Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Rosh hashanah 5770

It was the Jewish New Year recently, a family holiday requiring two different menus on two nights. This year I went for a mix of traditional & eclectic (for me), that is a combination of old favorites & recipes from one of my Jewish cookbooks: La cuisine juive maroccaine, by Rivka Levy-Mellul. The whole family was present for these meals, plus some friends, so the amounts are for 8-10 people.

Menu first night:

Lamb tajine with couscous
Traditionally a tajine is cooked in a clayware dish, but a non-stick pot with a tight fitting lid does well enough.

2 kilos of sliced lamb (preferably shoulder or leg if not worried about kosherness)
200 g pitted prunes
100 g raisins
100 g almonds
2 onions
2 carrots (optional)
1 turnip (optional)
cinnamon, ginger, curcuma, nutmeg to spice

Layer into slightly oiled pot sliced onions, lamb, prunes & raisins.
Sprinkle with the spices. Cover with a little water.
Bring to a boil, then simmer for about 2 hours or until tender. Add water if necessary.
During the last 15 minutes add the sliced almonds coated with cinnamon & sugar. Set some aside to sprinkle on the couscous before serving.

Menu second night:

Roast chicken stuffed with dates
1 large chicken
500 g pitted dates
100 g almonds
3 onions
juice 1 lemon
honey or sugar
cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron

Soak dates 1 hour in lemon juice.
Mix spices with honey or sugar.
Sauté onions in olive oil.
Stuff dates individually with an almond. Mix in onions & spices.
Stuff the chicken with the mixture. Rub saffron into the chicken, salt & pepper to taste.
Add remaining onions to the roasting dish. Cook on medium heat an hour or so.
Serve with the carmalised onions on top.

Roast chicken with bread stuffing & potatoes
1 large chicken
1 branch of celery
50 g roast pine nuts
3-4 slices of day old bread
1 large onion
sage & tarragon
1 kg potatoes
white wine

Roast pine nuts, set aside. Sauté diced onion, add thinly sliced celery, set aside. Heat the bread chunks in the sauté pan. Mix these ingredients together, add dash of white wine, salt & pepper.
Slice potatoes thickly, layer bottom of roasting pan. Stuff chicken then place on the potatoes.
Cover all with some olive oil & white wine, add the sage & tarragon to chicken & potatoes. Put in oven for about an hour.

Both the chickens were accompanied by a salad of fresh greens & herbs.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

A simple leg of lamb ...

I'd planned on something completely different, but as Autumn has come in with a bit of a rush this year I changed my mind. So I hope you've no objection to gigot d'agneau boulangère, which has much to recommend it - apart from the fact that it's lamb, which should be enough in itself for any right-minded person, it's relatively quick and definitely simple. And although it's not absolutely required, you can also use white wine instead of water, which more or less obliges you to open another bottle.

Start off with a 1kg leg of lamb. I could do a shameless plug for the New Zealand product here but will refrain, get what you can. Do remember to defrost it first, and leave enough time for it to be done completely - I recall going up to Pesselière for the traditional family Christmas some years ago with two frozen legs of lamb in the boot of the car, thinking that after the five-hour trip and a day in the cellar they'd be fine. I was wrong. It must have been pretty close to freezing in the boot, and the cellar was a balmy 8°C or so. We did not eat lamb on the day initially planned - luckily, as every year, the place was bursting with food and swapping menus around was not a problem. Probably turned out for the best anyway, as it might have been a bit too much after the soup, the oysters, the smoked salmon, the foie gras ...

And thinking of defrosting brings to mind the time I went off to see a client and had a wander in his cold store. Fifty thousand cubic metres at a nice steady -25°C, much of it full of frozen industrial croissants and pain au chocolat. Which were stashed away until called for and then delivered to a supermarket near you, ready to be put on the shelves. Whatever, I'd like to point out that -25 is bloody cold: not only do you lose any notion of your ears after a short while, but after about a minute your jeans become stiff and actually crackle as you move. I'd guess it's the humidity (from the outside air, I'm not saying you sweat) freezing virtually instantly in the weave of the fabric - whatever the explanation it's quite impressive. Kind of gives you the urge to go to Antarctica.

