About Marv Woodhouse

I'm an industrial chemist who exhibits a weakness for spending more time than is healthy obsessing over food, cooking and science...the combination of scientist and amateur cook often resulting in puzzled looks from my nearest and dearest. I live in Holywood, Co. Down with Mrs W and C.

Chocolate Bread and Barbeque

It’s been a really great weekend, the weather was lovely and I managed to get quite a bit done in the vegetable patch. We also had the first barbeque of the year in the garden (including giant sirloin steaks from butchers extraordinaire …  Orr’s of Holywood).

Unfortunately its Monday now and I’m back at work … the rest of the country it seems has today off as well but not me. The upside is as soon as I get home it will be barbeque time again.

So to the chocolate bread … not much to say about this really … apart from the fact that David Leibovitz is a genius! When I mentioned reading about this confection to Mrs W. she appeared somewhat keen to sample it.  Not wanting to disappoint, I made this as the last act of a near perfect weekend.  I didn’t deviate much from the recipe except to substitute the chopped nuts for home made praline.

I made the praline by scorching blanched hazelnuts and brown sugar in a non stick pan until caramelized (but not burned). The sticky nuts were left to cool on greaseproof paper and chopped roughly in the food processor.  The resulting loaf has a deep chocolate flavour and firm texture … would be perfect with morning coffee.

Submitted to Yeastspotting.

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Daring Bakers: Suet Pudding

This is my first Daring Kitchen ‘challenge’ after reading about them in countless other blogs. The idea is that each month a member posts a recipe challenge (there are ‘cooking’ and ‘baking’ challenges) and everybody has a go and shares their successes and failures. It appealed to me as a way to try new ideas and have some fun cooking! I would recommend anybody to get stuck in and have a go. Full details and FAQ are in this link.

The April 2010 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Esther of The Lilac Kitchen. She challenged everyone to make a traditional British pudding using, if possible, a very traditional British ingredient: Suet. Being an Englishman this was not as alien a concept as it may have been to some of the other cooks taking on this challenge as I make 2 or 3 Christmas puddings every year and have done several other sweet suet puddings.  Suet has a comforting quality that reminds me of school dinner puddings and my mums stew and dumplings on a cold winters night.

However I have never made a vegetarian savoury suet pudding so this became my challenge. The weather has begun to warm up here (spring has finally arrived!) so I wanted to make a lighter dish than a traditional winter meat pudding (the classic filling is steak and kidney).  I browsed through my cookbooks and found a vegetarian suet pudding dish by Gary Rhodes. It would make an ideal vegetarian main course or a great rich side dish to roast beef.

Suet (shredded rendered beef fat) is not the most appealing ingredient (it polarised opinions with those bakers who had not used it before) but it is essential in the pastry of traditional English steamed puddings (savoury and sweet).  These misgivings are misplaced if you are using the boxed stuff, its has the appearance of coarsely grated dessicated coconut (fresh suet is another matter and is for the more adventurous!).

Suet pastry is softer and rich in contrast to the crispness of shortcrust.  A pudding bowl (any heat proof bowl will do mine was a small Pyrex mixing bowl… the ones you get supermarket Christmas puddings in are ideal …keep them!) is lined with the suet crust pastry, the meat added and a lid of suet crust tightly seals the meat. The pudding is then steamed before serving in the bowl on the table.

Layered Mushroom and Onion Suet Pudding with “Truffle” Sauce

150 gm vegetarian suet

300 gm self raising flour

1 tsp baking powder

200 ml cold water

4-6 medium onions

12 large flat mushrooms

butter

1 large shallot or 2 smaller ones

few sprigs of lemon thyme

300 ml aromatic white wine (Gewürztraminer is ideal)

300 ml Noilly Prat vermouth

Creme fraiche to taste

Making a suet crust pastry was absurdly easy.  Mix the flour with an extra teaspoon of baking powder and sieve into bowl. Mix in the shredded suet and season with salt and pepper (its the same process for a sweet suet crust just leave out the seasoning).  Add water to form a stiff dough and once all the material is combined into a ball wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest (I left mine overnight at this stage).

