Rhubarb Dahl

I love rhubarb as a savoury ingredient, especially with lamb or chicken. And I’ve used it in Persian-inspired food, but I never thought to take it further east. I came across the concept of rhubarb dahl, and experimented…

Ingredients

  • Oil or ghee or butter or a mixture
  • Whole spices – 8 cloves, 1 stick cinnamon, 1 tablespoon brown mustard seed
  • Fresh garlic, ginger, chilli – I used 2 heaped teaspoons garlic/ginger paste from a jar, and 1 small red chilli chopped fine.
  • Veg – 1 red onion, 2 sticks of rhubarb, chopped
  • Powdered spice – 2 teaspoons each turmeric and ginger
  • 250 gms red lentils
  • Water
  • Salt
  • 8 curry leaves
  • Large pinch asafoetida (hing)

You’ll need a heavy bottomed saucepan or casserole that can go on the hob, and a small frying pan or saucepan for the tempering.

Method

  1. Cover the bottom of your pan with fat, to a depth of a few millimetres. Get it quite hot, but not enough to burn the butter if you’re using it.
  2. Add the whole dry spices, the mustard seeds should sizzle and pop.
  3. Turn the heat down, add the wet spices, stir for a minute or two.
  4. Add the onion and rhubarb. Cook until they soften up a bit.
  5. Stir in the powdered spices, then the lentils.
  6. Add water. The quantity depends on the size of your pan and how much attention you want to pay to it over the next half hour or so. The lentils need to be covered in water, at least. If you add more than that, you won’t have to be checking it every few minutes, even more and your end product will be soupy rather than firm. So your choice.
  7. Bring to a boil, then turn it down low, or put it a low oven or a slow cooker.
  8. The lentils usually take 20-30 minutes to actually cook on the hob. You can leave it longer and it will get more tasty and mushy. Check every so often, especially towards the end, so it doesn’t stick and catch.
  9. When you’re ready to serve, stir in salt to taste, and take out the cinnamon stick.

Tempering

Dahl is best with a hot oil drizzle. I fried curry leaves crisp in butter, with a pinch of asafoetida, and poured a tablespoonful over each serving.

Serving

We had this with a Bengali salmon dish garnished with fresh coriander, turmeric bread, natural yoghourt, and aubergine/brinjal pickle. It would serve 8 as a hefty side, 4 as a veggie main. It’s lovely cold.

Notes for next time

It was very refreshing and delicate. It could easily take more heat, and/or ginger. More rhubarb? Coconut milk as part of the liquid? Add poached or fried eggs on top would make an excellent breakfast.

Chicago Pizza

The real thing – Giordano’s Stuffed Crust

We spent three weeks this summer in America, finishing with a week in Chicago. Which meant Proper Pizza, hurrah hurrah. The current recommendation from the tourist guides is Giordano’s, and there was a branch just across the road from the hotel.

We had a 10″ stuffed crust (serves 2-3), with meatballs and olives (in the pic). It came ready cut into 6 slices, we managed 2 each and then I had to nap most of the afternoon. AND we’d skipped breakfast because we knew this was coming.

The structure is a yeast dough crust, formed into an open pie. That contains the cheese, and fillings. There are rules for what “fillings” go in the cheese and which go on top, I haven’t figured that out yet. Except that you shouldn’t put wet things inside. A second layer of dough is shaped into a circle, put on top of the filled pie, and the two pieces of pastry are sealed together with a high rim. There should be enough rim for you to top the pie with a good layer of tomato sauce and any remaining fillings.

When it’s baked, the second / top crust almost vanishes, but retains enough solidity to keep the sauce away from the cheese.

There are tremendous arguments about what constitutes a true Chicago pizza – cornmeal in the dough, types of cheese, raw or cooked tomato sauce, round or square. Of course it doesn’t matter, so long as you know what you like and where to get it.

