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Relapse: Preserved lemons September 16, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Drinks, Fruit, Relapse.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

It being the season for stupid amounts of lemons, I decided to make some preserved lemons. I kept mine pretty straightforward, packing them in salt with a couple of bayleaves. I left them for about a month, and hae recently started using them. I find these preserved lemons very versatile and thought I’d share a few things I do with them.

Chicken tagine with preserved lemon and olives
This is of course a very popular way to use preserved lemons, but this doesn’t mean it’s not delicious. I blended up preserved lemons, garlic, chili, onion, coriander, cumin and saffron with some olive oil until it formed a paste. I marinated the chicken pieces in this mixture for about 2 hours. I chopped up more onions and tomatoes, and placed them in the bottom of a cast iron pot. I put the chicken on top, adding more tomatoes, preserved lemons and olives. I let it cook over a low stove for about 45 minutes, before serving with couscous.

Technically I probably can’t call this a tagine since I didn’t cook it in a tagine, but I think regardless of what you cook this in, the flavours are going to be fantastic.

Preserved lemon martini
You could celebrate how delicious your tagine is with a cockail! This is a variation on a dirty martini, using the lemon juice left over from the preserving process. Make a martini how ever you like it (as long as it’s with gin, of course), and add a splash or two of the lemon juice liquid. I also added a couple of slices of the preserved lemon as a garnish.

Not surprisingly, this is quite similar to a dirty martini, but with a lemony flavour instead of only just the brine.

Preserved lemon salt
Following a post by A Cook Blog, I thought I’d try dehydrating some of the liquid left over from the preserving process. I didn’t use much liquid but had enough to line the bottom of a ramekin. I dried it in a low oven, and after a couple of hours, I was rewarded with some very intense, flavoursome salt.

This is a great way to add an accent of lemon to a dish – it’s very strong, so you don’t need much, but it makes a big difference even in small amounts.

There’s so many ways to use preserved lemons, and I would definitely recommend any of three listed above. I still have lots of preserved lemons left so will be trying out some other ways to use this ingredient. But in the meantime, I’m off to make another preserved lemon martini…

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Relapse: Garlic January 22, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Relapse, Vegetables.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

Garlic: enemy of vampires and polite dinner parties alike. It appears that Nero Wolfe is not overly fond of garlic, except in shrimp bordelaise. He sometimes uses a miniscule amount, but in general seems to prefer using onion and other aromatics. Well, Nero Wolfe may well disapprove, but when I was presented with a large bunch of freshly picked garlic, I needed to put it to good use.

Roasted garlic

Once all the bulbs were washed, it was time to start looking at recipes. To start with, I put some pieces in a muffin tin and drizzled them with olive oil.

I covered the garlic with foil and roasted them in a hot oven for about an hour. This is not a particularly new way of preparing garlic but I really like garlic like this way. The roasting removes the sharpness, and the resulting pieces can be eaten as is, or blended into a paste (useful to add to sausages or stews).

Garlic soup

When reading through Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail, I was struck by his garlic soup recipe. It had an awful lot of garlic in it but the soup itself seemed that it would be soothing and mild. I began by adding a number of cloves to some chicken stock.

I left this to simmer for about 40 minutes, until the garlic was completely soft. I then removed all the cloves and squished them through a sieve to produce a fine garlic paste.

I added the paste back to the soup, and while it was heading up again, I quickly grilled some stale bread I had sprinkled with a bit of parmesan cheese.

I served the soup by adding pieces of the bread to it, so they absorbed the soup.

As promised, this soup was soothing and satisfying. The garlic produced an almost nutty flavour, which permeated the soup and made it somewhat creamy. As with the roasted garlic, the long cooking time meant the garlic was no longer sharp or strong in taste, allowing many other flavours to come through. I also really enjoyed the addition of the bread which added a nice texture and a bit of saltiness from the parmesan. This is definitely something that I think will become a regular fixture.

Pickled garlic

Finally, I decided to pickle some garlic. I used a recipe I found online (which I can’t find now!), and started by making a brine with vinegar, sugar and water. I brought this to the boil to dissolve the sugar, and also added the garlic to cook it briefly. I added some chili, fennel and peppercorns to a jar, and poured the brine and the garlic in with the other spices. I added a thin layer of olive oil on the top and left it to pickle.

