Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Too much food, too little time to write

2011 – First week – On 1st January at 1.30 a.m. I groaned into bed and said to KK: “I don’t want to eat anymore.” Right.  Well, last week KK was in Texas and I was at home with a relatively empty fridge into which I barely glanced for the next 5 days of light snacking & no cooking (apart from cooking beans because otherwise they would revert to green ooze and trying some delicious, locally cured bacon). Now, after two days “snowed in” together in South Carolina, cooking and eating has resumed. I have also resumed my resolution, begun after Thanksgiving, to use at least one thing from freezer or store cupboard every day. We store and collect food as if our lives depended on it. Which luckily for us they don’t, at least not at present. The large freezer is full which doesn’t prevent me from buying more stuff to go in it, however hard I think I won’t. For example, last week our local healthy supermarket (Earthfare had a coupon for a “free” (with a $5 purchase) pound of skinless chicken breast (a thing I never normally buy, except to make Martha Stewart’s root and bean soup – I know!). So obviously I spent more than $5 and the chicken breast is in the freezer. Anyway, snowfall in this household leads to alcoholic beverages made with snow. When we lived in Northern Arizona we invented the Snogarita (ugly name – fabulous drink, sometimes leads to snogging) and we made snow bread. So on Monday, we had snogaritas before lunch and dinner (only one each) and I made snow bread which turned out well considering how wet the dough was; the crumb is aerated and perfect and the flavour well-developed. Damp dough in part caused by having to use ordinary all-purpose flour as I didn’t have enough bread flour.
 I failed to take the weather warnings seriously and thus didn’t run out to buy milk, eggs and bread, or indeed bread flour. Have I mentioned how much I like King Arthur flours? 
 Lunch was a low fat Porc à la Moutarde which didn’t suffer at all from being low fat, made with dried mushrooms since I hadn’t run out to buy mushrooms either. I wasn’t thinking about food then. Served with freshly made pasta and green beans. Today for lunch, we ate a delicious lasagna with salad and thereby hangs a food tale.

Pasta Sunday
I spent Sunday afternoon with CH in her lovely orange kitchen happily making pasta. She had made a vat of ragù bolognese the day before, so we spent a few hours nattering, drinking tea, kneading, rolling, cutting and making a sloppy mess on the kitchen floor. The result was three large lasagnas and four modest servings of tagliatelle. Then we retired to the sitting room to drink red wine and eat bread dipped in olive oil and dukkah – an Egyptian mix of toasted nuts and seeds which is delicious. As CH said, it provides all the necessary salt and fat of a good apéritif snack. It apparently can be made with almonds or chickpeas but seems invariably to contain sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coriander and cumin seeds, salt & pepper. Seems like a good mixture to add to many dishes – grilled meats, pasta, salads…

Back to lunch today - after the lasagna was cooked, I decided to use some of the parsnips lurking at the back of the veg drawer – we tend to curate parsnips as they are sometimes difficult to obtain in the US and in France, come to that. I found a recipe on the invaluable BBC food website – - fantastically useful site – for a roasted spiced parsnip soup (see below for recipe). I have made curried parsnip soups before but never a roasted one. The principle would work for any vegetable soup I expect – butternut squash, for example, would be delicious. Pretty good and I still have a reserved pack of parsnips in the fridge to make braised root vegetables later in the week along with the lovely beetroot lurking in the pantry. At least I would do that, but it seems we won’t be eating together just the two of us for at least the next 5 days, except at breakfast. Oh well, at least they keep. Also – the roasted parsnips were delicious before souping – could be happily eaten as they were.

Then I was struck by a fit of forethought – this was also linked to rummaging in the veg drawer 
whilst getting out saladings to accompany the delicious lasagna.  For some time, (weeks? months??) there has been a bag of fantastic root ginger in there – we use pieces regularly – but I bought a huge amount somewhere because it was beautiful, crisp and tender and aromatic. On a recent trip to New Orleans (about which more, later), we went to a great little bar called Tonique thus named because the owner makes his own tonic water using Cinchona bark – really! It makes a fabulous G&T – slightly pink from the bark and not at all sweet. We had to go there because KK had heard about this phenomenon – he did not himself imbibe the G&T but had other delicious cocktails – and my second cocktail, because all this was very exciting, was a Tru Kick made with organic Tru gin, lemon juice, lime juice, Fee Brother’s peach bitters and ginger simple syrup. So with my forethought, I made a ginger simple syrup with black peppercorns. I ½ cup water, I cup sugar, lots of peeled and chopped ginger and 1 ½ teaspoons of black peppercorns. Simmer the lot until you have reached the appropriate pungency – would be fantastic on vanilla ice cream, or chocolate ice cream, or... We have saved the aromatics for another go around. So that’s the evening cocktail, also made with snow and with Fee Brother’s grapefruit bitters instead of peach because that‘s what we have and they were kindly purveyed by AK all the way from Portland (but are apparently available on Amazon! Whatever next?), and laced with Dutch Ivanabitch gin provided by the daughter’s generous father-in-law who also provided some Catdaddy moonshine - (more on that later too). The son-in-law says it’s not moonshine if it’s not drunk out of a Mason jar and I am inclined to agree with him, since I think that real moonshine probably tastes as though you shouldn’t drink it at all if you know what’s good for you, and this tastes amazing – in a good way. In fact, the Bitch Kick was almost perfect – for two fairly serious drinks, juice of one each of lemon & lime topped up with ginger syrup to your taste – and you have to taste it as you go (no, really!), a measure of gin, dash or two of bitters (I tried it with and without, and it was better with bitters but you must be careful not to overdo it – the bitters tie the flavours together somehow) and fill up the glass with snow, or add three or four ice cubes. Might be my perfect cocktail – a little sour, a little spicy and gin – what could be better?

