Sunday, December 20, 2009

Fricando (Rich Braised Beef)

At the moment I'm still playing around with Anglo-Italian hybrids - seems only fair to the Italian to bring more of her type of food into the Sunday roasting. Was after beef this week, and as ever I hadn't decided on anything until I knew what meat I had to play with. For me the core of any Sunday roast has to be the meat itself, so there's no point planning anything until you know what quality of that you've got. The butchers had a nice selection of brisket this week, and being a big brisket fan I decided to plump for that.

Brisket - bit large for what I was doing, so cut a bit off for another time

Back at home it was time to dig in to my cookbooks for inspiration. I have a bit of an obsession with cookbooks, and although I rarely follow a recipe I love to be able to browse through ideas and techniques to inspire me. I recently did buy one by Anna del Conte though, The Classic Food of Northern Italy, and was bowled over somewhat by her style and clarity of writing, so decided to follow something of hers completely - 'Fricando'.

Anna does recommend following things quite closely, in order to reveal the true Italian style of the dish, so that's what I did. At least that's what I thought I did, until after the meal - but more of that later! Fricando is basically a braised beef dish, of either French (fricandeau) or Italian (fricando) origin, depending who's side your on :-) From what I understand it should really be veal, but the core of it seems to be a larded piece of beef that's then braised. Cloves also seem important, as well as a very long slow cook at low temperature.

Pancetta & Clove Studded Onion

The trick is to make incisions into the meat and push in quite a lot of minced/chopped proscuitto into it. You then brown the meat very well with olive oil and butter, and then leave to braise with one clove studded onion cut in half, half (or less) of a chopped up carrot, a good handful or two of celery (leaves only if you can), a (very) little stock and plenty of fresh parsley. After a few hours (I did mine for about four in the end, but it was ready earlier really - christmas beers down the pub delayed me somewhat) it should be done. All you need do next is take the meat out to rest, and then blitz the sauce smooth, either in a blender, sieve, mouli or whatever you prefer.

Minced pancetta, ready for pushing into the meat

The joint ready to go into the oven for it's long slow cook

The flavour has to be tasted to be believed. Absolutely wonderful. Always odd how such simple combinations can create such a sublime combination, but a real pleasure to eat. One of the best braised beef dishes I've ever made I think, if not the best. Served it very simply with some fresh greens and mashed potatoes (with a lovely celeriac risotto as primo, courtesy of the Italian).

Celeriac risotto

The leaves from the celeriac in the garden - used these in place of the celery it should be, and very tasty they were too!

The finished sauce

And the finished dish

P.S. I hinted earlier I cocked up a bit with this one - well the truth is I used pancetta rather than proscuitto. Looked at too many recipes, and since I had some pancetta to finish up in the fridge I guess I couldn't get it out of my head! Either way though it was delicious, but now of course I need to try it with the prosciutto just to check!

Wild Mushrooms & Milk - bitter flavour?

Not my usual post I know, but an unusual cooking disaster has prompted me to write a quick post hoping for some illumination. I have a question - can poaching certain mushrooms in milk create an unpalatable bitterness than will ruin a dish?

I have a dish that's long been a favourite - Cod & Crab Gratin - that also includes a fair quantity of mushrooms which are poached in milk before mixing with the fish and other ingredients. Since I'd had a successful mushroom foraging trip and collected a good amount of wood & field blewitts I used these, but the milk turned horribly acrid ruining the sauce. Never had anything like it - so if someone else out there can illuminate I'd appreciate it!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Braised Lamb Italian Style

Well I've not blogged here for a while, though I've been cooking as much as ever. Finding the time to squeeze everything in is a pain! I will try and post something up here a bit more interesting soon, but in the meantime here in some more experimentation with the Flip HD video camera, filming a Sunday lunch. Lots of short videos of the various stages.

Been trying to do some Anglo/Italian hybrids recently, so here's a good example of one.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Good Old English Apples

Just sitting here at work enjoying my usual breakfast of whatever fresh fruit is in season, and I had to put up a quick post about the fab apples I picked up in the Tiverton Pannier market from Alister Strachan's stall last Saturday. It's ridiculously difficult to get anything but the usual suspects in most shops, Cox, Russet, Braeburn, etc., and whilst I have no problem with those varieties you'd think that in a country famous for it's apples, with hundreds upon hundreds of different types, we could perhaps do with a bit more choice!

Alister had the usual suspects, but also other more unusual varieties like Spartan and some I'd never heard about like Winter Gem and Fuji, which I've just been enjoying. It's a real pleasure to be eating apples that have their own unique flavour and texture, so much so that you can even choose your apple based on what mood you're in, so if you're anything like me get yourself to Tiuverton Pannier Market next Saturday and pick up a selection before they're all gone.