Anyway, now that I've impressed upon you the importance of proper defrosting when preparing food, we can perhaps get on with it. Take as many cloves of garlic as you feel like (say, six or seven), peel them and crush lightly with the flat of your knife. Then insert them into the meat - you can either stab the poor thing with a pointy knife (it won't feel a thing, it's already dead) and put the cloves in the slits, or just use a finger to poke pockets between the various muscles.

Now, having preheated the oven to 200°C, stick the leg into a large flat earthenware dish (or if you don't have one, a good heavy metal roasting dish will do, albeit less aesthetic), pour over 50gm of melted butter, sprinkle it with sea salt, add a couple of tbsp (hell, add a wine-glass) of white wine and bung it all in the oven for 20 minutes.

Those twenty minutes are going to require a bit of organisation, as you will probably want to have a glass or two just to check that you've used the right wine, you'll need to baste the meat once or twice, and you have to get the potatoes ready. Which is not, I admit, that difficult, but it does need to be done.

So, you start off with 1kg of potatoes, peel them and slice thinly. Then peel and finely chop a large onion, ditto another couple of cloves of garlic. Mix the whole lot together. You should have a large pile of feculent on the chopping board, and about 10 minutes to finish your glass and perhaps start on another.

Once time's up, take the lamb out of the oven, put it on a plate and cover with tinfoil so it doesn't cool down too much whilst you spread the potato/onion/garlic mix over the bottom of the baking dish. Which you will then place on a very very low gas flame (no point in cracking the dish, is there?) and add enough white wine (or water, your choice) to come about three-quarters up. Sprinkle with thyme, add a bayleaf or two, and let it slowly come to the boil.

When this happens - which it will, eventually - replace the lamb on top of the potatoes, pour another 50gm of melted butter over the meat, and then put it back in the oven. For forty minutes, no more. During which time you could usefully turn it twice, but that's about all. (The rule is that lamb has to be pink inside: count 20 minutes plus 20 minutes per 500gm. If the lamb is dry and gray because you've overcooked it, there will be a reckoning. One day.)

You now have all that time to bemoan the passing of the bottle, perhaps open another and, who knows, get some vegetables ready? Something like aubergines au trois fromages would be good, and as you have the oven on anyway ... it's not complicated. Cube or slice aubergines (your choice) and fry till golden in olive oil. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you may - evidently - have to do this in several batches. Once that's done, grate about 100gm of gruyère and another 100gm of parmesan, cube 200gm of feta or curd cheese.

Now just put a layer of aubergine in a baking dish and sprinkle with cheese. Repeat the performance until it's all gone, ending of course with a sprinkling of cheese. Then take a small tin of tomato purée, mix the contents with two or three times their volume of water, and pour down the sides of the baking dish, which then goes straight into the oven. Coincidentally this'll take about 45 minutes to cook. Which probably means that you really should have started getting it ready before starting on the lamb. Sorry about that.

Whatever, assuming that time is up, remove the lamb from the oven and put it back on the dish and cover with tinfoil again. We want it to rest, remember, so that the blood gets redistributed evenly around the joint. While that's going on, I'd put the potatoes and the aubergines under the grill so that they go nice and brown and bubbly (you might want to check the level of liquid with the potatoes at this point).

When it comes time to serve, just cut the lamb into thick slices against the grain and down to the bone, then slice along the bone to free the slices. Arrange on top of the potatoes, pour the juices over the top and serve right now. Hot pink juicy lamb = nirvana; cold greasy lamb = blech.

If you're still hungry, you might want to consider raisin pudding with rum - comes from Bocuse, my least-favourite chef of all time but never mind that. Its proper name is Pudding Gaston Lenôtre, and him I like.

At any rate, start off by thinly peeling a lemon (you'll have to make lemonade or something, we only want the peel for this), putting the peel into 25cl of milk and bringing that to the boil. At which point you should take it off the heat and let it cool down. Go have a drink. When that's done and the milk is cool (well, not too hot) remove the lemon peel, add 50gm of cornflour, 25gm of sugar, a pinch of salt and 15gm of butter in small pieces - then bring to the boil, stirring constantly.

