Saturday, 30 January 2010

Using up the Brandy Butter

I always make the brandy butter for our family Christmas. It's rare, however, that it actually is brandy- it's usually whisky butter, or, the last couple of years, rum butter. The latter two spirits tend to be more what I have around than brandy, although I have used it back when I still lived with my parents.

I use a 250g pack of unsalted butter, to which I add soft brown sugar, or Cassonade. Always brown sugar, anyway. I also add the zest of a lemon, and its juice.

I leave the sugar out to soften, then stir in the zest. I then add enough sugar (tasting!) for the mix to be half-way through gritty and almost sandy. It needs to crunch! I then add about 2 tablespoons of my chosen spirit, stir it in, taste, and usually add more sugar.

One year I whipped the butter so that it stayed soft, even after being in the refrigerator. My family was so unimpressed, I've never even considered it since!

The whole then gets put in a dish, plastic wrap pressed down over the surface, and it gets to sit in the cold for the flavours to meld for at least 24 hours before being placed on the Christmas table. We each carve off bit to put on our hot Christmas pudding, allowing it to melt onto the slices.

Yum. As far as I'm concerned, the high point of my Christmas meal.

Nevertheless, and despite repeated helpings as the chunks of butter melt in and don't provide that contrast of cold and crunchy over hot and soft, there's always a lot of brandy butter left over, which I then take home, thinking that I'll probably be sticking a knife in there and (look away now!) sucking the knife blade clean several times over the next few days.... until it's all gone.

Which, fortunately for my waistline, I don't tend to do. I'll stick the knife in a couple of times, but then I tend to forget about it, and the dish slowly gets shoved to the back of the fridge, hidden by the post-Christmas salads.

Late January or mid-February, I find it again, and think that I better do something about it. Fortunately, brandy butter makes great cookies- not least because the sugar is already mixed in to the butter! So all I have to do is take it out of the fridge, and either leave it to soften on the countertop, or stick it in the microwave for enough seconds to soften it up.

I then finally cream the butter and the sugar, add a couple of eggs, some flour, some ground almonds (not ground too finely), a couple of handfuls of oatflakes, and stir it all together until it makes a not-too-firm and nicely sticky cookie dough. I then add a couple of handfuls of raisins, stir them in.

Preheating the oven to 180C (my default temperature!), I put tablespoonfuls very widely apart on a baking tray, knowing that they will spread hugely, and bake for about 18 minutes.

It's a tasty way of using something up, and the addition of the oatflakes means that it's healthy. Really it is.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Quiche Lorraine

Quiche is a dish that I have a particular fondness for. And, as it turned out, Greta quite likes it too, which is, as I continue my quest to find things that she will tolerate being put into her mouth, is helpful.

Peter, however, never seems particularly enthused. I usually either end up throwing the last quarter out, or eating far more quiche than I want to, as it's been sitting long enough for the pastry to not be particularly crisp any more.

The latter, however, is a problem.

I always make my pastry "by eye"- by which I mean that I dump what looks like enough flour into the bowl, then add enough butter for it to make fine breadcrumbs (with a few clumps, which, I am assured by the best cooks, are necessary), and then add cold water to bring it together. Not too much, of course, as it allows for shrinkage, but just about enough. I hope. When making something like quiche lorraine, I like to put grated parmesan in the mix as well. And black pepper.

I then shape my pastry into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and put it in the refrigerator for at least half an hour. After which I take it out, dust my marble counter-top with flour, and roll it out. For some reason, I always have to roll it out twice, as the first time it invariably sticks, no matter how much flour I've put down. I then fold my pastry into four, place it in the baking dish, and unfold it before pressing it into place very gently. Having had a few too many cases where my pastry shrank right down to the edge of the filling, leaving very little crust, I now then just cut off whatever would hang right down and drape over the oven tray, but leave plenty of pastry hanging down the sides of the dish.

The problem, to be succinct, is that although the sides are fine, the base of my pastry is often not soggy, but not crisp either. I'm wondering if I need to pre-bake, or maybe instead of putting the dish on the grille, put it on a pre-heated oven tray, to give it that blast of heat... or whether I need to turn my oven up above 180C to maybe 200. Or I could try turning it to 220 for the first 20 mns or so, before turning it back down.

I must do more work on this. Especially as I know that this is a damn fine crust- so fine that I find myself eating the edges that I cut off, even though I always mean not to!

For the rest of my quiche, I chopped smoked bacon into quite thick lardons, and fried them with some finely chopped onion. I then whisked eggs together with some cream, added black pepper and some more parmesan (I know, Elizabeth David would be most unimpressed with me, saying that it's not a quiche Lorraine at all, as the strict interpretation has just bacon and eggs in it), drained the fat off my bacon and onion and spread it on the pastry, poured the eggs over, and baked it for about an hour at 180 C.