After our delicious lunch, I decided that cake was indicated. KK was delegated to choose some sort of baked good from my new cookery book given to me for Christmas by the lovely daughter – The Great British Book of Baking­ – which is the book of the programme and contest The Great British Bake-Off – thank you BBC – what a lovely programme, all good food and nice people who liked one another and cried when other people didn’t make it to the next round. People you’d like to invite for tea. The book contains 150 recipes all of which we’d like to try. Which is remarkable in a cookery book, I find. Anyway, KK chose Lemon Drizzle Cake. And it is delicious. It behaved as described and we could find nothing that we thought should be changed. Texture was light and uniform, it came out of the tin in a gentlemanly fashion, the glaze penetrated just the right amount and the bottom was slightly crispy. Isn’t it pretty? Recipe below… Also it will serve as our dessert tomorrow when we dine in impromptu fashion with foodie friends – KK suggests a little vanilla ice cream to go with it. I thought blueberries might go well – a few blueberries soaked in lemon infused vodka?? We’ll see… Today has been a good food day – supper, after the Bitch Kick we will eat spicy parsnip soup, snow bread and cheese. We are lucky.

Lemon Drizzle Cake
Start doing this 2 hours before you might want to eat cake.
Get milk, eggs and butter out of fridge - have a cup of tea or something - wait a while
Heat oven now!

Oven at 180C/350F/GM4
20cm/8” spring form or other deep round cake tin/pan, greased and lined with greaseproof/parchment paper
Scales/Cup measure
Spoon measure
Zester – do invest in a microplane grater – you will love it once you have mastered not grating your fingers – massively useful and efficient
Oven glove

AND for the cake
Unsalted butter 200g/2 sticks very soft
Caster sugar 250g/1 cup (take granulated sugar and put it in a blender or coffee mill till fine)
Eggs – 3,  beaten @ room temperature
Lemons - 2, finely grated zest
Self rising flour - 250g/2 ¾ cup
Baking powder - ½ teaspoon
Milk – 100ml/less than ½ cup @ room temp.

The oven is already heating, no? Put all cake ingredients into your mixer bowl, sifting in flour and baking powder and adding milk last of all. Mix till smooth. Put in tin which you have greased using the butter wrapper (go on, fish it out of the bin). Bake till brown & firm – test with toothpick – about 50 minutes depending on your oven. Meanwhile, mix topping ingredients, stir to dissolve sugar.

AND for the topping
Caster sugar 100g/½ cup
Lemons – 2, juice  (see above)
Lemon – 1, finely grated zest (the juice from this one can go in your Bitch Kick!)

As soon as cake is cooked, stand it on a cooling rack and prick all over with toothpick, then quickly spoon topping over. Leave to cool completely before removing from tin.
Now, I forgot the paper and decided to take it out of the tin before I put the sticky stuff on. It popped out beautifully and cooled down more rapidly, so we could eat it sooner.  
Time for tea!

Spiced roasted parsnip soup

Hot oven
Chopping board
Can opener
Oven proof dish – flat
Pan for the soup
Oven glove
Parsnips – 600g/1 ½ lbs, in small cubes – don’t bother peeling
Onion – 1 medium, cut in 8
Tomatoes, 2 plum tinned – cut up
Coriander & Cumin seed – 2T each
Mustard seed – 1T
Turmeric powder – 1T
Olive oil - 2T
Water - 1.2l/5 cups
Marigold stock powder – 4 t  

Cut up as many parsnips as you have into pieces a little larger than a sugar cube, add the onion & tomatoes; mix them all together in some sort of oven proof receptacle, sprinkle with spices and olive oil; swish it around till it’s all evenly coated and shove it in a reasonably hot oven until the roots are browned and soft. Then you add stock (or in this case, water and Marigold bouillon powder – love that Marigold ) and liquidize using your preferred tool till you get the texture and consistency you prefer. Add toasted cumin to serve if you like and some sour cream which it probably doesn’t need.

Porc à la moutarde
I could be irritatingly facetious and say: "Cook it like rabbit in mustard" but now I've got that off my chest:

Chopping board
Medium heavy bottomed pan
Frying pan for sautéing fresh mushrooms or small pan for boiling dried mushroom 
Pork -  2 shoulder chops gave enough for three or four, chopped in bite-sized pieces 
Shallots - 2, finely chopped 
Olive oil
White wine
Mushrooms, fresh, as many as you like - chopped and sautéd; or dried, 1 T rehydrated in boiling water - DO NOT DISCARD THE WATER
Mustard - 2 T, Dijon (natch!) 
Salt if necessary
Cream - 1or 2 T - crème fraîche or sour cream or double cream

Sauté shallots in olive oil on low heat - do not brown. Add a small glass of white wine and simmer till liquid has evaporated. Remove. Sauté pork in a little olive oil till brown. Add a glass of white wine and the shallots. Cook for a while on a low heat. Add a large tablespoon of mustard. Add liquid when necessary - you need to always have liquid because you want sauce at the end. Cook for about 20 minutes till meat is tender. Turn off heat. Taste. Add mustard and salt if necessary. The sauce should taste slightly, but not overwhelmingly of mustard. Add the cream but don't overdo it. Strive for balance! Serve with pasta - preferably fresh pasta that you made the day before with a friend! And something green.

Useful website
 converts weights & measures using actual food stuffs from metric & Imperial to Cups and tsps etc.