Friday, March 26, 2010

Lamb Parcels, Stuffed Courgette, Sigara Boregi

Spices are something beautiful. They completely transform our perception of taste, dancing around the tongue, making us happily indulge ourselves in the idea of travelling without moving. Honestly, who would not imagine his or her self on an instant holiday, eyes closed and mouth full of fragrant flavours of the south, the sun and the heat? In current times this might be the only way of experiencing distant travelling for some of us, believe me, I do know what I'm talking about. So this time, I want to betake myself to the mystical orient, the countries of the One Thousand And One Nights, the culinary cradle of spice. Passengers flying to Marrakesh, Cairo or Istanbul, please proceed to the boarding gate!

This is a very simple dish, but you need a certain variety of spices to give the couscous this nice flavour. I used what I found in our kitchen cabinet: cumin seeds, aniseed, cinnamon and saffron. Before grinding, heat up a small pan and roast the seeds all together for 1-2 minutes, so the heat releases their beautiful flavour. Grind the spices together using mortar and pestle, then mix with the couscous. Then simply pour some boiled water over the couscous mixture and stir in some olive oil. Set aside. In the meantime, wash the zucchini and cut them in half, lenght ways. Gently scoop out the insides including seeds, being careful not to crack the zucchini skin. Season with some salt and pepper. Then go back to the couscous and while it's still warm, stir in a chunk of butter to make the couscous soft and radiant. Fill the zucchini boats with the golden granules, drizzle some olive oil on top and give it another pinch of salt & pepper. Bake in the oven 180 degrees for 10-15 min until they are cooked.

Yufka is a Turkish filo pastry, but much thinner than the filo pastry we are used to buying in supermarkets. You can find Yufka in Middle Eastern or Hallal shops, usually frozen.

To start, again, grind a teaspoon each of cumin seeds, aniseeds, cinnamon and saffron (roast them first, as said above). Fry chopped red onion in some vegetable oil, I used rapeseed oil. Add spices, stirr constantly so they don't burn, and add a tablespoon of tumeric, 2-3 chopped garlic cloves and a handful of fresh roughly chopped coriander and two chilies, chopped. Add lamb mince (you can use beef if you prefer) and let it all cook together for 5 min. Season well, add a tin of tomatoes, and again, let it simmer for another 5-10 min.

Meanwhile, fold out the Yufka sheets (they need app. 1 hour to defrost at room temp) and brush some olive oil into your little bake forms, you can also use muffin moulds for this. Cut the pastry in squares, 2-3 cm bigger than the diameter of your moulds. Place 2-3 Yufka sheets on top of each other carefully and brush a bit of egg wash in between each layer.

When this is done, add a handful of dry, chopped apricots (and a handful of chopped unsalted pistachios, which I didn't due to budget) to the lamb mixture and then you can start filling your prepared moulds. Fold in the overlapping pastry, twirling the ends so they close the 'cake'. Brush some more egg wash on top of each and bake in the oven 180 degrees for app. 15 min.

Sigara Boregi is a Turkish cigar shaped pastry made with Feta cheese and Yufka filo pastry. As I was thinking I would have some Yufka leftovers anyway, I came up with this additional little nibbler, which is super quick & easy to make. Ideally use sheep Feta, but if too expensive or simply not around, the cows milk's counterpart will do a good job too. Crush Feta and mush it using a fork together with some fresh thyme and olive oil. Add some salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spread the Feta over the pastry squares/rectangles (each 2-3 pastry layers, each brushed with some egg wash), and roll them in as tight as possible. Brush with egg wash on top each and bake in oven 180 degrees for app. 15 min.

For the carrot dip, simply cook 2-3 roughly chopped carrots in salted water, drain, and let cool down a bit. Add a tablespoon of ground ginger (or chopped, fresh if you like), some olive oil, salt & pepper, and some sour cream (or creme fraiche) and blitz all together until you get a nice, smooth puree.

For the Falafel, drain a can of chickpeas, add 1-2 hand fulls of fresh, chopped coriander, roasted and ground spices (cumin seeds, aniseeds, ...), 1-3 chopped garlic cloves (depends on how close you and garlic are together), a handful of sesame seeds (as an alternative to tahini paste, which would in this case, spread my budget...) a green chili chopped and some olive oil. Puree all together and season with salt & pepper. Form small pates using your hands and some flour. Place them on a sheet of baking paper and bake for 20-30 min at 180 degrees. Yum!

