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Not-so-blue(fin) tuna

I don’t really believe in Blue Monday and that sort of thing, but it has been a pretty gloomy and wet sort of a day…

Things were rather brightened, though, by the success of my latest pasta experiment — an uncooked tuna sauce which was very quick to prepare. Tinned tuna in oil (skipjack, no mater what the post title says), parsley, basil, lemon zest, walnut pieces (pounded up finely in a pestle and mortar), a splash of Worcestershire sauce and enough olive oil to help everything be distributed evenly over the pasta without clumping or falling off.

I refrained from draining the tuna (since it was in oil anyway), didn’t run the sauce through a food processor (ekk… I prefer a bit of texture) and used the juice of the lemon as well as the zest, so as to avoid wastage. This is kind of in line with the principles of ‘cucina povera’ (lit: ‘poor kitchen’) discussed in the first episode of Hairy Bikers’ Mediterranean Adventure, which focused on the southern parts of Italy, which are traditionally much poorer than the north of the country.

One thing that really caught my attention from that episode was the bit about ‘nduja, a fiery spreadable sausage from Calabria (chiefly Spilinga and surrounding areas) — especially the part where the Bikers assisted an expert ‘nduja maker in creating a batch from scratch! I am a bit of a sucker for this sort of thing, so I’ve been nosing around the web for a decent supplier. It should be a very interesting addition to cheese sandwiches or a tomato sauce!

Chocolate and peanut butter Baklava

Cooking Without Limits

GAB_5568_mix_res

With Chocolate baklava in my mind, I changed a little bit the recipe and I made a new dessert.  I add peanut butter and I made another great easy dessert. You can make it with your kids for Christmas or any other time.

To get it very crispy I used olive oil only to brush the dessert at the end.

Ingredients:

  • Phyllo dough
  • Nutella
  • Peanut butter

Directions:

Preheat oven to 220°C. Take 4 sheets of phyllo dough and put it on a baking sheet in a baking tray. Put a big layer of Nutella on top of the phyllo dough and on top of them add another 4 sheets. Add a layer of peanut butter on top.

Roll everything slowly not to break it and then put it in the oven. Bake it for 20 – 30 minutes. Check it from time to time so it doesn’t burn.

This extra…

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Quiet week

It’s been pretty quiet here — just easing into 2018, really

I made farfalle con le fave al prosciutto (pasta with ham and broad beans) yesterday — had to leave out the one stick of celery, but otherwise I stuck pretty much exactly to the Diane Seed recipe (second result). It turned out deliciously, as recipes from The Top One Hundred Pasta Sauces are wont to do 🙂

I’ve been reading La Belle Sauvage recently — it’s pretty good! Pullman retains his magical touch and worldbuilding skill from the His Dark Materials trilogy, and builds on it subtly and skilfully. The plot and pacing are just right, moving fast enough to keep the reader enthralled without leaving them in the dust (Hah! Pun not necessarily intended). The canoe whose name gives the book its title is almost a character in its own right, and you *will* come to care about its fate as much as that of Malcolm, Alice and baby Lyra — a testament to the skill of the author. There are some lovely little continuity nods and calls-forward to the HDM trilogy, some obvious (such as appearances by Mrs Coulter, Lord Asriel and so on) and some less so — for example, astute readers might remember a Dame Hannah Relf from two brief scenes in Northern Lights and Amber Spyglass respectively. She puts in multiple plot-significant appearances here as a young Scholar, and is one of my favourite characters 🙂 I’m not sure how much more I can say without delivering spoilers, but rest assured, if you liked His Dark Materials you will definitely like La Belle Sauvage (and hopefully the rest of the Book of Dust trilogy).

Happy new year!

Here’s to 2018! Skaal! [a Nordic toast meaning roughly ‘Good health!’]

The lack of post last week was due to a very restful soporific state induced by vast quantities of delicious food — roast chicken with bacon, stuffing, sprouts and roast spuds (and I made a veggie-soss-and-roast-veg risotto for my mum — I used this recipe as my jumping-off point, omitting the wine and preparatory sausage-browning (which wasn’t necessary as mum’s preferred brand of veggie sausages cooks so quickly) and using a good strong cheddar instead of parmesan at the end — it was extremely well received!).

Since then I’ve been snacking away on various types of pate, cheese and festive nibbles from my usual supermarkets — yum yum!

