Thursday, August 30, 2012

Random Recipes - Roll the dice

Last months Random Recipe blog challenge was a very easy one to get me started but this month some cooking was required.

The challenge was titled 'Let's start at the very beginning' as Dom of belleaukitchen had chosen a very straight forward request to randomly choose a book and then randomly open it to a recipe, simple!

I have rather a lot of books so to make a genuine random choice I need a bit of help. I log most of my books on two websites, the Eat Your Books site which has been fantastic for finding recipes and pulling together various sources from books, magazines, internet blogs and random bits of paper into a single resource. The other list is on LibraryThing is more of a catalogue and although there is less reason to keep going with the LibraryThing now it was where I started so  I still keep it up to date.

It was the Librarything list that helped me out with this challenge as each book's record is numbered within the system. So I checked up on the latest number of books I had and then opened up Excel. I quickly typed in the random function giving it the range 1-913 and got the answer back, book number 282. A quick flick back to LibraryThing reveals that the book randomly selected was The Roux Brothers 'French Country Cooking'

Immediate panic set in because most of the recipes in this book call for quite hard to get ingredients. I then checked the start and end page of the recipes,10-250, and popped this range into the random function.

Oops,' Quenelles of Pike'! 

Now I guess Dom would say I cheated now as rather than try and adapt this I did another spin of the random selector. The next spin puts me on a page of text about  one of the regions and then third time lucky I hit on Petits Poivres Limouxin or rather more simply black pepper crackers.

These are a beautifully simple but moreish buttery cracker that the authors recommend are served with drinks, so that is what I did.

I am a day late posting this but having lost my original photo I had to bake up some more and I know that is a not much of an excuse but I never was good at deadlines. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Better than the sum of the parts - Soup

I love soups and firmly believe they are as useful in summer as in winter, especially a summer where the weather is so variable you never know if you will want something light and refreshing or hearty and warming.

Soup is so versatile and it is so easy to change the character of a soup by the garnishes. A dollop of yogurt into a vegetable soup will give freshness where some shredded pieces of cooked chicken or chunks of cooked sausage will make a more substantial meal. You can accompany a soup with delicate crackers or buttery chunks of warm garlic bread according to your mood. Cheese scones are another favourite accompaniment of mine for a lunchtime or light supper soup.

Today's soup is one I make when I (finally) get a glut of courgettes in my small vegetable garden. It is useful for using up the ones that hid from you and are now a little larger than ideal. The courgette glut is often coincident with my small crop of potatoes and again this is a good way of using up the ones that will not store because the slugs nibbled them or you pushed the fork in when you were harvesting them.

I rarely follow recipes for soups but do look at them for ideas.The soup below was made with butter, onion, potato, courgette, vegetable stock powder and fresh thyme, and is garnished with fresh soft cheese.

Working in roughly the following proportions of 1 medium onion, 2 medium potatoes and 750g courgette

  • Chop the onion coarsely and  peel and roughly dice the raw potato. 
  • Gently cook the onion and potato in a saucepan with a knob of butter until they start to soften.
  • Then add coarsely chopped  courgette and cook a little longer until the courgette is just about cooked through.
  • Stir in a small amount of stock powder or home made stock if you have some and add salt to taste.
  • Add water to cover the vegetables.
  • Simmer gently until the potato is cooked through.
  • Blend to a purée with a stick blender adding more water or some milk to achieve the consistency you prefer. Different varieties of potato will vary in how much they thicken a soup.
  • Just before serving stir in fresh thyme leaves or another herb such as parsley or chervil.

Garnish your soup how you like but any of the following should work well with courgette:

  • crumbled feta cheese and mild chilli flakes
  • a swirl of lemon scented olive oil
  • toasted pine nuts
  • crumbled mild blue cheese
  • crumbled crispy bacon
  • a few succulent prawns

Soup was one of the first things I cooked in my domestic science class at school and it was a revelation in what soup should be. I had previously judged soup by what came out of packets or tins. After that one class I could never look at packet soup quite the same again, it just wasn't soup any more. I still remember my absolute horror when several years later my husband introduced me to is 'Spag Bol' recipe which required a packet of powdered oxtail soup in the mix.

