Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Pantry and Corkscrew, Westport, Co Mayo

Recently opened - circa two months ago - this narrow little gem sits just off the square in Westport, Co Mayo. We walked in off the street. Frankly, it just looked inviting, and the menu made all the right sounds. I ordered up a pork sausage casoulet, with apple and cider, topped with a thin strip of potato rosti, in place of that typical crucnhy bean topping so beloved by the French.

Absent from the dish were the beans, but the broth was delicately and sweetly flavoured with the owners own cider, a complex, earthy, sweet and layered taste. The sausages were from Newport, Kellys butchers, who have just won a prize from the Black Pudding Confraternity of Good Food Lovers in France - they took bronze for their black pudding.

The sausages were meaty, with that texture you get from low meal/crumb content, and quite subtly flavoured. An almost perfect match for the broth and cider. One quibble. The sausages were a little undersalted. And casoulet needs beans.

At 8.95, an absolute steal of a meal, and the best by a country mile that I had all holiday.

The Gorgeous C had a cheese salad - can't remember the cheese, but it was tangy and mature, salty, sweet, a fantastic product, with thinly cut slices of ripe fig, dressing and chutney, all of which married perfectly. Care had obviously been taken in designing the dish.

The chips were good, fluffly, hand cut, well cooked, but the homemade ketchup was marvellous. Notes of cinammon, coriander, and, frankly, I don't know what else. Superb.( though, again, in need of a little salt).

Frankly, a damned fine dining experience. Considering the place has been open only two months, when the menu is fine tuned, it's going to be great. Right now, with locally sourced and made ingredients, an artisan slant, good pricing, and thoughtful cooking, it's acomplished. It's a little jewel, well on it's way to being polished.

The Pantry and Corkscrew, Peter st, near the Octagon and Wyatts Hotel, Wesport, Co Mayo, tel: 09826977

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Sunday, April 04, 2010

Smoky Polenta Chips

Culled from the pages of last weekends Guardian, Ottolenghi's Polenta chips.

It's an actual good thing to do with that box of fast cook polenta we all have lurking amongst the skeletons in our larder. If, like me, you bought a box of the stuff in the vain and misguided illusion that the infernal goop was anything other than just about tolerable, and are at a complete loss with how to hoodwink your loved ones into polishing off the perfidious stuff, then this is the recipe. It's an actual good thing to do with the stuff.

And, it kinda mirrors Dhruvs cool fish and chip deconstruction on Masterchef.

Here's the skinny

375ml of vegetable stock

60g of fast cook polenta. None of that standing by the pot for two hours stirring a thick pot of corny goo with forearms as thick as intelligent design for me. No. Fast cook is the one.

60g of cheese. I used a smoked gubbeen, mixed with parmesan, grated, to good effect. Smoked cheese, smoky chips.

20g of butter.

Seasoning, to taste. I used salt, lack pepper, and a little pimenton ahumado - smoked paprika, which really picked out and underscored the smoky note with all sorts of interesting extra tastes.

Boil the stock. Add the polenta and stir. The polenta will spit like a trapped cat that hates you because you kick it. With boiling saliva. That glues stuff. By burning.

Spread the polenta out on a cling filmed tray, about 1.5 cm thick. I tried to trim and straighten all corners and edges, and I think it's worth the effort, bot in terms of presentation, and becuase it makes handling them easier.

Season, and mix in the butter and cheese, and leave to cool.
Then chill for 30 minutes

After 30 minutes of so, cut the polenta platter into chips - I went with a 1'5cm thickness, and breadth, and varying lengths. Next time, I'll form it better to get uniform length chips.

He recommends deep frying. Which I tried, and found frustrating and difficult - the chips broke up, or bound to one another, and were difficult to remove - the tongs was too indelicate a tool to use, and I may not have chilled my polenta enough. Also, deep frying, I think, would give that perfectly even colour and texture on all sides.

So I shallow fried, and here's what I'd recommend if you choose to do so too.

1.Do small batches - they reserve, drain and crisp up well in the oven while you wait.