If you've ever made choux pastry you'll recognise the procedure - turn the heat down and keep stirring until the mixture forms a soft ball which comes away from the sides of the saucepan. Once that comes about, remove from the heat and let cool for a couple of minutes, no more, then incorporate two eggs one by one, beating very vigorously as you do so. I suspect that this would be a lot easier if you happened to have a Kitchenaid or Kenwood Chef: I do not. The object of the exercise is to wind up with a very smooth, soft light dough.

Assuming that happens, you can now beat in 60gm of raisins/currants, and 1 tbsp of good rum. Then pour it into a thickly buttered and floured (or sugared) mould (charlotte mould, loaf tin, whatever) before putting it into the oven - in a bain-marie - for about an hour at 170°C. Remove, unmould, eat. (If, about 10 minutes before eating it, you melt 6tbsp of redcurrant jelly with 25gm of sugar and then add 1 tsp cornflour mixed with as much rum as you like then let simmer until syrupy, your dinner guests would probably thank you. I know I would.)

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Just a quickie ...

Because things don't have to be complicated.

So tonight we ate saddle of lamb with roast potatoes and stuffed round courgettes, followed by stuffed peaches. At the end of which we were, in fact, stuffed.

I'm going to assume that you know how to roast potatoes ie heat dish in oven with oil for 5 minutes, add potato chunks and swirl around to coat evenly etc etc so I won't go into that. The saddle of lamb, on the other hand, is basically a thick slice - about three or four chops thick - of a little lamb's backbone, taken from towards its arse. Between backbones, ribs and skin you have the filet; underneath the ribs you have the contre-filet, which is probably the juiciest part but there's sod-all of it. Shame.

What I did was remove the skin from the top of the saddle using a rather sharp knife, then cover the exposed flesh with a mixture of breadcrumbs, thyme, salt, paprika and grated parmesan mashed up with sufficient butter to make a stiff, crumbly paste. A couple of anchovy fillets (if you have some left over from making beurre Café de Paris) - would also be a good idea. Press that onto the flesh and then stick it into the oven with the potatoes - depending on how rare you like your lamb, between 20 and 30 minutes for a 600gm chunk.

Remember to remove it from the oven and let it rest, covered with tinfoil, for about 10 minutes before you carve it because otherwise the centre will look raw and unappetising and the outside will be gray and dry. I have warned you.

At the same time as you're getting that ready, do the courgettes. There's a stall at the Saturday market with 3" diameter round ones: they're good. Whatever, cut the tops off and, using the melon baller you always have to hand (or a sharpened teaspoon if that's all you have available) scoop out its little guts. Which you will then chop, reasonably finely, and stick into a frying pan with olive oil or butter over high heat, until you've started to get rid of most of the water in the stuff. At which point you should add a chopped tomato or two, some garlic, basil, shallot, chopped ham - whatever.

Then reduce it some more, there's a lot of water in tomatoes. Then turn the heat off and stir in some breadcrumbs: you want it thick and porridgy. Let it cool a bit, stir in some grated cheese, and fill the hollow shells with that. Top with a slice of goat cheese (if you have some, if not anything smelly will do provided it's not actually a sock or something) and stick them in the oven too - they'll take about 30 minutes.

Finally, dessert. One peach per person. This is a bastard version of an Italian recipe, but we like it anyway. Whatever. Cut the peaches in half and remove the stone - using the same melon baller with which you eviscerated the courgettes, scoop some of the flesh out from around the hole and stick that into a bowl. Then stick the halves - cut side up - in an oven dish just large enough to hold them and put that aside.

Now mash the peach flesh well with a fork and add, not necessarily in that order (I'm assumlng just two of you, so two peaches - if more, do the arithmetic yourself) - 1 tbsp brown sugar, 2 or 3 tbsp ground almonds, 180gm of crumbled ladies fingers (the biscuits, I mean, not actual fingers from a lady - that would be gross, and they don't mash well anyway), a wodge of butter (OK, that's not terribly precise as measurements go, about 25 gm is probably alright) and an egg.

When all that's mashed together you should have a not-too sloppy mush which you will spoon into and over the peach halves, at which point you're almost done. You just need to pour some orange juice into the dish till it comes about halfway up the peaches, then put the whole lot into the oven. For about 30 minutes, until the peaches are soft, the topping is nicely browned, and the orange juice has reduced to a syrup. Personally, I like it with vanilla ice-cream, but that may be just me.

