Wednesday 12 December 2007

Recipe: Stuffed Cabbage Leaves

A very good high-days-and-holidays recipe, this dish tastes good, presents well, and can be prepared to final cooking stage several hours in advance - so lends itself to a dinner or lunch party when you don't want to find yourself stuck in the kitchen rather than with your guests. Goes particularly well with any dark meat or poultry: Beef, Duck, Goose, Venison......

For Six.

Ingredients: 1 large Carrot; half a Celeriac (approximately 500g in weight); 1 oz Butter (or Duck or Goose fat, if you have it); 1 teaspoon of dried Thyme; 1 small head of Broccoli; 6 Brussels Sprouts; 1 Savoy Cabbage; Salt & Pepper.


1. Put a large pan of salted water to boil.

2. Peel the Carrot & Celeriac, and cut them into small (about half centimetre) dice. Melt the Butter (or Fat) in a frying pan, and add the diced vegetables and the Thyme to the pan, turning them in the melted Butter several times, then leave to cook over a medium heat while you prepare the other vegetables.

3. Cut the Broccoli florets off their stalk and blanch in the boiling salted water for two minutes. Remove them from the water using a slotted spoon, and put into a colander to drain.

4. Trim the Brussels Sprouts, and cook for four minutes in the boiling water, then remove these also to the colander.

5. Strip the leaves from the Cabbage, and blanch for one minute in the water before removing - you need to end up with six good leaves.

6. Slice each of the Sprouts into four or five pieces, and cut the Broccoli florets into pieces the same size as the pieces of Sprout. Carefully mix these together in a bowl (don't overwork it - you don't want them to go to a mush), and add the cooked Carrot and Celeriac, which should be good and tender by this stage. Check the seasoning and correct as necessary.

7. Make six double-layered squares of cling-film, about 6" x 6" each. In the centre of each one place a blanched Cabbage leaf, from which the central spine has been mostly removed, and on top of that put one-sixth of the vegetable mixture. Bring the edges of the Cabbage leaf up around the filling, and then pull the cling-film up around the whole thing, twisting the cling-film tightly together, to make a tight little bundle. At this stage, you can set the bundles aside until you're ready for the final cooking.

8. For final cooking, place the bundles in the top part of a steamer, and steam over boiling water with the lid on for eight minutes. Serve at once, by carefully untwisting the top of the cling-film, inverting the bundle onto the plate, and peel away the plastic, to leave a plump and perfect parcel, with a flavour bomb inside.

Sunday 9 December 2007

Book of the Year......

It seems that everybody goes in for this as the end of the year approaches, so I suppose I'd better throw in my six penn'orth, and shout about My Book of 2007.....

In fact, this isn't one book, but the two books which have (so-far) been produced by one person: Galton Blackiston. My parents went for lunch at Morston Hall (Galton Blackiston's Norfolk restaurant) to mark my father's not-quite-'zero' birthday in June, with the end result that I received copies of both volumes of GB's oeuvre downhill of that lunch - which was apparently excellent in every way. I have to confess, I'd never heard of him before - although when I googled him, he seems quite high-profile... (a result of not having a TV, I suppose - a lot of this stuff passes one by!)

I was initially discouraged by the enthusiastic puffs for these books from Delia Smith and Simon Hopkinson respectively - and, to be honest, the appearance of their names writ large on the front covers would normally have dissuaded me from looking further, had I merely seen them on the shelves in a bookshop. This is one occasion, however, when a man shouldn't be judged by the company he keeps........and my initial lukewarm reaction was soon and very definitely overcome.

Quite a few months after they arrived, neither book has actually made it to the bookshelf, since they've been pretty much 'in use' for that entire period. I've now worked my way through a significant chunk of 'A Return to Real Cooking...' and am making forays also into 'Cooking at Morston Hall..' and have found the experience very rewarding, and definitely more-ish. There have been a couple of rather ordinary things - his meat section leaves me rather cold - but only one distinct thumbs-down (a Parsley Salad, which read well on the page but in practice was almost inedible - but then he attributes it to Simon Hopkinson anyway, so my case rests...) and a number of things which have been really very good indeed: Crab Tart, where the introduction of sautéed spring onion between the white Crab custard layer, and the brown meat which lines the tart shell adds a whole dimension to the dish; Cod, baked with a Herb Crust, with a thin coating of horseradish sauce between the fillet and the crust - delicious! The vegetable section in both books is excellent, as are his chapters on fish. Desserts are good - reliable and mouth-watering - and the peripheral stuff which focuses on things like breads and biscuits are very good indeed.

For a time, I found myself wondering quite what it is about these recipes that I like so much - and in advance of actually recommending them, I think I've managed to pin down my reasons..... to a degree. Without being particularly creative or innovative, Galton Blackiston has an ability to identify what is essentially good about a dish - flavours, textures, combinations - and then sets out exactly how to produce the dish in a way which plays to its strengths. He's that unusual being: a great recipe writer - the recipes in his books are no-nonsense, practical descriptions of how to achieve very good results with efficient use of both time and resources. Additionally unusual is the sense one gets that he has learned much in his years in a restaurant kitchen, and is faithfully transcribing that knowledge and experience onto the page - translated (and tested) for use in a domestic environment.

I've already got a lot of pleasure from these books, and with more yet to come. Highly, highly recommended.......

Tonight's Dinner: Sarah's responsibility, in Dolphin Square.