Friday, September 5, 2014

Back in the kitchen

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There’s always a recovery process when I return from weeks on the road: getting back into the 5:2 regimen, regular exercise, and a reasonable bedtime. I don’t eat out often when I’m home in Poole or Maastricht, staying faithful to making breakfast and dinner.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up trying new recipes or learning different techniques (or, in the spirit of Lebovitz' My Paris Kitchen,  getting friendly with my local butcher, baker, roaster, and fishmonger in Ashley Cross).
Two recent experiments are particularly worth sharing.
DSC07787 (1300x959)When I need a light summer dessert, I turn to panna cotta as an alternative to winter’s chocolate fondant. The recipe uses gelatin leaves for thickening, though, derived from animal collagen and not to everyone’s taste.  So I’ve been experimenting with alternative thickeners,  Vegeset and Xantham gum, before settling on agar powder from the Oriental food store.
The recipe uses three gelatin leaves, which suggests that two teaspoons of agar powder works.  DSC08611 (1300x1245)However, the panna cotta set rubber-hard when I used 2g in one envelope, so I cut the agar by 1/3.  This wasn’t enough, the forms slumped across the plate.  I’m finding that about 1.7 grams, a packet with a bit shaken off from it, gives just the right set. 
The other trick is to dissolve the agar in thoroughly in a quarter cup of boiling milk: the agar clumps if it isn’t well-blended and can precipitate onto the bottom of the molds.
Finally, it’s nice to make a less processed coulis for the topping:  berries heated with a tablespoon if sugar and juice of half a lemon, then simmered to thickening.  I’ve been adding a splash of white wine and cooking only until the berries burst, skipping the straining, and get a more interesting result.
The Times published a complex recipe for Indian Butter Chicken a few weeks back, and a rainy Sunday was perfect for giving it a try.
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It actually turned out to be less stress than it looks: the spices and chicken go together quickly in the  morning, then into the ‘fridge for a few hours.  The rest is an exercise in progressive one-pot cooking that is all chopping, stirring, and tasting over the course of an hour. 
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Served over rice with bread, salad, and a good wine, it’s a fun group meal.  It also ages amazingly: like meat loaf, it seems to get better over the next couple of days.

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