Winter Gem on the left and Spartan on the right

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Roast Chicken with a Wild Mushroom 'stuffing'

Been a while since I posted anything up here - the blasted seasonal flu has struck our house, though not I think the pig variety thankfully - but was back up and running last weekend. And it's mushroom season again, yippee!

I started trying to understand wild mushrooms better a few years ago now, and have been slowly building my knowledge every season till I've now got to the point where I'm pretty confident in the field. There are several edible species which I'm very comfortable with and I know all the common deadly ones easily enough. Last Saturday we were up in one of our usual places and sure enough we found lots of dangerous ones, including Death Cap and Panther Cap, some of the most poisonous of the Amanita family. They certainly don't call it Death Cap for nothing.

Panther Cap just emerging - nasty bleeder

We also found a couple of small hedgehog mushrooms, which I've dried for future stews and soups, and luckily a load of Jersey Cow boletes on an old pine trunk that had been rotting away for some time. I say they're Jersey Cow now (and I'm sure they are) but they took some pondering I can tell you! There was one critical clue that gave them away (often the case with mushroom hunting) but more of that later.

Jersey Cow Boletes

Hedgehog Mushrooms

The Hedgehog is probably one of the easiest to identify, very tasty and often prolific, so is a great find. We know a few spots (mushrooms always tend to return year on year to the same place, provided you harvest them correctly) so we generally know we'll get something, but nonetheless it's always great so see them. They're unusual in that they have spines instead of the gills or pores of other mushrooms, and there are very few mushrooms that have spines, so you can be pretty confident what you've got.

But back to the Jersey Cow's. These were a real mystery for a bit, and although I keep a copy of the mushroom book in the car ("Mushrooms" by Roger Phillips) we still weren't sure. Back home I consulted a few more books (well you can't have too many foodie books in my opinion) and there was one thing that stood out which suddenly made everything clear - compound pores. I won't go into too much detail, mushrooming is not something you can cover in a paragraph after all, but suffice it to say that the pores on these mushrooms were not singular but made up of one big pore with lots of smaller ones inside. Unusual, and given all the other characteristics of the mushrooms that made a conclusive identification.

More pics of the mushrooms and identification:

So, next question, what to do with them ...

We were headed to Ottery St Mary after lunch at a local pub, which is a typical Devon town a few miles away, and I knew it had a couple of good butchers so was quietly confident. I had in my mind a sort of braise with quail, partridge or something similar, the mushrooms chopped up into a sort of stuffing, but the only game on sale was overpriced in my opinion (the London lot can distort things a little) so I settled for a chicken instead. But that meant I had to be a bit more inventive for the stuffing, as putting it inside the bird would take too long to cook - so I decided to try a variation on the 'butter under the skin' trick I've been doing a fair bit of lately. First I made a classic duxelles, which is basically just mushrooms, onions & herbs chopped up and cooked together, and then left it to cool.

Duxelles Mixture with Thyme

I then added some butter to this mixture to thicken it and some small cubes of fresh mozzarella, which I hoped would melt in the oven sealing it together. This was then pushed under the skin of the chicken until it formed a thick layer above the breast. I was hoping that by doing this I would keep the meat moist, flavour it somewhat with the stuffing, and end up with a breast I could take of and slice through with two layers.

Chicken stuffed and ready for the oven. Note the cocktail stick - tore the skin a little, so needed to keep the end together!

This went into an oven at 180ºC for about 15 minutes per pound stuffed weight, which is what suits my fan oven, and then rested for about 20 minutes whilst I made a sauce in the roasting tray with a little white wine and some stock.

The chicken just out of the oven, ready to rest.

It actually came out really well, better than I expected, and it was a real pleasure to use freshly gathered wild mushrooms in a dish like this. The layering thing kind of worked, although I probably needed to use more stuffing if I'm honest.

Chicken breast on the plate

I served it with a simple baked potato (odd for a Sunday Roast maybe - but then again why not?), dressed with creme fraiche and chopped fresh chives from the garden.

The finished dish

I think there's a fair bit more experimentation to be done with 'under the skin' type stuffings, so will certainly be trying some other ideas out soon. Would love to hear if anyone else has been experimenting with this sort of thing, and what advice they can offer. Meanwhile it's back to the woods for me, in the hope for more fungi.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Roast Guinea Fowl with Lavender, Mint & Thyme

One of my most favourite cook books is one I don't actually use very much, because it's a bit specialised - it's called "Flavours of the World" by Paul Gayler. It's unusual because instead of organising itself the way many cookbooks do, either by type of course or type of meat/fish/veg etc., it's organised around different flavours. There are sections devoted to coffee, lemon, cinnamon, etc. covering a host of strong individual ingredients; and amongst them all is a section on lavender.

