Archive for October, 2010

The perfect finish

One of my favourite things about this time of year is enjoying the fresh air when it is cold and crisp outside. I am not an outdoorsy kind of person, and I’m very sensitive to the cold (must be the Caribbean blood in me), but there is something about this time of year that has me yearning for a walk when the weather is right.

It was just such a day – clear and fresh – when we walked around some local haunts and also paid a visit to Secretts farm shop. I love this place, and always get a little over-excited when we go there. As well as having a wonderful array of seasonal produce, they have an amazing cheese counter. It is basically my perfect shop. However, it is not cheap, so B. and I don’t go there too often, otherwise we would be bankrupt!

Nevertheless, it’s great to go there once in a while. As well as picking up two of my favourite cheeses (Godminster Vintage Organic Cheddar and Munster), we wondered amongst the produce, looking at the selection of beets, carrots and root veg.

Then we came to the squash and pumpkins.

I’ve already professed my love of squash – colourful autumnal treasures; as well as their appearance, I love their wonderful sweetness and deeply coloured flesh. So when I saw these beauties at the farm shop, I had to buy a selection. They called out to me to turn them into soup – perfect for Halloween or Bonfire Night.

I decided to roast the squash to preserve their sweetness, along with thyme and sage – basically as I did with the butternut squash risotto. To balance out the sweetness I added that wonderful umami flavour by boiling the stock with a Parmesan rind (inspired by this recipe). Finally, I added smoked paprika to round the soup off – it made a huge difference.

This soup sings autumn and is just the thing after a cold day outdoors. The sweetness of the squash hits you first, followed by the comforting smokiness of the paprika and umami notes from the Parmesan. Then, finally,  the heat of the paprika comes through. It’s the perfect warming finish for a cold autumnal day.

Roasted squash, Parmesan and smoked paprika soup

1.2kg squash flesh
1.4 litres vegetable stock
20g pack of sage
Several sprigs of thyme
2 garlic cloves
Parmesan rind plus 20g grated
½ tsp smoked paprika

1. Peel the squash and cut into wedges. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Place the squash in a roasting tin, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Roast the squash for 20 minutes.
2. Remove the tin from the oven and add the unpeeled garlic and chopped sage and thyme. Return to the oven and roast for a further 15-20 minutes until the squash is soft and starting to caramelise. Remove the roasted squash and garlic from the oven and leave to cool for a few minutes.
3. Meanwhile, simmer the stock in a large saucepan with the Parmesan rind. Once the squash has cooled, cut into small pieces. Add to the simmering stock along with the garlic, squeezed out of its skins, and cook for 10 minutes.
4. Remove the Parmesan rind, add the grated Parmesan, then pour the soup into a blender and blitz until smooth. Return to the pan, stir in the paprika, then serve.

The first step

I’m lucky to live in a village that still has a butcher and fishmonger – fantastic ones at that. At a time where large supermarkets still dominate despite the growing desire to shop local, it is cheering to see a queue snaking out of the butcher every Saturday, at pretty much any time of day (although not in the photo below!).

Rawlings of Cranleigh is a family-run butcher that has fantastic meat, award-winning sausages, pies, and also a well-stocked cheese counter, with cheeses ranging from Stinking Bishop to the local Norbury Blue. The staff are very friendly, and (like good butchers should be) are always on hand with advice and cooking suggestions.

Although I won’t pretend that we do all our meat shopping there, we try to visit our butcher whenever we can; the meat is much better and more varied, which in turn helps up to discover and cook new things.

One of the things B. and I wanted to do once we had our house was to cook more of the things that we would simply buy – especially things we count as treats (or should do now we have a mortgage!). Making pâté is the first step, and hopefully you will see more posts on here of this nature in the coming months.

This weekend when we went to Rawlings, there was mixed game they had prepared displayed at the front of the shop. I had been intending to get a couple of rabbits to make pâté, but a pack of venison, pigeon, pheasant, duck, partridge and rabbit seemed too good to pass up.

I consulted a few recipes, and found that what goes into pâté seems to be pretty flexible. The constant is cooking it in a bain-marie, but in terms of what you put in there, you need some kind of fat, such as pork belly and bacon; livers add flavour but it isn’t essential. Egg or breadcrumbs are good binders. If you can, it’s good to marinate the raw meat for a few hours or more beforehand – I didn’t have the time, but found my pâté to still be full of flavour.