I’ve also been experimenting with pasta dishes containing asparagus, and I’ve come to the conclusion that they should all include sautéed onion and garlic, and perhaps a bit of stock, even if the recipe as written doesn’t call for them — I’ve found that the flavour can be a bit pallid otherwise.

The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas (published 2010)

A very seasonally appropriate book review this week!

The Hairy Bikers’ 12 Days of Christmas is a glorious cornucopia of festive recipes suitable for any mid-winter feast or celebration, lavishly illustrated with full-colour photographs of every dish, which are sure to get the digestive juices flowing 😀

The book follows a rough timeline from the run-up to Christmas Eve through to Twelfth Night. It starts off with chapters on ‘Getting ahead’ (things such as gravlax, Christmas pudding and sorbet, which can be started a few days in advance), ‘Edible gifts’ (chutneys, fudge, infused alcohol and so on) and ‘Festive feasts’, which starts on page 42 — a nice little coincidence for Hitchhiker’s Guide fans — and covers delightful things one can do with soups, duck, venison and so on. My two favourite recipes from this section are the glorious honey-glazed gammon and the Christmas pudding fondants (Christmas-pud-type desserts with a melty chocolate centre).

Next is ‘Christmas baking’ — fruity breads, stollen, mince pies and a beautiful Yule log, among other things — then come the Christmas Eve and Christmas Day chapters. The former has recipes such as Coarse Country Terrine (excellent made the day before), spatchcocked duck (one I’ve made a note of — I’m quite fond of roast duck) and special festive booze to help fuel the anticipation for the next day. The Christmas Day chapter starts with a recommended procedure/critical path for preparing Christmas dinner (starting with day-before prep), assuming a 6kg turkey, all the trimmings and a traditional Christmas pud to follow. This timeline is readily adaptable, so it can be used as a good guide whatever you’re making. As well as various traditional roasts, this section also contains recipes such as Jerusalem artichoke soup (with bacon and parsley croutons, though these can be omitted and a vegetarian stock used), potted smoked mackerel pate, goat cheese salad, various trimmings and sides (chipolatas and dates wrapped in bacon — yum!) and a few desserts as well.

Next is Boxing Day, with various ideas for using up leftovers, and light meals for after the previous day’s overindulgence. One thing I especially like the look of from this section is the goose risotto, which could easily be tweaked to use any sort of poultry. Then come sections on ‘Breakfasts and brunches’ and ‘Nibbles and telly snacks’, with lots of smaller, lighter meals to keep you going through the festive period.

Next is New Year’s Eve, with a venison roast plus various curries and special booze, and New Year’s Day. Possibly my favourite recipe from this section is the chicken liver parfait topped with cranberry butter. I love how it looks, and have enjoyed similar things bought from the supermarket, but sadly I never seem to have the time to try making it 😦 Other than that, the NYD chapter has lots of hearty casseroles to keep you warm.

Finally, there’s the Twelfth Night section, which has some creative little roasts, a fish pie and salmon coulibiac to round out the festive season in style and deliciousness.

After that, there’s just a list of recipes by meal type, then the index.

I can definitely recommend this book as a guide for festive kitchen wizardry this Christmas (or any other!) — and it can be dipped into for special occasions at other times of year as well!

Bon appetit!

Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Cooks and Good Food (second edition)

This is the first of a number of queued posts to cover the holiday season.

This week I’m reviewing Cooking for Geeks by Jeff Potter.

As the title and subtitle might suggest, this is a book about the science of food and cooking — it’s not really a recipe book, though there are various recipes scattered throughout the text. They mainly serve to illustrate points being made in a particular section, for example the recipe for ‘Cocoa-Goldschläger Ice Cream’ in the section on culinary applications of liquid nitrogen, which is placed near the end of the chapter ‘Fun with Hardware’.

After the indexes of recipes, labs/experiments and interviews comes a brief introduction in which Jeff Potter talks about learning to cook, and approaching it from a ‘geeky’ angle with many ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ questions about how it all worked, before talking about the importance of being smart and curious (as he defines geekdom).

