Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Dad’s favourites

When we were young, the main person cooking in our house was my mum but she lived by the motto “nobody works seven days a week” so from the age of 7ish on Saturdays, my brother and I (never together!) were allowed to choose and prepare what we ate. I think this was part of the way they taught us to cook and it has definitely worked. When we moved out to go to university we could prepare a very decent meal instead of taste and boiled eggs.

But back to the Saturdays….to prevent us from just getting a takeaway, my dad would encourage us to pick something we could cook ourselves and then he would help us prepare the whole thing. This ranged from Spaghetti Bolognese to leek tarts and more….however, when he had the choice he would pick traditional Dutch dishes or variations on the theme. Dutch traditional food isn’t very exciting and mainly consists of mashed potatoes combined with something (curly kale, andive, carrots and onions, sauerkraut etc) and accompanied by either meatballs or sausages.

This dish is a variation on the Dutch sauerkraut mash and comes from Hungary. As a kid I found the sauerkraut alone a bit much but these days I love it. It comes with little packages of green cabbage filled with mince, onion and rice, chorizo, bacon and paprika served with mash to heat you up on cold winter nights. So I decided to make this dish even though the winter is once again pathetically warm (all these predictions of the coldest winter ever….maybe it’ll still happen but I’m sceptical). It tasted delicious as usual and brought back many pleasant memories, even without the chorizo, which I didn’t have in the house.

Hungarian Sauerkraut / Csarday (serves 4)
500 g sauerkraut
8 nice green cabbage leaves, without the central vein
400 g mince
4 tbsp boiled rice
1 onion
1 tbsp paprika
1 tsp dried marjoram or oregano
1 egg
salt and pepper
2 slices of bacon, cut into 4 pieces each (not too fatty)
2 small chorizo sausages, in slices
sour cream
Soften the cabbage leaves in boiling water for a few minutes. Fry the onion in butter and mix with the mince, rice, paprika, marjoram, egg, pepper and salt off the heat. Divide into 8 portions and fold each portion into a cabbage leaf. Put the sauerkraut on the bottom of a thick (Le Creuset) pan, then the cabbage rolls followed by the slices of chorizo and finally the bacon. Add some of the juices from the cabbage and simmer for 45 min - 1 hour. Serve in the pan with some sour cream and paprika

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chestnut experiments

As part of my attempt to cook more seasonal produce I bought a big bag of the last chestnuts as I’d never used them before. I used to have a great dislike of these nuts, on cold winter days it was great standing around the roasting stalls for the warmth but the nuts were wasted on me. I think they were just too bitter for me at the time…but I decided to give them a second chance. I didn’t want to make the traditional British chestnut stuffing but instead chose two recipes, one Japanese and one French.

The first one proved fairly easy, as it didn’t matter if the chestnuts stayed intact or not (in my case not!). I boiled the nuts, peeled and mashed them roughly before putting this through a sieve to make the puree very smooth. After this, the puree went back into the pan with a few tablespoons of sugar and thinned it out with water. I didn’t want to use milk or cream as I think the nuts are quite creamy anyway. Using a bit of clingfilm I twisted the paste back into a nut. The sweets looked great and tasted even better, they were quite subtle in taste and not too sweet but had a lovely creamy texture.

We also tried them with persimmon cakes, which I made from the persimmon cookbook using the recipe for Marguerite Hager's Persimmon Pudding. This was a nice cake but I was a bit disappointed, as the cakes didn’t really taste of persimmon, however the fresh jam I made after it from this recipe tasted very good with it. To flavour the jam I used a cinnamon, pink peppercorns and kardemom.

The second recipe, French this time, was for Marron Glace but this turned into a bit of an epic. After checking out various recipes I settled on this one, which seemed fairly straightforward but lengthy. However it dragged out considerably, first of all, peeling the nuts was quite a task, trying to keep them intact as the thin membrane is wedged into many cracks, then the cooking was easy enough as was the re-boiling but instead of the nuts absorbing all the liquid it just turned into a solid block of sugar! So in the end, I dissolved this in water and preserved them this way for future use.

Kuri kinton (makes 12)
150g chestnuts boiled and peeled
3 tbsp demerara sugar
Boil the nuts for 30-45 min and peel. Break up and then press through the sieve to make a fine puree. In the pan melt the sugar with a bit of water, add in the chestnut puree and cook on a low heat till it makes a thick glossy paste. Put a spoonful on a piece of clingfilm and twist to form a chestnut shape

Friday, January 13, 2006

Japanese comfort food meets Scottish smokieness

Happy new year!! May 2006 bring you many culinary adventures, new flavours and satisfaction, both in the kitchen and outside :-) It’s been a while since I’ve posted, after a luxury three week holiday its back to work now and I have many things to post about, both from last year and since Christmas so best get on with it....
When my brother came to visit at the start of December I wanted to cook something I had eaten while in Japan. I also wanted to use the local produce I’ve recently been getting from a local farm. They deliver organic veggie bags, eggs, bread and more, which are all very tasty. I had also bought some lovely smoked mackerel from a smokehouse in the highlands at the monthly farmers market.

I picked a recipe from Untangling my chopsticks by Victoria Abbott Riccardi. This is a great book in which she describes her move to Kyoto for a year where she studies tea kaiseki, the formal cooking that accompanies Japanese tea ceremony. She beautifully describes life and food in Japan, both from an authentic point of view and as an outsider. I read this book while I was working and living in Tokyo last summer and found it accurately described the way I felt about moving to this extraordinary country. Plus it contains a number of recipes so you can recreate the food yourself, what more could you want!

The recipe I chose was for Donburi, which Victoria describes as “Hot, soupy, salty, sweet and satisfying….that just about sums up Donburi, which is quintessentially Japan’s comfort food”. Its lovely food, which is easy to prepare by mixing stock, soy, sugar and mirin (sweet syrupy rice wine) with egg. While frying this I added spring onions and served it on top of rice with the baked mackerel. You add quite a lot of stock but it turns out great, not too soupy at all, and all the flavours balance each other out nicely. The salty flavour of the mackerel fitted well.

For dessert I found this recipe for a beetroot and mandarin tarte tatin. I was intrigued to use beetroot for dessert as I only cook or roast it normally. It was straightforward to make and the colors looked beautiful in the pan (although the pictures didn’t turn out very well). The taste was really nice, the caramel brought out the flavour of the beetroot but the tangy mandarin cut through it nicely. All in all, a very good meeting of east and west.