desperance: (Default)
Yesterday I wanted to cook chicken for dinner; so I went back to The Prettiest Little Cookbook in California(TM), aka Purple Citrus & Sweet Perfume, and found a recipe that I was happy not so much to follow as to stroll along beside, as I do (in a sort of "well, I don't have any of that, so I'll do this instead; and put these things in the salad, rather than those; and do the potatoes my way, of course, not yours, Silvena..." and like that). But the recipe called for chicken breasts, and I have no truck with that, I bought a whole chicken; and detached what a retailer would call the crown, viz the breasts still on the ribcage, which left the legs-and-wings-and-back-and-parson's-nose all of another piece. Which I laid skin-side-up on a baking tray and put on a lower shelf of the oven with nothing but a grind of salt and pepper over it while I baked the crown above in mustard and sugar and orange juice, as per recipe, more or less.

And dinner was really nice, but what I am most pleased by is the trayful beneath, which came out looking flat and golden and crispy and delicious, and reminded me of something - which I have now tracked down, and it is the flattened dried salted ducks that Chinese groceries sell as discs, as per this photo (which I ganked from this website, which promotes a place called Cabramatta, which is in New South Wales, very close to a town called Chipping Norton, which is almost certainly entirely unlike the town called Chipping Norton very close to which I was educated, in so far as etc etc):


Which ducks I used to see in Newcastle, and somehow never quite bought, shame on me; but thinking about them did lead me to write a story long ago in the waybackwhen, "One For Every Year He's Away, She Said," which was published in a magazine that rose and died quite promptly, so that I never can actually remember what it was called; but I do have a copy, and I do mean to scan or rekey the story (of course I no longer have an electronic text, no: it was, what, fifteen years ago? Whatever format I wrote it in, under whatever system; whatever medium I stored it on: long gone or inaccessible. People, learn from me. Archive. Archive and organise and keep track. And make sure that you will still be able to read your archives. I have thoroughly labelled disks in accessible formats and I still can't read them, because they're WordStar or early WordPerfect and my current systems don't even remember hearing about those) and republish it. Along with everything else that I mean to do. That I thought I would be doing, now that I have no current contract and nothing more obvious to be getting on with. Hey-ho. I am myself something of a flat chicken, apparently.
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I've wanted Purple Citrus and Sweet Perfume by Silvena Rowe ever since it came out in the UK, a couple of years back. It's my ideal cookbook: lovely to look at, full of flavourful and interesting recipes and my favourite ways to eat.

I finally bought a copy a month ago in Santa Cruz, yay. And have been fondling it gently ever since, and not actually, y'know, cooking out of it. Certainly I hadn't planned to use it today. I was going to be busy today; we'd eat leftovers.

Only then it got mentioned in a comment, and then I remembered that Karen was going to yoga tonight after work with some friends (not me! I am resisting manfully: I might love being superfluid with my ankles tucked behind my ears, but I would hate the process of getting there, and it's all about the process, so), and I thought, "Hummus. Hummus is healthy. I shall make her hummus." And I opened the Rowe and yup, she has a recipe for hummus; and of course hummus is lovely but it doth not a dinner make, so I browsed the salads, and found a recipe for shrimp with an avocado/tahini sauce, and we have avocadi and you can't make hummus without tahini, so...

So yeah, there will be shrimps and salad and sauces and hummus and toast. I didn't quite have time to sort out a recipe for pita bread. But I did send her off to yoga with a big tub of hummus for our friends. I love this thing where you can give food away, and people are pleased rather than offended. It means I can carry on over-catering without a qualm.
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As loyal focused readers will remember, I toasted all the bread in the world two days ago, and ate it up. Yum yum.

Which meant, of course, that there wasn't any bread for yesterday (bread was rising, but my sourdough process takes all day and the day before) and Karen was working from home, so I needed to feed her.

As those of you with deep memories will remember, when I was in Provence a couple of years back we went to a restaurant where the speciality was pasta with sage and whisky, flambeed inside a giant cartwheel parmesan cheese. I've recreated that at home without the cartwheel (I have to do it in a saucepan, sigh), and as I have a giant thriving broad-leaved sage in the garden here, my first thought was to do it again.

Only then I remembered that I only had fabulous whisky, and I just ain't doing it with that.

So I thought okay, butter, then: sage butter is a classic with pasta. Fusilli and sage butter and parmesan, sounds like a lunch to me.