Pates can be cooked in a terrine/loaf tin or in preserving  jars – the cooking method remains the same; if you cook in a terrine, then you need to line it with bacon and then once cooked, weigh it down with weights in the fridge for 24 hours.

All in all, I was pleased with the results. It came out a cross between a spreadable pâté and a sliceable terrine – I am guessing if you increase the liver content it would become more spreadable. Nevertheless, this does spread – especially if you use some of the surrounding fat – not very healthy, but it tastes so good! It was gamey, but not overly so, and the flavours of the pork and chicken livers also came through to make a deliciously meaty pâté.

In B.’s words: “We’ll never buy pâté again when we can have home-made stuff like this.” I have to agree.

Mixed game and pork pâté

One word of warning: when the pate is cooked, it will be swimming in fat. I was worried as no recipe I had looked at had mentioned it. Luckily I then found a Delia recipe, where she notes that her coarse pork pâté “ will be swimming in fat, but ignore it – you are not going to eat it but its presence around the pâté keeps it moist.”

2 large knobs of butter
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, chopped
Splash of vegetable or olive oil
600g mixed diced game
225g sliced pork belly, cut into chunks
240g chicken livers
300g streaky bacon, chopped
3 tsp redcurrant jelly
8 juniper berries, lightly crushed and then chopped
400g sausage meat
Glass of port
25g breadcrumbs

1) Heat a large knob of butter over a low heat and cook the onion for 5-10 minutes until soft and translucent. Add the garlic for 2 minutes to cook through. Set aside in a large bowl to cool.
2) Add more butter and a splash of oil and cook the game and pork belly for several minutes until browned. Pour the liquid that comes out into a separate bowl, then transfer the meat to the onion bowl.
3) Quickly fry off the livers and bacon, then pour the excess liquid into the reserved cooking juices bowl. Transfer the livers and bacon to the game and onion bowl. Add the redcurrant jelly, juniper berries and thyme to the cooked meat and stir well to combine.
4) Pour the reserved cooking liquid into the pan, along with a few glugs of port. Reduce until it forms a glaze, then pour into the meat bowl. Leave to cool for 45 minutes or so – this will also give a chance for the flavours to mingle.
5) Preheat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4. Pulse the meat mixture (including juices) in a food processor along with the sausagemeat and breadcrumbs until you have the texture you want – I went for quite a fine pâté.
6) Pack into sterilised preserving jars – we filled 2 x ½ litre jars and 1 x 250ml jar. Place in a deep roasting tin or casserole and fill with boiling water to reach halfway up the sides. Cook in the oven for 1¼ hours until the pâté is coming away from the sides at the top. There will be quite a bit of fat in the jar (see my note above) – it will keep the pâté moist. Remove from the oven and leave to cool.
7)  Chill in the fridge once cooled. The pâté should keep for at least a week, but it should last longer as the jars have an airtight seal. It will taste better if left for a day or two for the flavours to develop. Serve with good bread or toast.

A change of heart

I’m very sensitive to the cold, as people who know me will attest, so all week I have been thinking of what comforting autumnal pudding I would cook this weekend to warm me up. I toyed with apple crumble. However, despite what I said last week, I plumped for rice pudding.

For the past 18 years, I have hated rice pudding with a passion; the very thought of it made me feel sick. However it wasn’t always like this – there was a time when the thought of my mum’s rice pudding was enough to make me very happy. But then I had it at school and it all changed. It was horrible and ever since then I have been unable to bring myself to eat it (apart from one occasion about a year ago, when I tried a ready-made one – not the best one to try and turn me).

Then, this week rice pudding came out of the test kitchen at work; I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a go. I wasn’t expecting to like – but it was amazing. I kept sticking my spoon back in, wanting more. It was rich, creamy and comforting – just as it was when I ate my mum’s rice pudding all those years ago.

There are many food-related perks for working for a food magazine, but the best thing has been discovering that I now enjoy foods that I once hated. Beetroot is another example; all I had were the memories of the pickled stuff, but when a beetroot risotto came out (with broad beans – another thing I disliked), I devoured it and went back for seconds. B. couldn’t believe it when I told him. Raspberries too; while I still don’t like them by themselves, I will happily work my way through any dessert that includes them – also to B.’s delight.