Most soups will reheat well, so a bit of effort on the initial batch can keep you in near instant gratification for many more meals hence. And for those of you with a vegetable garden that refuses to produce a good portion of any one vegetable at a time I urge you to try and make your own minestrone. Never again will you wonder what to do with 1 courgette, a crooked carrot and 2 french beans. Enjoy!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

We Should Cocoa - Chocolate and Cherries

This month's #WeShouldCocoa challenge is being guest hosted by Janice of  farmersgirl blogspot and the supporting act that we are casting with chocolate this month is Cherries.

I rarely buy fresh cherries and even more rarely cook with them but I do a lot of baking with dried sour cherries so I opted to stick with them and chose this rather rustic but flavoursome loaf to bake up.
The recipe was taken from a 100 Great Breads written by Paul Hollywood (of Great British Bake Off fame) and although the book is composed mainly of yeast raised recipes there are a few other sweet and savoury bakes in there as well, and I highly rate the cheese scone recipe.

Even with variations I feel uncomfortable writing out other chefs recipes so I hope you will forgive me if I just point you to one of his web published recipes over here for a Chocolate & Blackberry loaf which is so very similar to the recipe in 100 Great Breads. The only differences between the blackberry recipe and the cherry recipe were that for the Chocolate & Sour Cherry Loaf:
  • Omit the 50g added sugar
  • Use 30ml of olive oil instead of 40g butter
  • Use 15g of fresh yeast instead of 25g.
The method was the same.
The recipe called for drained tinned cherries so I left my dried cherries to soak overnight in some diluted cherry cordial drained them off and then weighed them out.

You allow the dough to do the main rise before kneading in the cherries and chocolate but when it came to kneading them in I was really struggling to get an even distribution. The cherries were rapidly crushing down to a pulp as I tried to knead them through the dough and the chocolate chips were flying everywhere. I gave up before I would have liked in the interests of keeping the cherries as whole as possible. This had little impact on the baking but when we came to eat the loaf there were clear clusters of fruit and chocolate making it a little harder to slice.
I baked my bread in one large tin loaf whereas the recipe calls for two smaller boules. I just needed to bake the larger tin loaf a little longer.
So here is the loaf, baked and cut in half. I must confess to cutting the loaf a little too soon. The outer crust felt like it had cooled down quite well but on cutting in to the loaf I realised the chocolate chunks were still very soft and this resulted in the chocolate smearing across the crumb as I cut in making the cut loaf look rather messy. Messy or not I was delighted with the taste and texture of this loaf. Dark bitter chocolate, sweet juicy cherries and a crisp crust with a silky crumb. Hard not to keep slicing!

 Later on when the loaf had cooled properly the slices looked a lot better.
We should Cocoa is hosted by Chele of Chocolate Teapot and Choclette of Chocolate Log Blog.  Farmers Girl's own recipe contribution to the challenge is a rather gorgeous looking Chocolate and Cherry Cake

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Best of British: Yorkshire

This month we are showcasing the fine food of Yorkshire via the Best of British blogging challenge and today, 1st August, is Yorkshire day. There is a lovely overview of Yorkshire's fine produce on Lavender and Lovage's host blog. I have very fond memories from my time in the North East of trips to Betty's tea rooms in York and Harrogate where I always felt spoilt for choice with a particular favourite being the Fat Rascal.

I took my inspiration from Betty's for my own entry to this challenge as they make a rather tasty fruit cake with Old Peculiar ale.  Old Peculiar is a rich ale made at the Theakston's brewery in Masham, Yorkshire.

Yorkshire has some very fine cheeses too, so my chosen combination was for Old Peculiar Fruit Cake served with Hawes Wensleydale cheese.

Way down in Devon it is hard to get a good selection of northern cheeses and as much as I wanted to serve my cake with a good chunk of Richard III, my favourite Yorkshire cheese, it was not to be.

The recipe for the cake was based on a Porter cake recipe from the Ballymaloe cookery school's website. I just substituted Old Peculiar for the Irish Stout, nothing else was changed. This recipe produces a rich but not overly sweet cake, helped by the hoppy bitter notes from the ale it makes a great partner to cheese. 

The cake is quick to prepare as you boil the liquid, butter and fruit in a pan, no arduous creaming of butter and sugar. I hope you will feel inspired to have a go.

The Best of British blog challenge is sponsored by NewWorld and organised by Fiona of London Unattached with help from Lavender and LovageA round-up of the entries will be posted around 25th August on the website for New World and Lavendar and Lovage's blog.