Shopping List:
Veg, couscous €5.60
Yufka filo pastry (Hallal shop) €2.65
Chickpeas (Hallal shop) €0.55
Lamb mince (local butcher) €4.00
Dried apricots/sesame seeds (loose) €1.10
Feta cheese (deli) €0.99
Total €14.89


Castillo de Luzón, Jumilla, Crianza 2005, 14%

On the stereo
Cat Power,
The Cardigans, Alela Diane

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Charcuterie Plate, Bacon & Cabbage Gnocchi, Salmon & Guinness Bread, Chocolate Truffles & Gateaux

Welcome to another edition of Salty Squid! But this is no ordinary posting, this ladies and gentlemen is our very special St Patrick's kinda Irish tapas. We even had a very special guest to help celebrate a world without snakes! So grab a Guinness, kick back and join us in our celebration of St Patrick's Day.

We all know that smoked salmon on soda bread is as Irish as Barack Obama. In place of typical soda bread, my friend Caroline gave me a great recipe for this Guinness bread using wholewheat flour and treacle and of course Guinness. This bread worked really with the smoked salmon and crème fraiche. I actually can't explain how nice this bread turned out. Just make it and see for yourself!

Honestly, I wasn't so happy with the presentation of some of the dishes this week, but, as I am sure you can imagine, we had great fun 'testing' the presentation of this delight.

Moving along swiftly to one of my personal favourite Irish dishes...Bacon and Cabbage. I love the simplicity of it. Of course, to tart this dish up a little (it was a Friday night after all!) I made creamed cabbage, instead of boiled cabbage as 'me ma' would. Again, B&C would not be complete without potato. In fact, anything Irish is not complete without potato. My favourite is buttery mash. But to try add an element of pretentiousness, I served it with homemade potato gnocchi.

I really wanted to do a fine selection of Irish meats, but it was not the easiest of tasks and sadly, trying my best to stay within budget, the Irish meats were a no go. But we had a nice selection of good Italian and German ones instead, served with our own red onion marmalade.

And with our very special guest looking after the sweeter side of Saltysquid, we were treated to these beautiful homemade dark chocolate & Baileys truffles that, well, that were just amazing. The best we have ever eaten.

However, that was not where our guests' generosity stopped, and we were treated to another taste of sugary heaven. Her own Hungarian (I am sure she meant Irish) Gateaux. Chocolate chip cookies, soaked in sherry, topped with cream and Cadburys flake. My god.

Shopping List:
Veggies €2.00
Free Range Irish Bacon (local buther)
Smoked Salmon €3.20

Salami €5.20

Baguette €1.95

Guinness €2.20

Total €19.55

Cremant De Loire, France 12.5%
Barbera D'Alba, Italy, 2005 13.5%

On the stereo:
di and Fiddly-De, and Fiddly-Doo music

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Scallops With Fennel Tempura, Chicken Satay Skewers, Fried Spicy Tofu Salad

I have a typical morning routine. If I am not breaking planks of wood with my head in the garden, you might find me slicing concrete blocks in half with my bare hands on the porch. Depending on the weather really. And it was one such morning last week that I felt inspired to attempt an Asian themed tapas night. For most of my mature adult life, my experience of Chinese food went as far as 'gizacurryships'natrayforfugsakewillya'. However we had a great Chinese meal earlier this week (authentic - but it took a lot of effort to get our waitress to give us the real-proper-no chips on this menu - menu) and I watched Karate Kid twice when I was younger. So I felt pretty qualified for the job at hand. With such knowledge and insight, I could not fail.

I will admit that I did try to recreate this from the brilliant tofu salad in said Chinese restaurant earlier this week. And I failed miserably. However, this packed such a huge spicy kick that I was happy enough. Especially as it was tofu. And me and tofu are a bit like North and South Korea.

