Thursday, February 21, 2008

Kitchen tips # 13 - Cooked onions pronto

It has been interesting reading, the recent output from Delia Smith. Tinned mince, frozen mash, tinned cooked onions, jars of roasted peppers et al.

I had noticed tinned cooked onions at the supermarket a couple of weeks before the latest Delia bandwagon - obviously the supermarkets get tipped off early. Whatever next I thought.



Most meals you cook at home are bound to have an onion in, so of course you end up chopping up an onion every day. That's OK if you have unlimited time to cook, but the reality is that for many it's more like half an hour than half a day. So that's where your frozen onions come in.


No - not brought from the shop, but every once in a while (chopping is good for venting anger) you can go in to producton mode and chop up a whole pile of onions.





Then cook them all in one pot



Fine chopped red onions for mixing into french beans



Sliced red onions for red onion and St. Agnes cheese tarts

Then portioned out, chilled and either kept in the fridge for 3 days, or frozen. Frozen they can be defrosted in the microwave on defrost for 3 - 5 minutes, or stirred in directly to a cassrole after browning the meat.



Maybe it's time to use up those onions stored at the back of your garden shed.....

Jerusalem artichoke

Jerusalem artichokes, despite their name actually have no links with the infamous city. They are infact the tubers of a sunflower. But the most important thing you need to know about them is that they have a seriously amazing taste.




Here they sit in water having just been peeled, as they can dry out otherwise.



Cooked in a glaze of butter, sugar and water till the liquid evaporates and you are left with a syruppy glaze, then turned out on to a tray and chilled.



They are then finished in the oven and mixed with french beans. Here the combination awaits a slice of saddle of lamb on top.

Jerusalem artichokes also make the most amazing soup, or can be roasted like parsnips.

Related posts:

Seared scallops with jerusalem artichoke puree and champagne sauce

Have a heart

Husbands and boyfriends in the kitchen? It can only mean one thing - it was either the wife's birthday or it was Valentine's Day.




It was Valentine's Day, and I was there to save said husbands and boyfriends from kitchen disasters.




Shortbread to accompany raspberry creme brulee sits next to chocolate tarts for a trio of chocolate desserts.



Sole roulades for a fish course



Lobster foam




And with broad beans,the fish course is ready to go.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Pancakes - join the race

It may be Super Tuesday today in the States, but in the UK today is Shrove Tuesday. This might just be Pancake Day to us now, but like many festivals has interesting ancient origins.



Pancakes like bread and butter pudding, shepherds pie and bubble and squeak were old recipes that originally were a good way of using up left overs. Traditionally we abstained from eggs and milk during lent. Shrove Tuesday was therefore the last day to eat such glutinous foods before Easter Day - hence the French name Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday).
Shrove comes from the word shriving in which you confess your shins and receive absolution. On the Tuesday night you would go to church for penance. Which, apparently, is where our pancake race comes from. In 1445 one woman, running out of time was cooking her pancakes when the church bells tolled for the evening absolution, and she dashed out of the house frying pan in hand, as you do.

Pancakes - traditional

4 portions

100g plain flour
1 egg
250 ml milk
10 g melted butter

Put all these ingredients in a blender and blitz. The secret for cooking the ideal pancake is the heat of the pan - too high and it burns before it cooks - to cold and the pancake sticks to the pan. I start the pan off on ¾ heat add a little oil and it should sizzle as you add the pancake mix, then turn it down to half so it cooks through before you flip it.

American pancakes

I use Nigella’s recipe. These are pancakes which really have substance, soak up the maple syrup, and are much easier to cook! I often serve these for brunch on Sundays.

(Makes c. 9 pancakes)

30g butter
225 g plain flour
2 heaped teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch salt
300ml milk
2 eggs
Put all these ingredients in a blender and blitz. You can cook these in rings for perfect pancakes, or just ladle the mix into the pan. I start the pan off on ¾ heat, so it sizzles as you add the pancake mix, then turn it down to half so it cooks through. As the edges on the top start to solidify and there are bubbles emerging on top flip it over to cook the other side. If you are using a ring it’s much easier - slide a palette knife under bottom.


Toppings

Traditionally served with lemon juice and sugar. But of course there’s always alternatives:

* Maple syrup and clotted cream for the american pancakes especially
* Chocolate sauce - plain chocolate and cream heated in a bain marie till they melt - try a duo of chocolate sauces - plain and white chocolate drizzled in opposite directions.
* Nutella - the quick chocolate fix
* Strawberries and cream - poach strawberries in sugar syrup with crème de fraise, add a little vanilla sugar to the whipped cream
* Sauteed apple slices in butter with a little apple brandy added at the end
* Peach melba pancakes

Sweet or savoury?

