Monday, 23 July 2012

Recipe LXVII - Summer Pudding

So finally, summer has arrived. It's almost August already, but better a few weeks of sun than none at all. Anyhow... This weekend, I was invited to make an al-fresco dinner for our friends in Portz, up in the hills near Saarburg. You can see for miles there. The weather was gorgeous and the wonderful setting under the trees set me about concocting a simple yet sumptuous meal under the trees. After the starter and main course, I made a typically English summer dessert, one of my favourites alongside tiramisù or apple pie, known as Summer Pudding. The ingredients are startling, the way you need to construct them makes you doubt they'll ever work, but the final result is glorious, and a perfect end to a perfect day assured.

2 loaves of thinly cut, plain white bread, preferably not too salty
800g red fruits, e.g. strawberries, blackcurrants, redcurrants, raspberries, etc...
200-300g caster sugar, or fine white sugar
(A drop of cherry or plum schnapps)
Some clingfilm & scissors
4 pudding basins (cheap ones from the supermarket work fine)
4 saucers and a weight of some kind (some cans of tomatoes, or a couple of heavy glasses, for example)

Take your fruit and sugar, and heat it up gently until the sugar has melted, but no more, because you do not want the fruit to burn, or the juices to evaporate. Put a little alcohol in it, if you want, although it is not necessary.
In the meantime, take the clingfilm and cut out enough to line the inside of the pudding bowls.

Cut off the crusts of the bread (do not throw them away - keep them for stuffing a chicken, for example) and mould them into the bowls, forming the outer layer of your eventual pudding.
Some say you should use slightly stale bread, but I believe fresh bread moulds and sticks better together.

Finally, cut out a layer for what will be your base, and make sure it is completely sealed so nothing can cause too much leaking, and is at the same height as the top of the bowl. Save some juice for the opening, as not all the puddings may turn purple, although that has its charms too (see final photo).

Put a saucer on top of it and a weight (see ingredients list) and put them in the fridge until it is dessert time. As we were outside, I put them in a freezer box, which worked quite well. To remove, keep them base facing up, then pull the clingfilm ever-so-gently away from the bowl round the outside to unstick it, whilst making sure it stays in the basin. Then put the final serving plate on top of the pudding and turn it over. Let the clingfilm separate from the bowl and fall onto the plate.

Serve with lightly sugared whipped cream.

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Recipe LXVI - Lamb Steaks and Mint Sauce with Garlic Potatoes

The Olympic Games are but ten days away, and I am crawling up the walls with excitement. There will be thousands of children performing at the opening ceremony, and I heard that there will be live animals, including cows, chickens and sheep (remember that famous actor's slogan "never work with children or animals"? Watch this space...). But what to do with all those delicious animals after their performance? Eat them, of course, what else?! And to commemorate what will be the defining moment in 21st century British history, I would like to present to you a truly British dish: lamb, mint sauce and potatoes.

Homemade mint sauce is truly different to that from a jar, although the jarred version is not bad at all. But making it at home provides you with an alternative, and it is very, very easy. Five minutes' work, an hour's wait.

2 lamb steaks
5 medium-to-large potatoes
6 cloves of garlic
Some olive oil
For the mint sauce:
2 sprigs of mint
Wine vinegar (e.g. red)
Fine white sugar

Instructions for the mint sauce:
Take the leaves off your sprigs of mint and roll them into a ball. Wit a knife or a pair of scissors, chop into small pieces in a bowl. Take your wine vinegar and pour it over the mint until it is saturated. Do not use too much, just enough to cover the mint and a little extra. I used red wine vinegar, because it is sweeter, but other wine vinegars go well too. Then start to slowly add sugar, until you are happy with the taste. And that's it.

Make it before the rest, as leaving it for a minimum of an hour will give it time for the flavours to run.

Instructions for the lamb and potatoes:
Turn the oven on to 200°C. Peel and slice the potatoes into half-centimetre-wide slices, and boil them in salted water for no longer than 5 minutes to soften them up, but not until they start breaking into pieces. Whilst they are boiling, put three roughly diced cloves of garlic into a frying pan with hot olive oil and fry gently until the pieces go dark.

Remove the garlic and put the oil in a baking tray. Drain the potatoes and put them into the baking tray with the hot oil. Pay attention at this point, as any excess water from the potatoes will spit in the oil. Splash the potatoes all over in the oil, and put it in the oven until the lamb is prepared.

Take some of the mint sauce and lightly spread it over the lamb. Put the remaining three cloves of garlic into the frying pan with more olive oil, and repeat frying the garlic, then removing it. Whilst it is still hot, put the lamb into the pan and fry vigorously for five minutes on each side, no more. Lamb should under no circumstances be cremated, incinerated or even overcooked.
For presentation, put a spoonful of mint sauce on the end of each piece of meat.
Finally, remove the potatoes, and with the oil from the baking tray, the juice from the meat and a little water from the potatoes, make a purely natural gravy to pour on the plate.

An old sheep is a failure. So let's give the Olympic sheep a proper career highlight: being the heroes of our fine agricultural and gastronomical heritage!

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Recipe LXV - Tiramisù

Tiramisù is probably the world's most mis-managed dessert. Some are really, really good, and some are very, very poor imitations. I, for example, hate it being too spongey as the cook thinks it a good idea to pour litres of alcohol over it. I prefer separating the alcohol from the sponge by putting it into the cream, and letting the coffee be the hero at the bottom. "Tirami Sù" is Italian for "Pick me up", and it is exactly that. After the main course, a hit of cream, coffee and alcohol is precisely the antedote required to round off a delicious meal.