The recipe I used said the garlic would be done in a couple of days – I ended up leaving mine for about a week and a half. I suppose it depends a bit on how pickled you like your garlic. I pickled mine until they were going a little soft, but were still quite firm inside and held their shapes well. The addition of the sugar meant they had a tangy sweet and sour flavour, which was very nice. I’ve used both the pickled garlic and the brine it pickled in, in salads, stews and so on, as the brine has also taken on a nice garlic flavour.

I think because we add garlic to so many different recipes, it’s easy to forget that it’s a great ingredient in its own right. These recipes certainly put garlic in the centre of the dishes created, and I appreciated learning new ways of preparing garlic.

Relapse: Panettone December 21, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Relapse, Sweet things.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

This isn’t so much a full relapse, as it is some recipe testing / investigation I did to find the perfect panettone recipe. Panettone, for those who are unaware, is an Italian sweet bread/cake, often served at christmas or new year’s. Around here, is certainly ubiquitous in Italian delis and supermarkets leading up to christmas. With H’s family being Italian, I decided I should try and make some panettone from scratch, and (if successful), give it away on christmas day. I’ve never had homemade panettone so was not sure what to expect.

To be honest, I think the reason I’ve never had homemade panettone is because it’s really time-consuming to make, and you need to start so long in advance! I started with this recipe, which I scaled down to make one (large) panettone, rather than multiple small ones.

I started by adding flour, yeast, milk and eggs, mixing them together before leaving them to rise. After this, I added additional egg yolks, sugar and vanilla essence. I mixed these all together before adding butter and mixing it further.

I left it to rise again before adding in mixed dried fruit and some grated orange and lemon peel.

I left it to rise again (about 3 hours had gone past by this time) before putting it into a bundt tin. I know this is not a traditional panettone shape but it seemed the best option out of the tins I had.

Leaving the dough to rise for another 30 minutes, I was finally able to bake the dough. It took about 45 minutes until it was done.

Once it was cooled, we sampled the finished panettone.

The panettone was quite nice, but almost too cake-like. I wasn’t sure if this was the way it was meant to be (having only had store-bought before) or if the recipe was out. I decided to try another recipe to compare.

The next time, I tried this recipe, which I did not bother to scale down. I started with yeast, a little bit of flour and water, and let the yeast bloom. I added more flour, eggs, sugar and the rest of the yeast and water. After this was mixed, I added softened butter, mixed it in well, and then left the whole thing to rise.

After this first rise, I added more egg yolks, sugar, honey, more butter and the rest of the flour, and again mixed until it was all combined. And again, I let it rise until doubled in size.

Rather than adding dried fruits to this one, I thought it would nice to try the homemade nutella I’d previously made. I turned the dough out onto the counter, kneaded it a few times, then added the nutella.

Already this was a big improvement over the last dough; it was not as goopy and I could knead it without a problem. Overall, it seemed drier and closer to bread dough than cake batter. I was able to incorporate a large amount of nutella, before I put it in the tin and left it to rise for the last time.

This one rose more dramatically than the last one and I had to trim it once it came out of the oven. I let it cool, then we cut a slice to sample.

This was must more like the panettone I was used to. It pulled apart nicely, and was lighter than the previous one. It was the perfect balance of cake and bread. This will definitely the recipe I’ll use to hand out panettone gifts.

This panettone was far nice than the store-bought one, and in that sense I’m very glad I made it. It is not a difficult recipe, but does require forward planning and a lot of time to let the dough rise, rise and rise again. As long as you have the time and remember when it’s time to do the next step, this is well worth the effort.

Relapse: Miso snapper November 14, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Relapse.
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Relapse: An occasional series where I discuss several ways of preparing an ingredient.

While this isn’t really a full relapse, I did spend a good Sunday afternoon with a snapper, and wanted to share the results.

I decided to start by baking a whole snapper, with Japanese flavours. I began by stuffing the cavity with some pieces of garlic and ginger.

I prepared a paste of miso, rice vinegar, siracha and soy sauce, and brushed it liberally over both sides, and the inside of the fish.

