Archive for March, 2013

People say that the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach. But if we’re being precise, I think that the way to a man’s heart is through bread and butter pudding.

Ok, not every man. But a large percentage of the men I know do go bonkers over a bread and butter pudding. Especially one with custard. So on a rainy Monday evening, with a few stale slices of bread left over from the weekend, I made a couple of bread and butter puddings for mine and Tom’s supper. Just keeping the love alive…

I did pinch this recipe/method from my mum, and for that I must apologise…or at least attriubte it to her. She specialises in rustling up quick and (seemingly) effortless puddings, so in many regards, this is a Carol Smith Classic.

Here’s all you need:
3 slices of stale bread (brown or white, no crusts)
1/2 handful of sultanas
100ml milk
1 egg
1 tablespoon of caster sugar
1 muffin tray (preferably silicone, for ease of removing the bread and butter puddings)

[For Custard: 1 egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of sugar, 150ml milk/cream. Or a tin of Ambrosia.]

First, put half a handful of sultanas in a pot. Cover them in hot water from the kettle - or cold tap water, and then put the pot in the microwave for a minute. Either way, let the sultanas sit in the warm water while you prepare the pudding, and then drain just before adding them to the recipe.
It changes the texture from wrinkly, dry fruit to juicy, plump sultanas. Not an integral step in the process, but it barely takes up any time, and I think improves the puds.

Sultanas - before soaking

Sultanas - after soaking

I made the puddings using three slices of brown bread. Stale bread is best, because it soaks up the egg/milk/sugar mixture like a sponge. The bread I used really was only just acceptable to eat as toast, but using it in the pudding rejuvenates it no end.

The other trick for individual bread and butter puddings is using a silicone muffin tray - which I use for pretty much everything, ice cream, freezing stock, toad in the hole, sticky toffee puddings, summer puddings….if you’ve read this blog before then you’ve probably come across my trusty old muffin tray. It means you can put together the puddings easily, and pop them out easily once they’re cooked. Non-silicone trays should be ok though - and ramekins are another good option for individual bread and butter puddings, if you have no muffin tray whatsoever!

Firstly I cut out two ‘tops’ using a shot glass, and then two ‘bottoms’ using a baked bin tin. Then I tore up the rest of the bread into chunks - except the crusts, which I binned.

Next, mix together the egg, sugar and milk in a jug.

Place small circles in the bottom of the muffin tin.Scatter the chunks of bread and plump sultanas over the top (and, if you’re feeling a bit adventurous, some orange or lemon zest, or marmalade).
Then divide half of the egg/sugar/milk mixture between the two puddings, pouring it over the bread chunks.

Finish by dunking the two larger circles of bread into the remaining egg/sugar/milk mixture, and squish them on top of of everything, like a kind of soggy-bread-lid.
If there’s still left over egg/sugar/milk mixture, then divide it between both puddings, just pouring it on top of them until they’re fully-saturated.

All in all, these shouldn’t take more than five minutes to make.
So all you need to do now is put the bread & butter puddings in an oven at 180C for 20 minutes - by which point they should have puffed up nicely.

This leaves enough time to eat some soup or stew or something equally comforting, and then make some custard.

To do that, I heated 150 milk/cream in a pan on the hob until just simmering. In a separate pan I whisked together 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I then poured the hot milk/cream over them egg/sugar, whisking all the time, and then returned it to the heat for a few minutes - stirring constantly - until the custard thickened. If you can’t be bothered with this final step, then Ambrosia is flipping delicious too.

Custard-less bread and butter pudding waiting to be appropriately drenched.

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This weekend was my turn to host book club. A super excuse to have some of my favourite people over, and discuss pretty much everything except The Dinner by Herman Koch (excellent book-read it!)

I figured that seeing as I was having some of my favourite people over, then I’d cook one of my all-time favourite dishes. Pulled pork. No-fuss, no messing about carving round bones while vegetables are getting cold. But just one happy, steaming pan in the middle of the table for everyone to dive in and help themselves.

I should mention that this recipe is online already but as I pointed out in a recent post, one of the wonderful things I find about having a blog is the joy of having everything in one place, so here we go.

First things first, I set off in hunt of a hulking piece of meat. 3kg of pork shoulder (bone in). In London, it seems that all good things are snuck away under a remote railway arch. So it may come of no surprise that I located my beautiful piece of pork shoulder at The Butchery in an archway so remote and seedy, you just know the meat is going to be good. (And the bonus is that the next door archway does a roaring trade in artisan beer on tap, and the archway one down from that sells dried meats and cheeses). Anyone who thought that Maltby Street was the “new Borough Market” is behind the times in london’s fast-paced food scene!

