Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Notes from the kitchen | Monday chicken legs with spring onions and ginger

15 November 2018

Monday night. Eternal, tedious, domestic conundrum — what to make for dinner? Feeding six requires labour, always. The simplest thing — grating cheese for all the pasta — takes a while.

Forever torn between fantasies of heady stews and lack of time, I go into the butcher’s dreaming of oxtail and grab chicken legs instead. It’s the quickest path to a braised (style) dish. It requires little foresight or planning, barely a thought. There will at the very least be garlic and lemon in the house.

As it happens, today we also have spring onions and celery, ginger and tamari. What began as a resignation, an easy way to finish odds and ends at the bottom of the fridge, has become a legitimate meal, an instant favourite. And with Balthasar’s retro / disco playlist in the background, there may even have been some dancing around the kitchen table.

Chicken legs with spring onions and ginger
Serves 6

6 chicken legs (whole or separated into thighs and drumsticks)
A large chunk of ginger
One bunch — 6 or 7 — spring onions (scallions)
4 or 5 celery stalks
1 small lemon or lime
1 whole head of garlic
Neutral flavored oil
Toasted sesame seed oil
Light soy sauce (or salt)
Tamari soy sauce
Rice vinegar

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F).

Remove the chicken from the refrigerator so it has time to come to room temperature.

Prepare the ‘vegetables’:
Peel the ginger and slice it into matchsticks.

For the spring onions, cut off the ends, remove one outer layer, wash, and cut into three.

Top and tail the celery stalks, wash, and cut into pieces of similar length to the spring onions.

Wash, halve lengthwise, and thinly slice the lemon (or lime) into half moons.

Smash the head of garlic with your palm to open it up. Crush each clove with the side of a large knife and remove the skin, which will come off easily.

Roasting:
Pour some oil at the bottom of an oven dish large enough to fit all the pieces of chicken with space to spare. *The pieces should not be too crowded or the skin wil not become crispy.* Scatter all the vegetables at the bottom of the pan, toss with a little oil, and roast in the oven for about 15 minutes.

Coat the chicken legs with sesame sauce.

Once the vegetables have been roasting for about 15 minutes, add the chicken legs to the pan and season everything with a few hits each of light soy sauce, tamari, and rice vinegar.

Roast the chicken for 40 to 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the juice, until brown and crispy on the outside and fully cooked (i.e. juices run clear) inside.

If possible, let the chicken sit for a few minutes. Serve with rice.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

8 November 2018

Balthasar and I bonded over soup.

It was an inset day, which means no school, and after a sunny autumnal swim in the nearby lido — outdoor swimming pool in British lingo, in this case heated year-round to a luxurious 25°C — we went to reap our effort’s reward: e5 Bakehouse. Breakfast was over, we shared a spicy lentil soup with mustard seeds (and cake, but it was the soup that caught our attention). We vowed to recreate it, paying particular heed to the mustard, and, in an emphatic move against Thomas’s tyranny of chunky soups, solemnly swore to blitz it to a creamy smoothness.

It was practically a random recreation, with the available bits and pieces in the fridge. It was practically perfect.

Creamy spiced lentil soup

4 to 5 small onions
1 whole head of garlic
1 tsp brown mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp ground turmeric
Sea salt
3 leeks
5 or 6 carrots
1 kg potatoes
3/4 of a large acorn squash
1 litre chicken or vegetable stock — or just water
175 g red lentils
A large handful of kale
Finishing touches: yogurt mixed with toasted ground cumin and fennel and lemon juice; a sliver of olive oil or chili infused oil; if available, black lava salt

Toast the mustard, cumin, and fennel seeds in a small pan until they start becoming fragrant (this takes a few minutes only). Grind and set aside.

Prepare the vegetables —
Chop the onions.
Smash and peel the garlic.
Peel, thoroughly wash to remove all grit, and chop the leeks.
Peel and chop the carrots.
Peel and wash the potatoes and the acorn squash and cut them into small chunks.
Remove the kale’s tough stalks, wash thoroughly, and chop into strips.
Note: The size of the vegetable chunks is not crucial as the soup will be puréed, but the pieces should be fairlyhomogeneous in order to cook at a similar rate, and — if time is of the essence — the smaller or finer the pieces, the faster they will cook.

Cook the soup —
Brown the onions in lots of olive oil. Add the garlic and spices and cook, stirring continuously, for a few minutes. Season with salt.

Add the leeks, cover the pan, and let them cook for a few minutes. Add the carrots, potatoes, and squash. Season.

Add the stock and/or water so that the vegetables are covered generously and floating around comfortably when stirred.

After about half an hour of a gentle and constant simmer, add the lentils. Cook for another 15 to 20 minutes, checking on the level of liquid and adding some if necessary.

Check that the vegetables and lentils are cooked through, then add the kale and cook for about 5 to 10 minutes more until it has softened too.

