Fried Porridge

by Miss South on February 10, 2014

fried porridgeI am probably constructed half and half from oats and potatoes if you consider my Scottish and Irish heritage. Childhood days started with oats in the form of porridge and ended with spuds for dinner very often. Both are still mainstays of my table even now.

Porridge is surprisingly controversial. People have strong feeling about the type of oat used, the ratio of water and milk and whether salt or sweet and they stick to their guns. I make mine with Flahavans oats if I can get them, using half milk and half water and I add a pinch of salt as the oats cook. This makes it all the right smooth consistency for me without being too creamy and the salt makes it taste much more intense. I then tend to eat mine plain or with some fruit on top if I’m feeling virtuous. Occasionally I have a little drizzle of golden syrup, but I have fairly simple tastes with my porridge.

Others however have magical porridge powers involving spurtles and things like steel cut or pinhead oats and take it all very seriously. They also mention something about a porridge drawer which I was reminded of recently when talking to Caitríona at Wholesome Ireland. This would have been a small section in a dresser where the leftover breakfast porridge was poured and allowed to cool and set before being cut into slices. Children ate when they came home from school or men took it as their ‘piece’ for lunch. A forerunner of the flapjack or the cereal bar basically.

Apparently the porridge drawer was common in both Ireland and Scotland, but I’ve never seen one or eaten from one. Curiosity piqued I asked my dad who grew up on the west coast of Scotland and he remembers the sliced ‘purritch’ being fried up in bacon fat or butter and served for dinner. I love the idea of being able to go savoury or sweet here but I’ve tempted go sweet as I had some leftover spiced butter from making hot buttered rum at Christmas.

Fried Porridge with Spiced Butter (serves 4)

  • 100g oats
  • 120ml milk
  • 120ml water
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g room temperature butter,
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • golden syrup (optional)

Make your porridge by putting the oats, water and milk in a pan with a pinch of salt. Cook slowly on a low heat for about 15 minutes. Slow cooking makes the oats creamier and smoother. Stir it regularly to keep it from sticking to the pan. Once it is cooked, pour the porridge into a clean rectangular container such as a tinfoil takeaway tin or tupperware container. Leave the lid off and allow the porridge to cool completely, preferably overnight.

Next morning, your porridge will be solid and easy to slice as the oats set firmly almost like a flapjack. Slice about an inch thick. You should get about 3 slices per person.

Make the butter by beating the spices into the soft butter. It will turn quite dark and speckled as you do this and smell amazing. I used salted butter as it works well with the sweetness of the spices.

Heat the butter on a medium heat and fry the slices of porridge in it until golden and crisped on the outside. This should take about 2-3 minutes each side. Serve piping hot with a drizzle of golden syrup if you’re pushing the boat out.

I sampled a bit of the set porridge before frying it and wasn’t impressed as it seemed very bland. So I was slightly trepidatious when I tried the fried porridge. And I was utterly blown away by how good it was. The spices were just right and the butter had caramelised the outside and the salty sweet crust was perfect. If it wasn’t so filling, I wouldn’t have been able to resist another slice or two. It was like the best French Toast I’ve ever eaten and further confirmation that oats are awesome!

{ 15 comments }

Cornflake Tart

by Miss South on January 26, 2014

 

cornflak c-upMister North and I must be very rare specimens indeed because we went to a primary school that served excellent school dinners. The only thing I remember hating was the cabbage which they served minced and overcooked. Otherwise, I have very fond memories of eating lunch at school. There were proper hand cut twice cooked chips that I still dream about, Irish stew and of course, proper puddings with custard to match.

Most people liked the chocolate sponge and custard best, but my favourite was the cornflake pudding. A slab of crumbly pastry topped with red jam and sweet crunchy cornflakes on top, served with simple yellow custard. I last ate it when I was no more than 11 years old and I’ve spent years trying to track a recipe for it down. I’ve asked many people if they remembered it and in between triggering memories of Spam fritters, people have either rhapsodised about it or looked blank.

I was starting to think it was a Northern Irish thing when eventually I came across something about on Mumsnet and realised it was actually very simple to make and just the thing to use up some spare pastry. But would it taste the same or was I about to destroy a treasured childhood memory like the time I rewatched Button Moon and realised it was just an actual button?

