Sunday, November 28, 2010

#263 Stuffed Tomatoes

A quickie, this one…
So as I mentioned in my last post I made a couple of vegetable sides from English Food for Joan and Dave’s Thanksgiving party. That is not to say that these recipes from the Vegetables chapter are in any way vegetarian and these stuffed tomatoes are no exception. They are pretty easy to do aswell. Take twelve tomatoes and cut off their tops. Scoop out their centres and chop them up, removing any seeds first. Turn the tomatoes upside down to drain. Meanwhile, make a batch of herb stuffing – I’ve made it before as a recipe in its own right (get it here) and add the chopped centres to the mixture. Spoon them into the tomatoes and replace their little hats. Place on a baking sheet cook alongside whatever you might be having for dinner. In our case it was, of course, turkey. The temperature doesn’t really matter; just don’t leave them in so long that they just collapse. Griggers reckons that they would go well with lamb too.

#263 Stuffed Tomatoes. I liked these, though I’m not sure if everyone agreed. The stuffing was good though wasn’t as flavoursome as the last time I made it, but it was still good and did compliment the tomatoes. The tomatoes here are very good though – they actually taste of tomatoes and aren’t just the green chlorosed lumps we typically find in British supermarkets. 6/10.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

#262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable

Yesterday was Thanksgiving Day here in the US and Joan and Dave (my bosses) very kindly invited round to their house for the feast (check out Joan’s blog here). As it is was my first ever Thanksgiving dinner I was very excited about the fayre that would be there to feast upon. I was not disappointed: roast turkey and cranberries I knew would feature, but there was also loads of other New World things too: mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes plus exciting stuffings and good old Brussels sprouts. In fact it wasn’t that far removed from the British Christmas Dinner, so I was on reasonably familiar territory. The only exception being the mashed sweet potato with melted marshmallows on the top: I am not used to this merging of the sweet and savory in such brazen fashion!
Attending the dinner gave me the perfect  excuse to cook some of the vegetable sides from the Vegetable chapter; not something I often do when I’m cooking a meal from the book as they are sometimes complicated and add rather a lot more stress to the occasion.
Chestnuts as a Vegetable seemed the appropriate choice for the time of year, plus I could make it in advance the night before.  Griggers doesn’t mention anything about the recipe: just a list of ingredients and a method. I assume it is there because we don’t use them as a vegetable anymore and expect she wants us to start doing it again.  But should we?
You will need a pound of chestnuts for this recipe. Begin by nicking each chestnut end to end and plunge them into boiling water for 10 minutes. Drain them and quickly peel them by holding one in a dishcloth or oven glove and using your other hand, remove the shell and skin with a small knife. This is easier said than done; the skin came off just where skin meets back-of-thumbnail. It hurt. I would take Joan’s advice and buy chestnuts that have already been peeled. Anyways, next gently fry a chopped onion and a finely chopped clove of garlic in two ounces of butter, cover the pan and cook until they are soft and transparent. Meanwhile, cut two ounces of bacon rashers cut into strips – use any bacon you like; I used maple-smoked. Also, peel, core and chop two Cox’s pippin apples (these are not around in the US, so I used Granny Smiths as they seemed appropriately tart). Try to not allow anything to burn or brown. Turn up the heat in the pan and add the bacon, a couple of minutes later add the apple. Fry until they soften. Finally chop the chestnuts into chunky pieces and add them along with a good seasoning of salt and pepper. Cook until the mixture begins to meld together.
You don’t have to serve this with just turkey – it will go well with pork, salt pork or veal.
#262 Chestnuts as a Vegetable. I wasn’t sure about this at first, but I decided in the end that I liked it. I was unsure because I tasted it on its own. However, when it was eaten with some turkey and gravy etc, it really worked. We may not use them as a vegetable anymore, I suspect because the preparation is so tricky, time-consuming and sore! But now that tinned or vacuum-packed chestnuts are easy to get, they really should be brought back – they are part of our food heritage after all. Sweet chestnuts have been actively cultivated since Roman times and can be found not just peeled, but candied and ground into flour. They are absolutely delicious roasted under the grill or by the fire, but let’s try something different this year, hm? 7.5/10

