Sunday, 29 May 2011

Yogurt pannacotta (mark 3)

Yogurt pannacotta with elsanta strawberries

Mark 1 - Eventually I won the war with pannacotta. I'm not too proud to admit that the first time I made it the pannacotta was inedible. Quite an achievement considering the fact I will pretty much eat anything, drawing the line at the  “stuff” that comes out of the work canteen. To be honest I’m not too sure what went wrong last time. I’ve gone over it in my head like some broken hearted teenage girl. Maybe I neglected it? Maybe I did it all wrong?  Realistically I think it failed because I because the buttermilk that I tried to make it with was off.  It smelt acrid. Horrible stuff. Seems so obvious now.

Mark 2 – I had tried to freeze cream. It didn’t work. When I defrosted it, it was lumpy. To quote the Smiths “I was bored before I even began”. Pannacotta mark 2 was a non-starter.

Mark 3 - Third time I tried it with yogurt it seemed to work better. I wanted to keep it fresher than just set cream. Persistence paid off and I was able to bring a nice summery dessert over to a friend's for dinner. I was smug; I had won the pannacotta war.

This dish is unbelievably easy (despite my previous attempts). It took only 10 minutes to make. It needs a chum to accompany it, fresh strawberries like these “elsantas” were tasty or some roasted rhubarb would work equally well.

Yogurt pannacotta serves 4

2 ½-3 sheets of gelatine (depending how wobbly you like it)
285ml carton of double cream
300ml plain yogurt (2 yeo valley pots)
1tsp vanilla paste (or 1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out)
4 slightly heaped dessertspoons caster sugar

Add the gelatine to a bowl of cold water, leave to stand for about 10 minutes.
In the meantime gently heat the cream in a pan over a medium to low heat.
Add the sugar and stir until dissolved.
Slowly increase the heat till the cream is just about to boil and has thickened.
It should be able to coat the back of a spoon.
Take the cream off the heat, squeeze the water out of the gelatine and add to the cream.
Stir until dissolved.
Leave the mixture to cool for a minute or two.
Be patient.
Add the yogurt and vanilla, stir in.
If you are a perfectionist, put the mixture through a sieve, otherwise pour the mixture into the 4 dishes.
Leave to cool for about an hour before putting in the fridge.
Once in the fridge they will take 2-3 hours to set.
To serve, dip the bottomof the pots in hot water for a couple of seconds.
Put a butter knife around the top of the pot to loosen.
Give it a gentle shake to get the air to the bottom and turnout on a plate.


Wednesday, 25 May 2011

1st attempt pizza

mozzarella and greek basil pizza

You may ask the question “how have you got as far as writing a food blog without having made a punny, solitary attempt at making your own pizza?” Fair question which I will counter by asking "why would I ever think of making pizza when the fantastic Franco's is just a phone call away". Last Saturday I set about making my first attempt pizza.

The pizza dough was knocked together in the bread maker. The tomato sauce was a sorry, miserly single leftover potion of 3 day old puttanesca sauce. The toppings I had already except the cheese. I impressively managed to get my ass down the shops for that. My Saturday was one of laziness personified.

I tried to do that swirly-above-the-head-thing with the dough. It didn’t work. It was more for novelty banter than any serious attempt to get the perfect crispy base. To do this I can recommend rolling the dough out with a wine bottle, it did the job. I used a little greek basil with basil olive oil on one of the pizzas and anchovies and kalamata olives on the other. 

So, in conclusion - 
1 -  it isn’t half the palaver that I thought it could be
2 - it can actually compete with Franco's 16 inches.

Anchovy and kalamata olive pizza


Saturday, 21 May 2011

Tip top saturday lunch - duck egg, asparagus and brown shrimp

Asparagus, duck eggs and brown shrimp

This week has been one for first time adventures. 

1 - I went to the wonderful Turkish restaurant Empires, for Z's birthday. I've been meaning to go for about 3 years. I’m always tardy.
2 - I've had my cooking filmed (just weird).
3 - I cracked my duck egg virginity. Pardon the pun, genuinely sorry, couldn’t resist. 

