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Relapse: Cucumber March 10, 2013

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

This summer I have been enjoying cucumbers in a number of ways. Of course, it’s easy to chuck one in a salad or even eat one plain, but for some reason I’ve never done much else with cucumbers. This has changed recently and I’m going through a ton of cucumbers and using them in a variety of ways. Here’s some of my favourite ways to prepare cucumbers.

Pickle them

This is a no-brainer, really. If I ever see gherkins or other pickling cucumbers for sale, I usually buy them all. And then spend the weekend making pickles! I usually make dill pickles because these are my absolute favourite – I much prefer them to the sweet variety.

You need a brine of vinegar, salt and water, plus whatever flavourings you want. For dill pickles, I use plenty of dill and garlic, plus peppercorns and general pickling spice.

It takes about 5-6 days for the cucumbers to pickle to the degree that I like them (I like them when they’re still a bit crunchy). I don’t bother canning them because I eat them so quickly it’s not worth the effort! The brine is also great to add to cocktails and other things.

Drink them

Cucumbers are pretty watery and lend themselves well to blending and pulverising. This makes them great for a variety of drinks – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. To get a perfectly smooth juice, blend pieces of cucumber with a couple of splashes of water (and other flavourings, such as lemon juice, if you like), then strain, pushing all the pulp through so you get all the juice out.

This juice can be used as a base to create a variety of drinks, including this pseudo-tiki cocktail I made (and then drank out of Cthulhu’s head, which of course made it more delicious). This cocktail contained light and dark rum, bitters, the cucumber juice and some pineapple juice. The cucumber juice also makes a great substitute in a bloody mary-type cocktail – and of course you can add some of the brine from the pickles, above.

Eat them (in a soup)

A variation on the juice above, this method ensures you use both the pulp and juice from the cucumbers. This time you probably want to take the time to peel the cucumbers, and again dice them and add them to your blender. Then add whatever flavourings you want: I added mint, coriander, spring onions, lemons, salt – and most importantly, soft avocados.

You could use cream as well as avocados but the avocados definitely provide enough creaminess on their own. You also need some cold water to help blend everything together. It’s best if you can leave the soup to chill in the fridge for a couple of hours so the flavours can mingle. I served mine with fried onions on the top – but of course you could also use more cucumbers.

I have become a big fan of this soup and have been making it frequently during the hot weather we’ve been having. It’s super simple to make and is delicious and refreshing.

All of these methods of preparing cucumbers have definitely made me eat more of them, and I am enjoying their refreshing qualities as well as the great flavours that these vegetables provide.

Corned tongue November 25, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Innards, Pork.
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It’s been well established that I’m a fan of tongue. I’m also a huge fan of corned beef. So it made sense to combine the two and finally make corned tongue. I was all excited to get going – it was going to take a week to brine the tongue so I wanted to get started right away!

To make the brine, I basically used the same brine I’d previously when making corned beef. I added sugar, salt, pink salt, juniper berries, bay leaves, peppercorns, allspice and some chili to boiling water, and stirred until the sugar and salt was dissolved. When it was cool, I put the tongue in the brine and weighed it down with a plate. I set this in the fridge to await the brining process.

When the week was up, I removed the tongue from the brine and gave it a rinse. Then I transferred it to the pressure cooker and added various aromatics such as garlic, onion, parsley, bay leaves and peppercorns. I added some water and then put the pressure cooker on for about an hour.

Another great use of the pressure cooker! To have tongue ready in about an hour is just great. I was so happy to have the tongue ready so quickly!

Once it had cooked and cooled, I began the process of peeling the skin away and then chopping the meat up.

I was very happy to see that that brine had apparently penetrated all the way into the tongue. The tongue was very tender and seemed softer than previously when I’ve boiled tongue on the stove.

Once I’d peeled it and chopped it up, I made some quick sides to go with the tongue: some salad of rocket and pickles, and some silverbeet with garlic and lemon. While I generally prefer my corned meats with horseradish (the super spicy kind), I decided this time to go with some French mustard, as I thought the herbs would pair well with the tongue.