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

#261 Parsnip and Shellfish Salad

Don’t let it ever be said that I don’t like a warm salad. Though I rarely make them, I don’t know why. Britain is not big on its salads really, though America definitely knows what it’s doing. This sort of food is perfect for this time of year – light and fresh, yet warming. Grigson doesn’t mention where this recipe comes from or how old it is and there’s nothing on the Internet regarding it in its historical sense.
This salad is pretty easy to do: quarter some parsnips, cut them into chunky spears and simmer in salted water for around five minutes until tender. Drain. Stir in some salad dressing (I did the one from English Food, though exchanged the sugar for honey). Add some shellfish (prawns or lobster) or some chunky meaty white fish like monkfish – I went for the prawns as I had them already. Arrange some lettuce on a plate and add the parsnips and shellfish. I used an iceberg lettuce, which has developed a stigma for being a bit crap, but I really like them; sweet and crisp (and cheap!). Scatter with chopped chives and parsley.

#261 Parsnip and Shellfish Salad. This was an excellent and easy to prepare salad. The warm parsnips acted like little sponges to the salad dressing and the sweet prawns complimented the earthy flavour of the parsnips. A very good 10 minute dinner. 8/10.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

#260 Potato Cakes

During the working week I try my best to go to the gym and eat sensibly. This isn’t necessarily because I am a health fanatic, it is simply because from around the age of 28, it occurred to me that the old metabolism was grinding down a few gears and I was no longer able to scoff all the nice stodge and chocolate I liked to without becoming a massive fat knacker. And so the gym regime and healthy diet was introduced. However, this was just for five days of the week. The weekend however, is there for me to eat and drink all the things I used to like. It’s a trade-off innit?
Every Sunday whilst I have been in Texas, my breakfast treat has been pancakes and bacon, but today I thought I’d do these potato cakes from English Food. I’ve always associated potato cakes with Irish food – potato farls being an essential part of the Ulster Fry. However it seems that they are/were popular throughout Britain and Ireland.
To make the cakes, mash a pound of boiled potatoes, then mix in an ounce of melted butter, 4 ounces of plain flour, ½ teaspoon salt, a teaspoon of baking powder and – if you like – an egg. Bring all the ingredients together to form a dough that isn’t too sticky to handle and roll it out. Griggers gives us options as to how to cook and eat them: 1) Roll out thinly and cut out saucer-sized circles and cook on a griddle greased with lard, suet or bacon fat. Roll the cooked cakes around little sticks of salty butter. 2) Roll out the dough into ½” thickness and cut out circles with a scone cutter- griddle along with the bacon, sausage and eggs for 15 minutes. 3) Go Welsh: Add 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and another of white sugar to the mixture. I went for the second option.

#260 Potato Cakes. These were great; and very easy to make too. They had a light texture due to the baking powder as well as a nice soft inside without being stodgy. They went perfectly with the sausages and sweet maple-smoked bacon I ate with them. I shall be making these again. 7/10

Sunday, November 21, 2010

#259 Banbury Cakes

There has been previous debate and discussion here on Neil Cooks Grigson on the what makes a Chorley cake different from an Eccles cake. It wasn’t really solved, but I thought that an Eccles cake was made with shortcrust pastry and the Chorley was made with puff pastry. It seems that coming in from leftfield to further confuse us is the Banbury cake. Which is what I thought was a Chorley cake. As far as I can see the only difference is maybe that there are more species in it as well as a touch of rum. Does anyone know the differences between the three?

Banbury cakes certainly go way, way back – Griggers found a recipes for them in a book called The English Hus-wife, written in 1615. Hus-wife: what a great word. I’m going to start using it in conversation.

Anyways. In the EEB department of Rice Uiversity we had a Thanksgiving dinner and we were all asked to bring something in for it. These little cakes seemed like the perfect thing to make for a buffet – no need for slicing or even plates. I’m always slightly nervous of making recipes from the book for these kinds of things in case the recipe is God-awful – like previous bad experiences like the Whim-Wham, English Rarebit, the Rice Cake or the Mocha Cake.

First of all, melt two ounces of butter in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and add four ounces of currants (or if you live in America, raisins!), an ounce of candied chopped peel, two ounces of sugar, ½ a teaspoon each of ground allspice and nutmeg as well as ¼ teaspoon of ground cinnamon and a tablespoon of rum. Allow to cool.