2. In the pan, don't let them touch - it's easy for them to bind.

3. A good layer of oil, and a non stick, or really good cast iron pan are a must.

4. Don't flip them until the undersurface is nicely browned - they're fragile until the crust forms, and they leach liquid and make the oil spit if you break them. When the crust forms, it's much easier to flip them. On max heat, on a small ring, it was about 60-80 seconds.

5. I used a fork, and a thin bladed knife to gently flip them over. I found a tongs too rough.

6. Pain is a quick teacher. The first couple of oil spatters gave my flipping a fast learned speed.

I served it with a homemade ketchup, but I think next time I'll go with a mustard or garlic mayonnaise.

And it is a genuinely good recipe, that gives polenta a beautiful texture and taste. Wonderfully crunchy, with a nice quite soft and somewhat fluffy interior. Also, they don't seem to suck up tooo much oil....

It also strikes me that, as polenta is quite good at taking up other tastes, the variations on this theme are endless. There's lots of room for experimentation. Genuinely curried chips. Garlic, or maybe a chili and lemon version. Some duck fat mixed in, or pancetta fat with some herbs........

Ottolenghi's book looks cool (and from reports the restaurant is fantastic). It's on my to buy list. Interesting recipes - with the occasional one that does not quite seem to work, but stuffed with all sorts of savoury and sweet concoctions that are genuinely fantastic.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In search of cappucino perfection

La Boulangerie, on Dublins Chatham Row, off Grafton street, in the heart of the city. The service is good - imprecise, but with such warmth and welcome that the occasional wrong table can be easily forgiven. This is a nice space to spend time in.

Not because of the decor - marbletop tables, bentwood chairs, a little too close to one another, in a relatively charmless room, but with a full glass door wall looking onto the street.

Not because of the music, commfortibgly and familiarly bad as all French Pop really should be. It's bad in entirely the right and gallicly perfect way.
But because of the sevice. Quiet, friendly, a place that feels genuinely pleased to have you in it.
To the coffee. The presentation made me smile. A really nice touch that. The coffee itself. It's that milky style of cappucino, with none of the balancing bitter notes excellent cappucino needs. I didn't need suger - I normally take one for good coffee, two for bad, and three and a serving of self loathing for the IFI stuff. This needed none. Just a long, milky bland dairy sweetness, with a hit of cocoa, but nothing oif he dark and beautiful bitter heart good cappucino needs.
I'll be coming back, but not for the coffee.

Friday, March 05, 2010

One Pico, lunch, March 3rd

One Pico have a lunch deal on at the mo - who doesn't.

Two courses for 19.95, three for 25.

Situated just off Molesworth street, the room, somewhat neutrally appointed with a too severe kind of.... greywash, curious, indifferent art pieces on the wall breaking up the decorative monotony. I don't get the paintjob, tipping the balance over to the oppressive side of banal.

The seating is comfortable, spacious enough, and the room seems to absorb sound - tables are quite close together, but at no stage did I feel as if anyone was party to my conversations, nor I to theirs.

Now to the meat, or, in the Luscious Bs case, the two veg.

The menu had some vegetarian options. Some, is, frankly not enough. Pico's sister restaurant, Bleu on Dawson street, has, on occasion, sported no veg main option on their lunch menu. Hardly a menu then, hunting and hungry for all available custom in a recession and urban setting.

One Pico had two starter veg options, and one main. On request, they offered a second main of vegetables in/on puff pastry ("we could do you some vegetables, I'll check if chef has puff pastry - this was the dish description), so nebulously described by our wrongfooted waiter as to be both unorderable and meaningless (I'll have the puff pastry wotsit, in no obvious sauce....).

My starter, a ham hock terrine, was insipid. Underseasoned, with none of the fatty, earthy big baconed herbiness I expected. No big taste - not even of ham. It felt like it was straight from the fridge too, The mouthfeel was....well, not gelatinous, moist fat, or melting. None of that rich and trottery smoothness. It was big, roughly cut chunks of fairly flavourless, and coarsely textured pink meat adhering to one another by guilt of association. Insipid. The attached sauces were well made, but, again, could well have been far more robust. Ham hock terrine. It should be rich, and delicious, melting into a layered and gelatinous mouth coating flavours, and soft, slow cooked meat texture. This was... Well. It matched the decor. It was designed to go unnoticed.

