Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Apple and Ginger Jam

My Larousse des Confitures has a recipe for Confiture de pomme au gingembre.

About last October, a friend came over with a bunch of apples from a tree in her garden, and we made our own version, basing it on the Larousse recipe, but adapting it a bit as per the fact that I suddenly realised that I didn't actually have any powdered ginger, although I had thought that I did.

- 2 non-treated lemons
- 70 g (approximately) ginger preserved in syrup
- 1.2 kg apples
- about half the syrup from the jar (well, my jar is 200g, 140g drained weight, so I make that about 30 g of syrup, which is an odd way of measuring it)
- 1 kg sugar
- 30cl water (I remember doubling this, as our apples weren't very juicy)

Remove the zest from the lemons, and chop finely. Juice the lemons. Chop the preserved ginger quite finely.

Peel the apples, slice them, and put them in the pan, with the lemon juice. (The Larousse says to add the seeds of the apples, wrapped in a little muslin packet, to the pan. We did this the first time we made it. We didn't the second time, since we forgot, and it made no discernible difference.) Add the lemon zest and the water.

Cook until the fruit is tender. Add the sugar and the ginger syrup, stirring gently, until it's completely dissolved. Bring to a boil, skim (we didn't bother, again, it didn't seem to make much difference.), and cook until it sets.

The Larousse seems to think the above step will take 10 minutes. It took our jam about an hour.

When the jam is ready, take it off the heat, add the preserved ginger, stir it in, bring it back to the boil. Put it in pots and, according to my friend, stand back and watch your family fight over them! As for me- well, my dad loves it.

Also last autumn, having identified the berries growing down at the bottom of the hill as sloes, I attempted sloe jam. I used this recipe, using about 80% sugar to 100% fruit. Suffice to say that the result is so tannic that its only use could be in a sauce for duck- which is not something I cook very often! I thus have two pots sitting on the window ledge, waiting for the day when I get the strength to open them and tip the contents out. Which will take a while, as I've tried, and just can't get the lids off. A shame, but next year I'll probably make sloe gin instead for a Christmas present for my mother-in-law.

I also made sloe and apple jelly, but since I haven't opened that pot yet, I can't report!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Fish Pie

Last weekend's experiment involved something that I very rarely cook (other than a couple of "steaks" baked in the oven for the necessary length of time, sometimes crusted with something like sesame seeds, other times just naked).

Fish. For some reason, I hardly ever cook fish. Or even with fish, although I have occasionally had a craving for pasta with tuna, cream and capers over the last few months.

However, I came across this recipe from the ever-delicious, ever-reliable Nigel Slater, and I had left the tab open for a few days, thinking that I really wanted to make this. Fortunately, there was a family event, namely Peter's Uncle visiting, and I had an opportunity to give it a try.

Despite Greta waking up right in the middle of the tricky part of the bechamel- whisking a sauce whilst holding an eleven-kilo baby in the other arm is tricky, to say the least!

And, of course, I made a few changes, and adapted to what I found in the supermarket fish aisle.

Crumble Crust Fish Pie

Serves 8.
1kg firm white fish fillets
500g smoked fish (I used smoked trout fillets)
a little butter for the dish
1 litre milk
4 bay leaves
12 black peppercorns, 2 pink, and a green one
ground nutmeg
150g butter
150g flour
2 packs of dill, chopped
1.5 packs of parsley, chopped
5 leeks- white part only

For the crumble topping:
190g butter
160g plain flour
150g rolled oats
50g finely grated parmesan

Lightly butter a baking dish or shallow pan, place the white fish in it, skin-side down (if any- my fish had no skin), and pour over the milk, topping up with a little water to just cover the fish. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns and a very fine grating of nutmeg. Place over a moderate heat, turning it down just before the milk boils. Leave to simmer gently for 5-10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and tender.

Nigel says you should cook the smoked fish together with the white fish, but when I opened the packet, I decided that it was already pretty well cooked by the smoking process, so I didn't bother.

Turn off the heat, remove the fish and strain the liquor to remove the bay leaves. Remove the skin from the fish and discard. Break both types of fish into large pieces. Chop the dill and the parsley.

Melt the butter in a saucepan, add the flour and cook till pale biscuit-coloured, stirring almost constantly. Pour in the strained cooking liquid from the fish (adding more, if necessary, to make 1 litre- I had some milk left over, and used this later on), stirring over a moderate heat till smooth. Cook over a low heat for 10 minutes, then with salt and pepper, and stir in the dill and parsley. I was a bit wary of this step, thinking that it would "cook" the herbs and change their colour, but they stayed a nice bright green right through the cooking process.

