Saturday 2 June 2007

Saving Time..........

Three ways to save time on regular kitchen tasks. Pomiane would have approved.

1. When making mashed potatoes, don't peel them before you boil them. Boil them in their skins, then, once cooked, cut them in half; place the potato half in the ricer, cut side down, and push through the ricer disc as normal. The cooked potato goes through the holes, and the skin stays in the ricer. Dispose of the potato skin, and then Da Capo with the next potato until all have been efficiently processed, ready to have milk, egg, seasoning and butter beaten into them (which is how mashed potatoes are made in this house, at any rate). Simple, no?

2. Never wash a roasting pan or baking tray again! Always line them before use with a piece of aluminium foil, which you then treat as you would the base of the pan or tray, and once you've finished cooking, simply throw the foil away, and put the cooking utensil back in the cupboard.

3. When a recipe calls for freshly-squeezed lemon juice, rather than faffing around with one of those fiddly citrus presses - which have teeth designed to catch the pips and a bit where the juice is captured, with a spout for subsequently decanting it into a separate container - simply cut the lemon in half, hold a hand sieve over whatever it is you're cooking, and squeeze the lemon half by hand directly through the strainer and into the bowl or pan beneath. Much less trouble, and much less time.

Tonight's Dinner (post Cinema):

Asparagus, with Hollandaise.

Lamb Steaks, grilled, with Mushrooms and Shallots.

Posset of Apricots and Sherry-infused Cream.

Thursday 31 May 2007

Recipe: Duck with prunes

I was inspired to do this last weekend, by the fact that at the butchers two duck breasts were going to cost £8, whilst an entire Gressingham would cost only £12. No-brainer. I did the usual thing with the breasts, and used the carcase and giblets for stock - but for some reason, on this occasion the amount of fat I rendered was insufficient to confit the legs and wings. Hence the following....

For Four:

Ingredients: 4 Duck Legs (wing tips as well, if you want); 12 dried prunes, soaked for 2 hours in 3/4 pint of tea (Orange Pekoe is good, but 'Lady Grey' will do just as well); 150g lardons; 1 large Onion, sliced; 3 cloves Garlic; half a teaspoon of Salt; 1/4 teaspoon of pepper; 1 teaspoon dried thyme (or a sprig of fresh); 1 tablespoon Dijon Mustard; 1 tablespoon Red Wine Vinegar; 450 ml Red Wine; 350 ml Duck Stock; 3 medium Carrots. Chopped Parsley.
Start this recipe the day before you plan to eat it. It needs to rest overnight and be gently re-heated before being served.
1. Pre-heat Oven to 150 degrees C.
2. In a large, heavy pan, saute the lardons over high heat for five minutes, until well browned, then remove to a casserole.
3. Use the same pan to saute the Duck pieces, turning frequently to ensure they are well-browned all over (this should take about ten minutes), then remove these also to the casserole.
4. If the Duck has thrown off a lot of fat, pour all but two tablespoons out of the pan, then soften the sliced Onion in the fat, and add the onion also to the casserole.
5. Deglaze the frying pan over high heat with the Mustard, Vinegar and a slug of the wine, scraping over the base of the pan with a wooden spoon in order to loosen all of the cooking residue. Pour the contents of the pan into the casserole, and add to this the Garlic (finely chopped), Thyme, and Salt & Pepper. Cut the carrots in half lengthwise and then crosswise, and add these also to the casserole.
6. On the hob, bring the casserole to boiling point, then reduce the heat and simmer it for five minutes or so, before covering it, and placing it in the oven. Cook for an hour and a half.
7. Allow to cool down, then refrigerate overnight. On the following day, carefully spoon off all of the solidified surface fat. Gently reheat the contents of the pan; then remove the Duck pieces to a heated platter, and keep warm under foil in a warm oven while you make a sauce by taking the cooking liquid and reducing it fiercely in a small saucepan, to thicken to coating consistency (use a little arrowroot if this is taking too long).
8. Gently re-heat the prunes in their soaking liquid, then drain (if you have soaked them earlier, once they have soaked for two hours, keep the prunes and the liquid separately, but use the soaking liquid for re-heating the prunes just before serving).
8. Put the prunes on one side of the platter with the Duck pieces, and the carrots on the other side , and spoon the lardons over the Duck. Carefully spoon some of the sauce over the duck, placing the remainder in a sauce-boat. Serve sprinkled with chopped Parsley.

