42 posts categorized "Recipes"

07 October 2011

Onions roasted in chicken soup aka Orbs of Joy

However mature we are, a recipe called 'Orbs of Joy' is always going to get a snigger. I imagine it will also generate some interesting traffic from Google.

That aside, it is one of the simplest recipes for a delicious side-dish and comes from Fergus Henderson's Beyond Nose to Tail: A Kind of British Cooking: Part II.  I used it recently as a side-dish to a bollito misto.

I have tweaked his recipe slightly.  He uses chicken stock, but I went for a more intense flavour and used chicken soup - it also happened to be what I had to hand.  However, to compensate, I use less liquid than he recommends.

You'll end up with a sweet, caramelised, soft onion.  I imagine that whole fresh cloves of garlic would be pretty special cooked in the same way, or perhaps turnips.  The world is your oyster etc etc.

So prepare yourself for this recipe, it's a toughy.  Or not.

Reckon on 1 red onion per person.

  • Red onions
  • Chicken soup

Peel the onions and place in an oven proof dish.

Pour over the chicken soup.  I did it to about one-third to a half the depth of the onion.  In his recipe, Henderson, using chicken stock, suggests almost covering the onions in stock.

Braise them in a medium oven for about half an hour or until they are nice and gooey.

31 August 2011

Bea's Vegan Chocolate Cake

I don't really bother with desserts.  It's not that I don't have a sweet tooth - I do, as much as the next fat man.  Rather, I have a technical problem with them. Specifically, the prohibition under the laws of kashrut to mix milk and meat.  

Whilst we're banned from combining milk and meat in recipes - nyet to chicken kiev for example - we also have to wait an extended period of time between eating meat and eating dairy products.  The gap I observe is 3 hours.  Which is why I don't really bother with dessert.  Dessert is all about milk, cream or butter, so really what is the point.

Some people get around this by going to town on the multitude of substitutions available but I consider them to be abominations.  I also think that generally after a relatively heavy meal, some fresh fruit or sorbet is not the end of the world.

But I have hankered for some time after a decent dessert that I can pull out of the bag when necessary. Something beyond lokshen pudding (bread and butter pudding, without the bread or butter) or almond cake in orange syrup (a Sefardi/Spanish favourite).  And I just may have found one in Tea with Bea: Recipes from Bea's of Bloomsbury.

As the name suggests, this is the first book from Bea Vo, owner of the eponymous Bea's of Bloomsbury. Over the years of blogging, tweeting and eating I've got to know Bea fairly well.  I can tell you this about her: her cakes are outstanding, she's a voracious collector of cookbooks, she's a great source for sourcing hard to find produce and she knows her way around the restaurant industry.  I implore you to try her cakes, if that fails buy her book so you can try them yourself, or if that fails, just follow her on Twitter.  Unlike others, she doesn't spend her time self-promoting and is happy to engage in fairly broad ranging debate, when she's not baking.

So, I bought the book because I'm a fan and an acquaintance.  I also was hoping to learn a bit more about baking from it because I haven't had much experience and I'm not very good at it.  

Flicking through the book from back to front, as I always do with new cookbooks, my eye was caught by the Vegan Chocolate Cake.  At first, I was a bit horrified.  Bea is not a lady who panders to whims and I feared she had sold out to the whiny-brigade.  It then dawned on me that I have a claim to be a member of that particular army and Bea might just be a saviour and perhaps I could overlook my substitution snobbishness and accept soy milk in a recipe.

The cake was a revelation.  The sponge tasted of Oreos - a good thing - and the icing was simply very rich chocolate.  It was delicious.  

I should admit that whilst it tasted lovely, mine looked like a disaster, a reflection of a few issues I had baking it.  For example, after making the chocolate mousse filling/topping, it looked like someone had staged a dirty protest in our kitchen.  Further, being an impatient baker and egged on by a young child, I decided to layer on the chocolate icing before the cake had fully cooled.  Therefore I cut the sponge before it was cool and put chocolate on top of warm sponge.  Not very accomplished.

As per Bea's note at the start of the recipe, you don't need to bother telling people it's vegan when you give it to them, it might put them off.  Then again, this does have its advantages, such as there's more for you to eat and in my experience the sponge benefits from a being a day or so old.

