Monday, 30 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Choucroute Garni

The problem with having drawn France in the World Cup Food Challenge is deciding what to cook.  Some of the countries taking part in the world cup have a limited culinary history.  When looking up dishes for Honduras I came across Carne Asada on four or five separate searches, the decision was made for me.  The French though have more iconic dishes in their culinary canon to lay siege on most of the rest of Europe, never mind the rest of the world.

Choosing Confit de Canard as my first dish was a no brainer.  I'd been looking for an excuse to cook it for ages.  Assuming that France would get out of Group E I had already been looking for inspiration for Tonight's Menu.  I originally thought that tonight would be the night that I knowingly tried horse for the first time.  Since horsegate I have been looking for an excuse to cook an equine supper and as the French love cheval I decided to give it a go.

I asked my butcher if he could source me some horse and sure enough he said that he could.  I'd decided that I wanted to cook Daube de Chevaline, a slow cooked stew that required some shoulder meat.  This was available but once you added on delivery to the butchers it was close to £25 for a couple of pounds of meat.  Horse was off the menu.  Next on my hit list was Blanquette de Veau, but sadly the time consumed in a fruitless horse chase ate up all of my veal ordering time too. 

Having tried and failed to get hold of the ingredients for two classic and refined dishes I decided to go a bit more rustic and cook Choucroute Garni.  This mountain of a meal has a place in the folk lore of Z's family.  Holidays to France weren't complete without a table bursting pile of sauerkraut festooned with various sausages, hams and pork.

My choucroute has a base of cabbage braised in white wine with onions, bacon, celery, caraway, mustard seeds, and juniper berries.  This was served with a Toulouse style sausage, belly pork and a joint of cured pork collar that were cooked separately and then added to the choucroute to warm through before serving.  I also cooked a load of new potatoes but there wasn't enough space on the serving plate to include them in the photograph.

I'll be honest, as meals for two people go this was excessive.  We managed to eat half of the collar, one of the belly pork slices and a third of the sausage.  There is plenty of cabbage and potatoes left too.  The collar will be part of some pea and ham soup.  The sausage will appear on sandwiches and pizza later on this week.  The rest will become soup-croute.

In case you are wondering, the stork garnish is one of Z's strongest memories of the holidays.  She and her brother used to collect them.  She now thinks that they were just put on every kids meal not just the choucroute, but we couldn't resist having one for old times sake.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Switzerland - Beer Fondue

Switzerland.  Home of the Swiss Army Knife, Red Bull, Toblerone, tax havens, and armed neutrality.  Birthplace of the Red Cross and the cuckoo clock.  It is also the home of FIFA, so it's not really surprising that they qualified for Brazil 2014.

Switzerland are the last of my four countries for the World Cup Food Challenge, but Tonight's Menu is one that I have been greedily looking forward to.  Anybody who knows me will be able to confirm that I am a lover of Cheese.  Given the choice I will go for a cheese board over any dessert on a restaurant menu.  I'm a paid up member of Homage 2 Fromage, Leeds' wonderful cheese club.  For my birthday this year Z bought me a cheese making kit.  It should be of no surprise that I chose fondue to represent Switzerland.

The decision wasn't automatic though.  Fondue was on the back burner whilst I was looking for other dishes to cook, when I found the recipe for "The Best Swiss Cheese and Beer Fondue".  Cheese and beer? Now you're talking.  I've only had fondue a couple of times in the past and the most memorable time was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Too much booze overpowered the cheese.  The idea of a beery version was too good to miss out on.

The recipe is specific in relation to the cheese that's required, but when it came to the beer, it just says beer.  Dark beer, light beer, hoppy beer, I really didn't know what they had in mind.  I contacted Beer Ritz via Twitter to see if they stocked any Swiss beer, but the answer was no.  I was at a loss and started googling Swiss beer styles to see if I could get an idea of the type of beer that I should use.  I had settled on using a Helles style light lager when I was contacted by John from 1936 Biere.

John had seen my conversation with Beer Ritz and, being the seller of a beer brewed in Switzerland, was quick to get in touch and tell me of his wares.  He pointed me in the direction of Lazy Lounge who stock 1936, both bottled and on draft.  I hot footed it to the pub, bought the last six bottles of Swiss beer in the region*, and stashed it in the cellar until it was needed.

