Saturday, December 27, 2008

Rib roast

This was the centrepiece of our Christmas dinner this year (along with some slightly dry pheasants and some onion and goats' cheese tarts). I've never cooked a rib roast before, so I was a little unsure about the cooking times. The usual web searches produced some conflicting advice, and in the end for our 12-lb standing rib roast I rubbed it in plenty of salt and pepper and cooked it for 30 minutes at 220oC, then for another 2.5 hours at 170oC, then removed it from the oven and left it to stand, covered with foil, for half an hour before carving. The result was pretty good, but was a little less pink than I would ideally have liked, and convinced me that I should buy a meat thermometer for next year.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Caramelised onion and goats' cheese tarts

After all my nasty comments about vegetarians, I made amends by doing this for my non-meat-eating niece, Hattie. This is the kind of thing which, if you're in the wrong mood, feels fiddly to make, but if you're in the right mood is very therapeutic: making the dough, rolling and cutting the pastry, filling the pie. It's all very Blue Peter-ish, and here are some I made earlier:

The pastry
75g butter
175g plain flour
50g finely grated mature cheddar
1/2 teaspoon English mustard
1/2 teaspoon paprika
cold water
1 egg

The filling
1kg red onions
50g butter
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
100g soft rind goats' cheese
handful of chopped sage leaves, plus 8 whole leaves
olive oil

8 fluted mini quiche tins, about 10 cm diameter


The pastry
  1. Bring the butter to room temperature, chop into small pieces, and rub into the flour until it has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Add the cheese, mustard and paprika and enough water (probably no more than a couple of tablespoons) until you have a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  3. Grease the tins, remove the dough from the fridge, roll out as thin as possible, and cut into rounds which are a few centimetres larger than the diameter of the tins, and line.
  4. Prick the bases of the tart cases, and bake for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 160oC.
  5. Carefully remove the pastry from the tins, and cool on a wire rack.

The filling
  1. Peel the onions, slice them very finely, and cook them slowly in the butter, with the vinegar and chopped sage until the mixture has reduced down and is slightly 'sticky'. (At a minimum heat, this should take about an hour.) Allow to cool.

The tarts
  1. Brush each tart case with the beaten egg, and bake for 5 minutes.
  2. Fill each tart with plenty of onion mixture.
  3. Remove the rind from the goats' cheese, slice into rounds, and place one round on the top of each tart.
  4. Dip each of the sage leaves in olive oil and place on top of the tarts.
  5. Bake for 15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 160oC.
Food for friends
This is another Delia Smith recipe. I tend to be a bit lazy about using cookery books during the year, but at Christmas I like to acquire a few new recipes. This comes from Chapter Seven of her Vegetarian Collection, which is titled "Food for friends". What kind of food do you cook for people who aren't your friends?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Mince pies

Now you've made your mincemeat, it's time to make your pies.

You will need:
  • a couple of trays of pattie tins (I don't think there's much point of making a batch of less than 24 - once cooked they keep quite well in an airtight container)
  • a large fluted cutter and a slightly smaller one (the exact size will depend on the size of your patty tins)
  • a good batch of shortcrust pastry.
A lot of people are a bit afraid of making pastry - there is a general belief that it is difficult and delicate, and requires a special touch (and maybe even the right hand temperature). Actually, making shortcrust pastry is very simple, and I suspect that most pastry failures can be traced back to simple problems such as too much water in the dough, not working with a properly floured surface, or allowing the dough to spend too much time in one place while working with it. As with the pies, the following recipe comes from Delia Smith's Christmas.

500g plain flour
110g lard
110g butter
a pinch of salt
200-220 ml cold water to mix

  1. Sift the flour and salt into a large bowl. Weigh out the lard and butter, cut it into small pieces, and rub into the flour until the mixture has the texture of fine breadcrumbs.
  2. Gradually add water, mixing it with a spoon at first then with your hands, until the dough forms a ball.
  3. Remove the dough from the bowl, knead gently for a minute until it is nice and smooth, then wrap in polythene and leave to rest in the fridge for half an hour.
  4. Lightly grease your patty tins. Take the pastry out of the fridge, divide into four balls, and return three of the balls to the fridge.
  5. Flatten one of the balls of pastry to form a fat disc then, working on a lightly floured surface, gradually roll it out as thin as possible. (The pastry should be quite resistant at this stage, but even so you need to move it a bit between rolls, otherwise it may stick.) Repeat with the other balls of dough.
  6. Cut out 24 large circles and 24 small circles of pastry. Use the large circles to line the patty tins with, fill with mincemeat (best done by hand), moisten the edges of the small circles with some water, and place on top, pressing the edges to seal.
  7. Glaze with a little milk, and bake at 200oC for 25 to 30 minutes.
  8. Eat hot or cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight container, reheating before serving.
Shortcrust circles