Cornflake Tarts (makes 4 individual sized tarts)

For the pastry:

  • 175g plain flour
  • 45g cold cubed butter
  • 40g lard
  • 2-3 tablespoons cold water

For the topping:

  • 150g raspberry jam
  • 30g unsalted butter
  • 25g sugar
  • 1 tablespoon golden syrup
  • 75g cornflakes

Start by making your pastry. I like the incredible shortness you get using half lard and half butter (plus it’s much cheaper too) but if you prefer, you can use all butter.

Put the flour in a large bowl and rub the lard and butter through it. I think I’ve mentioned before that my pastry always shrinks massively in the tin and some plaintive wailing about it to a friend, established that I was rubbing my fat into the flour too much and over working the pastry. So don’t be afraid to leave some lumps of fat in this instead of trying to get only tiny crumbs.

Add two tablespoons of ice cold water (I’ve also been using too much water because overworking the pastry had made it dry) and bring it all together neatly in a ball without too much fiddling and poking. Chill it in the fridge for 30 minutes.

When you are ready, roll it out and line the tart tins. I had 4 small ones but this will also do a 23cm tart tin nicely. Don’t trim all the pastry off the edges, but leave some overhang and then chill again for 15-20 minutes while the oven heats up to 180ºC.

Line the pastry with greaseproof paper and fill it with rice or dried beans and blind bake for 12 minutes. In the meantime, heat together the butter, sugar and golden syrup in a saucepan until it is all melted and runny. Put the cornflakes in a large bowl and pour the butter and syrup over them. Gently stir it through until they are all coated. Set aside.

Now put the jam into the same saucepan and warm it through too. I used some homemade stuff, but a decent shop bought one will do. Try not to use indeterminate ‘red jam’ like the school dinner version did. It’s better with a bit of flavour and texture.

Take the blind baked tarts out of the oven. Remove the baking beans or rice and prick the base of the pastry several times with a fork. Trim the edges of the tarts with a sharp knife and then spread the warmed jam over all the base of the tarts. Sprinkle the cornflake mixture over the top of the jam, making sure you don’t skimp.

Bake the tarts for another 8 minutes and then allow to cool for at least 10 minutes to give the cornflakes a proper crunch. You’ll probably want to serve this with a generous pouring of custard. I can’t help you here as custard is my nemesis and my most recent attempt at heating some fresh stuff from Sainsbury’s ended with me curdling it!

I ate my tarts just as they were and they tasted exactly like I remember, but actually slightly better for not being made with marge and cheap jam or washed down with tepid water in a metal beaker! I am now convinced Proust was really on about cornflake tart rather than madeleines…

What about you? Do you have a school dinner memory that’s surprisingly good or was it all crimes against food?

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Testing Times

by Miss South on January 19, 2014

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Balancing two recipe books at the moment is fascinating. Recipes from Brixton Village, which I’ve just been doing more edits on, is primarily recipes from professional cooks and chefs that I’ve been testing, editing and writing up while Slow Cooked is all my own recipes, created from scratch.

Both books complement each other beautifully and I’m enjoying the challenge and privilege of writing them. Testing other people’s recipes has improved my skills at testing my own, but that doesn’t stop me having a moment when things just don’t work. I’ve only had two or three total failures in the slow cooker since I started testing but it knocks me when it happens. I feel a momentary wobble in my own confidence and then a sense of guilt at throwing out food.

I mentioned this last week on Twitter and people suggested that I needed the company of a canine who would chomp down on anything to counter that one. Sadly the only furry friends near my house are the local squirrels and I’m not sure how fond they are of risotto…

However someone else made an excellent point about kitchen failures. Your failures make your successes possible. And your anecdotes funnier quite often. This got me thinking. When I first starting blogging, I was following other people’s recipes and generally massacring them as I went. Dan Lepard even had to tweet me to try and troubleshoot me wrecking one of his foolproof cakes. Those mistakes gave me something to write about and they taught me how to cook and eventually how to create my own recipes.

I look back on the slow cooked broccoli or my infamous salt fish and leek stir fry or the celeriac and clove soup that tasted like mouthwash with a celery stalk stirrer with amused fondness. I am immensely grateful to my mum who ate everything I cooked when I was 19 and learning my way round the kitchen, even though most of it was probably awful. I’m even more tolerant of those dim and distant Home Economics lessons with rock cakes you could have used as a door stop and ratatouille that more resembled a chemical weapon than a side dish.