I've always been a big fan of lavender, but it's not exactly fashionable and still retains it's association with grandmas more than michelin stars. But there's a recipe in the book that I always wanted to try, and it's this one with guinea fowl. Trouble is I've never been unable to source all the right things at the right time in the past, but now I have a regular and reliable source for guinea fowl (a woman at Cullompton Farmer's market - apologies but I've forgotten your name!) I've finally got round to making it.

Well I've almost sourced everything - I should say that the recipe calls for Summer Savory, not mint and thyme, but I reckon they should make a good substitute so have adapted the recipe a bit to suit.

At it's heart the recipe is quite simple - you make a butter from the lavender and the herbs and push this under the skin of the bird before roasting. It's a trick I've done a few times since I first tried it at Christmas, and ensures the bird is moist whilst imparting whatever flavours are in the butter directly into the meat during the roast. There is a trick to the lavender though - you need to make what the author calls "lavender pollen" first.

Lavender Pollen

A very poetic name for something a little more prosaic, but easily made and stored. We have a lavender & rosemary hedge that I planted many years ago, and it's just in flower still so still time to make some. You just snip off the heads of as much lavender as you need, and then pop them into a very low oven (150ºC) for about an hour. They dry up very easily, and then it's a simple job to strip the flowers off the stems and then pound them up in a pestle and mortar until you have a fine powder.

The lavender ready to go into the oven for drying

Now back to the recipe ...

Once the guinea fowl has had the butter added (quick note - should have the rind of 1 lemon added as well), then squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the bird (yep, that's the rest of the lemon!), and pour over a good amount of olive oil. Then into a moderate-hot oven for ½ an hour. Next in go a good handful of new potatoes - sliced in half in large - for another half an hour. Finally inch chunks of fennel, pepper (orange in my case) and aubergine in equal quantities.

Timing at this point gets tricky. The bird will need to come out in about 15 mins, and then rest for 15 mins, so you have about half an hour to play with to make sure all the veg is properly cooked. At some point though you'll need to get the bird off the roasting tray so you can deglaze all the juices and make the sauce - personally I often just move my veg into a clean roasting pan to let them finish, but this time around the veg was all really well cooked already so I moved it all off onto a serving platter to keep warm with the bird.

The sauce needs a bit of work. Once you've got your bird and the rest of the veg off the original roasting tray, deglaze with a small glass of sweet white wine, and then add about double the amount of stock. Cook this down into a coating sauce, pour over the bird and voila, you're done.

The finished dish, all ready for serving.

So how was it after all this? Pretty damn tasty. Unusual for sure, and I swear we actually spent the first 5 minutes battling the wasps for it who obviously thought this was some sort of wasp nirvana. Thank god for citronella candles ... and a badminton racket! I don't think I'll bother with all the veg next time, but will certainly be using lavender again in my cooking, and I fancy it'll make it's next appearance in a lamb dish. I have some left over lavender pollen ready. The bird was certainly very moist and tasty - better than last time I cooked guinea fowl - so the trick with the butter is worth it that's for sure.

Plated up and ready for munching.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

'Open' Slow Pot Roast Lamb with Fennel & Radish

Feeling a bit experimental last Sunday, so decided to do another of my open pot roasts but with some ingredients that you wouldn't usually find together - Lamb & Fennel. As a seasonal cook I like to use what's around at the moment, so Fennel seemed like a good bet, plus I have a load of radishes in the back garden so thought I'd throw in some of those as well.

The bottom layer of vegetables in the pot, seasoned and tossed in olive oil and a glass of rose wine

This idea of 'open' pot roasts is working out quite well, so nice to try something different in it. The basic premise of this is that you have a pot which is just big enough for the joint you're cooking, and you put under the meat vegetables and other flavourings such as herbs which will steam underneath and flavour the meat, whilst on top you get very gentle browning. It's a slow roasting technique, so I put it in a standard oven at 150ºC for four hours - that's for a 5lb (2½ kg or so) shoulder of lamb.

The lamb shoulder on top of the vegetables. You often need to cut something off to squeeze it all in, in this case I took off the protruding leg and tucked it in the side.

It's a lazy man's lunch really, as you don't need to do much, but it is worth checking after a couple of hours just to make sure it's not burning underneath. It will depend how well covered the vegetables are, and what type of course, but if it's getting too dry just pour in some more liquid, anything from stock, wine or just plain old water will do. This one actually turned out very juicy, a quality of the lamb itself I guess as there wasn't much in the way of vegetables to speak of.