Yesterday I sourced the cheese for my fondue.  A trip to George and Joseph in Chapel Allerton is always a pleasure.  Stephen (cheesemonger extraordinaire) had reserved me a block of Reserve Gruyere de Jura and suggested Ogleshield Raclette as a suitable replacement for Emmental.  The two grated blocks of cheese were slowly melted into the beer, nothing could have been easier.

The only thing left was to decide what to dunk into the cheesy goodness.  We went for the obligatory bread, radishes, carrot batons, gherkins, and pickled onions, all washed down with the rest of the 1936.  The only rules were no double dipping and no sabotaging anybody else's dunk by knocking their bread off their fork and into the fondue.

Switzerland are not yet out of the world cup. A win against Honduras could well be enough to see them through to the knockout stages.  I'm not sure I'll be able to top fondue as a Swiss meal but I'll have to give it a go.  I will be going out to buy a fondue set though.  The orange beauty in the photo belongs to Nick, from Homage 2 Fromage, who was wonderful enough to let me borrow it for tonight.

*I also had a cheeky half pint of it while I was there.  Well it would have been rude not to.

Friday, 20 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Ecuador - Goat Stew

Here we go with my third recipe for the World Cup Food Challenge.  Having convinced myself that Ecuador would not progress from the group stage of the world cup, I wanted to find a recipe that would do them justice, something typically Ecuadorian.  Then I found this recipe for Goat Stew.  I love goat and jump at any opportunity to eat it.  This stems from the fact that I love lamb but Z can't stand it.  She'll happily eat goat though so as a lamb substitute goat does just fine.

Learning from my previous timing disasters, which came about due to not reading my Honduran recipe correctly, I double and triple checked the ingredients list and cooking instructions for the stew.  There were a couple of ingredients that I couldn't get hold of however.  Aji peruano powder was a chilli too far, even for Spice Corner on Kirkstall Market.  I substituted with Kashmiri chilli powder as it was meant to be mild.  The second ingredient I was struggling with proved more tricky to replace.

The recipe calls for a cup of frozen naranjilla/lulo pulp.  Nope I've never heard of it either.  It turns out the naranjilla is not quite a tomato, not really an orange, and not readily available in the shops of Leeds.  I had sent Z on many a wild goose chase during the Olympic Food Challenge but this was a goose too far.  But then the food gods smiled on us.

While taking a well earned break from hunting down obscure fruits, Z stopped for lunch at Casa Colombiana in the Grand Arcade.  She was sharing some empanadas with R.  She bought a coffee
for herself and a bottle of fruit juice for R.  It was only when she opened the bottle of juice that she realised that she hadn't bought orange juice but had inadvertently bought naranjilla juice.  I'd been expecting a flavour somewhere between rhubarb and lime, but Z and Marta (the owner of Casa Colombiana) decided that lychee or kiwi fruit would be suitable substitutes for the recipe.

The final ingredient to source was beer.  I'm told that the big brand Ecuadorian beer is Pilsener, but nowhere in South Leeds seems to stock it.  I did manage to get hold of Modelo, my favourite Mexican beer.  With all three of my substitutes used it was time to get cooking.

The goat, having spent twenty four hours in a bath of beer, was browned off while a red onion, red pepper, three garlic cloves, parsley, and coriander were puréed.  Once browned the meat was set aside so the vegetable mixture could be cooked along with a mixture of puréed tomatoes and kiwi fruit.  The goat was then added back to the pan along with the reserved beer marinade and spices, and cooked for two hours.

Sporting clichés aside, the substitutes did me proud.  The beer worked its magic on the goat, acting as a tenderiser before the cooking began.  The Kashmiri chilli was warming and not too spicy which balanced the extra punchy heat from cayenne pepper.  But the star of the show was the kiwi fruit.  Along with the cup of pulp that was added at the start of the cooking I added a couple of chopped kiwis ten minutes before serving.  The sweet sourness of the kiwis cut through the heat of the stew wonderfully.

I'm not sure if Ecuador will emerge from Group E.  They are in second place with one game to play but their final game is against France who have scored eight goals in their first two matches.  If we do say goodbye to Ecuador at this point at least I have discovered a new family favourite.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: Honduras - Carne Asada

The Republic of Honduras, formerly Spanish Honduras to differentiate itself from British Honduras (now Belize), is situated on the umbilical cord of the Americas, between Guatamala, El Salvador and Nicaragua.  Like many other Central American countries, Football is the national sport of Honduras.  This doesn't mean however, that they're very good.  In the hundred years that they have had a national football association they have only qualified for the World Cup Finals twice.

