Sunday, 26 July 2009

Daring Bakers: Chocolate Covered Marshmallow and Milan Cookies

The July Daring Bakers' challenge was hosted by Nicole at sweet tooth . She chose Chocolate Covered Marshmallow Cookies and Milan Cookies from pastry chef Gale Gand of thefood network.
Each month, I seem to find less time for cooking things, and each month I hope the next will be better. Surely, since all of the Universe operates cyclically (what goes up must come down, history is doomed to repeat itself, all of this has happened before and all of this will happen again), I should just need to exercise a bit of patience and wait for that calmness. The month of July wasn't the month during which peace and free time freely reined, though. Mr A&N has started working a second job, and so evenings and weekends are being eaten away with his work and with me watching over Baby A&N. But maybe August will be better, yes?

Without oodles of time to myself, I very much appreciated that the Daring Bakers challenge for the month, as set out by Nicole at Sweet Tooth, had an estimated prep time of 30 minutes for each of the two cookies recipes (one for a chocolate covered marshmallow confection, the other for a milano style cookie). That was an appealingly short length of time that made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could pull off a bit of cookie prep while also ensuring there were no big baby bumps on the head or limbs in need of mending. I planned on tackling the milano cookies first since they seemed more straight forward, and would ramp up the effort level to marshmallow making as and when I was allowed.

Sadly, the predicted 10 minute prep time was 10 minutes plus about an hour. Baby A&N was placed in his walker and dragged into the kitchen with me to watch all the exciting goings on. But the child who showed barely a lip quiver at his injections, who didn't even flinch earlier on
when he slammed his head into the side of his cot with a thud loud enough to be heard through closed doors, started crying like, well, a baby as soon as the hand blender turning on. Delicate sausage. And poor mother, who had to carry on with the mixing using only the power in her arms to get it done. It turns out her arms aren't as strong as they used to be (despite lifting a 25lb baby all day long).

The batter looked a bit curdled in a frangipane-esque fashion, but I kept the faith and created a couple of dozen uniform pastry fingers, looking perfect on their entry into the oven. To say they didn't keep their shape once they exited the oven, though, is to say that Delta Burke had a bit of trouble keeping hers during the progress of Designing Women. They expanded. They ballooned. They bled into one another and formed one Uber Milano from which individual forms were hard, nay, impossible to discern. Oh well. I'd just have to practice my best surgery skills and cut cookie shapes out of this vanilla-scented beheamoth.

I made half the cookies with the traditional orange-flavored chocolate spread, and the other half I spread with a bit of melted raspberry jam and dipped them in chocolate. Both sorts were lovely, but it was a shame to have to call half the batch a loss because of the oozy batter. Perhaps a higher oven temperature or a bit of baking powder in the mixture would have helped them keep their shape. I've decided to hold off on having a failure with the marshmallow cookies until I have more time for an afternoon of baking disaster. You can find the recipes for both cookies at Nicole's blog, and thanks goes to her for setting the task this month.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Chickpea Puree

My mind is turning to mush. Figuratively - I've been away from work for 8 months and I can feel that I'm not as sharp at holding on to thoughts and ideas. I'm still doing bits of work while on maternity leave, but half the time is spent me trying to remember the brilliant idea I'd had the previous week/day/hour. It's a different sort of mental gymnastics, keeping lists of groceries and grocery lists of to-do things in your head, than it is gathering together strands of ideas and weaving them into a long-term intentions. I worry about this mushiness when I'm back at work in a couple of months time.

My mind is also literally turning to mush, what with Baby A&N barreling forward with his solids eating and me trying to come up with interesting variations of mush for him to eat. Some are actually pretty tasty even by adult palates: courgette, roasted red pepper and basil; sauteed onion and spinach with cauliflower gratin; garlic, lentil, courgette, carrot, and tomato. Sometimes the only format for them seems to be mush (beetroot, sauteed spinach, dollop of cream cheese) which is a bit of a shame since the only way Mr A&N or I can enjoy these flavors is to steal the sloppy seconds away from any unfinished meals.