Without all those dishes, I wouldn’t have learned to trust my instincts and skills and understand the formula of a recipe instead of simply following the steps. I may have had to go to bed hungry on several occasions after ruining the only food in the house, but it was well worth it long term. I just have to remind myself that mistakes now are all still part of that process and a way to keep myself focused.

They also make my successes something to feel really pleased about. You’re never too experienced not to feel a frisson when your cake rises perfectly or your roasties are the best ever or something else comes together just the right way. The only better feeling is when people use my recipes and enjoy them. There’s something amazing about sharing those recipes and the way it introduces you to new people, places and influences. It makes up for the moments when you ruin 2 kilos of marmalade for sure!

What about you? Do mistakes in the kitchen give you new impetus or send you back to the ready meals? Can you laugh at your mistakes or do you hide them from everyone else?

{ 12 comments }

winter_leftover_soups-05

Happy New Year! Well, that’s Christmas over for another year. The tree’s gone, the decorations are down, and the last hints of spice in the air are fading fast. Miss South and I made the most of the season in our respective locations… both making Christmas puddings for the first time; cooking up a great main meal and seasonal accompaniments; and getting creative with leftovers. After all, getting good mileage from leftovers is one of the best things about the holiday season, isn’t it?

Here are two recipes for Christmas leftover soups, based on main dishes we’ve previously posted about over Christmas. Both have proved their worth (and have been road-tested with others) and provide a good way of taking your leftovers in a different direction. After all, If you’re going to splash out on a large cut of meat, make sure you make the most of everything around it… from boiling liquid to bones. You can’t beat a warming soup in winter: it’s the best form of central heating around, and a great way to make ingredients and flavours go a bit further. Whether it’s a thick, hearty black pea and spiced beef soup, or the exotic joys of a fragranced Vietnamese-style pho bo, you should find something to whet your appetite.

Black pea and spiced beef broth (serves 6-8)

Black pea & spiced beef soup

Although it’s not based on a traditional recipe, this is a very northern dish in heritage and at heart. It’s got mixed Irish and Lancashire parentage, but I reckon a variation on this would feel equally at home in large swathes of Nordic or Eastern Europe too. It’d certainly keep the cold at bay. The spiced beef I used here followed our previously published recipe, which was based on Niamh Shields’. It’s established itself as a family tradition over the last three years!

We’re predisposed to pair pulses and pork on the blog as they’re natural BFFs, but here the sensuous spiced notes and savoury stock of the beef and its broth work really well with the dusky black peas* (not black-eyed peas).

Miss South and I first experienced black peas, parkin and cinder toffee on Bonfire night on a farm above Rochdale in the mid 1990s; that combination of frosty air and scaldingly-hot peas was a happy and formative memory for us both. When I moved to Manchester a few years later I visited Bury market and enjoyed the pleasures of a styrofoam cup of peas and black pudding on a winter morning (tip: you can fashion a spoon from a black pud link by biting the end off strategically).

Dried black peas

*Black peas (aka maple or pigeon peas) are a bit of a rarity outside of East Lancs and the South Pennines, and I’m conscious many readers might not’ve heard of them before. They’re delicious, and deserve to be better known. They’re on sale just over the West Yorkshire border here in Todmorden around Bonfire Night, but you might struggle to get them out of season, never mind outside the region. Even most of my books on regional British specialities (Andrew Webb, David Mabey, Laura Mason & Catherine Brown etc) don’t mention them; and while Mark Hix does in ‘British Regional Food’, he mentions the Lancashire black or parched pea alongside a differently cooked Lenten ‘carling’ or ‘carlin’ from Tyneside and the North East. (if you want to know much more about black peas, I’d suggest this well-researched and comprehensive piece here).

Ingredients

  • 1 fresh chilli
  • 1 red onion
  • 2 litres stock / liquid from boiling the spiced beef brisket
  • 250g dried black peas (you can substitute with marrowfat or other dried peas, but the taste is quite different)
  • 6 medium sized potatoes (I used Maris Pipers)
  • (optional) salt and pepper to taste
  • A sprinkle of finely sliced beef per person
  • A dollop of sour cream

This recipe assumes you’ve cooked the spiced beef already. Ensure you retain all the liquid you’ve boiled the beef in: it should last, properly covered in a cool place, for a few days. You may want to strain it through a fine sieve or some muslin, as you’ll likely get some bits from the ground spices at the bottom of the pan.

