What’s Cooking

I became a fan of British chef Nigel Slater back when BBC online was a free service and they featured several of his cookery shows. He was/is quirky and his shows where always slightly off the wall but his recipes are easy and appealing.

But more about Nigel later. I have decided that when I post a recipe I will not preface it with endless stories of my boyhood dreams stoked by the pages of Gourmet magazine or that first taste I had of foie gras at that cunning little bistro in the shadow of St Suplice etc. Instead here is one of the first of Nigel’s recipes that I tried and is a favourite that returns to our table every so often.

Hot Chicken Cake with lettuce and mayo – serves 4
From Nigel Slater’s Simple Suppers

500 grams/1 lb minced chicken
70 grams/2 1/4 oz soft bread crumbs
6 rashers of bacon, chopped*
1 lemon – zest and juice
6 sprigs of thyme, leaves only, chopped
3 heaping tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
2 tbsp olive oil
To Serve:
Oak Leaf or Bib lettuce leaves

Place chicken, breadcrumbs and bacon in a large mixing bowl. Grate the lemon zest in with the chicken mixture. Halve and juice the lemon adding the juice along with the thyme to the mixture. Add in the grated Parmesan and season the mixture with salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Mix thoroughly.

Shape the mixture into small patties or cakes.

Warm olive oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat. Fry the patties in the oil, do not crowd the pan, for 4-5 minutes until they are golden and crisp on all sides. Lower the heat and leave to cook through for another 6-8 minutes. It should register 170-175f on a meat thermometer.

Remove the patties from the pan and place on large, crisp lettuce leaves, add a dollop of mayonnaise and wrap the patties in the leaves like a bundle.

*Putting the bacon in the freezer for 25-30 minutes makes chopping it much easier.

I’m sure that my faithful reader knew that though I didn’t preface the recipe with ramblings that it did no mean there would be no postface.

Slater is well-known in the UK for his many cookery books, his TV series and his regular column in The Observer/Guardian. He also has a following, though not as large, here in North American. His style of cooking, at the beginning of his career at least, has been uncomplicated, comfort food recipes. However I’m finding many of his recent recipes in the Guardian assume that you have a local farmers’ market and that your pantry is well stocked with artisanal goodies. But having said that only last week his recent recipe for a chicken stew/soup was a great hit at our dinner table.

As well as his cookery books he has written an autobiography, an anecdotal book about English cooking, and a two volume ode to his kitchen garden . In Toast, the Story of a Boy’s Hunger he traces his path from the family kitchen to the Savoy hotel with wit, some naked truths and, if his step-sisters are to be believed, a fair bit of hyperbole. The title comes from his mother’s inability to cook anything but toast. Apparently a culinary contest with his detested step-mother for the affections of his father led to his career as a chef.

I am just starting to read Eating for England: The Delights & Eccentricities of the British at Table (he does love long titles) which promises to be a quirky look at the much maligned English cooking. Yes that is the word for Nigel “quirky”.

The word for May 10th is:
Postface /ˈpōs(t)fās/: [noun]
A brief explanatory comment or note at the end of a book or other piece of writing.
It was difficult to find the etymology of the word but all the online dictionaries attest to it being a word. I must admit it was new to me. Any suggestions as to date and origin would be welcomed.

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa

….. Mea Minima Culpa. Sorry I don’t believe in that “maxima” stuff!

Well I’ve been busily searching for a way to take back the incantation I had asked Bridgid to work on Chef Nigel Slater.

I’ve been whinging about a recipe of his I used for this year’s Plum Pudding. Both my faithful readers will recall that it involved much prep-work and made considerably more pudding than he indicated. I ended up with two large and two small puds.

As a finish off to last evening’s dinner I steamed one of the small ones. I wanted to taste test it to make sure I wouldn’t be poisoning anyone on Christmas Day.

A tiny remaining piece of last night’s plum pudding – just enough to have a bite with tea on Sunday afternoon.

It was one of the lightest, fruitiest (oh stop it! According to the tabloids Nigel turned into a full fledged hetero a few years back, even lives with a lady. Those other things are behind him! STOP IT I SAID!), and tastiest plum puddings I’ve ever had. Laurent agreed whole-heartedly – and just to be sure he had two servings.

