Sunday, 30 June 2013

Chicken, Mushroom & Pancetta Filo Pie

I often have some filo pastry in the freezer to use up - on this occasion as I’d made a spinach, feta and sun-dried tomato tart cum pie the previous week (quite a lot to use up in fact as for that I had only used two sheets - it will appear in a mid-year “round-up” like post soon). On this occasion, for some reason, another pie seemed the most obvious use for it.

I wanted to keep it pretty straightforward to cook so opted for a fairly classic flavour combination but in lieu of a heavier white sauce went for a half fat crème fraîche base. Of course the cream cheese and pancetta are far from low calorie choices themselves: an idiosyncracy I tend to have, for example insisting on plain rice with my takeaway lamb rogan josh and sag aloo as it has a lot less calories and fat than pilau....

But I digress. This is something that you can very much mix up depending on what you have in as well as what you fancy: tarragon in place of parsley, swapping out the veg: perhaps leeks, sweetcorn or broccoli, bacon for pancetta, or even ham. Or leave it out completely. Up to you.

Chicken, Mushroom & Pancetta Filo Pie
serves 3(ish)

small knob of butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
100g cubed pancetta
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
2 large chicken breasts, cubed (about 360g)
150g mushrooms, sliced
½ small glass white wine
125ml chicken stock
100g half fat crème fraîche
1 heaped tbsp cream cheese
handful parsley, chopped
sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 tbsp olive oil
3-4 sheets filo pastry

Cook the bacon & shallots with a knob of butter in a sauté pan over a low-medium heat until the shallots are softened and the pancetta has crisped a little.

Add the chicken, garlic and mushrooms and cook for about 5 minutes the chicken is just cooked.

Add the wine and simmer until it has just reduced to a syrupy liquor.

Stir in the chicken stock and continue to simmer for about 5-10 minutes until it has also reduced.

Take off the heat and stir in the creme fraiche, cream cheese and parsley and adjust season carefully to taste (err on the side of caution vis-à-vis the salt, as the stock will probably be salty enough, do add some white pepper though).

Turn into a pie dish and leave to cool.

Brush the edge of the pie dish with olive oil. Unroll the filo pastry, take one sheet and quickly brush with olive oil and scrunch up a little. Lay this on top of the mixture in the pie dish and repeat with the other sheets until the top is covered.

Bake in a pre-heated oven at 190c for about 30-35 minutes, until golden.  

Serve with veg of your choice!

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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Mauritian Lamb Curry

Regular readers of this blog will probably know that I love a good curry, and I quite like going a little off the beaten track to try out new and interesting ones, say Cambodia, Laos or Nepal. I’d love to say that I picked this recipe up on my last trip to Mauritius, but sadly I’ve never been (although it is firmly on the lifetime agenda, or bucket list as everyone now seems to say), instead I first got the idea of a Mauritian curry from a Gordon Ramsay recipe on BBCGoodFood. From there some research followed which resulted in what you find here.

Mauritius is an island with a rich & diverse history located in the Indian Ocean east of Madagascar - discovered by the Portuguese in 1505, Mauritius was subsequently held by the Dutch, French, and British before independence was attained in 1968.

As wide a variety of inherited cuisines and flavours as different settlers throughout its history then with culinary traditions from Europe (particularly French), India, China and Africa passed on through generations. There are also, it seems, heavy Creole influences.

This spiced curry of lamb cooked in a tomato-based sauce with chillies and ginger has a unique taste that reflects its origins with hints of star anise, mustard seeds, cinnamon & cumin as well as the addition of curry leaves.

The original Gordon Ramsay from which this arose was actually for goat but despite living in South London that is a little tricky for me to get hold of (without a special trip): do seek out some goat shoulder, or other braising cut, if you can though as I suspect it would be great. I also have a sneaking suspicion that goat is lower in fat than lamb too.

I added some vegetable content in the form of spinach & mushrooms as basically I wanted to up my veg count for the day but these are entirely optional. I would suggest however leaving the curry once cooked to allow the flavours to develop further - again, optional but this is definitely a case where the curry tastes even better the next day!