The meat out of the oven, nicely browned, but very tender and moist still.

One nice by product of this technique is that the fat runs off the meat into the pan, and can be strained off so you can just serve the juice and spare an artery or two as well.

Lamb has a reputation for being a bit fatty, especially shoulder, and you can see why here.

Served this with mash from the night before (I'm getting lazier by the minute!) and runner beans from the garden, which never seem to run out - thank god :-) The fennel worked quite well with the lamb, though the radishes were completely lost (one day I'll find something interesting to do with the things). Think I'll do this again, but next time I'm going to slice up some lemons to go with the fennel and not bother about the rose wine or the radishes.

The finished dish, served with a sauce made from the vegetables and ricotta, just to try ...

... and a fab nectarine cheesecake B made for dessert.

The leftover meat has a lovely soft flavour of anise still, which has already gone into some pittas for lunches and is very soon going to make a dry risotto type dish I do with some peppers and onions as well. Loads of meat left though - I think we'll be eating lamb all week in Silverton!

Friday, August 28, 2009

A new Italian discovery: Tagliata

I thought I'd come across most Italian foods by now, what with having lived and travelled extensively in the country, not to mention living with an Italian for the past few years, but on a recent trip to Pisa I discovered something new and very tasty - Tagliata.

Now it's not entirely clear exactly what Tagliata even is to be honest, nor therefore how it should be cooked. The word itself seems to mean just 'cut', but in Pisa (and I think more widely in Tuscany, the great meat eating heart of Italy) it's a sirloin, t-bone or fillet steak that has been very simply pan cooked or grilled and served with either plenty of olive oil and rosemary or fresh rocket and shavings of parmesan. I had both types in Pisa (well you can't get too much of a good thing :-), and once we'd got to Corsica for the next stage of our holiday I decided to try and recreate it for supper one night. However the most critical thing about Tagliata is not how it's cooked, but more how it's served. They cut the meat off the bone and then into fine strips which are often served on a sharing platter.

The first Tagliata I had in "I Santi", Pisa. So busy eating it I almost forgot to photograph it.

Personally I think there are just three things you have to remember for a great steak, whatever it might be called.

  • The meat needs to be room temperature before you start, so take it out of the fridge at least an hour before, it not more.

  • Season with plenty of salt & pepper (but only do this at the last minute before cooking)

  • Keep the heat high (so if frying in particular use a heavy based pan)

There's a fourth too I guess, but it's more of a general rule with all meat so I didn't include it - let the meat rest!

Timing wise I can struggle with steak sometimes, and will often serve it under cooked rather than over cooked. Personally I prefer my meat that way (hell, I'll often taste it raw just to check it's OK!) but I'm not sure all my guests agree. I tend to use the pressing technique to gauge how cooked a steak is, i.e. just press my finger into the meat and you can usually tell by how much it springs back how much it is cooked. With thicker steaks this can prove difficult though.

Anyhow, enough warbling - here's a short video of me (warning - contains moderate nudity!) trying to cook this in Corsica in the apartment we rented in Bastia. I was getting all Keith Floyd to start, but unfortunately the camera woman hadn't pressed the record button, so we lost that bit, though you might think that's a good thing depending on your attitude to Keith Floyd ...

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

RSPCA "give animals a voice" Campaign

The RSPCA have been in touch recently about a new campaign they're created to try and address the issue of low welfare food on the BBQ. Apparently we can have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to choosing meat ...

Give animals a voice!

As someone who's keen on animal welfare and at the same time a big meat eater (t's a conundrum I know, best not to think about it too hard) I thought I'd add a post in here about the campaign to do my bit. You can read more about the specific "BBQ Source" campaign at it's own website:

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Roast Chicken with Basil & Lemon (with HD video!)

Bought a chicken on Saturday, but for the life of me couldn't decide what to do with the thing. I love to roast chicken, but it can get a bit repetitive. Was gazing out of the kitchen window, wondering, and my eyes came to rest on the trough of basil that we've been growing over the summer, and I suddenly remembered an old favourite that I'd not done for years.

It's as simple as they come - just take a lemon, halve it, give it a bit of crush in your hands and then stick it into the chicken cavity. Then try to cram in as much fresh basil as you can get into the space that remains! As the chicken roasts the perfume (an odd word to use, maybe, but appropriate I think) of the basil penetrates the meat, but not overpoweringly so, it just adds another dimension to the meat. The lemon meanwhile gives a slight citric tang, and melds with the juices that the chicken exudes as it roasts to create a wonderfully light and summery gravy.