Duck egg with asparagus and brown shrimp
The filming was for a friend of a friend so I was happy to help out but gees was it weird. I’m so used to just being an idiot in the kitchen, dancing around, singing badly, somehow I didn’t feelcomfortable doing that with someone I had just met for the first time. I wonder if that is how Delia feels when the film crew is in her home? Does she also dance to 80s tunes in her bare feet? 

On to the duck eggs. Yep I've never had one before today. It took me 3 Stockbridge deli's before Mr Bower the butcher came up trumps with the eggy gold.  If you have never had them before, they really were lovely. The egg white was meant to be denser but to be honest I never noticed any difference. My only observations were that it is slightly larger than a large hen's egg, and the yolk was more rich and buttery. Yolk was all that was needed to dress this dish. Who needs a hollandaise when you have a runny duck egg yolk?

Fried duck eggs
Duck egg with asparagus and brown shrimp - serves 2 as a light lunch
The recipe was based on a dish in Mark Hix's "British Seasonal Food"

2 duck eggs
140g asparagus spears
60g cooked brown shrimp or potted shrimp
veg oil

Boil the asparagus in a pan of salted water for 2-3 minutes depending on the thickness. 
In the mean time heat a frying pan on a medium to low heat with a little oil and add the eggs. 
Spoon over any excess oil over the eggs, to cook the top of them.
Add the shrimp to the eggs.
Drain the asparagus and add to the eggs.

Serve and enjoy.

Tip top saturday lunch - asparagus, duck egg and brown shrimp

Monday, 16 May 2011

Princess and the pea soup

Broad beans

Ok, I admit there are no peas in this soup (but there are broad beans) and needless to say I am not a princess. I guess I wanted to tempt you, ma bad. Essentially this soup is a kind of minestrone except when I think of minestrone I think of horrible thick, sludgy reddish stuff we used to get at school. This is a much classier affair, light and tasty.

Last week I was away with old friends in Gozo, a tiny island in the Mediterranean. So quiet and beautiful. On walks in the area surrounding the farmhouse we saw little terraced fields; rows of broad beans, asparagus and spring onions all together in neat lines, baked by the sun. I guess my exploring of this little corner of “our pale blue dot” inspired me with this dish. It truly was a charming place; wild artichokes in the hedgerows, the clearest waters and outrageously good seafood. 

      courgette, broad beans and asparagus

This is a nice little diner dish, it is really quick if you don’t bother peeling the broad beans. However, my perfectionist tendencies won over. I think I've been watching too much “Great British Menu”. It took me ages but personally I found it therapeutic. I'm sad that way. Any left over roast chicken it would make a welcome addition to this dish.

princess and the pea soup, spring green minestrone
Princess and the pea soup - serves 2

800ml chicken stock
2 handfuls of orzo pasta
8 asparagus spears
6 baby courgettes
2 handfuls of broad beans
4-5 spring onions, finely chopped

In a pan, heat the heat stock up to a rolling boil.
Add in the pasta, it will take about 8 minutes to cook.
Add in the vegetables after about 5 minutes or so depending on their size.
After 7 minutes add spring onions.
Season to taste.


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Griddled asparagus risotto with wild leaves

Being a foodie, the start of the asparagus season has been on my mind at least every second day since about February when the first bulbs of spring started poking through. Asparagus is the first real big hitter of the year in terms of produce. Lots of goodies come after such as Perthshire strawberries but very little happens before the asparagus comes out to play. In Scotland because it is so chilly most of the time, the season is about 2-3 weeks later than the rest of the UK, stating about now. On your marks, get set go! This year I’m going to try and make the most of the 6-8 week window of yumminess and no doubt I’ll be doing a few asparagus-centric posts soon.

 The boyfriend loves a risotto, an instant way to his heart and over the years I’ve had plenty of practice at making this dish. A few years ago I went wine tasting. We had food cooked by a Michelin stared chef to match with the wine and I picked up a few tips to make a better risotto from there. Firstly it needs to be kept loose or “on the wave” as the Italians would describe it. Secondly, when they say serve it al dente, they really mean al dente. Almost crunchy.

The wild leaves I collected were from the riverbank near my flat. Edinburgh has it’s fault but there must be few capital cities in the world where you can find a river bank with lots of forageable goodies just 15 minutes from the centre of town. I used nettles, wild garlic and field sorrel. Just a few leaves each, not to overpower the dish more to give it extra depth of flavour and freshness. If foraging isn’t your thing just double the quantity of parsley. As Heidi of 101 cookbooks said last week, “the sky won’t fall down”.