There are some adult mushes that Mr A&N and I hold dear and which baby A&N won't be able to enjoy for a while. Our favorite is a chickpea puree from the Casa Moro cookbook. It starts with the heady smell of garlic, cumin and onions gently frying together, and results in a warm, warming, rich dish that stands in for the moistness of gravy when there isn't one. It's very easy to make, and makes a different starchy side dish to mashed potato. We normally have this with lamb, which is the Moro suggestion, but it would also work well with a well-flavored chicken or sausage meat course. In some ways this is more of a winter warmer, but when mush is on the mind this is a very comforting way of seeing the mush through.

Chickpea Puree, from Casa Moro
Serves 4 - 6

  • 2 400g of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 4 Tbs olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 rounded tsp cumin seeds, roughly ground
  • 30 threads (large pinch) saffron, infused in about 2 Tbs just-boiled water
  • 2 Tbs roughly chopped flat-leave parsely (optional)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Puree the chickpeas (using a blender/food processor) until they're smooth
  2. Add water to them until they're the consistency of wet mashed potato
  3. Heat the olive oil over a meadium-high heat using a medium-sized frying pan
  4. Add the onions, garlic, and cumin and stir, cooking and stirring until things turn golden brown
  5. Mix in the chickpeas along with the saffron infusion and stir, then lower the heat and simmer for about 5 minutes.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste, and garnish with parsely if you want to get fancy.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Roast Forerib of Beef

Popularity isn't a cause that much worries me, mainly because 'popular' wasn't a label that came near being coupled with my name during the teenage years. At the time you're acutely aware that you're so low down on the totem pole you'd first have to dig your way up to the surface to get some face-time on that wooden mast, but unpopularity can be liberating once you wrap your mind around it. You don't have to worry about keeping up appearances, or about tweaking your personality or preferences in order to maintain some standard. At least from my observations as a teenager, the un-popular saved a small fortune in designer clothes and handbags, and trips to the salon and manicurist (and fake tanning, these days).

The same money-saving ethos holds for your unpopular cuts of meat. You're not going to be dipping in to your savings if you get a hankering for liver or want to tuck into a side of goat. Forerib of beef is a cut of meat that has fallen off the popularity wagon, but can still be a sumptuous bit of meat. I first fell in love with forerib at the Marquess Tavern which serves it up as part of a family-style Sunday lunch, succulent and slow cooked and dripping with rich flavors and juices. At our local butchers this weekend, with forerib hanging in the window and golden memories of long Sunday lunches playing in our minds, there was no alternative but to wrap that rib up and bring it back to its new home.

The forerib is a cheaper cut of meat because there's a bit more fiddling about to get beauty from it - athough beauty is very possible. You can either brown the meat off and then roast in the oven until nicely cooked (though still rare, please), or give it the slow-roasting treatment to really concentrate the flavors, as Johanna at The Passionate Cook did recently. We opted for the brown-and-roast method, adapting a recipe from Anthony Worrall Thompson that used paprika, mustard, and dried herbs to give the meat flavor and to create a glorious gravy which nearly became the star of the meal itself.

A topside or silverside of beef is a much more popular roast dinner: easy to whack into a pan and cook to preference, but also easy to over-do because of its lack of fat. Even though the forerib is less simple to carve and to pick the meat from, the efforts are rewarded by the flavor of the meat itself. Since it's not as popular as it once was you will probably need to go to a butcher to get some (and the better the butcher, the better the meat will be), but the double pleasure is that it costs less than other cuts of beef and will give a nice stock from boiling up the bone. If you ever needed an argument to show that being unpopular is a rewarding experience, this is it.