As you can see, the brine didn’t actually penetrate all the way to the centre of the tongue. While the corned flavour permeated throughout the meat, I would have preferred if it was uniformly coloured all the way through too. I suppose this means a longer brine period next time – perhaps a week and a half or even two weeks.

Corned tongue is definitely something I’ll do again as it combines many of my favourite food elements and is a lovely meal. While I’ll be very impatient next time waiting the extra time for the brine to properly permeate throughout the meat, hopefully the results will be worth it.

Nero Wolfe’s Salmon Mousse September 23, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Fish, Wolfe recipe.
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Readers, there’s something we need to discuss. While the recipes in The Nero Wolfe Cookbook are a little dated, on the whole they hold up – certainly in terms of flavour, but generally in terms of ingredients and technique too. However, some recipes are definitely products of their time, and while a passing reference in a story isn’t out of place, the recipe itself is of historical interest rather than contemporary appeal. By which I mean: salmon mousse has no place on a dining table outside of a Monty Python sketch.

I decided that if I was going to make a thing like salmon mousse, I might as well make as ‘of the era’ as I could. I contemplated making an entire salad in aspic, but thought that might be going a bit far. As with all Nero Wolfe recipes, this salmon mousse recipe called for good quality ingredients and plenty of time in the kitchen. To be perfectly honest, I would have preferred to eat the salmon without mushing it all up first, but I persisted.

I started by poaching some pieces of salmon in a court bullion of water, wine, onion, star anise, a bay leaf and some sprigs of thyme. When they were cooked, I removed the skin and bones, and flaked all the salmon into a bowl. I added lemon juice, bread crumbs, parsley and some capsicum and mixed it around again. I was essentially making a salmon meatloaf.

I should add, this still looked OK at this point. A bit mushed up, but separate pieces of salmon were still apparent. This did not last, however, as the next step was to take the liquid from cooking the salmon, strain it, reduce it, then thicken it by adding flour and butter. I then had to add this mixture to the salmon and then, in case it wasn’t goopy enough, add a couple of eggs.

There was no way to disguise how this looked. This was sad. Nevertheless I persisted and put the mixture into my bundt tin, figuring this would give me an appropriate shape for the mousse once cooked.

I put the bundt tin inside a larger oven tin and added warm water. I put the whole lot in the oven and baked it for about an hour. If you ever want to replicate this, I should note that while the recipe states that it takes 45 minutes-1 hour, it took at least an hour and even a bit more before it was firm to the touch.

While it was cooling, I made up a sauce to go with it, by mixing sour cream, dill, lemon juice, parsley and sauce. After the mousse was cool, I turned it out onto a plate, added the sauce in the middle and decorated it – appropriately…

It looked really depressing. It was really depressing – but also amusing. The thing is: despite appearances, it tasted really good. The salmon was nice and fresh, and was complimented by the herbs in the mousse as well as the dill sauce.

Honestly, this is probably not a Nero Wolfe recipe I’ll make again, but if you ever need a salmon mousse recipe, I’d certainly recommend it.

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…

Vegetable chips June 14, 2012

Posted by inspiredbywolfe in Vegetables.
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I really need a new category of, “make this, it’s ridiculously easy and the end result is great”. In lieu of a category like that, let me say: make these, they’re ridiculously easy, and the end result is great.

I’d heard about the process of making potato chips in the microwave but had never tried it myself. Since it was apparently the same technique for any root vegetable, I decided to try it with some parsnip and some beetroot. The first step is to thinly slice your vegetables. I tried it both slicing by hand and using a mandoline, and actually preferred the slightly thicker chips made by hand slicing.

I then spread the pieces out over a microwave safe plate, so none were touching or overlapping. Then I simply put them in the microwave, and microwaved them for 5 minutes. I found I did have to watch them as they did burn quite quickly when they were ready to burn, but I was able to pull most of them out in time.

I did the same with the beetroot and then had a nice bowl of parsnip and beetroot chips, which I tossed in some salt and pepper.

I know it looks like potpurri but the chips tasted delicious! I’ve since tried this method with pumpkin and sweet potato and all have worked successfully and tasted great. If you have a microwave, you need to give this a go.