Archive for the ‘January’ Category

I have never been one for bread and butter pudding.  There, I said it.blog-panetonne-bread-butter-pudding-2-780x400

Soaking scrag ends of several loaves of bread into milk or water to form a wet, sloppy, bread crumb and then squeezing out the excess liquid to form a type of masa before mixing in raisins, cinnamon, lemon zest and sprinkling Demerara sugar over before baking in a moderate oven, has never really been my thing.

I mean, I totally get the whole minimising food waste and environmental impact.  In essence, bread pudding is a reincarnation of French toast (pain perdu) which I really like but soggy bread and I are not the best of friends.

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However, having said that, in New Orleans I tried a tropical, boozy pineapple and coconut bread pudding soused with piña colada mix. And I hate to admit it but I was converted with one mouthful!

The idea that anything could be used to form the base: croissants, two-day old bread, pastries, fruit cake etc and you could add any liquid component you wanted as long as the egg custard mix would set your pudding meant that you were in total control of the texture and consistency as well as the flavour direction of the final product.  

Suddenly bread pudding became exciting.  

My sister-in-law was gifted a tower of treats with a panettone loaf cake in its bottom tier but as we soon found out, not many people are keen on panettone – is it bread or cake? It’s too dry to be cake but not doughy enough to be bread.  What do you have it with?  How do you slice it?  How do you serve it?  Are those raisins and bits of candied peel?  Not surprisingly, some people don’t seem to be too keen on those either!  Pandoro (raisin and candied peel removed) isn’t met with better response. 

But following Gino D’Acampo’s advice, instead of wasting it and throwing it out, we used the panettone very successfully to make a panettone bread pudding.

To make Gino D’Acampo’s Panettone Bread and Butter Pudding you will need:

Ingredients:

1 panettone cake

2 large eggs

4 egg yolks

2 tbsps caster sugar

1 tbsp honey

3 tbsps marsala

400ml whole milk

100ml double cream

Splash of vanilla extract  

Demerara sugar

Icing sugar

Ricotta and honey to serve

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Method:

1st: Mix the eggs, yolks and caster sugar together.

2nd: Add the honey, vanilla, marsala, milk and double cream. Whisk but not too vigorously.  Set aside.

3rd: Slice the panettone cake into inch thick slices and arrange in an oven proof dish with the sides sticking up.

4th: Ladle the eggy mixture over the panettone slices until the bread has soaked up most of the liquid.  Allow the mixture to soak into the panettone before placing in the oven.   NB You may not need all the mixture.

5th: Sprinkle Demerera sugar all over the top.

6th: Bake in an oven at 160ºC for 25mins until top is browned and crunchy.  Dust with icing sugar. Serve with ricotta and honey.

Might need to run to the supermarket and buy a panettone before the end of the season just to make this again!

Happy New Year everybody.

Gastrorob

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There is something very British about pheasant. Images of men in tweed, wearing Barbour jackets, valets reloading rifles before handing them back to their masters and hounds with bird in mouth come to mind. Cooks and servants at the manor preparing a banquet in celebration of the glut of birds shot.

Thomas Becket famously dined on pheasant the night before his infamously violent death in 1170. Tudor kings and queens dined on elaborate pheasant dishes with colourful plumes adorning the roasted bird. And we often read about pheasant being cooked in Dickensian stories and Austen novels, so it surprises me, that all things considered, how infrequently we see it in restaurants and supermarkets.

Both chicken and pheasant were recorded as having been brought to Europe by Phoenician traders but chicken with its bland taste and texture has won universal acclaim; with people usually eating chicken more than twice a week in different reincarnations.

Fast forward to the present day:

This Christmas, my nephew mentioned he’d never tried pheasant; actually, neither had the rest of us in the family. As Christmas Day traditions must be kept (turkey is a must) we tried cooking pheasant for the first time in the run up to Christmas.

Having read the butcher’s instructions on the label of the plucked, prepackaged, plastic wrapped pheasants and several internet searches later, it was clear that pheasant are in danger of drying out in the oven.

On taking the bird out of its packaging to place on its roasting trivet, the smell was strong and putrid. Slightly worried about this we looked at each other quizzically and thought, let’s just give this a go, if we don’t like it we just won’t cook it again. Admittedly whilst it sat on the trivet the smell seemed to dissipate and our fears were allayed.

We were not inflicting food poisoning on ourselves a few days before Christmas! Phew!!