1 cup of strong, cold coffee
25-30 Boudoir biscuits
250g Mascarpone (I only used one of these in the end!)
A cup or more of cream
A cup of sugar
Some alcohol - I prefer my own (see recipe XIII)
Two glass bowls (large and small, at least one square)
A grater
Some chocolate to grate on top

Take the cream and put it in a bowl. Whisk it until it is fluffy and small peaks appear on top. In another bowl, put in the Mascarpone, alcohol and sugar. Fold it all in together.
Then fold the Mascarpone mix into the cream until it is consistent.

Put a layer of Boudoir biscuits on the bottom of the square bowl, and drizzle some coffee over it.

Spoon a layer of your creamy mixture over the biscuits, then flatten it down.

Repeat another layer with more Boudoir biscuits and some coffee, and put more creamy mix on top.

Take the grater, and with the fine edge, grate a layer's worth of chocolate on to a plate. Put the chocolate aside for later.*

Use the edge of the plate to sprinkle the grated chocolate on top of the Tiramisu.

Put it into the fridge until serving time.

*A little extra something for the kids:
Don't waste the left-over ingredients! As the Tiramisu has alcohol in it, you can take the smaller bowl and do something with the rest for any children. As long as their dessert is jam packed full of chocolate, there's little or no chance they'll want some of yours...
Break the remaining Boudoir biscuits into the bowl. Melt the chocolate on a low flame, and tip it into the rest of the cream mixture. You can either stir it in, or make some swirly pattern out of it.

Recipe LXIV - Sage & Onion Stuffing

One of the most special thing about roast dinners is the way the meat is seasoned. When it comes to birds, you can not go wrong with some stuffing. Now, whilst most people get it from the supermarket, actually making it at home yourself is easier (and cheaper [and tastier]) than what comes out of a packet. This is one of two recipes this week, to make up for lost time.

2 slices of bread, preferably no longer fresh
1 egg
A cup of milk
1 onion, chopped
Some fresh sage
3 cloves of garlic
Ground black pepper

Cut up the onion into fine pieces.
TIP: to avoid your eyes being affected too much, many people have their own methods: in some parts of the Mediterranean, they cut onions on their heads. I favour sticking my tongue out - then my tongue bears the brunt of the odorous onion, leaving my eyes less affected.
Take the leaves of the sage, and fold them into a ball. With a knife or a pair of scissors, slice them up into small pieces.
Put the bread, egg and milk into a bowl and with a potato masher or fork, bind it into a smooth consistency. Then add the onion, sage, ground pepper and salt.

Mash well, until it is all nicely mixed in together.
Open the bird and fork the mixture inside. I favour leaving the bird open, as this allows the stuffing to slowly slide outwards, leaving a delicious crust.

Salt the skin of your bird, and baste it in oil. Put some butter on the leg area - this gives some crispiness to the skin on the legs. I sometimes put half-cloves of garlic under the skin, but with the stuffing inside, this is not necessary. Roast the bird for about 20 minutes per 500g, plus twenty minutes on top.

The photos of the result did not come out very well (dark!) but this was the best I could do:

The potatoes enjoyed bathing in the oil too...

Monday, 2 July 2012

Recipe LXIII - Apple and Bacon Salad

As I haven't done a salad for a while, I thought the sunny period we had a few days ago was the ideal opportunity to make one. Salads are, for me, pretty unappetising, for two reasons. Firstly, they contain stuff that makes my lazy, feckless digestion system spring into action as if it had to catch up with lost time (a lot of which I am still owed by it), and secondly because it doesn't really fill me up. If I served a salad as main course, I would not be surprised if my guests then went to get some chips or a kebab... So if I were to make a salad, I would at least make sure it had something solid in it, otherwise what's the point of eating for enjoyment?!

Ingredients for the salad:
250g-400g bacon, >1cm thick
2 cloves of garlic
1-2 apples
A bunch of seedless grapes (I didn't use all the grapes in the photo)
A handful of field salad (lamb's lettuce)
Some hazelnuts
Ground black pepper

Ingredients for the vinaigrette:
2-5 tsps of mayonnaise
Some olive oil *
Some red wine vinegar *
Some cream *
5 stalks of chives
2-3 cloves of garlic (crushed)
Some ground black pepper and salt
* Equal amounts of olive oil and vinegar, triple the amount of cream

Cut up the bacon into long, thin slices, and fry them in a frying pan in olive oil or butter, put in the garlic just before the end, and set aside to cool. Alternatively, you can heat it up again just before serving.

Cut up your apples, slice the grapes in half, crush your pepper, scissor your chives. In a bowl, put the liquid ingredients (*) together with the mayonnaise and stir until it is a consistent mix.

Add the apples, chives, grapes, pepper, hazelnuts, the garlic, some pepper, and a very little salt. stir it all in, to make sure everything is saturated.

To prepare your salad bowl(s) for presentation, put in the field salad first. Then, pour the fruity vinaigrette over the top.

Then add the bacon.
You can either spread the bacon over the dish:

Or you can put it in the centre, like a kind of thin inner layer:

In any case, serve with something like boiled potatoes and eat al fresco!