Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Weirdity of the Week

Okay, I have NO idea how I managed to stumble across this video, but I guess that's the sort of thing that can happen when you're up too late screwing around on the intert00bs when you really should be sleeping because you've got work in the morning. In any case this one gets the prize for weird item of the week. And it's only Monday.

Suddenly I want falafel and baba ganoush and roast lamb with apricots. Can't imagine why...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Smoke Me a Kipper, I'll Be Back for Breakfast

I don't know what's gotten into me lately, but for some reason over the past couple of days I've been eating a lot of "traditional" working-class English food and pub grub. A few nights ago I cooked Lancashire hot pot, brimming with hearty meaty goodness. Last night I made a rich, smoky Welsh rarebit and washed it down with an amber beer. This afternoon I'm having scrambled eggs with kippers on toast, complete with a steaming mug of black tea.

Stoke me a clipper, I'll be back for Christmas
Some years ago when I was still just a pup, my Australian-born-New-Zealand-raised-half-Welsh-half-English grandmother very patiently explained to me the difference between afternoon tea vs. high tea. In a tone polite as only the Brits can be, she told me that afternoon tea was usually held mid-afternoon, and was the sort of event put on by upper class ladies wearing pastel shades and pearl strands. The tea would be black but not too strong, with sugar and cream, though of course no real lady ever took more than one lump of sugar. And there would be pastries and small cakes and those little finger sandwiches full of watercress and curried chicken salad and paper-thin cucumber slices, all with the crusts cut off.

High tea, on the other hand, was a working man's dinner, the sort of thing a common man would eat when he got home from a hard day at the factory or in the mine. It was typically served around six or seven in the evening, standard dinner time. Kippers and toast had their place at such a meal, along with sturdy fare such as meats, boiled eggs, bread and butter, and some sort of cake for dessert, all washed down with mugs of strong black tea.

For this recipe, spouse cooked up the scrambled eggs for me, and I made the kippered toast. It's just buttered wheat toast with chunks of Brunswick kippered snacks on top, popped back in the toaster oven for a minute more to heat them up, with a final sprinkling of paprika for seasoning and color. This is definitely one of those meals that tastes better than it both looks and smells: it's strong, smoky, and fishy, which combo isn't for everyone. But if you need a good dose of omega-3's and can get your nose around the piscine scent, kippers on toast is filling, and it had a nice savory, smoky, slightly nutty flavor coupled with the crisp warmth of the toast.

Spouse has requested Welsh rarebit for dinner again, since he wasn't in for last night's version. I'm also contemplating tackling bangers and mash in the not-too-distant future, or perhaps a scaled-down version of the Sunday Beefeater dinner my mom's family used to have around Christmas time when I was a kid (complete with roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, steamed peas, and apple pie). Stay tuned for more Britfood as I continue to get in touch with my culinary roots.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anything Soup

It's soup season again at Chateau Gwen - cold, crisp days and long chilly nights full of icy winds or driving rain or soggy snow. One of my standard soup recipes is Anything Soup. That is, you can make it out of anything you've got in your pantry or fridge. Think a cousin of stone soup here, though with less collaboration.

This week's Anything Soup started with a standard mirepoix of onion, carrots, and celery sweated in butter. First seasoning was a few grinds of black pepper and salt.

The mirepoix.

I let the onions get translucent, then added my chosen seasoning: a Moroccan spice blend called ras el hanout. Loosely translated as "top of the shop", it's a mixture of top shelf spices put together by the owner of the spice shop. Similar idea to Indian curry - it's aromatic and wonderful and there are about as many recipes for it as there are Moroccan spice shops. Mine has about two dozen spices in it, including cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, mace, ginger, black pepper, cayenne, and a bunch of others I don't recall off the top of my head.

Ras el hanout.
The spoon in the above picture is the spoon I "measure" my spices with. I don't generally use measuring spoons at all (unless I'm baking, the chemistry of which requires a bit more precision), preferring the throw-a-bunch-of-stuff-in-there-until-it-tastes-good method. Usually it works just fine.

Here's the mirepoix again post-ras el hanout. At this point I also put a couple of tablespoons of garlic-infused olive oil in there too, to add another layer of allium flavor. Garlic and onions are both members of the Allium genus, each with their own similar but distinct taste. I'm fond of the way sweated onions sweeten up and blend with the more mellow garlic.

The next thing I added was chopped sweet potatoes (which you can see on the cutting board up above, next to the spice jar). I added extra cinnamon because sweet potatoes go well with the "sweet" spices - ginger, mace, allspice, all those lovely things your grandma's kitchen used to smell like on baking day. I probably could've done a small dice instead of a large chop, but they worked fine anyway.

