Monday, 27 January 2014

Time to see the boys :)

Six nations rugby starts at the weekend and a much awaited invitation to pop round my friends house for a 'rugby soiree' arrived. This can only mean two things. Time to have the Michael taken and time to make bacon. It has been a while since the last clan gathering so the sous vide was not in play then. Time to add to the mix.

The sous vide is a great toy for food creations but a must for mixollogy unless you are into liquid nitrogen. Remembering that the boys like their rum cocktails I decided to knock up a litre of something beyond a mojito. The weekends sojourn to the market had rewarded me with, amongst other things, limes, lemon grass, basil and mint. A short stop at the supermarket added to the potential with a litre of supermarket bargain basement white rum. A good bunch of mint, 3 crushed (a steak tenderiser did the job well) lemon grass stalks, three stalks of basil, the rind from three limes and the juice from one, a ziplock bag and a litre of rum took a bath together at 60C for an hour and a half (longer means stronger flavour). I let this cool over night and then strained it back into the bottle for delivery to the glass on Saturday. A few chefs perks came my way and a touch of fresh mint, a touch of fresh lime and some ice (possibly sugar if you have a sweet tooth) will see us well on the way to a Caribbean feel to a cold, wet day of watching the rugby.

My friend has promised us plenty of food so I will not be on point to produce home made bacon sandwiches this time but I thought I might just drag along a few vacpack slices of home made bacon to help with the morning after. 500grams of salt, and the same of muscavado sugar, two vanilla pods, half a nutmeg  and a good teaspoon of fresh ground black pepper went into the blender with two tablespoons of maple syrup. A handful of this underneath and on top of a good looking back joint of pork every day for the next 5 days will see a great bit of bacon rinsed in water then washed in some malt vinegar ready to hang in an airy and dry place until Saturday morning before being sliced and packed. Happy eating boys.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Sunday roast with a difference.

I managed to pick up a bargain in the supermarket again. I do so love it when they reduce their meat in perfect time for Sunday. A nice rack of lambs ribs with a garlic and lemon baste for slow cooking. Perfect if you have plenty to do and visitors too. Having prepared a nice caraway seed cake at breakfast so it was fresh for our visitors when they came round for afternoon tea and got our breakfast ready it was time to get things clean and tidy.

Once the decks were clear then I filleted the farmed turbot I also managed to get yesterday. I love it when the fish is fresh enough to still have the slime that indicates it is newly caught. These turbot did not disappoint. Thanks to a fish course down at Rick Steins some years ago I am more than capable of cleaning and filleting fish quickly and  efficiently. I soon had 8 good fillets that were soon vac packed with chunks of the watercress sauce I made up and froze yesterday. In short order there were two tasty meals in the freezer ready for a quick cook in the sous vide after a busy day at work.

With supper in a few hours the lamb went into the oven at 160C for some 3.5 hours. This will make it nice an succulent. Finally I had a little time to relax. A nice walk during one of the rare dry spells in the UK at the moment. An excellent pint of Hogs Back T.E.A (a local real ale) and it was time to head back to put the accompaniment to the lamb in the oven. Neither of us fancied a standard roast and a large butternut squash had arrived in the veg box on Friday so I decided to roast off half of the squash for an hour and fifteen minutes (45 minutes if it had been at 180C ) minutes. Meantime I quartered and sliced a good size leek and softened that off in a little olive oil. Once the squash was soft I scooped out the flesh. Mashed it with a little butter and pepper. Mixed in the leek, some walnuts (50g) and some Stilton cheese (80g) . The lamb was taken out of the oven and given some time to rest. Meanwhile I re-filled the butternut squash skin with the mixture and returned it to the oven at 180C for a further 15 minutes. A quick gravy to coat the meat and it was time to serve up. I poured a teaspoon of maple syrup over each of the butternut squash portions and we were ready to eat.

