Boulangere Potatoes

boulangere potatoes

I was doing a roast chicken and wanted a nice potato dish to go with it. But everything I looked at has masses of cream and/or butter. Shockingly bad for the diet. BUT. This dish is low-fat and tasty and relatively easy to do. It takes a little concentration but once it’s in the oven it just sits there and cooks itself, no bother.

Ingredients
Serves 4

4-5 largish potatoes
2 or 3 cloves of garlic (I used 4 and it was too much. Yes, it is possible to have too much garlic.)
1 onion or a couple of shallots
4 bay leaves
Chicken stock (I used a tub of fresh stock bought from the supermarket. If you are better than me and have stock you made, then I congratulate you. If you want to use a stock cube, I promise not to tell anyone.)

The Cooking

Peel the potatoes. If you have a fancy machine for slicing things thinly, such as a mandolin, then use that and slice the potatoes thinly. If, like me, you like to live by your wits, use that magical kitchen implement – a sharp knife. It’s actually suprisingly easy to thinly slice a potato. I will admit that I did have to discard the ends of the potato though, I’m not risking chopping off my fingers for the sake of a few more slices. Not even I am that dedicated.

Also thinly slice the onion and garlic.

Pre-heat the oven to 180/360/gas mark 5.

Now layer the potatoes in the bottom of the dish, and sprinkle some of the onion, garlic and bay leaves on top, thus:

potato bake

Season with salt and pepper and continue to layer the potatoes, garlic, bay and onion, ending with the potato on top.

Now pour on the stock so it comes up level to the top layer of potato. I didn’t have enough stock so just topped it up with water. The world did not collapse at this improvisation, although I’m sure it would have been even nicer had I used 100% stock.

Pop the dish in the oven on the highest shelf, and leave it there for about an hour. When it’s ready, it’ll be tender when prodded with a knife and collapsing into the stock.

This dish is very forgiving and will stay in the oven longer if you haven’t quite timed it right. Lovely.

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Quiche Lorraine

Quiche Lorraine

Considering I’ve never made pastry before, let alone quiche, this was a Project. But it’s on The List and what’s a long weekend for if not over-ambitious cookery projects?

The following recipe includes how to make the pastry. If you buy ready-made, just skip that gubbins and make straight for the quiche bit. This recipe is adpated from Leith’s Cookery Bible.

The Ingredients

This is for a 7 1/2 inch quiche dish

For the shortcrust pastry:
170g plain flour
a pinch of salt
30g lard (LARD!), cubed
55g butter, cubed
Very cold water to mix
1 egg yolk

For the quiche:
1/2 small onion, finely chopped
55g rindless streaky bacon, chopped roughly (for US readers, this is ordinary bacon)
A knob of butter (heh, “knob”)
5 tablespoons milk
5 tablespoons single cream
2 eggs
30g Gruyere or string cheddar cheese, grated
Salt and pepper

The Cooking

You want the butter and lard to be cold. This is, apparently, the trick to pastry-making. If they’re soft, they’ll be greasy and won’t make nice pastry. My mother-in-law also tells me you’re supposed to have cold hands, so I got a bag of frozen peas out of the freezer and held it in my hands whenever I felt they were getting a bit warm. This may have been a bit extreme.

Make sure you’re wearing an apron. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl and then rub in the cubes of lard and butter wth your fingertips. Try to do this lightly and persevere until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add two tablespoons of water to the mixture. As the recipe specifies “very cold”, I used ice-cubes. Again, this may have been a bit extreme. But it worked, so I’m not complaining.

Mix to a firm dough, first with a knife and then with your hands. If absolutely necessary, add more water but the pastry should not be too damp – although crumbly pastry is more difficult to handle, it produces a lighter result. I used 2 ice cubes and didn’t need any more.

Now comes the tricky bit – rolling it out. With a floured rolling pin, roll the pastry out on a floured surface into a circle big enough to line the quiche dish. Now, shortcrust pastry is tricky and I had to do several attempts before I successfully managed to line the dish – the pastry tears easily. The best way is to roll it out and then roll it round the rolling pin (like a swiss-roll type affair), and use that to lift it over the dish, and then roll it back out onto the dish.