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We prepared a herb butter and squeezed this between skin and breast meat. And stuffed the cavity with dried prunes and figs – the pheasant can take bold flavours; having bold flavours (and smells) itself. Truss the bird up before putting it into the oven so that the stuffing remains in the cavity and if you have any streaky bacon (we didn’t) protect the breast meat by laying several rashers across it.

Roast the bird on its trivet of vegetables for anything from 1hr 10mins to 1hr 30mins at 180°C. Allow to rest whilst you tend to gravy and mashed potatoes and any other vegetable side dish you’re serving.

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In terms of flavour, the breast meat had a slight herby/gamey taste but otherwise was quite transient and could pretty much carry other flavours with it but the leg meat, especially the drumstick was very strong and bold in flavour. Texture-wise this again was different, the leg meat was juicy, however, the breast meat was very dry.

I dare say that with repeated practise you’d be able to hone in your pheasant roasting skills or maybe even prefer cooking it in a slow cooker or in other guises.

With gravy, stuffing and mash this makes for a delicious autumnal/wintery evening meal sat in the warmth of your homely kitchen. As with other birds, the key is not to dry it out – the herb butter and streaky bacon will go a long way in protecting the integrity of the breast meat but keep an eye on this. Depending on the size of the pheasant being served it may be pertinent to think of half a bird per person so that they can try the leg and breast meat as there are joys to be had in both.

Pheasant season runs from 1st October to 1st February, so even if you’re not up to cooking pheasant during the Christmas season you can give it a go in the new year. If I can locate pheasant back home, I’d definitely be game to give it another go (pun intended).

Enjoy

Gastrorob

Like many families, in my house, we used to refer to Cottage Pie as Shepherd’s Pie.  Beef mince was always available from the butchers and was far more economical for a family of seven than lamb would be.  Topped with golden mashed potato that had caught under the grill; everyone coveting the crispy bits and a generous scoop of baked beans on the side.

And as far as I was concerned, everyone called it the same and served it the same way.

It wasn’t until recently that I was served Shepherd’s Pie without baked beans and felt cheated.  “My Granny would never have served it like that!” I snorted in disgust.  Only to find I was not the only one at the table who thought the same – lo and behold, the others also agreed that baked beans were a very acceptable addition to a serving of Shepherd’s Pie.  Emboldened by this camaraderie I decided to come clean and tell all; as a child, my favourite way of eating this was with a squeeze of ketchup over the mash and then mixing everything together into a plateful of dark, pink-brown gloop studded with baked beans.

As revolting as this sounds to me now – as a child, it was a plate of sheer delight.

Click on the link to see my youtube clip on how to make my easy Cottage Pie: https://tinyurl.com/zxp42sa

I don’t tend to make shepherd’s pie (cottage pie) from scratch anymore, as in I try not to have to go food shopping too often, so make this using leftover beef from the Sunday Roast instead.  In the past I’ve used leftover roast potatoes but to be honest it’s so easy to make good mashed potato to top the pie that it’s really no hardship.  Whereas baked beans would have been my staple side dish, nowadays I try and have something green either in the pie or on the side.  Leftover broccoli, peas and beans are very welcome as is a buttery tangle of spring greens or shredded Savoy cabbage.

The good thing about a Shepherd’s Pie (Cottage Pie) is that you can make the components in advance.  I made the beef pie filling on Monday evening as this can sit in its dish in the fridge until you need to top it and heat it – I’m pretty sure you can freeze it at this stage too.  Take the pie out of the fridge whilst you’re making the mashed potato and top the dish.  Place in a moderate oven for 35mins until the filling is bubbling up the sides and the top is golden in colour.

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On 25th January, we celebrate the life of Robbie Burns.  Many of us have often gone to organised Robbie Burns Nights where the festivities begin with The Selkirk Grace followed by a procession of pipes, tributes and toasts paid to the haggis before a dinner of ‘haggis, neeps and tatties’ followed by speeches; The Immortal Memory and a Toast to the Lassies with a reply to the Laddies.

Generally there is also much revelling in between and a bit more than a wee dram of whiskey (always scotch) must be consumed.

Finally the evening is called to a close by everyone being asked to stand, hold hands and sing Auld Lang Syne.

However, for those of you that want to give this a go at home, without the traditional order of ceremony only need follow my recipe ideas below for a fuss free feast of an evening.  All recipes below are easy to follow whether you’re creating this for a couple of you or a gathering a friends.