After one of our trips, I check with John to see if we had something he’d like to put in the domestic repertoire. I was really surprised when he chose this. He’s always been a “pizza’s just glorified cheese on toast” man, but this must have hit some deep atavistic streak.

So, I did some reading and researching, and the other night we had My Version. I decided that the filling would be mostly Italian Sausage, which is a recipe I know and trust. Plus some pepperoni and stuffed olives.

I started in the morning with the Dough.

  • 1 lb white flour
  • 4 oz fine yellow cornmeal (polenta)
  • 1 x 7 gram packet fast action dried yeast
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 350 mls blood-temperature water
  • 125 mls olive oil

Sieve together the dry ingredients, add the liquids and mix quickly until smooth. It’s important with this dough not to overknead it, as this makes a chewy biscuity crust. Let it rise a couple of times and knock it back.

Make the Tomato Sauce and leave to stand for a bit for the flavours to blend.

  • 2 x tins chopped tomatoes
  • a mug of passata
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tsps garlic puree
  • 1 tsp oregano (John would have liked more)
  • A handful of chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tsp salt

Make sure you’ve got all the Cheese and Filling:

  • Supermarket grated mozzarella, at least 1 x 500 gram bag, depending on quantity of other fillings and how hard you pack it down. Get two to be on the safe side, you can always put the rest in the freezer.
  • Meat – meatballs, bacon, ham, pepperoni (after this experiment, I would cook the meatballs first)
  • Veg – mushrooms, spinach, peppers, olives
  • Also a good couple of handfuls of fresh Parmesan
  • You don’t need too much filling, the star here is the cheese, fillings are just flavouring.

Now, you need a 9 – 10″ cake tin, preferably a springform or with a removable bottom. Heat the oven to Gas Mark 8 or 9 (pretty much as hot as it will go) and put a large baking tray on the middle shelf.

And on to the Construction.

  • Grease the tin with olive oil. Knock the dough back. Take two thirds and roll out or squodge into the tin to make a bottom and raised sides, as high as you can go. Try not to let the dough get thick between the bottom and the sides, it will if you let it.
  • Add the meat and / or drier components of the filling. Get as much cheese in there as you can, pressing it down well.
  • Roll or pat out the spare third of the dough into a circle to fit over the cheese. Seal it into the top edge of the existing crust, and pinch it well to make a rampart to keep the sauce in.
  • Pour in the sauce, decorate with any wet toppings. Add the Parmesan.
  • Whack in the oven, onto the hot baking tray.
  • Cook at least 45 minutes. Ours got an hour and a quarter, which cooked it thoroughly inside but charred the edges a bit. Let it set for about 10 minutes.
  • Serve in big slices – this makes 6.

 

The crust was thick but light. I didn’t use all the sauce, but I will make sure to next time as it was only just enough. I’m gonna need a bigger rampart.

Italian Sausage

I love American breakfast sausage, thin crusty patties, over-seasoned and excellent with pancakes, french toast and syrup. Nom nom nom. But it’s even better when it’s Italian-style – herby, flecked with colour and flavour. I’ve been making it for Big Breakfasts for a long time, it also does well as burgers for bbqs, meatballs in tomato sauce with pasta, and most recently it’s done duty as a meatball mix for my attempt at home-made Chicago deep dish stuffed pizza.

Just mix together:

3 lbs minced meat, not lean – beef, pork and veal are all excellent candidates. You could use chicken or turkey or venison, but you’d need to make sure you added some really fat pork to balance it out. You don’t have to make 3 pounds weight, it’s just an easy amount to buy.

Fresh vegetable flavours, finely chopped – you can pulse them in a processor but the mix will be wet. For this big a batch of meat, use fresh garlic, at least 6 cloves, a bunch of green onions, two fresh peppers (one green and one red). A red chilli if you like it hot.

Herbs and spices – fennel seeds, dried oregano, fresh basil, salt, black pepper. Start with a teaspoon of each and see how you go. Other things to sneak in are grated orange peel, nutmeg, sage if you have a lot of veal in the mixture, coriander or paprika.

