In this episode I discuss a failure, some successes, and talk to some children about what favourite foods are…
This book was sent to me by the publisher at no cost.
In the last post I discussed the appearance of the book (overall, very easy to use). This post is about the food. I’ve only cooked a few dishes so far, but each one has worked as advertised. The short version is that everything has had an interesting balance of flavours, and most of them I would happily cook again.
Sesame chicken salad: blanched celery, poached chicken, a dressing of chilli and garlic and ginger and spring onion and fish sauce and vinegar. So easy, so fresh, so lovely.
Pork and pickled cucumber salad: well, the cucumber doesn’t pickle that much, but look: I’m trying pork! This was delicious, with peanuts and coriander and mint and chilli and lime.
Prawn noodle salad (it hasn’t even been that warm here but I’m on salads anyway): more ginger! and coriander and peanuts. Again, so tasty. Would make a good starter at a fancy-pants dinner party.
Barbecued pork and herb salad: more pork! This marinade was ace: coriander seed, fennel seed, garlic, ginger, turmeric, five-spice, chilli, pepper… nom.
Massaman curry: look, I cheated and bought massaman paste. Whatever. This was fantastic. Slow cook the beef and THEN turn it into a curry with coconut cream and potato… definitely making this again.
Braised chicken with rice, turmeric and spices: like the label says. Easy and tasty.
… these are just a small example of what the book has to offer. I am dead keen to try the variation of chicken satay with lemongrass, turmeric and ginger, and the Thai fish cakes; pork belly may be in my future, and I may yet make a curry paste from scratch (again, I did do it a million years ago).
The one sad thing is that, as with Indian Made Easy, there have been a couple of instances where instructions did not entirely make sense: not making it clear how long to cook something (fortunately, that was common sense) or instructions to add a dressing at step 3… and then again at step 6. None of these are make or break, but they do surprise me in a book that should be more closely edited.
As many of you will be aware, I am currently travelling. We had a few weeks of camping, and we’re now coming to the end of our month in Europe.
A fortnight before we were due to be in Paris, my darling suggested, out of nowhere, that we look into a French cooking class. Clearly, this was an inspired idea. After a bit of googling we found Le Foodist, which had exceptional online reviews and which had spots available for our last night in the city. We decided not to book for the market bit at the start, because we figured there wasn’t much point when we were leaving 12 hours later, and becuase we thought we might want more time doing museum-y sorts of things.
Our menu consisted of cauliflower soup, coq au vin, and peach Melba (which as an Australian I found hilarious). Our class of twelve was divided into different working groups at different times to do a range of prep. While doing so we tried different French white wine and two different Bries. We ate everything that we prepared.
Cauliflower soup doesn’t sound all that exciting. This cauliflower soup, though, was topped with roasted cauliflower florets that had been brushed with curry powder; with boiled mussels – whose broth was added to the soup; and with dots of truffle oil. (I have to get me some truffle oil.) It was exquisite.
Coq au vin is something I have heard of, and may have eaten once or twice, but I haven’t made it. Making the sauce was a fascinating exercise: using a vegetable base and a large quantity of red wine which reduced to nothing, and then adding stock to turn it back into a sauce. Cooking the chicken was the most interesting part: salt and pepper on the chicken breast then rolling it up with plastic film into a sausage, and then boiling it for five minutes and resting for another five. It was delicious and succulent and this method is going straight to my must-repeat list. For the vegetables, we were introduced to not-melon-ballers: small spoon-like instruments with rounded ends that have a fancy name in French and come in a variety of sizes. These are used to carve balls from things like carrot and turnip. We were introduced to the sensible way to finely chop thinks like shallots. And we were shown how to make the best potato mash ever, which involved a fine sieve and a very large amount of butter.
For dessert, we made raspberry cousli and creme anglais, which then became ice cream, served with delightfully fresh peaches. It was a very simple dessert which was a good accompaniment to the fairly rich main meal.
Our teacher, Fred, was excellent. He was good at dividing us into groups and showing us a variety of cooking techniques. He is passionate about food and French culture (the tag line of Le Foodist is “discovering culture through food”), and sharing his knowledge about food, the regionality of food, about Paris, and tricks for making food work. The premises aren’t huge, but there was enough space for the dozen of us to cut and stir without chopping anyone’s fingers off.
Highly recommended. I absolutely intend to make chicken in this way when I am home; at some stage I would like to recreate the “au vin” part of the recipe too. I’m inspired to make cauliflower soup that really works – it gives me a reason to plant them again, too.