Result- well, it always tastes fine. But it's not satisfactory. I really need to get this problem with my pastry sorted out. Which means more baking, oh dear...

Greta, however, as I've said, loved it. She ate it for a meal every day for three days, and was very happy about it- even leaning forward towards the fork!

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Christmas Baskets

What I made for people's Christmas baskets this year:

- Ginger and Carrot pickle
- Ginger syrup
- Fruit cake bars
- spiced nuts
- baked muesli/granola

My father has a passion for ginger. He loves ginger so much, I think you could put ginger on a piece of cardboard, and he'd eat it with a smile. That somewhat themed the baskets, which I gave to my father, my brother, my father-in-law, and my brother-in-law.

I tweaked a few of the above recipes, naturally.

The fruitcake bars, I had to add four eggs to instead of just the one, even though I was doubling the recipe and should have had to use two. And, as I made it several times over three weeks, I ended up with a really Christmassy version- with dried cranberries in it as well as apricots and dates (I did half of each), and a generous couple of tablespoons of quatre-epices. I also was up to 1.5 tbs of vanilla syrup.

These went down so well, I must make them again.

The spiced nuts I found very disappointing, nowhere near as spicy as I'd hoped. Next time, I'll double the spices, and add some more chili powder. My sister-in-law liked them very much as they were, however. I didn't put pretzels in- maybe that would have made the right sort of difference.

The baked muesli my brother liked so much that I had to make him some more about a week after Christmas- by which time I was using flaked almonds instead of whole ones (too big for muesli, in my opinion- they should be chopped a bit), and putting in dried cranberries instead of raisins. And I used sunflower oil instead of canola, as I have no idea what canola oil is. I used about 2 tbs of vanilla syrup. My other sister-in-law ate my father-in-law's box as a snack, without milk, and liked it very much.

I've also had to make the ginger syrup again for my father. As there is so much sugar in it, I've bought a sugar substitute suitable for cooking, and will try that next time, which will be soon. He told me that he's out, and I'm a dutiful daughter!

As for the ginger and carrot pickle, this was the disappointment of the bunch- I don't think anybody knew what to do with it, and I'm pretty sure that my parents just threw it out last week (as they gave me the empty jar back! They also gave me the empty tin which had the cake bars in it- I wonder if that's a hint too?).

All in all, however, it was a great success. People were very appreciative- and I'll definitely be doing this again. Although I'll have to find different recipes for next year!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

My best Bolognese

I made this for a family and friends lunch party during the holidays, and served it on fresh fettucine. I was asked for the recipe from all participants- and both husbands insisted on me giving it to their wives! (Peter just smirked.)

Well, I'm a nice girl...

about 750g minceed beef
about 350g minced pork
2 packs of 3 thick slices of lard fume, cut into lardons that aren't too thin (if you cut them too thin, it just melts, and I like the odd bit of bacon in my sauce!)
3 big carrots, peeled, diced
2-3 onions
1/2 a head of garlic (or a whole head, up to you), sliced, it melts into the sauce so you don't need to cut it too finely
1 bottle of red wine
2 litres passata/coulis de tomates
some water
pepper, no salt because of the lard, oregano, other spices, chili flakes
cooking olive oil
some full-fat milk- about 1 dl

In a big casserole dish, heat some olive oil gently, add the oniongs, garlic and carrot, season with pepper, herbs and chili, put the lid on and cook gently. When the onions are translucid and the carrot softening, pour the bottle of wine in.

At the same time, in a frying pan cook the lardons without adding any oil. Put the meat into the casserole, leaving the fat in the pan. Cook the other meats in the fat (you might need to add some oil for the last batches!). Cook the meats separately, as you will need to keep on prodding the pork to make sure that it doesn't go into lumps, and don't put too much in the pan at the same time, or it will steam and won't brown. Add as you go along to the casserole.

Pour the passata into the caserole, add a bit of cold water for the sauce to cover the meat. Stir, bring to a boil, turn down, and simmer for at least three hours. Longer is better- five hours is perfect!

Turn the heat off, leave overnight. The next morning, spoon the fat off- you'll understand why when you take the lid off! Heat it gently, for about 40 minutes to an hour, until you are ready to serve it up. Season with pepper, and, five minutes before serving, pour in the milk, stir it in.

As I said- I served it with fettucine, as I understand that the traditional way of serving involves tagliatelle, but I didn't want to be fiddling with dried pasta and fresh pasta takes hardly any time to cook! We also had a big green salad.