Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bon Voyage!

Well, I'm going to sign off now for a couple of weeks; off to France on a field course with the University of Manchester. It means, of course, that there'll be no Grigsons either. Hopefully when I return as a bronzed Adonis, I will make up for lost time. I have made nice things, but I've been so busy getting ready for the trip, I've not had the time to tell you about them properly...

What YOU should do whilst I'm away as a small project please, is to cook a meal or eat a type of food that you have never sampled before. You may be pleasantly surprised or, indeed, repulsed.

Laters! x

Friday, June 20, 2008

#59 Electric Dough Hook Bread

Since as there’s about a million different bread recipes in this Goddam book, I thought I’d better have a crack at some bread-making; I’m also trying to write a paper at the minute and therefore needed a reason to procrastinate. I’ve made bread before but it’s always been a bit arduous and not worth it, since the end result resembles a washing-up sponge in both colour and texture. I thought I’d better start at the start and make a white loaf – (#59) Electric Dough Hook Bread is the piss-easy way to do it, apparently, and if you are wanting to supply your family with home-made bread every day, says, Jane, this is the way to do it:

Measure out 3/4 of a pint of warm water and put half in the bowl of your mixer along with 2 level tsp of dried yeast and 1 of sugar. To the remaining half, add 2 tsp of salt and 4 tbs of lard or oil – Jane says olive oil is the best thing, so that’s what I did. After about 20 minutes the yeast becomes all frothy as it activates and gets going. My kitchen was quite cool, so it would probably only take 10 in a warmer one, I reckon. The salty water was then added along with 1 1/2 pounds of white flour (though you could do a combination of wholemeal and white). Put the dough hook attachment onto your mixer and turn it on low and let the dough form around the hook. When it’s all come together, you can turn the speed up a little, but it only takes about 5 minutes in all – don’t overwork it says Jane, or else!! Next put some Clingfilm over the top of the bowl and wait for the dough to double in size. I have no airing cupboard, so to speed up the process I hugged the bowl and watched telly, allowing my body heat to increase the yeast metabolism.

When that’s done, knock-back the dough by punching it to let all the air out. Roll a pound of the dough into a thick sausage shape and put in a small loaf tin, and pout the rest in a large one. Cover with cling film again – brush it with oil to stop the dough sticking – and allow to prove, i.e. let the dough rise a second time, until it is over the sides of the tins. This takes ages if your kitchen is cool – but don’t worry it will eventually.

Bake at 230 degrees C for 30 minutes, then take the loaves out of their tins and turn them upside down, so the crusts can crisp up. Put the loaves back in the tine and brush the tops with milk to make them shiny. Cool them by laying then across the tins. Phew!

#59 Electric Dough Hook Bread – 8/10. It was a foolproof recipe and it tasted lovely – really (I know it sounds stupid) bready. The flavour of the yeast made it I think. It was quite dense, but I think that was my fault for not letting it prove for long enough. I had a piece still warm with butter on, which I think is the best way to have home-made bread. You certainly don’t need to bother with fillings when bread is this tasty. If only I have time to make for myself every day!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble

Other than asparagus, the fruit and veg stall had some lovely ripe apricots, at only a quid for 6. So It thought I had to make use of them. Consulting the book, there’s a crumble and a pie. I couldn’t be bothered making pastry, so I went for the crumble. However, I seem to have a mental block when it comes to making crumbles – they are meant to be the easiest pud in the world to make, but when I do them, they end up as mush, as the floury topping gets soaked into the fruits beneath. However, I trusted Grigson to guide me through the crumble-making process. I also used top tips from my Mum. The exciting thing about this dish is that you use the kernels from the apricot stones – a new one on me. They taste like very aromatic, but bitter, almonds. Crack then with a hammer – it worked for me, and the flavour they give to the crumble is beautiful and I shall always take the trouble to do it in the future.

Start by poring boiling water over 18 apricots. After a couple of minutes peel the apricots and slice them. Put them in a shallow baking dish along with the kernels from the stones, 1 ½ ounces of blanched sliced almonds and 2 or 3 ounces of sugar. I like my fruit tart.

For the topping rub together using your hands or a mixer 3 ounces of flour, 2 ½ ounces sugar, 3 ounces of ground almonds and 4 ½ ounces of chilled butter. Pour the mixture over the apricots and bake for 20 minutes at 200 degrees C, and then for a further 20 at 180 degrees. Make sure the top is browned, but not in any way burned. Don’t serve straight away – a warm crumble is better than a scolding hot one. Softly whipped cream is the best accompaniment to this summery dessert.

TOP TIP: My Mum says that for a good crumble topping, don’t rub in your butter too finely; some small lumps of butter make it richer and crunchier, which is good news as this also mean less work!

#58 Apricot and Almond Crumble: 8.5/10. A lovely sweet topping and tart fruit resulted in a substantial but light and perfumed marzipan wonder. The addition of apricot kernels was the genius touch. Plus the crumble topping wasn’t mush. I now have to conquer my other food nemesis Hollandaise sauce.