Whilst the pastry is resting prepare the mushroom and onion filling.  Slice the onions thinly (I used a mandolin…essential timesaving tool) and fry in butter over a medium heat until well caramelised (its better to do this is a couple of batches, seasoning as you go).  Trim the stalks from the mushrooms (reserve them for later).  Sear the mushrooms in a hot pan with a drop of olive oil in batches of 2 or 3 (you want to get a rich brown colour on them).  Set the onions and mushrooms aside to cool.

Generously butter a 2 pint pudding bowl (tip: if you are making a sweet pudding you can get a lovely caramelised finish if you sprinkle soft brown sugar over the buttered surface).  Roll the pastry out to a 0.5-1cm thickness and cut a 1/3 segment out, this will be your lid so cut a circle out of this segment using the rim of your pudding bowl.  Form a rough cone using the remaining 2/3 of your pastry by bringing the cut edges together with a slight overlap and use this ‘cone’ to line the pudding bowl. Ensure there are no gaps in the lining and trim the excess pastry leaving about 1 cm overlapping the rim.

Drain and reserve any liquid from the mushrooms. Place a layer of the caramelised onions in the bottom of the pudding bowl followed by a few lemon thyme leaves and then a mushroom (gills facing up). Season with salt and pepper. Repeat the layers of onions, thyme and mushrooms until all the filling is used up (as you get towards the top of the bowl you may have to use 2 or 3 mushrooms to form the layer) seasoning each layer lightly. Once all the filling is added top with the suet pastry lid.  Overlap and pinch the lining edges over the lid to seal the pudding.

Butter, flour and season a piece of kitchen foil large enough to cover the bowl. Make a pleat in the centre of the foil sheet.  Cover the pudding bowl with the foil and place the pudding into a steamer with the bowl resting on a trivet or rack.

If you have a pressure cooker this works even better.  I bought a pressure cooker a couple of  years ago and find it a brilliantly useful piece of equipment. Not only is it ideal for steaming puddings but it can make the most glorious stocks with only half an hour of cooking !  Steam the pudding for about 2 hours (or 1 hour in a pressure cooker).

Whilst the pudding is steaming prepare the sauce by finely chopping the shallot and remaining mushrooms (including the reserved stalk trimmings). Sweat the shallots in a knob of butter until soft but not coloured and add mushrooms, a few sprigs of lemon thyme and the juice of half a lemon and cook until the mushrooms have softened. Add the white wine, vermouth and reserved mushroom juices. Turn up the heat and reduce by half. Once reduced, turn down the heat to a low simmer add the cream, taste and season.  Cook the sauce for a few minutes more then strain through a fine sieve making sure to squeeze out all the juices. Return the sauce to the pan and keep warm.

Once the pudding has steamed leave the pudding to rest for about 10 minutes before removing the foil top and turning out onto a plate.

Cut the pudding into portions sized wedge and serve with the sauce. Some lightly cooked greens would be a good accompaniment but we just had seconds …and then thirds.

I have to admit the final dish tasted much better than it looked (apologies for the rubbish photo but we had friend for dinner and had no time for faffing with the camera). The filling was rich and surprisingly ‘meaty’ and the mushrooms packed a deep, savoury umami punch.  The pastry was like a big warm hug: soft and comforting in a way that only suet crust is and had a pleasing slight crispness that I wasn’t expecting.

One last tip… there will be melted suet in the cooking water. Once it cools it will form a rather unpleasant hard, fatty scum so if you are not putting the pan in the dishwasher it it worth giving your pan (and the pudding bowl) a good rinse with hot soapy water before it cools… a job for the ‘sous chef’ in your life?

Noma… World’s Best?