And then I thought, I have some mushrooms. Mushrooms and fusilli and sage butter and parmesan. Sounds like a lunch.

Garlic. Garlic and mushrooms. And fusilli and sage butter and parmesan.

Bacon. Bacon and garlic and mushrooms and...

So what I did, I fried sage leaves in butter until they were crisp, and set them aside.

In another pan I fried bacon in its own fat until it was crisp, and set it aside.

In another pan I boiled fusilli until it was al dente, and set it aside.

Going back to an earlier pan, I fried mushrooms in garlic and butter and olive oil; then I added the pasta; then I added the bacon. There may have been more butter, also salt and pepper.

Then everything went into a bowl and I stirred in grated parmesan, and scattered the sage leaves on top.

Let's just say there weren't any leftovers.


Jun. 13th, 2012 01:04 pm
desperance: (Default)
One spare recipe makes a post, right? Cathyn asked me how I made my marmalade, and I told him; and then I thought, two birds with one stone, post it for everyone.

So: this is my process which is mine, developed through long ages (well, two years? Maybe three?). Technically this is an Oxford marmalade (viz Seville oranges and quite long cooking), but I think it would adapt to other citric fruits.

First, wash and weigh your fruits. Remember that figure.

Now put them in a big heavy pot and cover them with water. Remember that they probably float, so don't be deceived into adding too much water (but don't worry about it either; if you have to cook off extra water, you just get darker richer marmalade). Boil the whole fruits for an hour, then leave them soaking in that same water overnight.

Next day, fish them out and leave the liquid in the pan. Lay doubled-over muslin or cheesecloth in a colander over a bowl. Cut each fruit in half, scoop out all the innards - flesh and seeds together - and dump same in the colander.

Take sugar equal to the original weight of fruit (you did remember that figure, right?), stir it into the liquid in the pan, and set it over a very low flame. Stir occasionally, while you go back to the hollow rinds of your boiled fruit.

Cut each rind into shreds, depending how chunky you like your marmalade, and add those to the pan. Keep stirring to help the sugar dissolve. (You can also warm the sugar in a low oven before you add it; that helps too. I used to buy confectioners' sugar in the UK, but I can't find it over here. Don't buy the stuff with pectin added; you do not need extra pectin. Trust me on this.)

Tie up all the scooped innards in their muslin or cheesecloth, to make a bag of it. Squeeeeze out all the liquid you can, into the bowl beneath (which will already have caught a lot of drippings). Add that liquid to the pan; then add the bag of innards. Retain the colander in the empty bowl; you will need it later.

Don't let the liquid boil until the sugar has dissolved. Once you're happy that it has, bring the thing to a vigorous boil. Stir it often. If you have a thermometer, bring it up to 220-odd degrees, the setting point for jam. Whether you do or not, test it anyway on a cold saucer (see internet for details). Once it starts wrinkling, it's ready. If you're making lime marmalade, test early and often; lime seems willing to set before it should be ready.

Once it's at the setting point, turn off the heat and let it sit undisturbed for ten minutes (this helps prevent all the peel from floating to the surface in the jar. Don't ask me why, but it does). Meanwhile, fish out the bag of innards (carefully! boiling sugar! very hot innards!), set it in the colander and squeeeeeze out as much liquid as you can, using a wooden spoon or a spatula or anything except your bare hands for the purpose.

Empty all that extra liquid back into the pan; it's not just full of flavour, it's full of pectin too.

If there's any scum sitting on the surface of your pot, stir a lump of butter into it. That dissolves the scum. Don't ask me why.

Meanwhile, ever since you warmed the sugar in the oven, you've been sterilising jars in there too, right? See internet for details. Or you could just run them through a dishwasher cycle with no soap, that works too.

Fill your hot jars. Carefully. Apply clean lids - using oven gauntlets: not-quite-boiling sugar! very hot jars! - and allow to cool.

Wipe off any sticky spillage, label up and you're done.
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Really I'm only writing this up so that I can do it again on demand, if demanded.

I made blueberry buttermilk scones for breakfast. How American is that?

British people, look away now; I have no equivalents for you. Ceci n'est pas un recipe.

Put two cups of all-purpose flour in a bowl, and add three tablespoons of granulated sugar; also two heaped teaspoonfuls of baking powder. Grate in almost a full stick of salted frozen butter, sparing only that little bit that otherwise you'd grate your fingers. Mix it up. Add a thing of fresh blueberries.