A main of rib eye steak, with one of those curious forts of chips, and a bearnaise was fine. Good texture and taste to the bearnaise, the meat, rested, and competently cooked, rare as requested, nicely maillarded, and moist, juicy, though with a string of gristle running right through it. One of my chips - I had four - was made from a spoiled spud, having that mealy texture and distinctly off taste.

The desert, an Amalfi Lemon tart, with raspberry sorbet, and three fresh raspberries was the most interesting. Curiously, raspberries, being an autumn fruit, I was not expecting too much. But the sorbet was packed with a massive raspberry flavour, just the right side of sour, and enough sweetness to give that really moreish taste that an excellent raspberry dessert can deliver. Really characterful, and well balanced, each aspect confidently delivered. One small quibble, a raspberry with, again, off flavours. Too overripe, and thinking about rotting....

The Amalfi tart. Good texture, though the pastry was a little bland. The tart was, however, too tame for my tastes. Maybe the chef was worried about having two distinctly tart and acidic components on one plate, but diluting the lemon aspect was...well. It's a lemon tart. Without the crisp and really fresh acidity, it's missing it's most distinctive and intrinsic characteristic.

Cracking sorbet though. Cracking.

Service was attentive, without being encroaching. We had everything we could want from the staff, and nothing we didn't. Perfect actually. And distinctly friendly and pleasant as we left too. By far (sorbet and company excepted), the most pleasant part of the experience.

Overall. Technically proficient food, in a comfortable room. Some underwhelming tastes, some competent and good components, and only one dish really worth revisiting for. I have no particular interest, on this form, of revisiting. That said, on reputation, and a history of good reviews, it deserves a revisit.

And on price, many of the cities eateries would deliver a lunch of far inferior quality and ambition.

One Pico
Tel: +353 1 6760300

Friday, February 05, 2010

Wine tasting

Something I've been meaning to do for a while.

At the ex place of work, one of the many benefits (great resources, fantastic colleagues who became good friends, intelligent conversation, DIVINE baking, engaged and engaging students) included near monthly wine tastings. Always fun, educational, and surprising.

Conducted with knowledge, aplomb, intelligence and dedication, by the much lauded Baron of Bordeaux (to who, for the past two years, we owe considerable thanks), for a measly 25 euro a head, we found ourselves expertly guided through wines unexpected, delicious, hilarious, and divine. Typically a table of ten, sampling 8 themed wines, carefully selected.

This weeks lineup were, in order of appearance, all from the South of France (though I'll only post a couple of tasting notes).

Domaine de La Mirande, Picpoul de Pinet, Aoc Coteaux du Languedoc, 2008(100% Picpoul)
Chateau Montus, AOC Pacherenc du Vic Bilh, 2000
Domaine de Triennes, "Sainte Fleur", Viognier, 2007, Vin de Pays Du Var

Gres St Paul, "Antonin", AOC Coteaux du Languedoc, 2006
Chateau d'Estoublon, "Cuvee Mogador", AOC Les Baux de Provence, 2005 (35% Syrah, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Grenache, 10% Mourvedre)
Chateau du Cedre, "Le Cedre", AOC Cahors, 2005
Chateau Montus, "La Tyre", AOC Madiran, 2000 (100% Tannat)

Uroulat, AOC Jurancon, Moelleux (sweet), 2008 (100% Petit Manseng)

Links provided above in the following format

Vineyard/+Wine+designation(where appropriate)+AOC+Grape varieties

The first wine up, priced at €11.95,. 100% Picpoul Grape, from near the oysterbeds. Perfect to accompany oysters, or mussels, fruit, or light seafood. An absolute revelation at that price. A crisp, clean nose, with stone fruit, and citrus peel. On the palate, a first burst of lemon(typical of this grape) and lime, become beautifully minerally, zesty throughout, with a spicy finish. Good acidity(also typical). The absolute bargain basement recession buster. A stunning amount of taste at that price.

And we got the only one. Fallon and Byrne do have another from the Picpoul de Pinet terroir for €10.95.