Don’t worry if you get little tears, just patch it up with any excess pastry. No one will know. Make sure the pastry is well-fitted into the dish. Now refrigerate it in the fridge for about 30 minutes – this relaxes it and prevents shrinkage when it’s cooked.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F. Go and have a cup of tea.

Line the raw pastry case with some foil or baking parchment and fill it with dried lentils, beans rice, or even pebbles or coins – this is to prevent the pastry bubbling up during cooking. When the pastry is half-cooked (about 15 minutes), remove the “blind beans” and foil/paper. Brush the pastry with the egg yolk and return to the oven for 5 minutes until it’s turned a nice golden colour. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Now the quiche bit…

Fry the onion and bacon gently in the butter until cooked but not coloured. Drain well.

Mix together the milk, cream and eggs and add the onion, bacon and cheese. Season with salt and pepper, remembering that it’s already quite salty from the cheese and bacon. The mixture will be gloopy.

Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/300F and pour the mixture into the prepared flan case. Bake the quiche in the centre of the oven for about 40 minutes.

Remove the quiche outer casing and bake for another 5 minutes to allow the pastry to brown. The top of the quiche should be ever so slightly golden.

Leave it too cool and set for 15 minutes. Serve straight away or later cold. Marvel at your cookery prowess.

Sage and Onion Focaccia

focaccia

Considering I’ve only ever really made white or wholemeal plain loaves before, this was aspirational bread-making. But surprisingly easy, and most impressive.

Ingredients

700g strong plain white flour
pinch of salt
14ml fast-action dried yeast
450ml warm water
60ml good olive oil
Coarse sea salt or crystal salt, for sprinkling.
10-15 leaves fresh sage, chopped
1 small onion, thinly sliced

The Cooking

Get the largest bowl you have. The bigger it is, the less chance of flour getting everywhere. Also, for god’s sake wear an apron. Flour everywhere.

Put the flour, yeast, chopped sage leaves and salt into the bowl, make a well in the centre and gradually work in the warm water and 3 tablespoons of the olive oil. Work it all together using a wooden spoon until you can lift it out of the bowl in one go.

Place it on a floured surface and knead it for about ten minutes. What you want is for the dough to feel smooth and to bounce back a bit when you prod it with a finger. Be brave, because it can feel like you’re not going to get to this stage but it’ll happen. If it’s too dry, add a bit more water but not too much, don’t let it go soggy. If it gets soggy, add more flour.

To save washing up, clean the bowl you originally mixed the ingredients in, and then put the kneaded dough back in the bowl. It should look something like this:

Focaccia dough

Leave this covered with a dample cloth for about an hour until it’s doubled in size. Isn’t that clever, how dough rises?

Take the dough out of the bowl and knock it back. Don’t knead it too much, you want to keep a bit of air in it. Just give it a couple of punches. Now roll it out until it’s roughly a rectangle and place it in or on the tray you’re going to bake it in. Stretch it out so that it fits the tray. I used a large roasting tin because it was the most handy thing I had. You could use a large oven tray.

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/400F.

Now make deep dimples all over the suface of the dough using your fingertips. Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and sprinkle the salt on. Be generous with the salt. Also sprinkle on the sliced onions and a few torn sage leaves. It should now look something like this:

Focaccia dough

Put it in the oven and bake for about 25 minutes, until it’s turning golden.

When done, let it cool on a wire rack.

Eat, eat, eat!

Roast Carrots

roast carrots

People don’t roast carrots enough. And by “people”, I mean me. It’s so simple. Quarter the carrots, put on a baking tray, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and roast in a hot oven for 45 mins or so, shaking to move them about every now and again. They’re so sweet and sticky with their own sugar you could almost eat them for dessert.

If you want to add some herbs, thyme is particularly good. Just scatter it among the carrots.

