Monday, April 27, 2009

Pickled Pink

Red pickled onion

As soon as I saw the deep pink ringlets on top of a dish, I needed to know what they were, how to get hold of them, or better still, how to make them. Turns out that this eye catching magenta tuft is made by pickling slices of red onions, which renders them translucent, yet opaque, soft, yet crunchy, sweet, yet spicy. I consulted google, of course, and by comparing the first 5 which came up (1), I concluded:

All of the recipes use red onions, obviously, the amount of which ranged from 1- 1 ½ large ones to 1 ½ lbs. Vinegar is another must, with most recipes using white (pickling) vinegar, and only one opting for cider vinegar. Most use sugar and salt, with one each either forsaking the salt OR the sugar.

Four out of 5 used sugar and salt, 2 out of 5 added water.

Beyond that: simply spice it up with whatever you’ve got: allspice berries, bay leaves, black pepper corns, coriander seeds, cloves, cinnamon sticks, chillies, ginger, garlic, juniper berries, lime juice, oregano, thyme, star anise.

This is what I used:

Red Onion Pickle (G & T recipe #4)

2 red onions

Cider vinegar

3 tbsp of honey

Pinch of sea salt

1 tsp of black peppercorns

2 bay leafs

5 allspice berries

5 juniper berries

1 clove of garlic, thinly sliced

5 whole cloves

1 cinnamon stick, broken into pieces

1 dried chilli, broken into pieces

½ teaspoon of dried oregano

1 cup lemon juice

1 tsp of coriander seeds

1 star anise

Thinly sliced pieces of ginger

The methods described varied quite a bit, and I opted – surprise, surprise – for a straight forward, simple one:

I heated the herbs, salt and spices in a non-reactive pan, stirring them with a wooden spoon.

After a minute or two, I added the vinegar and honey and brought the mixture to a boil. Then I added the onions slices, lowered the heat and simmered the mixture for 2 or 3 minutes.

When the pickle is cool enough, it can be filled into jars. It seems to be received wisdom to let it mature for a while. As long as it’s covered by the vinegar, it will probably keep indefinitely.

This vivid pink pickle doesn’t just look spectacular, it is also incredibly versatile. I’ve eaten it with a nice mature cheddar, I bet goat’s cheese is fabulous with it, and I’ve seen pictures where it accompanies roast pork, grilled steak, burgers, Mexican food, and as a side dish to kebabs with a horseradish cream sauce. D.L. even recommends it chopped into potato salad, and he uses the liquid to add tang to a coleslaw. The Boy thinks it’s the delicious pink stuff he had on a noodle dish at Wagamama.


(1) Rachael's site ; Global Gourmet, where they use Mollie Katzen's recipe from Vegetable Heaven, Epicurious, David Lebovitz, Orangette

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heart-of-the-Matter #25: Flowers

Edible Petals, or: Yes, they're edible, petal!

Heart-of-the-Matter is a monthly healthy heart event promoted by Ilva of Lucullian Delights and Michelle of The Accidental Scientist. And even though my BH has a heart condition (5 stents), this is actually the first time that I am participating.

The theme for this month's recipe was 'flowers'. What a splendid idea, I thought: unusual, and also immensely fitting for a spring month like April!
Then, when I started my research - always the best part of a recipe activity for me - and looked at all those delicate petals, the thought of digging my teeth into violets, pansies, marigolds and chrysanthemums made me feel a bit queasy. It seemed almost barbarian - a somewhat strange sentiment for a carnivore, granted. And quickly dismissed when considering candied flowers, hibiscus jelly and lavender infused maple syrup.
But then I found that hay fever and asthma sufferers should not eat flowers at all. I think this warning came from Cathy Wilkinson Barash's book Edible Flowers.

So I decided to make food in the shape of a flower. (Which is probably just as well, as all my previous ideas involved a form of sugar, and my BH has recently also been diagnosed with the early stages of type 2 diabetes.)