I cooked this for about an hour, but it was a small chicken. Here's the video I made during the cooking (not the most glamorous camera angle I have to say, but then again I've not got the most glamorous body :-):

Served this with our runner beans and some dauphinois (looking for that cream/lemon contrast), along with some focaccia I'd made the day before.

And then there are the leftovers ... what's great about this dish is that you get all that basil flavour still in the meat. I just grabbed a bite from the fridge, and it was gorgeous, but then again I'm a big basil fan. If you like basil, give this a try, I guarantee you'll not be disappointed!

See more roast chicken at Foodista:

Roast Chicken on Foodista

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Curious Pot Roast Chicken, BBQs & Chinese Pork Belly

Well it's been a while since I posted any cooking, but not really my fault. Let's just say an invitation that I couldn't refuse to spend some time at a local hospital has cramped my style a bit lately, but thankfully what's done is done, and I'm back to my Sunday roasting again now.

Still been up to one or two things though, and some interesting ones at that. First up I seemed to be a bit oversupplied in the grape department for a while, and whilst grapes are probably my most favourite fruit even I have my limits. Searching my library for something that might be useful I came across an interesting Italian recipe for chicken cooked in grape juice, and as this needed very little interaction from me it seemed like a particularly good bet for a Sunday roast. The chicken is jointed, then slow cooked in about a pint of white grape juice with fresh parsely and crushed garlic until tender. Came our very delicious, with a surprising depth of flavour for something that seems so simple.

Chicken in the pot, browned and now ready to slowly cook

We also decided to get a new BBQ just before I had to take a leave of absence, and decided to spend a bit of money and buy a Weber Kettle rather than the usual thin metalled things that I've been used to. Very impressed with the thing so far, though time will tell whether it's been worth the money since so far we've only done a few spare ribs and steak on it.

A few bits and pieces from the BBQ

One other dish worth a mention is the Chinese style slow roast pork belly from Rick Stein's Food Heroes book. This is again a very simple dry spiced belly that's slow cooked and then served with steamed rice and pak choi - or in our case primo cabbage. The trick to this recipe is that the pork is steamed and roasted at the same time - you place it in a low oven on a rack above some water. This way the meat keeps really tender, and the fat drips off into the water so you're not left with the meat roasting in a pool of it's own fat.

The finished dish - a bit steamy I know, but it gives you an idea how it turns out

Anyhow back to today and tonight's dish. I've been dry-spicing a piece of beef for about 10 days, and just put it into the slow cooker now to cook for the next 10 hours or so. Apparently this is a very old English/Irish dish, that used to be served at Christmas, but I've never heard of it or tried it before, so it'll be interesting to see how it comes out. Elizabeth David was a big fan, so I read, so it should be pretty good with any luck.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Doubles: 'Open' Pot Slow Roast Lamb Shoulder with Leeks & Lemon Balm + Fast Roast Rack of Lamb with Rosemary

Sunday roasts can start to feel a bit samey eventually, and though I try and be experimental I often fall back to the old favourites. This Sunday though I was definitely feeling a bit more experimental, so not only decided to try some new ideas out but also to do a double roast with lamb both fast and slow.

I first had this at River Cottage, and loved the idea of tender slow roast lamb falling off the bone at the same time as tender pink juicy lamb with crispy fat. Sure it's a bit more work to do, but the slow roast pretty much takes care of itself once it's in the oven so you're not slaving in the kitchen all morning.

I've been experimenting with slow roasts in particular at the moment, and am working in an idea where the meat is pushed into a deep roasting container (I use a big Creuset pot) on top of various vegetable and herb flavourings. This keeps the more tender ingredients from burning, and helps the meat steam and roast at the same time keeping it really moist without losing that lovely crispy fat. I've done a fair bit of this with lamb recently, so was looking for something unusual, and as I gazed out my kitchen window my eyes came to rest on the Lemon Balm ...

The ingredients for the slow roast

Lemon and lamb are good bed fellows, but the lemon balm would be too light by itself, so I went for that other stalwart with lamb, leeks. The method's quite simple:

  • slice 2 leeks an average thickness, put them in the bottom of a deep Creuset pan or similar, add a little olive oil, salt & pepper, and toss together.

  • add a very generous bundle of lemon balm, criss crossing the leeks to cover.

  • rub the shoulder of lamb with a little more olive oil, season well, and then squeeze it on top. It must be a tight fit, so if necessary take a cleaver to any tricky edges, and then tuck whatever has been cut off in any holes.

Lamb tucked into the pot over the other ingredients

This then went into a normal oven at 150ºC for 4 hours. I did need to add a generous splash of lamb stock (water would have done) after about and hour and a half, as it was getting a little dry by then. You do need to keep a vague eye on it, but if you don't have the time just add the stock at the beginning of cooking instead.

