Friday, 18 February 2011

Two puddings and some bread (but no bread pudding)

As the week draws to a close, finally there is the space to breathe again. Don’t take that as a complaint – I’d far rather have work than not – but it’s been a busy old week.

But now to look back a little and complete some stories.

First, there was that starter dough that I mentioned making on Saturday. The following morning, it went into the mixer, along with the rest of the bread ingredients. It was the first time I’d used a mixer for making bread and Raymond Blanc’s instructions are helpfully exact: five minutes on the lowest speed and then 10 on the next speed up.

Boy, does it make the machine work. Washing machines rattle around and vibrate like mad, but I’ve never wondered whether they’re about to break. The dough, clinging to the hook as it’s bashed around and around in the bowl, makes the mixer jerk a bit and left me slightly nervous.

It baked fine though and is probably my best effort at bread thus far. Previous attempts haven’t been bad, but this had an evenness (the mixer, presumably) that was much better. And a good taste too.

And so to the steak and kidney pudding. Browsing through Kitchen Secrets the night before, I’d been amused to discover that Blanc has a recipe for this – albeit with oysters added. Interestingly, his proportions of offal to beef were closer to my kidney-loving ones that most recipes I’d seen.

I used his recipe for the dough – easy to make but really quite awkward to roll and handle. Still, we got there. Indeed, my circle of dough (with a quarter cut out) was so big that I didn’t really need to make a separate lid, but just folded it over and carefully trimmed and sealed it.

For the filling, I’d halved, cored and then halved again the kidneys. The beef came ready diced. It was mixed together in seasoned flour and then packed into the dough-lined bowl. I went along a little further with the Blanc recipe in taking a very small amount of red wine and briefly boiling it – taste and then give it 10 seconds and then taste again: the difference is amazing. You want to boil off some of the alcohol but not all of it or too much.

I added that to a little beef stock (out of a bottle, I’m afraid) and then, remembering the recipe for the sausage and kidney turbigo, squeezed in some tomato purée. This was mixed together and poured over the meat until it was almost but not quite at the top. Then the pud was closed.

Pleated foil was then wrapped over the bowl, allowing space for expansion, and tied with string. It went into a large pan, on top of an upturned saucer and with enough water to reach half way up the side of the bowl. The water was brought to the boil, the lid went on, the heat was turned down and it stayed that way for a whopping five hours, with just occasional checks to ensure that the water hadn’t boiled away.

Five hours! I’ve been vaguely looking into slow cooking for a while, but most recipes seem to be barely over two hours. Heston Blumenthal’s nine hours for belly pork is an exception rather than a rule.

It didn’t come out of the bowl completely cleanly – but it hardly mattered. And the taste was truly divine. I had actually managed to cook something that gave me an eyes-closed moment.

The chocolate delice, which we tried after The Other Half was back in town, was also a hit – although I think the Cornflakes need to be crushed a bit more. Easy enough to remember for next time.

But in many ways, what pleased me most this week was the rhubarb jelly.

A week or so ago, while trawling Amazon, I’d come across a book called Black Pudding and Rhubarb. Written by chef Paul Heathcote and food writer Matthew Fort, it’s more than just a collection of recipes, but is about seasonality and cooking with regional produce in Lancashire.

Out of print, I’d found a dirt-cheap copy – at 1p, the postage was considerably more than the book itself – and ordered it. But when it arrived, there was a little disappointment on finding that there was no mention of a dish of black pudding and rhubarb.

After all, when you think about it, it would be a perfect combination, with the tartness of the vegetable cutting through the sweetness of good black pud.

The mind started chugging away at this. The conundrum was how you would serve it: you wouldn’t want a stewed pile of the stuff, plonked next to the pudding and I didn’t think the rhubarb gravy was what was needed either.

And that was where the idea for the small rhubarb jellies was born. Two slices of black pudding, grilled, and sandwiching a jelly. Okay, maybe not quite “sandwiching”, but you get the drift (and served with some tinned new spuds, drained, dried and then pan-fried in duck fat, plus some butter beans in tomato. The drizzle, which went a bit awry, was raspberry vinegar, to add another tart taste).

The Other Half – who is, after all, my only judge on most of my culinary efforts – was impressed, although he thought that there were too many green peppercorns in the jellies. But the idea works: I can technically achieve it and the idea behind the flavour combination is sound. I am chuffed.

Finally for today, I had better explain the picture at the top of this post – or does it really need an explanation?

Anyway, the idea had been buzzing around for some time and I finally set it up. I’m not sure about the reflections on the egg shells – and may yet remove them. But generally speaking, it’s not bad at al.

You see – I didn’t spend quite all last weekend cooking.

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