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Wednesday 28 March 2012

Celebrity Crush/What The Hell, BBC?

I have to admit that, despite my vague culinary inclinations, I tend to avoid any and all food programming on television. There's just something dull about watching someone - heavily edited - preparing food that I'd probably never even think to order in a restaurant, let alone try to make myself.

So surely there has to be a scurrilous ulterior motive to my new fascination with BBC2's 'The Little Paris Kitchen'?

I shall not attempt to disabuse you, my dearest reader, of your churlish notions on that subject, but know this:
  • Rachel Khoo's kitchen is smaller than mine, so it gives me a clearer sense of effective use of the space I have
  • Each week, she effectively does a full, three course meal, often with extra little treats thrown in
  • Most of it, so far, looks easy enough for me to try
  • She puts her own spin on traditional French dishes, as only a Croydon-born cook-and-writer living in Paris would dare
  • She does everything unashamedly full fat. Gotta respect that, in this day and age
  • She's clearly not afraid to show things not going perfectly according to plan
  • She even shows the washing up
OK, it doesn't hurt to have all those casually erotic, lingering close-ups of her gob as she shovels down a helping of whatever she's just cooked, but the format of the show is quite refreshing, and it's amazingly cool that she's turned her tiny Paris home into a 2-seater restaurant.

But of course, the BBC website lets the show down as only the BBC could. Each show features three or four recipes... but the website has so far only put up two recipes from each show.

When Ms. Khoo assured me, her rapt viewer, that I could look up her recipes at bee-bee-see-dot-koh-dot-you-kay-forward-slash-food, I was keen to look into the molten-cored chocolate cakey-thing she demonstrated on Monday's show... But that is not one of the recipes currently available.

...I guess this means I'll be buying the book..?

Nice one, BBC.

(Addendum 18/4: It is amusing to see that the most frequently asked questions on Ms. Khoo's Twitter are actually nothing to do with food. The pattern is this:
  • Men are frequently asking "Can I work in your restaurant?"
  • Women are frequently asking "What's that lipstick you're wearing?"
I'm not kidding - look through her Twitter feed yourself, every ten lines or so she answers one question or the other. Frequently both. She should add an FAQs section to her website...)

Sunday 18 March 2012

S&M Rodeo #6: Waitrose Fruity and Warming Pork Sausages with Apricot, Ginger and Thyme

Using a different kind of instant mash this time - that old family favourite, Smash. I can remember the ads that ran for Smash in my distant youth... or, more accurately, I can remember the saucer-headed robots that featured in those ads. I also remember that they eventually turned those robots into toys, and I believe I had one... or my sister did... or maybe we had one each. They were wind-up toys that would dash forward, mouths opening and closing all the while.

They have nothing to do with this write-up, though.

It's worth mentioning that, while eating anything - whether it's something I've had before or not - I have a nasty habit of stalling if I find something in my mouth of an unexpected texture. Frequently, with sausages, that would just be an extra-tough or extra-rubbery skin on the sausages, that proves impossible to adequately chew, and so forms a nasty mass that I end up spitting out. With other things, it can be lumps of bone or gristle.

And yet, even though I was expecting apricot in these sausages, I was surprised to find it appearing as fairly large lumps within each mouthful. My first instinct, upon detecting these strange, rather tough lumps, was that I'd managed to pick up a duff pack, and that there were lumps of something nasty in my sausages... but no. While Waitrose Tolouse sausages and Tesco's Pork & Caramelised Red Onion sausages contained very thoroughly mangled pieces of not-sausage, blended in with the meat, the pieces of (dried) apricot in these are very substantial, and rather crunchy, despite a fair amount of time under the grill.

I'm not certain they add a great deal to the flavour of the sausages and I certainly didn't detect even a hint of ginger, but then this could be one of those times when the mashed potato dulled the flavour. Taken on its own, a chunk of apricot had the sort of flavour I'd expect from a chunk of dried apricot that had been cooked alongside large amounts of pork, but it's never going to be the strongest of flavours in that situation. However, the pork is good quality stuff, and the sausages are very tasty. The overall effect is not necessarily 'warming', but these will certainly be added to my list of Waitrose sausages to buy again.

Turkish Delight (made in Harrow)

Wherein I opine that, while certainly decadent, home-made Turkish Delight cannot be considered self-indulgent if it's a Mothers' Day gift.

Of course since I'm only writing it up today, it's a bit late for anyone else to try for Mothers' Day but, let's face it, if you haven't already sorted out your Mothers' Day gift, you're just a bad person.

So, here we are, buoyed by the success of home-made truffles (and conveniently ignoring the dismal failure of home-made cream soda) making Turkish Delight from scratch. Like truffles, it's a very simple recipe in terms of its ingredients. The process is a rather more complicated three-stage system, where two mixtures are made up separately, then mixed together. Also like truffles, it's one of those recipes that varies wildly wherever you go looking for it. There is a great tendency, these days, to go for convenience, and use gelatin... this, however, is not the favourite option because there are those who cannot or will not eat gelatin - those who have allergies and vegetarians will tend to steer well clear.

