Monday, 28 May 2007

Strawberry tartlets

I've been in awe of the hyper-organised types who always have things stashed in the freezer to be whipped out in emergencies for some time. I had my own little moment of culinary wizardry recently, which should reinforce any such desires.

A few weeks ago, I made some shortcrust pastry. (I've also reached the point where I ignore recipes for pastry, and do my own. Finally, I have pastry which responds to my orders!) Deciding to use only half for some little apple pies, I froze the other half. Last weekend, when I was at a loss to make some pudding-cakey thing for my mother, I realised I could just whip out the leftover pastry.

Having defrosted it in the fridge overnight, I rolled it out, cut it and lined a cupcake tin. Although I did bake the cases blind, you can see that the pastry wasn't really weighted down enough to keep it smooth.
Whilst this cooled, I threw together some confectioner's custard, pulled out some redcurrant jelly and hoped that the frozen strawberries would defrost in a timely fashion (and not get eaten by me as I waited).

Mise en place:

Once the custard was spooned into the cases, the strawberries were (not very artfully) arranged, and warmed redcurrant jelly was brushed on top. As you can see, I ate too many strawberries so they were slightly sparse upon the custard, and the glaze was too runny. Sigh.

I'm told they tasted all right, though.

So there you go. I'd file this under 'slightly dodgy', if pushed.

A further point - keeping these in the fridge for the rest of the week was great to prevent them going off, but did render the pastry a bit soggy. Bulk baking isn't always your friend.

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Roast chicken

For Mother's Day, I did a roast chicken. As a vegetarian, I can only say that this is one way of demonstrating true love for my mother.

Oh god - why did I not realise how much like an autopsy this would be?

We're so used to meat coming pre-packaged, cut up, filleted, wrapped in clingfilm. I cope all right with mince, the odd steak - even the leg of lamb last month, since it was boned anyway (I know, you lose flavour removing the bone, but it does make carving a doddle).

It's much easier to forget you're dealing with chopped up bits of animal this way.

I'd have more respect for meat eaters if they didn't get hypocritcally squeamish about this fact. Gold stars to Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Fergus Henderson for their guts and all approach to meat eating. I have more time for them. If you're not prepared to raise the animal kindly, have it killed humanely, and realise you are eating an animal, I'm not sure you should be allowed to eat meat.

Ahem. I shall step down from my soapbox.

If anyone's interested, I mostly followed Campion and Curtis' method from a 2006 Epicure article with a bit of Nigella Lawson's Feast thrown in. I would say it's pretty foolproof.

I removed the (yes, free-range - come on, it's not that much more to pay and it's so much more humane) chicken from its plastic an hour before I cooked it (meanwhile I made a lime poppyseed loaf cake), to let it dry out and breathe. Just as well, because it was full of...juices.

I left the poor bird propped up in a roasting dish, reclining as if she was on a sun lounger. There was something vaguely obscene about it.

Anyway. After patting her down with kitchen towel, I seasoned her inside and out, popping some lemon wedges inside and rubbing olive oil into her skin. It felt oddly human. Like I was a masseur.

In she went, upside down at first, before being righted and surrounded by garlic and sweet potatoes (ensuring crispy skin). She emerged looking like this:

I must say, the crispy skin and the smell nearly got me going.

Carving her up was a bit icky, though. Much ickier than slicing a fillet of lamb or beef. Bones, people. I had to cut through joints.

The carcass, leftover juices, lemons etc went into the pressure cooker with some cold water, peppercorns, celery, carrots, onion and bay leaves and simmered away for three hours. The resulting stock smelt absolutely magnificent. A third was frozen, a third made avgolemeno (via Claudia Roden's Jewish Book of Food) on Monday (timed well, as my mother was getting ill and this seemed to stem the viral advance), and the rest will make risotto tonight.

I am shocked, though, at recipes which say a chicken that size would feed four. Four! Four what? Giants? I pulled a lot of meat off that bird - it will feed my mother for a week. How much meat do people need?

Ah well. Roast chicken. One more thing I can cook.

Sunday, 13 May 2007

Roast potatoes

Not exactly the most exciting subject for a first post, but these were probably the best roast potatoes I've managed so far.

Nor is the method of any great surprise: cut up potatoes. Parboil them for about twenty minutes. Drain, allow to dry as much as possible. Put roasting tin in oven as it heats up. Put a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in the tin and allow to heat for a further ten minutes. Chuck in potatoes, stir around to get coated, pop in oven for about thirty minutes.

Add crushed garlic, robust herbs at your whim. Superb!

At a close second are the rosemary and garlic roast potatoes from Delia Smith's Summer Collection, which turn out golden and crispy. They are much improved by the use of fresh rosemary. I have used dried, and it is just not the same.