Start the day before, by soaking the black peas in a large bowl, covered in water with plenty of room for them to swell up. Add a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda to help soften them. Leave the peas to soak overnight. In the morning, rinse them well.

I had around 3 litres of stock from boiling up the spiced beef: I reduced this by a third so it was more intense. It was quite savoury; with the sugar, salt and spices really coming through strongly. I was concerned it’d be too strong, but those wee peas soak up liquid and flavour.

Cover the previously-drained peas with fresh cold water, bring to the boil and then boil hard for 10 minutes, before simmering for a further 30 minutes. Meanwhile sauté the finely chopped red onion and chilli slowly in a heavy-based pan, so it softens and starts to melt down.

Rather than continue to simmer the beans on the hob, I decided to make the soup itself in the slow cooker, but you could easily keep it in a pan. However making meltingly soft black peas is particularly good in the slow cooker as it’s self-contained and cheap as chips to run for hours. I left everything bubble for a few hours, then threw in the peeled, chopped potatoes for 30 minutes. Once they’d softened and cooked, I used a hand blender to process the soup, keeping it rough and textured rather than a smooth purée. Another 20 or so minutes just to soften everything down, and it’s ready to ladle into bowls.

Ideally serve with a dollop of soured cream, and sprinkle with chopped matchsticks of the leftover spiced beef on top. Garnish with some finely chopped chives or some flat-leaf parsley for a dash of colour.

Pho bo (generously serves 4)

Home-made pho bo

My first taste of a decent pho was when Miss South took me to one of the Vietnamese places on the Kingsland Road in London about ten years ago. I’d heard it was one of the best breakfasts known to mankind, and I was smitten on the first slurp. I’ve been going to Vnam Café on Oldham Road in Manchester since it opened to get my hit in the north, but making your own is extremely satisfying, and a great way to get the most from beef bones. In fact this was so good we made it twice within the space of a fortnight last Christmas (as my girlfriend and I had two family Christmas meals; one in Manchester, the other in Belfast). Both times we used beef forerib which we’d roasted as a joint for the main meal. This is the kind of recipe which can certainly improve with specialist ingredients, such as Thai basil, but we didn’t adhere strictly to this prescribed recipe either time, and it tasted fantastic. I’d defy anyone to turn their nose up at this after a night on the tiles over the Christmas period. Just don’t plan a big lunch if you have it for breakfast…

It’s based on this recipe which I suggest you follow; I’ve added some personal notes below. I’ve enjoyed Andrea Nguyen’s Viet World Kitchen blog for years, but it was her recipe for pho which prompted me to finally buy her wonderful book ‘Into the Vietnamese Kitchen’, which I can highly recommend. Her additional tips on making pho are as useful as the main recipe. However there’s no set rule for making this soup, so feel free to substitute or ad lib if required.

Ingredients

For the broth

  • Beef bones (in this case, from fore rib, but anything large and preferably with marrow is good)
  • some nuggets of fat from the beef
  • 300g brisket or similar beef cut
  • 2 mid-size onions, halved
  • 6-8cm ginger, sliced lengthways
  • 5 star anise
  • 6 cloves
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1.5 tablespoons rock salt
  • 3 tablespoons rock or palm sugar

For the finished bowls

  • Noodles (ideally flat rice sticks, but we used rice vermicelli first time, and something like dried ramen next)
  • Fresh mint and coriander leaves, torn roughly
  • Beansprouts
  • Birds-eye chillies, sliced thinly
  • Beef (we cut thin slices from the cooked rare rib meat, and poured the hot broth over)
  • Scallions (spring onions), sliced and briefly blanched to take the edge off them
  • Limes, cut into wedges
A key tip for the start; char your ginger and onions. Slice them, then hold them over the gas flame on your hob until they char nicely round the edges. This gives a lovely richness to the broth. Then add salt, spices, sugar, fish sauce, bones and the cut of braising beef to the pot. First time I made this, I used normal granulated sugar. Second time, at our mum’s, we used rock sugar…and it was so much better. Alternatively you could use some panela, or at least some sticky muscovado to give more depth and aroma to the sweetness in the broth.
Bones, beef, salt. sugar and spice

First time, I used the slow cooker to make the broth overnight to allow all the flavours a chance to meld and mix wonderfully. Plus, the aroma you’ll wake up to is something else! At our mum’s we simmered the stock for several hours in the evening in a cast iron casserole, then let it cool overnight, before giving it some more time in the morning. This quicker cooking time was balanced out by being able to use more beef bones, giving a richer stock. However if you can, use the slow cooker for maximum flavour impact!