With a French recipe in the bag as soon as the draw for the World Cup Food Challenge took place, I started to look around for culinary inspiration for the other countries in group E.  On two separate Honduran food sites I found reference to Carne Asada.  It literally means Grilled Meat but its origins have been lost in the mist of time.  Some say that it has Mexican roots but given the amount of Spanish influence in the region it isn't a surprise that there are cultural overlaps.  In the end I chose the version of the Honduran favourite from This is Honduras.

This is Honduras points out "Hondurans look for any excuse to get the barbaque going and make carne asada - it is a favourite for birthdays, family days out, picnics, etc."  Well, today is Father's Day.  That sounds like a decent excuse for a barbecue to me, so carne asada it is.

Z had managed to get beef skirt from B & J Callard's on Kirkgate market during the week and I set about marinating it first thing this morning, having reread the recipe to discover that you should marinate the meat overnight.  The strips of skirt were placed in a bowl with the juice of two oranges, a tablespoon of cumin, four crushed garlic cloves, salt and half a tablespoon of Worcester Sauce.  The final ingredient struck me as a little odd but who am I to argue?

Z made a batch of home made corn tortillas and some guacamole while I made some Chimol to accompany the beef.  I had planned to make a batch of Encurtido*, but I missed the bit of that recipe that says "Refrigerate for at least 3 days to allow for the flavour to develop".

The beef was great.  In fact, I can't envisage a barbecue in the future that wont have carne asada as part of the meat fest.  The simple onion, tomato, pepper, corriander, and lime juice chimol, was a good sharp foil against the sweet meat, so we might be seeing that on the menu again too.  I'm not sure if Honduras will get out of Group E, if they do I promise to get my act together and make a batch of Encurtido.  You never know, I might just make some anyway.

*think piccalilli and you're almost there.

Friday, 13 June 2014

World Cup Food Challenge: France - Confit de Canard

I have been planning to make my own Confit de Canard for a long time.  It's one of those dishes that makes me feel happy just thinking about them.  The problem is, duck isn't cheap, duck fat isn't cheap, and, in all honestly, the need to confit duck to preserve it for long term storage is kind of superfluous these days, what with the dawn of in-house refrigeration units. Freezers I think they are called.

Then, the draw for the world cup took place.  I had already organised the World Cup Food Challenge and knew that I would end up cooking dishes from the countries of Group E and France was first out of the bag.  I knew instantly that the first* dish I would cook to represent France would be Confit Duck.

I flicked through various cook books and trawled the internet before finding three recipes that I liked the look of, each with subtle variations that I wanted to incorporate into my duck.  Anthony Bordain, Nigel Slater and Valentine Warner were chosen as my inspiration and my guides for the week long duck-athon.

The first step was to salt the duck.  I added rosemary, lemon thyme, black peppercorns and juniper berries at this stage, rubbed the duck legs thoroughly with the salt and aromatics and put it in the fridge for 24 hours.  The following day I rubbed the excess salt off the duck, nestled it in the bottom of a pan, added some of the herbs that had also been in the salt, and smothered the lot in duck fat.  The fat, by the way, cost more money than the duck did!

The chefs all had differing opinions as to how to cook the duck at this stage. High temp in the oven for an hour, low simmer on the hob, or two and a half hours at a low temp in the oven.  At two to one the oven method had it.  Could I decide which temperature to set the oven at though? No I couldn't.  In the end I went for a middle ground of 180˚c, mainly because that is the maximum temperature that my pans can withstand.

After an hour I had a cheeky peek and decided that the oven was too high so I droped the temperature and let it cook for another hour.  And there it was, perfectly cooked confit duck, but now came the hard part.  It was Tuesday and I wasn't eating it until Thursday.  I left the duck in the pan of fat to cool overnight and popped it in the fridge in the morning.

Having gone to all the effort to make confit duck I then turned my attention to what I was going to serve it with.  There was a sizeable bit of my brain that wanted chips.  Another part of me wanted to go the whole hog and make cassoulet from scratch, but frankly I couldn't be bothered.  In the end I made boulangere potatoes, partly because I needed the oven on to finish the duck and partly because I love boulangere potatoes.  Think of them as a low fat version of gratin dauphinois and you're there.  A cheeky glass of wine and I could have been in France.

I very much doubt that I'll make my own confit duck again.  Don't get me wrong, it was magnificent.  The crispy salty skin, the soft melting meat, none of the thick smoke that hangs around the house for weeks after roasting a duck or frying a duck breast.  It just costs too much. 