While you’re waiting, roll out some puff pastry thinly and cut seven inch wide circles. Put a spoonful in the centre of the circle in line about five inches long, drawing and folding in the pastry, pinching in the edges. Turn them over and flatten them slightly with the rolling-pin so that you have oval shaped cake. Make three slashes over the top, brush with egg white and then sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 15 minutes at 220°C (425°F). Allow to cool on racks.

#259 Banbury Cakes. These were very good indeed and they went down well at the thanksgiving dinner which was good, where I got the chance to shamelessly plug the blog. I think I prefer these to the Eccles cakes too, though there isn’t much in it. I scoffed down two as soon as they were cool, which wasn’t good as I was meant to be off wheat at the moment. One thing led to another and I ended up drinking wheat beer and eating a giant pizza in Late Nite Pie. Oh dear. 7.5/10.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

For your perusal...

Just found this completely brilliant site called 5 books. They've a 'history of food' books post. I gotta get me copies of these bad boys. Nice to see Elizabeth Raffald is on the list. She appears quite alot in English Food and I have done an entry on her before I think

#258 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Cold

Hello there Grigsoners! No, I’ve not died, I have simply been a lazy bastard. I am going to stop apologising for my blog-tardiness and try my very best to pull my finger out. All that said, I have been preparing this recipe on the sly for the last few days. I went to Central Market with Gerda from the lab a while ago and found that quite alot of the ingredients that are tricky to get hold of in the UK are actually much easier to get hold of here in Texas. In the meat section, I happened upon an ox tongue and I knew that there are quite a few recipes using ox tongue specifically so I thought I’d grab it and do something with it later.

I decided upon this one – Boiled Ox Tongue: to Serve Cold, because I could take it into work and force my new labmates to eat it and (hopefully) put some comments on here! The recipe calls for a 2 ½ to 5 pound pickled (i.e. brined) ox tongue – these you can order form your butcher (in the UK at least). I thought I would pickle it myself using this now tried-and-tested brine method from English Food. The tongue needs 5 to 7 days in the brine tub, but there is no maximum time really - you can’t oversalt anything, because you can soak it in water for 6 or so hours beforehand. It’s recommended you do this with a pickled tongue from the butcher’s shop.

The tongue before brining
 Anyways, after you have soaked your tongue place in a stock pot and cover with cold water or a light stock. Bring it to the boil and skim any scum that appears at the water’s surface. Turn the heat down to the merest simmer. After half an hour, taste the water – if it is horribly salty, thrown the water away and start again. Add some stock vegetables: an onion studded with a couple of cloves and a chopped carrot and celery stick. Add also a bouquet garni and 12 crushed black peppercorns. Allow the whole thing to simmer for a total of 3 or 4 hours (don’t forget to include that first half hour!). The tongue is cooked when you can insert a skewer with ease.

The pressed but unsliced tongue
Remove the tongue from the water and allow it to cool slightly. Peel away the skin and remove any gristly bits from the thick end. The tongue is now ready to be pressed. Coil the tongue and place it in a 5 or 6 inch loose-bottomed cake tin with base removed. If you can’t get hold of one (I couldn’t) you could invest in a proper tongue press. I actually used a straight sided mixing bowl that I happened to have and it worked very well. Place the tin base on top (or something similar) along with a couple of tins of food and allow to cool and press for several hours or overnight. When cool, transfer to the fridge.

When you are ready to eat it, slice it thinly and serve with a salad and some horseradish sauce so says Lady Jane Griggers. If you want to be all Victorian about it ‘press the tongue into a slipper shape, and then decorate it with aspic jelly and bits and pieces’. However, The Grigson goes on to say: ‘I think we have lost sympathy with over-presented food of this kind: it always arouses my suspicious – I wonder what the caterer is trying to conceal.

FYI: the tongue is the only muscle in the body not attached at both ends.

#258 Boiled Ox Tongue: To Serve Cold. I’ve not had much experience of eating tongue, except the kind you get already sliced for sandwiches and always found it a little bit on the tasteless side and have never really cared for it. This was much better, though didn’t pack much of a flavour-punch; which was a shame because when I pulled it hot out of the stock, it smelt absolutely delicious. Perhaps I over-cooked it. Anyways, this tongue was wonderfully tender and moist due to its high fat content and gelatinous qualities. Nice, but I’m not doing back-flips: 5/10.