The Chateau d'Estoublon, from a producer more widely known for their olive oil (quite delicious too) this wine proved an interesting counterpoint to the next wine in line. Superb, and perfect to drink right now. On the nose, ripe red and black fruit, green bell peppers (apparently a cab sav signature), some dark chocolate, a hint of mint, and a little pastis, really really inviting.

On the palate, an initial, delicious burst of red and black fruits, mainly red, with a lively acidity and well balanced tannins, building, with some dark chocolate on the end. Complex, and tastes at or near it's peak. Not as complex as some of the bigger, more tannic, ageing wines, in whose company it lost a little shine, but judged o it's own merits, a superb wine to drink right now.

Balanced, complex, inviting on the nose and follows through. €54.95.

Syrah - typical chocolate and black berrys, with a little coffee, and liquorice
Cab Sav - Bell pepper, vegetal, black fruits, tannic structure
Grenache - again, red and black fruits, tends not to age well, lacks tannin, rounds out Syrah
Mourvedre - typically blended with Syrah and Grenache, long lasting, provides body

Chateau Montus, La Tyre.

Terrible label. Looks like s Shell forecourt two for a tenner special. "Two eh dem de Tyres love".

Dark, deep, almost youthful colour - for a ten year old wine. No real fade at the rim. We had this wine decanted, a necessity, to open it up enough to enjoy. This was a little bit special.

On the nose, fruity, a little citrus peel, savoury, a little, it seemed, bready.

Big tannic structure - it will spend the next ten years developing, apparently, and be good for 15. Well balanced, with enough fruit and acidity to bode well for laying down. Structured, complex, full and long. Plum, spice, red fruit.....a great fuitiness, like crunching into fresh fruit...I got lost after a while, and neglected my notes. Superb. €89.


Sweet white wine (Moelleux=sweet/semi-sweet), from another small producer. Late harvest, and small yield, so I expected a concentrated sweetness, and hoped for acidity to balance it.

On the nose, lemony, zesty, with warm honey (some said honeysuckle....) - though not cloyingly so, with peaches, and, maybe, a touch of spice - cinammon?

On the palate, the sweetness, was present, and balanced beautifully with the acidity, giving a clean hit. Lemony, with slight honey, acid, sweetness. At €26, a good value buy for the quality. I could see it with a creme brulee and perfect silence.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Gravad Lax

Gravlax/Gravad Laks/Gravlaks/Graavilohi(for Finno-Ugraic eccentrics....)/Graflax, or, in Ashkenazi cuisine, lox (though this can sometimes be cold smoked as well as cured)

Fine stuff. Easy to make, and keeps for ages. And, in the Boys Own bumper book of Adventure that is my imagination, it gives endless and massive culinary kudos to the maker.

The basics are simple. I went with the cooking for engineers ratio (great site, good article, and they have a great discussion afterwards, for those of a perversely detailed and fiendishly occult bend of mind like my own).

It's a simple salt and sugar cure, dry, with dill providing the flavour backbone.

Other additions can and do include fennel, white or black pepper, juniper berries, olive oil, lemon or orange peel, and alcohol - gin, vodka, koskenkorva, and whiskey are all mused - this would be amazing with a smoky or lightly peated scotch.

The engineers go with the following ratios (roughly the same as Ruhlmans' in Charcuterie)

Per pound/450g of salmon
30g of (kosher, or sea salt)
25g of sugar
4.2g of black pepper
Enough dill to completely cover the flesh of the fish.

I used the tail end of a whole farmed salmon, coming in at 250g, trimmed.

Descale and debone the salmon - to debone, rip out the spine, carefully, run your fingers over the

flesh against the grain to feel for pinbones, and use a needlenose pliers to take them out. To make the bones even more obvious, bend the fillet backwards while doing this). To descale, use a knife, and scrape the scales off, again, against the grain.

Lay your fillets out, flesh side up, on cling film large enough to wrap around the entire fillet several times.
Mix the salt, sugar and pepper thoroughly, and pour over the fillets.

Liberally pour on enough dill to completely cover the fillets, and then wrap tightly in cling film. Tear off another strip of film, enough to go round twice more, and wrap it tightly again. Put in a non reactive container - with a lip, the fish will lose water, and form a brine.

Leave in the fridge for 4 days.