I've always liked the term unctuous when directed at food. It conjures up a creamy or luxuriantly oily dish. This was exactly that. The creamy butternut squash and the Stilton made for a soft and very creamy accompaniment for a delicious cut of lamb.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Market day and a good mood

Woke early this morning and felt like it might be a cooking day. We rose gently, some pain au chocolat and a delicious (large) cup of spiced tea set me up for the short walk to the local market. There is a great fruit and veg stall there. On the front of the long stall is all the fruit and veg most of us would recognise. Behind that, set out behind the staff serving the customers is another long display of the exotics. Methi leaves, galangal, chillies, mooli, okra and dozens of other items I have yet to play with and learn their names. My basket was soon filled with herbs, peppers, asparagus, rhubarb and a whole lot more including a large bowl of oyster mushrooms.

We returned home with our purchases just in time for lunch. I put a pan on the heat and sweated off some sliced onion with minced garlic. Meantime I hammered out two small rump steaks ready for flash frying. Once the onions were browning I added a small amount of red wine to colour  the onions and added a handful of the oyster mushrooms to cook through for a minute or so. I then set this aside, wiped the pan and put it back on a high heat. A touch of oil and butter soon started to smoke telling me it was time to fry off the steak. A minute or so each side had the meat nicely coloured. I had toasted off some fresh chunks of grand paysan bread ready to take the steaks. Once the pan was clear, a dash more of red wine deglazed the pan. In went the onions and mushrooms to mix in with this flavoursome jus for a second or two before being doled out onto the steaks. A quick spread of good English mustard on the top section of the bread and the steak sandwiches were ready.

The rest of the day was spent cooking off the other goodies I had purchased. Two bunches of watercress and a good measure of creme fraiche were blended to a fine mix and poured into a tray in the freezer to set. I'll cut this into pieces later and put it into sous vide bags with filleted and rolled farmed turbot I picked up for £4 a fish. These will then be frozen ready for a quick but delicious meal later in the week.

I fried off a chopped onion, a stick of celery and two sliced garlic cloves in a large pan. A litre and a half of vegetable stock was added and the remainder of the oyster mushrooms, some thyme and parsley. 15 minutes of simmering followed before I used the Bamix to blend this to a thick mushroom soup. 400ml of creme fraiche was also blended in to make a delicious and warming meal for later in the week. Enough for six large and filling bowls. They are now ziplock bagged and cooling ready for the freezer.

With all that cooking out of the way all that is left to do is to clear down the kitchen, set the dishwasher off. Put some potatoes, swede and cabbage on to cook along with the Haggis. Sit back with a nice scotch and look forwards to a pleasant Burns night in front of the fire while a storm beats on the windows outside.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Torch it.

I know I bang on about sous vides but they are to cooking in the 21st century what microwaves were to the 20th. Time and money saving devices that, when used correctly, can be a boon to both budget and taste. How many of us have used our microwave to soften butter ready for a sponge rather than killing ourselves trying to soften fridge bricks of butter and creaming it into sugar?

Sure, the sous vide is not cheap. You can pick up a basic model from Robert Dyas for £99 but, if you want a comfortable new machine for the kitchen then you need to invest around £250 on something like a sous vide supreme home machine. Trust me, used properly, it will pay for itself.

This weekend I happened to spot a rolled and boned half lamb shoulder at the supermarket at a greatly reduced price of £2.84. Purchased and brought home it went into a vac pac bag (these machines are around £50 but, again, save a fortune as you vac pack cooked meats etc.). Along with the lamb I put a sprig of rosemary, thyme, some basil and the peel of a clementine. I added two star anise pods and a touch of olive oil (just a teaspoon). The sous vide was set at 54C and in went the bag for 24 hours or so. Tonight, I took out this raw looking package.

Once cut open, the kitchen was flooded with a rich aroma of orange and herbs. I removed the herbs and peel and was left with this unappetising lump.