Tuesday 29 May 2007

Techniques: Phyllo Pastry Shells

Several years ago I discovered the huge range of possibilities that result from making pastry shells from Phyllo, rather than from either shortcrust or Pate Sucre. The end result is both light and entirely reliable, as well as being supremely dietarily sound. As a matter of course these days, any recipe I come across that calls for pastry of any kind, I automatically transcribe to be usable with phyllo. The following is the basic process I follow. This is to make two pastry shells; for more shells, simply multiply the ingredients pro rata.

1. Grease two individual false-bottomed flan tins. Pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees C. Melt 1 oz Butter over very low heat.

2. Use the melted Butter to brush two sheets of Phyllo, each one approximately 12" x 6". With a sharp knife, then cut each rectangle into two squares.

3. Place one square of Phyllo buttered-side-up over the rim of a false-bottomed tin and gently ease it into the tin, being careful not to tear it. Then work your way round the tin, folding the edges of the pastry over to make as neat an edge as you can, as close to the actual shape of the tin as possible. Once one square has been folded in this way, take a second square and repeat the process as a second layer on top of the first one. When you have completed this with all tins, use any leftover melted butter to brush the inside of the uncooked Pastry shells.

4. I used to put weights into the shells at this point, as one would for blind baking a shortcrust shell, but have discovered that with phyllo it really isn't necessary. Normally, I scatter some slivered almonds over the bottom layer of phyllo, and before I put the second layer on top - which both gives added crispness and flavour to the finished shell, but also seems to help to stick the two layers together during cooking, and stops any unwelcome air bubbles from manifesting themselves.

5. Place in the pre-heated oven and bake for approximately five minutes. Remove from the oven when the visible edges of the shells appear to be going brown. Remove the foil and the weights, and return the shells to the oven for an additional five minutes or so.

6. Once the shells are properly brown, remove from the oven, and use therafter as your recipe requires.

Monday 28 May 2007

Recipe: Honey & Apricot Strudel

Serves Ten.

Ingredients: 50g Dried Pear*; 150g Dried Apricot*; 100g Butter; 7 sheets Phyllo, each 12" x 6"; 200g Cream Cheese or Ricotta**; 25g plain Flour; 1 teaspoon Vanilla Essence; pinch of Salt; grated rind from half a Lemon; 2 Eggs; 150g Sour Cream; 25g Flour; 80g clear Honey; 40g crushed Hazelnuts, toasted.

* these days 'dried' fruit is normally actually quite succulent, and so needs no soaking; if you have old-fashioned dry fruit, however, this will need to be soaked overnight, but ensure that it is merely soft and not soggy before you use it.
**in its original form, the recipe uses Quark cheese, which is not readily available in these parts; cream cheese or ricotta are close substitutes, and will work, but they are both denser than Quark and so slightly compromise the effect of the beaten egg-white. The effect is slightly more solid than the original would have been, but is nevertheless delicious.


1. Pre-Heat oven to 160 degrees C.

2. Chop the dried fruit briefly in the food processor - be careful not to reduce the fruit to a pulp; the pieces should still be clearly visible as pieces - then mix with the Sour Cream and the Flour.

3. Cream together the Cheese, 60g of the Butter, Vanilla Essence, Salt and grated Lemon Rind. Separate the Eggs, leaving the whites in another bowl, and amalgamate the egg yolks into the creamed mixture, one at a time. Once properly amalgamated, thoroughly mix in the Dried Fruit and Sour Cream mixture.

4. Beat the Egg Whites until stiff, then add 30g Honey and continue to beat until completely incorporated. Add half of this to the Fruit and Cheese mixture, then carefully fold in the rest.

5. Melt the remaining Butter. Make a rectangle with four of the Phyllo sheets, and brush with melted Butter, then place the remaining three sheets crosswise over the first four sheets, and brush these also with Melted Butter.

6. Spread the Fruit & Cheese mixture thinly over about half of the Phyllo, leaving a two inch gap around the edge. Fold this edge in, over the filling, and then carefully roll the entire thing up, swiss-roll style, to make a neat 'log'. Place this, seam-side down on a greased baking sheet, and brush with any melted butter you have left over.

7. Bake 5o minutes in the pre-heated oven. After 40 minutes, gently spoon the remaining Honey over the surface, and dot with toasted Hazelnuts, before returning to the oven for the remaining ten minutes.

As ever, excellent eaten either warm from the oven, or else cold the following day. The hardest thing with this recipe is to stop yourself from eating too much of the mixture along the way, as part of the tasting process!