Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Larder larks no. 4

It's been a funny old month. GastroClub on hold (and much missed). A sick computer. A work project that saw me doing 12-hour days for 3 weeks. The weather... I've not done much cooking - the volume of work meant that for the last 10 days at least I've been living on snatched sandwiches and delivered takeaways.

But then a few days ago, this lovely parcel arrived.

It was, of course, a #foodiepenpals parcel and it came from Becky, who had thoughtfully sent me a lovely batch of storecupboard goodies. And I loved the purple packing paper too!

Some of it was scoffed fairly quickly. The olive tapenade survived barely a day - as a topping for rice cakes, it made a tasty snack while I was buried in work. The dried fruit breakfast topper was a welcome addition to my breakfast granola, until it ran out...

Alas, the pickled garlic (something I really love - how did Becky know?) leaked in transit. Becky's handwritten card was a soggy mess on opening the parcel. But, hey, the garlic is pickled, right? I figured it would be fine and as it happened I had a bottle of it in the fridge that was almost empty but was still full of pickling juice. So Becky's garlic went into the fridge with my garlic. Sorted.

The turmeric has gone into my spice cupboard, of course. And the Welsh whisky grain mustard is in the larder (I had a little taste and it's mighty fine).

Most intriguing was the rosemary jelly.

I've never come across this before but I thought it would be good with lamb. A quick chat with Becky on Twitter confirmed this. I've not eat any lamb since its arrival, but I have a good excuse to drop into my butcher this week so I can try it out.

Meanwhile, with the big project finally signed off I'll be getting busy in my kitchen again...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012


This dish of carrots cooked sweetly for a long period is a Jewish classic and there are probably a zillion ways to prepare it - every Jewish mother and grandmother has their own recipe, often handed down the family. As a child, I ate this sometimes at my grandparents' house to which we travelled once a month for a weekend feast, the whole family gathered round a long dining table. It was only years later that I actually had a go at making my own version.

The commonest way to prepare the basics is to cook the plain carrots alongside a beef brisket joint, simmering for ages, the meat then fished out to finish making the tsimmes and then bringing the meat and carrots together again on a serving platter. Delicious as this is, it's not practical for a solo diner, and anyway there are plenty of recipes for cooking tsimmes separately. Most versions involve simmering first then baking.

Sugar or honey is essential to boost the natural sweetness of the carrots and some people also add dried fruit - raisins or sultans, or perhaps some chopped apricots or prunes. Which way you go will depend on how sweet your tooth is. I like to keep it simple, though. In the absence of a large joint of brisket and half a dozen friends round to help you eat it, tsimmes still goes best with some sort of salty meat. Heresy, I know, but I like to pair it with a grilled gammon steak or bacon chop - a match made in heaven for my own palate.

 What you need:
250g carrots
1 very small onion
Unsalted butter
1/4 pint vegetable stock
1 heaped dessert spoonful light demerara sugar or honey
Lemon juice
1 heaped dessert spoonful ground almonds
1 egg, beaten
Black pepper

What to do:
Heat the oven to 180C. Grate the carrots very coarsely and chop the onion finely. Melt a knob of butter in a sauteuse and gently fry the onion until soft and starting to caramelise. Add the carrots, stock and sugar or honey, bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer gently for 10 minutes.

Tip everything into a small oven-proof casserole. Grind in a little black pepper and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice. Taste the liquid to check the balance of sweet and sour and adjust if needed. Stir through the almonds thoroughly. Now add the beaten egg and stir through again. Bake for 30 minutes.

Cook's tips: 
Keep the ingredients to a minimum. A pinch of ginger can pep up the tsimmes - traditionally this is the only spice acceptable to use. And while coriander is a popular partner for carrots, bringing it in here would mean it's no longer a tsimmes.

Use a good quality stock powder, such as Marigold vegetable bouillon which is much less salty than a stock cube, and don't make it too strong - a heaped teaspoon should be plenty for a quarter pint of stock.

Don't leave out the egg - a baked tsimmes should be set firm like a pudding and it needs the egg to bind it together. Be very quick beating it through so it doesn't start to scramble before you put the dish it in the oven.

Some recipes include potato or breadcrumbs for extra padding. I find potato only adds blandness. The breadcrumbs should be stirred through but you could sprinkle them over the top for a gratinée.

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Downtime and deli plates

It's been quiet. Behind the scenes, though, there have been tears, cursing and not much cooking. And that was just the computer. I got an infection on it just over a week ago, leaving me unable to work or do much else - my "fixer" worked exceptionally hard to get me up and running again and then I had to go through the process of reinstalling all my software.

There's not been much cooking at all on the hob either.
Not much cooking here...
I was away on a work overnighter two weeks ago and came home with a badly damaged foot and an empty fridge. Only one thing for it - get a takeaway delivered.

Ten days ago, I also decided to clear out my freezer. Meat gets something called freezer burn if it's not packed properly at time of freezing, but it will also start to deteriorate gradually if it's kept frozen for a year or more (meat should generally be eaten with 3-6 months of freezing). I rely on my freezer a lot as it's useful for splitting meat packs into smaller portions (a 6-pack of sausages is 2 portions for a hungry lone gourmet, for example) but turnover is important. Most of last week's meals used up older meat and I also ate up some home-cooked frozen meals. The goat stew had survived well as had the Thai curry I knocked up with a homemade spice paste but had forgotten to label.

Mother Hubbard's freezer
And then there were the lazy evenings - supper on the sofa in front of the TV with beans on toast or what I call a deli plate, compiled from whatever's in the fridge. There's usually some cheese and some cold cuts such as parma ham or a slice or two of smoked salmon, olives, a couple of artichoke hearts from a jar, peppadew peppers, fresh tomatoes and salad leaves if I have some. A rummage in the larder may produce some anchovies and a tin of stuffed vine leaves. This sort of feast just needs some crusty bread, pitta or oatcakes to complete it.

No-cook sofa supper
And that's it, really. Normal kitchen service is about to resume (yay!), I'm about to restock my freezer and I'm busy planning the food box I'll be sending to this month's #foodiepenpal.

Oops, nearly forgot - I'm on BBC Radio Manchester tonight, talking about this very blog to Matt White on Gourmet Night at 9pm. Hope you'll find time to tune in!