The 'big petals' are chicory leaves, which I filled with a bean paste made from kidney beans*. In the middle is a mozzarella ball, topped by a sliver of red cabbage. The swiggle is a thin peeling of courgette, the orange and yellow accents are provided by pepper and sweetcorn respectively.

The middle part is a roasted slice of sweet potato, topped with kiwi. The star/flower in the middle is an orange pepper cut with a pastry cutter. The asparagus was fresh and English, though it did surprise me that it was already in season (it was very thin though, as you can see). The pinkish swiggle on top is a slice of pickled red onion, which I made before Easter (recipe to follow).
As you can see below, I laid the flower out as part of my Wedding (crashers) inspired display. Unfortunately, I've done something stupid to my camera again, so the photographs haven't come out too well.

* Any bean paste recipe will do - I blitzed one can of kidney beans with a little bit of olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper and a sprinkle of cumin seeds. Of course, dried and soaked kidney beans would have been even healthier. I used kidney beans to achieve a pale pink paste - a taramasalata would have done this job better though, the kidney bean paste is more pink marble than powder pink!

Thank you, Ilva, for organisising, and I hope to be back on a regular basis!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Still No Baps and Buns...

...for my growing lad...

because this is what it currently looks like when the bread-maker considers a bread made: I don't know what's wrong with it - if anybody out there has any ideas, please let me know.

Well, this is my lame excuse for not having baked for The Boy on his training days --- I am the Queen of Lame Excuses after all. The worst of which was my recent: "I can't start the diet because I can't get to the scales..."

It is true, they were hidden away behind mountains of boxes ... under a settee which had been rendered inaccessible by the Cardboard Dolomites ... but still ... pathetic or what?

None of you daring bakers would be put off by the bread-maker being out of order anyway, would you? But oh, all the kneading and proofing, far too time-consuming for me!

Of course, if 'Poor-little-me-tied-to-the-PC' weren't quite so busy consulting google as if it were THE ORACLE, she could actually get on with the arduous task of cooking and baking.
Likewise, if the 'I'll-just-check-my-mail-snail' could just spend one day out of seven on cutting a path through the jungle (1) , she probably could have put her grubby mitts on the big plastic container which she knows she has somewhere. Yes, the big plastic container which would be absolutely ideal for Joanna's latest experiment with no knead bread.

But even without gargantuan tupperware, there is now no more running away from it.

The last BBD yielded more than 70 quick breads (i.e. without yeast as its agent), of which 26 alone were savoury. Look for yourself:

Incidentally, the next theme has been announced as 'Spring Country Breads'. For more information, click on the badge/gadget/widget (yeah, thanks to Ivy I can finally display them!!) on the left.
The deadline is May 1st... significant in so many ways..., not least of all being my BH's birthday, which always seems to creep up on me... May seems so much later than April..., you know what I mean? Talking about birthdays, today is my MIL's, and I mustn't forget to phone her. It is also EARTH DAY.

It seems to me that it's a predominantly US-American day, although, self-evidently, it's about the whole planet, which we have been polluting forever and a day. This site reminds us of 10 easy steps to take. The one which states, that "every drop counts ..." is not, as I was hoping, about my red wine consumption helping the planet.
However, it seems that The Boy is single-handedly doing his bit, saving copious amounts of water by not having very many showers per year. And that includes slipping straight into clothes after very muddy rugby matches... Ah! The sacrifices one makes for the sake of the planet!

Well, there might not be any parties for Earth Day going on in this vicinity (I checked the net!), but there will certainly be celebrations going on the next day, which happens to be both Shakespeare's birthday, and St. George's Day.

When my Eldest was still in the Scouts (and I was Secretary of our local branch just round the corner), the St. George's Parade was de rigeur, St. George being the Patron Saint of Scouting and England (inter alia, for instance Portugal -- the fascinating country we recently visited). And of course, in Stratford, just a few stations down the line from round the corner, there are quite a few things going on between Thursday and mid of May, in order to celebrate their most famous son.

