Tuesday, 25 February 2014

D is for (St.) David's Day

1 March marks the day all of Wales celebrates its patron saint.

And while I don't think anyone else will be sporting daffodils or leeks, it's worth digging out some of the traditional Welsh recipes as something a bit different.

My favourite is cawl (pronounced cow'l) which is basically a half house between a stew and a soup.  There are as many versions of cawl as there are sheep in Wales.  If you're by the coast then fish and seafood make their way in, but because this weekend is still chilly, I'm making the lamb mountain version.

  • 1 kg lamb on the bone, cut into bit sized pieces
  • Knob of butter
  • 2 l of lamb stock
  • 250 gms of onions, skinned and diced
  • 250 gms of leeks, trimmed and sliced
  • 250 gms of potato, peeled and cubed
  • 250 gms of carrots, peeled and cubed
  • 250 gms of swede, trimmed and cubed
  • S&P

  1. Braise the lamb in the butter in the bottom of a pan with the bone and some seasoning to brown the meat
  2. Pour in the stock and bring to the boil.  
  3. Let simmer for half an hour and then add in the veggies and simmer for a further hour
  4. Serve immediately OR
  5. Better still leave to cool and allow to sit over night and then reheat before the meal by bringing to the boil and simmering for 10 mins.
  6. Serve 4 with crusty bread and some Caerphilly cheese.

I like to serve it with some mint sauce. Less than traditional but I like the taste.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

G is for Gougères

Everyone I speak to seems to think that choux pastry is a pig to make.  It's not.  There are just a couple of things to remember. Once you've got those in your consciousness, it's easy, can be bulked up and is very versatile: think beignets, eclairs, gougères, Parisian gnocchi, profiteroles...

I think it's because there is a series of steps to follow that puts people off, but really...have a go...surprise yourself.

Of these luscious lovelies, one of my all-time-favourite freezer standbys is gougères. I typically quadruple the recipe below and then (once cooled) divide them up into bags of 20-ish to bung in the freezer.  They freeze beautifully and only take 3½ mins @ 200℃ to defrost and warm back up without them browning any more.

I recommend making a small batch first as then you can see for yourself the consistency that the mixture needs to be before making masses.

  • 125 mls water
  • 40 gms butter, cubed
  • 70 gms plain flour
  • 1 teaspn mustard powder
  • 90 gms grated cheese*
  • 2 large eggs, beaten but kept separate
  • S&P
* Any hard cheese will go, but I mostly use Comté, Gran Padano or Gruyère.

  1. Heat the oven to 220℃. Put a layer of baking paper over a baking sheet and spray lightly with veggie oil
  2. Season the flour in a bowl and sprinkle over the mustard powder and move to the side of your hob
  3. Bring the water and the butter to the boil quickly
  4. As soon as it's boiled, dump in the flour mix and beat over a low heat
  5. It needs to stay on the heat being beaten until it's come away from the sides of the pan and is one big, smooth ball.  This may be quite quick OR take a bit of time depending on how much water has evaporated
  6. Take off the heat and leave to stand for a couple of minutes to allow to cool
  7. [At this point, I put the dough in a stand mixer]
  8. Once cool enough so the eggs won't scramble, whisk in one egg until incorporated and then repeat
  9. Add in the cheese.  You can also add in some finely chopped fresh herbs with the cheese if you like
  10. Put the thick batter into disposable piping bags / freezer bags^
  11. If you find your mixture's quite runny at this stage, put the bag in the fridge to firm up a bit as the mixture needs to be a bit stiff to be piped
  12. Snip off the end/a corner of the bag and pipe cherry-tomato-sized blobs about 1"/2.5 cm apart onto the greased, papered tray until it's full
  13. If you still have left, put (back) into the fridge until the first batch is nearly cooked
  14. Put some cold water in a small bowl, dip your finger into the water and (gently) flatten the dough hook left by the piping so it's a smooth ball.
  15. At this stage you can sprinkle on a bit more cheese, but I usually don't bother
  16. Put in the oven for 10 mins @ 220℃ during which stage they'll puff up 
  17. Then turn down the oven to 190℃ for 12-15 mins to crispen up (so they don't go flat when you take them out) and brown 
  18. Remove and leave for a couple of minutes before taking off the baking paper. Repeat the steps from no. 12 with any remaining mix.
  19. Serve warm from the oven or leave to cool, guarding with a wooden spoon for sneaking hands, and bag up for the freezer
^ if you don't have either, teaspooning the mix onto the tray is also okay although the end result isn't as neat.

See!  It wasn't that difficult!!

If it was, the mistakes will be:

Dough mix too runny: not boiling off enough water or using very large eggs
Dough mix too thick: boiling off too much water or using medium eggs

Either can be solved mid-recipe by either putting the dough in the fridge for the butter to re-harden OR adding a little (whole) milk.

Soon you'll be baking up my kinda batches!

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

H is for Hot Pot

We've got friends coming over for Friday supper and by the time we've got out of the city, it's already quite late so I need to serve up a meal that people can enjoy really quickly.  It's also cold so I want something warming.

So I'm doing Da Been Lo or Chinese hot pot.   This does only work if you have an individual electric or butane ring that can sit in the middle of your (protected) table, as some of the food may take a bit of cooking.*

And it does need a bit of prior preparation to make the raw food appealing, but you can make up the soup base (in fact it's better as the flavours come together) ad chop up the meat/veggies (sealed into bags so they don't dry out) the night before.

I swear by Ching He Huang's spicy hotpot soup base, but if the ingredients list or spice puts you off, then a chicken or veggie stock is fine.  Just cook in some Shiitaki mushrooms to help make it a bit more authentic.

I then put sliced raw ingredients into individual serving dishes and arrange around the hot pot.  Then everyone gets some dipping sauce by their own place setting.  My list typically includes:

  • Oriental mushrooms (Waitrose sell great all-in-one packs)
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Bak Choi (separate the leaves from the stems and chop the stems in half)
  • Spinach
  • Thinly sliced beef steak (part freeze it to be able to slice very thinly)
  • Skewered (raw) king prawns
  • Crispy tofu
  • Lotus root^
  • Beef dumplings^
  • Fish dumplings^
  • Udon noodles

^ bought from the Chinese supermarket or mostly available online.

Bring the soup to the boil, and ask people put in what they want to eat and when it's done, fish it out. Don't overload the soup otherwise everything takes forever to cook.  And have a couple of slotted spoons available so people can fish out their food.  The dumplings are done when they float, the prawns when they're pink.

I generally leave the udon noodles till the end but that's just a Chinese thing about leaving the rice to fill up after the more expensive ingredients have been enjoyed.

* All is not lost if you don't have a ring as you can bring the soup to boil on the hob.  You just need to keep the ingredients to things that will just cook with hot water poured over them (e.g. matchstick carrots, julienned spring onion lengths, vermicelli noodles, wafer thin beef, Enoki mushrooms, shredded Chinese leaf, bean sprouts).