Monday, 24 February 2014

The French Kitchen Project: 2 – Quiche Lorraine – change of plan, no Tarte Tatin!

This recipe involves one of my culinary fault lines, pastry.

I’m not good at pastry.  My mother Louisa used to say that for pastry you need cool hands, my hands are cool sometimes, but not in the heat of the kitchen. Usually, I reach for the ready made kind in supermarket’s frozen section. But that would be cheating, wouldn’t it? And I think that this particular recipe calls for the real thing, so here goes.

So what have I learned so far? Try to have all the ingredients to hand, don’t be tempted by latte or gossip, read the recipe all the way through before embarking, and remember to take photos.

So this time, reading the recipe through, before I begin, I assemble,  250 gm flour sifted. 70 gms butter, and 55gms baking fat,  cut into small pieces.  So combining the flour butter and fat I rub it all together until it resembles breadcrumbs, as instructed, and voila, I achieved the breadcrumbs.

Suddenly am not feeling so anxious about pastry.  Ooooooo it looks like I may have my mother’s pastry making gene after all.  Now for two egg yolks lightly beaten with two tablespoons of water.  I have real guilt about separating the yolks from the whites, what will I do with the whites? Oh the guilt if I have to throw them away. Unfortunately, I do have my mother’s frugal gene, known by some as the McGahon Frugal Gene (hereinafter referred to as the MFG!).

So mixing the egg yolks and water I pour into the breadcrumb mixture, using a knife in a circular motion to bring the breadcrumbs and the egg mixture together.  At first I start to panic as it does not look as though it is going to form the “ball” suggested in the recipe, but gradually it begins to come together in the ball form.  OK, now the recipe says “knead until smooth”. Knead? I thought only bread is kneaded! Oh what the hell, go for it….  Knead. So I knead, this is quite mindless meditative movement, but I’ll be glad when it’s done, but I am not sure when its done!

Four minutes of kneading, form the pastry back into a ball, because something tells me that pastry in a ball form will make it easier to roll out a round pastry for the round dish.  I hope.  You see I usually make rectangular or square pies/tarts, no really, one its much easier than pastry for round dishes, and two, I don’t waste pastry (remember the MFG).  I have spent too much time, even with the ready made pastry, trying to get the pastry to fit round dishes without waste. And too much time when I’ve made my own pastry filling in cracks in pastry that doesn’t quite fit the dish. So pastry formed into ball, wrapped in cling film, goes into the fridge to chill. And I will chill with a coffee.

Right now, with the upcoming attempting to roll out a round piece of pastry, I really need to follow the pastry into the fridge and chill also. But as Louisa used to say, there’s no peace for the wicked, now to cook the bacon, another pan spitting at me.

 So I take my kneaded, chilled, ball of pastry out of the fridge. Unwrap and lay on lightly floured surface and wield my rolling pin. After about three minutes I swear, I wanted to hit the pastry, not roll it. It’s like trying to flatten granite.  What I really need is a steam roller, not a rolling pin.

I’ve managed to flatten the ball into a semicircle, but it’s far too thick and I am moments away from throwing it in the bin in desperation and frustration and reaching for the ready-made frozen stuff, which I still have time to defrost and have the quiche ready for tea.  And then I have a brainwave, oh yes, somewhere in the cupboard under my stairs is one of those many gadgets that get bought, used once and then consigned to the cupboard, rarely to resurface, and only then to be sold on ebay or donated to the local charity shops.  A Pasta Maker!

Only takes me five minutes to locate the little devil, and I set it up and feed my lump of pastry through it’s jaws, once, twice, three times and I have smooth piece of pastry, ok, so it is no longer a circle, and there will be some waste, (forgive me MFG), but, needs must when the devil drives.  And this piece of pastry was deffo the devil tempting me into a meltdown. So now I have a piece of pastry, homemade, granted not the circular shape I was aiming for, but what the heck, I lay it on the 30cm push up tart tray and hey presto we are half way there. There, I’ve found a use for that darn gadget after all!

So the oven is heating to 180c and the bacon sizziling gently on the pan for 5 minutes, I beat the egg yolks, crème fraiche in a bowl, throw in some black pepper and sea salt with flourishes a la Jamie.