So, after this latest taste revelation, I had to make my own rice pudding – I also thought it fair to end B.’s rice pudding drought. And after being inspired by the latest episode of River Cottage Every Day where Hugh made apple compote, I decided to make my own to accompany the pudding. My favourite desserts are apple-based, so I thought it only fitting to combine a new sweet love with an old one.

Since I had never cooked rice pudding before, I consulted a few recipes, including one of Hugh’s and, of course, Delia, before coming up with my own. Although it took a while to cook, it was worth the wait, and the slightly tart apple compote perfectly complemented the rich, sweet rice pudding. Just the thing for a cold autumn evening – a treat I would have missed out on if I had not had a complete change of heart. I’m so glad I did.

Rice pudding with apple cinnamon compote

Serves 6 with compote left over

600ml milk
170g tin evaporated milk
240ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
Lots of freshly grated nutmeg
50g golden caster sugar
100g pudding rice
Pinch of salt

For the compote
800g Bramley apples, well peeled
3-4 tbsp caster sugar
½ tsp cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2. Heat the milk, evaporated milk and double cream with the scraped vanilla and pod over a low heat for 10-15 minutes until it is hot but not quite boiling. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
2. Add the caster sugar, a good grating of nutmeg and the salt. Stir well, then add the rice. Heat for a couple of minutes over a medium heat.
3. Meanwhile, butter a 23cm diameter oven dish. Pour the milky rice mixture into the dish, cover with foil and put in the oven for 30 minutes.
4. Remove from the oven, give the mixture a good stir and put back in the oven, covered with foil, for another 30 minutes. Stir again and return to the oven, uncovered, for 1¼-1½ hours until the rice is creamy and tender, but the pudding is not too dry.
5. Meanwhile, make the compote.  Finely slice the apples (I used a vegetable peeler to make it easier and quicker.) Put the sliced apples into a saucepan over a low heat with 2 tbsp water and 1 tbsp of the sugar. Cover and cook for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
6. When the apples have cooked down to become a smooth puree, add the sugar and the cinnamon. Taste and add more sugar if needed. Stir well and set aside.
7. Serve the rice pudding with a dollop of compote. The remaining compote can be kept in the fridge for a week or so.

A rare treat

It’s easy to appreciate foods with a short season: asparagus, Vacherin Mont D’or, purple sprouting broccoli. But what about foods that hang around for longer, or that are so commonplace that you can get them throughout the year? Before I met B., the mushroom was an ingredient I loved – one of my favourites. Although mushrooms are very much autumnal produce, you can get a ready supply all year round and I did take them for granted.

B. sadly can’t eat mushrooms; let’s just say he sees them again fairly swiftly when he does. Even the smell of them cooking has made him feel ill in the past. So, I obviously avoid eating them at home.

However, I honestly don’t mind (most of the time). It means that I really savour these fleshy fungi when I do get to eat them, whether it’s at a restaurant or on the rare occasion when I cook them at home.

Mushrooms are stunning looking and another sign of autumn, just like winter squashes. From big, fat mushrooms with huge caps to tiny ones clustered together, these earthy beauties are a real treat.

I love the fact there are so many types that look so strange and varied and have such different flavours. It makes me sad that B. can’t enjoy them; I once had an amazing mushroom lasagne at work, and my first thought was that it was such a shame that he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it (and that I wouldn’t be able to recreate the dish at home).

It does work both ways though; B. loves rhubarb, and although some people think I’m crazy, I hate the stuff. I also really don’t like rice pudding (another favourite of B.’s), so that’s off the list, too.

This week, however, I came across some exotic mushrooms that looked so interesting I had to have them. The pack included shiitake, and  two varieties I had never eaten before – shimeji and enoki. I wanted to do something simple with them so I could really appreciate the different flavours.

So while B. had devilled kidneys, I recreated a favourite childhood Sunday supper of mine: mushrooms on toast. I can still remember the comforting smell of mushrooms frying in garlicky butter on a cold Sunday evening, dreading the start of school the next day. Today I updated it slightly from what I had back then: sourdough instead of plain white bread, and I also added a touch of cream.

