30/05/2011

Halloumi Pie

This is, basically, a variation on the filling from a Greek Easter pastry called a flaouna. I adore them. An addiction was born the first time I tasted one, still warm from the oven at my Auntie Helen’s house.

A brief history: http://kopiaste.org/2008/04/easter-flaounes/ but there's no recipe there unless you buy the book.

This link is better. http://kypros.org/Sxetikos/Cookery/Flaounes-AS.htm and this one shows you how to make the individual pies. http://www.justaboutcyprus.com/Food_and_Drink/Recipes/Flaounes.html

In my quest to reproduce these pastries, it became clear that the cheese for the filling is not easily obtainable here, and even when it is – at Easter – it is very expensive. I also didn’t know the name, which made it more difficult. I asked the family, and they said, quite simply, "it’s just called ‘cheese for flaounes, agapi mou*." When I did find it, it was £15 for a small piece, and the label did indeed just say “Cheese for Flaounes”.

I have since found out that it does have a name, it’s called pafitiko, but no-one in my family knew it, and neither did any other Greek or Cypriot that I asked.

My Auntie used half halloumi and half cheddar so that’s roughly what I do. Probably more halloumi than cheddar. She used the special dough too, but I can’t be bothered unless it is Easter.

For a VERY LARGE PIE that filled a 9” x 9” x 2” deep pan.

Enough short crust pastry to line the tin. I don’t quite know how much that is as I didn’t make it but it was probably about 500g.

3.5 x 250g blocks of halloumi cheese, grated. (I got mine from Asda. Most big stores sell it.)

1 x 250g block mature cheddar

At least 4 tbs finely chopped fresh mint (I use a whole bunch sometimes!)

1 tbs dried mint

2 good handfuls of sultanas

2 spring onions very finely chopped

3-4 eggs

½ tsp Bicarbonate of soda

Sesame seeds - optional (not if you are me they aren't.)

Line the baking tin with your choice of pastry and bake for around 15 minutes so that it starts to cook. Cooking it blind stops the base leaking when the egg/cheese mixture goes in.

Mix all the cheeses, herbs, spices, onions and fruit together so the fruit is well distributed.

Crack 2 eggs in, and add the bicarb, mixing it in. Then mix the eggs into the cheeses. It should be wet enough to hold together, but not runny at all so you just have to adjust as you go. I eventually used 4 smallish eggs the first time I made a large pie.

Pile the filling into the case, smooshing it into all the corners, sprinkle with sesame seeds if using then bake for around 40 minutes – non fan oven – or 30 in a fan oven at around 170C.

The centre should be set and firm, not wobbly at all. Leave it to cool a while before slicing, it makes it easier!

EDIT: If you cover the pie with a lid, you will get liquid from the cheese inside it. Halloumi is a very wet cheese, so be warned. The uncovered part lets the steam escape.

EDIT 2: Easy peasy prep! I have discovered that halloumi and cheddar grate, well, cube into tiny bits,  beautifully in the food processor. Do the halloumi, spring onions and mint first, then do the cheddar second else it gets claggy.

EDIT 3: I have made so many variations of this pie now. The most recent was without sultanas for a friend, but I most definitely prefer it with.

Halloumi Pie the First


d_floorlandmine 's photo of Halloumi Pie II.


The filling was piled into a sheet of short crust pastry (I did buy ready made but I don't care) and with the edges just folded over as I didn't have a baking pan the right size. More photos here. It does actually look like a giant flaouna.

http://dancefloorlandmine.smugmug.com/Other/Food/2011-05-25-Halloumi-Pie/17222662_X7DhsS#1306929545_6q5bFDd

This one was made using puff pastry, and the photo after that is what you do when you have leftover filling but no more pastry. Pile the filling into muffin cups! They make fabulous lunchbox snacks.




If you do want to make the individual pies, it is a bit of an effort but worth it.


This is the more traditional way of doing it. I have copied and pasted from the original website as the pages are taking around 20 minutes to load. Thank you to http://www.flavoursofcyprus.com for permission to use it.

FLAOUNES (Traditional Easter Cheese Pies)
Dough

1kg flour (village, Farina or plain flour is best)
1tbsp baking powder or packet of ready yeast
320gr of spry or ½ - ¾ cup of olive oil
2-3 eggs
Milk and Water – up to ½ litre when mixed
Pinch of salt
250g Sesame seeds

Cheese filling
1kg of cheese *
1 pkt of ready yeast or 1 tbsp baking powder
6-8 eggs
200g sultanas or to taste (optional – some people prefer them plain)
Fresh or dried mint** 
1/2 tsp Mechlepi (a sweet smelling spice made from the inside of cherry pips) 
1/2 tsp masticha (or gum dried powdered resin) (1/2tsp)
1/ tsp Cinnamon 

Method
First make the cheese filling, as this needs to rest for at least 2 hours maybe longer. You can normally tell it’s ready as it rises and springs back when touched.

To make the cheese filling – Grate the cheese; add the spices, eggs and the yeast. 
Mix in the sultanas and mint and leave to rest.

To make the dough – sift flour and salt in a bowl and add the oil or shortening, mix well.
Add milk, water and eggs. 
Knead as leave to rest. 
Again you can tell if the dough is ready when it springs back to the touch.

Prepare the sesame - Soak the sesame seeds in hot water, then rinse in cold and drain onto a towel in a flat tray

Beat an egg with some sesame seeds for glazing the pies before cooking

To make the pies
Roll out the dough into the desired shape, you can make them round, square or triangular whatever you prefer. You can make them as large or as small as you like but the thickness of the pastry should be about ¾ - 1 cm when rolled out.

