Thai Green Papaya Salad

Well here we are, waiting for arrival of baby version 2.0 and Mrs W. is now well overdue.  All credit to her though as she is bearing the strains of late pregnancy in good humour.

We made a Thai green papaya salad in the hope it might move things along. I didn’t have the hoped for effect but it did taste fantastic. The salad was adopted from a recipe in Gourmet Food For A Fiver by Jason Atherton.

The trick was to taste and balance the sweet (palm sugar), sour (lime juice), salty (fish sauce) and hot (red chilli) flavours.  Dried shrimp brings a savoury background note, tomatoes and coriander add freshness.  Topped with crushed peanuts this bowl contains an explosion of textures and tastes.

The image is from my new Olympus EP-1 camera which I am slowly getting to grips with.

So our tribe should be one person larger by the weekend… here’s hoping all goes smoothly.

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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?

Plot 15 Supperclub

Supperclubs or “underground restaurants” have become one of the big fashions in food over the past couple of years. The idea is simple, some brave amateur cook (or cooks) invites a bunch of random strangers into their own home and cooks dinner. Guests pay a ‘contribution’ to cover the cost of the meal (perhaps leaving a bit extra for the toil of the hosts) and bring their own drinks. With the rise of social networking and the profusion of food blogs getting the word out about such enterprises is now relatively easy. So perhaps it was just a matter of time before two adventurous souls (the heroic Jenny and Sarah) had a go in Belfast.

It just so happens that two of my favourite things are going out to eat and meeting new people over dinner so when I heard about the Plot 15 supperclub starting in Belfast I was very keen to try it out. Mrs W. offered to make it a birthday treat and after an email or two we were booked in.  A couple of days before the event the address details were emailed out.

We arrived at a large terraced house in the university district excited but somewhat nervous. We were greeted warmly at the door and I soon had a glass of wine in my hand and got chatting to the other guests. Canapes of hard-boiled quail’s eggs with toasted cumin and salt were already on the table and along with a roaring log fire were a sign of good things to come.

A large communal table had been beautifully set for the 12 diners. dishes were plated in a small serving kitchen off the main dining are (the main cooking was done in another kitchen). The service was warm friendly and accomplished. Apparently we were the sixth supperclub that they had catered, after some exposure in the Secret Belfast facebook group and the local press they were now booked though April.

We started with spicy sweet potato soup topped with crispy Jerusalem artichoke shavings and served with warm pitta bread. The soup was rich and well seasoned, the sweetness of the potato nicely balanced against the spice.

My main course was a roasted whole mackerel in lemon and freshly ground Indian spices with dahl and basmati rice. The mackerel was beautifully moist with crisp skin. The dish was fragrant with lemon and coriander and had a subtle hint of spice.

Mrs W. doesn’t do whole fish on the bone so she opted for the vegetarian choice of saag paneer with dahl and basmati rice and said nice things about it! The combination of the fish rice and dal was well balanced and so good that not a whole lot was left once I had finished!

Dessert was a fragrant Tunisian orange & almond cake served with thick greek yoghurt. The cake was moist, sweet and fragrant and very moreish.

The real pleasure of the evening though was not the food (very good though it was) however but the warm hospitality of our hosts and the pleasure of sharing a meal with new and interesting company. We lingered over our coffees and wine and eventually headed home having had a fun and memorable night. Talking to our hostesses the motivation behind the project appeared simple: they enjoyed cooking and wanted to meet new some new people. The menu (which will change monthly) will feature local, seasonal food some of which will be sourced from their Belfast allotment

It’s probably not for everyone, which is good because only nice people should go (I like the fact it is (was) a bit of a secret). You need to leave your fussiness at the door … remember it is a supperclub not a restaurant … you are a guest not a customer. But if you like dinner parties but don’t fancy the shopping, cooking, sorting invites, washing up etc the this may well be your bag. You’ll get a good dinner and maybe end up with some new friends.

Amongst the party was another intrepid food blogger, Sarah … here is her take on the nights events. Thanks (and credit) go to Sarah for letting me use her gorgeous photographs (I took some pictures on my phone but they were rubbish)… check out her blog.

I will be back again … it was great craic! Thanks to all who were there for making it such a great evening (and to the guy who didn’t show up … shame on you!).

Maybe I’ll even have a go at doing a supperclub myself … there’s a thought …

Plot 15 Supperclub serves a 3 course set menu dinner twice a month
Suggested donation of £20
contact: plot15supperclub@gmail.com or 07780 787453
website: http://plot15supperclub.wordpress.com/

A Lemon Trilogy Part 1: Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

Mrs W. and I are expecting our second child in early August. She is about 22 weeks into the pregnancy right now and has taken a notion for lemons and all things lemony tasting. Fortunately I had somewhat of a glut of said citrus in the fridge right now so before we head off to Portugal on our hols I thought I would make best use of them.

I have been in a bit of a cooking funk of late, but with a change to the clocks (which means I can at least start cooking in daylight) and some signs of slightly better weather my enthusiasm for spending time in the kitchen is slowly returning.  Cooking with lemons  filled the house with a lovely fresh fragrance so it seems like spring may finally get here!

It is also high time for me to get some veg into the garden (somewhat late I know but the growing season starts somewhat later in Northern Ireland… we had snow this week!). I have hardly touched the plot since last autumn (apart from putting in garlic and early season broad beans and peas before winter set in) but I hope to get stuff sown before we head away and see some signs of growth when we get back.

Back to the lemon theme… I made a great supper based on a Nigel Slater recipe  of linguine with a lemon, olive oil and pecorino dressing. This really is just the easiest peasiest thing to make… so simple but so tasty.

Lemon and Pecorino Linguine

About 250 g linguine (I use De Cecco brand)

Juice from 1 large lemon

1 tsp grated lemon zest

75 ml extra virgin olive oil

75 g grated pecorino  (and a little extra to serve)

  • Put a large pan of water on to boil. When it is bubbling furiously, salt it generously then add the linguine. Let it cook at an excited boil for about 8-10 minutes.
  • Put the half the lemon juice and olive oil a bowl and beat briefly until emulsified like a vinaigrette. Beat in the grated pecorino with a grinding of black pepper. Taste and add additional lemon juice as required.
  • Drain the pasta (leaving a trace of the cooking water) and add the lemon and pecorino ‘sauce’. Toss the linguine until well coated and serve immediately with extra grated pecorino.

Mushroom Risotto

A typical dark night in winter and the kitchen window is rattling from the wind and the rain. Mrs W. is out herding brownies so we will be having dinner late. I decide to make what I believe to be her very favourite thing for supper …risotto.

It’s such a handy dish for hoovering up whatever might be lurking in the fridge (leftover chicken, bacon, leeks, ham, Parmesan ends and frozen peas often feature in mine). Today there are mushrooms, better still they are chestnut ones which i think always look tastier then their pale cousins. There is chicken stock in the fridge too, you can tell its a good batch because it has set to a firm jelly. A dash of Mushroom Ketchup and a glug of vermouth adds depth to the stock.

Just as I serve up I remember the christmas present I was given from my brother in law…

… a sprinkling of magic to finish the dish. Cheers Jim!