Just a hint for carving the lamb - first of all, remove the crispy crumby topping and put that aside somewhere you won't forget it. Then slice down each side of the backbone to the ribs and slide the knife along them to remove the filet. Flip it over and repeat the operation on the underside to get the contre-filet. You should have dangly bits attached to the ends of the ribs on each side: cut those off too and slice them thinly. Put all the bits back in the skillet in which they were cooked and put the crusty topping back on top so you can fight over it, then serve. Leave the denuded backbone somewhere safe in the kitchen so you can go pick at it later before you give it to the dog.

I started getting all that ready around 19:30 and we sat down to eat at 20:45 - the last half-hour was spent drinking and waiting for things to cook. So it didn't even take too long. I like that.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

LINGCOD, "it's not easy being green"

Nor is it easy being a fish nut. When I got a gift of lingcod (from Kirby, my former student and a highly talented free-diver and spear fisherman) I tried to explain to my spouse that it's not really a cod but rather a greenling, and that no, it's still perfectly good even though the fillets were a ghastly blue color (see the pic), and I promised that the flesh would be snowy white and delicious once it was cooked.

Lingcod is in the category of "ridiculously good" when it comes from a larger fish, which for me is anything over ten pounds. These pieces cut from the tail end of the fillets from a 22 lb. fish, are fairly thin and perfect for a simple preparation—à la meunière, sauced with a somewhat lemony-garlicky beurre blanc and served with oven roasted potatoes (the sauce and the spuds are covered in earlier Frangykitchen posts by Trevor and Karen, respectively).

"Meunière" (as I have been told) means "miller's wife" or "female miller," and I am guessing that the logic here is that such a person wouldn't have trouble finding the flour the fish is dusted with before sautéing in butter. I mean, how easy is that?

At least this once, I was able to follow through with my promise—the fish turned snowy white and it was delicious.

P.S.: As I think about it now, I should warn that this approach to fish is not fail-safe—lingcod tail cuts are not available worldwide, and if you're thinking about substituting with something else, know that not all fish are good à la meunière. While this is a fundamental method for fish, I would recommend that it be reserved for the thinner fillets (or pave) of a mild fish that stays moist when it is cooked. If you try this with a thicker cut of a fish that very quickly cooks to flake (i.e., overcooked)—like albacore or any tuna—the result is likely going to be disappointing.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Yet more from the vault ...

Well, here's a couple I've not made for a long time, and you even get a dessert to go with whichever you fancy making. They're both quite simple, one's rather refined (not to say posh) and the other's rustic - your choice.

Fillet de boeuf Woronoff does have the disadvantage of being all last-minute, and in theory should be prepared at the table - but as it's unlikely that you own a restaurant and all the associated gear you might want to pass on that. But do choose a nice frying pan, you'll be serving the mess up in it so you don't want to be using the battered old thing you got at a boot sale years back. Something stainless-steel and polished would look rather better.

The other disadvantage is that you'll really have to turn the oven on just to cook jacket potatoes for two. Which may not worry you, but as my oven is big enough to hold two small children it annoys me to fire it up for a trifle. So I would definitely be making dessert as well. On the other hand, Sophie has a typically French, ridiculously small oven, so I don't mind.

Anyway, about an hour before you plan on eating, scrub two largeish potatoes and wrap them in tinfoil with a bit of sea-salt, then put them in the oven to cook. And leave them there whilst you go off and have a drink and nibbles for forty minutes. It's still rosé season over here. Oh, you should also make sure that neither cat nor kids have got to the vodka in the freezer, because you'll want that.

You might also want to decide what you like with your baked jacket potatoes - some people prefer plain sour cream but once at some Microsoft shindig at Lyon I discovered the delights of a very very mustardy vinaigrette sauce instead. I'd suggest you try that - with a couple of teaspoons of whole-grain mustard chucked in for good measure.

OK, you've drunk and chatted, the table is set with gherkins, pickled beetroot slices and buttered rye bread, time to get lunch ready. Assuming that there are just the two of you, you'll need two slices of fillet steak, each about 150 gm. You'll also need 30gm of beurre Café de Paris, which involves the following:

"Mix together the juice and the zest of a lemon, 1 tbsp ketchup, 1 tsp mustard powder, 1 tbsp paprika, 1 tsp curry powder, 1 tbsp Worcester sauce, some capers and a finely chopped shallot, heaps of chopped parsley and chives, a bit of rosemary and thyme, a crushed garlic clove, 1 tbsp of brandy and a couple of anchovy fillets. Set all that aside and leave it to ferment for at least a day before pounding it well and mixing in 900gm of softened creamed butter."