Robbie Burns Supper for 4 people

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Starter: Cock-A-Leekie soup
Main: Haggis with ‘neeps and tatties’
Dessert: Cranachan

Plenty of whiskey to drink!

Cock-A-Leekie Soup

This is a restorative Scottish soup consisting of leeks in chicken stock, often thickened with rice or barley.  The original recipe calls for prunes during cooking.

Ingredients:img_4074
2 leeks
2 whole chicken legs
chicken stock or water to cover
8 Pitted prunes (optional)

Method:
Halve the leeks along their length and remove any grit they may have trapped in their layers.  Chop sauté them in a pot with butter.  Always sauté leeks in butter! Add the chicken legs and top in stock or water.  Once the chicken is cooked through, remove the legs, strip the meat from the bones and discard the skin.  Return the chicken to the soup and add your pitted prunes.   Serve piping hot.

Haggis with ‘Neeps and Tatties’

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Cooking haggis is not difficult at all – you can boil it, oven cook it or my favourite approach, microwave it for 5 mins!  Neeps can be interpreted as either parsnips or turnips but I tend to favour swede (yellow turnip) and tatties, potatoes.  No need for gravy as the whiskey over keeps everything moist.

Ingredients:
1 small haggis serves 4 people – pick a larger one should you wish.  Nowadays you can also get vegetarian haggis.
6 large maris piper potatoes
1 large swede
butter
cream
seasoning to taste

Method:
Peel the potatoes and swede and boil separately until they are soft.  Once soft, drain them and mash them into a smooth puree with a knob of butter and a splosh of cream.  Season to taste.  Follow the cooking instructions on how to cook the haggis – I generally cook it for 5 mins in the microwave!  Serve as you wish – a wee dram of whiskey is traditionally poured over the haggis on serving.

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Is a very simple pudding to make – imagine layers of flavoured cream, raspberries and oats.

Ingredients:
300ml pot of double cream
2 tablespoons honey
a decent slosh of whiskey
2 punnets of raspberries
6 tablespoons of toasted porridge oats

Method:
Toast the porridge oats under a hot grill; keep your eye on them as they turn burned very quickly!  In a bowl whisk the double cream, honey and whiskey together until soft peaks form – this should be billowy and not over whipped.  In serving glasses, layer, the oats, raspberries and flavoured cream.

Auld Lang Syne!


At this time of year there is nothing more welcoming and homely than bowl food/soul food.  As the temperature drops outside and evenings close in, a bowl of something warm and full of flavour is just what you need.

Cradling the bowl in one hand (close to your chest for added warmth) and spooning soothing soups and stews into your mouth; hugs you and keeps the chills at bay.

This great one pot wonder of lentils, pumpkin and chorizo is a great winter warmer guaranteed to put a smile on your face with every spoonful.  If you’re worried that it would take ages to prepare and cook, think again!  Chop everything into roughly the same size and put into a pot with the lentils and water.  I put it together straight after work and had dinner ready within the hour.

Lentils, pumpkin & chorizo 


serves 2

Ingredients:

1 onion

2 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/8th of a pumpkin

1 cup of lentils

2 cooking chorizo sausages 

2 tomatoes

Chopped parsley 

Water from a recently boiled kettle

Method: 

1st: Peel and chop the onion and pumpkin and add to the pot with the crushed garlic and chopped tomatoes.

2nd: Stir in the uncooked lentils of your choice and top with water.  I used 1 cup lentils to 2 & 1/2 parts water.

3rd: Slice the chorizo and add to the pot.  Simmer gently for 40mins to 1hr. Season before serving.

After the over indulgent aftermath of the Christmas period, new year’s resolutions, crash diets  and penniless pockets, January takes on a cloak of austerity.  Our tastes become less extravagant and simple; we re-introduce the aspect of portion control in the hope that we will regain a waistline before the summer.

The temperature having finally dropped means that we want wholesome, hearty, comfort food.  Soup becomes a regular staple which not only caters for the cold weather but also our pockets (as soup is the epitome of thrift.)

For those of a superstitious disposition there would have been much lentil consumption as you hailed in the New Year – or perhaps on Blue Monday (Monday 19th January 2015) the most depressing day of the year – to help break the curse of the January blues.

But as January draws to a close, for those that chose to revel in it, there is one final celebration that you could choose to indulge in:  Robbie Burns Night.  Usually celebrated on the eve of the great Bard’s Birthday, 25th January or thereabouts, can be the perfect excuse to celebrate surviving the uphill struggle that can be the month of January.