The  garlic (and a squeeze of lemon juice) really complemented the mushrooms without overwhelming them, and the cream just held it all together. I cooked the shiitake mushrooms for longer than the shimeji and enoki, as the latter toughens up if cooked for too long; the different textures worked really well. I loved the flavours of the mushrooms; packed with umami, they were slightly nutty in flavour, and I found the shiitake (which, despite being relatively common now, I haven’t eaten many times before) were rich and earthy. When I tried the shiitake raw, I also, bizarrely, found their flavour to be very similar to blue cheese!

Altogether the exotic mushrooms worked really well with the creamy sauce and sourdough bread. It was the perfect treat: so simple, but a classic.

You hardly need a recipe for this but here goes:

Mushrooms on toast

Large knob of butter
1 garlic clove, minced
120g mushrooms
Squeeze of lemon juice
Splash of double cream
2 slices of sourdough or other bread
Handful of fresh flatleaf parsley, chopped

1. Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat and gently cook the garlic for a few minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook for 5 minutes until soft and coloured. (If using enoki mushrooms like I did, cook them for only a few minutes otherwise they will toughen up.) Add the lemon juice and a splash of cream and warm through.
2. Meanwhile, toast your bread.
3. Tip the creamy mushrooms onto the toasted bread, sprinkle over the parsley and enjoy!

Autumn treasures

The temperature has dropped, the wind is picking up and the leaves are beginning to turn – summer seems but a distant memory; autumn has well and truly arrived.
I have sadly neglected this blog over the summer, but with good reason; B. and I bought a house!
What with the buying process and wanting to decorate the house before we moved in, it took most of the summer to sort out. However, I am pleased to report that we are now all settled in and ready to get back to the serious business of cooking!
With the changing of the seasons comes a new exciting array of produce to cook with and help us get through winter: among them mushrooms, autumn berries and root vegetables.
My absolute favourite autumnal/winter vegetable has to be squash. For a start there are so many varieties: butternut, acorn, harlequin and yellow crookneck are just a few. They come in all different shapes, sizes and colours – true autumnal treasures.
Butternut is the most accessible and easy to find, and is very similar to pumpkin. It has a wonderful rich sweetness in its dark orangey flesh, and is extremely versatile. Butternut can be used in many dishes, from curries to soups and stews.
However, as I mentioned in my wild garlic post, I have a great love of risotto – and one with butternut squash is perfect for the cool (and often miserable) autumn weather. Many people I know who don’t like squash find it too sweet; here I have combined it with earthy sage, aromatic thyme and tangy Gorgonzola to offset the sweetness, and it is a stunning match.
Although you can boil squash, it does lose some of its sweetness; roasting it along with some sage and thyme in this dish intensifies the flavours and they all marry together nicely. The fried sage leaves may sound a little fancy, but they taste amazing and make a real difference.

For me, this dish signals that autumn is here, and goes a fair way for compensating for the terrible English weather. I hope it does the same for you too.

Butternut squash, gorgonzola and sage risotto

Serves 4

1 onion, diced
Splash of olive oil
Knob of butter
1 medium-sized butternut squash
6-8 sprigs of fresh sage (about 1 standard supermarket pack)
Few sprigs of fresh thyme
400g risotto rice
1.5l vegetable stock (I used Marigold Vegetable Bouillon)
115g Gorgonzola

 

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas 6. Peel the butternut squash with a vegetable peeler (the skin can be tough to peel); scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits and discard. Cut the squash into small chunks and put  onto a baking tray. Reserve 6 of the largest sage leaves and finely chop the remaining leaves. Pick off the thyme leaves. Sprinkle the sage and thyme over the squash, season with sea salt and black pepper, then drizzle with olive oil. Toss to combine and cook for 20 minutes or until cooked through and starting to caramelise.

2. Meanwhile, fry the onion in a splash of olive oil and a knob of butter over a medium heat for about 5 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the risotto rice, stir then gradually add the hot stock, stirring continuously between each addition until absorbed. Continue for 20 minutes or until the stock has been absorbed and the rice is al dente. Add more water if needs be.

3. In a small frying pan, fry the reserved sage leaves in a little olive oil over a medium-high heat for a few seconds each side until crisp. Set aside on a plate lined with kitchen paper.

4. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir through the gorgonzola and roasted squash. Top with the crisp sage leaves and serve immediately.