Friday, January 26, 2007

Cookie Monsters

There was some cookie experimentation on Sunday afternoon. Normally cakes and cookies are Mrs Jiffler’s area of expertise, and I stay out of the way until my services are required in ‘testing’. Mrs Jiffler makes great smarties cookies, much better than the weirdly chewy ones you get ‘fresh’ from the supermarket.

There is a recipe in the Guardian for ‘Customised Cookies’ by some chap I’m unfamiliar with. Normally I would skip over this sort of recipe, and head for the restaurant reviews (cue much swearing and shaking of head as yet another restaurant in South London with parsnip crisps and cauliflower foam on the menu gets an above average review), but this time the Guardian has opted for a very sympathetic photo of said customised cookies, and I imagine myself standing in a sweet smelling kitchen wearing my apron and shaking a tray of cookies, looking very pleased with myself.

The recipe is as follows (I’m sure the Guardian won’t mind…):

(measurements aren’t zen this time. I think you have to be a bit more precise with this sort of thing)
125g unsalted butter
100g unrefined granulated sugar
75g light muscovado sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
150g plain flour
half tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
100g extras – chocolate chunks, raisins, dried fruit, nuts etc etc.

Melt the butter and pour over the two sugars in a mixing bowl. Beat together, then break in the egg and the vanilla flavour. Beat again, then add in the flour, baking powder, salt and the extras, and mix.

Drop dessert spoonfuls of the mixture on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving lots of space for them to expand (lots of space – they go massive!), and bake at 190 for about 10 mins or so. Let them cook so they harden up – although I can guarantee that you’ll have at least half of one in your gob already…

My extras where 50g-ish of white chocolate chunks, 50g-ish of dried cranberries, and most of the zest of one lemon. The smell in the kitchen was great – soft and sweet and very appropriate for a Sunday (later giving way to roast chicken, then chicken stock). I even left the flat for a minute to take the bin out just so I could come back in and smell it fresh again.

Although a bit soft in the middle, the cookies came out well. The flavours were nicely in tune, although I felt they were a bit too sweet for my tastes (I have to add water to fresh orange juice in the morning otherwise it’s a bit too sweet…). I thought I’d take a few in to work the following day to get the opinion of a few colleagues.

Said colleagues set about the cookies like they were going out of fashion, and a general thumbs up was awarded, along with significant pressure for a repeat performance…

Well I suppose I’ve got some leftover cranberries to use up…

Monday, January 22, 2007

Latest Carrot Fad

Mrs Jiffler is currently in Mauritania, being generally jammy, and hopefully enjoying the privileges of our work by having a good neb around the Parc National Du Banc D’Arguin (an important wetland and stopover for migrating birds). Despite being stuck in Hertfordshire, I’m still in the habit of doing a solo Sunday roast, partly for the fun of it, and partly because it means I can use up the stock and leftovers for my lunch and tea for the next few days. This Sunday seemed an appropriate day to do a roast as a walk in the hills around the town had given me an appetite. It was the music monthly magazine in the Observer as well, which I enjoy cynically flicking through in the kitchen while waiting for the oven to warm up.
The purchase of the mini-wok from Lakeland (!10985) has brought a few changes to my usual Sunday roast routine. Carrots of course are an essential part of the deal with a roast, and I’ve played around with various ways of preparing them. With a roast dinner, the meat is obviously the main event, the reason for the whole show; while potatoes (and Yorkshire puddings) provide a balance of textures (crunchy on the outside, fluffy in the middle) and also a platform for a good gravy to work its magic. Green veg lend a veneer of healthiness to the meal, but would almost certainly be the first thing we’d sacrifice if we had to. Parsnips should always be used in moderation - its woody sweetness should be more of an occasional surprise rather than dominating the plate. The carrot’s role in the whole roast dinner medley should be to bring along a bit of glamour to the conservative sturdiness of the meal – an eye catching orange sunrise at one side of the plate.
Little mini carrots are very aesthetically pleasing when roasted with the green stalks just slightly trimmed, although I find this sort of thing can be a bit trendy. Once, when I was an undergraduate, I did some experiments growing carrots in pots, spacing them very close together without fertiliser. The resulting stunted carrots were about 3cm long and 4mm at the thickest part. With enough pots (occupying most of one corner of the massive university green houses) you had enough for a couple of good portions, quickly stir-fried, with your Sunday dinner. The flavour was immense, like being poked in the eye with a carrot.
Anyhow with this in mind, and the mini-wok in hand, I set about cutting up my carrot into matchstick sized bits, and stir-frying in olive oil with ginger, throwing in some coriander right at the end. It’s a marvellous way of bringing some new flavours into the Sunday roast and takes no time at all. It looks rather pleasing on the plate as well as the stir-frying really brings out the colours.
I’d recommend the mini-wok anyway. Perhaps through this blog I can do what Delia did in the 90’s for sales of Lakeland’s marvellous omelette pan. Its works marvellously and is ideal for doing side portions or quickie lunchtime stir-frying (I even cooked greek elephant beans in it once). Its handle is slightly too heavy though so you have to be careful it doesn’t tip over if using on a gas hob.
By the way, if you’re planning on making the rabbit casserole from the other week, keep the bones for a stock (you can freeze them, or make up the stock and freeze that). I’ve got a rabbit and chorizo risotto on the horizon for next week which may very well be worth a go.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Mid-January Crabcakes