*I'm assuming that I'll need to cook more French dishes when they get out of the group as group winners.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Spaghetti and Meatballs

I know, I know. You hang around for ages waiting for a blog post and two come along at once.  Well I'm sorry for the delay, I really am, but circumstances at work and at home have changed so I haven't really had the head space or time to write.  On the odd occasion that I have had a window of opportunity to write I haven't been doing the cooking, and writing about food that you haven't cooked yourself isn't as easy as it seems.

I have tried to write, I really have. I have draft posts for Indian inspired Fish and Chips, Green Cauliflour Cheese, Chocolate Turkey Fajitas, Seafood Pancakes, and Rabbit Stew and Dumplings.  There are also a couple of posts relating to our experience of giving up Supermarkets for Lent.  But these things will remain in draft until such time as we cook the dishes again*.

On top of work I have also been training for my first half marathon.  Getting home from work and going out for anything between a 6k and a 10k run before even contemplating food, really reduces the amount of free time in the evenings, before going to bed and starting the whole thing again in the morning.  But with the half marathon behind me** we're settling into a new routine, which should see me at the stove more often.

Apart from anything else, I have instigated yet another food challenge.  You may have noticed that there's the small matter of the World Cup looming on the horizon.  Whether England win the tournament, make it out of their group, or capitulate and lose all of their opening matches is neither here nor there.  A group of us will be eating dishes representing all 32 of countries taking part in Brazil.  You can follow our progress here.

In the mean time, we have tried to be very organised on the food front.  Our weekly meal planning has gone from strength to strength.  We either plan after a veg box delivery from Market Delivered, or before we do our big shop for the week.  This is the only way we have found of making sure we always use the food we have and limit food waste.

Tonight we had planned to have spaghetti with a beef ragu using some braising steak that was lurking in the freezer, however, in the interests of a happy house, we have allowed a change of plan to suit the mood of our youngest and fussiest family member.  Rather than defrosting the steak we acquiesced and took some pork mince out of the freezer to make meatballs.  It really wasn't such a big change as the sauce for both dishes contain the same ingredients.

Fried onions and fennel seeds were added to the mince before it was rolled into ping-pong ball sized spheres.  These were then poached in the tomato and vegetable sauce before being piled onto the pasta and served with garlic bread.  Everybody was happy and cleared their plates so it was a worthwhile change of plan.  I don't have Italy in my group for the World Cup Food Challenge so I'll not need to cook any pasta dishes during the tournament.  What to cook for Ecuador is another matter all together.

*Hopefully won't be too long as they were all very good.
**I'm still running, just not as far.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Cabbage Bake

There is very little that is inspiring in a blog post entitled "Cabbage Bake".  In fact I had considered calling this post something else just to get your attention, but if you have made it this far, please stick with me, I hope you won't be disappointed.  The fact is, during my blogging hiatus* we've cooked this dish on more than one occasion, so it feels only right that it gets a look in. 

Now, I'm not the kind of person that will revisit a dish unless it's worth eating, so that should tell you something.  I can't remember the exact details on the night we first cooked it, but tonight we had good reason to look up the recipe again in Russian, German & Polish Food and Cooking by Lesley Chamberlain.  That reason was being in possession of a whole savoy cabbage that we needed to eat before another one turned up a couple of days later.

But why bother buying another cabbage if you already have one?  Well, since giving up Supermarkets for Lent we have been using the excellent Market Delivered service to get fresh fruit and vegetables from Kirkgate Market on an almost weekly basis.  We have found that the secret to veg boxes is to wait until the order has turned up and then meal plan.  As we're still not clear of the "hungry gap" in the growing season, cabbages are turning up in most boxes, so using them is always on our minds.

We often steam cabbage, to have as a side veg, or add it to stir fries and curries, but this week we had managed to neglect our cabbage altogether.  Our need to get it eaten was therefore high, before it became that most horrible of things, wasted food.  We needed a recipe that would use it all not just a few leaves and that is where the cabbage bake comes in.

The shredded cabbage is cooked in a little stock until just soft, drained, seasoned and spread into an oven proof dish.  The cabbage is topped with a layer of sliced tomatoes and then baked for 30 to 40 minutes.  Nothing could be simpler.  We happened to have a pack of kielbasa sausages that I'd picked up from our local Lithuanian store, so we chopped them up and added them to the cabbage before adding the tomato lid.  I know that makes calling this a vegetarian dish a flight of fancy, but trust me, it works just as well without the meat.

*it's been over seventy days since my last post.