As every year, thousands of people will participate in the events, which include a parade, traditional dancing, a marathon, street entertainment, the ceremony of the unfurling of the flags and many special birthday events to honour one of the world’s greatest playwrights. Amongst the events this year, local girls will be holding a Shakespeare themed picnic with as many of their friends they can rustle up to dress as a food mentioned in Shakespeare’s plays and Sonnets. -- The mind boggles!

Having thus tied in Shakespeare with food, I am happy to go further and announce the opening of the 2009 British Asparagus Festival on the very day. A team of relay runners & the Lord Lieutenant of Worcestershire (following in a vintage Morgan car) will arrive in Stratford to present a giant round of asparagus on a Royal Worcester platter to the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire, Martin Dunne and Stratford’s mayor, Joyce Taylor who will accept the Round on behalf of the town. This fascinating ceremony should happen at 12.00 noon in Henley Street.

And if you're too far away from Stratford, there's always The Globe, which celebrates Shakespeare’s birthday with a series of events marking the 400th anniversary of the publication of Shakespeare’s Sonnets. The 2009 Theatre Season will open with Romeo & Juliet on Thursday 23 April. (Have I mentioned that we saw this at Stratford? And that The Boy remarked mainly on the different styles of menswear by which you could recognise their clan/family/allegiance?)

(1) Did you know that this is a chapter heading in "Modern Social Theory: From Parsons to Habermas" by Ian Craib? Interestingly, its cover shows snakes and ladders, a game just made for defeatists who take one look and know they're going to climb up high and fall the furthest - hybris probably not being the only reason - slipping down the longest snake, which incidentally, not that you need to know this, is not called 'Schnecke' in German, although it clearly should, but Schlange. Whereas 'Schnecke' is a snail (or a slug, thye're all equal, own property or not), which brings the loop nicely back. As you probably will have to read the originalsentence again from the beginning, you'll see what I mean in a moment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dinner and A Movie: Wedding Crashers

In this month's film, "Wedding Crashers", charismatic divorce lawyers John Beckwith (Owen Wilson) and Jeremy Grey (Vince Vaughn) have made a hobby out of gate crashing receptions. The idea is to charm their way into lonely ladies' bedrooms - a plan which works a treat. Until they bend the one-night-stand-rule, that is....

Marc chose this film for the April edition of "Dinner and a Movie" because it's not an obvious "foodie" film, and he had all sorts of great ideas of how to interpret the task. So, why did I end up with canapes? Why so predictable? Well, the first thing that attracted my attention was actually the trellis at one of the wedding settings. Then I noticed that the lavish events invariably seemed to take place in spring, and that the pastels of the bridemaids' gowns reflected this. And it was actually the delicate spring colours, the silks and chiffons, the extravagance of the details on dresses, hats and fascinators which inspired the above 'creations'.

It doesn't really come across in the photo, but I was mainly guided by keeping each canape in one colour only. This in itself lead to some oddball combinations. The Boy and my BH asserted that it works better for painting than cooking..., but I dare say, as with everything else, it's a matter of taste, so let me talk you through them:
  • trellis: strips of leek
  • green: cucumber, avocado and Philly extra light mousse, topped with basil pesto, strips of courgette, a twig of dill and sprinkles of ground pistacchio
  • yellow: tip of chicoree, filled with grapefruit segments, sweetcorn and a zigzagged slice of bamboo shoots
  • orange: grilled slice of sweet potato, with a mousse made from Philly extra light, chargrilled orange pepper, sweet corn and crab meat, topped with smoked salmon and a strip of orange pepper
  • pink: pickled red onion on a square slice of celeriac
Oh yes, did I mention that I was also trying to make it heart-healthy, low-cal and low-sugar?

Thanks Marc, for organising and doing the round-up!

And here
it is!

Saturday, April 18, 2009

No Hot Cross Buns...

on Good Friday...

...quite a different Holy Saturday...

... and Sunday

... we didn't really miss the Easter Eggs in the Algarve...
... there was enough to find...

... and discover...

