Tuesday, 19 March 2013

brussel sprout bubble and squeak

Busy busy busy- I feel I have been overclocked since this year began. Before was the single minded charge to pulse laser deposit a film (didn't happen) by the visit to KAUST and now I need to start thinking about conjuring something up for the Early Stage Assessment to show that I'm not all faff. Even more than that, I really need some preliminary results for when I head over to MIT for a week in the summer. I am just a little excited about this excellent opportunity and have my good God to thank for it, but not quite as delighted over having to drag my sodden self through the rain to college last Sunday night to pop some samples into the furnace.

A little comforting is in order in the form of blogging and while it does feels a little odd posting something that was made three months ago, going through my photos of food and recounting the 'good stressy' that went into making it is my little treat to savour. Also, given that the weather now is comparable to that over Christmas, this recipe fits pretty well with the prolonged winter chill as a nice homey addition to any meal.

As I may have mentioned before, the unwelcome intrusion of brussel sprouts at our Christmas meal has always been deemed a poorly conceived Christmas tradition to be tolerated. In her attempts to persuade her staunchly declining family to consume it, my mum would extol its nutritional virtues while bravely gulping down a few heads. Nevertheless, the sprouts would soon after be quickly relegated to the end of the table where they would remain untouched for the rest of the meal.

Last year, however, I was given full presidence of the kitchen for Christmas day and was determined to give the sprouts their moment of acceptance. Frying them with bacon and flaked almonds the year before still wasn't quite enough to endure the sprouts to us. So, this year I thought bubble and squeak. Actually, I  thought of every single cabbage containing recipe I liked, latched on to okonomiyaki and then trained it down to sprouty bubble and squeak, and there you have it.

I  spent a lifetime trimming off the stem and the nasty bitter outer leaves of the sprouts. Even though I wasted a prodigious number of leaves and the better part of Christmas day I had lovely sweet and vibrant green sprout leaves in the bubble and squeak that my family gobbled. Having spent all that time preparing the leaves, I couldn't bring myself to the effort of grating and wringing the potatoes, besides which my family were braying for food by then. So I just boiled what potatoes were at hand and mashed it up. This also explains the lack of decent photos- trying to prod mounds of potatoes into a more attractive arrangement under horrible stove-top lights and handling a camera with potato-ey fingers, all the while with hungry breaths down my neck, is a tricky thing to do.

6 new potatoes, peeled, boiled and mashed                     500g brussel sprouts

4 rashers of smoked bacon         

  • Remove the outer leaves of the sprouts, halve, stem and chop halves into thirds (or just chop them up as you will)- you will probably lose half of it.
  • Chop the bacon rashers into squares and sizzle off in a dry hot pan until crispy and brown, and the fat has rendered off.
  • Throw in the sprouts and give it a quick stir fry until the leaves are just cooked and still a wonderful light green (as in my pic =P).
  • Mix the mash with the bacon and sprouts, season to taste, and shape into small patties. You could also lump it all into one giant disc as a bubble and squeak ought to be, but why not maximize on fried surface area?
  • Heat up a pan with a tablespoon or two of oil, depending on whether your pan is non-stick or not.
  • When the oil is hot, fry off your patties over a high heat. They are already cooked, and probably still warm, so you really just want to brown it off and heat it back up to piping.

A note on the bacon: I had the poor fortune once to have to resort to lowest grade (i.e. 'value') bacon while cooking under budget for church. The amount of brine that oozed from the meat as I let it sit in a hot pan was appalling. My bacon wasn't frying at all, it was boiling! It took a good slug of oil in place of what ought to be scrumptious bacon fat to get things going. I guess most of you are rolling your eyes as if it were the most obvious thing, but to actually see the poor quality of the meat like this was disquieting.

This blog will be moving to a new, more appropriately named, domain soon: www.feeding-times.com.
Updates soon to come!

Friday, 15 March 2013

visit to KAUST

This week in London saw snow flurrying down from the skies. Yet only last week, I was sitting in the sunny Kingdon of Saudi Arabia (KSA) enjoying a cool drink and some interesting bready fritters (I refrain from referring to them as donuts as those I've given them up for Lent) while gazing upon the monolithic buildings before me that construes the campus of KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology).

Everything at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) is of a colossal order. There is simply a different operating scale, monetarily and spatially. Water features and palms litter the campus (we are in a dessert btw) cooling studious bodies as they trot on home to palatial accommodation by artificial streams, of perhaps to dinner at the yacht or golf club. Even security guards whiz by on Segways. Grandiose is the word that repeatedly crashes into mind. But, this is only the glinting surface of the iceberg. The true mind boggling occurs within their facilities when you catch a glimpse of their equipment. Little as I know, my jaw was left swinging in the wind. That is one incredible campus!

I spent what free time I had wandering and taking photos. Sadly, contact with local culture and food was kept to a minimum. Upon our arrival at Jeddah, even before the border check, we were greeted by some representatives from the university who escorted us through the border check (queue barging!) and deftly handed us over to a driver whereupon we cut a line through the desert to KAUST. Past two security perimeters and one further security check, where we were issued our campus ID, and we were released into the cool interior of KAUST INN- our extremely comfortable abode for the duration of the visit. On the campus, locals were hard found and the food was clearly tailored to international tastes with Burger King and Baskin and Robbins smugly making their presence. I didn't get any kabsa but I did get a pretty good steak. A quick duck into the campus Tamimi supermarket was hardly more satisfying as I was greeted with the all too familiar florescent yellow of Quavers and other typical British groceries.

Below is the view from atop the dinning area, and following that, pictures looking back upon, then from the dinning area.