The day before you’re planning to cook the pork, make the marinade.

2 onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
150ml vegetable oil
150ml white wine vinegar
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
150g brown sugar
60ml Lea and Perrins
2tsp dried mustard powder
2tsp liquid smoke (magic, pure magic)

Fry the onions until they’re soft and translucent. Add the garlic to the pan and cook gently. Add everything else into the pan, and heat until the sugar is totally dissolved. Cool. (If you’re in a hurry, then cool as below-in a metal pan in a sink of cold water).

Cover the pork shoulder in the cool marinade and refrigerate - leaving the flavour to soak in for at least 4 hours…preferably overnight.

Put the shoulder of pork and marinade in the oven for 5 hours or so, at 150C. By the end of cooking, you should be able to pull the pork away using just a fork-and strip it clean away from the bone.

It’s normal for the fat to go dark and caramelised. Try a little - and if, like me, you agree it’s full of flavour, then cut it into small pieces.

Put the pulled pork and fat to one side.
Put the marinade on the hob, and heat so that it reduces by 1/3.
Return the meat to the hot marinade, and serve.
I’ve served this with buns quite a few times to quickly and easilY feed a crowd. For Sunday lunch I did it with coleslaw and paprika potato chips.

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At school, the marking system worked like this. A-E for achievement (A being the highest) followed by 1-5 for effort (1 being the highest).

In my Dad’s eyes, A5 was obviously the best. It showed natural aptitude with minimal effort. Which, in his eyes, basically translates into “good genes”, thus allowing him to take some of the credit.

A1 was ok. But on the (odd) occasion this made it onto an end-of-term card, then I’d have to be prepared for my grandad to call me a “class swot” for the first couple of weeks of the holiday. He’s A5 through-and-through, and despite never prioritising work over pool, football or bridge, was always top of the class. Well, apart from the time that he came second to Beryl Bloxham. A traumatic enough event that he’s still talking about it 70 years later, and swotty old Beryl has become a household name in our household at least.

Grandad - ALMOST always top of the class…

Somehow this marking system has been hard to shake off, and I can’t help looking for the A5 solution in all sorts of situations. Take cooking, for example. The cover of this months BBC Good Food magazine is A1 through and through. If anything, the effort will exceed the achievement.

BBC Good Food A1 Rainbow Sponge Cake

Because after messing about with all of those different layers of different coloured sponge, the best scenario is that you end up with a multi-coloured sponge cake, thinking ‘was it all really worth it?’

Anyway, dear reader, I digress. But if you have kept up with me, then you will at least be rewarded by the revelation that I have discovered the ultimate A5 recipe. Home-smoked salmon. Minimal effort, and maximum impact. The dosser’s dish. Guarenteed to get you a 1:1 without so much as having to step inside the library to revise.

Aside from the remarkable easiness of this recipe, it’s oddly cost effective. For smoked salmon. Just to contextualise it, a 1.6kg side of unsliced, smoked salmon from Fortnum & Masons costs £180. Now, Ocado and Tescos keep alternating a deal, where they do a 1kg side of salmon for £10 -yes, that’s right, a tenner! Then, with the help of a cold smoke generator (£34.95-reusable, and a LOT more rustic than it sounds) you can turn the salmon into a show stopper of a smoked salmon which will easily do a starter for 12, or lunch/brunch for 6-8.

Now, I’ve only smoked salmon around five times so far, and am still very much a beginner. Every time I do it, I change the timings a little, and the salmon comes out a little differently as a result. So please don’t take my word on all I write below.

My starting piece of advice would actually be to actually cut the whole side into smaller piecer (even though its a little less impressive), or to just buy smaller fillets to start with, That way, they’re not so heavy that they drag down on the hooks during smoking, and fall off. And the surface area is larger, which makes the curing and smoking more effective.

Now. Lets assume that you’ve got some fillets, or a cut-up side of salmon. First thing’s first-it needs curing. The aim of this process is firstly, to kill any bacteria present, and secondly, to draw the moisture out of the salmon, so that it won’t breed bacteria in the future. By the end of the curing process, the texture of the salmon will have changed, and it’ll be more rigid - less squidgy.

To cure it, all you need to do is put foil on a tray and cover it in salt. Lay the salmon on the salt, and then cover it all in more salt. I usually use about 1.5kg of table salt for around 1kg of salmon. Officially, you should use special curing salts which don’t contain anti-caking agents….but table salt is cheap (75p), and seems to do the job…

Put the tray of salted salmon in the fridge for anything from 4-24 hours. By the time you take it out, you’ll be able to see that the salt has drawn the moisture out of the salmon-making the salmon quite hard, and the salt a little damp.