Filled pies

Still life

Food photography dates very quickly. I'm intrigued by how we instinctively recognise this, without necessarily being able to explain what it is that makes one photo look dated and another contemporary. The photograph below comes from The Carved Angel Cookery Book, by Joycel Molyneux and Sophie Grigson, published in 1990, and the photographer is Martin Brigdale. (He said, feeling slightly guilty about the blatant copyright violation.) When I first looked at it, my initial reaction was 'how ugly'. And then I looked again and realised that I was leaping to conclusions. The photo below is a carefully composed still life, with every element in the picture in focus (or at least it was in the original).

Contemporary food photography tends to have less elements, and these are usually shown with only one area of the shot in focus (achieved by using a very wide aperture), as in the completed mince pie shot above. One advantage of the contemporary approach is that it allows kitchen clutter to disappear into a hazy background, and is also well suited to taking photos in poorly lit spaces, as the wide aperture lets in lots of light. As my kitchen in Cadiz is both messy and dark, this suits me perfectly.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I love mince pies but have never made them myself, until this year, always relying on shop-bought ones instead (some of which are great, and some of which are not). Before you make the pies, of course, you have to make the mincemeat, and the recipe here comes from Delia Smith's Christmas. It is a two-day affair: the first for preparing the mixture and leaving it to develop, and the second for slow cooking and cooling.

500g of cooking apples
250g of shredded suet
250g of sultanas
250g of currants
250g of whole, mixed candied peel, finely chopped
350g of soft, dark brown sugar
grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
grated zest and juice of 2 oranges
100g of blanched almond slivers
4 teaspoons of mixed ground spice
half teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon of ground nutmet
6 tablespoons of brandy

  1. Core the apples and chop them into very small pieces - about the size of the raisins (no need to peel them).
  2. In a large, ovenproof bowl, combine all the ingredients except for the brandy, cover with foil, and leave overnight for the flavours to develop.
  3. Transfer the bowl to an oven preheated to 120 C, and cook for 3 hours.
  4. Remove the bowl from the oven, and stir it occasionally as it cools.
  5. Once the mincemeat is completely cool, add the brandy. The mincemeat will now keep for up to a year.

Mincemeat Mincemeat is so called because, back in the 16th century, it was a mixture of meat and dried fruit. Highly spiced dishes which confound our distinctions between sweet and savoury are now seen as being typically North African, and wherever they appear in western European cooking you can be sure that someone will start whittering on about Arab influences. However, such combinations were typical of English food before the modern period. I plan to do a properly meaty version of the mincemeat in the future, but in the meantime I have kept vegetarians at bay by using beef suet (what look like grains of rice in the picture of the uncooked mixture, above).

In praise of Delia
Over the years I have come to appreciate Delia Smith. Her recipes are generally pretty reliable, and I like the way she manages to be both prim and daring, presenting what in the 1980s were quite exotic recipes with a curiously repressed air. She reminds me of one of those Victorian lady travellers who made their way around the world without ever behaving in a way which was less than proper.

Honey and mustard salad dressing

One of the surprising things about eating out in Spain is how poor the salads are. (I was going to try to find a more upbeat way of putting this, but I can't.) They are usually dreadful, consisting of tasteless iceberg lettuce, large chunks of onion and, if you are lucky, some tomato and tinned tuna. The awfulness of the salads is matched by a truly unimaginative approach to 'dressing' them by dousing them in vinegar, trying to compensate with some oil, and then sprinkling a bit of salt on top.

The old saying which urges that the salad maker be a spendthrift with the oil, a miser with the vinegar, and a wise man with salt constitutes a good starting point for dressing the salad in the bowl. However, I am always struck by the fact that, when we have visitors over from the UK, they make the dressing separately and use a range of other ingredients. I always resolve to copy their effort and give up my sloppy Spanish practices.

The following is a basic dressing, emulsified using mustard, and with a bit of honey to offset the bitterness of the olive oil.