Mauritian Lamb Curry

serves 3-4

750g stewing lamb
2 tbsp groundnut oil
½ tsp turmeric
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground coriander
½ tsp mustard seeds
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
2 cloves
4 cardamom pods , lightly crushed
1 tsp unrefined light brown sugar
5-6 curry leaves
1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes
400ml chicken stock or water
125g mushrooms
frozen spinach - about 5-6 small blocks

For the chilli paste
1 small onion , roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves , peeled
4 small seeded chillies , roughly chopped
3cm piece ginger, roughly chopped
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp groundnut oil

To make the chilli paste, put all the ingredients into a small food processor or spice grinder and whizz to a fine paste.  Put into a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the lamb into bite-size chunks and season with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tbsp of groundnut oil in a wide sauté pan or heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the meat in batches until golden brown all over. Remove to a plate and set aside.

Tip the chilli paste into the pan and stir over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes until fragrant.

Add the dried spices, sugar and curry leaves and continue to stir for another minute or so.

Put the browned meat, along with any juices, back in the pan and stir around so that the meat gets coated.

Add the chopped tomatoes and stock and stir well, then reduce the heat.

Pop a lid on the pan and cook very slowly for 3-4 hours until the meat is just tender. Then remove the lid and simmer for a further 30 minutes until it has reduced a little.

Check the seasoning carefully and serve with plain rice.

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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Fennel & Feta Risotto

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I tweaked a little with regard the cheese: the original called for 50g of crumbly ricotta but as I had 35g of feta lurking in the fridge I used that instead. 

I’d actually planned to make fresh vegetable stock: at the beginning of the week we’d bought a massive bunch of asparagus which we’d been having with pretty much every meal. I prepare asparagus in the “snap” way - i.e. where you can easily snap off the bottom of the stalk is where you are snapping off the “woodiness” - and I’d dutifully kept all the snapped off ends (and other vegetal bits and pieces through the week) to make the stock.

Sadly I forgot and out came the Marigold bouillon powder. It was only half-way through cooking I remembered the asparagus stalks. Bummer.

Fennel & Feta Risotto
Serves 3

For the risotto bianco
600ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
tiny knob butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
200 g risotto rice
125ml-ish dry white vermouth (1 small wineglass or so)
35g butter
55g Parmesan, freshly grated
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
For the rest
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, ground to a powder
extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 bulb fennel, finely sliced, keep the herby tops to one side
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small dried chilli, ground to a slightly bitty powder
35g feta, crumbled
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Parmesan, for grating over

Heat a wide saucepan and when hot add a couple of splashes of olive oil. Fry the garlic until softened, then add the ground up fennel seeds (do this with a pestle & mortar) and sliced fennel. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and turn down to a medium-low heat and slowly cook the fennel for around 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently heat the stock.

Put the olive oil and butter into a separate saucepan, add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes. This has to be over a very gentle heat as you don’t want the veg to colour.

When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

Lightly fry the rice for a few minutes then pour in the vermouth: it will bubble up a little and smell delicious: keep stirring as the alcohol evaporates.

Once the vermouth has reduced and absorbed a little into the rice, turn the heat down and add a ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt.

The heat needs to be at a gentle simmer so that the rice doesn't cook too quickly on the outside: keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring often (personally I don’t think it’s necessary to be a complete slave to the hob and stir constantly, but do stir often). Allow each ladleful of stock to be absorbed before adding the next.

After about 20 minutes, stir in the sautéed fennel.

Keep cooking the risotto until the rice is perfectly cooked - around 40 minutes in total (chefs always say about 20 mins, but in my experience that is absolute twaddle) - the rice needs to be soft but with a bit of bite.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water or make up a bit more stock.

Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, parmesan, crumbled feta and lemon zest.

Pop a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes.

Check the seasoning carefully, including balancing the lemon juice to work with the sweetness of the fennel. Divide between bowls / plates and sprinkle over fennel fronds and ground chilli. Grate over some fresh parmesan at the table.

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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Cinnamon Buns

As is probably pretty apparent by my posts on this blog I don’t really go in for cooking sweet things much. I will of course, if at a restaurant, get a dessert. Nine times out of ten anyway. And there has been the odd occasion when I have made one: usually for a dinner party or Christmas or the like. Expresso granita, crème brûlée, Eton mess and champagne jellies with syllabub cream all spring to mind.

Similarly baking.. it’s just not something I really do. 

God knows why then I decided a while ago that I absolutely must make some cinnamon buns. My mum was coming to stay and I decided that I would make them for breakfast - I had to make them for breakfast. But really, I have no idea why.