The recipe I give below is for my version of the chocolate cake.  The main difference with the one that Bea has in the book is that I'm lazy.  I didn't include the raspberries, strawberries or crystallised violets she suggests incorporating into the mousse.  They do sound good though.

Serves 8-12

For the cake

  • 23cm round cake pan, greased and baselined with parchment paper
  • 275g plain flour
  • 100g natural cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • a pinch of salt
  • 450ml unsweetened soy milk
  • 2 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 320g caster sugar
  • 320ml sunflower oil
  • 2 tbsp vanilla extract

For the mousse

  • 800g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (or in my case smashed) into pea-sized pieces
  • 600ml hot water
  • lots of ice - I used about 400g

Preheat the oven to 160C, gas mark 4.

Put the flour, cocoa powder, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder and salt into a large mixing bowl and sift twice through a sieve.

In a separate bowl, whisk the soya milk, vinegar, sugar, oil and vanilla extract.  Pour into the flour mixture and stir until well combined.  I took that to mean a consistent colour throughout the mixture.

Spoon the lot into the prepared cake pan and bake in the preheated oven for 40-55 minutes.  Bea suggests that you can test when it's done by inserting a wooden skewer into the centre of the cake.  If cooked, the skewer should be crumb-free when you pull it out.  She also says that when the cake is ready, if you press the middle of the cake it should spring back, rather than sink.  If it does sink, or your skewer is crumb-laden, return the cake to the oven for a further 5-10 minutes and check again.

Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan, probably with the aid of a knife and cool on a rack for 1 hour.

While it's cooling you can make the mousse.

Put the chocolate in a large, wide heatproo bowl over a saucepan of simmering water.  Don't let the base of the bowl touch the water.  Leave the chocolate until it is melted, then stir with a wooden spoon until smooth and glossy.

Remove from the heat.

Pour the hot water into the bowl of chocolate and mix until nice and smooth.

Sit the bowl in a dish filled with ice cubes.  Using an electric whisk, quickly whisk the chocolate and water mixture thoroughly and quickly until a stiff mousse forms.

Don't forget my warning about the dirty protest.  The kitchen re-decoration wasn't helped by my mousse not thickening.  So, as per Bea's suggestion, I melted more chocolate and whisked that in quickly and suddenly it became a mousse.

She suggests that if it gets too thick, you can add a touch more warm water, or espresso, or whisky to thin it out.

Then cut the cake horizontally.  She suggests 3 layers, but I didn't risk it and opted for two.  Then again, mine was in a near state of collapse given my haste and refusal to let it fully cool.

You then spread the mousse between the layers and on top of the cake.  If you're using the various berries and sweets, now's the time to add them.

Eat and enjoy.

10 November 2010

The SsLuT

I haven't always kept kosher.  It was a rash decision I took before my barmitzvah.  As I was learning more about my religion, I realised it was something I wanted to do.  My decision may also have been influenced by my brother who made a very similar decision some years earlier.

I've only wavered once, when I was at university and increasingly getting into food in a slightly obsessive way.  I couldn't see the point of keeping kosher.  I then met a very special lady, who got me back on track.

This is a long way of saying I know not of a BLT, but I understand from all who partake that they're tasty.  And it is from the insistence of others that the SsLuT was born: smoked salmon, lettuce and tomato.

Some years ago, I got to thinking that there was an odd similarity between bacon and smoked salmon.  Obviously, there is the issue of one coming from a land based mammal and the other a fish.  One being a cheap product and the other until recently, being quite expensive.  BUT they're both quite fatty.  They're often served in strips (tenuous I know), they err towards pink (I know, I know) and their respective flavour profiles are relatively earthy.  Ok look, maybe I'm pushing my luck, but stay with me because the resulting sandwich is a stunna. 

Get some smoked salmon.  Heat your frying pan until it gets very hot, turn on the extractor (it all gets rather fishy) and place your fish in the pan.  Stand back as it sizzles and let it cook until it turns brown at the edges - shouldn't take too long at all - turn the salmon over and repeat.

This is a sandwich best eaten in either an onion platzel or a sesame bagel.  It needs mayo, preferably homemade so it's not too claggy.  Lettuce and tomato are to taste.

It's really very good.  It's the SsLuT.