The flavours meld well if you leave it overnight in the fridge, and it will keep a few days.

When you’re ready to cook it, pinch off a small ball and fry/grill it to check the seasoning’s OK, and adjust to preference.

The Kitchen Implements meme

Bold the ones you have and use at least once a year, italicise the ones you have and don’t use, strike through the ones you have had but got rid of, underline ones you haven’t got but want.

“I wonder how many

  • pasta machines,
  • breadmakers,
  • juicers,
  • blenders,
  • deep fat fryers,
  • egg boilers,
  • melon ballers,
  • sandwich makers, 
  • pastry brushes, 
  • cheese boards, 
  • cheese knives,
  • crepe makers,
  • electric woks,
  • miniature salad spinners,
  • griddle pans, 
  • jam funnels,
  • pie funnels,
  • meat thermometers,
  • filleting knives,
  • egg poachers,
  • cake stands,
  • garlic crushers,
  • martini glasses, 
  • tea strainers,
  • bamboo steamers,
  • pizza stones,
  • coffee grinders,
  • milk frothers,
  • piping bags,
  • banana stands,
  • fluted pastry wheels,
  • tagine dishes,
  • conical strainers,
  • rice cookers,
  • steam cookers,
  • pressure cookers, 
  • slow cookers,
  • spaetzle makers,
  • cookie presses,
  • gravy strainers,
  • double boilers (bains marie),
  • sukiyaki stoves,
  • ice cream makers, 
  • fondue sets,
  • healthy-grills,
  • home smokers,
  • tempura sets,
  • tortilla presses,
  • electric whisks,
  • cherry stoners,
  • sugar thermometers,
  • food processors,
  • stand mixers,
  • mincers,
  • bacon presses,
  • bacon slicers,
  • mouli mills,
  • cake testers, 
  • pestles-and-mortars,
  • gratin dishes, 
  • apple corers,
  • mango stoners and
  • sets of kebab skewers languish dustily at the back of the nation’s cupboards.”

Kebab skewers and cake testers are interchangeable, and in an emergency they do for meat thermometers as well. I have a griddle pan but there’s also a griddle built into the oven top. The electric wok was bought specifically for doing hotpot soups, and works very well. I have a couple of moulis, but they’re the three-legged variety not the mills. I have no idea what an egg-boiler is, and why would you need a crepe maker? it’s called a frying pan …

Dukanning

Since before Easter, I’ve been experimenting with the Dukan regime. I’ve lost over 10 kilos / 2 stone, and although it has slowed down it’s still dropping off.

There are several books you can buy – it doesn’t matter which one, really, as they do tend to repeat whole chapters. Or websites – the official ones and ones set up by followers / hangers-on / added value sellers. I’d been unsure about whether to try this diet – as a rule I avoid commercial “diet” advice, there are health risks attached to it, friends who’d tried it said it worked brilliantly but could be very restrictive and boring. What convinced me was doing the true weight calculator on the official website. Instead of the constant “9 and a half stone” target I get from the Wii / bmi based systems, Dukan suggested a working target of about 12 and half stone, which actually felt achievable, and a weight I would be happy at.

It is also clear, as is Lighter Life although few people pay attention, that once the weight is off you need a long consolidation / re-education phase to embed new habits.

You start with an Attack, which can vary from a few days to over a week. Doing the calculator will tell you how long yours should be. Low-fat meat or poultry, skimmed or fat-free dairy, fish and seafood, eggs, tofu, aspartame, odd bits of flavouring (garlic, vinegar, mustard, herbs, spices). That’s it. No fruit, veg, nuts, beans, grains, sugar, fat, salt. Plus a spoonful of oat-bran, and at least 1.5 litres of water (which if you’re used to healthy eating advice, is not actually a lot). You can count tea, coffee and diet soda in the water – anything to keep your kidneys as active as possible. Eat as much as you want, at least 3 meals a day. 20 minutes walking.