See the moisture coming out if the salmon, dampening the salt…

Wash the salmon, ditch the salt, and then pat the fillets dry using some kitchen roll or a clean tea towel. And now the fun bit….

The cold smoke generator uses very simple technology. A bit like those insect coils which burn for 10 hours, giving off smelly smoke which keeps mosquitos away, so the cold smoke generator is built in a maze-shape. You fill the maze with wood chips, and put a nightlight under the starting point of the maze to get it going. And then let it burn round for 10 hours.

The only innovative thing you need to do is to find a non-flammable container to trap the smoke. We used a bin. A classic option. And it works just fine. We tied some chicken wire from handle to handle, and then bent some ‘S’ shaped hooks which we could poke through the salmon, and hang them off the wire line.

So, take the rigid salmon fillets, use a knife to poke a hole through them, thread through some string or poke through a wire hook, and then hang them on the wire line in a bin. Light the cold smoker, put in on the floor of the bin, and then place the lid on to trap the smoke.

Because it takes about 10 hours to burn all the way round, I usually start the smoking just before bedtime. Then I wake up to smoked salmon - bliss!

A couple of serving suggestions before I go. Firstly, there’s the matter of slicing the salmon. Traditional, wafer-like salmon can be achieved with a salmon slicer. Personally, I cut the salmon away from the skin, and then use an every-day cook’s knife to chop it into thin, more sushi-like slices.

My brother made the point that to feel full-up from eating the supermarket, wafer-thin salmon, you have to eat a guilt-inducingly large amount, which begins to cost a hell of a lot. When I took a side of salmon home, announcing the whole thing cost a tenner, he happily hacked off a huge chunk, and made a huge salmon sandwich that filled him up, agreeing that vertical slicing was far more satisfying than wafer-thin slivers.

Finally, there’s the matter of what to serve the smoked salmon with. I’ve experimented with two different meals so far. Firstly, the classic smoked salmon, scrambled egg and bagel breakfast. And secondly, a sort of Scandinavian themed starter/brunch/lunch, of rye bread, creme fraiche, smoked salmon and a red onion and cucumber pickle (slices of both, marinaded in 1 caster sugar : 3 cider vinegar, & heated until the sugar dissolves).

When my flat mate took some smoked salmon home, he mixed some with pasta, lemon juice, olive oil and dill, which he said was excellent. And I’ve just used the leftovers from Mother’s Day brunch in broad bean, beetroot and smoked salmon tarts….but that might have to wait for my next post….

If you have been smoking salmon, please do leave a comment in the box below - I’d love to know what equipment you used, how long you cured the salmon for, and what you cured it in…

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There are several annoying things about Tom going to India on business. The main one being that he’s there and I’m not.

On the plus side, he’s very good at returning laden with spices. Though the latest offering was in fact a gift from, Anil, a friend of his who is evidently very knowledgable about spices indeed. Because the two tins he brought back are filled with the most sweet-smelling, potent saffron I’ve ever had the delight of cooking with. A totally different spice to the shrivelled threads that rattle round the Tesco’s pots of spices.

My own, very limited, knowledge of buying saffron comes from a stay in on houseboat on Dal Lake in Kashmir. It’s an extraordinary place. In the times of the British Raj, sweltering colonialists used Kashmir as a retreat. But they weren’t allowed to build on the land, so instead invested small fortunes into the most intricate ‘floating palaces’, covered in ornate carvings, with sun terraces and servants’ rooms.

Still, lots of the trade is done on Dal Lake. From early-morning vegetable markets to floating tuck shops and jewellery boats visiting the few houseboats known to be housing tourists. On several occasions, men selling saffron arrived, and set about long explanations on the different grades of saffron. It involved putting threads of saffron onto textbook paper, and dripping water onto them, to demonstrate how the expensive saffron turned a fiery red colour, and dyed the water droplet an intense yellow colour…while the cheaper saffron didn’t give out a more hay-like, weaker hue. There are expensive saffrons, cheaper saffrons, and even fake saffrons made out of dyed-dried grass, and even dyed-dried paper which dissolves in dishes.

So you can imagine that buying saffron is a minefield. Which makes me even more delighted to have acquired not one, but two tins of quite incredible saffron. Perfect timing-as the Saturday Telegraph featured a double spread of saffron recipes by Stevie Parle.

I decided that the best starting place would be the saffron ice cream. One of the best ice creams I’ve ever tasted was matcha ice cream, which has deliciously dry, astringent, vegetal flavours. My next favourite ice cream would always be cream fruity flavours, with chocolatey-treacly sweet ice creams being my least favourite flavour. So - you may well imagine that the saffron flavour was perfect. The ideal way to finish a meal. Well-balanced, not too sweet, subtle, unusual and exotic.

