Monday 28 March 2011

Pressure cooker 0 Remoska 1

This pressure cooker thing has been bugging me so I thought I'd remake the recipe in a Remoska, a Czech tabletop cooker that also claims to be energy-saving.

I tweaked it slightly, leaving out the mustard and adding a bit of chorizo but the whole thing was much, much tastier than Saturday night's effort. OK it took longer - about 40 minutes - but I didn't have to do anything while it was cooking.

I also rescued the leftovers from the abortive pressure cooked chicken by taking the chicken off the bone, putting it back with the onions and stock, heating it up and stirring in a good dollop of wild garlic pesto I bought at the Love Food Spring Festival at the weekend. This transformed it into a really quite passable chicken and wild garlic soup. I can imagine poaching (note, poaching not pressure cooking!) a whole chicken and serving it with new potatoes and spring veg, the chicken broth and a dollop of wild garlic pesto - like a cross between an aioli and a salsa verde.

Anyway this is my adaptation of Richard's original recipe. For the Remoska or oven, not for the pressure cooker, if you please . . .

Spanish-style chicken
Serves 2
1 tbsp olive oil
75g chorizo, cut into cubes
4 chicken thighs
3 small onions, peeled and quartered
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
75ml dry sherry or white wine)
125ml chicken or vegetable stock
8/9 green olives
Handful of chopped fresh parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat the olive oil and fry the chorizo until the fat starts to run. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Season the chicken pieces with salt and pepper, brown on both sides and place in the remoska or a casserole. Quickly fry the onions in the chorizo-y oil then stir in the garlic. Tip in the sherry and bring up to the boil then add the stock and pour over the chicken. Stir in reserved chorizo and the olives. Cook for about 40 minutes in the Remoska or cover with a lid and place in a low oven until the chicken is nicely browned. Stir in the chopped parsley and serve with rice.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Pressure cookers are just not for me

Ever since I last blogged about pressure cookers (three years ago I discovered, to my amazement) I’ve had this sense of unfinished business. They are such a frugal way of cooking it seemed wrong not to give them another try. I was prompted to have go by the publication of a really inspiring book by my colleague Richard Ehrlich called 80 Recipes for Your Pressure Cooker.

Now you can see how many of the recipes I fancied from the number pink post-it notes marking the pages. I really thought this was going to be it. The big breakthrough. I unearthed the pressure cooker from the back of a cupboard, dusted it down, managed to find the instruction book (no small feat) gave it the recommended checkover and was ready to go.

I chose a delicious-looking recipe for chicken with sherry, mustard and olives as I had most of the ingredients and followed the instructions to the letter. Everything seemed to go fine - the pressure indicator went up, steam emitted, the cooker burbled comfortingly - the 10 minutes recommended cooking time was up and .... the chicken wasn’t cooked.

I put the lid on again brought it back up to pressure, cooked it for another 5 minutes which did the trick but worryingly it didn’t smell particularly appetising despite the presence of onions, garlic (my addition) and fino sherry

The end result while looking just about presentable was almost inedible. The skin, despite the fact I’d browned it, was wet, limp and colourless. The onions were devoid of flavour. No taste of mustard, olives or even sherry despite the fact I’d used the full 100ml Richard recommended. My husband laboured manfully through it but basically it was crap.

There are a number of reasons why that might have been the case:

* I could have failed to follow the instructions. Always possible but I was careful to read them through again carefully

* My AGA plates might not have been sufficiently hot to get the wretched thing up and running. Maybe but the thermostat didn’t show it was running slow. And I couldn’t find anything that suggested you shouldn’t use a pressure cooker on an AGA

* Maybe the gasket needed replacing. Again possible but I’d only used it a couple of times (and the result had been equally unsatisfactory then). And it didn’t look or feel as if the rubber had perished

* It’s not a particularly good model. Could be. Tower is a reliable make, long associated with pressure cookers, however it doesn’t get very good reviews here

* Richard’s recipe didn’t work. No way. It sounded good - it should have been good. I’m sure if he’d made it it would have been good . . .

* Pressure cookers and I are just incompatible. The most likely explanation. I’ve never liked microwaves either . . .

Anyway if you ARE a pressure cooker fan let me recommend the book. It’s got lots of lovely frugal - and not so frugal recipes - in it I can’t wait to try including a couple of cracking meat loaves, a great-sounding shin of beef with an Asian dipping sauce you seem to be able to rustle up in a quarter of an hour and an awesome New England blueberry pudding. Only I’m going to have to find another way to cook them.

So, you pressure cooker lovers out there - what do you think I did wrong? And tell me why you like yours?