At first it sounds horrendous, but to a girl brought up in the calorie-fixated 70s, it’s really liberating. Grilled steak flopping off the sides of the plate? check. A tub of sandwich filling without the tiresome bread or salad? check. Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for breakfast? check. Starbucks skinny latte with extra shots and sugar-free vanilla syrup? YAY.

I got into the habit of mixing my oatbran with a giant pot of fat-free greek yoghourt and some sweetener. Sometimes cinnamon, vanilla, cocoa powder, mint. Leave it to soften for about half an hour (or as long as you can keep the cat out of it), and it’s a really filling evening pudding. Or using oat bran and egg to coat chicken or fish to bake.

After your initial Attack, you move to the Cruise phase, where I am supposed to spend about 10 months, and during which you are supposed to lose weight slowly but steadily until you hit target. This alternates days from the Attack model with days where you can add foods from a short list of veg. It’s a very stupid and French-centric list.

For me, that’s been part of the fun. Isolating what is French prejudice and habit, and deciding whether to ignore it or not. Lamb is excluded from the protein list as being too fatty – but how much could you reduce by choosing older meat butchered differently? The text of the books waffles on about the Liver, that French health obsession. And it’s very misogynistic – almost any stage of a woman’s life or fertility cycle causes water retention, apparently. Vegetarians are grudgingly allowed to exist, but vegans can just naff off and die.

Rhubarb and tomatoes are on the approved list of veggies, but not strawberries which are relatively low in carbs. I can understand the logic behind not eating bananas, cherries, grapes etc which are very high in sugar, but allowing onions and red peppers which are around the 5/6% mark and not watery fruit which is about the same seems silly. Especially to someone like me who is far more likely to add a handful of allotment strawberries to a spinach salad than mourn a creamy sweet pastry.

There is also the wide variety of veggies / meat that he hasn’t thought of – goat, for example. Chillies, okra, tomatilloes, jicama, virtually anything “ethnic”. Luckily there are forums where people are discussing these – especially where there are halal / kosher issues with traditional French food. And websites publishing recipes adapted to local tastes and ingredients – I particularly like the ideas on DukanItOut but I haven’t tried any of the recipes yet.

So, verdict so far – successful, not boring, actually quite relaxing. Although there are some downsides – see the next post …

Pinterest – this looks fun

I’ve set up some boards on a system called Pinterest.  It’s like cutting pictures out of papers and magazines, and organising them on your fridge, but it’s based on images across the web. Highly addictive …

If you look at the bottom of the left sidebar of this page, you can see some of my boards and link direct to them. The content will change regularly as I add more STUFF. I’ve used this to replace direct links to suppliers, restaurants, events etc. which I had before.

If you like the look and feel of it, you can request an invite from the site itself  (it may put you on a short waiting list), or you can ask me direct. I’ll need your email address to send you one.

These are not the squash you’re looking for

I don’t actually like pumpkin. It’s heresy to say that at this time of year, when my in-tray is full of recipes for cookies, casseroles, pies, cheesecakes, cupcakes, and, heaven help us, trifle. But I think it’s the wateriest of all the squashes, texture-free, and with an unpleasant, almost bitter aftertaste. One of the things that put me off J K Rowling was when she gave the Hogwarts students pumpkin juice to drink as a treat. Ick. For years I thought I liked it, because I had lots of American pumpkin flavoured things, and then I found out that what I liked was pumpkin pie SPICE, which is as close as they come to regular mixed spice in the States. And how could that not be yummy?

I’ve got to be careful with nomenclature here, after an Australian Masterchef episode where I was shouting “That’s not a pumpkin, it’s a butternut squash!” at the telly. To me pumpkins are one type of winter squash, the orange ones that you carve up for Halloween and put candles inside. But apparently there are parts of the world where it’s a more generic term for winter or harder-skinned squash. Butternut squash, on the other hand, is bright, firm, sweet and tasty, and lends itself to far more interesting concoctions. Pizza, risotto, curry, candied …it holds its texture so much better.