That's the recipe from Henri Pellaprat, anyway - feel free to adapt it to what you have.

Either way, this would probably be something to do ahead of time - I tend to make up a batch, chill it, then roll it out into a log, wrap it in clingfilm and stick it in the freezer until I need it. Which is not, I admit, all that often, although it does go really well with steak.

Having got that out of the way, you take - as I said - 30 gm of the stuff and melt it in your nice shiny frying pan. Then add 30 gm of peeled sliced cucumber, 20 ml of heavy cream and another 20 ml of sour cream. (I never said that this was for people on a diet, did I?) Add salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar, and turn the heat up so it's barely simmering.

At this point, add the two slices of fillet and poach them gently, turning them over from time to time so that they're covered in the sauce. After about 8-10 minutes, they should be cooked but still nicely pink in the centre, which is what we're looking for. Sprinkle with more chopped parsley and serve them right now, from the pan - don't forget to get the jacket potatoes out of the oven as well. And to go with it, get the vodka out of the freezer.

And now for something completely different - lamb chops baked in white wine. For which you'll need a couple of nice thick lamb loin chops per person - which makes four in all. From these you will need to remove excess fat and skin, then you should probably melt a knob of butter in a good cast-iron skillet and when it's foaming, brown the chops on both sides in it. We are not trying to cook them at this stage, just colour them nicely.

When that's done, take them out and deglaze the skillet over high heat with a glug or two of white wine (whatever it is you happen to be drinking at the time would be fine). Pour that lot over the meat. When that's done, add another knob of butter and gently cook a chopped onion until it just starts to go golden. At which point you should turn the heat off, spread the onions out nicely and stick the chops - with their juice - on top.

Have another glass of white before you kiss goodbye to the bottle, as you pour about 150ml over the chops and season them with garlic, thyme and a crumbled bay leaf. Then set all that aside whilst you peel and finely slice four decent-sized potatoes - enough for the pair of you, whatever. Bring a pot of water to the boil, fling in the potato slices (when I said "fling", that was really for dramatic emphasis or something - I did not mean "spatter yourself and partner with boiling water". Had I meant that, I'd have said that. Clear?) and drain them when the water comes back to the boil.

You should now arrange the slices over the lamb chops and perhaps add more wine (shame about the second bottle already) until it just comes up to the level of the potatoes. Now cover the skillet with tinfoil and stick it into a 190°C oven and leave it there, taking time out from drinking to baste once or twice with the juices, until the potatoes are tender.

At which point you can remove the foil, turn the heat up to 220° and leave the thing in there until its gone brown and crusty, just the way God intended it to be. And when it is blessèd, sprinkle with chopped parsley and serve.

I did promise you a dessert, so here goes - a pear tart. If you want the full pedigree it's a "Tarte aux poires à l'angevine", aka "pear tart from Anjou" but as far as I'm concerned that doesn't really matter.

Take - or make - some sweet short pastry. Line a pie dish with it and - in this case - bake blind. Whilst that's going on, you'll need to find some nice ripe pears. Four or five of the suckers. Peel them, cut them into quarters lengthwise and remove the core, then cut each quarter into two (once again, lengthwise). Now fry all those juicy pear bits slowly in butter, sprinkling them with a good dose of sugar (to taste) and a sachet of vanilla sugar (if you happen to have that, if not a bit of powdered vanilla or vanilla essence will do). When they start to go soft and transparent would be a good time to turn the heat off. But if you feel that way inclined you could flambé them with some suitable alcohol as well.

What you now need to do is to spread the pear slices over the pastry case, then pour about 6 tbsp of cream into the pan you fried them in (which should have lots of syrupy bits in it) and bring that slowly back to the boil. When it starts to thicken, pour it over the pears, sprinkle the whole damn lot with sugar (brown, white, red, whatever) and stick it under the grill until it goes nice and golden.

You see? They were all easy, just like I promised. Have fun.