Then there was the fast lamb. For this I managed to find a small rack, which to my mind is the best lamb for fast roasting like this. The butcher had chined the back, making it easy to carve later, so I squeezed a rosemary sprig in there, criss crossed the fat with a sharp knife to speed up the crisping, and seasoned well. Then into a very hot oven, I did it as hot as I could in mine, for only 20 minutes, plus about 10-20 minutes resting after.

The rack of lamb once cooked

Our broad beans, which we overwintered this year very successfully, are being very prolific, so we'd purposefully left some to get large with the idea to make minted broad bean puree. Didn't come out quite the way we wanted, a bit too loose I think, but tasty all the same. Also served this with buttered thyme potatoes, nice combination that.

The finished dish. You can make out what's left of the leeks on the left of the plate, they caramelised wonderfully. I didn't serve the lemon balm, that was just for flavour

The end result was a lovely combination of flavours and textures, and there's not much I'd change. Oddly enough I thought the lemon balm might have made it a little antiseptic, but in the end the flavour wasn't strong enough, so next time I'll add more I think. The leeks had caramelised so much they were delicious but powerful, so probably dominated the lemon balm a little - though not the lamb. That's a tricky meat to dominate!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Spit Roast Rabbit

Was off looking for beef the other day, no surprise there, but couldn't find what I was after and spotted some good looking rabbits for sale so went for one of those instead. Talk about from one extreme to the other!

Been meaning to try a rabbit for ages, and had the idea that it might work out well marinated with lots of herbs, wrapped in fatty bacon and spit roasted, so that's what I did. Took loads of fresh marjoram from the garden, some garlic, plenty of oil and left it for about three hours or so in the fridge.

The Rabbit and ingredients

Ready to go in the fridge

Rabbit can be a notoriously dry meat, so I needed to wrap it in plenty of bacon in order to keep it moist on the spit. It was well seasoned first, and then loads of streaky went round secured with toothpicks.

Wrapped and ready for roasting

Then into a hotish oven for about 45 minutes. Came our rather well I reckon.

Crispy baconed rabbit!

With it I prepared a Tian of potatoes, another first, which is basically thinly sliced potatoes cooked in olive oil in a sort of cake. In the meantime B had prepared a leek and fennel mousse with a red pepper sauce, inspired by the Exe Shed restaurant in Exeter, which we had with toasted tortillas as a starter.

The leek & fennel mousse starter

The finished rabbit with the tian of potatoes

End result? Well, the starter was the star in the end, but you probably guessed that from the pictures. Yes it did taste as good as it looked! Rabbit was very tasty but still a bit dry - should have added even more bacon to the back legs perhaps, or maybe I just cooked it too long and too hot. The bacon was to die for, can't beat good bacon well crisped I reckon, but the potatoes were disappointing as well - far too oily. I did follow the recipe for them in their case, something I only tend to do when trying something very new, but wished in the end I'd trusted by own judgement rather than the book.

I guess you can't win them all, but always fun trying new things. Rabbit is usually braised, but I reckon I can pull this off with a bit more practice, and the left over meat has gone into making a fabulous sauce for pasta - nothing is ever wasted round here!

Meanwhile back to today, and another roast. Lamb with new potatoes from the village, a fresh mint sauce made with our own mint and some minted broad bean puree with our broad beans. At least that's the plan. Now where am I going to find a good local piece of lamb on a Sunday morning ...

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Home Made Passata: How to make a cheap, delicious and versatile tomato sauce

We use a lot of passata at home, in various sugos, for pizzas, topping meatballs and meatloaf, that sort of thing. We do often buy it but it's also a doddle to make your own, and you can make a huge amount and then just freeze it in small pots for whenever you need it. We have a big stack of little pots that used to hold mushy peas from the fish and chip van, for example, although I guess that just shows we eat far too much fish and chips :-)

I always use Napolina whole peeled plum tomatoes, creature of habit perhaps, but they are a good product and are often half price at all the major supermarkets so buying a load when they're cheap means you're saving money and enjoying great home made food.

I'm trying some new with this sort of thing, and videoing bits here and there as I think it gives a better idea of timing, textures, quantities, etc. than a written account. I've split the passata one up into three as it does take a good couple of hours or so to cook down into the finished product.

As you can probably tell, the director needs some practice, as does the cameraman!

The rabbit sauce was left over from a spit roast rabbit dish the Sunday before, more of that whenever I get around to blogging about it ...

Roast Chicken wild Wild Garlic & Lemon

Just trying something new - video blogging! Probably needs some work, but fun none the less.