And I really like the idea of some steamed green beans in this otherwise it will look all eggy and pasty coloured, so I quickly steam some beans.
Bacon is ready, lay it on the pastry case, pour the liquid into the pastry case, sprinkle the green beans on top and hey presto we have Quiche Lorraine on it’s way to the oven!

Now it’s time for me to throw all the utensils into the dishwasher, yes I do have one, though it is rarely used.  In fact it is so rarely used that when it is, I have spent time looking for utensils, wondering where they went only to remember that,  we used the dishwasher - but I think I deserve a rest from the washing up, don’t I?

So Quiche Lorraine bakes for 35 minutes at 180c, then the temperature is reduced to 160c and baked for 15 minutes more and hey presto, well it took more than a magic rolling pin, we have supper.

And it wasn’t bad, as it says in the recipe, "once you have tasted the home-made variety you will never want to buy another one again", and I second that.  When of course I have gotten the knack of the pastry making down to a fine art, that does not involve steam rollers!!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The French Kitchen Project - Bouef en Daube

My first recipe from The French Kitchen.  Chosen because I just happen to have some rump steak in my freezer and I need to use it up. I have carrots, onions, black olives, and garlic.  I also have capers, but Prof Yaffle doesn’t like them, so leave those out. 

 Funnily enough it’s Prof Y, who is constantly commenting that my store cupboards are the envy of the known world and probably the universe, though we have a small kitchen he marvels at the delights I have tucked away.

The beef has been marinad-ing in the fridge overnight, drowned in white wine with Bay Leaves and generously seasoned with salt and black pepper,  and I turn it from time to time as instructed. The onions, carrots, mushrooms and black olives are chopped.  Everything I need is ready, flour, tin of tomatoes, peel of one orange (no, I will not be wasting time zesting an orange) and capers.

It’s pouring rain today and at some point I will have to dash to the local M & S for Mushrooms. so with all the ingriedents laid out, I pop out for the Mushrooms and bump into a friend who persuades me into Costa for a latte and a chat; she is usually overflowing with local gossip so I couldn’t resist.  Could I?

Back at the house, I realise that there is no way that this meat can be simmered slowly for 3 hours, because I don’t have three hours, I just used some of that up over latte and gossip. Hells Bells!

And to make matters worse, as I stand reading through the entire recipe I come upon the words:  “To serve, lift the beef out onto a carving plate and carve into thickish slices…”  Hells Bells and Buckets of Blood, my rump steak has already been cut into largish pieces!! Sh*te, dam and blast.  So I take a deep breath and take my Costa takeaway coffee ( I had to have one more just to fortify me) and sit on the patio and try to calm AW (anxious woman, my constant companion) who’s words are thundering through my head now. “Read the recipe woman, don’t assume…..”  

So that’s two elements of the recipe I have to find a way round, the time and that I have already chopped the meat.  I read  “My great-grandmother used to cook it in an earthenware pot at a very low heat for three days”.!!  Think, think…..  so I sit there drinking latte and panicking….  It’s my default setting.

Ok, deep breaths and back to the kitchen where I reach for my most beloved piece of kitchen equipment, my trusty Kuhn Pressure Cooker.  Whilst sitting on the patio it came to me, 15 minutes in PC is equivalent to at least an hour cooking. Then I can let the pressure go down naturally, and add the veg and let it simmer for another hour and a bit (very precise my timings) and hey presto ve vill have Daube en Bouef! 

But of course, a recipe is not a recipe, if I don't add my own little dash of something. So while my pressure cooker is merrily humming,  I put a thin slice of butter in the pan, let it melt, it smells wonderful, put in the Mushrooms and let them sizzle for a minute or so, and then add a capful.... no two capfuls of white wine, and get on with preparing the veg, which will be added to the pot after it's cooked in the pressure cooker for 15 minutes.

So once the pressure cooker has done its job, and I've added the veg, and let the pot simmer gently for another hour and a half, the smell is wonderful.

Later:  it was delicious, never mind that I didn’t read the recipe properly, tender and beautifully flavoured, served with potatoes, salad and a glass of red wine. And there is enough left over to freeze for another occasion. Oh and Prof. Yaffle asked for seconds!

And I was so busy cooking and eating, that I forgot to take some photos. Oh well, next time.

NOTE TO SELF: Always read the recipe through before embarking on cooking; and remember to take photos.

NEXT TIME:  Tarte Tatin


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