scandi shops such as Scandi Kitchen or Totally Swedish. If there’s no fresh yeast readily available fret not – you can use dry yeast instead, added to the dry ingredients rather than the wet.

This will yield about 40-45 buns which may seem a lot, butit’s not really. They will go. Fast. I once ate 11 of these suckers in one sitting, and I DIDN’T EVEN FEEL SICK. However, if you do possess willpower they will freeze very well.

For the dough you’ll need:
50g fresh yeast (or 2 x 7g sachets dry yeast)
150g butter
500ml whole milk
1000g strong bread flour
100g caster sugar
1 egg
½ tsp salt
1tsp ground cardamom – optional, but as far as I’m concerned it really makes the bun. I’ve never been able to find ready ground cardamom inthe UK, and if you can’t either it’s time to get cosy with your mortar and pestle. You’ll need the seeds from about 20 cardamom pods.

For the filling:
150-200 g softened butter, cubed (yes, this might seem likea mighty shitload, but remember it’s divided up between 40 or so buns. At least that's what I tell myself)
3-4 tbsp ground cinnamon
100g sugar - I like to use brown, but white will work just aswell.


1 egg for brushing
Pearl sugar – very optional indeed, because it’s a bitch toget hold of. If you can’t find, leave it. I often do.

1. Crumble the fresh yeast into a big bowl. Melt the butter then add the milk and warm the mixture until it is finger warm (bodytemperature - about 37c). Pour the milk and butter mixture over the yeast and stir until all the yeast dissolves.

2. Add the sugar, salt, cardamom, egg and, gradually, most of the flour (you’ll want to hold some flour back for kneading). If you use dry yeast, add it with the flour here. Work the dough together until it’s shiny and no longer sticks to the bowl. Sprinkle over a little flour, cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rise in a dry, warm place for at least 30 minutes, by which time it will have roughly doubled in size.
3. While the dough is rising mix together the softened butter, sugar and cinnamon. Cover with cling film and leave in room temperature until you need it. You want it so soft as to be spreadable, so chilling it inthe fridge might leave it too hard and cold.
4. When the dough is done rising tip it out onto a floured surface and knead, working through the rest of the flour if needed. You want it pliable and airy, not too dry.

5. Divide the dough up in four equal parts. Roll out each part into a vaguely rectangular shape (mine normally look more amoeba than rectangle, so don’t worry too much about it), approx 3-5mm thick. Using abutter knife or similar, spread on a generous amount of the filling. Roll it up lengthways, into a kinda Swiss roll looking thing. Then cut it into pieces of equal size, approx 2-3 centimetres thick.

6. Place your buns cut side up onto greased baking plates,or into big muffin forms. Leave plenty of space between your buns – they will double in size. Cover with a tea towel and leave to rise again for 30 mins.

7. While the buns are rising preheat the oven to 220C for a fan oven – adjust the temp according to what type of oven you own. I like to place my buns on the stove top so the heat helps them rise even more.

8. When doubled in size, beat up an egg and brush the bunswith the egg wash. Sprinkle over the pearl sugar if using – I tend to do halfwith the sugar, half without. Then bake in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. Do keep an eye on them – ovens, as we know, are notoriously fickle bastards. Then let cool for bit under a tea towel, before gleefully stuffing your face.

These are best eaten warm and oven fresh, but as I said, they freeze well. Just defrost them and heat through in the oven at about 150C for about five minutes. You could also nuke them in the microwave for about 30 seconds or so but they won’t be quite as nice.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Classic Diner Hash Browns - The Real King of the Breakfast Potato

When people make breakfast at home that includes some kind of potato side dish, they almost always go with homefries over hash browns. I’m not sure of exactly why, but I think people assume that hash browns are somehow more difficult, which is simply not the case.

Grating a couple potatoes is not that much harder than cubing them up, and the cooking process is almost identical. If anything, hash browns cook faster than homefries, and in this chef’s opinion are the superior breakfast potatoes. They are crisper, more interesting, and absorb runny egg yolk like homefries can only dream about.

One thing to note when you look at the ingredients below: this is a scalable recipe, with one medium-sized russet potato portioned per person. If you're going to make this for a larger group, you’ll want to use several pans, as you need enough room to get the proper crustification.

Speaking of russets, the potato variety is much more important here than with homefries. Just about any potato will work for those, but for hash browns you need the starchy texture of the russet, as opposed to the waxier texture of red potatoes. By the way, Yukon gold also works okay, but russet is the best.

Anyway, the next time your cooking a proper breakfast at home, I hope you give these “other” breakfast potatoes a try. Enjoy!

Ingredients per person:
1 medium russet potato, grated
1 1/2 tbsp clarified butter (melted butter separated from the milky liquid)
salt, pepper, cayenne, and paprika to taste