Liver and Onions

Liver and onions

Yes, it’s liver. And yes, it’s tasty. Offal’s becoming fashionable again and if you’re not prepared to venture as far as hearts or kidneys (or, heaven help us, lungs), liver is an easy introduction. It couldn’t be simpler to cook and it’s very good value for money (I got enough to feed two for £1.70 today and that’s from the posh supermarket). When your work-mates or friends ask you what you had for dinner and you say “liver” they may say “ew”, but really they will wish they were you and had such sophisticated tastes.

My dad used to make me liver and onions and really overcook the liver, which makes it rather leathery. I like it that way because all girls like the way their daddies cook special meals, but on cooking it myself I aimed for non-leathery. It came out well.

Served with steamed asparagus and garlic roasted cauliflower, inspired by Cooking Debauchery. Note: this meal is low-GI and low-fat for those of us who like that kind of thing.

Ingredients
Serves 1

150g Lamb’s liver
Plain flour
1/2 pint/ 300ml beef stock (cube wll do)
50ml Madiera/Sherry
1 small onion, halved and sliced
A couple of mushrooms (optional)
1tsp mustard (Dijon if you have it)
Thyme if you have it.
Some olive oil

For the Cauliflower
About a quarter of a head of cauliflower
4 cloves of garlic, peeled (less if you’re not a garlic fiend like me)
Olive oil

The Cooking

Okay, you’re going to have to touch the liver. There’s no getting round this. Put some flour on a plate and then dip the liver in the flour to coat it. That’s it. You don’t have to touch it anymore.

Heat up a couple of tablespoons of oil to a high heat (as a guide you should be unable to hold your hand an inch above the pan for more than 3 seconds) and fry the liver for a couple of minutes on each side. It won’t take long.

Remove the liver from the pan and set aside. Put the onion and mushroom (if using) into the pan and, remaining on a high heat, fry for about 5 minutes until the onions get a nice colour. While this is happening, measure out the stock. After the five mins are up, add the liver back in and pour in the stock. Also add the madeira/sherry and the mustard and stir it all together. Now leave to simmer uncovered for 15 minutes.

Check it every now and again and if the sauce needs thickening sprinkle in some of the flour leftover from coating the liver.

The Garlic Roasted Cauliflower

Differing slightly from Cooking Debauchery, I parboiled the cauliflower for a couple of minutes before popping it in the oven at 200C/390F with the garlic and drizzled in oil for 30 minutes. Move around half way through. Simple, effective, tasty.

Yorkshire Pudding

Yorkshire Puddings

Verdict: not a sucess. They look nice but were in fact rock solid on the outside and dense on the inside. Could be a couple of things – too much mixture, balance of ingredients not right, left in the oven too long, moon not in alignment with saturn.

Yorkshire puds are perilous things, not for the meek cook. I will try again. The recipe I used (from The Cook’s Book) had a shedload of oil in, which is what is likely to have made it go hard on the outside (the same happens to bread). Next time I’ll change that, probably use Delia’s recipe. As much maligned as she is, you can’t beat Delia for reliability.

Also, please note my spiffy table mats.

Chicken Liver Pate

chicken liver pate

This recipe is adapted from Leith’s Cookery Bible, the most-used book in my collection. I’ve been making it for several years now and I think I’ve got it pretty good. I differ from a lot of recipes in that I prefer the liver to be fairly well cooked because I just think it has a fuller flavour that way. I’ve prettied today’s version up by sticking some basil leaves in the ramekins. I haven’t done that before so maybe it’ll taste terrible, but I think it’ll be okay.

Ingredients
To make the amount shown above:

pate ingredients

125g/4oz butter
1 small onion, very finely sliced (shallots also work well – 3 or 4 of them)
1 large clove of garlic, bashed and chopped
250g chicken livers (I got mine from the farmers market and they’re richer than the supermarket versions)
2 tablespoons brandy
A good handful of parsley
salt and fresh pepper

Cooking

Yes, it’s an awful lot of butter. But can you think of a dish that wasn’t improved by the addition of butter? I usually only make this starter for christmas or for guests that I like a lot. It’s rich, but it never fails to impress.