I was lucky enough to have the best meal of my life at Noma earlier this year. There are rumors that’s it’s in line to be awarded the No.1 spot in the S.Pellegrino World’s 50 Best Restaurants(organised by Restaurant Magazine) tonight following in the footsteps of El Bulli, The Fat Duck  and The French Laundry.

I have to admit to mixed feelings about this

… on one hand I really, really hope it’s true as the Chef Redzepi and his team deserve all the recognition going for what they have created.

… however I worry that it will probably also mean that mere mortals like myself will stand no chance of getting a reservation and experiencing Noma’s unique experience (I would love to be proved wrong about the latter… please keep the online booking system!). This would be a shame as its the most pretension free fine dining restaurant I have ever eaten in.

If anyone can figure out why it’s only got 2 Michelin stars let me know…

Update: rumours were true… my warmest congratulations to the Noma crew!

Lamb Leg a la Twitter

“I have 3kg leg of lamb (lucky me) but only 2 px to feed! suggestions?”

One of my weaknesses is a good deal so when I was passing the butchers counter at the local supermarket and saw a HUGE leg of lamb at what was frankly a giveaway price I bought it without a thought of what I was going to do with said joint of meat.

The first notion that came to mind was to roast the leg in the classical manner  (garlic, rosemary etc) and invite the in laws for a nice spring lunch but they had already made plans.  So the question remained what was I to do?  Using the magic that is Twitter I decided to pick the brains of of a few foodie talents… all of whom possess considerably greater culinary imagination, skill and knowledge than myself. My thanks to all those who replied with suggestions … they were so great that I was inspired to cook and post!

A selection of them (and links to the blogs … all of which are worth checking out) are below.

@akikamozawa (chef, food writer and blogger: Ideas in food)
Mmm lucky you, leftovers. I like mine well seasoned & simply grilled or slow roasted. Wine/herbs/soy/garlic marinade or baste

@thomasinamiers (Masterchef winner, food writer and chef/patron of Wahaca)
make a middle eastern slow braise and freeze what you dont need for a rainy day. Garlic sumac thyme lemons

@stacie_stewart (Masterchef semi-finalist, food blogger and beehive baking queen)
Bone it and divide into 4x 750g portions. Then make lamb curry, hotpot, shepherds pie and steamed lamb suet pudding … all the recipes for the lamb are on [my blog]

@justcookit (Masterchef semi-finalist, food writer and blogger)
cold lamb isn’t great so eat much as poss then make shpherds pie w the rest

@CarolBlymire (food blogger: Alinea at home, French Laundry at home)
freeze some for later.

@ruhlman (food writer, broadcaster and blogger)
separates it into its separate muscles and cook individually, or make lots of shepherds pie and lamb sandwiches tomorrow! … if you do a good job, you can cook those lamb muscles almost like loin.

@docsconz (culinary doctor and food blogger)
Cut it into smaller portions, freeze most and cook a little at a time or invite more folks for a wonderful roast!

@vindee (food blogger: Passionate about baking, co-creator of Mactweets)
Debone , mince, make different varieties of kebabs, freeze. Can marinate and freeze a leg-o-lamb too.

As a result of the great idea I decided to follow Michael Ruhlmans suggestion and debone the leg.  I liked the idea of separating each muscle by butchering along the seams. The should ensure that each portion of lamb would be free of connective tissue running thorugh it (gristle to you an me) and cook evenly as it would be composed essentially of the same meat.

I wanted to make a good job of this so to get me started I found a great video guide by The Healthy Butcher which illustrated the basic steps of removing the bone to leave a butterflied leg.

Joint opened up along the fatty seam and the bone now exposed as per the video.

I continued to cut carefully close around the bone until it could be removed. Use the bone as your guide and take you time and you won’t go far wrong …or lose much meat.

Now, to separate the meat by cutting between the muscles. If you get this right there is not actually much cutting to do as the muscles will almost peel apart like the segments of an orange. Just use the knife to ease them apart and trim the edges. The meat around the shank was left whole as the there is a lot of fine connective tissue (this cooks down when braised give you that yummy rich stickiness) .

