Friday, 31 May 2013

A cracker of a box

When I'm snacking, savoury wins over sweet every time for me - crisps, pretzels, crackers, cheese twists, olives... I have chocolate in my cupboard that has lain untouched for weeks and months. Every month, when #FoodiePenpals comes around and my parcel sender enquires about my likes I always tell them I don't have a very sweet tooth. And this month I received a really exciting box from Jenna, who writes the splendid Sausage Tarts and Marmalade Rolls blog.

This was intriguing - a tiny wheel of waxed cheese, a jar of flour, two sprigs of fresh rosemary and a cookie cutter and what appeared to be a small jar of chutney (it was). There was also a brown paper package tied up with string, which immediately made me want to sing my way through the Sound of Music.
The mini parcel turned out to contain half a dozen heart-shaped crisp cheesy biscuits. And all was revealed when I opened the card, for it contained the recipe! All I had to add was some butter and an egg yolk to the ingredients from the parcel, chop up some of the rosemary then mix it all up into a pastry dough. I managed to get 17 heart-shaped biscuits out of the dough.

Mine turned out a little more overdone than Jenna's but I shall be making these again. You'll have to ask Jenna for the exact recipe, if it's not on her blog, but it's a basic pastry dough with a little paprika and seasoning added to the salt.

The final instructions were to enjoy with some paté and red wine. It would have been rude to refuse, not that I need any encouragement!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

On pans and pins

No recipe today. Well, not yet anyway - if I have time later today there may be one.

I'm blogging about Pinterest today, as it's just launched in the UK and I'm finding it very useful. You may have already heard of Pinterest, but if not it's a website for collecting images and ideas about the things you're interested in. You can "pin" things you find on the web - a bit like the corkboard I have at home where I pin things with tin tacks, only it's on the internet.

I joined Pinterest a couple of years ago and couldn't get the hang of it. But I rejoined when I realised that not only is it another way for me to share my recipes but also a way to discover other people's foodie delights. At the moment I have two boards - one for my recipes and one for repinning other people's food that has caught my attention.

I also love the introduction of secret boards - no one can see these except you although you can make them public later - I started one when planning my trip to Madeira last April as it was a great way to gather useful ideas and information in one place and I could access it on my phone while away.
This is because all the pins link back to the original site. If I pin my recipes and you click on one, it'll take you to my blog and you can read the whole recipe (and hopefully cook it!). If I pin my travel plans, it's a fast way for me to return to the tourist office website or look up the hotel I booked.

You can find the link to my Pinterest on the menu on my blog or you can follow me via this link. If you're not yet on Pinterest, you can join here and get pinning!

Friday, 24 May 2013

Spicy stir-fried rice

It's quite hard to cook one portion of rice for a meal and it hardly seems worth it - cooking two portions so you have leftovers is much smarter. And leftover rice is the basis of a plate of stir-fried rice - the secret to making it properly is to use cooked rice that has been chilled as when it's straight out of the cooking pan it's too warm and damp to get a good result.

This dish doesn't have to be Chinese in style - I don't own a wok and if I'm going to scramble an egg it'll be for my breakfast rather than for this. I take my inspiration instead from spicy rice dishes such as nasi goreng or kedgeree. As well as using up rice, I take the opportunity to clear out my fridge to use up some veg. Then all I need is some spice paste of some sort.

This is quick - just 5 minutes to prepare and 5-10 in the pan.

What you need: 
1 portion of leftover cooked rice, chilled
1 small chicken fillet, cut into bite-size pieces
2 spring onions, sliced 
1 small carrot, cut into julienne strips
A handful of peas
Curry paste of some sort, about a tablespoon
1 egg (optional)

What to do:
Prepare the veg and chicken. Heat about 2tbsp vegetable oil in a wok or sauteuse and get it very hot. Toss in the chicken and stir-fry it for 4-5 minutes then add all the veg and fry for another 2 minutes. Stir in a generous tablespoon of curry paste and fry for another minute. Lastly, add the rice - break up any lumps and fry it for a good 3-4 minutes so it's thoroughly reheated and all the chicken pieces and veg are evenly distributed through it.

If you're very hungry, top it with a fried egg Indonesian style - well-cooked rather than soft.

Cook's tips:
The chicken doesn't have to be fresh - frying off some leftover cooked chicken or diced lamb works fine, or use cooked prawns. Likewise, the veg are flexible - use diced pepper, sweetcorn, mushrooms or edamame beans, whatever you have to hand.

Cooked rice needs to be handled with care as it's possible to get bacillus cereus food poisoning from it. Chill it quickly after cooking, put it in a bowl and store it in the fridge. And be sure to reheat it thoroughly to kill off any toxins.