Some recipes call for weighing the fish down, either with a brick on top, or tinned food. I got quite a firm fleshed and dry Gravadlax without weighing it. One for experimentation, I should think.

It's ready when firm to the touch at the thickest part. Unwrap it (after a few hours, if you want a light cure, 4 days if you want a complete cure), wash and dry it, and serve.

Recipe notes:

This is raw fish. Raw. So it's important to freeze it a -25 C for five days to kill any parasites. It's not a good dish if you're pregnant, ill, very old or young.

This cure, and curing time gave a quite salty taste. Next time, I'll lower either the salt content, or curing time.

The texture is perfect, and the dryness is evident - this cure should keep the fish for a week or two.

I tried a traditional type mustard/vinegar/sugar mayonnaise, which was ok, and a dressing of lemon juice, which was perfect. I'm guessing the saltiness of the cure, and mustardy strength of the mayo go well with the strong accompaniments this dish might often have - rye flatbread, pickled fish and veg, and, yum yum, frozen vodka.....

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Pictured - kedgeree, or at least a form thereof, reheated in a break from gutting the new house. Freezing fog, zero insulation, single glazing, and wide open doors make this spicy Indian dish a perfect winter warmer.

The new house will make posting....intermittent. Lots of work to do, but Autumn should see posts on recipes to cope with the expected fruit glut - we have three established orchards to cope with - and hopefully a stack of posts on building raised beds, and mushroom cultivation in the outbuildings will follow. Poly tunnels the next year, and, fingers crossed, a nice fat baconer fattening up in our stables.

But, for the moment, kedgeree.

Originally an Indian dish, to which the Imperials added smokies, it is now often referred to as Anglo-Indian, though the Scots insist they brought it with them in the 1700's. It's typically cooked with milk, or cream, or butter, and with flaked haddock,and was served as part of the early morning banquet breakfasts, truly, unbelievably epic repasts the colonial administration had served to them for their 5am starts (William Dalrymple in his book on the so called Indian Mutiny, The Last Mughal, lists a typical breakfast repast as including cold and curried meats, eggs, kedgeree, fruits and nuts, porridge, bacon, game.....).

Several recipes call for cooking the rice in a spiced milk mixture, or frying it in butter, then boiling, or adding cream, milk, or butter to the finished dish, or, more commonly, poaching the haddock in milk. All insist on haddock, though the dish speaks to me of leftovers, innovation, and a larder based make-do ethos.

I am constitutionally incapable of coping with the English predilection for combining rice and milk. Creamed rice is a tinned abomination best used with which to execute it's inventor. And haddock always reminds me of TinTin.

And so, my version is entirely inauthentic. Authentic versions are available here, here, and here...

Ingredients (serves a hungry 5)

Smoked mackerel fillets, skinned and flaked (2/3 per person is a good amount)
2 cups of basmati rice
120g of frozen peas
120g of frozen sweetcorn
80g of broad beans, shelled
50g Large golden sultanas
50g flaked almonds, toasted
Two peppers, roasted, skinned and sliced
1 large onion, finely diced

5 eggs, boiled and peeled, sliced into quarters (a 5 minute boil is more than sufficient, poached works well here too)

For the masala - quantities are up to you, I like mine quite spicy

2 tbsp coriander seed
1 tbsp black mustard seen
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
1 - 1.5 tbsp of cumin seed
1 tbsp turmeric
1.5 inches of fresh ginger, finely diced

And I use a storebought currypowder mix to adjust the taste and heat while cooking

To garnish

Sliced spring onions,
A generous handful or coriander, roughly chopped

The zest and juice of a lemon

Boil your basmati, and set aside to cool. Refrigerate for four hours.

Grind your masala in a pestle and mortar, and then add to a pan or wok, of generous proportions.

Boil your eggs, and cool them, shell on, under a cold tap. Reserve. Peel the eggs just before plating up...

Dry roast your spices in the pan for a few minutes, and then add oil, and, when the oil is hot, add the onion, and cook gently until soft.

Add the rice, from the fridge, and heat thoroughly, stirring occasionally. The long refigeration should give you rice that is entirely unsticky. Add all the vegetables, and taste for seasoning. This is highly subjective, but, as a rough guide, I often add more salt, black pepper, turmeric, and storebought curry mix. Cook until the veg has heated through, and add the mackerel, flaked almonds and sultanas. Cook for another minute or two on a low heat, stirring - to heat the sultanas, and mackerel.