Blend/purée the soup in batches until very smooth.

Serve immediately with one or all of the finishing touches.

Baked apples

26 January 2017

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January is the time to huddle close, meet friends, have a pint, a meal, a whiskey nightcap. But after months of cooking and feasting, dim winter days call for easy comforts. Delicious meals that require barely any effort. Hardly a thought. Simple dishes that can be effortlessly adapted with whatever languishes in a pantry in the aftermath of holiday baking marathons.

Baked apples for instance. The basics are simple, the variations many: wash an apple, core it, stuff it, bake it, eat it warm with a dollop of cream.

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Any apple will do. Some hold their figure while others erupt into shapeless volcanoes; anything is fine by me. For the stuffing the elements might be dried fruits — for example raisins, chopped dates, cranberries; chopped nuts — pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds; some sweetness and spice — brown sugar, dark sugar, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, lemon zest, ginger, allspice, cardamom. A splash of fortified wine. For serving, a generous spoonful of cream.

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Baked apples recipe

One whole apple per person
Currants (or raisins, cranberries, chopped dates or apricots)
Pecans (or walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds)
Dark muscovado sugar (or brown sugar, honey, maple syrup)
Ginger and cardamom (or cinnamon, allspice, lemon zest)
Sherry (or Marsala, Madeira)
Clotted cream (or crème fraîche, ice cream, yogurt) for serving

Preheat the oven to 375°F (180°C)

Wash and core the apples (leaving them whole)

Toss the nuts, dried fruits, sugar, and spices together. Stuff each apple with the mixture. Sprinkle with a dash of wine if using. Send into the oven for 25 to 40 minutes, until the apples are soft through.

Let cool just a little and serve warm with a spoonful of cream.

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French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller ones, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also able to stand deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. While exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — we French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold
1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
4 large organic eggs
1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar
5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tin, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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Marmalade

3 February 2015

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I didn’t really think it through. I entered the shop and ordered two kilos of Seville oranges. An impulse buy, as one might pick up a pair of gloves while waiting in the checkout line — though one with momentous consequences.

Is it the Paddington effect? Was I surreptitiously inspired by photos of glowing jars posted online by a friend? Did I unwittingly yearn for a stockpile to appease the marmalade-devouring members of the family? Am I becoming British?

Whichever the cause, the effect was me trudging home with a big bag of bitter oranges. So I went in search of a recipe.

I first turned to the usual suspect: the jam fairy Christine Ferber. But Ferber uses a significant amount of granny smith apples in her bitter orange marmalade. Her recipes often call for apples, used to extract a pectin rich jelly that later helps to shorten the cooking time thus allowing for a more vibrant fruit taste. Apples in marmalade? Tut tut, my budding speckles of Britishness balked at the idea. I had to look elsewhere.

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So on to Nigel Slater, whose piece in The Guardian a few years ago could be considered essential reading for anyone about to embark on a marmalade adventure. Slater beautifully captures the fastidious joy of making marmalade, all the while slyly cautioning those who might derive anything less than pure pleasure from the unwieldy process to stay away. Marmalade making must be relished, or not at all.

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It becomes quickly clear that there are as many marmalade recipes as there are makers of marmalade. I read a number of methods, chose one which seemed to suit me best, as much in the actual process as the expected outcome, and altered it slightly, of course.

The recipe is a mild adaptation from one in the River Café Cookbook Green.
There are no quantities because the amount of sugar is calculated in proportion to the weight of cooked fruit. I used 2 lemons for 2.2kg of oranges, one would suffice for a smaller amount.

Seville oranges

Caster sugar

1 or 2 untreated lemons

Wash the oranges and let them soak 12 to 48 hours in cold water. Drain and rinse.

Place the oranges in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, cover with cold water, and slowly bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover the saucepan with a lid slightly askew and simmer the oranges for 3 to 4 hours until they are completely soft. Stir the oranges occasionally (they float and only part of each orange remains submerged at any one time). Be careful that the liquid doesn’t evaporate completely. Add water if necessary. There should remain 2 to 3 cm of liquid at the end.

Let the softened oranges cool enough to handle and set the saucepan with the cooking liquid aside.

Cut each orange in half, take out all the seeds and any rough fibers, then very thinly slice the rind together with the pulp. Weigh tall this skin and pulp and return to the saucepan (still with the liquid). Measure an equal quantity of sugar, add to the saucepan. Wash the lemon(s), cut them in half, then slice as thinly as possible in half moons. Add those to the saucepan too.

Return the fruit and sugar to the heat and gently bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to mix well and prevent from sticking. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the jam is set (to test, spoon a small amount of jam liquid into a small bowl and place in the refrigerator: if a skin forms, the jam is setting.)

Let the jam cool slightly before spooning into sterilized jars.


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