Just to finish, a (useful) bit of trivia.  There is a fish that is kosher (not all of them are) that is called shibuta that supposedly tastes of pork.  It sounds pretty gross to me, I'm not sure I want my fish tasting of pork.  Nonetheless, if anyone happens to catch one as you're fishing in the Euphrates, do let me know, I'm intrigued to try it.

04 January 2010


Other than the religious requirement that the seventh day should be a day of rest, it makes quite of lot of pragmatic sense.  After a knackering week it's quite nice knowing that you can't do anything and should have a day of rest.  A cynical glutton might note that after a plate of cholent you're not good for much. 

Cholent, the Ashkenazi take on the mother of all stews is a bowel-thoughtful combination of beans, potatoes and meat cooked from Friday afternoon until it is eaten at Saturday lunch.

There's not a bad run-down of its history and derivations on Wikipedia, but my favorite history is Claudia Roden's in her seminal Book on Jewish Food.  Suffice to say it is a peasant dish that is open to some, but not vast interpretation.  The long cooking to abide by the laws of the Sabbath mean that robust ingredients that can stand-up to a prolonged simmer are ubiquitous.

I would like to be able to regale you with tales of my family's recipe and how it dates back to Heime Silverbrow, who like his descendants after him was a slave to his stomach, so despite fleeing the latest pogrom the Pale was throwing at him, he refined his cholent to a sublime dish.  How it had been passed down from bubbe to spoiled brat until it landed in my lap, and thence on to my table.  But it would be nothing more than a myth.

I did not grow up on a diet of cholent, I think it's fair to say its lack of refinement and the fact we didn't observe Sabbath meant it wasn't a regular on our familial table.

But things have changed and now it does get an outing, but the recipe is my own, based on others I have tasted and recipes I have read.  I had a bit of a disaster when I last made it, it was the first time in a new oven.  I've now got the recipe to a level I'm happy with.  It's a great dish, but does require a day of rest once eaten.

Serves 8

A crucial part of the recipe is what you cook it in.  I have only ever used one dish, a Le Creuset Casserole.  I know they're not cheap, but you want something with some heft if you're subjecting it to 18 hours of cooking.  In particular you need something with a lid that seals well if it is not to dry out.  The old-skool way of ensuring it didn't was sealing the lid with dough that would be baked into a seal as the dish cooked.  I've never tried it and don't intend to start.  Especially as I like to take a peek through the cooking process to check whether a top-up of water is required.

A word on the ingredients.  There is flexibility in what you include but beans of some sort and pearl barley should definitely be included, as obviously should meat and potatoes.  I'm not too militant on the beans I use, usually they're a mix of kidney, pinto, borlotti and the like.  The addition of wine is a modern affectation I quite like for flavour.  I used hot spicy paprika because it was all I had to hand.  I wonder if those of Hungarian stock might be more inclined to use a sweeter one, but the spicy kick from the hot paprika is quite invigorating I find.

UPDATE: As further proof of the flexibility of the ingredients for this wunder dish, it's worth noting that both Simon in the comments below uses beef shin as does Esther Walker's fiance and he knows a thing or two about food.  You couldn't get much further from the beef cheek I use. 

  • 250g beans - soak the beans the night before you use them, don't use tinned, they'll turn to mush
  • 50g of pearl barley
  • 750g stewing beef cubed
  • 500g beef cheek cubed
  • 5 large potatoes peeled and cut into large chunks
  • 1 large onion, cut into large dice
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large dice
  • 5 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 bay leaves (use 1 if bay is dried)
  • 1 tsp of smoked hot paprika
  • 200ml red wine - I used a Barbaresco most recently
  • 1.5l water - or enough to cover the contents of the pot

The cooking time is exceptionally long - that is afterall the point. I reckon that for the fully authentic Shabbat experience, you need to start cooking approximately 18 hours before you plan to eat - this excludes bean soaking time, which should be the night before you start cooking.

Lightly fry the onions, carrots and garlic in vegetable oil in the pot you're cooking the dish in.

Add salt and pepper liberally.

Drain the beans and add them and the barley on top of the vegetables.

Add the meat and the rest of the ingredients next. Add more salt and pepper, I favour being heavy handed with both.

Cover the lot with a cartouche.  If you've no idea what I'm talking about, go and watch this super-dry Aussie to learn.

I then put in the oven at 100°F and leave it.