So Nigel I take it all back and I should have trusted you! I’m sorry about the warts – apparently if you halve a potato, rub it on the affected area(s) then bury it in the backyard near a patch of Bishop’s Scourge they should disappear by Candlemas.

December 15th is Wear Your Pearls Day – can I clutch them or just suck thoughtful on them, as the actress said to the Archbishop.

Puddin’s and Pies Oh My!

A few thoughts on Christmas cookery.

“It is a problem certainly, that Christmas plum pudding. There is here something that I do not understand at all.”
Hercule Poirot

The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding
by Agatha Christie (1925)

As Laurent mentioned over at Larry Muffin At Home this past few days has been a flurry of Christmas cooking. By tradition I should be making the Christmas Pudding today , Stir Up Sunday. (For an explanation see Excita, Quæsumus) However today is our much anticipated second concert of the season and I have a busy day ahead of me. It should be a great concert: Space and the Rocket: Gustav Holst’s The Planets and a fun setting of Roch Carrier’s The Hockey Sweater by Abigail Richardson-Schulte. I’m pleased to say it’s almost sold out. If you’d like to take a look at the programme notes I compiled they can be found here.

Having said that Friday and Saturday were filled with dried fruits macerating in brandy, suet being chopped, ginger being peeled, bowls being stirred (clockwise), and makeshift systems straight out of steampunk novels being erected to cook more puddings than I intended to make. At one point in time I did have a “traditional” recipe that I followed, clipped as I recall from the New York Times some thirty-odd years ago. However it seems to have disappeared so I, in a fit of inspiration, turned to Nigel Slater. Good old dependable Nigel! Just one thing Nigg, we have to talk. Your recipe makes a bit more than two average puddings!

Anyone who has followed a recipe from an English cookery books or websites knows that there are certain quirks, shall we say. We could start with term “cookery” but that’s a bit of a nit-pick. The measurements are given in metric and the temperatures in Celsius or even more quaintly in “gas marks”. Fortunately Siri is quick to convert measures and temperatures – okay not so much with the gas mark thing. So that’s really not a major problem. (As a sidebar my lad Siri has the most lovely Galway accent*.)

Then there are the ingredients which can cause a touch of confusion e.g. many people confused caster sugar with confectioner’s or icing sugar. Not the same thing at all my dears. Over here caster sugar goes by the name baker’s sugar, bar sugar or superfine. It’s virtue is that it dissolves quickly and gives a smoother result. A search on the web tells me that ordinary granulated sugar can be turned into caster sugar with a quick whiz in a spice or coffee grinder. For 1 cup simply use 1 cup plus a tablespoon, hit the button for 30 seconds and ecco là* 1 cup of caster sugar.

On the topic of sugar how about that old British standby Muscovado or Barbados Sugar! It’s an unrefined cane sugar with a strong flavour of molasses and the texture of Brighton Beach sand. And it is not the same as brown sugar or even demerara sugar, though it can be used in a pinch. I was able to find muscovado last year in a holistic food store down the street but they only sold four bags in a year so stopped ordering it! Though I went the demerara route according to Mr Google you can make your own by mixing 1 cup of granulated sugar with 1 or 2 tablespoons of molasses. Just mix with a fork and voilà* muscovado sugar.

As for self-rising flour, well that one is dead simple: 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Blend it all thorough and within no time at all you have self-rising flour.

Now to the final grip, and this doesn’t just apply to British recipes: the matter of time! I’m not sure where the hell these kitchen mavens get their preparation times from but, as an example, it takes more than 15 minutes to peel 600 grams of ginger root! That is unless you have a bloody kitchen staff worthy of Downtown Abbey or whatever it’s called.

Okay whinging and wining over! Next up – use the mincemeat to make mini-pies and freeze them. But for now I’m hanging up my mop cap and apron, making a cuppa tea and having one of those muffins I made from the over abundance of dried apricots we had on hand.

*Take that you “Leave” bunch. That’s my stand for Europe, that is!

November 24th is Celebrate Your Unique Talent Day – hmmmm. Is surviving 41 years without committing murder a talent or just an accomplishment in self-interest?

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