Part 1: Preparation


Part2: Gravy & Cabbage/Pancetta

Part 3: The finished dish

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

My "Top Roasting Tips" or how to make the most of your Sunday roast

All this blogging about cooking has led me to reflect on how it is I cook, and what goes up here as opposed to what doesn't. I've become aware that an awful lot of what I do when I cook is instinctive, all the little tweaks and shortcuts that I just do because I know they'll improve the dish, so they probably never get talked about. I thought I'd try to rectify this by creating my own personal list of what I think is essential when trying to create a good Sunday roast.

This is probably not complete - I guess I can always come back and add more - but I've tried to make it chronological at least, so these are the things I think you need to be worrying about when you think about your roast.
  1. Buy Good Quality Meat
    This has to be top of the list. More than absolutely everything else this is the number one factor that will make or break your finished meal, as without a good piece of meat to start with you're never going to have a good finished product. Don't confuse good with expensive either - some of the most fab cuts are wonderfully cheap (e.g. shin of beef) - you just need to know how to cook them.
  2. Don't Roast it Straight from Cold
    Roasts are almost always big pieces of meat, and if you take them out of the fridge and put them straight in the oven then meat in the middle of the joint is going to heat up much slower than that on the outside. Sometimes this can be a benefit - perhaps you want to keep the middle of a joint of beef very rare - but personally I always find it best to take the meat out at least an hour (sometimes longer - depends on the meat) and leave it to get up to room temperature. Don't fret too much about it going bad - an hour or so won't hurt (though don't leave it anywhere warm like on a radiator!) and you'll get a better end product.
  3. Season Well Before Roasting
    Seasoning is always critical, and this applies just as much to roasts as anything else. You can be quite generous with the salt & pepper. Do make sure you do the inside of poultry and rolled pieces if you can, but don't over do it on pork crackling or it'll be over salted. Also, don't salt early - it'll start to leech juices out of the meat. Do it just before the meat goes into the oven.
  4. Know Your Oven!
    You don't necessarily need a great oven for a great roast, but you do need to know what you've got. Some ovens create temperatures that are widely different to what they display or what their controls suggest, so if you're in any doubt over your own oven check it with an oven thermometer. You never know, all those apparent failures may have been the oven's fault and not yours at all!
  5. Hot Then Cool
    Many cooks use this technique, and though I deviate from it quite frequently (with slow roasts and spit roasting in particular) it's still the one I do most often. Basically you start the roast off at a high temperature for a short time to start crisping up the outside and force heat into the meat, and then turn it down for the rest of cooking so you don't burn the outisde and the heat gradually permeates through and cooks evenly.
  6. It's Done When It's Done
    At the end of the day a roast is ready when it's ready, all you can do with timing and temperatures is try and get some sort of reliable guide as to when. There are lots of ways of checking when meat is ready, a thermometer apparently being the best (though personally I've never used one). For chicken and pork it's the juices running clear when you pierce the thickest piece of meat, for lamb and beef it's pretty much whenever it's gets to the stage you like it at! All I'm saying here is don't just assume it's ready- at least don't be a slave to the timing.
  7. Rest the Meat
    Resting is crucial. In fact if I was ordering these by priority then this would be number two after the quality of the meat. Resting allows the meat to 'relax', and ensures that the juices flow back from their excited states back into the fibres where you want them, creating a tender juicy mouthful. All joints could do with 20 minutes or so - large joints even more. Do make sure that you rest somewhere warm - not hot, not cold, but warm. Still in the oven is OK, provided the door is open a little to let some heat out, but you'll need the pan it was roasting on to ...
  8. Deglaze for Gravy
    Gravy has been many peoples bugbear, mine included, but no longer. Here's what I do. Once the meat is out of the pan and resting somewhere get rid of most of the fat from the pan (if it's good fat, like beef, then keep it aside for other cooking) and put the pan back on the heat on top of the stove. Add some liquid, and scrape up all the good stuff in the pan into the liquid, and reduce till you get to the consistency you like. That's it. If you like a thick gravy leave a little fat in the pan and stir some flour into it and cook it a little before you add the liquid (a little at a time). If you want to include some other flavours use wine, port, stock, water from vegetables, anything really in place of plain old water, or stir in some mustard, fruit jelly, whatever you fancy, but basic gravy is really quite straightforward.
  9. Serve on Warm Plates/Dishes
    Nobody wants to eat food so hot they get burnt, but the problem with roasts is often the opposite - what with resting and all the other mucking about the food can be too cool by the time it hits the table. To get around this you really do need to warm your plates beforehand, and by warm I actually mean quite hot. You don't want the meat to sizzle when you put it on (and believe me I've done that a few times!) but you do want them practically too hot to handle.
Well there are my thoughts on what makes a good roast - love to hear what tips and tricks others have to share!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Slow Roast Salt Marsh Lamb with Onions, Garlic & Thyme

Seems everywhere's getting foodie these days - or then again maybe it's just the places I choose to go - and Exeter is no exception. We've got some great places to get food around town now, what with the Thursday farmers market, and streets full of quality shops like Magdalen Road, plus places like Chandos in town (although their attitude to pricing is ... well ... let's just say they like a good mark-up. A very good mark-up).