#57 Asparagus Omelette

Another asparagus recipe; there’s two more, but I don’t think I’ll get them done before I go to France at the end of next week. (I’m going on a field trip to St. Auban, just north of Nice.) I bought the ingredients from the excellent fruit and veg stall that’s outside All Saint’s Park on Oxford Road, on the campus of Manchester Metropolitan University. I think a lot of people walk straight past it, thinking it’s some cheapo stall, but it’s certainly not. It sells seasonal produce – including English asparagus – at a very good price. I knew Joff was coming round and I wanted to make something quick and easy, so I thought an asparagus omelette would certainly fit the bill (and it did).

For 3. Start by trimming and cooking a bunch of asparagus as I did for the Asparagus and eggs. Drain them and cut them into thirds. Save some of the best tips for garnish. Keep the rest warm in the oven sprinkled with Gruyere cheese – a tablespoon per person. Make the omelettes using 6 eggs exactly how I did previously when I cooked mushroom omelettes. Add a third of the asparagus and to the centre and serve with a nice salad.

Make a vinaigrette from olive oil and cider vinegar in a ratio of 3:1, a teaspoon of Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, sugar and a small clove of finely chopped garlic.

#57 Asparagus Omelette 6.5/10. A very nice omelette, but oddly I preferred the asparagus and eggs I made earlier in the month. Not sure why, because the ingredients are essentially the same.

#56 Stuffed Monkey

Well I do have some catching up to do! I’ve been cooking loads – not all Grigson dishes, but a few. Trouble is, life keeps getting in the way, and I can’t find time to write everything up. Also, I’m knackered. And lazy.

A good excuse to do a recipe is cake day at work – every Wednesday – so I thought I’d look through the book to find something to make where I’d got all the ingredients in the store cupboard, and came across (#56) Stuffed Monkey; a favourite of Jane Grigson’s. She lifted it herself from a book of Jewish Cookery, but has no idea what makes it particularly Jewish, or indeed what it has to do with monkeys. If anyone knows please tell me. Although Jewish, it does have an English feel to it – it’s basically an almond and candied peel filling sandwiched between two rounds of very sweet pastry that’s almost shortbread in texture and flavour. When baking, it’s difficult to tell whether it’s ready or not, so add an extra 5 to 8 minutes to the cooking time I’ve given if you think you would prefer your Stuffed Monkey more biscuity. Don’t worry, no monkeys were harmed in the making of this sweetmeat.

Here’s how to stuff your very own monkey:

Make a sweet-spiced pastry by mixing together 6 ounces of flour and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. Rub in 4 ounces of chilled butter that has been cubes until fine breadcrumbs are formed. I always to this with a mixer set on a slow speed these days as it stops the butter softening and turning it to a paste too early. If you don’t have a mixer, use your fingertips. Mix in 4 ounces of soft brown sugar and an egg yolk, and bring the mixture together with your hands to form a dough. If it is too dry to come together add a teaspoon or two of milk. Allow this to rest in the fridge for half an hour, or the freezer for half that time.

Whilst you wait for this, make the filling by beating together 1 ½ ounces of melted butter, 2 ounces each of chopped peel and ground almonds, 1 ounce of caster sugar and an egg yolk.

Roll out half the pastry so it fits in the bottom of an 8 inch cake tin, spread the filling over the top, then roll out the other half and place on top. Brush with egg white and bake for 30 minutes at 190 degrees C. Cool in tin.

TOP TIP: Sweet pastry is a tricky bugger to roll and lift without it braking apart, so roll it on cling film that’s been floured. You can pick it all up at once without tearing.

#56 Stuffed Monkey - 5.5/10. It was an unusual sweet biscuity with a wonderful chewy citrus and marzipan flavored centre. I found it a little dry, however I think I may have overcooked it a little (I added an extra few minutes to the cooking time). That said, it got polished off pretty quickly and many people went for seconds, so what do I know!?

Thursday, June 5, 2008

#55 Asparagus and Eggs

It is said that the English Springtime officially commenced with the start of the asparagus season. It is a shame that everything we do so far removed from the seasons these days with our constant demand for year-round food. What is the point of eating a chlorosed watery tomato in November, I ask you!? Yet we all do it. Asparagus, however, although I’m sure that it could be provided all year round, isn’t; the season is ingrained there somewhere. Those that eat it would know not to buy at any other time. That said, I saw some in Asda the other day from Peru!

The other travesty is that I have not cooked any this year, and there are a few asparagus-based recipes in English Food. (#55) Asparagus and eggs made use of the left over eggs from the almond tart I’d made previously, plus Greg and I were slightly hungover and scrambled eggs, as far as I’m concerned, are one of the best cures for such a malaise.

