Lola and Finn's Mum

Lola and Finn's Mum

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Beware the novice with the blowtorch - Vanilla Crème Brûlée

I think that if twenty years ago somebody had said to me that I would be wrapped at receiving a blowtorch and four ramekins for Christmas I would have doubted their sanity quite frankly, for who would really want kitchen gadgetry for Christmas when you could have perfume, or jewellery, or books? Well, whilst the 19 year old Stella would have been extraordinarily disappointed with such a gift, the now 39 year old Stella was really quite chuffed and whilst there might have been method in Phill's madness, for he is partial to the odd creme brulee or several, I was quite eager to try this out instead of attempting to caramelise sugar under the grill which always turns out to be an epic fail. Burnt patches is my best effort.
Anyway, even though the French always try to claim this pudding as theirs when we know it's an English pud (Trinity Burnt Cream, of course, with a big apology to my French friends!!) it was perfectly natural that I choose a French inspired recipe to try out my latest piece of kitchen kit, and it was also a no brainer that I turned to 'Cooking with the Masterchef' by Michel Roux Jr for guidance. I am so loving the return of 'Food and Drink' on the BBC and it's mainly because of him, I think. It just goes to show that being a Michelin starred chef doesn't necessitate acting like an arse. Gordon Ramsay, take note. Anyway, who put that soapbox there?
Unsurprisingly, considering their pedigree, these turned out beautifully, if a little pale, but that more to do with my reticence with the blowtorch and I suspect being a bit stingy with the sugar coating rather than a suspect recipe.  Next time, for there will be a next time, I will be far more brave. And generous. And, just in case you were under the impression that creme brulee is an adult pud, (maybe you weren't) Lola and Finn swooned their way through the eating of these. From the tap of the sugar crust through each unctuous mouthful the only noise to be heard was "Mmmmmmm." There really can be no higher recommendation.
Vanilla Crème Brûlée , taken from 'Cooking with the Masterchef' by Michel Roux Jr
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad
My adaptions in red.
250ml double cream
75ml full-fat milk
1 vanilla pod, scraped
4 egg yolks
3 tbsp caster sugar , plus 3-4 tbsp for the topping (I read tsp - hence their pale appearance)
1 tsp vanilla extract
Heat oven to 140C/120C fan/gas 1.
Put the cream, milk and vanilla pod into a pan and heat to boiling point. Cover and leave to infuse for 10 mins.
Whisk the egg yolks and 3 tbsp of sugar together until pale and thick.
Add the vanilla extract and pour the boiling cream onto the mixture. Stir well, then pour into four ramekins. (If your ramekins are shallow, you may find you have mixture left over and so just make more brulees to eat. What a chore...)
Place the ramekins in a bain marie and cook in the oven for about 20 mins or until just set. Leave to cool. (Mine took about 30 mins to set, and I put enough boiling water in the bain marie for the ramekin dishes to be about two thirds submerged before they went in the oven).
When ready to serve, sprinkle the cold brûlée with a thin, even layer of sugar, and caramelise under the very hot grill (or use a blowtorch as I did). Repeat several times until you have a golden crackling topping. Leave to cool and serve within 2 hours of 'bruleeing'. I dusted with a bit of icing sugar and added a couple of strawberries... just because I can, quite honestly.
Another visit to pudding heaven, guaranteed.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Still indulging my fondness for the Orient, express style! - Glazed Pork Fillet with steamed rice and stir fry vegetables

I'm loving the fact that I have rediscovered my wok and tapped into those half bottles of Asian ingredients that I bought on a whim, used once or twice and then being the culinary butterfly that I am, decided that I wanted to cook Italian (or insert Mediterranean country here) or something after a few stir fry sessions. Anyway, the fact is I am back rocking the wok for a short time at least and it's great, not least because it is quick, healthy and Lola and Finn seem to be enjoying it.
Anyway, whilst the wok isn't compulsory equipment here, a tablespoon or two of some of those aforementioned bottles of Asian ingredients certainly was and the result was a speedy dish of burnished, sticky citrussy pork which the children really enjoyed. Even Finn. Though he did leave the vegetables, because they are vegetables, and therefore evil.
The recipe I used is a Trish Deseine recipe, which I found on the RTE website. From the cookbooks I have that she has written, I never even thought of consulting them for something oriental, but then if I had been more thoughtful at the time, I might have thought of 'Indochine' and the fact that there's eastern influence in French cuisine too. I have much to learn.
Anyway, the only alterations I made to this was that I upped the sauce content because we like sauce here and I would rather have too much than too little. And I used palm sugar instead of Demerara, mainly because the Demerara is right at the back of the cupboard which is the one I have to boot shut, such is the amount of cramming of random ingredients therein. If I wasn't so feckless I'd sort it out. Anyway, enough of my inadequacy, here's the recipe:
Glazed Pork Fillet, adapted from 'Glazed Pork Fillet' by Trish Deseine, from the RTE website
My adaptions in red
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad
1 pork fillet (Mine was about 400g)
Juice of four large oranges with a little zest (I used six, with the zest from one of the oranges) You may need extra juice.
a little garlic (I used one large clove, finely diced)
a little bit of ginger (I used about half a thumb's worth)
Thai fish sauce (I used 2 tsp)
soy sauce (I used 2 tsp)
Demerara sugar (I used a little palm sugar)
Mix all the sauce ingredients together in a bowl and then pour into a pan that will be big enough to hold your pork fillet. Bring the sauce to the boil.
Wheen the sauce has been boiling for three to four minutes, drop the fillet carefully in and seal it on one side.
Once it’s evenly coloured, turn it over gently to do the same on the other side. Then just look after it and keep basting it in the sauce for 15 or 20 minutes, until the meat is cooked through. (I also turned mine around reasonably often and the cooking time was just over 20 minutes).
The sauce will reduce during the cooking of the pork until it has almost caramelised and the fillet will be covered with a lovely sticky glaze.
If it is in danger of drying out, make sure you have extra freshly squeezed orange juice standing by (which I did use just to loosen the sauce a little).
Pre sauce addition, I should say.
Slice and serve with rice and something crunchy like green beans or snap peas. (I served with rice, mange tout and baby corn).