We’ve been growing them on the allotment, there’s one of the early ones in the picture, hanging out at the bottom of the apples. The small young ones were lovely just split and baked with oil or butter and some flavourings – even the skin was tender enough to eat. With cheese for a light meal, or as a side dish, or with a rich meat sauce. We tried a crisp pizza with roasted red onions, chunks of squash and baby mozzarellas earlier this week, and I shall do that again – experimenting with different cheeses, both feta and halloumi have come highly recommended.

Spaghetti squash is always fun, that’s on the list to grow next year. Acorns and Hubbards can wait their turn. Meanwhile, I’m off to find things to do with pumpkin seeds. Once you’ve carved a horrid face into it, that’s the best bit.

Mostarda di #Allotment

Glistening in righteous expensiveness in the upper-crust supermarkets, lives Mostarda di Cremona. What we can buy, while still the genuine article, is the lower end of the range. It’s a strange substance, candied fruit preserved  in a mustard syrup. The Real Thing is split by region (there are many Mostardas) and also by specified fruit. You’d choose the one to go with your cheese or cold meat, like we would make a choice between quince or cranberry or mint jelly. It’s as much texture as flavour, some are chopped small and are more like an old English chutney, but I like the ones that look like a box of Newberry Fruits tipped into a bottle of glycerine.

When we were making Courgette and Pineapple jam, I loved the crispness of the courgette pieces in among the clear syrup, and I thought then that I’d have a go at a Courgette Cremona. Starting to research recipes, I discovered what my main problem would be. Authentic Mostardas are flavoured with mustard essential oil, which you can get in Italy but not here. There were compromise versions with dry mustard powder dissolved into the liquid, or spice bags filled with mustard seed boiled up with the fruit, but I was stomping my Ickle Foot of Tantrum. Why can’t I get it here? My Indian cookery books all talk about mustard oil with gay abandon, surely I could find it in Sheffield.

And I did, sort of. Mustard oil IS sold in Indian shops, in with the almond oil and hair tonics. It has “For External Use Only” written on the labels in bright red letters. Apparently under EU regulations it can’t be sold as a foodstuff, as it has a high amount of erucic acid. But they haven’t put anything in it to make it unusable, just a label saying Ooooh, Aren’t You Naughty. There’s a wonderfully tactful explanation on the Spices of India website. I wasn’t sure what the mustardy strength of my massage oil/hair tonic would be compared to this mythical Italian essential oil, so we took it slowly and tasted as we went.

Following the original jam recipe, I put 2 lbs of peeled and degorged courgettes, green and yellow, into a bowl and added about 1.5 lbs of caster sugar. I’d found that to be incredibly sweet when I made it before, so this time I added 2 fl oz lime juice as well. Stirred it up well, and left it overnight. The sugar brings out the juice, crisping up the courgette and also making a clear syrup. The idea is that now you boil the mixture, and it turns into jam. I wanted to stop partway through that process, while there was still plenty of liquid. It took a while to get there, but eventually I had some nicely candied courgette in hot syrup. I added a small tub of glace cherries (rinsed), 4 oz diced peel (not the regular industrial mixed peel, some candied citron, orange and lemon peel strips cut to the same size as the courgette), and simmered that for just a few minutes to meld it all in.

Now came the tricksy bit. The one thing I did know about mustard oil from my reading is that it is pungent in the bottle, but loses that and becomes sweet when you heat it. Fair play, regular made-up mustard does that too. So I didn’t want to heat it too much when mixing it in with the syrup, but I did want to get it emulsified before anything started to caramelise.