Plate up, and add the eggs, lemon zest, coriander and spring onions to each plate.

As a final addition, make sure everyone pours lemon juice onto their dish. It really adds another dimension of taste.....

I HATE blogger formatting bugs.......

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Moroccan Braised Lamb Shanks

It reaches right in and warms the soul. On a sub zero day, it's the kind of dish that locks the doors, lights the fire, and sets out a pair of pre-warmed slippers next to the paper and a glass of what cures you. The spiciness, the deep umami of long braised lamb, the thick flavourful sauce. It really is something a little bit special. And it is braising, which means, with planning, no more than 20 minutes work for a lamb shank masterpiece.

Jesus. I almost came over all Delia there "your whole family will thank you for it...."

I originally whipped up an alpha version for the teachers from work, as a recession busting celebration of all things Moore Street, only to realise FX Buckleys charged me €6.50 a shank - same price as Fallon and Byrne's offerings. My local craft butcher, however, advertises the same cuts for €2.50 a piece. The recipe is also highly adaptable - it's easy to substitute other ingredients that are in your store cupboard, or stretch the dish to accommodate extra mouths. With adaptability, there's food for 8 people to be had for under €15.

The version posted here is tested and tweaked, especially with regard to thickening the sauce.


Let's cut to the meat.

These quantities will easily serve 6. If you need to serve more, you may need to take the meat off the bone, and serve it stew style.

4 lamb shanks (your butcher may offer to snap the bottom part of the shank, useful if your pot is not long enough)
1 (or two, if you need to stretch the pot) tins of tomatoes.
600ml of stock (chicken or vegetable are good, water is acceptable here too)
150g of dried apricots, sliced lengthways
150g of dried figs (or dates) sliced lengthways
(both apricots and figs can easily be replaced using currants and sultanas, thought the juicy burst of apricot deliciousness, and the curiously toffee-like near fudginess of the figs, will be missing)
2 large red (or ordinary) onions, cut roughly into wedges

1 tbsp of harissa (available in tubes for €1.50 from the Asia market off Georges street. Behind the arcade. The last aisle, furthest from the exit, near the bottom of the aisle). The harissa, unless you make your own, is, I think, irreplaceable. The dish is not what it could be without it.
1 piece of cinnamon bark
3 bay leaves
Ground in a pestle and mortar to a paste.....
2 tsp of cumin
1 tbsp of coriander
4 peeled cloves of garlic
salt, to taste
a large cube of peeled ginger. I go for around an inch of root here.

Preheat the oven to 140 C/Gas Mark 3.
Brown the shanks with oil in a dutch oven or cocotte. Or any oven proof dish with a lid that can do both hobtop and oven service (we picked up a Dunnes deal for €20 on cast iron ceramic pots). Failing that, the entire thing can be made in a thick bottomed pot on the hob.
Remove the shanks, and gently fry your onions for 5 minutes. They mustn't brown. Add you ground spices, and gently fry for a further minute. The kitchen will begin to fill with amazing aromas. The three hour cooking time allows the smells to waft everywhere in the house, whetting appetites to a frenzy.....And the smell will perfume every corner of your house.
Add everything, except the dried fruit to the pot, and bring back just to the boil. It is of prime importance that the meat does not get too hot. If it does, you will wind up with tough, inedible meat. Keep the temperature low, and the meat falls apart on the plate. As soon as it boils, turn down the heat if you are leaving it on the hob.

Cover, and place in the centre of your oven for 2 hours 30 minutes, or, place on a low heat on the hob top for the same time. Occasionally turn the meat in the sauce. What you want here is a low simmer, the occasional bubble rising lethargically to the surface.