Now, the secret of sous vide, browning. You can either brown the meat by searing in a very hot pan before cooking or, as I am getting to prefer, searing the meat post sous vide with either a very hot skillet or, as in this case, by using a good blowtorch. After just a minute or two under a flame that can melt silver the slightly more appetising result:

Perfectly cooked lamb that was tasty, tender and pink. After the addition of a vegetables cooked off in the 20th century cooking revolution you have a hot and tasty meal in minutes (I don't count the long and hot bath in the sous vide as cooking time) .

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Tuna with basil butter - Perfect supper

I woke up this morning with a need to create something a bit tasty for supper tonight. I was fed up with the constant rain and wanted something to lift the gloom. Tuna was my first choice. Lighter than a meat based meal and I can almost always pick up a great cut of it in town. After a quick scan on the net I found a recipe to fuel the imagination and set off for the shops to see what ingredients I could find. A short while later I returned with tuna, basil, fennel and some extra virgin olive oil.

A few hours later, after the chores were out of the way and we had enjoyed a couple of good 'afternoon' films to help occupy our time as the rain returned, I set about cooking supper. I seasoned two half inch thick tuna steaks and put them in individual ziplock bags with a cup of olive oil and some fresh basil leaves. These went into the sous vide at 43C for about 40 minutes. Meanwhile, I dug out my food processor and popped a good handful of basil, a couple of garlic cloves and about 50 grams of unsalted butter in.Once blended, I pitched the resulting mix into some grease proof paper and formed it into a cylinder and popped it into the freezer for a while to set a little. I now prepared the fennel bulb. I cut it into quarters and popped it into a pan of salted boiling water to soften. Once it was tender (after about 10 minutes) I drained it. Put the fennel core quarters to one side on some kitchen paper to dry a little. At this point I put a couple of cast iron skillets on the gas to heat to a good searing temperature. The remaining fennel was pureed using the Bamix.

I put a little groundnut oil in one skillet and caramelized the fennel cores. While this cooked I removed the tuna from the sous vide and opened the bags. The Tuna was placed in the very hot skillet to sear. I turned the tuna after a minute or so and then, once the other side was seared, I placed a good knob of the basil butter on each steak and served up.

The result was fantastic. A succulent tuna steak wit h the peppery basil butter with some fresh lemon rind to cut the butter was well balanced with the pureed fennel and the caramelized fennel heart. A little fresh lemon juice helped to cut the richness of the dish but it is a simple and filling recipe I will be repeating in the future.

Sunday, 12 January 2014

The Cheek of it

After a pleasant weekend in West Wales helping my mother to celebrate her birthday I faced a 5 hour drive and the thoughts of cooking a meal at the end of it. I had booked us into Hammet House for a celebratory meal yesterday and knew I would want something exciting but simple upon our return tonight.  With that in mind, I put two good sized pork cheeks into the sous vide on Friday morning at 62.5 C to while away the weekend in a hot bath.

Before their immersion I had generously dusted both of the cheeks with plenty of five spice. Today, once I had retrieved them from the water, I opened the bags and the scent of the five spice filled the kitchen. I set the pork cheeks aside for a short while and put the spicy liquid from the bags into a pan over a medium heat. To this I added a finely chopped red chili, an inch of julienned fresh ginger, two cloves of fresh minced garlic and a small onion, halved and thinly sliced.  I added a tablespoon of agave syrup, dark soy sauce and a splash of rice wine vinegar. I increased the heat and reduced the sauce. In the mean time I heated a wok and prepared some egg fried rice. Whilst this cooked through, I thickly sliced the pork cheeks and added them to the sauce, turning the slices to coat them . Finally I added some sliced lettuce to add a little colour and served the pork on top of the rice. The result was the comforting and spicy dish I sought to relax me into my Sunday evening.

I will write up my notes from the meal at Hammet house later in the week but appetite sated and wine sitting in the glass I will leave you for now and enjoy the rest of my evening.