I do check on it at various points, in particular just before I go to bed and then in the morning. If it needs a bit of a top-up of water, then add it. Bear in mind that the consistency of the dish should change significantly over the course of cooking. It will start as quite a watery stew but should end up as thick, deep rust coloured (or is that Titian red?) and gelatinous. Not gluey, there should be some moisture in it, but the end product will look very different to what you started with.

I'm quite partial to drinking it with a decent single malt.  The smokiness, even of something quite smooth, not too peaty, works well.  I've even been known to cut to the chase and empty a shot over my portion.

03 January 2010

Chicken soup

With all this freezing weather, we've been making a lot of chicken soup lately.  Since I first wrote about it in February 2006 my recipe has evolved somewhat.  I have amended my original recipe accordingly.  So what is here, is how I now cook it.

The changes are adding the chicken carcass, increasing the number of onions and cloves of garlic and tweaking the quantity of water.  I also tend not to include a leek any more.

  • 1 roaster chicken with giblets & feet
  • 1 chicken carcass - try cracking some of the bones, it helps release the gelatine
  • 5 onions, peeled and halved
  • 1 carrot, peeled and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 stick of celery, destringed and chopped into large pieces
  • 1 clove of garlic, peeled
  • 2 fresh bay leaves (if using dried, just use 1)
  • 3-3.5l water

The method for cooking is exactly the same as in the original recipe i.e. putting the lot in the pot and letting it heat up, skim the scum and enjoy at its best the day or two after being made.

10 December 2009

Crowd saucing salt beef

UPDATE: At long last I've got a recipe I'm happy with. Please use the new recipe, rather than the method below.

What with hailing from the shtetl (a century or so ago), perhaps my love of salt beef can be attributed to genes, or Proust.  Maybe it's just that it's very tasty when done well.  Whatever, it is one of my favourite comfort foods.  The simple thought of it makes me happy. 

It is easiest, and therefore, best cooked in large hunks, it therefore rewards the greedy or generous.  It has to be cooked for a long period, so no item of clothing or furniture lacks the telling whiff of bay, pepper and meat. 

When you finally get to eat it, your taste buds have spent the last three hours limbering up as the smell of the dish permeates the house.  As the lid is lifted off the pot you're hit with an intense waft of meaty steam.  Then out comes a glistening hunk of fatty meat.  And then the real anticipation begins.  Not just of taste, but of the cut.  Has it cooked for the right amount of time?  Are you about to get a stringy mass of meat, or lithe slices? 

And what of the taste?  Umami and a hint of salt are all you need to worry about. 

It should be self evident why I decided I really needed to turn my hand to brining and cooking the dish for myself. 

Which brings me neatly on to my first experiment and my recipe below.  Let's start at the end.  I was deeply disappointed with what I made.  It was overly salty and pretty darn tough.

The best I can say is that before carving or tasting it, I had immense satisfaction lifting it out of the pot and knowing I pickled the bugger.  It's just what came next that deflated my smugness.

Before we progress, a word about the beef.  Mine was from the blade end.  It was quite fatty and I didn't trim it.  I wonder if this is the source of error.  I'd thought that by leaving it on it would make it even more moist.  I wonder if in fact it made the meat tougher by contracting rather than relaxing the meat.  Is this bollocks?  Is it possible to have too much fat when boiling meat?

I should add for the assumption-jumpers reading this that of course I removed the fat before eating it.

So, I post this recipe here as a starting point.  It is an aide memoire for me.  I'm going to make this again and want to remember what I did first time round.  More importantly, I'm posting it here because I'd like to get your thoughts on where I went wrong.

The recipe I used was largely based on Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall's in the excellent Meat.  Unfortunately, many of my cookbooks are still in storage and I was unable to dig out Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited, I'm certain there must be a recipe in there.  I triangulated HFW's recipe with others I found on the internet and by scouring recipes in as many books as I could get my hands on.  The tweaks are minor - I didn't use juniper berries, he recommends them and the like.

So, in this instance more than any other I'd be delighted to get your thoughts on where I went wrong and how to ensure the salt beef of my dreams.

For the salting/brining

  • 3kg brisket
  • 5L water
  • 500g demerera sugar
  • 1.5kg salt
  • 1 tsp black peppercorns
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 30g saltpetre

You will also need a large non-metallic container to hold the beef whilst it's brining.