I waited until the syrup was warm enough to stick a finger into, and added 1 fl oz mustard oil. It tasted fine, sweet and slightly warming, but not anywhere near a full mustard hit. The mixture didn’t separate, though. Let it cool down a bit more, taste again, add some more oil. Over the course of a couple of hours I added 4 fl oz in total. The syrup is tangy rather than hot, certainly not piccalilli strength. It made a 1-litre jarful, and it looks beautiful. The light colours of the courgettes are set off by the deeper yellows and oranges of the peel, and the scattered bright red of the cherries. I was concerned that the syrup and oil would separate when it cooled thoroughly, but it doesn’t seem to have yet. Which means the mustard oil is slowly finding its way into the fruit …

The traditional Italian time to eat Mostardas is autumn, but I think for UK versions it’ll be Christmas. With ham, with Wensleydale, with cold turkey. Glazing a ham with it, even, or studding the top of a terrine – decorating the top of a warm whole Camembert.

We have a lot of butternut squash coming off the allotment, and I am tempted now to try a cross between candied pumpkin and a mostarda, but using the dry powder variant to see if I can get it stronger.

Simple Pork in Cream Sauce

This is loosely based on Cotes de Porc Sauce Nenette, from Julia Child. It’s very forgiving, and usually needs very little shopping. Extras freeze well, and you can double up the sauce without a problem.

You want pork shoulder steak, or thick chops – something that isn’t too tender like a medallion, or too fatty like belly. If you ask the butcher (or look on the packet) for something that would take 15-20 minutes to grill, you’re on the right track.

For the sauce, you need garlic, tomato paste, wholegrain mustard, and creme fraiche.

Brown the meat in a little bit of oil in a heavy pan, on both sides. When it’s seared, tip in a chopped clove of garlic, 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, and 3 of wholegrain mustard. Stir it around well, and add 250ml of creme fraiche (a whole small tub). Stir again and get it up to a lively simmer, leave it for about 20 minutes (with the lid off).

The sauce should thicken and concentrate. Taste it near the end and add salt if you think it needs it. If it gets too thick, a bit of chicken stock of water will loosen it up. If it’s not thick enough when you want to serve it, take the meat out and keep it warm while you boil the sauce down.

This amount of sauce will do for about 3 big chops or four small steaks. You could also get cubed casserole meat (leg or collar), start if the same way and then stew it slowly in the oven for a few hours.

If you like added veggies, you can put chopped red and yellow peppers, or onions, or mushrooms, in while the meat is browning. And you can increase the garlic to taste.

I sometimes put chopped fresh herbs in at the very end – basil if I’ve used peppers, parsley with mushrooms, tarragon or chives if it’s plain.

It’s good with plain rice, potatoes, pasta, seasonal veggies or a crisp bitter salad.

Preserved Courgettes

So far we’ve got three different kinds of preserved courgettes.

Courgette and Pineapple Jam – yellow courgettes, seeded, peeled and cut up small. Set aside overnight dredged with sugar. It makes a syrup, and next day you boil it up with added tinned pineapple and a bit of lemon juice to help the set. It was very very sweet, I’ve added some lime juice. The fruit is almost crystallised and the jam is very clear. I’m wondering if putting in more glace-type fruit and citrus peel, and adding mustard might make something interesting in the cremona line.

Marrow Mangoes – we did the giant courgette soaked in vinegar and stuffed with spices for 10 days, straining and boiling every day. Now they’re sliced, and bottled with some of the vinegar boiled up with sugar. They’re supposed to sit now for three months.

Courgette Chutney – there was some vinegar left over from the “mangoes”. It went in a pan with some white and some brown sugar, 3 large yellow courgettes, one red and one white onion, two large cored cooking apples, and a handful of sultanas. Fruit and veg chopped fairly small, courgettes and apple unpeeled. The vinegar was sharp rather than warmly spiced – it had sat with fresh ginger, onion and horseradish in it – so I didn’t add spice, but did put in some peeled and finely chopped fresh ginger (a fat piece about 3 inches long) and a good sprinkle of salt. It took a few hours to cook down – I started with a small amount of sugar and added more as we went along until it was the right sweetness and thickening well. It’s got a right punch, which I suspect will only increase as it matures. It’ll make great cheese sandwiches.