Remove from the oven, or hob top, add the dried fruits, and cook, uncovered, for a further 20 or thirty minutes. Braises are a forgiving art, thankfully, and not an exacting science. Remove the bay leaves, and cinnamon bark.
A typical issue with braises, however well done, is that they produce really flavourful sauces, which are as thin as water. Profoundly frustrating to have so much lusciousness just trickle off your spoon thinly. The sauce has little chance to reduce, because of being covered, and the necessity for low cooking temperatures. And this dish really needs a sticky, glutinous, thick and clingy blanket of the fantastic braising sauce. Most thickeners on hand in the average kitchen will dull the sauce. Starch is a sin here.

Simple solution.
Ladle out a pile of the liquid (roughly half to two thirds), and some of the fruit and onions (try to leave at least half of each still whole in the dish), and blend them to a puree consistency. Mix this back in with the meat and remaining liquid in the sauce. Works perfectly, and delivers an undiluted kick of North African heat and flavour, which sticks to the meat, and soaks up wholesale into the grains you serve it with.

Serve with couscous, or rice, or a tabouleh.

Recipe notes.
Be careful with harissa. It can have quite a pungent chilli heat, and can overwhelm the dish easily. The version for sale in the Asia market is quite hot.
I replaced the dried fruits most recently with large sultanas, and raisins, which worked well, and at a fraction of the cost of apricots and dates.
I've also tried this recipe with a whole chicken, to excellent effect (Note to self - would pork belly braise well in this?, unsalted hocks? pork shoulder? a slow cook cut of beef? Mutton would be amazing.....), and have cooked the entire dish - enough for 6 hungry mouths - at just under a tenner, all told.
Pureeing some of the sauce really improves the dish.
Often, there's a thick and ample remainder of sauce left in the bottom of the pot. Perfect as a base for a spicy vegetable or lentil soup, though, with enough heads and bread, that may not be a possibility.

On heat and braising. Slow and low means luscious and sweet. There is no shortcut here. The in ital browning does, however, give you those yummy little Maillard reactions, while leaving the bulk of the meat unaffected. Ooo maaaa meee.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Vegan Methyl Cellulose Marshmallows.

I took posession, late in the last year of a box of alchemical culinary tricks from France. Pipettes, calcium chloride, and the bould sodium alginate, for ravioli and caviar, a syringe, for roasting fowls, filling chocolates and eggs and, inevitably, the diabetes my sweet and sugar addiction is nicely nursing. (I wonder what insulin actually tastes like).

I also ordered some methyl cellulose, inspired by this post on the Playing with fire and water food blog. Great photos, engaging experimentation, beautiful food and challenging recipes, including this one for methyl cellulose marshmallows. Worth a number of visits. For non dairy animal free types, the methyll cellulose is plant derived, giving an entriely vegan marshmallow.

It's a straight forward, easy to make recipe, taken directly from the above site, and a good introduction, for me at least, to the chemistry of cooking.

Weights, including for water, are in grammes.

230g of water
90g of sugar
4.5g of methlycellulose
1/2 tsp of vanilla essence
icing sugar

Boil up the water and sugar. Let it cool, and add the methylcellulose and vanilla. Blend them thoroughly with a stick blender.

Cover and chill for two hours.

Preheat your oven to 150 C.

Remove from the fridge. Add to your mixer, or blender, and beat on high until fluffy (it took about four minutes in the faithful Kenwood).

Spread the mix out in a mold or on a tray - it doesn't seem to rise too much, and holds it's shape quite well - and pop it in the oven for about 5 minutes, until set.

Voila, marshmethylmallows.

The texture I found to be lighter than classic marshmallow - not as gelatinous, gloopy, or chewable. On the plus side, the vanilla flavour came through more cleanly (no flour/starch to emblanden it?) and the texture had a delicious lightness, much more foamy than I was used to. It also behaves like marshmallow when toasted, browning and crisping up on the exterior.

Unfortunately, instead of using it, I left it out, and when I returned, it had leaked out a lot of clear liquid - presumably the emulsion coming apart - and was left with a toughish plasticised skin. One of the properties of methylcellulose is that it gels at higher temperatures, and becomes liquid as it cools. It will hold it's shape for circa 15 minutes, before liquifying. Solution, hold it in a low oven until ready to serve.

All in all, a success.

Shallot Tarte Tatin

The official, and jealously guarded recipe for a Tarte Tatin is here (I particularly admire their admonishment, in bright red capital letters that any Tarte Tatin ordered with cream or flambeed is "AN IMPROPER USAGE OF THE NAME").

