Monday, March 26

Get Off the Lemongrass!

Until five minutes ago I had no idea that the phrase "get off the grass" meaning an exclamation of disbelief, is a New Zealand one.  Well, it is according to a kiwi words and phrases site which lists it alongside "I'll have your guts for garters" and  "give your ferret a run." 

Cymbopogon (lemongrass) is a genus of about 55 species of grasses and is native to India and tropical Asia. It is widely used as a herb in Asian cuisine. It has a subtle citrus flavour and can be dried and powdered, or used fresh. Lemongrass oil is used as a pesticide and a preservative. Research also shows that lemongrass oil has anti-fungal properties. What a handy herb!

Lemongrass Love. 

Mr R is quite scared of lemongrass.  I suspect he once got a wad lodged in his throat.  So, on Saturday I took it upon myself to cure him of this phobia by combining it with the one thing he can't resist... 

Chocolate.  Lemongrass. Tart.  Based on a recipe in Maria Elia's The Modern Vegetarian.  Thought it sounded suitably 'fusion' to follow some pumpkin dumplings, Vietnamese rice pancakes and a bottle of sake which we drank at the kitchen bench pretending it was a bar in Tokyo.  That's what I was pretending anyway.  God knows where Mr R thought himself.    

First, I made the pastry by combining 200g plain flour, 70g caster sugar and 100g chilled and cubed butter in a food processor until the mix resembled breadcrumbs.  Then, with the whizzer still whizzing, I added two egg yolks and about two tablespoons of milk.  You want the ingredients to clump together and this can happen quite suddenly so be sure to add the milk slowly.  Then I removed the pastry, rolled it into a ball, wrapped it in clingfilm and popped it in the fridge for 20 minutes.  Once chilled I rolled it out on a floured surface and pressed it into a greased 20cm diameter fluted tart tin. Naturally being pastry, it didn't fully co-operate and I had to mend the odd hole before cutting away the edges.  Then, and this was a quite a revelation to me, I put it in the freezer for 15 minutes which Maria says prevents the pastry from shrinking during cooking.   And she was right! To cook the shell I lined it with baking paper, filled it with rice and baked it at 180 for ten minutes.  I then removed the paper and the rice and put it back in the oven for 5 minutes by which time it was quite golden.

Meanwhile, I prepared the filling.  Into a large heatproof bowl went 275g dark chocolate (250g into the bowl, 25g into my mouth), 275ml double cream, three teaspoons ground ginger, the juice of one lime, three kafir lime leaves, chopped and four sticks lemongrass, also chopped.  I heated the bowl over a pan of simmering water until the chocolate melted and the flavours fused.   Once cool, I used a sieve to liberate the chocolate mixture from the lemongrass remains.  Finally, I whisked in six egg yolks before pouring the mixture into the waiting pastry case and popping the whole thing back in the oven for five minutes until the chocolate had set.  Best served at room temperature and stored in the fridge,  I served the tart with fresh lychees and a teeny bit of sour cream though Maria suggests using white chocolate.  Admittedly I did attempt to melt some white chocolate buttons but by then I'd half a bottle of sake and managed to melt the bowl and the buttons. Nevermind, it was rich enough anyway.

First course...

Second course...

Third course.

Friday, March 2

Ask Me If I'm a Potato...

No!  No I'm not a potato! 

But thanks to The European Cultivated Potato Database (ECPD) we know that there are over 5,000 varieties of potatoes on Earth!  I only grew one myself.  One variety that is.  Not one potato.  I'm quite the gardener now and estimate my yield at approximately 22.  Dutch Cream they were.  Something about the name appealed to me.

My actual Dutch Creams!
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall likes potatoes too, his new River Cottage Veg Everyday cookbook is heaving with  recipes featuring our humble friend.  That sounds like something Hugh would say, doesn't it, "our humble friend the potato."  That in fact is my only complaint about the book, one can't help but read it in a sort of Hugh-voice.  You can drive yourself crazy if you're doing three courses!

His recipe for Spiced Spinach and Potatoes looked easy enough especially given that I had all the ingredients awaiting either in the cupboard or the soil.  (I'm quite the gardener now!) 

I prepared 400g of  potatoes by simply giving them a light scrub, cutting them to equal size and popping in a saucepan.  No need to peel unless they're as tough and leathery as one's old shoulders.  Then I covered them in cold water, bought them to the boil and simmered for about 10 minutes before draining.  Hugh washed his 400g spinach thoroughly and let it wilt in a tiny bit of water for a few minutes in another saucepan over a medium heat.  I washed mine with gay abandon and wilted it in the microwave for one.  Once it was cool enough to handle, I removed as much liquid as possible (wrapping it up in a clean teatowel and squeezing it like crazy is a good method), then roughly chopped it up. 

Whilst the spinach was cooling, I sauteed one large thinly sliced brown onion in sunflower oil until soft then added a finely chopped garlic clove, a finely chopped red chilli, a teaspoon of ginger paste and two teaspoons of garam marsala.  This sizzled away until fragrant (only a couple minutes), at which point I added the potatoes and chopped spinach.  Optional, says Hugh is 2 or 3 tablespoons of double cream or coconut cream.  So I added about half a can of coconut cream and let it simmer for a little longer.   I suppose you could serve it with rice or naan, but given the issue of Mr R's middle-age spread, I served it with a dollop of mango chutney and some fresh coriander.  He certainly enjoyed the potato component but wasn't so keen on the caterpillars still clinging to the spinach. 

Oh, it's nice to be back!  Here's a special song to celebrate.