I’ve had several chicken carcasses in the freezer for ages, so I decided today was the day for making stock. This included the chicken from our first ill-fated attempt at spit-roasting said bird, which meant that it was a particularly meaty stock. Most of the birds had some sort of seasoning on them, from memory, and there was at least one lemon inside, and I don’t have any carrots or celery as recommended by Nigella. So I just added some parsley and thyme and simmered it all together for something more than three hours. It looks like it’s made a pretty good amount of good-smelling stock, so I’m letting it sit in the fridge for a while – I’ll skim it tomorrow and then freeze it…
Today I also made pesto. Initially I thought I might have invented a New Pesto, but on checking the internet no, of course I haven’t. This pesto was inspired by the delivery of a bunch of snow pea shoots in my fruit and veg box. I checked online and the suggestions were stir-fry (not a fave of my darling) or salad. OR, I thought, pesto! Yum! And this time I will freeze some! So garlic and walnuts and parmesan and snow pea shoots. I had some for lunch with avo on toast; delightful.
I had the opportunity to cook for part of my family this weekend – which doesn’t happen very often – so I decided to experiment. Which is perhaps dangerous, but that’s How I Roll.
Dinner #1: Indian Made Easy
Chana Masala – chickpea stew basically. It was ok, although not as large as I had hoped. So it’s a good thing that I also made…
Stuffed potato and pea cakes – mashed potato with spices, wrapped around pulsed peas and paneer and more spices, lightly fried. 110% would make again. So good.
Dinner #2: Saffron Tales
Chicken with walnuts and pomegranate – I’ve looked at this a couple times but been put off by the amount of time required with the walnuts. You need to cook the blitzed walnuts with water for two hours, so that it turns into a porridge-like consistency. But you don’t really need to do anything with it, just stir it occasionally, so if you’re home anyway it’s pretty easy. Then you add chicken (or eggplant) and pomegranate molasses and leave it for another 40 or so minutes and… absolute culinary delight; my sister thought it looked like mole (she’s just back from Mexico). Can’t wait to eat this again. Served with…
Coconut rice (because I couldn’t be bothered with proper Persian rice with saffron etc), and a play on salad shirazi (we removed the red onion and added avocado).
But wait! You’re all saying. What about dessert?! My sister made Nigella’s boiled mandarine cake. Which was good… after, um, a slight mandarine+saucepan malfunction. Probably the less said about that the better, if I want to stay on her good side…
I’m feeling a little glum.
To be fair, they weren’t complete failures – like, they were edible, eventually – but still. Sad.
First: if you crowd chicken and potato together in a too-small container, the potato doesn’t cook completely. I thought I was doing the right thing putting it close-ish together because I was roasting it all with a couple of lemons, but it turns out that nope. Bit more space is important for potatoes. NOTED. (Ended up nuking the potatoes briefly, which was a bit humiliating.)
The second was a cake failure, which WOUNDED me. It was an apple butter cake. I made the ‘apple butter’, not completely following the recipe I’ll admit – that was an accident but it didn’t turn into a failure, because it was still tasty, a very concentrated apple. Anyway I decided to make the cake in a ring pan, because that makes it easier to cut up for sharing. I tested it, and the skewer came out clean… I turned it onto a rack after a bit, and then a bit after that I noticed that it had SUNK. It was still doughy! So I put it back in the oven for a bit. It seems ok now. At least it hasn’t sunk again.
Aim: to recreate our spit-roast experience from earlier in the year c/ camping friends
- A new spit-roast ensemble
- A Bannockburn chicken
- Masterfoods All-Purpose Seasoning
- Kipfler potatoes
- Meat thermometer
- Buy the spit-roast and have it delivered to your door and get VERY EXCITED.
- Buy all groceries.
- Start a fire in the chiminea to get coals.
- Season the chicken.
- Spike the chicken and put it onto the spit.
- Use the shovel to move coals over to the spit-roast tray, being careful not to burn yourself.
- Lower the chicken over the coals and turn on the rotisserie function.
- Wait. Drinking wine and staring dreamily into the fire are optional at this point.
- Having salted and oiled the potatoes, put them in the handy cage and place that on the spit too.
- More waiting. Drinking wine becomes less optional at this point.
- Using the meat thermometer, check the chicken’s progress.
- Add more coals to the tray because it’s clearly not hot enough.
- Get impatient, figure it’s SURELY done by now, and take everything inside to carve and serve.
Unfortunately we probably were a bit too impatient, and we probably didn’t have enough hot coals under the chicken and the potatoes for long enough. One end of the chicken (closest to the pole, in the picture) really didn’t cook at all. The breast meat was mostly fine but we were a bit leary of the thighs so most of the chicken has gone into the freezer to be made into stock whenever I’ve got time. The potatoes looked good but also weren’t as cooked as we had hoped and wanted. We didn’t realise that the cage thing came as part of the ensemble, and hadn’t intended to get it; when camping we’re more likely just to do them in the dutch oven in the coals proper. However, it was very pleasant to sit outside with the fire and this was, as stated, our first experiment.
More coals are needed. Next time we will probably do it over the fire pit rather than the tray to get a bit more heat happening. If it’s windy the coals needs more attention. The potato cage may not be worth it. We like fire.