While the sauce is cooking, slice the leeks thinly, give them a thorough rinse, then let them cook with a chunk of butter in a deep pan, covered with a lid, until they are soft. It is important that they don't colour, Nigel says, and suggests putting a round of greaseproof paper over the top. I didn't bother with that, just cooked them very gently. And I had half a finely chopped onion in there too, as I'd been making guacamole earlier (no spring onions available in the market!).

Gently fold the cooked leeks into the sauce. I then put a layer of the sauce in the bottom of a big Le Creuset pan that I was given for Christmas, put a layer of the white fish over the top (not a solid layer), then more sauce, a layer of smoked fish, a layer of sauce, a layer of the white fish, and then finally a layer of sauce. Over this, I poured some of the milk that was left from poaching the fish, just to make sure that my sauce didn't get too thick as it baked. I only had a few tablespoons of the milk left afterwards, so I didn't mind tipping that down the sink.

Set the oven at 180C/gas mark 4. To make the crumble, rub the flour, butter, parmesan and oats together.

My pie then sat for a couple of hours before everybody turned up- I put the crumble on top just before putting it into the oven.

Distribute the crumble over the top of the dish, and bake for 40 minutes in the preheated oven until crisp and golden, and the filling is bubbling, says Nigel- I think it would be better to cook for about 50 minutes at 200C, as although my topping was nice, I think it would have been better a bit crisper. I reheated some for myself the next evening, and it was definitely improved. I froze the rest, and think it should work well as a freezer dish.

The result was very tasty, but I think I should have had a heavier hand with the black pepper in the sauce. I will probably make this again- it went down very well with the family. Maybe next time I'll add a handful of prawns or mussels, as Nigel suggests. In the meantime, with a green salad, it was deservedly popular.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Too much beef

What am I going to do with my Boeuf Bourguignon?

Last week I was over the border in France, and came across a special offer of "collier de boeuf". Special offers are always good for weekend cooking, so I grabbed two packs (normally I'll pick up three, but for some reason I stuck to two- a good thing, as it turned out!)- which then sat in the fridge for the rest of the week, which wasn't necessarily a good thing.

Nor did it turn out a bad thing, fortunately, but I really should have been more careful. Having to throw it all out would have got me very cross with myself! I so try not to waste food...

I meant to cook it on Saturday, whilst I was cooking my fish pie, but as I was also roasting a chicken for Greta (who has discovered that she really likes chicken, to the extent of stuffing herself with it with both hands), I didn't quite get around to managing a third dish.

I had to put it off to Sunday- which was the beginning of what I think caused the problem.

I was alone through Sunday lunchtime, so I started assembling. I cut the collier into slightly smaller pieces, and browned each one in a frying pan, taking my time and not over-crowding the pan. I still had a problem towards the end with too much moisture in the pan, but that was remedied by removing my very soggy paper filter/lid, and replacing it with a fresh one. I should remember to do that sooner!

In the meantime, I chopped four sweet potatoes (the orange-fleshed ones) into large chunks, and added those to two large onions, in reasonably thick slices then cut into four, all of which I tossed into my Staub casserole on top of two packs of lard fume, which I'd cut into very thick lardons. I put the lid on, turned the heat on low so the fat from the bacon would start to melt before anything burned, and got on with searing the beef. Every so often, I opened the casserole and gave it all a good stir around.

When all my beef was browned and my vegetables were soft, I added thyme, oregano, and freshly ground black-green-pink pepper to the casserole, after which I tipped in the meat, deglazed my frying-pan with some water and added that... and then poured a bottle of red wine on top. As this didn't quite cover the meat, I added some water.

I put the casserole on to simmer- and then realised the time! Resulting in me turning it all off and almost running out of the door to catch a train.

I was out late that evening, but when I got back I turned the heat on and simmered it for about two and a half hours before I went to bed, leaving instructions for Peter to turn it off when he came to bed. I suspect he left it on for about another half hour.

The next morning I turned it on again, and it simmered for another three hours.

Peter was supposed to have some for his dinner (I was out for mine, enjoying a minestrone which I really must try to recreate), but he got caught up in feeding Greta, at the end of which he wasn't hungry. Nevertheless, he'd turned it on again, so it cooked some more! I tasted a bit when I came in- and the meat itself is fine, the problem is the sauce, which is pretty uninteresting.