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Rubbing Shoulders, Or: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning

Well, it could have been the plural if I hadn't cut into my last £1o note... Two pieces of lamb shoulder were on offer for £10 pounds at the market, but I had bought ribbons and other things that would come in useful.... (some day... surely...), so I didn't have enough cash left. Still, I bought one
shoulder, rubbed it with salt and put it into the oven.
I basically followed the recipe by self-declared mummy's boy Alex Mackay from Sainsbury's magazine, March 2009. I was quite sceptical as to the mint and caper sauce, but it really worked a treat, the lemony mint complementing the sweetness of the roasted lamb and vegetables. And with its 3 hour braising method it was just the sort of recipe I was looking for. Something to put in the oven, ready to eat when we come back from rugby matches on a Sunday.

So, this is how I am going to record it for myself.

Saturday night:
500g+ potatoes (Charlotte), halved
200g shallots, peeled
9 medium carrots, peeled and halved lengthways
broccoli spears, cut up
keep in a sealed plastic bag until needed

2 heads of garlic, peeled

650ml lamb or chicken stock
1 tbsp tomato puree
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
bring to the boil and reduce by half; add the cloves of garlic for 5 minutes, then remove and keep aside

mint sauce:
25 g mint, leaves only
1 clove of garlic
1 tbsp capers
1 tbsp Dijon mustard
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
pich of sugar
blitz in a food processor, season with salt and pepper

1 tbsp of lemon juice

Sunday morning:

pre-heat the oven to 220°C/gas 7; put 1 tbsp vegetable oil in a roasting tin, heat it in the oven for at least 5 minutes. Rub the shoulder of lamb with salt, place it, fat-side up, in the tin and roast on the middle shelf for 45 minutes.

This gives you time to make yourself that much-needed bucket of strong coffee, after which you might be able to face the shower.

Transfer the lamb to an oven-proof plate, put the potatoes, carrots and shallots in the tin, tossing them in the fat. Place the lamb on top, cover tightly with foil, place on the middle shelf of the oven and braise for 3 hours at 160°C/gas 3.

Put on the skiing jacket, the hiking boots, the supporter's scarf, the hat, the gloves, and head for the coldest place known to men in Middle England. My BH reckons that temperatures at Portway drop well below its surrounding environment, and he's most surprised that there aren't any natural history programmes made about this phenomenon.

On coming home, all muddy and rosy-cheeked, hopefully revelling in dump tackles "the little one" has administered to the opposition, a glorious smell of roasted vegetables and lamb will greet you.

You now have to:
  • boil salted water for broccoli
  • start simmering the reduced stock
  • when roasting time is up: remove the tin, turn temperature up to 240°C/gas9; transfer the lamb to the plate, cover with foil, put into top oven to keep warm
  • drain 3/4 of pan juices (this is tricky) and add to simmering stock;
  • add poached garlic to vegetables, put tin on the top shelf of the oven for 15 - 20 minutes
  • bring the reduced stock and lamb juices to the boil, mix 2 tsp of cornflour with water, add and stir in well; bring back to the boil, stirring constantly until thickened.
  • Put the roast lamb on top of the vegetables, stir the lemon juice into the mint mix, pour the gravy into a gravy boat, serve.
As far as I'm concerned, the taste was out of this world - but I'm not used to this 'never mind the calories' cooking, so I'm probably no good as a litmus test.

The Saturday Night and Sunday Morning reference, is of course, to Alan Sillitoe's novel, famous in the 70s. Sillitoe adapted the screenplay for the 1960 film adaptation himself, and the film was directed by Karl Reisz. Featuring Albert Finney as the protagonist Arthur Seaton, the film is considered to be the first of the social-realist or 'kitchen sink dramas' of the 1960s. It was at the forefront of films dealing with working class issues in a serious manner, and portraying a more realistic side of everyday issues such as sex, unwanted pregnancy and abortion.
It was also the main piece of work that my friends W. and M. chose as their exam topic for English literature. For the record: I chose G.B. Shaw, not 'early' or 'late' Shaw, no. All of his plays. The words 'over' and 'ambitious' come to mind? Not good in combination with the procrastination of the peripatetic mind. ... Story of my life.