Which curry paste? If you're using an Indian one, go for mild rather than fiercely hot. I made this one with some rending paste. If you can find it, nasi goreng paste is the clear winner, but Thai curry paste also works - I use less than a tablespoon of the red sort and avoid the searing heat of the green.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Hare au vin

I regularly cook rabbit - finding hare is much harder but a good butcher should be able to supply it (and I know Lidl sometimes has packs of hare legs in its freezer section). There's a lot of meat on a hare, particularly the hind legs which are its powerhouse and thus have plenty of well-developed muscle. The forelegs are less meaty but still pack flavour, so if you have them then chuck them in the pot too.

I was lucky enough recently to attend a butchery class on game where I learned how to skin rabbits and hares plus butcher them. It was bloody but fun and I came away with a new skill. The pics are here. I brought a prepped whole hare home to joint. The legs went in the slow cooker - the breast fillets are in my freezer and will go into a game pie at some point.

This recipe is based on the classic French coq au vin (which uses a rooster rather than a chicken) and makes 2 portions, so you can freeze one for another day.

What you need:
Hare legs - 2 hind (and 2 fore, if you have them)
1 bottle of red wine
1 bouquet garni
2-3 bay leaves
4-5 slivers of dried orange peel
Freshly ground black pepper
6 sun-dried tomatoes
A couple of sprigs fresh thyme

12 dried prunes
6 baby onions or shallots, peeled and left whole
12 dried porcini
Tomato purée, about a tablespoon
Salt and pepper

What to do: 
Marinate the hare overnight with all the aromatics and the bottle of wine. Next day, add the rest of the ingredients - cut the onions in half leaving the root intact if they are a little on the large side. Then cook in a slow cooker for around 8 hours, or in the oven at 120-140C for around 5 hours. Check the seasoning and adjust if needed. Serve with plenty of buttery root mash (here, I used turnip, swede and carrot).

Cook's tips:
Keep an eye on the liquid levels during cooking and top up if it looks like drying out. The gravy should finish up thickish and glossy. The meat should be falling off the bone by the end of cooking - watch out for very small bones, particularly from the forelegs.

Making dried orange peel is very easy. Use a vegetable peeler to pare strips of rind off the fruit, taking care to avoid the pith. Spread the peel out on a baking tray and leave to dry naturally for 2-3 days (if you have an airing cupboard, it's ideal). Then store in an airtight jar. They keep for ages and are a good flavouring for red meats, particularly venison and game.

To add a note of spice to the marinade, try a cinnamon stick and 2-3 star anise.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Madeira - more than just cake

I've had a holiday. In Madeira. My usual three aims of a trip abroad are meandering round cities exploring museums, churches and other places of interest, hiking and walking, and food. Ah, yes, food.

I was mostly disappointed in Madeira's culinary offering (the eponymous sponge cake is not actually from Madeira, by the way). I had quite a few meals best summed up as meh, not least because many local dishes were not very interesting and side vegetables were generally cooked to disintegration point.

The local scabbard appears abundantly on menus in a variety of styles. It's mostly served deep-fried in batter and served with banana, or cooked in a sauce with tropical fruit. The latter was how I tried it (no pic) - the fish was mushy and overcooked and hard to find under the creamy, gloopy sauce. I couldn't identify the fruit - it might have been mango, or apricot, or papaya. Who knows?

The other famous local dish is espetada - cubes of fillet beef barbecued on a laurel stick.
The first time I tried it, the meat was overcooked and sinuous. But then I found a decent restaurant (O Portao in Funchal) that served this - beautiful tender, rare beef, a chef sauce to a secret (I asked!) recipe that really zinged and crunchy veg. A win.

I also had the grilled limpets at O Portao, cooked with butter and garlic. Limpets also appear in risottos in Madeira, as with the fresh tuna I had in Seixal - if you like mussels, you'll like them.
I also tried the hunter's rabbit stew at O Portao - another winner. A whole small rabbit jointed and cooked in a piquant tomato-based sauce with rice, cabbage and veg. This was possibly my favourite meal, although the huge pub lunch of beef in Madeira sauce with chips was also pretty damn good.

Out and about, the best street food I had was in the hills above Monte, where a cook was baking flatbreads stuffed with chouriço on a metal sheet over a gas flame. Slathered in freshly made garlic butter, they made a filling snack for just €2.
The local poncha was disappointing - while called "rum", the alcohol content is a mere 25% and it's so sweet you don't feel like you're getting a hit of anything.
Much more interesting was my exploration of Madeira wine. A trip to Blandy's was on the cards - in 45 minutes I'd learned all about grape varietals, fermentation processes (very different to sherry) and styles. I'd always found Madeira wine to be too sweet so I was pleased to discover that the style made with the sercial grape is really dry.

And so to the real Madeira cake - the bolo de mel (literally honey bread), made from molasses from the sugar cane that grows abundantly on the island plus honey and fruits. Light, spicy and crumbly, it knocks spots off its imposter.