Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Earthy, easy food for a lazy day

A combination of holiday laziness and teeth that are still a bit nightmarish to gnash with has, since Boxing Day, been creating a dual question: what to eat and what can I eat?

I still get a touch of the ‘Protestant work ethic’ about cooking – as though it should feel a lot more like serious toil if I’m Doing It Properly.

Perhaps that’s a widespread British view: cooking – food – as another form of toil and, therefore, something to largely be avoided (except at Christmas, obviously, when it becomes a nightmare.

But today has actually seen two new culinary experiments – experiments for me, at any rate. And both required ‘proper’ cooking and some thought, but also provided an eating experience that wasn’t nearly destroyed by the tentativeness of my new masticatory equipment.

It was another pleasantly relaxed start to the day, with coffee, books and cuddling cats seeing off a grey and damp morning.

Which leaves you with the dilemma of what to open the day’s eating with.

Michel Roux’s Eggs includes a series of recipes for baked eggs, from the most basic version to rather more complex ones. It’s not something I’ve ever done. I don’t know why – we both like eggs – and when you read that basic recipe, it’s hardly complex or time-consuming.

There’s also a recipe for baked eggs in The Stornaway Black Pudding Bible by Seumas MacInnes – with black pudding, of course – but for reasons that will become clear later, I decided not to use that one today.

Not only do I still feel the eyes of that old work ethic watching over the shoulder of my culinary endeavours, there’s also a side of me that is actually rather lazy and wants to know whether there are short cuts to some things. Today, that was a question of wondering whether I could simply grease the ramekins with one of the pieces of butter paper that are stashed in the fridge.

But no. Stop it. After all, melting a little butter in a pan is hardly onerous, is it?

My self-appointed sous chef and food taster in chief was on hand to make sure that no corners were cut. On the basis of last night, when I was getting a bit fraught while doing my predictably last-minute tax return, Otto seems to have decided that she’s my accountant too.

So, melt a little butter and then brush it on the inside of the ramekins, to a centimetre from the top. Then season lightly. Crack the eggs into a saucer, one at a time, and tip each one into the prepared ramekin.

Since this was a brunch, I used a couple of larger ramekins and did two eggs per person.

Finally, drizzle some double cream over the top, avoiding the yolks.

Put the ramekins into a tin or dish, pour boiling water to half way up the side of the little pots and pop into an oven that’s been preheated to 170˚ and cook for around 10 minutes.

That temperature is for a fan-assisted oven, by the way – although mine still takes longer than Monsieur Roux’s.

Check to see how they’re doing: the yolks should be just set. If they’re not – or if you like them a little firmer – just give them another few minutes.

And in the meantime, you can contemplate why something that describes itself as ‘double cream’ on a container is so often barely any thicker than single cream.

It is a long-held and oft-repeated complaint of my mother’s – which is rather odd really, given her puritanical pronouncements on food pleasure. Because proper double cream is about nothing but pleasure.

Not that she’s wrong: even that supposedly classier supermarket, Waitrose, stocks single cream, double cream – and then extra thick double cream.

Fortunately, La Bouche on Broadway Market sells Langley’s double cream, which is seriously thick and utterly gorgeous.

Anyway, the baked eggs (with proper double cream) were delicious. And hardly a difficult prep or cook.

Musing over what to serve for dinner later, my mind drifted back to a browse through that Stornaway book and to a recipe for black pudding dumplings.

Now, there is plenty of black pudding in the fridge for a reason, so it was simply a question of what sort of stew/casserole to make for such dumplings.

I diced an onion and softened that in butter before adding chopped garlic and then a couple each of chopped parsnips and carrots. Then in went some roughly sliced black pudding (about 100g) and some thawed (and heated) beef stock.

Bring to boil, then turn down to a simmer and leave until the veg are getting nice and tender, which is around half an hour.

For two people, the stuffing recipe requires 125g of self-raising flour, sifted with ¼ teaspoon baking powder. Then add 30g of shredded suet and 50g of chopped black pud. The recipe also included a tablespoon full of chopped spring onion, but I didn’t have any in the house, so hard cheese, as they say.

You add as much water as is required to make a stiff dough and then mix into balls. Pop onto the top of your stew for 20 minutes – or into a separate pan of boiling water. This is the only fiddly bit – the instructions suggested using two spoons, as I’ve seen suggested for making quenelles. But not having done anything like that before, it was a tad awkward.

Finally, slice some more black pudding and warm gently in a pan with a little oil. Use this as a sort of garnish. What you’ve effectively got is three different hits of the black pudding: pretty much melted in the stew itself, mingled with the dumpling mix and then the slight crispness of the fried pieces.

And in general, the taste of the whole is good and earthy and warming. Next time, though, I’ll serve it with a dollop of mustard on the side.

So given all that black pudding, that was why I’d not done MacInnes’s baked eggs earlier in the day.

Last night, via the joys of Facebook, Graeme reminded me that MacInnes also runs the famous and award-winning Gandolfi Café in Glasgow, where he has created and continues to cook a lot of his black pudding dishes.

Now, my first work trip of the coming year will be to that city – I’m starting to wonder whether I can squeeze enough time out of a busy schedule to pay a visit – and thank you in advance to Big G for that nudge.

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