Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Soda bread and other animals

So, lately I have acquired two wonderful feline balls of trouble by the names of Tigger and Macavity. Tigger bounces everywhere whilst Macavity hatches demonic plans to take over the world (by which he means catnip mice. He has a bad catnip mouse habit, does Macavity); they are very lovely and are taking up a lot of my time - more about them in future entries (believe me, I speak of little else these days).

Because cats and herbs don't mix, I bought myself one of these :  - I didn't really think it would work in the garden, and the jury is still open on whether the herbs will survive the winter (they certainly wouldn't survive the cats), but it's working a treat on the tarragon, thyme and parsley I have in it now. The temperature inside is more or less greenhouse-like and the plants are trying to take over the world.

For now, I've been inviting people over to meet them, and so I've been doing quite a bit of cooking. Things that have worked for me recently:

  • Salt, flour and paprika rubbed into pork does work well, but keep the paprika down or the crackling gets quite hot.
  • The secret to Soda bread is to use 50% plain flour, 50% spelt flour - works much better than wholemeal.
  • When doing pan-fried duck, remember that finishing it in the oven is what cooks most of it, so don't give it extra minutes in the pan (this is totally obvious, but I keep doing it!)
  • Smoked trout with lightly steamed leeks and (raw) orange works very well. Serve over crushed ice with curly lettuce (Waitrose live growing lettuce seems to be cheaper & nicer than the packaged stuff; go figure .. ).

Wednesday, 22 May 2013

So, things I have been cooking:

It turns out you can do a decent dish with crayfish tails: saute some potatoes, add some tomatoes and cook down, add onion & basil and the crayfish tails and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Also, pork chops with grapes & olives seems to work OK. Needs a bit of improvement, but I was impressed that the grapes didn't oxidise and become sour. Top tip: when pan-frying pork chops, you can sear the fat with a blowtorch for extra flavour - I need to practice a bit more and see if I can manage crackling.

Amazingly, works; leaves a mess in the pan, which is why they say put tinfoil in your pan first. I chose to crisp the skin first in the pan. My duck came out a bit overdone, but deliciously moist (name another context where you can get away with that phrase ..).  Next up: I wonder what else I can smoke duck with - the trick of putting some soft brown sugar in to give a burned effect seems to work quite well ..

And I've had another go at Gordon Ramsay's duck with blackberry sauce; I think it is starting to make sense and I would've got crispy skin and properly done duck had I not been a bit of an idiot,  baked the duck the wrong way up and then left it in for too long. I also oversweetened the sauce rather, which everyone else will hate, but I like.

In other news, rosemary and tarragon roast potatoes turn out to be quite nice and I may explode soon ..

Monday, 22 April 2013

.. and in other news, the Masterchef way of pan-frying duck works. T'other one (where you carefully render the fat out) really doesn't - the fat moves away from the duck and you end up with overcooked, under-browned duck breast. Bah.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Fun cooking facts, number 1 in an occasional series

So, I'm going to start noting down some cooking-related facts I've found out so that I don't forget them.
  • Pie filling doesn't lose water when cooked, so make it fairly thick before you stick it in to bake the pastry on the top. However, it is worth pre-cooking the pie filling since otherwise it will be undercooked and the pastry will burn.
  • Whole tomatoes release far too much water when cooked; remove the pulp and make it back up with tomato puree.
  • Putting vinegar in the water really does make it possible to cook poached eggs. Win.
  • When roasting pork, equal parts salt, flour and smoked paprika rubbed into the fat gives pretty good crackling.
Today's frustration: my oven is not consistent enough to cook bread - there's a 20-30C temperature gradient which means that either the top burns, or the bottom doesn't cook. Am seriously thinking about an industrial oven next time round ..