Thankfully, mine is going to be a more old-fashioned, allergen-free (I hope! Someone please tell me I'm ignoring any!) version that should be perfectly edible to one and all.

Apart from those strange people who don't like Turkish Delight. But, being fair, there is something a little sinister about a jelly-like confectionary that tastes like roses.

Nevertheless, let us begin...

  • 800g Granulated/Caster Sugar 
  • 120g Cornflour
  • 1 Teaspoon Cream of Tartar
  • 1 Tablespoon Lemon Juice (Waitrose Cooks' Ingredients 'A Dash of Sicilian Lemon Juice')
  • 2 Tablespoons Rosewater (Star Kay White's)
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Dusting: approx 360g Icing Sugar + 90g Cornflour
Preparation Time: About 30 minutes mixing, 1 hour simmering, plus cooling/setting time (overnight - 12+ hours)

Tools Required:
  • 2 Medium/Large Saucepans
  • Jam-makers' Thermometer
  • Large Plastic/Wooden Spoon or Spatula (for stirring)
  • 20cm Baking Pan
  • Grease-Proof Paper
  • Medium Mixing Bowl
  • Long, Sharp Knife
The Process:
Pour approx 300ml water into a medium/large saucepan and add 1 tablespoon of lemon juice and approx 800g sugar. Yes, that's a lot of sugar. I actually made the mistake of thinking "wow, 300ml isn't a lot of water... I should be able to make do with a small saucepan for this part." By the time this mixture was bubbling away, my saucepan very nearly overfloweth. Let my folly be a warning to you, gentle reader, to ensure your saucepans are larger. Stir on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved, then reduce to a low heat and allow to simmer for about 10-15 minutes, aiming to hit a tempertature of about 120C on your thermometer. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the second saucepan, heat approximately 700ml water, again on medium. mix together about 120g cornflour and a teaspoon of cream of tartar, then add to the water gradually, stirring all the while to avoid lumps. Keeps stirring as the mixture begins to boil, only stopping when the whole lot thickens and becomes gummy.

Add the previously-prepared lemony sugar-water mixture and stir in thoroughly for about 5 minutes. Turn the heat down to its lowest setting and allow to simmer for a full hour, stirring every so often.

While that's going, prepare your baking tin by pouring in a small amount of vegetable oil and spreading it around the inner surfaces. Line the tin with grease-proof paper, and oil that in the same way.

After an hour, the mixture should become a smooth, mostly transparent golden slime, possibly with a faintly lemon scent (or maybe that was my imagination). Take off the heat and thoroughly stir in 2 tablespoons of rosewater. Pour the mixture into the lined baking tin, and allow to cool before putting into the fridge overnight.

Mix together 4 parts icing sugar to 1 part cornflour in a bowl. When it's ready, tip the brick of Turkish Delight out onto a clean surface (might be worth dusting the surface slightly with the icing sugar/cornflour mix, or just put down a fresh layer of greaseproof paper). Lightly oil a sharp knife and cut the brick into even chunks. Shake them in the icing sugar/cornstarch mixture and set aside. Serve immediately or refrigerate with layers separated by greaseproof paper, and all the remaining sugar/cornflour mix dumped in to prevent sticking.

The Results:
I must confess that I sneakily tasted the mixture after pouring it out into the tin. It's extremely sticky, and even going at it with a spoon left a fair among of the slimy stuff in the saucepan, so my tasting was actually a measure to reduce wastage. Honest.

At this stage, while still slightly warm and sort-of liquid, the rosewater flavouring was quite subtle, much like the traditionally-made Turkish Delight you can sometimes pick up in the market that operates around London's Southbank area (close to the London Eye), rather than the over-sweetened, artificially-flavoured jelly that tends to appear in the high street shops.

Once set, it came out of the oiled grease-proof paper quite easily, but cutting it to size, even with an oiled knife, was very tricky. Whether there was something off about my mixture, or perhaps it should have remained in the fridge rather longer, I'm not sure... but I know it's supposed to be pretty sticky - which is why one coats it in the sugar/cornflour mixture - so maybe it was spot on.

The process of coating each piece didn't go very smoothly either. I couldn't quite tell if it was falling off or just soaking in to the surface of the sweet, but the power dusting seemed to fade after a few minutes. I tried re-coating a couple of pieces, but it wasn't particularly effective. The only way to keep them nice and dusted seems to be to make far more of the dusting that you need simply to coat them, and store the pieces in the dusting. Airtight containment shouldn't be an issue, because these things seem to sweat rather a lot and, as previously noted, proper Turkish Delight can be found in open-air markets.

Flavour-wise, they're still pretty subtle, but they definitely taste like Turkish Delight the rosewater is far more prominent than it was in slime-form. Perhaps it needed to 'breathe' for a while, but they turned out tasting just right (if I do say so myself). They do perhaps taste a little heavy on the sugar, so my next batch may cut down on that slightly...
The word from the folks was generally positive, though my father queried the lack of pink (believing the rosewater to be responsible for the 'usual' colour) and pointed out that I may have made a small error of judgement at the 'simmer for one hour' stage, because I put the lid on the saucepan. The point of simmering, he reckoned, is to boil away some of the water... and it seems likely that's why my Turkish Delight was sweating.