Looking at the event from a culinary perspective you are required to follow certain practices.  Whiskey needs to be omnipresent throughout the meal, there has got to be a haggis served with ‘neeps and tatties’ and cock-a-leekie soup should be the ideal starter to warm you through before you continue with the evening’s proceedings.

Starter: Cock-a-leekie Soupcock-a-leekie soup

Ingredients
2 leeks washed and diced
4 rashers of streaky bacon
A whole chicken or
8 chicken pieces
Splosh of white wine
180g stoned prunes
1 bouquet garni (thyme, bay, parsely)
Water/stock to cover the chicken)
Oil/Butter for frying
Seasoning

Method
1./ Melt the butter and fry the chicken pieces until golden brown, then remove and set aside.

2./ Add the chopped bacon to the pan and fry until some of the fat is rendered out and fry one of the leeks in this until the whites are translucent.

3./ Splosh in the white wine and boil rapidly whilst scraping the bottom of the pan.  Return the chicken pieces (making sure to pour in any liquid it may have released) with the bouquet garni and add enough water/stock to cover.  Simmer for 45 mins or until the chicken is tender.

4./ Remove the chicken from the pot and allow to cool slightly.  Chop the second leek and add it to the pot.  Simmer until tender.  Remove the bouquet garni.

5./ Remove the chicken skin and bones and discard.  Shred the chicken or cut into coarse chunks and add this to the pot.  Add the prunes and simmer for another 20-30mins.

6./ Skim off any excess fat using a turkey-baster and season to taste.

Main Course: Haggis with ‘Neeps and Tatties’

Not so much a cheat but a necessity – BUY THE HAGGIS – don’t even attempt to recreate this at home.  Most supermarkets will stock a decent haggis that you can be proud to serve.  You can now even get vegetarian haggises (or is it haggi?) and to simplify matters you can microwave them if that would make matters simpler. 

“Great chieftain o’ the pudding race!”

To be honest you should spend more time thinking about your ‘neeps and tatties’ and how you’re going to serve these.

‘Neeps and Tatties’ cause annual controversy.  The ‘tatties’ are mashed potatoes and the world is in unanimous agreement over this, however, the ‘neeps’ cause such contention that no one is truly sure what these are anymore; even amongst the Scots there is disagreement.   Possible options are: turnips, swede, parsnips and I’ve even read about someone using celeriac.  Having researched around on the topic, I believe that traditionally turnips would have been used but I was unable to find decent turnips at the grocers so opted for parsnips instead.

My ‘Neeps and Tatties’ were treated the same way: peeled, boiled, mashed with butter, cream and nutmeg, salt and pepper.  I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.
Timbale of haggis neeps and tatties

After one of my guests performed the ‘Address to the Haggis’ and with alacrity sliced open the haggis with the finely honed edge of his ceremonial dirk (actually my kitchen knife!) we served ourselves from the centre of the table.   I made a quick port and red wine reduced sauce to serve with.  Experimenting with the leftovers the following evening I served this as a timbale as can be seen in the photograph.

cranachanDessert: Cranachan

Ingredients
5 tbsp porridge oats
2 punnets of raspberries
600ml double cream
3 tbsp heather honey
5 tbsp whiskey
Method
1./ Spread the porridge oats on a baking sheet and grill until it smells rich and nutty.  It will not darken quickly like almonds.  Set aside until cool.

2./ Crush some of the raspberries into a purée.  Whisk the double cream until set and stir in the honey and whiskey.  Stir in the toasted porridge oats.

3./ In glasses assemble layers of the cream mixture with the raspberry purée and the raspberries.  Serve with a sprig of mint.

Although not truly authentic, adding other berries might add to this dessert – blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries would enhance its creamy-fruity lusciousness.   Anyone who knows me well, knows that I cannot stomach whiskey but here the subtle ghost of whiskey, mist-like in this dessert was just right; I almost feel as if it needed more honey or sugar to just lift the taste.  Perhaps serving it with some shortbread biscuits.

The leftover cock-a-leekie soup became a quick chicken and leek pie for lunch the following day:

Food for thought for next year: cock-a-leekie starter worked very well but maybe some crusty bread to go with, turnips instead of parsnips, serve as a timbale, more port and red wine sauce, more berries and honey in the cranachan.

Generally more whiskey!