I left it to bake for about 30 minutes, which left me time to quickly chop and stir fry some snow peas and celery, before preparing the dish. I used half of the fish to flake off into pieces, which I served with the vegetables.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well the miso had penetrated the fish; that, combined with the garlic and ginger gave a very nice flavour. The soft fish went well with the still-crunchy vegetables, and all in all, it was a very nice dish.

I took the remainder of the fish and flaked it off the bones. I prepared some sushi rice, and after it was cool, chopped some avocado. Then I turned it all over to H, who has the title of master sushi maker in this house. I can make all the ingredients but my rolling is no good, and he is much better at it than I am!

We were lucky enough to be able to add some salmon roe, which our fishmonger was selling that weekend. H rolled up the rest of the fish into snapper sushi, and we ate them with extra roe on top.

The combination of the snapper and avocado was nice and provided a very creamy centre to the sushi. This was offset by the salty salmon roe and extra pickled ginger I ate my pieces with.

While there are definitely lots of things to do with snapper, I was quite pleased in the way these dishes turned out. The miso paired very well with the snapper, and while not a full relapse, I felt Nero Wolfe would be proud of my snapper efforts.

Smoking experimentation March 27, 2011

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Relapse, Vegetables.
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I must admit that the concept of smoking food scares me a little. Well, hot smoking, that is. I’ve done a fair bit of cold smoking, such as this tea leaf smoked duck, but I’d not previously hot smoked anything. Cold smoking – where you smoke for flavour only – has always seemed safe to me because the food is then cooked afterwards. Hot smoking – where the smoking cooks the meat – seems a riskier prospect to me. However, with the April challenge for Charcutepalooza being hot smoking, I knew I’d have to get over my fears! To begin my familiarisation with the hot smoking process, I decided to smoke a few ‘safe’ things before moving on to more meatier concerns.

First of all: my smoking setup. As I’m in an apartment, smoking indoors isn’t preferable – but I don’t have a lot of space outside, either. Luckily, my local hardware store supplied a solution. I found a small cast iron pan with a fitted lid, and a rack that fit inside. I put some hickory chips I’d soaked in water into the bottom of the pan, and used some heat beads to (hopefully) ensure an even distribution of heat. I also added a sprig of rosemary which I figured would add to the nice flavour – and yes, I was thinking of Der Raum’s Ben Shewry cocktail!

As you can see, I had a bit of trouble controlling flare-ups at the start, but I soon got it smoking at a relatively even (and hot!) temperature.

I decided to being by smoking some mushrooms, which I had tossed in balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

I arranged the mushrooms on the rack over the smoking chips, and put the lid on, leaving a little gap as I was concerned the heat beads wouldn’t get enough oxygen to stay alight if I closed it completely.

While I did certainly have quite a hot smoke going, it still took about 40 minutes until the mushrooms were done. I think this was mainly due to the uneven heat, meaning that some areas of the tray got done before others. However, it was ultimately successful, with the mushrooms cooked.

Next, I decided to try some (tinned) snails I had in the pantry. I’ve only ever cooked snails in butter and garlic, and thought smoking them might be interesting. I added some salt and garlic powder, and smoked them for about 30 minutes.

Finally, I followed the recipe in Ruhlman and Polcyn’s Charcuterie for smoked almonds. These took the longest, requiring to be smoked for a couple of hours, tossed in a spice mix, then baked in the oven for 15 minutes or so.

In the end, I had three different smoked things to try!

The mushrooms had absorbed the most smoke flavour, with the balsamic vinegar adding an almost sweet contrast to the smoky mushrooms. The snails were also very nice, and it was good to try them with slightly different flavours than usual. But the standout for me was the almonds – smoky and roasted, the mix coating the almonds giving them a tangy, spicy flavour.

As for the verdict on this attempt at hot smoking: while I definitely succeeded in hot smoking some things, I’m not sure I’d want to use this method for cooking larger ingredients – and I’m not sure it would be viable anyway. I did have to monitor the smoking fairly closely and make sure there was enough even heat being distributed, so it was more fussy than I was anticipating. I’d also like to try some different types of woods to smoke – I could only find hickory, so I’d like to try some others. However, as a first attempt, I was pretty happy with the results. Various items were successfully smoked, and – best of all – I didn’t burn anything down. Definitely a success!