  • English mustard
  • wine or cider vinegar
  • salt
  • olive oil
  • honey

  1. Put about a teaspoon of mustard in a bowl (more if you are dressing a large salad), add a couple of teaspoons of vinegar and about half a teaspoon of salt, and mix very well.
  2. Gradually add plenty of olive oil, mixing well so that it forms an emulsion.
  3. Add half a teaspoon or so of honey, and mix well.
  4. Pour over the salad and toss just before you are about to serve.

Gingerbread biscuits

This ginger biscuit recipe comes from The Usborne Big Book of Christmas Things to Make and Do.

350g plain flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
100g of butter or margarine
175g soft light brown sugar
1 medium egg
4 tablespoons golden syrup

  1. Sift the flour, ground ginger and bicarbonate of soda together. Add the butter or margarine, cut into small chunks.
  2. Rub the butter into the flour until it is like fine breadcrumbs, then stir in the sugar.
  3. Break the egg into a bowl, add the syrup, beat well and stir into the flour.
  4. Mix well until it comes together into a ball (add a little more syrup if necessary), then knead thoroughly on a floured surface until you have a smooth dough.
  5. Divide the dough into halves, roll out one half until about 5mm thick, cut into shapes with cookie cutters, and place on a baking sheet, lined with greaseproof paper.
  6. Bake at 190 C for 12 to 15 minutes, and cool on a wire rack.

If you want to paint them, then simply add some food colouring to a little egg yolk, and paint.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Barbecued meat

I don't hold with the idea of cooking pizzas on barbecues, and other such nonsense. In my book, barbecues are for cooking high-quality meat, which has been thinly cut and marinaded, and for cooking fresh, oily fish such as sardines and mackerel. As a sop to any vegetarians, I may even add the odd sliced, marinated courgette, but woe betide anyone who tries to cook one of those nasty vegetarian sausages on MY barbecue!

The barbecue below was one I did at Zahora. The meat comes from Antonio, our butcher in the market at Cadiz. I need to find a way of taking a photo of him holding a whole oxtail so I can post it with the caption "Nobody beats my meat!"

The steaks were just marinaded with a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and plenty of fresh oregano.

The ribs were marinated in mojo picón, a spicy garlic, chilli and paprika sauce from the Canary Islands.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Beef in oyster sauce

This is inspired by a recipe in Ching-He Huang's Chinese Food Made Easy. The ingredients are basically the same, but I changed the method and created a sauce. I'm not 100% convinced by woks - even a good-sized one can only handle smallish quantities of food, and they tend to sweat the meat if you use too much of it. So I used my ridged griddle pan instead, and the results were really good. I think this is how I will be making Chinese food from now on.

12 oz of thin cut steak

for the marinade
1 teaspoon of light soy sauce
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
pinch of sugar
1 teaspoon of minced ginger
1 teaspoon of minced garlic

for the sauce
120 ml chicken stock
60 ml white wine
1 tablespoon of oyster sauce
2 teaspoons of dark soy sauce
2 teaspoons of cornflour (diluted in 2 teaspoons of water)
groundnut oil

  1. Flatten the steaks out with a meat tenderiser or rolling pin until they are about one-and-a-half times their original size (and correspondingly thinner), then cut them into inch-wide strips.
  2. Combine the marinade ingredients, add to the meat and mix thoroughly so that the meat is evenly covered. Set aside for 30 minutes.
  3. Oil the griddle with peanut oil (or any light vegetable oil), and heat until hot. Place the strips on the griddle, grill quickly, turn and cook on the othe side, then remove to a large, heated serving plate. (It will depend on how thin your meat is and how hot the griddle, but the meat should probably need no more than 30 seconds on each side.)
  4. Pour the stock and wine into the hot griddle pan, bring to a boil to evaporate the alcohol, add the oyster sauce, the dark soy sauce and the diluted cornflour, stir and heat for a few seconds to allow the sauce to thicken a little, then pour over the grilled meat.

Soy sauce: dark vs. light
Another thing I like about Ching-He Huang's book is that it's one of those cookery books that help you get beyond just following recipes and gives you the tools to then improvise your own dishes. I have to admit that although I've been cooking Chinese food on and off for years, I had never bothered to find out the difference between dark and light soy sauce. Well, the dark sauce is aged for longer and is therefore darker and less salty than the light one. I guess the nearest equivalent in western cuisine is balsamic versus ordinary wine vinegar.