Classic Shepherd's Pie by Sainsbury's

Shepherd's pie is one of those things that I've spent most of my life accepting as one thing, but which turns out to be something else entirely. Like many of my acquaintance, I've always thought it was a dish made with minced beef - occasionally with some veg - in a rich gravy, topped with mashed potato. Turns out, shepherd's pie uses lamb, not beef, but is essentially otherwise the same. The beef version is apparently called cottage pie.

Here's my confusion: A shepherd is one who looks after a flock of sheep... surely he wouldn't be wanting a pie made out of one of his flock, or to be in a position where, at the barest hint of a rumbling tummy, his flock transform before his eyes into a buffet of tasty meals?

Perhaps logic should never be involved when naming foodstuffs.

Anyway. Here we have the second of three "Classic... by Sainsbury's" products I recently picked up for a mere £5. It's a decent-sized single-portion package that just needs to be cooked for 25 minutes (45 minutes from frozen). The package describes it as 'Braised minced New Zealand lamb in gravy with carrots topped with fresh buttery Maris Piper potato'. There's one small thing missing from that description - other than punctuation, that is - and that's onion, listed in the ingredients as 7% of the whole, making it slightly more substantial than the carrot (5%).

Now, New Zealand lamb is roundly regarded as good quality stuff, but even the best quality meat is going to lose a certain something when transported over 11,000 miles. No matter how much money one spends on lamb, by the time it's reached the UK high streets, it's generally become a little musty. I'm not sure if the whole 'gravy and veg' thing is meant to disguise this small fact, but it doesn't... certainly not in the case of this shepherd's pie.

Each mouthful is certainly richly flavoured, the potato is creamy and smooth, but the aftertaste borders on vile, and lingers for quite some time. Even after a drink and a sweet dessert, I could still detect hints of the minced lamb on my palate.

Then again, broadly speaking, this has been my experience of lamb in almost any form in recent years. Perhaps I should just accept that I don't much like lamb, and just avoid it entirely... and admit that this is probably not the fairest review in this blog... or at least suggest that shepherd's pie is probably best made fresh...

Tuesday 13 March 2012

On Portion Sizes

What should be considered the more pathetic:
  • The size of the individual choc-ices in a Sainsbury's 8-pack, or
  • Deciding to have two for dessert because they seem so small
Answers on a post card (or in the Comments...)

Thursday 8 March 2012

(Pre-Packaged) S&M Rodeo #5: Classic Bangers & Mash by Sainsbury's

Hey, come on - if it's available, I have to try it, right? Anyway, I was in the mood for another S&M Rodeo, but didn't fancy doing it from scratch (not that I've ever done the mash from scratch so far!), so this seemed like a good compromise.

The packaging bills it simply as "2 British pork sausages with onion gravy and mashed potato" - a nice, clear and unpretentious description. Cooking is a very simple process of just plonking it into the oven for 25 minutes (40 minutes from frozen), and then dumping it out onto a plate. While I'd prefer to be making stuff and trying new recipes, you just can't argue with this kind of simplicity.

While the description is quite meagre, the list of ingredients for the onion gravy alone makes very interesting reading (you can hear those cogs in my brain a-whirring already, can't you?) - onion, chicken and beef stocks, 'red onion chutney' (What? They used a ready-made chutney? I don't know if that's cheeky or inspired!), red wine and red wine vinegar, and of course cornflour, the one ingredient I forgot all about when I made an onion gravy from scratch. Curses!

Naturally, I'm going to compare it to my Sparky Onion Gravy, because I was quite proud of my own concoction, despite its flaws. In terms of flavour, this Sainsbury's Classic is much more strongly onion - quite a surprise, considering the melange of different stocks and the red wine, but I guess the use of a red onion chutney as a major component would have been a great help. Perhaps for my next attempt, I'll make a chutney, then incorporate it into a gravy...

But I digress...

I'm not trying to suggest that the gravy just tasted like onion - far from it. It's a rich, warm flavour that hints at a heavier, more extensive seasoning than the ingredients would suggest. Just the plain gravy would be nice enough, but the chopped onion adds to the texture, and the whole is very tasty complement for sausages which would otherwise be rather unremarkable (despite featuring their own seasoning - salt, white pepper, mace, ginger, nutmeg, parsley and sage), while the mash is a nice, smooth portion of creamy stodge to bind it all together.

As far as the portion size goes, I'm in two minds. At first glance, it appeared to have quite a miserly portion of mash, but it does go a long way. The sausages are nice and fat but, when I make my own sausages and mash, I'll cook at least three sausages, occasionally four if I'm really hungry. Corpulent though they are, the mere two supplied in this package just weren't enough, and the amount of gravy supplied could easily accommodate a third sausage.

Then again, I picked this up as part of an "Any 3 for £5" deal at my local Sainsbury's, and that's an excellent deal however you look at it.