Sunday 20 March 2011

Why tortilla chips are cheaper than crisps

There's one of those run-up-to-the-Budget articles in the Observer today about how you can ease the pain of the impending tax rises and one of the areas they focus on is food.

Apparently the Food Price Index rose for the eighth successive month last month (by 2.2% since January) as I'm sure you'll have noticed yourself with commodities like tea, coffee, pasta, bread and veg having taken the biggest hit.

The advice is not rocket science - substitute own brands for branded goods, shop at a less expensive supermarket, set a budget and shop online (not sure about that last one) but the best specific tip is one I was about to post myself which is that tortilla chips are much cheaper than crisps because they don't attract VAT. In Tesco you can buy a big pack of their 'Value' tortilla chips for just 25p.

Other anomalies are that cream gateaux are cheaper than arctic roll, chocolate chip cookies cost less than chocolate covered ones and unshelled nuts are cheaper than shelled nuts. According to this article in the Telegraph if you buy dried fruit and nuts in the baking section you're likely to pay less than if they're packaged as a snack.

Oddly ready made desserts like mousses are also cheaper than sorbets or ices which incur VAT. And takeaway food is VAT-rated whereas ready meals aren't making a supermarket pizza almost invariably cheaper than one you buy from a pizza delivery firm. In Waitrose today I spotted two huge Pizzeria pizzas for £5.

How much you save obviously depends how much you spend on processed, snack and takeaway foods but it's good to be aware that there are bargains to be had.*

If you want to plough through it you can find the official HMRC list here.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Instant French fish paté

I had to spend last week unexpectedly in France for a family funeral - hence the absence of posts - but we went out for the odd meal and I was very taken with the presentation of this fish paté which was brought to the table as an 'amuse' at a restaurant called Larcen.

My guess is that it was whizzed up from some leftover cooked fish along with some spices, a few cooked chickpeas or haricot beans and - I think I heard the waiter saying to the next door table - some mayonnaise. Looks like there was a bit of finely chopped red pepper and cornichon on the top and possibly even some grains of quinoa (or that could have been what was blitzed with the fish). Add a few baked or toasted slices of leftover baguette and you've got yourself a pretty and ridiculously inexpensive starter.

Still catching up on the work I missed last week but hopefully normal service will resume shortly . . .

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Cauliflower cheese with brown butter and onion

One of my favourite pastimes when visiting foodie friends is rooting through their cookery books though I have to admit it's rare to find many I haven't got. But the other day I turned up one called English Country House Cooking by someone of the splendid name of Fortune Stanley. Turns out she - she is a she - wrote in the 70's and has an illustrious background according to this page on the Stanley family tree.

The recipe that caught my eye was a cauliflower cheese with onion which seemed an intriguing addition. I didn't have time to jot it down so made up this version when I got home.

Serves 3 as a light supper, 4 as a vegetable

1 onion
400ml milk
a sprig of thyme
1 medium cauliflower
40g butter
30g plain flour
150g of grated or crumbled cheese (I used half and half Gorwydd Caerphilly and Cheddar which is what I happened to have in the fridge)
Salt and white pepper

Peel and thickly slice the onion and put it in a pan with the milk and thyme. Bring to the boil and leave over a very low heat for the onion to cook but you don't want it to boil.

Meanwhile divide the cauliflower into florets and steam or boil until not quite cooked (about 7-8 minutes). Drain, saving some of the water.

Melt the butter in a non-stick pan and stir in the flour. Cook the roux over a low heat until it it begins to darken in colour and smell nutty. Then tip in the hot milk and onions all at once and stir. It should thicken pretty well immediately - if it's too thick add a splash of the reserved cooking water. Or more milk, if you prefer. Remove the thyme.

Add half the grated cheese and season to taste and tip into an ovenproof dish. Heat the grill, top with the remaining cheese and cook until the top is golden and bubbling.

The effect of the onion was quite interesting, making the cauliflower cheese milder if anything although that could have been the Gorwydd which is quite subtle and delicate. It would have been particularly good with boiled ham or indeed with some bacon or ham in it though I was trying to keep it veggie. (This blog is sometimes too meaty by half).

I didn't take the roux quite as far as I might have done in terms of browning it. I reckon I cooked it for about 3 minutes - I think I'd cook it a minute or so longer next time to get an even nuttier taste. And a little blue cheese might have been interesting. But a nice twist on a family classic.

Thankyou, Fortune, for the inspiration.

Incidentally the surface of the cauli cheese shouldn't look as crinkly if you flash it under the grill. I had to put mine in the top of the Aga which takes an age to brown things. One of the things that drives me nuts about it.