Until recently we also had the brilliant Foodeaze as well, which is sadly currently closed, but happily due to reopen even better than before - we hope. But the reason I'm mentioning all this is actually the annual Exeter Festival of Food & Wine.

I've been going since it started I think, and have seen it grow from a quite small affair with not really enough room for all the attention to a very professional set-up, with top name chefs, tents of food galore, and special night time events. True it may have lost some of the charm of earlier days, when the suppliers may have been a little more generous with their tastings, but it's still a great place to be. Hell, I even made sure I got back from Spain in time to attend!

This year I got my usual selection of goodies, the pride amongst them a shoulder of salt marsh lamb, a great piece of meat, well hung and full flavoured. I love lamb well done so I slow roasted it for about 4 hours at 150ºC (important that it's not a fan oven for this, otherwise it cooks to quick and can dry out) on top of about 5 sliced up onions, 6 or so cloves of peeled garlic and loads of fresh thyme, plus the usual salt & pepper. This was all pushed down into a big Creuset stewing pot. I'm really starting to fine tune this technique now for slow roasting - this time I used no liquid at all, just relied on the meat and the onions to produce liquid as they cooked, and sure enough it worked a treat. The secret is to try and make sure that the meat completely covers the other ingredients, that way it roasts and steams, and nothing gets burnt. The meat comes out beautifully tender and moist and the onions sweet and slightly caramelised.

Served this with buttered minty new potatoes, rocket salad, and a rape seed oil minty mayo. Oh, and a nice drop of Australian red ...

I have to say though that part of the success of the dish was the sheer quality of the meat, which I'm happy to say has been providing leftovers all week for various risottos and stuffed pittas and wraps. When you start with such a good product you really have to do something pretty spectacular to screw it up. Kudos to the supplier, The Thoroughly Wild Meat Co.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Roast Chicken with Goats Cheese & Wild Garlic

Well it's been an interesting few weeks roasting and boiling things. Top of the list has to be the famed Italian Bollito Misto which I've been itching to try for ages, and finally got round to the other week when my bro came down with his family. To be honest it wasn't all I had hoped for though, although I wasn't in the best of health and it's never a good idea to try and cook when you're not feeling great. I think I might have to revisit it another time though - ever since I actually had it in Italy I've been captured by how wonderful something so simple can be.

But back to last weekend and the title of this blog post. Ever since I did the turkey at Christmas, pushing butter and the skin to keep the bird moist, I've been eager to repeat the process and to try some more experiments. Thinking of what to cook this Sunday I decided to have a try with some goats cheese that needed eating, a free range chicken, and the now almost obligatory wild garlic.

The ingredients lined up ready to go

Getting your fingers between the breasts of the bird and it's skin is a doddle really, although maybe once you've done a turkey a chicken isn't a challenge! I decided the goats cheese wasn't enough by itself though (I used a crumbly Vulscombe with herbs) so mixed it ahead of time with some soft cheese and salt & pepper just to increase the fat content. It was going to get pretty hot after all. This went under the skin and then a good handful of wild garlic and about a quarter of a lemon inside the cavity.

The bird with the cheese mixture under the skin, seasoned and stuffed.

Then into a fan oven at 180°C for 15 mins per pound plus 15 mins (timing that I've worked out is good my oven, but as ever for this sort of thing your oven might be different).

Roasting away - about half-way through now.

And finally out of the oven, ready to rest for 20 minutes or so.

I served this with oven baked rosemary & garlic potato wedges and purple sprouting broccoli with a hot red wine vinaigrette. The broccoli was a little overcooked, but the vinaigrette came out really well, which I'd lightly spiced with cayenne pepper. Saw something vaguely similar on Saturday kitchen the morning before so thought I'd give it a whirl myself.

All plated up and ready for munching.

So how did it work out? Pretty good really. I thought the residue from the chicken pan was going to be too burnt at first to use for gravy, but it was actually really delicious, and the everything worked very well together. Opened a bottle of Beaujolais to drink and then was great too, in fact everything was kind of just right for the season, a real taste of spring. This whole "let's shove something under the skin of the bird and see what happens" lark could become a minor obsession with me I think!


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