I got my wok nice a hot, added some red onions and garlic and chili and cooked for a minute constantly stirring shaking and spilling the food on the floor. I added some teaspoons of homemade Chinese 5 spice, cloves, fennel seeds, cinnamon, coriander seeds and dried chili. I added the finely sliced tofu, beansprouts, spring onions, more chili and some chili powder and did some more pan-shaking and tossing, which really just lets the heat out of the pan AND if you are as talented as I am in the kitchen, most of the food ends up on the walls. Bang the edge of the pot with your spoon (wooden is good but the sound from plastic can be a bit sharper, however, if you have a metal spoon, you are one pot-bang away from being a true cook). I like to bang the pot every 10-15 seconds usually 3 times, making sure the third strike is the loudest. Your guests (and neighbours) will be really impressed. Garnish with coriander to make it look you have a leprechaun's elbow what you are doing.

I find the most pleasure comes from the dish that takes ages to cook and has at least 30-40 ingredients and needs a small army to assemble. It should take at least 15 minutes to assemble whereby once ready, half the dish should have gone cold. Chicken breast on a skewer with a spicy peanut satay sauce is not one of those dishes.

For the satay sauce, I cooked some diced shallot, garlic, lemon grass and chili and galangal in a little oil for a minute or two. I added a homemade Massaman curry paste (normally you would use red curry paste but I made the Massaman earlier in the week, so tough). Cook the paste until it becomes fragrant, then add the smooth peanut butter. Usually about 1 tbsp of curry paste, 2 tbsp of peanut butter and a tin of coconut milk. Once the butter has melted, gently whisk in your milk, add your chopped unsalted peanuts and some coriander. Once the sauce is ready it can be gently re-heated. I skewered the chicken and seasoned with a lot of pepper and chili powder. Then I got my griddle pan good and hot, brushed some oil over the skewers and cooked, turning them as the cooked until done. The add your hot satay sauce to the chicken once they are on the plate. Don't forget to remove the skewers when eating.

This is so simple and looks and tastes like you have been slaving away all day in the kitchen. I bought some picked ginger, to which I added some apple and fennel. I then got some vinegar, white wine, sliced lemon and lime, lemongrass stalks, peppercorns and cloves. I brought it all to the boil in a pan, removed from the heat and let it cool. I then set it aside until needed. Next up, finely slice some fennel and bake it for about 15 mins with some lemon juice, salt and pepper. Let it cool. Make a simple quickly tempura-ish batter of flour, sparkly water, chili powder, salt and beaten egg and a good pinch of salt. Add roasted fennel and shallow fry until golden (or burnt if the wine is kicking in as it was in my case!), remove and drain on some kitchen paper.

Arrange the pickle on the plate, add the tempura fennel. Then cook the scallops. Heat a little oil then add your scallops. Take a short break now to drink some wine - don't touch those scallops until.........nnnnnow. They should have that nice brown colour, add a knob of butter and turn the scallops, as the butter browns you can baste the scallops in it. Then remove straight away onto the plate. I had some homemade mayo knocking about, to which I added some coriander. I topped each scallop with a tiny blob of this. Garnish with some coriander because you think it makes you a better cook.

The sad news is that I will be doing the tapas again next week, but fret not, P-eile will be cooking the next two weeks after that.

Shopping List:
Veggies €1.15
Free-range Irish Chicken breast (local butcher) €3.00
Fresh Scallops €6.70
Tofu €1.60
Pickled Ginger €1.60
Peanut Butter €2.20
Total €16.25 ...ooops

Lunate, Fiano, Sicilia, 13%
Domaine Pierre Blanche, Minervois, 2006, 13%

On the strereo
Ojos De Brujo, Gorillaz, Local Natives, Souls of Mischief

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Ham Hock Terrine, Gougeres, Salmon Fishcakes

I can be quite determined when I've something on my mind, even if it is the most crazy idea. And when it comes to cooking, I torture myself with same amount of grit, which, combined with a good pinch of perfectionism, can be sometimes quite disappointing, when by the end, not everything turns out exactly like I have it pictured in my hard-bitten brain . But this is also the funny side of amateur cooking, you never know what happens next...