Next up is the view from the balcony adjoining some work spaces.

The campus at night as seen from the yacht club, and photos of half of my room (the other half comprises of the bedroom and yet another bathroom):

Lastly, because I can't resist it: the birdy! Thanks to the effusive use of water, KAUST residents may even enjoy the early morning twitter of birdies as they peck at the luscious green lawns (well at least the ones around KAUST INN were).

So there you have it: a not so informative but photo-laden post on KAUST. Three days are hardly sufficient to pick up on local nuances especially as people are sparsely distributed (you may have noticed many of my photos are strikingly empty...). However, there is a good chance I'll be heading out there again so further updates regarding life on KAUST are in the chute.

On a completely separate note, I have reluctantly accepted that I have grown pudgy of late. The trip to KAUST certainly didn't help. Our conveniently stocked rooms (flats would be the more appropriate term) were equipped with toasters and who can resist midnight toast slathered with lashings of butter and a guilty sprinkle of sugar? Admittedly, this would be after a three course dinner (they've certainly nailed the hospitability front) but the law of diminishing returns has never applied to me in terms of satiation. So now I'm left bulging at the sleeves while Spring is supposedly around the corner.

This blog will be moving to a new, more appropriately named, domain soon: www.feeding-times.com.
Updates soon to come!

Friday, 8 March 2013

chestnut cream meringue pie

Whoopsies- forgot to publish this before I left on Sunday. I'm putting it up, unadulterated, anyways for it shall do well to tide over the days while I sort out my photos from the trip and catch up on some sleep)

One last post before my Middle Eastern stint. Things have not gone to plan unfortunately. After all that scrabbling around, I managed to make a target for pulsed laser deposition (PLD) in time to be mounted on Thursday before the actual deposition the next day. However, I just found out that the powder synthesis may be sensitive to batch size and thought it safer to do a quick x-ray dffraction on my target to ensure it really was as I thought it to be. That's when the fail happen: I somehow snapped my target into two. Nooooooooooo! Stood there gaping at the fragments for a good 5 min.

(deep breath) Anyway, I've had quite a lot of Chinese food posts this past month so it'll be nice to start catching up on the backlog of stuff that I made over Christmas, not to mention my brownie and sticky toffee pudding experiments since. Thus you see my chestnut meringue pie.

I used a sweet pate sucree crust (recipe from my time at Le Cordon Bleu), made more delicate by a 40g substitution of icing sugar for castor. I also used a little extra salt (3g in total) and vanilla. The pie is filled with chestnut cream and chunks of roasted chestnuts that I painstakingly peeled, and topped with a creamy Italian meringue. The sweetness from the meringue and pastry is rather necessary as the chestnut cream isn't that sweet or rich. There has been some debate about the texture of the filling and the chestnut chunks weren't wholly appreciated. I thought it brought a more interesting bite but it meant that you did also get crumbly bits that spoilt the smoothness of the rest of the filling. So alternatively, you could just double the amount of cream filling and omit the roasted chestnuts. In either case, be sure that the chestnut puree is very fine, or it will be grainy. To make a thicker creamier filling, don't whip up the cream but throw it all into the food processor and whizz.

(makes 1 18cm dia pie)
One portion pate sucree for a 18cm dia pie, rolled out and baked blind

For the chestnut cream filling
50g double cream200g chestnut puree
20g icing sugar200g whole chestnuts

For the Italian meringue
120g sugar            60g egg white             
  • Give the whole chestnuts one good stab with a fork before roasting them in an oven, at around 180C, for 15-20 min.
  • Shell the roasted chestnuts, roughly chop each chestnut into 5-6 pieces and allow to cool.
  • Whip up the double cream with icing sugar until it forms soft peaks (this is double cream rather than whipping, so it becomes a lot thicker)
  • Whisk a third of the whipped cream into the chestnut puree until the puree is broken up and homogenous.
  • Fold the puree into the remaining cream.
  • Fill the cooled, blind baked pate sucree case.
  • In a pan, add a splash of water to dissolve the sugar in.
  • Pour the sugar into the pan (you may want to give the solution a quick stir to ensure all the sugar crystals are wetted)
  • Heat the sugar syrup until the soft ball stage (I go towards the higher end, around 120C, to compensate for my piddly hand held mixer), making sure to brush down the edges of the bubbling solution to ensure you don't get nucleation of sugar crystals along the water edge, which would spoil the texture of the meringue.
  • Beat the egg whites until they are just foamy (start beating when the temperature of the syrup reaches around 116C), as you don't want to over beat the whites before the sugar addition, and pour in the sugar syrup. Normally you would trickle the syrup in at the edge of the bowl to prevent it hitting the rotating whisk head and spraying. However, as I am using a hand held mixer, I pour in it at a much greater rate.
  • Continue whisking until the meringue is thick and glossy.
  • Top the pie with the meringue and decorate as you will.
  • Flame with a blow torch to get some nice browned patches.  

Also, some pointers for blind baking:
  • Dock the pastry well to prevent it from lifting once the baking beans/rice (whatever you use) is removed.
  • Always rest the pastry to minimize shrinkage on baking.
  • Don't remove the baking beans/rice too early or you will have more shrinkage.
  • When lining the pie tin, make sure you aren't stretching the pastry as you push it into the edges of the tin, but lifting it up and allowing it to drop into the edge area.
(Sadly all the photos taken of my food over Christmas was done in the absence of natural light, we had these puddings after dinner)

This blog will be moving to a new, more appropriately named, domain soon: www.feeding-times.com.
Updates soon to come!