Roast forerib of beef, adapted from Anthony Worrall Thompson
Serves around 6

  • 1.3kg/3lb piece forerib of beef, on the bone
  • handful of roasting vegetables, such as carrot, onion and leek; use 1 of each if mainly using to add flavor to the gravy, more than that if you are roasting the vegetables to eat
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 2.5ml/½ tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp garlic salt
  • 2.5ml/½ tsp dry English mustard powder or wasabi powder
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil (for frying the meat)
  • 600ml/1 pint fresh beef stock
  • 150ml/¼ pint red wine
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil (for cooking the vegetables)
  1. Heat the oven to 200C / 400F
  2. Combine the dried herbs (Anthony warns that the recipe will only work with dried rather than fresh) cayenne, paprika, garlic salt and English mustard powder/wasabi.
  3. Spread a thin layer of the Dijon mustard all over the fat side of the beef and stick the herb mixture into it. If you have time, wrap in cling-film and put to one side to allow the beef to marinate.
  4. Chop up the vegetables and place in the roasting tray the meat will go into, along with the 3 Tbsp olive oil. Cook for 20 minutes until caramelised or lightly browned.
  5. Once the vegetables are browned, increase the temperature to 220C/425F. In a frying pan, heat the 4 Tbsp olive oil and seal the meat on all sides (about 30 seconds per exposed side).
  6. Place the beef into the roasting pan on top of the caramelised vegetables, but don't return to the oven just yet.
  7. Into the frying pan containing the left over juices of the meet, add the red wine and heat to burn off the alcohol. Pour into the base of the roasting pan along with the ½ pint of beef stock.
  8. Return the meat et al to the oven and roast 15 minutes.
  9. After those 15 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 200C/400 F and roast for 12 minutes per 450g/1lb for medium-rare; or 10 minutes for very rare, almost 'blue' meat and 20 -25 mins for a well done beef. (please note: we followed these instructions and the meat needed another 20 minutes to come up to rare, so either we got our timings wrong or these suggestions are wrong)
  10. Baste the roast regularly, about every 10-15 minutes.
  11. Remove meat from the roasting dish and place on a large dish, letting it rest a good 15 minutes before carving.
  12. Use the juices from the pan to make a succulent gravy.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

A Summer Salad

You'll excuse me for my brevity - it's summer. It's hot. The days are long and we're all reveling in it. Especially baby A&N, who wakes with the sunrise. At 4.30am. Full of the joys of life, which is nicer than being a misery guts, but by 9am we're all flagging and in need of a long perfumed bath (or perhaps that's just my tonic).

Dinners have needed to be cooling (no ovens, please), quick and easy (god we're tired), but without sacrificing taste. Cookbooks could be written and sold by the hundreds based on those criteria. But we're too tired to find the right cookbook, so after a bit of head scratching and repeated staring into the fridge for ingredients on hand, this is the result.

A flexible summer salad, adapted to whim/what's available. The key ingredients are an anchovy dressing, a grilled vegetable of some description (aubergine in this case, but just as easily courgette or pepper), and a bit of something from the bacon family (we used some lovely pancetta, from a specialist Italian organic farmer, having a pedigree better than I do. Probably wasted in this salad, but did I mention we're too tired to think creatively?). It was salty and wet, filling and fresh, meaty and crisp. It will make an appearance again, probably in a slightly different guise, probably later this week when we're too tired to think. Again.

A Summer Salad
Serves 2 as a main course with left over for 1 lunch

  • 1 aubergine, cut into thin slices
  • (touch of olive oil for the aubergines and pan frying)
  • 70g of pancetta or bacon
  • 1 small gem lettuce or 2 handfuls of baby spinach
  • 100g green peas
  • 100g broad beans
  • handful of sundried tomatoes, rehydrated and roughly chopped (or just chopped if using ones in oil)
  • 250g pasta
  • 3 anchovies, very finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp sherry vinegar
  • 5 Tbsp olive oil (or 4 Tbsp if using tomatoes in oil)
  • 1 clove of garlic, very finely chopped
  1. Lightly sprinkle the aubergine slices with olive oil, then grill at 180C for about 15 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool slightly, then cut into bite-sized pieces.
  2. Pan fry the pieces of pancetta or bacon until nicely crispy, then set aside to cool slightly.
  3. Briefly boil the peas and broad beans until just tender, then quickly put in a bowl of cold water to stop the cooking a preserve the flavor. Drain.
  4. Boil water for the pasta, and cook until desired consistency. Drain and cool down under some cold running water.
  5. Chop the lettuce and place in a bowl, and add in the peas and beans as well as the chopped tomatoes. Add the aubergine and pancetta once cooled, as well as the pasta.
  6. Make the dressing by stirring together the anchovy, vinegar, olive oil and garlic.
  7. Pour the dressing over the salad bits and adjust for flavoring.