Beat an egg with half a cup of buttermilk and a dash of vanilla extract. Working quickly and casually, mix that into the dry stuff, then tip it all out and knead it briefly into a rough dough. As soon as it holds together, shape it into a round and cut into wedgie scone-shapes.

Lay them on parchment paper or a Silpat silicon sheet on a baking tray, brush with buttermilk and scatter with sugar.

Bake at 375 degrees for twenty-five minutes or so, until golden brown and yummy.

Let cool a little if you can, before eating.
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Tonight I get to invent my supper. I have pigs' cheeks and mushrooms and onions and garlic and wine and cream, so that's easy. And once it's all stewed down into an unctuous gorgeousness (oh, and I might add a head of fennel too) then I shall put same into a dish and top with mashed potato and crisply goldenify the top and oh yes. I shall call it swineherd's pie, for obvious reasons (because "pigsty pie" sounds much less pleasant, since you ask).

Saag aloo

Jun. 7th, 2011 01:22 pm
desperance: (chillies)
In honesty, I've never been that wildly keen on restaurant/takeaway saag aloo. Which, being my only experience, meant that I'd never thought to make it.

Last night, though, we had leftover lamb curry; and there were new potatoes, and there was spinach, so...

So I did this, and to be entirely honest? I think it is much, much nicer than any saag aloo I've ever eaten. As witness the fact that I can't stop eating the cold leftovers this morning...

Here's what I did:

Halve your new potatoes lengthwise (don't ask me about quantities: there might have been twenty. Or thereabouts), and simmer in salted water until tender. Drain, and allow to cool.

Slice a large onion and fry in oil 'til soft and a little coloured. Add a couple of cloves of garlic, crushed and chopped, and an inch or so of finely slivered ginger. Add a teaspoon of cumin, half a teaspoon of turmeric, a teaspoon of garam masala (all measurements hugely approximate, dependent, etc). Sizzle sizzle.

Add the potatoes, and fry until golden. You may need a little more oil at this point.

When the spuds look gorgeous, toss in heaps of spinach, and keep tossing until it wilts.

desperance: (Default)
Okay, so this is what I did. With occasional illustrations!

First, I mixed 150g of an active sourdough starter with the same of tepid water and the same again of plain flour. Covered that over and sat it in a corner and ignored it for a few hours, until it was all risen and excited.

Then I creamed 100g of grated butter (because I had forgotten to take it out of the fridge and let it soften) and mixed that with a couple of eggs and a squirt of honey and a splash of vanilla extract. Then 100g of milk went in, and then the starter-mixture; and finally 350g of flour and 10g of salt.

Which all makes a really icky dough; Karen has never been so close to coming home to an unexpected present (KitchenAid mixers, at $150? It's a steal. I'd rather have a Kenwood Chef - the motors are much more powerful, the machines are much more flexible - but they don't seem to be available over here. And besides, $150...). But it's sourdough, and it doesn't really need much more than time to work; so I beat it about until my arm was tired, covered it and left it alone for a couple of hours, and beat it again, and by evening it was nicely risen and I could move on.

I had meanwhile made the filling: 100g of butter melted with 50g double cream and 150g dark sugar and a splash of vanilla extract. And the cinnamon! A couple of grams, I think. You could use more.

Set that aside to cool, and then flour a board and work your dough into a rectangle. Spread the filling over, roll it up and cut into slices. Like this:

cinnamon buns (process 01)

cinnamon buns (process 02)

Then lay the slices on a floured baking tray, like this:

cinnamon buns (process 04)

cinnamon buns (process 03)

You may make yours prettier and neater than mine, if you like. That'll be fine.

Cover the tray and leave it overnight. In the morning, you should have a trayful of risen doughy bunshapes.

Heat your oven to a medium/hot hotness (gas 6, or thereabouts; 400/200 in various electrickeries) and slide the tray into the middle thereof. Have a look after twenty minutes; give it twenty-five, and you should have golden buns. Take 'em out, pour melted butter all over 'em and begin to devour.

cinnamon bun
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Ooh, now...

I, who do not eat breakfast: I made myself a teeny-tiny toast of soda bread, and slathered it with butter, and applied marmalade thereunto.

To the eye? It is stiff, but not I think too stiff; it is golden-dark, with the emphasis a little more on gold. Coulda been darker, but I wasn't going to cheat with treacle, which is apparently how some people do it.

