Thursday, May 19, 2011

Tales of the Unexpected

Although I do have some knowledge about making stocks, maybe hadn't mentioned before something quite important. When making stock, we get the most flavour from the bones. Roasted bones make a darker stock with a deeper flavour.
Whenever possible, break the bones into smallish pieces ( a butcher would chop the larger bones for us), and when making chicken stock we can break up the carcase ourselves. Two reasons for this: the marrow inside the bones (normally only visible when broken) add a lot of flavour to the stock, and the more bones we can fit in the pan (by crushing them down) the less water is needed to cover and the more intense the flavour will become.
To make a good stock, keep the liquid at the merest simmer, barely a bubble breaking the surface. Cook for the recommended time (usually a couple of hours), as by then the all the flavour should have been extracted from the bones, so no point in simmering it for an hour or two longer. The only way to concentrate the flavour further is by removing the bones and any veggies used and reduce the stock down by fast boiling.

Reading a book about chef-level cooking proves to me how sadly lacking I am when it comes to culinary techniques. But then does everything HAVE to be so perfect? My Beloved would not be impressed if his main course ended up as a tower with a bit of 'jus' drizzled round it, and a 'shard' of bacon (or whatever) balanced precariously on top. No, he likes to see a good plateful of nosh that he can recognise, so perhaps no need for me to feel a failure again.

What I do feel is worth doing is making a dish in the easiest and cheapest way possible without sacrificing any of its attributes, and the first of today's recipes is 'sort of' this way inclined. Normally I would plonk a dish of this on a table and call it 'hummous'. Hummous is also made using chickpeas but with the addition of sesame paste (tahini) which many readers probably do not keep as a 'staple' in their larder. Myself feel the recipe below has far more flavour, and hopefully readers ARE growing their own herbs and have the rest of the ingredients to hand so can also make it.

This dish is said to be very popular amongst the poorer people in Turkey and the Lebanon, and this only goes to prove that when strapped for cash, people then are more inclined to make the most of what is available and manage to 'invent' what today would be served in top restaurants who command a high price for the tasting.
There are several way in which this dish can be served. Eaten hot or cold it goes very well with a crisp green salad, and piled into a dish with paprika sprinkled on top and a little olive oil drizzled over - then becomes a 'hummous-style' dip.
Although we could used canned (drained) chickpeas, these will absorb much more flavour if the dried are used and soaked/cooked ourselves (as mentioned in an earlier part of this posting). Depending upon your love of garlic, use as much or as little as you wish. But do use some.

Chickpea Puree: serves 4 as a dip
9 oz (250g) chickpeas, soaked overnight
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 - 4 cloves garlic, crushed
approx 5 fl oz (150ml) olive oil
3 tblsp finely chopped fresh parsley
2 tblsp finely chopped fresh mint
juice of 1 lemon
salt and pepper
Boil the chickpeas until tender, then drain, cool and either mince, process or mash into a puree.
Meanwhile, put a little of the oil into a pan and fry the onions until tender, then stir in the garlic and fry for a further couple of minutes. To this then add the rest of the ingredients, mixing well together and heating through. Add as much olive oil to give the dish the required consistency - depending upon whether this is to be used as a dip or a side-dish to a main course.

Almost certainly the most expensive ingredient in a savoury dish will be meat or fish, so it makes both economical and healthy sense to eat 'vegetarian' now and again, ideally on alternate days if meat HAS to be part of your life-style. This way we can then afford to pay that little bit more for 'quality' protein - and you know how important that can be as we gain much more flavour when we cook with beef that has been well hung.
Another 'useful comment' in the 'cheffy book' as that the professional cooks prefer to use the cheaper cuts of meat that need a much longer cooking time than the more tender cuts that only need a flash in the pan. Nothing to do with the cost - just the great flavour the cheaper cuts have (when cooked properly) that the expensive cuts lack.

But I transgress, the intention being to give a meat-less recipe to keep those costs down, the one shown being a 'store-cupboard' rice dish that originated in the Middle East. The basic recipe is given, but it is suggested that other ingredients such as : grated fresh ginger, mushrooms, peppers, marjoram, thyme, cloves, cardamoms, orange zest, white wine (as part of the stock) could also be included, presumably not all at the same time.

