Monday, 14 June 2010

Royal cooking

In the last few days, it's been a fairly generic salad time here at On The Ration. Salad stuff is plentiful (still no celery, mind) so it makes sense to dive in and get as much fresh, uncooked, leafy vegetable matter into us as possible.

But that's not to say I haven't been able to be a bit chef-fy with the meals. A good mushroom soup made an on-going starter for a few days, whilst a break from salad came with a (comparatively) low fat risotto. This was a filling meal in itself, but even better for CJBS with a topping of poached smoked haddock.

For the risotto, heat some fat in a heavy-bottomed frying pan. Fry off some onion, and when they're half done, chuck in some mushrooms and some crushed or powdered garlic. Once the onion is translucent and the mushrooms are softening, add your rice - two handfuls per person or thereabout, to make plenty. The rice will suck up the remaining oil. When the rice starts to stick, start adding stock.

Two ways of doing this: if you know in your bones how much water the rice will suck up, add that amount, put the lid on and walk away. If you don't, start by adding half a pint, keep stirring and add another half pint when it's gone. Keep doing this until the rice just isn't taking any more up (what's left will boil off anyway if you keep the lid off).

With the stock in, you can now add veggies that you like. Peas are always nice in risotto (cubed spam can go in at this point too). I like tomatoes, so I put quartered ones in. If you like bell peppers, put some in. You get the idea.

When the rice is done, you've got a basic risotto. For a creamy version, stir through low fat soured cream or crème fraiche. For a richer, but fattier, version, add some cubes of butter and let them melt through, assuming you've got the butter. For the traditional Italian flavour, add some hard cheese (Parmesan, ideally), assuming you have cheese. We had butter available, sort of, but no cheese.

For the poached smoked haddock, put a couple of bay leaves, some dill and some raw onion into a saucepan. Put the fish on top, then top with milk. Bring the milk up to the boil, then immediately take it off the heat. It's done, but you can leave it in longer to cook in its own heat if you want it to be flaky. Lift it out with tongs and serve it on top of the risotto.

Reserve the fishy milk: use it the next day to make fantastic (I'm told: I don't eat fish) mashed potatoes.

To explain the missing cheese earlier, I was inspired by this bit of gastropub-ism, and fortified with olive oil on points and some sausages, I decided to make something very very chef-fy for CJBS the next day. I don't have a name for it, but here it is:

Slice some halloumi cheese (the Greek, rubbery one that isn't feta) and scatter it on the bottom of a baking tray. I've got some very nice but hard-to-use bottled peppers in. These are baked or grilled, then preserved in vinegar or oil. The best bit about them is that they're surprisingly mild and beautifully brightly coloured. Lay a pepper slice on each piece of cheese. Add some garlic (powdered, flakes or fresh chopped/crushed) on top, some chopped spring onion and half a dozen thin sausages. A splash of oil, and into the oven until the sausages are cooked (15 mins at 180C, say). Serve with chopped basil leaves on top.

This was probably a waste of (almost) two people's cheese ration for a week, but CJBS ate it in seconds with a loud "nom nom nom" sound, so it was well worth it.

He also nommed his way through the quick tiramisu I made (I told you I was in chef-fy mood). I'd made some chocolate cupcakes earlier in the week, forgetting I had a rhubarb crumble on the go. The cakes went stale, despite CJBS's heroic efforts to cram them into his mouth. I made a cup of strong coffee, mixed a tablespoon of icing sugar into it and added a big glugg of cheap cooking brandy. While this cooled, I whipped 150ml of single cream and 250g of mascarpone cheese together with 3 tablespoons of icing sugar, some vanilla essence and a smaller glugg of the brandy. Then I sliced up the stale cakes and dipped each one in the coffee mixture for half a minute. These are then layered: cake slices, mascarpone, cake slices, mascarpone until everything's used up. Dust the top with cocoa powder and store in a cool place for as long as possible (it just gets better as it ages).

Now, back to the salads. There was a reason to have so much salad, an excuse that I grabbed at. Jersey Royals,1 the best potatoes ever ever, have a season of about 25 minutes. When they come in, I buy preposterous amounts and shove them in everything I cook. As a "new" potato, they're theoretically best just boiled and served, and that works very well on the side of a salad, hot or cold. But they also make superb potato salad with soured cream or with mayonnaise, in a vinaigrette, or boiled in stock.

But my favourite is to really really make them work for their money. I boil them for 15 minutes, drain, then slice them into thick slabs. Heat some butter in a pan, add some garlic and lightly sauté them batches. I saved my butter ration for this (and the risotto - dry sandwiches and marmite on unbuttered toast are worth it). Put the sautéed Jerseys on a baking tray, then roast them for 20 minutes in a hot oven. These can be served anyway you can think of: with a salad, with grilled meat, with mayonnaise... you name it, they work.

Tonight, I'm making a big bowl of them with some crème fraiche and spring onion on top. In front of the TV, with my feet up and feeling very very relaxed.

1 Yes, I know Jersey was occupied in the war, so this is an anacronism. I don't care.

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