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Just add baked beans - Roast Potato and Spring Onion Tart

And there was me thinking that roasties were just for, well, roasts. Actually, we have roast potatoes reasonably often as Lola and Finn adore them. They eat them like a donkey eats strawberries and on each occasion I never cook enough of them. I look at the pan of peeled spuds and think to myself that this time I have done it; they won't eat all these. But they do. I admire their stamina, frankly, 'cos after about three I am potatoed out.
To that end, I thought this recipe would be a sure fire winner with my children and to a certain extent it was. Finn says he doesn't like cheese (Is he mine? People who know me well know that me and cheese have a passionate affair that goes back to the womb...) and then I pointed out the stringy stuff he has on pizza which he said wasn't cheese but then agreed it was and grinned. Anyway, the offending cheese, once partly covered by an accompaniment of beans (yes, baked beans - I refuse to be ashamed by this notion) ceased to be a problem. Not that it ever should have been.
Now, these aren't real roasties. They aren't burnished, floury, fluffed up, duck/goose/dripping affairs, but they were nice and when combined with the cheese, the onion and the cream were really tasty. But then potatoes in whatever guise are always tasty with those particular ingredients. The more I think about it, I don't know why, when I initially read this recipe several months ago, I thought the filling was incongruous for these ingredients are really meant to go together.
A word (well, several words) on the pastry. Popina (from whence this recipe comes) often uses a pizza dough base for some of her tarts and that is a good idea, particularly I think for some of her Mediterranean inspired tarts and quiches. I had some frozen pizza dough which I had bought when in France which I decided should really be used, and the trick I find to avoid the soggy bottom with a pizza dough is to make the base really thin and to ensure that when you cook the tart in the oven it is placed on a really hot baking tray to give it a head start. Can you tell I have had a soggy bottom before? Though so. Next time I make this though, I will use a pastry because I think it's what the filling needs. Like it needs a tin of baked beans as an accompaniment. Oh yes.
Roast Potato and Spring Onion tart, adapted from 'Popina Book of Baking' by Isadora Popovic
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, and one other.
For the base:
A ready made pizza base
For the filling:
500g baby new potatoes, halved
4 tbsp olive oil
bunch of spring onions, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
70g cheddar, grated
170ml double cream
1 egg
salt and pepper to taste


Put the potatoes and oil in a roasting tin and season well. Toss the potatoes until evenly coated. Cover the tray with tin foil and roast in the preheated oven for 20 mins. 

Remove and leave to cool for 10 mins.
Reduce oven temp to 170c/gas mark 3. 

Add the potatoes to the rest of the filling ingredients and combine carefully, so the potatoes don't disintegrate too much. Taste for seasoning.

Sadly blurred but you get the idea...
Press the pizza dough into a prepared (loose bottomed) tart tin (mine was a ten inch one)
Spread the filling over the base of the tart, ensuring even coverage. 

Place into the oven on an already hot baking tray. Bake for 25 - 30 mins or until the filling looks golden. (I threw some foil over the tart when it looked cooked so that it could stay in longer and hopefully eradicate any chance of soggy bottom). 