If you leave out the sugar, you have savoury pancakes. Here’s some ideas for savoury pancakes:

Herb pancakes with ratatouille

Mix in fresh chopped herbs to make herb pancakes. Spoon ratatouille in the middle, roll up as you would a spring roll. Spoon some cheese sauce on top and gratin ate under the grill.


Mushroom stroganoff

Mushroom stroganoff made with wild mushrooms rolled in a pancake is an alternative to rice which is now a vegetarian cliché. To make a sauce to go with it - boil some milk with dried ceps (available in the specialist shelves in the supermarket), till the musrooms are softened. Blitz in the blender or use a hand blender to produce a cappuccino mushroom sauce.


Chicken and sweet corn pancakes

Cooked chicken, sweet corn and supreme sauce (or tinned chicken soup for a very fast meal).


The all day breakfast pancake


Instead of having pancakes with your breakfast, put your breakfast (bacon, sausage - cut into slices - mushrooms and tomato) into the pancake.



FAQ


How do you stop the pancake sticking to the pan

If you’re not using a good quality non stick pan see kitchen tips #1


Easy flip

When I first started cooking I had a big problem with flipping the traditional pancakes - they would fold over while I was trying to turn them and I was left with a lump of batter. So I put two pans on the stove - one with the pancake and one empty. When the pancake was cooked on the bottom, I would turn it out into the empty pan to cook the other side.

How do you serve everyone’s pancakes at once?

Who’s going to be the first to get the pancakes? It’s a fight to first place in households across the country on Shrove Tuesday. But to dispel squabbles it’s quite easy to serve everyone at once. Keep making pancakes and when they are done, turn them onto a tray to cool, then refill and fry the next one. To reheat flash them in the oven for a couple of minutes till warm and plate them all at once.

How far in advance?

Note for next year - if you are busy on Shrove Tuesday you can cook them well in advance and freeze them. Cook as above and interleave cooked pancakes with greaseproof paper to stop them sticking together and cling film them well. To defrost - lay each pancake out flat and leave them to defrost for just 15 - 20 minutes.

You can make chicken and sweet corn pancakes above very easily this way.


Gluten free


I have exchanged normal flour for gluten free flour before for coeliacs and there is no difference in taste.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Kitchen tips #12 - All in the rind

I was about to throw away the parmesan rind when I had grated it all. The Italian chef I was working with at the time stopped me.

He kept at it - saving the rinds - till we had a decent amount in the cheese fridge then he handed them over to the fish section who made all the risottos (fish sections never have enough work), and instructed them to add the rinds to the risotto as it was made, and, as it cooked, they would melt, and the left over hard rind could be removed.
In a restaurant or hotel kitchen risotto is often par-cooked fresh every day due to the time it takes to cook - you soften your onions, pearl the rice, add the parmesan rinds, white wine then little amounts of warm chicken stock whilst stirring it in, moving the rice contantly till it's about half cooked, then chill it. It sits in the service fridge to be finished with more stock, marscapone, parmesan etc later when the order comes though.

Nothing should be wasted in a kitchen that cares.

Friday, February 01, 2008

1001 Kitchen tips #11 - I've got a bone to pick


Trout makes a great summer bistro dish cooked in local cider and apples and is just as good on the barbecue marinaded in coconut and chilli.
People often steer clear of trout because of the bones. I would too if I didn't remove the bones before cooking -they are easy to remove, so I always do, and it makes for a much more enjoyable meal.

I can phone up the trout farm and they go and catch the trout, and by the time I get there it has been filleted - you can't get fresher than that. But that can also be a problem. Last year I picked up the trout as usual and took it back to the kitchen to prepare it. When it came to removing the pin bones, I found they were stuck fast. Fish tweezers wouldn't do it - they kept slipping, scissors would only do it if you cut round the bones, but this would spoil the fish, so obviously I wasn't going to do that. It was as if they had been super glued in. Reluctantly I had to put the trout in the fridge overnight and continue the next morning.

The next morning the pin bones came out easily like normal - the lesson being your fish can be too fresh, and the flesh has to relax before you can remove the bones.


The fishing lake at Donnington trout farm