I shall plunge recklessly on, and, risking a gallic cold shoulder to this humble blog, submit this worthwhile and delicious adaptation for your delight. I hope that neither Tatin sister, Caroline nor Stephanie, would overly object. One can only hope that the Lichonneux Brotherhood tasked with the noble tarts defence are not currently in a position to send assassins.

Gentle mockery aside, it is somewhat inspirational to see such dedication to culinary heritage. One wonders if, with a little more care, Irish smoked salmon, cheddar cheese, and a host of other products would have been more protected against appropriation. Treachery thy name is Kilmeaden......

This recipe, quick, simple, and quite foolproof, is culled from Sophie Grigsons "Vegetables",a simple, straightforward guide to cooking and selecting them. It's a common sense guide for the everyday cook, with some simple, and some complex ideas for preparation. And a snip at €6 in the post Christmas sales. 15 quid on Amazon though.... A no nonsense book. And I mean that in the best way.

For the filling

400g shallots, halved lengthways
85g of unsalted butter
60g of caster sugar
juice of 1 orange
2 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper

For the pastry

190g of plain flour
85g of unsalted butter (I cubed this for easier mixing)
85g of grated parmesan
2 teaspoons of thyme leaves
grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 tsp of cayenne
1 tsp salt
1 egg

First the pastry. Mix the flour and butter together with your fingertips in a bowl, until the consistency is of fine breadcrumbs. Stir in everything except the egg to this mix. Make a well in the flour, and break the egg into it. Mix the whole lot together with your fingers. The dough will start as a really sticky mix. Mix it until it's soft, but not sticky, adding just enough ice water to bind it. Grigson added 1 tablespoon to hers. I added none - the egg I had was enough.

Wrap in clingfilm, and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4/180 C.

Grab a ten inch cast iron pan (I used an 8 inch, meaning things were a little packed in), cut your butter into very thin slivers, and lay them on the base. Scatter the sugar, some salt, pepper and the sugar over the butter. Pack the shallots into the pan, flat side down, in circles, one circle inside the other. I found things got a little more chaotic than that in practice. Shallots are not uniform sized things.

Drizzle the shallots with the orange juice and vinegar.

Set the pan over a gentle heat, so the butter bubbles up over the shallots, and keep at a gentle simmer for about 20/25 minutes, to caramelise the sugar. You want the juices to thicken to a thick syrup. Her instructions here were spot on - yielding a juicy, yet still quite set tart, that held it's shape perfectly. Take off the heat.

Roll out your pastry on a lightly floured board, to just larger than the pan rim. I found a circular breadboard of the same size and used that to roll on. Lay the pastry over your tart, tucking the edges down and into the sides of the pan. The tart centre puffed up quite noticeably here. Transfer to the oven until the pastry browns - 25/30 minutes. Slide it out, let it cool for two or three minutes, run a knife around the edges to loosen it, and then cover the pan with a serving dish. Flip the whole lot upside down - it will be very heavy, and you'll hear the tart dropping onto the plate. Any pieces of shallot stuck to the pan can be eased off and put back in to the tatins glazed jigsaw.

Eh voila. Shallot upside down tart. Served up happily to the nosh crazed vegetarians at the Christmas day table. Honour is satisfied. And the Tatin sisters are surely smiling.

The tart also works in pear, tomato (including green tomato), rhubarb, figs, plum, beetroot and a variety of other fruits and vegetables. Beetroot? Beetroot? I think I might have to side with the Brotherhoos od the Tart on that one.
Raspberry Tatin? Thats one to have a bash at. Ditto greenguages and damsons.
Oh, and happy new Year, to anyone persistent enough to get this far.

Recipe notes:

In the pastry, I would use more thyme, and more orange peel. The taste of each was present, but not sufficiently so. Could be an ingredients issue though....

In my 8 inch pan, even with trimming the pastry a little, it was too thick. If I were making it again, I'd make less pastry - maybe 20 per cent less.

The amount of sugar in the pan is entirely in keeping, but the recipe could stand less sugar, and more balsamic and juice. That's purely a personal point - I'd like a more savoury dish.