I ended up with (from left to right) six fillet like pieces from the upper leg, two large boneless cuts for braising and the bone with some some trimmings. Don’t throw that bone away!… added to a braise it will add fantastic richness, I bagged it up with the trimmings and put it in the freezer.

I took one of the fillets and placed it in a marinade of crushed garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and Herbes de Provence for about half an hour.  I went heavy on the garlic (one of the giant cloves from the elephant garlic I grew last year).

The marinated lamb was seared on a hot grill on for a few minutes on each side and then finished in the oven.

Rested for about 10 minutes before carving, the meat was superbly tender and juicy, presumably a result of not being cut across the grain when the leg was butchered. The result of my labours was probably the best piece of meat I have cooked this year … served on ratatouille with some mixed leaves.

Portugal

Last week we had a wonderful holiday in Portugal staying in a villa with family. Our villa was located near Moncarapacho, about a 45 minute drive east of Faro towards the border with Spain. In contrast to the well known resorts in the western Algarve with their hotels and golf courses, the eastern half is relatively undeveloped and comprises traditional fishing port and charming sleepy villages. The weather was gloriously sunny for the whole week and it was nice just to relax and mess about around the pool. The setting was beautiful and all around were citrus groves heady with the scent of blossom.

I didn’t cook all that much as it was cheaper to eat out but we had couple of barbecues including some fantastic local fish (sea bream,  sardines) and tasty, toothsome quail.

There is also a Portuguese speciality where you cook your own steak. The stone is heated to extreme temperatures and you cut pieces off the joint, cook to your liking and thoroughly enjoy.

Lazy lunches were had on the terrace by the pool … we grazed on ham, chorizo, antipasti,  potato salad, and some amazing local breads and cheeses.

I made brioche rolls for breakfast which was a real hit with C. The texture of the bread was very open compared to normal brioche as I had the dough prove all afternoon and overnight before baking.

Lazy Holiday Brioche Breakfast Rolls (posted to Yeastspotting)

75 ml warm water.

3 eggs (+ another for brushing over the rolls if required).

200g butter chopped in cubes.

500g strong white bread flour.

4 tablespoons honey (we were low on sugar!).

1 sachet (6-7 g) dried active baking yeast.

pinch of  salt.

  • Mix the flour,  salt and yeast into a bowl. Make a well in the flour and add the eggs and water. Mix to form a stiff dough (adding more water if required). Knead lightly in the bowl until the dough is smooth.
  • Add the butter to the dough and mix until well incorporated, this will be messy as the dough will be very sticky (I used a fork to do this). Cover and leave to rise in a warm place (a pool terrace in Portugal is ideal!)
  • When dough has doubled in size knock back and knead in the bowl 5-10 times. Recover the dough and leave to rise again.  I didn’t need the dough till much later so I put it in the fridge at this point.
  • Generously grease a muffin tin with butter (grease the whole upper surface of the in as the dough is likely to rise over the edges of the cups).
  • Turn the finished dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead 5 to 10 times. Separate the dough into thirds. Portion each third into 6 even pieces and place each piece into a cup in the muffin tin. Set aside to rise in a warm place until doubled in size (I left mine overnight).
  • Preheat the oven to 180 C / Gas mark 4. For a glossy finish brush the top of the rolls with beaten egg (I didn’t bother).
  • Bake in the preheated oven until deep golden brown, about 20 minutes.
  • Leave to cool in the tray then pop out and enjoy!

When we ate out I gorged on seafood which was abundant, especially the most sweet baby clams. The local speciality dish is Cataplana which is a big one pot shell fish stew served with rice and plenty of vino tinto! Eating out at the local restaruants was tremendous value,  3 courses costing typically around €2o per person including wine. 

There is also a Portuguese speciality “steak on the stone” where you cook your own steak. The steak is served barely seared on a stone tile heated to an extremely high temperature and you cook to your liking. Mrs W. was a big fan!