It gets my hump up when people describe this as a quick tea. It normally takes me about 30-40 minutes from start to finish. I like to think my knife skills are fairly sharppish (geddit? groan) but it still takes me a while to get this all veg chopped up before I start cooking. In my opinion there is nothing wrong with selling risotto as a weekend treat which is exactly what this dish is to me.

Griddled asparagus and wild leaves risotto
Serves 4

4 handfuls of risotto rice, arborio, vialone and carnaroli all work well.
2 large onions finely chopped
4 stalk of celery, finely chopped
4-6 cloves of finely chopped garlic.
12 spears of asparagus, we used a purple variety
8-12 tenderstems of asparagus, chopped into 1-2cm bits
large glass of white wine
pot of chicken stock, about a litre, keep on a rolling boil throughout the cooking process
2 breasts of roast chicken (optional but tasty, we had some leftover)
tub of mascarpone, about 225g
handful of parmesan
few wild salad leaves, e.g. nettle, wild garlic and field sorrel
small handful of coarsely chopped parsley
half a large lemon
olive oil and butter.

Pop the olive oil and butter in a pan and over a low heat add the onions and celery. Let these soften for the best part of 10 minutes
Add the garlic and let the harshness cook out a bit
Do not let the onion et cetra go brown, the idea is that it is sweet and translucent

Turn up the heat a little and add the rice, cook for a minute stirring all the time
Do no let the rice go brown as this will reduce the amount of starch you can get out of it
Once the edges of the rice have gone clear add in the wine
It should sizzle as it hits the pan, keep stirring until 70% or so of the liquid has been absorbed
Add one ladle of the stock into the rice at a time, stirring fairly continuously
If you run out of stock, hot water will be fine
The more elbow work you put into your risotto the more gooey starchy wonderfulness it will release, this will ensure you have a lovely unctuous risotto

After about 8 minutes of the rice cooking pop the larger asparagus stems into the stock pot and cook for 3 minutes or until on the tender side of crunchy
Brush these with olive oil, season and put onto a griddle pan on a very high heat
Cook for a couple of minutes, turning once
Squeeze with lemon juice and put aside if the risotto is not ready yet

When the rice has been on for 12 or so minutes add in the cooked chicken and chopped tenderstem asparagus.
When the risotto is a minute off being ready add the wild leaves, parsley and mascarpone and parmesan
Season to taste
Serve al dente; a good way to think of risotto is that if your granny were to eat it she would complain it wasn’t cooked enough


Friday, 6 May 2011

Carbonara (my way)

Carbonara pasta (my way)

I’ve been slummy this week, very slummy. It’s been one of those rare weeks when I’ve not really been in the mood for much kitchen time. We are getting work done to the flat and I now have first hand experience of the term “bombsite”. Dust is literally everywhere, in my hair, inside drawers, even under the sofa. I’ve not had a proper wash in days. Add to this I’ve had a bug which left me flat and lifeless on the sofa for a few days.  I'm never very good at being ill.

Eventually I managed enough willpower to tear myself off my bum and get through to the kitchen, not to eat biscuits straight out the packet for my diner but to make some “proper” food as my grandma would say.

Crispy pancetta bits
I needed comfort and carbs, I needed carbonara (my way). My mum can be quite healthy when the mood takes her and has installed in me a strong believe that a dinner should always feature something green. The idea of having a true Italian carbonara provokes the most minor of cold sweats on me. What no vegetables? Italians would of course have their vegetables in one of their other courses but I was not in the mood for mucking around with multiple dishes so I made carbonara my way.

Carbonara mixture
We have this dish every so often as a quick and indulgent mid week supper. It’s pretty handy recipe to have up my sleeve as most of the ingredients I tend to have knocking around my fridge or freezer anyways, the cream I can always pick up at the corner shop on my way home from work. After our royal wedding party I had a litre (yes a litre) of cream leftover, I’ve made my first attempt at freezing half of it and put some of it towards this dish.