Still, here they are. And quite lovely they were too. You could of course forego the cream cheese icing, but where would be the fun in that? And you could make your own puff pastry rather than using store-bought. But, well, ditto.

Cinnamon Buns
makes 8

50g unsalted butter, softened
30g pecans, chopped
2 tbsp soft dark brown sugar
2 tbsp soft light brown sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
320g sheet ready-rolled butter puff pastry

Preheat the oven to 200C.

Beat the butter, pecans, sugar and cinnamon together. 

Unroll the sheet of puff pastry and spread the butter mixture evenly all over it, then roll back up into a longish sort of sausage shape.

Cut this into 8 pieces and place the pieces cut sides down into a non-stick roasting tin or onto a large non-stick baking tray. Flatten gently with your hand. 

Sprinkle with a little extra cinnamon and sugar then bake for 15-20 minutes until puffed and golden. While the buns are cooling a little, make the cream cheese icing.

For the cream cheese icing

65g cream cheese, room temperature
60g icing sugar
30g butter, softened
½ tsp vanilla extract

Combine the cream cheese, icing sugar, butter, and vanilla in medium bowl and beat until smooth. 
Spread onto the rolls and serve warm or at room temperature.

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Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Lamb in Almond Sauce with Garam Masala

I saw this recipe in Olive magazine but ended up changing it a bit: partly by design but partly in error in that I halved some of the ingredients (namely those for the marinade) but kept the same quantities - with the exception of the double cream - for the rest of the ingredients. I realised my mistake when adding the cream so did halve the quantity stated for that. In any case, it turned out fine. Better than fine in fact, it was lovely.

I have written about garam masala before here. The Olive recipe for grinding up one’s own mix called for cassia leaves which are sometimes referred to as Indian bay leaves - something that I definitely do not have in stock, nor in fact am sure that I have ever even seen. A bit of googling suggested that cassia has a cinnamon- or clove-like flavor, totally unlike the other variety, but as I have seen bay leaves used in garam masala mixes I chose to substitute the 2 cassia leaves for 1 bay leaf and 1 little strip of cassia bark. I also added some brilliantly scarlet kashmiri chilli powder to the lamb marinade as I felt it looked a little pallid.

This is ultimately a “Royal Lamb” korma, with it’s roots in the Lucknow of the Mughal Empire - or so my readings lead me to believe anyway. Whatever, it is delicious. Serve with saffron tinged rice (which will, with any luck, make the rice yellow rather than the strange orangey pink mine ended up) to soak up the gorgeous sauce and some quickly stirfried spring greens to offset the richness.

Lamb in Almond Sauce with Garam Masala
serves 2

3 cloves garlic, chopped
25g fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
25g flaked almonds
1 onion, chopped
½ tsp cayenne pepper
½ tsp kashmiri chili powder
2 lamb shanks
1 tbsp groundnut oil
1½ tsp coriander seeds, toasted & ground
½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted & grounded
150ml double cream
200ml water

For the garam masala
1 tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp cumin seeds
4 green cardamom pods
2 black cardamom pods
5cm piece cinnamon stick / quill, broken up
1 tsp cloves
½ nutmeg, grated
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 bay leaf, crushed
3cm piece cassia bark, broken up

Put the garlic, ginger, almonds, onion, cayenne and chili powder in a spice grinder or food processor and whizz to a fine paste.

Add to the shanks in a bowl, ensuring the shanks are fully covered. Cover with cling and marinate in the fridge overnight.

Heat the oil in a large heavy casserole and fry the coriander & cumin powders for a minute.

Wipe the marinade off the shanks, adding to the rest of the marinade in the bowl and brown the shanks all over, one by one in the casserole. Set aside on a plate.

Add the marinade to the casserole and fry until fragrant and quite dry. This will probably take about 10 minutes.

Add the water and a pinch of salt, simmer for a few minutes and then add the cream.

Put the shanks back in the casserole, bring to a simmer and then put a lid on and cook on a low heat for 1½ hours. Give it a stir occasionally to ensure that it is not catching on the bottom.

Meanwhile, make your garam masala. Add all the spices to a small dry frying pan and toast until fragrant. Put all the spices in a spice grinder and grind.

When the shanks are done, lift them out onto a plate to keep warm.

Bring the sauce to a boil and stir continuously for about 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Stir in 2 heaped tsp garam masala.

Serve the lamb shanks alongside some rice and greens and spoon the sauce over them.

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