Afterwards is the first chapter, ‘Hello, Kitchen!’. This chapter is aimed a little more towards readers who are relative culinary novices. It talks about “the ground rules for the game of learning to cook”, as the chapter-preface says, covering such topics as the importance of lateral thinking to resolve culinary problems, knowing one’s cooking style, how to read a recipe (and when to go off-recipe and experiment!) and the importance of presentation, as well as a run-down of the basics of kitchen equipment. This chapter did not contain much new information for me, though I did find the references to Duncker’s Candle Problem (given a candle, a box of thumbtacks and some matches, how would you attach the candle to the wall without causing a fire?) quite interesting as an illustration of lateral thinking.

The next few chapters cover the science of: the sensory aspects of food (‘Taste, Smell and Flavor’), ‘Time and Temperature’ and their importance for food safety and getting things properly cooked, ‘Air and Water’ and how they can affect the outcome of a recipe (for example, humidity and height above sea level can have a huge impact on breadmaking), and my two favourite chapters, ‘Fun with Hardware’ and ‘Playing with Chemicals’, which respectively cover the ways one can get really creative in the kitchen with various types of equipment and a good knowledge of chemistry.

At the back of the book are a couple of little appendices — one is ‘How to Be a Smarter Geek’, which recommends various resources for those who are interested in taking what they’ve got from the book and going further with it. The other appendix concerns ‘Cooking around Allergies’, and lists some of the most common food allergies (dairy, egg, fish and shellfish, peanut, tree nut, soy and wheat) and possible substitutes for these ingredients. This should be immensely helpful if you’re catering for someone with one or more of these allergies but aren’t sure how to do so safely.

All in all, this is a fascinating scientific exploration of the subject of food and cooking. Well worth reading in its own right and a good gift for any scientifically inclined foodies you might know!

Rosy-fingered pasta

I did conchigle al forno con salsa aurora (baked shells with aurora sauce) this week — good and filling, but a tad fiddly. The name refers to the visual effect of a mixture of tomato and bechamel sauces — the colour is somewhat like that of a sunrise

I messed up a little and made the full quantity of bechamel sauce to mix with the tomato sauce — everything fitted into the oven dish in the end, but it was a close thing… Next time, I’ll definitely remember to go half-quantities on everything, as opposed to my usual strategy of using half-quantities of pasta but full quantities of the sauce ingredients — turns out that doesn’t work so well for baked dishes!

At least I managed to catch myself before using too many breadcrumbs — I was using panko breadcrumbs, which seem to take up more space than ordinary breadcrumbs. In general, if a recipe calls for x grams of ordinary breadcrumbs, x/2 grams of panko crumbs can be substituted quite comfortably 🙂

Another short one

Today was pretty busy for non-work reasons, so it’s another short post this week.

Made pasta with walnut sauce yesterday — the recipe seemed to imply that it was a sort of walnut pesto, but I panicked a little at the call for 50g butter, 200ml olive oil and 100ml double cream, so I just used a whole 300ml tub of double cream instead. It turned out very tasty but very, very rich — something for the ‘occasional’ file, methinks.

Small one

I’ve been quite busy with work and things over the weekend and today, so I haven’t had time to prepare much of a post this week…

I did make croziflette again yesterday, though. Turns out conchigle (shells) works pretty well for this dish! The concave shape holds and concentrates the creamy-cheesy-bacony sauce very well 🙂

Sausage risotto

I have to admit, I couldn’t think of a good — or bad — pun for this one…

This week’s recipe was sausage and white wine risotto. For years, I disliked the very idea of rice dishes, then would only eat rice if it was in sushi, so these were somewhat uncharted culinary waters for me. I picked out this recipe specifically because of the sausage component, which seemed to guarantee tasty savouriness, and because it’d give me an opportunity to remember to crack open Hairy Bikers: Meat Feasts.

Things turned out deliciously! The texture was brilliant — just the right mixture of gooey and firm — and the sausages (I used Sainsburys’ Toulouse-style) added oodles of flavour, which worked well with the wine and parmesan. I used the rinsings of a jar of strongly spicy garlic pickle in the stock, which also helped add a pleasant kick to the dish.Stirring the stock in, a ladleful at a time, was very soothing and could definitely be used as an alternative to traditional meditative mantras!

I’ve definitely warmed up to the idea of risotto, so this recipe is going on my semi-regular roster. Next time, I might make it with sweet chilli sausages, to see how that affects things. I’ll also definitely do risotto alla Milanese at some point — I have a handle on proper risotto technique now, so making extra so as to have some over for doing arancini should be no problem.