Thursday, 23 June 2011

Schnitzel, Sweet Potato Gratin, Cauliflower Cheese, Braised Cabbage & Cheesecake

I seem to have a problem. It involves going overboard. I don’t know what it is, but for some reason I find it hard to say ‘that will do’. I start with an idea, build it up on good principles, but by the time I’m done with it there’s a whole extra layer of ad-ons that really probably weren’t necessary. This week’s dinner is a prime example. I thought I’d do schnitzels. Simple enough. I thought it would be nice to jazz them up slightly by adding a few things to the crumbs like a bit of parmesan and parsley. Still pretty straight forward. Then I thought of what to have with it – potatoes were a given, but I have been using potatoes a lot lately so thought I’d go really crazy and use sweet potato instead (note to self – no potatoes for a while. There are plenty more exciting ‘fillers’ out there. Quinoa anyone?) I did the potatoes gratin style – chilli and garlic with cream and baked. Good result but my a mandolin would have come in handy.
So then veg – thought some red cabbage would be awesome because I love red cabbage and it reminds me of plenty good Sundays spent at our infamous favourite pub that need not be named. It’s tasty too. While shopping for the cabbage however I spotted some cauliflower and thought ‘ooh cauliflower cheese! That’s always a winner’ so put that in the basket as well. You would think that meat and three veg would suffice, but for some reason I have this thing where if there’s nothing green on your plate then there’s something wrong (the full English fry-up was always something I never seemed to be able to ingest) so then I decided to do green beans as well. And they got done with some pine nuts and garlic. Blimey well you would’ve thought I was cooking a Sunday roast or something. It was lucky my school finished three hours early or I would’ve seriously been breaking more than a sweat.
There were similar lines with dessert. Cheesecake was the order of the day – white chocolate cheesecake to be precise. But instead of just doing basics I added pistachio to the mix and a bit of coconut to the base. Both good additions but again, not crucial. And because I felt a slice of cake on a plate was near to nakedness, I whizzed up some raspberry coulis to accompany. And that believe it or not was the most laborious part of the whole dinner. Who would’ve thought pushing pureed berries through a sieve could take the best part of half an hour...? True story. So my mission for my next dinner is this: keep it simple. Take an idea, but not let myself get carried away with step after step and process after process. I do wonder if perhaps I’m just being slack, and that these things have to be done in order to actually produce good food.... I mean it does take a while to pull all the broad beans out of their pods, or to shell the pistachios one by one. Maybe I’m just making bad choices, picking things that aren’t so quick and easy. OR... maybe we’re all being so infested with these ‘30 minute here’s-a-four-course-meal’ concept that we forget that cooking actually takes time. Who knows. What I do know though is that I personally seem to go a little too far sometimes. I might try and just do ‘pasta’ next. God that just sounds so dull though doesn’t it. Or it could really be that I am just shocking at time management. That’s probably it.  Anyway. The food was good I believe. Another round of stuffed stomachs on the premises.  
Next week: corn five ways.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Coq au Vin, Champ, and Rhubarb Crumble

     I remember when I first made coq au vin. We had been watching a food programme on the tv and it was the main dish of the programme. The food looked so tempting we actually went out that day and bought all the ingredients to make it. I remember it because the eventual taste and flavour was so good I couldn’t believe we had created it. It was simple and delicious. And it was from scratch.
just a few ingredients...
        After watching Julie and Julia (for the second time) the idea of French food was well on my mind, so I decided to cook it for dinner this week. The main ingredients were simple enough: chicken, bacon, mushrooms, a few herbs, shallots and of course some red wine. I decided to do champ instead of mash as well just to mix it up a bit. This largely involves crushing the new potatoes with leeks and a bit of butter and milk. Kind of like a half-hearted mash but with a bit of extra flavour. There’s always a place for leeks at dinner I think.

        As simple as the dish should be, I suppose where I struggled was just how to put the whole thing together. It all ends up in the same pot but there are a few variations on how it should get there. Some recipes call for browning all the ingredients first in stages and then combining it all at the end and letting it cook. I wasn’t sure of this concept as I thought a lot of flavour would be lost through doing this. Other options as well were braising the mushrooms, onions and carrots about half an hour before serving, and adding them at the end to the sauce. I was thinking if the carrots and onions went in sooner it would again add more flavour. But, there is the risk of it all breaking down which I suppose wouldn’t be great. In the end I followed the recipe mostly traditionally – flouring the chicken and browning it in the pancetta juices, followed by the shallots, and then covering with the wine and a bit of stock. Soon I discovered there was no way the carrots were going to fit with the mushrooms and the meat so they got roasted separately with some garlic and honey. After a good few taste tests it seemed the sauce needed a lot of adjusting. I removed the chicken after 2 hours of cooking and reduced it whilst skimming. The flavour still seemed to be lacking so I added another good half a bottle of red and continued to reduce. This helped a lot.

        A few mentions of rhubarb had spread across the dinner table in the past so I decided to use it this week for dessert. A classic choice was to make a crumble. What I love about crumble is how easy it is to produce and what general happy reactions people give when they eat it. Rubbing the butter with the flour is always a nice time to zone out, gaining a few moments of stillness while the crumbs form and fall into the bowl. I cooked the rhubarb with plenty of sugar (there never seems to be too much when it comes to the bitterness of rhubarb) as well as the juice and zest of two oranges. Ground almonds and a bit of toasted muesli went in to the topping and this got layered thickly on top. I made a crème anglaise to accompany which was quite honestly devoured.
        It was a quiet evening, a small amount of 6 around the table and the fire going in the background. The frosty night sedated us all so we sat and relaxed in true form. For the first time in a while bowls of leftovers were piled in to the fridge at the end, my concept of portioning once again off the mark. Still, it was good to know that coq au vin found its way back into my kitchen. As I’m sure it will again too.