You might have a confused look in your eyes, when you see somebody in the morning with a 1,5 kg ham hock in the shopping bag. That's what P's look was like, when he raised his eyes from his not even finished morning coffee, and saw me, loading the piece of meat into our kitchen. So yes, I sometimes get these strange ideas, this time it is meant to be classic French cooking: a ham hock terrine.
I placed the ham with some carrots, celery sticks, halved onion, garlic cloves, parsley sticks, some black pepper corns and couple of gloves (eh - don't you mean 'cloves' p?) into a large saucepan. Filled with cold water and brought to boil, turning down the heat as I wanted it to cook slowly for at least 3 hours. Only then, meat becomes nice and tender. Good thing is, you leave the ham simmering away, and turn yourself to things you actually have to do, so handy. When ham is cooked, remove it from the stock and let it cool down, same for the stock. Later you can separate the meat from the bone easily. Then simply chop some cornichons, scallions and fresh flat parsley, fry up some capers in a small pan for max. 30 seconds (just to release the flavour) and combine all with the flaked meat. Cover the inside of a long terrine mould (I used 2 smaller ones) with 2-3 layers of cling film, leaving enough amount overlapping the mould. Put the ham mixture into the mould. I used gelatine to set the terrine, some would prefer maybe the vegetarian version agar agar, or even just using the left over stock. I dissolved gelatine in hot water, added stock and poured it over the mixture in the mould. Make sure everything is covered, then close the terrine with the overlapping cling film. To weight the whole thing down a bit, I cut out 2 rectangular pieces of cardboard, wrapped them in foil and adjusted them on top of each terrine... ahh, actually P did this. Voilá, move it to the fridge, and leave to rest for at least 12 hours (best over night).

Following some culinary advice (as you always get when living with a dominant cookie), I decided to crown this extraordinary experience with some caramelized Cox apples, with a touch of cinnamon and a bigger amount of whiskey. Quel plaisir!

First times can be adventurous and sometimes disappointing. I get disappointed very quickly if something doesn't turn out like I am expecting it to. This was the case in the Gougères-affair. Call it lack of patience or culinary experience if you want, I simply call it 'failure caused by a panic attack. Gougères are fine little fluffy balls, made of choux pastry adding some preferably Swiss hard cheese. 'Soooo eeeasy', as Monsieur R. Blanc would say. Yeah right, despite the fact, that just the circumstance of making the choux paste is drives you mad.

For app. 20 balls, I boiled 75 ml water, added a good pinch of salt and melted 25 g butter. Then a recipe says, pour 75 g flour quickly into the pan, stirring it like you were breaking the world record. Well I did, but had suddenly this big lump in front of me and desperately started to add more water, to loosen it up a bit. BIG mistake. It finally become a smooth paste, so I threw in an egg, took the pan off the heat, stirred constantly and then added another egg. I grated app. 50 g of Comté and a little bit of Peccorino cheese and added it to the mixture. For even more fun, grated some fresh nutmeg on top of it. I was quite happy with it at that stage, until I wondered, while filling the piping bag, how would it be possible to get actual shapes of balls onto the baking tray in front of me... The answer was - impossible, as the pastry was too liquid.

Don't get me wrong, there was nothing wrong about the taste of those ...ahh discs. Fluffy and cheesy throughout, just imagine them as actual balls ;)

For these yummy spicy fishcakes, I used smoked salmon, but fresh salmon fillets are welcome too. I cooked 2 medium potatoes and pressed them while hot through a potato ricer. Let it cool down, then combined with chopped salmon, 2 finely chopped chilies, spring onions and some fresh dill. Sprinkled a bit of lemon juice and gently mixed in a pint of bread crumbs.

I formed individual small pates, using a little bit of flour to cover them before frying. After heating the pan and some veg oil, I fried the cakes for a few minutes on each side until they turned golden brown and crispy. Served with a splash of yummy home made tarragon mayo, so good, makes you wanna cry...

Shopping List:
Veggies €4.18
Ham Hock (local butcher) €3.00
Smoked Salmon €2.29
Capers €1.89
Cornichons €1.29
Baguette (deli) €1.95
Total €14.60

DL Riesling, Germany, 2008, 8.5%
Lunate, Merlot, Sicilia, 14%

On the strereo
Billie Holiday, Interpol, Notorious B.I.G.