A recipe I’m putting online, because it’s one to make again, and I’m scared the scrap of newspaper might get thrown away….

Saffron and Honey Ice Cream
Serves 6

500ml whole milk
1 tsp saffron threads
5 egg yolks
200g sugar
250ml double cream
500g ricotta
2tbsp honey

1. Bring the milk and saffron to a simmer and keep warm

2. In a large bowl, combine the sugar and yolks and beat until pale
3. Add half the warm milk to the egg mixture and whisk again until combined. Pour the mix in the saucepan along with the remaining warm milk. Cook over a low heat, tiring constantly until the mixture thickens into a custard and coats the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and whisk in the double cream, followed by the ricotta and the honey, until blended.
4. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. [I put it in the freezer and stirred occasionally. Sadly not too soft-scoop though!].

Stevie Parle suggested serving the ice cream with “toasted pine nuts and a little extra honey” - I thought that fruit compote was just delicious.

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“A couple of years ago i never would’ve guessed I’d be sat in Bethnal Green eating deep fried beancurd” said Tom on Tuesday night, happily shovelling a pork-stuffed beancurd parcel into his mouth. Tie flung over his shoulder to avoid the soy drips.

And as I sit here eating leftover gochujang-rice stuffed parcels in front of Crufts, I’m starting to agree that things have got a bit weird. Currently, my cooking seems to revolve around the oddest ingredient I can get my hands on. Often Chinese. And currently deep-fried beancurd sheets.

I decided it’d be useful to learn something more about tofu. And the best way to learn is to do.

My first experience of tofu was in the covered market at university where there was a little stand that did salad boxes. You started off by picking a couple of base salad - lentils and herbs, roasted vegetables, green leaves, bulgur wheat…delicious things. And then you chose a sauce, and then some protein - lovely grilled chicken, or smoked mackerel…or a flaccid, anaemic-looking block of sweaty cold tofu. Gross! Enough to put me off for a while. I just didn’t get it.

But then I started reading more about Chinese food, and the importance of textures. I started following actual recipes which used tofu, and which used it well. Mapo tofu is my current favourite-cheap and delicious and comforting, with these squidgy soft squares of chilli-flavoured tofu.

These beancurd sheets are tofu-but in a different guise. They’re soybean sheets which have been flavoured with soy and Mirin - sweet rice wine, and then cut into little pockets, ready for stuffing. I did some research and saw that the traditional use for the deep fried beancurd sheets are inari sushi, which involves boiling the beancurd sheets and stuffing them with rice.

But I figured I could find something more exciting than plain old rice. So for my first experiment I set out to use stuff it with pork mince instead. But couldn’t find any on my walk home. So Tom had the cunning idea of squeezing the meat out of sausages which makes the filling denser (in a good way) and delicious! I added some other bits and bobs I found in the fridge, and - though I don’t want to blow my own trumpet - they were frigging delicious!

Cooking them in the oven (rather than boiling them) was definitely a good plan. Boiling the packets in water would’ve soaked away some of the soy-Mirin sauce the beancurd pockets were soaked in. And cooking them turned the beancurd sheets into buttery, delicious, squidgy-soft pockets of joy.

I’ve put the recipe below. And also the recipe for the gochujang-rice stuffed bean curd parcels I made tonight because….well, because I had some leftover sushi rice in the fridge, and some leftover bean curd pockets too.

If I was only going to make one of the two recipes, I’d definitely go for the pork ones. But these deep fried beancurd sheets are pretty much designed for experimentation-and could be stuffed with all sorts for the tastiest dim sum.
Ifyou have any ideas, or have cooked with these before, please do let me know in the comments section at the bottom…I want to know more!!

Pork-stuffed deep fried beancurd sheets
5 deep fried beancurd sheets (there were 10 in the pack)
3 normal pork sausages
2 tablespoons of kimchi, finely chopped
4 mushrooms, finely chopped
1.5 teaspoons of chilli bean sauce
Handful of wilted spinach (or a few defrosted blocks)
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce

Squeeze the sausages out if their skins. Out them in a mixing bowl, and stir in the other ingredients.

Stuff the mixture into the deep-fried beancurd packets. Put them on a roasting tray, and put them in a preheated oven at 180c for 20minutes. Check they’re cooked through, and serve with a dipping pot of soy

If, dear readers, I’m being totally honest with you, then I should reveal that I also put the remaining 5 sausages on the roasting tray, so when the sausages cooked, they released all that lovely sausage fat, and made the deep-fried beancurd sheets even more buttery and oily and naughtily delicious! No good for my physical well being. Excellent for my mental well being.