After the sweet potatoes I added a can of garbanzo beans and plenty of liquid (chicken stock in this case, plus an extra can of water so the potatoes would have something to soak up). Brought to a boil, then lowered the heat and simmered for about 15 minutes or so, until the sweet potatoes were tender.
The final product.
The end result was a lovely, aromatic, golden soup with lots of hearty veggies in it. However, I still found it a bit lacking in something: I found it bland, despite the strength of the spice blend. It actually smelled far stronger than it tasted (and it smelled great!). The raisin garnish was a small stroke of genius, because the tartness of the raisins helped boost the flavor. But my spider sense is telling me that the next time I make this I should probably add something like ground lamb, which would take the soup to a whole 'nuther level of exotic deliciousness.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pork Ribs So Good Even I Will Eat Them

I mentioned these in the previous post. Lexi and her significant other made them for spouse's birthday during a recent beach house trip. They involved much brining and soaking and prepping with shovels and rakes and implements of destruction, and there was fire involved at the end... it was dogs and cats, living together, mass hysteria!

And they were so good that even I - an inveterate rib-hater - ate them and thought they were delicious. Spouse loved 'em.

Lexi did the cornbread (sweet and moist, with niblets of corn in it) and I made the red jacket mash (with plenty of butter and whole milk). No recipe for this one, just a few images to make you drool.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beach + Debauchery = Debeachery?

My family is fortunate enough to have the use of a wonderful beach house located on one of the myriad salty inlets in the region. Owned by my grandmother (venerable matriarch of the clan, and a majorly bitchin' gourmet cook in her own right), the house boasts spectacular views of the local terrain, not to mention a kickass kitchen that was remodeled a scant few years ago after a disastrous water leak. We've hosted many a family get-together there, not to mention quite a few parties of a rather more... adventurous nature.

It's one of my favorite places to cook, eat, and drink. The location right on the beach makes gathering shellfish easy: we can walk right out the door and collect mussels, oysters and clams, and have them shelled and cooking in a half an hour (longer for mussels, since they have to be cleaned and de-bearded). In good seasons we can also put the crab pot out and have fresh Dungeness, steamed in an old industrial-sized pot on the bulkhead two steps from the beach. A cold plunge in the salt sound after lunch and a bonfire after the sun goes down, and you've got a recipe for heaven.

Birthdays have been a favorite reason to celebrate. My family has hosted birthdays at the beach house for as long as I can remember, and the tradition continues, with friends old and new. There's always plenty of fun and games, but I have to admit that a big part of my visits there have to do with food - creating menus, cooking special dishes, mixing drinks, and just playing freely in the kitchen. One weekend we had a Kung Fu moviefest, and Lexi churned out a 12-course Chinese meal to die for. Other weekends have been one long surf-and-turf grillgasm from start to finish. Not long ago Lexi's significant other brought down a luscious, dark, homebrewed mocha stout for spouse's birthday, to go with ribs so delicious even I enjoyed them... and the list goes on.

These shots are from my 35th birthday (I won't tell you when that happened). They're an introductory sampling of the sort of fare in which we indulge at beach house parties. Trust me, there'll be more of these to come.

I'm a huge fan of Lexi's Angels on Horseback. She usually makes them with oysters, but here she did a variation: big, fat scallops wrapped in bacon, sprinkled with brown sugar and broiled. Yum!

More scallops (I think these ones were steamed with Old Bay seasoning, but I don't recall), along with steamed crayfish.

I think Lexi (and perhaps the spouse) invented this drink. It's called a Mertini. I don't remember what all exactly was in it, other than fruit and ice and some liqueur or other, plus a plastic mermaid. I don't think the recipe really had much to do with an actual martini, the name just worked out that way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

And We'll All Have Chicken & Dumplings When She Comes...

Spouse is as much a foodie as we are, plus he's got designs on going to culinary school. Every so often he tries out some new recipe or other, and most of the time whatever he's cooking turns out pretty well - even the weird stuff he makes up on the fly with ingredients you'd never think of putting together. (An early success was braised chicken breast and pears in white wine sauce... mmmmmm.)

Recently we had a fun evening when he tried chicken soup with dumplings. Behold the dumpling goodness.

I'll admit, he cheated a bit and used a commercial biscuit mix for the base. But he rolled them with wheat flour and it added a slightly nutty flavor, which turned out to be a little extra yum.

He also added garlic, salt and pepper to the dough. Dumplings can be rather flavorless but the garlic gave these ones a delicious savory flavor.

The soup base was a basic chicken soup recipe: mirepoix made of chopped carrots, onion, and celery cooked in butter until the onion is clear ("because everything's better with butter, especially dumplings!" quoth spouse).

Add diced chicken and cook until the chicken is browned.

Then add commercial chicken stock and bring to a slow boil. As I recall we used sage and rosemary from our herb garden for the seasonings, plus salt and pepper. You can see the fresh cut herbs simmering on top of the broth here.

When the stock comes to a boil, lay the dumplings on the surface of the liquid and turn the heat down to a simmer. It's worth adding a little more liquid at this point, as the dumplings need to steam in the pot, and they can soak up some liquid as they do.

Cover and cook until the dumplings are done, about 20 minutes or so for dumplings about the size of a golf ball. Don't take the lid off while they're cooking or you'll lose steam.

Behold the dumpling goodness in all its steamy fluffy chickeny glory!

Something about chicken, sage, garlic, and fluffy dumplings made for a perfect early autumn dinner. Just remember that you have to eat the dumplings when they're fresh, because if you try to save them for later they dissolve into a soupy porridge-like mess. Still tastes pretty good, but at that point it isn't really dumplings anymore, it's more like a savory bread pudding.