Turkish Pilaff: serves 6
2 onions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 lb (500g) long-grain rice (pref brown)
4 tblsp sunflower oil
2 - 3 bay leaves
1 x 400g can chopped or plum tomatoes
2 tblsp tomato puree/paste
4 oz (100g) no-soak apricots, halved
2 oz (50g) sultanas
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
salt and pepper
1 pint (600ml) vegetable stock
Fry the onion and garlic in the oil until transparent, adding the garlic towards the end rather than at the beginning (otherwise it easily burns). Add the rice and stir-fry for 3 minutes, then add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then cover, reduce heat and simmer for 25 - 45 minutes (according to the rice used - brown takes longer), then serve.

One of the problems when giving recipes is assuming (probably incorrectly) that most readers keep the same ingredients in their store-cupboards as those that lurk in my own larder. So it is with some trepidation that I offer the next recipe as one worth serving as a 'treat' in the hope you too have all the makings. You will note that the Demerara sugar is 'ground', and if you have a liquidiser/blender all you need do is whizz the D. sugar down to a fine 'caster'. Otherwise use the soft brown sugar (this has smaller crystals) or use ordinary caster (or even icing sugar). If you make your own yogurt (and let's hope by now most of you do), then just put some in muslin to drip overnight to make your own curd cheese. Or buy cottage cheese, pop it in the freezer for a couple of days, then once thawed you will have found it broken down to 'curd cheese' texture.
If you don't keep a jar of preserved ginger in your stores, then chop up some crystallised ginger.

Russian Cream: serves 6
1 lb (500g) curd cheese
2 oz (50g) Demerara sugar, ground (see above)
2 oz (50g) flaked almonds
2 oz (50g) raisins
2 oz (50g) no-soak apricots, halved
2 tblsp lemon juice
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp preserved ginger, chopped
half pint (300ml) double cream, whipped
Mix everything but the cream together and put into a pudding basin (or individual dishes) . Leave overnight in the fridge to set, then turn out from the basin onto a serving dish (or leave in the smaller dishes) and top with the whipped cream.

The above ends up similar to a cheesecake mix, and when making one of these always find the 'biscuit crumb with butter' base becomes almost impossible to cut through after chilling. Have found the way round this problem is to line the dish with clingfilm then spoon in the cheesecake mixture, smoothing the surface level, allow this to set, then top with the biscuit crumb/butter and not pressing it down too firmly.
When ready to serve, remove from the fridge and leave for about five minutes before inverting onto a plate. Because the base was originally at the top, the room temperature helps to 'soften' it, so once turned upside down so the base then is in its rightful place, this makes it far easier to cut into wedges.

Am now reminded of another tip from the chefs' book. When lining a tin with cling-film, to make sure the contents of the pan (in this instance a terrine) end up with smooth sides and no creases or wrinkles, first lay a sheet of cling film on a work surface, smoothing it out as flat as you can (stretching it over a board if at all possible), then lay over another sheet, smoothing/stretching this also, then a further sheet (or two). There have to be at least three layers large enough to fit into the chosen tin allowing for plenty of overlap.
Wet the inside of the mould, then fit in the paper. The water helps the plastic to cling to the sides, and press it down so that it lies as smoothly as possible. Then spoon in the filling. Smooth the surface and then pull up the overlap of cling-film, stretching it as much as you can before folding over the top.
When turning out the sides/base (which is now the top) should be as smooth as a baby's bottom.

Possibly most of us don't wish to go to those lengths, a wrinkle here a crease there isn't the end of our cookery world, but have to say am always irritated by how difficult it is to line a tin smoothly with said cling-film, and previously have found that laying a sheet of film over the chosen tin then pushing it down with a similar size tin (works best if the sides slope a bit like a loaf tin) also helps to keep the film from creasing, but the idea of first wetting the inside to help make the film 'stick' is a good tip to know.
Another tip (one of my own) is to keep the roll of cling-film in the freezer, as it won't then stick to itself when unrolled, but WILL still cling to whatever it is to be wrapped around.