This morning I spooned a large quantity of fat from the top (and should do it again this evening- it is very fatty). However, I'm wondering what to do with it now. Peter isn't around tonight. Greta, as I've mentioned, is currently fixated on chicken (and she's eating much better these days, so I'm really not going to complain! She now eats Weetabix for breakfast, as well as the occasional pain au chocolat, and I can even convince her to swallow some apple sauce now and again. As long as it's in a tube, of course, and not hand-made!), so she won't be eating any.

Me- I'm on a diet. There was a bit too much Christmas this year- we had three!

The freezer is the obvious solution, but although I know that I will freeze half of it, I'd like to do something to improve it first.

My options:
- strain the meat and remaining vegetable pulp from the sauce, thicken the sauce by simmering it down and probably with the addition of a bit of Maizena, re-combine the two. It would work, but I think that there might still be a very one-dimensional flavour to the sauce. Something else is required, and I'm not quite sure what. Some serious spices, I suspect!
- strain the meat from the sauce, shred it, freeze some of it, use the rest to make a pasta sauce. Or just use the rest to flavour a few dishes over the next few days.
- give up on the sauce, and just serve the meat with fresh vegetables and plenty of mustard.
- use the strained sauce as a base for a soup, with plenty of fresh vegetables in it and no meat. I'd really have to do some serious de-greasing first, though.

Update a few days later: next time I make something like this, I think I'm going to adapt the last trick to this post from FoodJunta, namely "set two or three slices of French bread, crusts removed and spread with whole grain mustard, on top of the stew. Over the two hours of simmering the bread flotilla sinks and dissolves, thickening the stew, and leaving behind the sharp taste of mustard." I like the idea of this.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Rhubarb Crumble

Rhubarb has just made its appearance in the supermarket here in Switzerland. A joy, as the rest of the fruits available are getting quite tired- the apples aren't as good as they were earlier in the season, pears always turn soft so unexpectedly that I rarely buy them, and as I do try to keep us eating seasonably, other than the occasional "oh gods but I'm craving something sweet and different and pineapples are cheap!", there isn't much around.


Peter loves rhubarb. He tells me he used to eat it freshly-picked from his grandmother's garden, just dipped in sugar.

I don't think I'd eat it that way myself, even though I'm a big fan of bitter and sour. The reason, actually, would be the sugar- I just can't bring myself to eat sugar without disguising it in some way!

"Pure, white, and deadly", is what my mother always says about sugar, and however much it makes me roll my eyes every time she says it, I've quite obviously absorbed her opinion. It makes me invariably cut a proportion of the sugar out of most dessert recipes! And, when it comes to rhubarb... to cook it with as little sugar as possible.

Thus, when I'm making a crumble, I don't add any sugar to the rhubarb itself- I put it all in the topping instead.

Chop enough washed rhubarb to fill your chosen dish in two tidy layers.

Rub together enough butter, about half oatflakes to half flour, brown sugar mixed with a generous tablespoon (and maybe a bit more) of quatre-epices (ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger), until when you squeeze the mixture together, it stays in a big lump in your hand, but then when you move your fingers, it falls apart into clumps and lumps.

Drop over the rhubarb, making sure that there are plenty of the afore-mentioned lumps and clumps. You don't want this layer to be too thin, or the rhubarb will bubble up and cover it over, so be generous- about a centimetre is a good minimum. But you don't want it too thick either, so don't go over the centimetre and a half!

Now, this is the bit where I make allowances for the bitterness of the rhubarb- I drizzle honey over the top of the crumble. Not all over it, and not too thick- but it adds a nice layer of flavour.

Pop it in the oven at 180C for an hour. Or a bit less, depending on the colour of the crumble- you want it golden, not brown! The rhubarb will be cooked and bubbling up the sides, and that's fine.

Serve with a spoonful of mascarpone!

Any left-over rhubarb can be cooked in this way- chop as for the crumble, put it in a Pyrex dish with a lid, add a chopped apple (with the peel), a few spoonfuls of honey, and microwave on high. Keep an eye on it, as it produces a lot of liquid, which might escape out from under the lid.

It should be soft after about 5-10 minutes, depending on the microwave. Open it carefully, tipping the water back in. Stir with a fork, breaking it all up. This can then be eaten either on its own, with the rest of the mascarpone (!), or stirred into yoghurt. Don't try it on Greta, though, she'll spit it out. She likes the crumble topping, though.