To the palate? Wow. It is all about the balance, balance in depth, with - to my taste - just enough sweetness to offset the bitter, and the bitter is why we use Sevilles in the first place. If you want a sweet flavour, use another fruit.

I was worried that I had overcooked the peel, but not by this sample. It was only a small sample, and maybe the more-resistant rises; I might need to test further down the jar. Without, somehow, making a habit of it.

In sum, then: I think this stuff is just lovely. I am excessively pleased with myself, and am going to buy more Sevilles in town today. And more muslin.

In other news, I have bitten my tongue. There may be a reason why I don't eat breakfast.
desperance: (Default)
I am as it happens a great lover of marmalade, but not a great eater thereof. I don't eat breakfast, you see: and it's so much a breakfast preserve, I am so very hidebound about these things, I barely get through one jar a year in cakes and puddings and such.

But. It's Seville-orange season, those lovely bitter things are in the shops, and I have failed to resist them. I shall make marmalade, and if it's any good I'll just have to give it away. Or make more cakes and puddings.

So - because I am after all Oxonian, and I wouldn't say it's the only kind worth eating, but, y'know: Oxford is Best - I went looking for recipes for Oxford marmalade.

And found many: and, y'know what? They're all different. Strikingly different. You should quarter the oranges, or peel them, or both, or neither. You should add lemons, or apples, or bananas, or none of the above. You should, or shouldn't, use black treacle. Or brown sugar. You should use an equal weight of sugar to oranges. Or double that, or less.

Etc, etc. Lacking any useful guidance, I am just inventing my own recipe based on no experience whatever. If it works, I'll record it here. If it doesn't, you will never hear of this again...
desperance: (Default)
Right. The ciabatta is baked [note to self: please stop believing other people about oven temperatures/times; you really do know better than they do] (why yes, it is a little on the dark side of golden, and somewhat crisper than is ideal for a slipper-loaf; how insightful of you!). The coq au vin (and I know no unsniggery anti-innuendo way to say this, but what the hell, I come from the land of the Carry On films: so pardon my bug eyes, but that is one really big cock) and the potato-and-beetroot gratin are in the oven, and this is my first drink of the day and I'm entitled.

I have less than two hours before my guests arrive, and I still have to:

* cook the whisky/sage/parmesan pasta (which really needs a proper name, y'know?) as a starter [note to self: small portions, Chaz!], but that's all last-minute;

* make up my mind about the buttered cabbage (we have coq au vin, we have gratin; buttered cabbage on the side, or not?);

* invent and prepare the pudding (I was going for individual little puddings, but actually I think I might make one big cake; that way is less insistent portion-wise, people can just have a sliver if that's all they want, and if there's any left come Monday I can take it in to the Lit & Phil and make them love me, if it's not too sticky);

* sweep the floor;

* shift my dress, as the Duke of Avon would have it; change my grubby garb. I could do that now. When this glass is empty. I am incapable of cooking without spillage. Mostly I like to blame the poltergeist*, but sometimes it is just my own heedlessness and/or lack of dexterity.

*The older I get, the more people ask me if I believe in ghosts. This seems to me perverse; faith is surely more a feature of the young and credulous? It probably has to do with all these ghost stories I keep writing. But no: I do not believe in ghosts. I don't believe in anything, I am a determined rational atheist. Also, I live with two hectic vandals. Things that go bump in the night are pretty much always one cat or the other, if not both. And yes, I do have a shocking tendency to stack things inappropriately, such that they are prone to fall if nudged or jolted. And yet, the longer I live here, the more the evidence mounts up pro-poltergeist. Things fall over when none of us is near. I have watched this happen, time and again, and utterly fail to find an explanation for it.
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Okay, so the bread was a bit dense. Which I take very personally - I do not bake dense bread; and besides, I have paid in pain and setbacks for this loaf - but it was an odd recipe anyway. Next time I will follow my instincts.

Next time I make a Bey's Tagine, I'll use a rubber mould. It stuck catastrophically, even to my favourite well-seasoned loaf tin; I served it as a mountain of rubble, rather than neat layered slices. People still ate half of it, though, so that's okay. Tastes nice. (Since you ask, it's basically minced-lamb-and-onion distributed through a layer of spinach, a layer of cheese and a layer of parsley.)

And then there was the conger eel tagine (sounds unlikely, I know, but it's a genuine recipe: onions and raisins, chermoula of parsley, coriander and saffron) and the rabbit-and-celery ragout (which was another genuine recipe until I added the celery) and the squash-and-chickpea vegetable stew that I'd have to go downstairs to check the name, because it has apostrophes and unpronounceability in its favour. Almost as if it came from a fantasy novel, la.