Mrs Jiffler has just returned to Senegal, and I’m mooching a bit. I need cookery distraction, but can’t face going out in the rain to Asda as my back hurts as a result of a struggle against violent weather in the Brecon Beacons. An audit of the cupboard and fridge is uninspiring, but the discovery of a tin of white crab meat (when did I buy that?) at the back of the cupboard leads to the creation of these thai-style crab cake things:

Thai style crab cakes:

(as usual, Zen measurements apply)

One baking potato
Some spring onions, finely chopped
A small red chilli, finely chopped
Nam Pla
Sesame seeds
Parsley, finely chopped
An egg
One small tin of crab meat (mine was 112g)

Bake the potato, then split and scoop the potato out of the skin. Use a tea towel to hold the potato otherwise you will burn your hands, and nearly drop the potato on the kitchen floor.

Let the potato cool a little, and mash in a knob of butter with a fork. Mix in the chilli, spring onion, the parsley, a teaspoon or two of nam pla, salt and pepper and the white of the egg.

Mix well and roll the mixture into little balls (two big ones will be good for a meal for one, or starter for two. I would roll into four small balls for a starter for two). Flatten these into burger shapes, and dust either side with flour and sesame seeds. Leave in the fridge for an hour or two to set.

Use an oiled griddle, or a non-stick pan to fry for five minutes or so on each side and serve with a dash of thai sweet chilli sauce and a salad (I reserved the potato skins and let them crisp up in the oven with some olive for a bit extra).

Happy New Year

Happy New Year! By now I should have made a few changes to Experimental Jifflings – I felt a bit of reformatting was in order to brighten things up a little. I’ve a vague New Year’s resolution to change the content a bit, by including more recipes as well as the usual ranting. Hopefully readers will enjoy some of the recipes as much as I have, and will maybe send feedback, or ideas for new things. It would be great for people to send me their favourite recipes so I can have a go and maybe publish them on the blog.

Anyhow – to catch up a little – Christmas came and went with the usual levels of overindulgence. Christmas Day was spent at the Ship and Shovel restaurant (a name easily satirised as I’m sure you can imagine) in Sleaford, Lincolnshire. I managed to dodge around the turkey options and ended up enjoying a juicy bit of pork. I’ve some admiration for the food in Lincolnshire – if you stay with British meat and two veg you’re generally in for a treat. Everyone was pretty satisfied in any case, and it was Christmas, so I won’t be a picky bugger (smoked salmon under heat lamps, packet salad, rubbery cheese, bah humbug etc).

We also managed to get through a goose while in Anglesey, which was a nice treat. Our starter of Langoustines really got me going though. Dad has managed to find some in Aldi, or Lidl, or one of those weird shops where you have to go on the right day to get the good stuff. The Scottish fishing industry depends heavily on langoustines, but sadly they are mostly exported to France, Spain and Italy, where they are prized and are a feature of many a menu. You rarely see them here, although the fishmongers at the Arndale market used to have them now and again.

They take no time at all to cook, in butter, garlic, and a bit of white wine and a squeeze of lemon. We tucked in at the table and enjoyed the ripping and rendering to get at the lovely sweet flesh inside. Chunks of crusty white bread mopped up the juices, followed by satisfied smacking sounds as we sucked our fingers clean.

Rewinding a little, Mrs Jiffler arrived back from Senegal on Christmas eve. With no plans to travel until Christmas morning, I spent a good chunk of the day preparing a very British supper of rabbit in cider. The smell that filled the kitchen while it was cooking immediately took me back to childhood winter visits to my Uncle Harry in Wigan, with my parents trying to fob me and my sister off that we were eating chicken. Likely story.

A recipe for Rabbit and Cider Casserole

As always, quantities are approximate, and a zen approach to measurements should be adopted.

A rabbit, jointed with the bones left in (get the butcher to do this). About 1 kg in weight.
A bottle of cider (about 400 ml) – I used Bulmers as it was on offer.
A handful of shallots, sliced.
4 bay leaves
Some plain flour
Groundnut oil
A couple of parsnips
A couple of carrots
Two tablespoons of wholegrain mustard (Colman’s of course)
Salt and pepper.

Start off by cleaning the rabbit. A rinse under the tap should see off any excess bits of blood etc.

Place the rabbit in a bowl and add the cider, mustard, onions and bay leaves. Top up with water if required. (At this point I decided to resist the temptation to throw in some dry chorizo that was in the fridge – I decided to stay British, but you could easily take this in a more Mediterranean direction). Cover and leave overnight in the fridge.

Remove the rabbit joint, pat dry and toss in a little seasoned flour. Heat the oil in a frying pan and brown the joints. Pop the joints into a casserole dish with another large pinch of flour, add the chopped carrots and parsnips, and the marinade, then bring up to the boil on the hob.

Cover the casserole and bake for about an hour at 180. Season to taste and serve with mash and beer or cider.