For two: Remove the woody bits from about 6 ounces of asparagus. To do this with minimal waste, just hold the asparagus spear in your hands and allow it to snap near the base end, this is the natural breaking point between woody stalk and tender spear. Boil them in just an inch or so of well-salted water for 2 to 4 minutes, depending on thickness. Do not overcook! Test them with a knife if you’re not sure. Salt is a must with any green vegetable as, apart from improving the flavour, it makes the colour much more vivid (also, don’t cover the pan for the same reason). Drain them and keep them warm. Toast some brown bread and butter it well. Keep that warm too. Make some scrambled eggs, using 4 of the lovelies, a tablespoon of butter and plenty of salt and pepper. Stop cooking the eggs before they are ready as the carry on cooking in the pan. I prefer them soft, creamy and pourable, but I know that makes some people want to vom, but please don’t overdo them. Place two-thirds of the asparagus on the toast, spoon over the eggs, and using your best artistic flare, stylishly place the rest of the spears on top. Scoff.

#55 Asparagus and eggs – 7/10. Simple yet effective. It displays the richness of the eggs, and the sweet but slightly astringent taste of the asparagus. Plus it takes only a few minutes to make. Very good.

#54 Yorkshire Almond Tart

They say that you are what you eat, and being from Pudsey in Leeds, I suppose that makes me a Yorkshire tart, or something. One of my favourite puds is Yorkshire curd tart, but I’d not heard of a Yorkshire almond tart (if you’ve not heard of a curd tart, go and hunt one down), I had Greg, Joff and my mate from way, way, way back, Lee over for a curry, I had most of the ingredients in, so I thought I’d give it a crack. Have a go; it’s a piece of piss!

Roll out some puff pastry (I bought mine, but there is a recipe for it in English Food; I haven’t plucked up the courage, nor had the spare 5 days or whatever to put aside in order to make it) and line a deep plate, or a pie plate. Whisk up 2 egg yolks, 2 ounces of sugar and the rind and juice of half a lemon in a basin or bowl until creamy. This is not as arduous as it sounds, it happens quickly, I assume because of the citric acid in the lemons stabilising the egg proteins. Add an ounce each of ground almonds and melted butter, and whisk the mixture over simmering water for 8 to 10 minutes, I reckon, until it becomes thicker. Pour the mixture onto the pastry and spread the mixture leaving a good gap at the edges and bake at 190 degrees C for 20 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top. Whilst your waiting for that whisk two egg whites and a pinch of salt until stiff, when the pie is done, spread the egg whites over the top and sprinkle over a tablespoon of sugar and return it to the oven for 10 minutes. Eat warm. Foolishly, I forgot to buy cream.

#54 Yorkshire almond tart – 7.5/10. Very sweet, sticky and yummy! This comes as no surprise being a Yorkshire dish. The filling and eggs collapsed rather, and I’m not sure if it meant to – perhaps next time I’ll add the tablespoon of sugar to the eggs to make a meringue that shouldn’t sink. That said, the pastry was crisp, the almond insides were soft in the centre, but caramelised on top, the eggs were light-ish, and the sugar had formed a very pleasing crust. The only other way it could’ve been improved would be to have a dollop of vanilla ice cream with it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Can't Cook...Won't Cook...

There are several ingredients in English Food that I have assumed that I won’t be able to cook, at least not in England. But watching television last night, it seems I can.

The Supersizers Go… Is a series showing off the eating habits of the English through the ages and last night they went Victorian. The presenters are a bit self-indulgent but it’s good mindless TV. Giles Coren and Sue Perkins tucked into giant game pies, calf’s ears, jellies, plum duffs, bad curries, croquettes, offal, offal and offal. It seems that English really food comes into its own here – many of Jane Grigson’s recipes are very similar to the dishes cooked then; in fact it was her daughter, Sophie that did the cooking. The main ingredients were butter and brandy, it seems, but it was all very restrained and frugal. Unless your very rich, or it was Christmas.

FYI: The Christmas as we know it now was invented in the Victorian era, courtesy of Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and Charles Dickens

One of things that really surprised me was the amount of game that our presenters were allowed to eat. One of the dishes contained snipe – I assumed that there are too rare to shoot these days, but obviously not. Searching on the web, I find that all the game birds that Jane Grigson lists in the game section of the tome are still legal game, including ptarmigan and wigeon. The other big surprise was that one meal’s centrepiece was a boiled calf’s head with the brain served in a garlic butter sauce. I thought that due to the BSE crisis, bovine brains couldn’t be eaten any more. It seems that I am wrong. It also seems that they taste vile. It also seems that I will be able to do the calf brain recipes. Damn.

On Channel 4 later that evening was Gordon Ramsay’s effort, The F-Word. I’m never sure whether I like the programme, yet I seem to watch it every week. This week he was fishing for elvers – baby eels – in Somerset. There is one recipe that uses elves in English Food, and I thought, as I have studied eels and elvers in the past that because elves numbers had dropped by 98 percent it would no longer be legal to fish for them, that they would be protected or something. Well, you have to have a special licence, but you can fish for them. If you want to buy them, they’ll set you back up to £525 a kilo. It took him 4 hours to collect enough for three measly portions. I know that the reason for the drop in numbers is not known, but surely fishing the remaining few is not going to help. I know I won’t be a part of it.

So it seems that there isn’t anything I can’t cook, but some things I won’t.