Almost there...
Carbonara my way – serves 2

225g spaghetti or linguini
Handful of cubed pancetta or 8 strips
2 courgettes, coarsely grated
handful of frozen peas
2 cloves of garlic, very finely chopped
2 egg yolks
100ml double cream
small handful of finely grated parmesan or pecorino
sea salt
ground black pepper, lots
a little vegetable oil

Put the oil in a heavy based pan and start frying off the pancetta over a moderately high heat.
Cook for about 5 minutes and until golden and crispy. Think of the pancetta as seasoning and adding crunchy texture.
Drain from the pan and let it cool on some kitchen towel.
In the same pan with the oil add the courgette and cook down over a medium heat.
After a few minutes add the frozen peas.
Season the vegetables as required.
In the mean time get the pasta on in well salted water. It will take about 7-8 minutes or until it is edible but still with a slight bite.
To make the tasty bit, mix the cream, parmesan and egg yolks together.
Grind in enough black pepper to give a bit of heat. This is important to prevent the dish from being too flat and cloying.
Add the garlic to courgettes and peas, being careful not to let it burn.
Drain the pasta and add it to the veggies.
Add in the cream and the bacon.
Mix through.


Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Roast rack of lamb with fancy potato boulanger

Why is lamb associated with Easter? Obviously Easter is about the time of year that we start to see lambs springing around the lush, bright fields but why does that equate to lamb on the plate? I don't really have any answers I'm afraid but what I do know is that a local farm shop had some lamb in and I couldn’t resist. Lamb is ready for eating when it is 4 months old, about the time it is weaned from its mother. Simple maths therefore, would make you wonder why lamb was in the shop in April.  This involved a small amount of detective work... It was from the Scottish borders where it can be fairly chilly so it was probably born in late April, May last year. This makes it just under a year old. Hogget minus a few months. As the meat was a little older than the majority of lamb you might buy I splashed out for a rack, possibly the most tender cut. Lamb is one of those meats where you sacrifice tenderness for taste and taste for tenderness; a fine tuned balance. It was fed on grass with lots of herb so it was a pretty special dinner. 

Early season lamb is bred in southern England through artificially "horneying up" the sheep in the autumn time for the lambs to be born in December, January time. These lambs will then be kept inside till late February when it is warm enough for them in get out in the open. These lambs will get fed hay and soy to fatten them up quickly for the Easter market in the supermarkets. This surely has got to be an inferior product compared to its more natural cousin.

I got the inspiration for this recipe from Tom Kitchin who did a version of this on Saturday kitchen. He cooked it with smoking hay which sounds interesting but having splashed out for such an expensive cut I wanted to keep it quite honest and let the flavour of the herb fed lamb shine. You can get this recipe from the BBC food website,

When I first met my boyfriend I spent the first few years trying to whoo him with food. Having now settled into domestic cohabiting bliss(ish) this is now a less regular occurrence. I wanted to give the boy a wee treat. He deserves it. 

Roast rack of lamb serves a greedy 2
Oven set to 180 degrees

french trimmed rack of lamb 0.6kg or 1.5lb; this is quite an average size

700g waxy new potatoes, finely sliced
2 onions finely sliced
1 fennel bulb finely sliced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
500ml chicken stock
couple of bay leaves
few springs of thyme
few knobs of butter

Cook the onions, fennel off in a heavy bottomed pan till nice and brown. This will take about 8-10 minutes. Add in the herbs and season. 
Add in the garlic and cook till softened. 
Arrange layers of potato then a layer of onions minus the herbs, I think I did 3 layers. 
Season each layer with salt and pepper.
Add a few knobs of butter on top and pour the stock over. 
Cook in the oven for 1 hour 30 minutes. 
You may need to cover it with a bit of tinfoil if it is getting a bit burnt. 

For the lamb, rub with olive oil, season and seal in a heavy bottomed pan. 
Pop in the oven for 14-18 minutes.
The best way to get perfectly cooked lamb is to invest in a meat thermometer; we served ours rare, very rare, almost baahing.
120-125degrees for rare
125-130 degrees for medium rare
Let in rest for 8-10 minutes with some tinfoil and tea towels to keep warm. I like using my cast iron shallow casserole pan as it keeps the heat in with the lid.

Carve and enjoy.