Gochujang rice-stuffed deep fried beancurd sheets
5 deep fried beancurd sheets (remaining 5 in the pack of 10!)
250g pre-cooked sushi rice
1 teaspoon gochujang chilli paste
1/2 teaspoon doenjang paste
1 egg yolk

Mix the go gochujang and doenjang with the rice and egg yolk. Stuff the deep fried bean curd sheets and put in a pre-heated oven for 180c for 15 minutes.

Serve with a dipping pot of light soy.

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There are lots of reasons that people cook. Apparently you have to make a trifle for Home Economics GCSE. Pasta and pesto is for quick suppers. Lamb is for Sunday lunch. Simnel cakes get made at Easter. And I make gries schmarn when I’m ill. Marmalade on toast is for when you can’t be bothered. Omelettes are when there aren’t enough ingredients, and stir fries are for leftovers. Fruit salads are for detoxing and flapjacks are for indulging.

What’s funny is that for all the squillions of reasons that people cook, one reason that’s rarely cited is just the pure act of being sociable. In so many counteies, the very preparation of food is just as important as the actual eating. In Morocco, women still gather to make couscous, in Italy villages still gather to press olives. Preparing for Indian weddings involve whole communities, and round the world family gatherings are dictated by the harvests, when everyone turns up and chips in to help.

In England though, there’s a secretiveness about food preparation. Perhaps we’ve all watched too much Come Dine With Me, where you’re marked down if you’re away from the table too long. Dinner parties need to be magiced out of a hat, and families turn up to eat when the food is on the table.

And it’s sad, because there’s something so enjoyable about talking and cooking. Its like the conversations you had in art lessons at school - when you’re part painting and part philosophising (or gossiping) - the brain is perfectly split, and neither activity is compromised.

So when my friend Rose came round for supper, we decided to make gyoza dumplings (or potsticker dumplings). They’re fiddley and they’re time consuming. But they’re quite enjoyable to make - and delicious to eat. And it’s far more constructive drinking gin and gossiping and making dumplings than it is drinking gin and gossiping and sitting on the sofa.

This isn’t a recipe I’d recommend that you throw together for a quick mid-week supper. But if you fancy indulging in a bit of cooking time, and making something a bit special, then this is a great recipe. And it really does taste of as much love as goes into making it.

Potsticker dumplings, makes about 15

125ml boiling water
140g plain flour

100g minced pork
1 teaspoon Lee Kum Kee chilli bean sauce
30g wilted spinach
2 garlic cloves, crushed
6 spring onions, finely chopped
4 chestnut mushrooms, finely diced
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon dark soy

Pour the boiling water into a measuring jug. Put it on the scales. Tare, and then measure in the flour. Mix with a chopstick. Then get your hands involved-squish it into a ball, and knead for five minutes, or so, until it’s smooth.

Mix together the minced pork, bean sauce, wilted spinach, garlic, mushrooms, spring onions, sesame oil and dark soy.

Then roll the pastry into one long sausage. Cut it into 15-20 pieces, or however gyoza dumplings you intend to make.

One by one, take a piece of pastry, and roll it into a thin circle. Almost thin-enough so you can see through it….but thick enough so it’s still easy to handle, and it won’t split as soon as you put the filling inside it. Take a circle pastry cutter/ravioli cutter (or, in may case, a rosti ring, about 4cm across), and use it to cut a circle in the pastry.

Arrange a teaspoonful of the mixture on half of the pastry circle….

And then fold the other side over, scrimping together the edges with your fingers to make a kind of mini-Cornish pasty shape.

Repeat until either all the pastry or all the filling is used up. Or, if you’ve judged it perfectly, until both are used up simultaneously.

Heat a thin layer of groundnut oil or vegetable oil in a frying pan, and fry one side of the gyoza dumplings. This shouldn’t take too long, because the pastry is so thin - just imagine, it wouldn’t take any time at all to brown the outside of a piece of fresh ravioli….

Once both sides of the gyoza dumplings are golden and crispy, pour about 1.5cm depth of boiling water into the frying pan. Beware, when the water hits the oil, it will spit like hell. But what you’re doing is stopping the pastry outside from frying on an intense heat, and turning the cooking more into a measured steam which will reach the porky inside of the dumpling, and give the pastry more of a steamy chewiness.

After anywhere between 4-6 minutes, the water will be on its way to all evaporating off. Take an experimental dumpling, and check that the pork mince is cooked all the way through to the centre. Once you’re happy, transfer the dumplings onto a plate or platter, and serve with a dipping pot of light soy.

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