And the rhubarb cake! All hail the rhubarb cake. With rose-petal preserve, to go with the rosewater in the recipe.

My house is full of dirty dishes. And empty of contented guests, but only because they all went home.

Today I shall do the washing-up, and that might be about it. I can haz day off?
desperance: (chillies)
So: I told you already that I burned the bread. That was my fault entirely: I got the timing right, but neglected to turn the heat down a couple of notches when the loaves (Moroccan flatbread, as it happens) went in. Scorchio. I shall cut off a bit of blackened crust soon and chew on it, see whether it's edible or not.

Meantime, I am trying to make a Bey's Tagine - which is not what you think of when you think of a tagine. This is a Tunisian dish, and basically it's a savoury baked egg concoction in fancy layers (can we say quiche? only without the pastry?). And if the recipe had thought to stress the importance of a broad flat dish, I wouldn't have got halfway through trying to persuade the second layer to set before I realised that doing it in a loaf-tin was going to cause problems. So I transferred it into a bain-marie and doubled all the timings - and spilled half the water when I took it out to add the third layer, and so extinguished the oven. So there has been a second hasty transfer to the second oven, which will have to heat up from cold of course; and I have spent a happy five minutes trying to regenerate the main oven, which I need for something else. Aaargh.

So far, it's all been my fuck-ups; this doesn't help. Also, the hand. I had to knead the bread-dough myself, because the machine just wasn't drawing the dough together properly (dunno why, unless it needs to be wetter for the hooks to get a grip?), and as we know that does me no good at all.

Now I'm going to bake a rhubarb cake that I ganked from [profile] la_marquise_de, and see what novel and exciting ways I can find to screw that up also. Will report back; I know you're all agog.
desperance: (Default)
What I really wanted, I wanted to take a photo of the fish-heads in their soupy stock and post that: but alas, no power in the camera. No pix.

Still, one word is worth a thousand photos, so this post is a bargain.

So far today, I have done First Shopping, which is local; I have made the basic stock for the soup; I have cooked a very great deal of rice, which I will fry from cold for dinner; I have made six little vanilla blancmanges; I have put Chaz'z Chinese Pork on to simmer v v gently for v v ever. [Chaz'z Chinese Pork is a tradition; I invented it - with a huge great hand of pork - when I was called on once to feed a dozen friends, and now I'm not allowed to cook Chinese without it, however inauthentic it might be. Actually it's not really, because I read a lot of red-cooked recipes before I devised this; but basically all I do is stick a large piece of pork on the bone into a stock-pot, cover it with water, add dark & light soy, rice vinegar, Shao Xing and rock sugar, and then cook it very gently for hours & hours. The fat goes gelatinous, the meat is so soft that you can pull it off the bone with chopsticks, the liquid is boiled down into a sticky sweet sauce, and nom-nom-nomming occurs.

At present, after First Revisions, the menu looks like this:

Slivered radishes
Smacked cucumber
Silver fish with chilli

Fish soup

Ants climbing a tree
Chicken with chestnuts
Chicken with black beans (or possibly General Tso's chicken)
Chairman Mao's red-braised pork
Chaz'z Chinese pork
Bamboo shoots with ground pork

Vanilla blancmange with saffron sauce (not strictly Chinese - at all - but hey...)
desperance: (chillies)
Last week, it was the simplest conceivable dish (well, nearly): boiled noodles with soy sauce and chilli oil. Best fast food ever.

This week, we're being a little more complex, but it's still fast and simple. Boil a kettleful of water, and pour it over rice vermicelli in a bowl. Leave it to sit, and meanwhile finely chop a couple of spring onions, garlic greens if you have them, fresh garlic and chillies to taste. Heat a glug of oil in a wok, and sizzle all the above. Add a scatter of dried shrimps and some finely sliced beef (or chicken, or prawns, or tofu, and/or other vegetables, etc etc), then some mushrooms (whole if small, sliced or torn apart otherwise). Stir fry for a couple of minutes, then add beansprouts and a teaspoonful of curry powder (whatever strength you like, if you like it). Drain the noodles and toss them into the wok quickly, before the last of the water has dripped off. Toss all together for a couple of minutes with some soy sauce, and serve.

Also good with omelette on top, as per the rice I talked about a few days back.


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