First, do your prep – chop the onions and garlic and wash the chicken livers. If there are any green bits, discard them.

Next you melt half the butter in a non-stick pan and then you slowly fry the onions until they’re translucent (but not brown, this is a recipe that does not benefit from the bitterness of browned onions). When they look like this:

frying onions

You add the garlic. Fry for one minute more. Now add the chicken livers. If you’ve had the heat on low so you don’t burn the onions and garlic, turn it up now – they won’t burn now. Brown the chicken livers on all sides. I’ve read recipes that tell me this should take 3 minutes. I’ve found that to get them to my liking takes about 10 minutes. Call me a heathen, I think it tastes more mature this way. Add salt and pepper as you like.

Now comes the fun bit. Pour some brandy into a tablespoon and set it alight, either with a lighter or with the flame if you’re using a gas hob. Pour it over the livers. Do this again with another tablespoon. Cook for another couple of minutes to take the edge off the alcohol.

Once it’s all done to your liking, take them off the heat and let them cool a bit. Once they’re cool enough, pour them into the blender and add the rest of the butter and the parsley. Blend for a good two or three minutes to get it nice and smooth.

Depending on how you’re going to serve the pate, pour it into appropriate dishes. Today I used ramekins, usually I would use one big dish. Do let it cool before you eat it, the flavour gets more subtle as it cools. Serve wth big lumps of crusty bread.

Duck Egg Omelette

Duck eggs are in season at the moment and I snagged half a dozen at the farmer’s market yesterday. Duck eggs are larger than chicken eggs, the yolks are noticeably a brighter yellow and the whites are more viscous. I hadn’t ever cooked with duck eggs before, so an omelette sounded just the thing.

And indeed it was. I made it very plain, with a few shavings of parmasan (oh yes, I shave my parmasan). The richness of the duck eggs worked with the cheese very well, and although Mr B found it too rich and couldn’t finish his I’d definitely have them again.

Handy tip: I learned a while ago that omelettes do best if you don’t whisk them too much beforehand, just enough to mix them up a bit. It seems to work.

Now I’m going to make a chicken liver pate, then a roast chicken with parsnips, carrots and Yorkshire puddings. I’ve never made Yorkshire pudding before, so wish me luck.

Mayonnaise

mayonnaise

This was my second attempt at home-made mayonnaise. The first time I tried, I made it with olive oil and frankly, it tasted like oily ass. I threw it away. This time I made it with groundnut oil, which is flavourless.

Ingredients (makes 300ml)

2 egg yolks
1tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp white wine vinegar
250ml oil
2tsp lemon juice
Salt and white pepper (I left out the pepper because all I have is black pepper and I didn’t want the mayonnaise to be all speckly)

Cooking

Put the egg yolks, mustard and vinegar in a mixing bowl. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. Handy tip – steady bowl on a dampened tea towel so it doesn’t slide about.

Add the oil, drop by drop to begin with, then in a steady thin stream, whisking all the time. When all the oil has been incorporated and the mayonnaise is thick, stir in the lemon juice. Marvel at how clever you are.

Pesto

Pesto

Pesto is one of those things which is absolutely always worth making yourself because it tastes so much fresher and it’s incredibly easy. I mean really, really easy. Made in five minutes easy.

To make the amount shown in the above picture (which should serve four):

Ingredients
Basil (about 30 leaves)
100ml good olive oil
40g pine nuts (you can toast these if you like, I don’t always bother)
50g Parmasan cheese, freshly grated. If you can get pecorino cheese, use 25g pamasan and 25g pecorino
Salt

Cooking

“Cooking” is a bit of a misnomer, because all you need to do is bung it all in the blender and whizz it until it’s the consistency you want. Ta dah! I think it’s even nicer the next day when the ingredients have had the chance to get to know each other. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few days (but not much longer).

And it doesn’t just have to be served with pasta. It’s good on chicken, fish, asparagus too. Or stir some into a vegetable soup. I urge you, make your own pesto today,

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