Cooking the beef

  • 2 bay leaves
  • Bunch of thyme
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stick, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic

To salt the beef

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Day 1: 3kg of brisket

Put all the ingredients for the brine in a pan and bring to the boil.  The salt and sugar will dissolve.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.  And remember that means completely.  Unless you want to get on first name terms with your local A&E team, you don't want your beef cooked in tepid water for the thick end of a week.  So let it cool down.

Once the brine is cool (got it, cool) put the beef into your container and cover with the brine.  You may need to weigh down the meat to stop it floating in the brine.  I used a couple of small Le Creuset dishes as you can see in my Bailey-esque photos.

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Day 1: The meat just after it has gone in the brine

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Day 1: The meat in brine

My 3kg of meat spent 5 days in the brine. 

As per HFW's instructions I left the brining meat in a cool room.  However, I have to admit that three days in I got cold feet and, as this was due to feed a large proportion of my nearest and dearest, I did put it in the fridge.  I knew this would slow the brining process - perhaps that was why it was so tough?  But then again, would it have been even saltier if I'd let it brine at room temperature?

Throughout the brining I checked on it regularly and over the days the beef clearly changed colour and throughout it smelt very good - spicy and of cloves.

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Day 5: The meat shortly before it comes out of the brine (the weird circular indent is the mark left by something that was weighing it down)

I removed it from the brine five days after putting it in.  I had expected the meat to be quite soft, instead it was much firmer than I expected.  In my notes I wrote that it was very firm.  I did get slightly concerned at this point.  I've cooked pre-brined salt beef numerous times and that had attuned my expectations, I don't remember it being quite so stiff.  Again, my unscientific mind wondered whether the copious fat had played a part, perhaps too much of it resulted in the whole brisket toughening up in the salty brine?

The meat was also browner than I had expected. I wonder if I didn't use enough saltpetre. 

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Day 5: The meat out of the brine

Nonetheless I was hopeful as I rinsed it under the tap - it was very slippery so hold tight - and then soaked it in fresh cold water for 24 hours.  I think over that period I changed the water three times.  The meat shouldn't float in this water - it's no longer chilling in the Dead Sea.

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Day 5: The meat in clean, fresh water

Now comes the cooking.  Put the beef in a pot with herbs and vegetables and cover with fresh water.  As I always do, I cooked it on a low heat on the hob for approximately 3 hours.  You want it to be a rolling boil and by that I mean: the water's gently bubbling rather than furiously splashing.

And that's it.  The cooking bit I've done before and never had a problem.  This was a disaster and I'd love to know the reasons.  Did I simply not cook it long enough?  Was the brine mix wrong? Was there too much fat? Was it a mistake wimping out and putting it in the fridge?

I want to crack this, so am hoping to give it another go shortly.  Any further thoughts before then are gratefully received.

11 September 2009

Apple & black pepper sorbet

This sorbet is a very good foil to a rich Rosh Hashanah lunch - or any time you've eaten far too much rich dense food.  At the end of such a large meal you want something refreshing.  The spiciness of the pepper helps remind your tongue to wake-up.

Makes just under 1L of sorbet.

  • 1L medium / dry apple juice (I quite like Duskin Farm's Bramley apple juice)
  • 75g caster sugar
  • 1 lemon - juiced
  • 200 ml water
  • 5 peppercorns crushed - I find ground peppercorns just disappear

As with all sorbets it's pretty darn easy.

Combine all the ingredients in a pan and heat for about 20mins.  It will come to a boil, but try to keep it at a simmer rather than rolling boil - you don't want too much to evaporate.

Place it in the fridge to cool thoroughly.

Then if you're using an ice-cream machine, follow its instructions for making sorbet.  With my machine, that basically means turning the freezer unit on to get it cold, then putting the syrup in the bowl to churn for around 30-40 minutes.

If you don't have an ice-cream machine, put the cooled syrup in a container that can go in the freezer and keep an eye on it - every hour or so - and scrape the surface with a fork to break-up the ice-crystals.  Eventually the whole lot will freeze, but not into a solid block, which will happen if you don't scrape. 

I find this method ends up more like granita than sorbet, that is, larger chunks of ice.  My preference is for a smoother sorbet, but each to their own.