Leave to cool for 5 - 10 minutes as the filling will be too hot to taste. Serve with, if you're normal, a green salad maybe, I don't know. If you're Northern, open a tin of beans.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Not exactly authentic, but then I am not a nonna: Beef Cheeks Braciole

...and because I'm not a nonna I have no sage like and senior reputation to maintain. I can take something and make it work with what I have, which actually is probably what great nonnas (let me move on from this Italian situation I have put myself into) and grandmas and on this occasion, mums do.
My last foray into Urban Italian by Andrew Carmellini was what can only be described as 'spectacular' not least because my favourite food critic in the whole world, five year old Finn, ate the Lamb Ragu I made with what can only be described as gusto. So, I had to make something else, didn't I? There is a recipe named 'Short Ribs Braciole' which gives an overview of just what a braciole is and then waxes lyrical about short ribs and slow cooking and since I wouldn't know short ribs if I fell over them (and neither does most of the UK it seems; some googling revealed that the nearest thing we have are the fore ribs but they're not widely available) but I do know slow cooking, I decided to sub the ribs for beef cheek, which is dirt cheap and produces tender, soft meat when cooked long and slow, and I think it worked. I also think you can cook over braising and slow cooking cuts of meat in this way. Oxtail anyone?
This is a reasonably involved activity initially and towards the end of cooking, but the cooking time in between is long enough to involve yourself in something truly meaningless meaningful. I sorted out the washing, in case you're interested. The topping, which I put together towards the end of the cooking process is actually really lovely and if you didn't realise it already, the addition of this at the end of cooking makes you realise the importance of texture to the whole eating experience. I made more of the topping than I could rightly serve and so kept the remainder in the fridge. I sprinkled some over cooked pasta that I had for lunch one day and it was ridiculously good. Cucina povera isn't as poor as you might think.
This was well received by Lola, who is a good girl and who appreciates the food that is put in front of her. Finn ate some of it, but had been busy recreating the prehistoric world with his dinosaurs and eating a meal was an unwelcome interruption. He ate some, he made his excuses and left.  I gave the kids the option of having the topping. Finn looked at it disapprovingly and Lola said she preferred Parmesan only. Don't let their reticence put you off. Crunchy, beefy, tomatoey, yummy.
Beef Cheeks Braciole, adapted from 'Short Ribs Braciole' in 'Urban Italian' by Andrew Carmellini and Gwen Hyman
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad and one other, generously.
(American recipe, so uses 'cups')
½ cup roughly diced pancetta (about ¼ pound)
1 beef cheek, cut into chunks
1 heaping tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
1 small onion, diced (about 1 cup)
1 clove garlic, chopped thinly
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Two tins of chopped tomatoes - pick good quality ones
¼ cup pine nuts, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup panko breadcrumbs (I happened to have these, but I reckon blitzing up a couple of slices of stale bread would be fine)
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
a pinch each of salt and coarse ground black pepper
2 tablespoon grated Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Cook the pancetta in a large, dry, ovenproof sauce pot over medium-high heat until the fat renders, about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep from sticking. Remove to a plate.
Season the pieces of beef cheeks on both sides with salt and pepper, add them to the pan, and brown the meat, about 5 minutes. (I did this in two batches and then removed them to a plate).
Add the onion and cook until it softens, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and the red pepper flakes, mix well, and continue cooking.
Add the tinned tomatoes to the pot along with their juice. Bring the mixture up to a low boil.
Remove the pot from the stove and place it in the oven. Check the pot every so often to make sure it's not boiling too hard. Cook until the meat is super tender and a fork can pass through it without sticking, about 2½ hours.
To make the topping, toast the pine nuts in a dry sauté pan over low heat, shaking the pan occasionally to avoid burning or sticking, about 8 minutes.
Add the olive oil and mix well. Add the panko breadcrumbs and continue cooking over low heat, mixing occasionally, until everything is toasty brown, about 2 minutes.
Add the oregano and parsley. Season with the salt and pepper and cook together for a few seconds, so everything is warmed but the parsley does not wilt.
Remove from the heat and then add the Parmesan (not before, otherwise, you'll have a melted-cheese mess).
When ready to serve, remove the pot from the oven and if you need to, (I didn't) remove any visible oil that may be on the surface.
If you want to loosen the sauce a little, add a few tablespoons of water, one at a time and stir until you are happy with the consistency.
Place a serving of the stew on to warmed plates and sprinkle the topping generously over each dish.
Serve immediately.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