Strain the dark, delicious broth to remove any bits of spices and aromatics. You’re wanting to retain just the liquid. If you’ve used any braising cuts of meat in the stock you can retain it ready for a sandwich, shredded. Then put the broth back on the heat to keep warm.

The magic of pho for me is that tantalising counterplay between the slowly simmered, aromatic broth and the crispy fresh ingredients in the bowls. It’s bright and fresh, yet deep and complex. So ten minutes before you’re ready to serve, cook your noodles til al dente; then douse them in iced water to arrest their cooking further. Place them at the bottom of a deep, wide bowl; then add bean sprouts for crunch (I’ve also added mandolin’d carrot for brightness and bite). Add the meat, then pour over the hot broth. Let each diner garnish accordingly with fresh herbs, slices of chilli and scallion, and perhaps a squeeze of lime juice to taste. Happy slurping! [click to continue…]

{ 7 comments }

Panada

by Miss South on December 29, 2013

 

IMG_3944Christmas week tends to be quite hectic. Lots of socialising, lots of eating, maybe even a wee glass or two of something to lubricate it all with. By the gap between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve I am often craving simple comforting food to balance out my yearly festival of meat and red wine.

Usually I go for boiled rice, but this year a conversation with family friends reminded me of the childhood dish of panada. A steaming dish of stale bread soaked in boiling water and covered in hot milk, before being sprinkled with sugar, it was designed to warm you up and fill you up. I associate it with my mum’s side of the family and she used to make it for her father when he came in from the farm in the evenings, hungry after dinner.

I thought it was an entirely Northern Irish dish and then a quick Google to see how to spell panada told me it was the very opposite. This dish is global. Panada comes from the Spanish word for a bread soup and I have no idea why the name would stick in Norn Iron when the dish is known through England as bread and milk. This was constantly mentioned in the Enid Blyton books I adored as a child, but I assumed it was a slice of loaf and a beaker of milk like a light snack, but the internet led me to see that Nigella Lawson has a recipe for it in Feast and a whole new world of comfort food was opened up to me.

This Chowhound thread shows that the dish is universal throughout Europe and North America in various forms, even forming the basis of the dish milk toast and it seemed even more apt that I make it to soothe the soul after a eating spree. I may well revisit the cornbread version at some point as I think it would suit the soft texture beautifully. I made mine traditional apart from the twist of a sprinkle of cardamom that lifted it from bland to fortifying. Whatever you call it, don’t miss the chance to make it as a simple supper or a warming breakfast instead of porridge.

Panada (serves 1)

  • 1 thick slice of white bread, cubed
  • 180ml boiling water
  • 50ml milk
  • 1 pod green cardamom, seeds bruised
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
  • 3 teaspoons caster sugar

The most important thing about this dish is to use decent bread. Don’t use the kind of white sliced Kingsmill or Hovis make or it will turn into paste. Even the kind of unsliced white batch you get in supermarket bakery counters is much better, but if you have some sourdough, that would be ideal. I used the leftover heel of the slow cooker bread I made.

Cube the bread into 1/2 inch pieces and in a heatproof bowl, pour the boiling water over it. Allow to sit and absorb the water for about 2-3 minutes. Don’t stir or agitate it, just allow it to soak up the water and plump up gently.

While the bread is soaking, warm the milk, vanilla and cardamom seeds together until the milk is just about to bowl. Remove from the heat. Check the bread and drain off any excess water using a potato masher. Pour the piping hot milk over the bread and scatter with the sugar and nutmeg. Serve immediately as the sugar remains slightly crunchy and enjoy the taste and texture of childhood again. Although I suspect it make an excellent hangover cure if you’ve been being very adult….

 

 

 

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