No Ordinary Stir Fry - Pork Yaki Soba

Following on from last week's revelation that stir fries are both quick and good (I already knew this; I had just forgotten) I heartily recommend this recipe and so does Finn (albeit without the green bits). Lola also loved this dish too and for that reason it will certainly be a keeper.
We do eat a lot of mince in this house. I was watching 'Food and Drink' last week (I am beyond happy that this is back on the TV, not least because it's introduced Michel Roux Jr who, despite my disappointment in learning his football allegiance, I think is brilliant) and it was declared that we are eating more mince than ever. Well, yes, if this house is anything to go by. I do buy bigger joints of meat and chicken but the kids love mince and whilst it is cheaper to buy mince, I try to buy the best I can, particularly in the light of the doubt of what animal might have been minced for consumption. But, let's be honest, there is only so much bolognese, lasagne, meatballs, etc. that even my children want to eat, and so to cook something as fresh tasting and different as this, using the ingredients that Lola and Finn like is a fabulous prospect.
I happened upon this recipe on a bit of a google 'mooch' where I put in the words 'pork mince' and 'stir fry' to see if anything actually happened. Everything came together at the Independent website where Bill Granger in his column had published a recipe groovily called 'Pork Yaki Soba'. Firstly, I don't think I have ever cooked anything more exotically named and secondly apart from the carrots cut into matchsticks faff, this is a pretty simple recipe to make. Half an hour tops, and you have a meal on the table.
Lastly, I know little about noodles. I couldn't find ramen noodles in the supermarket but I found buckwheat soba noodles, and seeing as there was 'soba' in the title, I thought they would suffice. And they were heavily reduced, as was a lot of the Chinese/Japanese section of the 'world foods' aisle. Some things around here just don't sell. It maybe totally unauthentic and 'Unjapanese' (Is that even a word?) but some egg noodles would be really delish with this.
Anyway, here we are. Be amazed!
Pork Yaki Soba, adapted from Bill Granger's recipe in the Independent newspaper
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad
400g dried ramen noodles (I used buckwheat soba noodles, see above)4 tbsp soy sauce
4 tbsp mirin
4 tsp sesame oil
Pinch of sugar
Pinch of white pepper (I just used ground black pepper)4 tbsp light-flavoured oil, such as sunflower
2 cm piece ginger, shredded
2 large carrots, cut into matchsticks
500g minced pork
Stir fry veg (I used sugar snap peas)
Chopped coriander to garnish
To serve
Chilli sauce
Cook the noodles according to the packet instructions, drain, then rinse under cold water and set aside.
Mix the soy, mirin, sesame oil, sugar and pepper in a small bowl with a splash of water.
Heat the oil in a wok over a high heat, add the ginger and stir-fry for 10 seconds.
 Add the carrot and pork and stir-fry until the pork is browned.
Add the remaining vegetables and cook until just starting to soften, followed by the noodles and sauce. (I just served the pork on top of the noodles rather than mixing it all up).
Cook until the noodles are heated through and the sauce has thickened slightly.
 Serve immediately with chilli sauce to taste.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

A meal in quick time without horse meat! Quick Chicken Casserole

No horse meat here. Whilst horse meat is perfectly edible it might be nice if you had a choice as to whether you want to eat it or not. However, I can't say I am surprised that ready meals aren't all what they seem. Last time where I was in the position where I had to have one, it tasted cack. Frankly. I'd rather have a sandwich.
But it's quick isn't it? Five minutes (if that) and ding, dinner's ready. Now, I know this doesn't taste five minutes - more like thirty - but once everything is in the pot you can spend a little time doing other stuff - kid stuff if you're me - and then, dinner's ready. And you know what's in it, because you cooked it. Who knew?
Also, I am not sure that ready meals are really that cheap. I've seen people paying a significant amount to buy enough of them to feed a family. Now, I haven't done the maths but I reckon if I did, then this would probably come in for less than what you would pay for something that requires you to pierce the film lid. Richer in pocket, richer in diet. Brilliant.
This is a BBC GoodFood recipe, slightly tweaked. The result was a meal that was satisfying and creamy and the addition of some crusty bread to mop up the creamy chickeny tarragony juices was a pretty great idea. If you are not in touch with your inner Francophile, or else your kids think it tastes weird and aniseedy, leave it out and check for seasoning.
Quick Chicken Casserole, adapted from BBC GoodFood
Serves Lola, Finn, Mum and Dad, generously
My adaptions in red
4 large or 6 small skinless chicken thigh fillets (I bought chicken thighs and spent about five minutes skinning and de-boning them)
3 shallots, quartered (I used a large onion)
1 carrot, sliced
8 new potatoes or salad potatoes, skin left on and halved or quartered if large
500ml chicken stock , fresh, cube or concentrate
1 cupful peas
1 tin of cannellini beans, drained
a small bunch of tarragon, chopped (Shoot me down - I used Barts' chopped tarragon which is jarred in olive oil which was being sold off for 42p in the supermarket)
1 tbsp half-fat crème fraîche (optional) (I used a tbsp of cream)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Put the chicken thighs, shallots, carrot, potatoes, some seasoning and the stock in a wide casserole and bring to a simmer. (Actually, I browned the chicken in a little olive oil before I added the rest of the ingredients. I am not keen on anaemic looking meat).
Cover and cook for 15 minutes, then add the peas, cannellini beans and tarragon and cook for a further 10 minutes or until the potatoes are tender.
Stir in the cream if you like and taste or seasoning.
Serve in massive bowls with some crusty bread.


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