Prepare the sesame - Soak the sesame seeds in hot water, then rinse in cold and drain onto a towel in a flat tray
Beat an egg with some sesame seeds for glazing the pies before cooking

To make the pies – Roll out the dough into the desired shape, you can make them round, square or triangular whatever you prefer. You can make them as large or as small as you like but the thickness of the pastry should be about ¾ - 1 cm when rolled out.


Press the bottom of the pastry pies into the sesame seeds.
Put the required amount of filling into the pastry, usually you judge this depending on the size of your pastry. You need to leave about 3 or 4 cm to fold over the mixture so it does not escape when cooking. 

Press the corners where the pastry meets, lightly with a fork to seal the edges.

Leave the flaounes to stand for a while, till risen, again you can tell with the touch method.

Brush top with the glaze.

Bake in a hot oven on hot pastry sheets, till golden brown and well risen, the bottom should also be cooked. 

You can normally tell they are ready in the same way that you test bread. If you knock the underside it should give off a hollow sound. 


(*you can use village cheese, halloumi  or cheddar cheese or a mixture of all three whatever you can find or prefer. It’s nicer with village cheese and Halloumi)

(**if using fresh use about 1 cup of chopped fresh mint or less, to taste, if you put too much the pies will be bitter. If using dried you need about 1 heaped tbsp, again this is to taste)

27/05/2011

Dickheads on a power trip?

This kind of thing makes me very angry. There is no need for this type of petty behaviour from a restaurant, none at all.

Back in 2008, flywingedmonkey published a review of his experience of eating at The Masala Zone in Camden Town.

To cut a long story short, he didn't like it. It was, by his account an unrewarding experience.

http://flywingedmonkey.livejournal.com/397158.html

MZ_CT as they also like to be known in certain circles (their own) have, after a three-year gap, discovered this disadvantageous review and instead of addressing the issue by say, inviting the worthy correspondent back gratis, perhaps, to see how they have improved, they simply left an anonymous response to the review:


"Dickheads on a power trip
It think that says it all - I doubt they would want you back.
By the way your review comes in on page 4 of searches.
No worries for MZ _ CT
Go fuck yourselves"



A few more reiterations of this and flywingedmonkey's post, complete with links, may just promote them up the search page rankings.

It is an ambition. It may be a petty ambition, but an ambition nonetheless.


What IS IT with restaurants that do this kind of thing? If you have made mistakes, then fix them, don't just bleat at the blogger in an impotent and insulting fashion. Bad show old chaps, very bad show. Telling someone to go f*ck themselves? Oh dear oh dear...

16/05/2011

Testing Windows Livewriter

 

This is a test, so I’m about to see if this works by posting up some food photos. Here we go!

1. blackcurrant quencher 2.  Coop meatballs

1. Blackcurrant Quencher from Leon. This is a truly scrumptious drink.

2. Those are Co-op meatballs, one of Husband’s favourite dinners to have. I just make the sauce.

15/05/2011

Pork Belly, good for what ails ya.

I am a great fan of pork belly. There is something so very satisfying about it, so ultimately savoury and luscious. I love the contrast between the tender meat, the slippery fat and the salted crunch of the crackling. The treat of eating the flavourful meat from off the bones is also a very satisfying thing.

A few nights ago, I read this. http://www.meemalee.com/2011/05/pork-belly-midnight-snacks-and-pork-off.html

MiMi is a woman who knows her pork. All round good egg, mischief, awesome cook and lover of Andrew McCarthy, we haven't met in person yet, but I feel it is only a matter of time. That blog entry put pork belly front and foremost in my mind. So much so that it wouldn't go away. Not just any pork belly, no. The one that she referred to within that blog post. THIS one, in fact.
http://www.meemalee.com/2009/12/harissa-roast-pork-belly-recipe.html

There was no getting it out of my brain, so there was nothing for it but to buy some pork belly when we went to the butcher shop yesterday. Mark the Butcher scored the skin deeply for me - he knows by now exactly how I want it done - and then home it came with us. Oh yes.

Last night I got all the ingredients together for MiMi's recipe, but this is me, and I tweak things so I customised it to how we like it.

No harissa, because I am not a fan of spice heat. Yes, yes, I know, I'm a wuss. Also, I didn't have any. I also didn't have any fruit sugar, so I used golden caster sugar and used white pepper because we like that better than black.

  • 1 kg pork belly(I left the bones in mine)
  • 1 tsp ras-el-hanout (I used Bart's same as MiMi)
  • 1 tablespoon Maldon sea salt
  • 3/4 tbsp golden caster sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground white pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp malt vinegar
  • 200ml water
Now. These are mainly MiMi's words, because she explains it better than I do, with some of mine mixed in. The ones in italics.

Preheat your oven to 150°C / 300°F / Gas Mark 2. Mine is a fan oven, but 150ºC in it worked just fine. Later this will become amusing.

Score the skin on your pork belly using a sharp knife like a Stanley knife, if it hasn't been done already. *waves at Mark the Butcher*

Place the pork on a rack in a roasting tray, skin side up, and pour boiling water over the skin, so the grooves in the skin open up a little. Go oooh, why didn't I think of this before. Pour away the water and remove the wire rack temporarily so the pork is sitting in the tray.

Blot the skin dry with kitchen paper.

Put the ras-el-hanout, salt, sugar and pepper in a pestle amd mortar and grind so that the sugar is finer. Canny eh? 

Add the olive oil mix to a paste and rub all over the meat, making sure to work it into the grooves of the skin.  I used a pastry brush to get it deeper in.

Put the wire rack back into the tray, place the pork on top, skin-side up, and then drizzle the vinegar over the skin. This is a Chinese trick to help make crackling crisper - don't know if it actually does anything, but it makes me feel better. It worked. It so worked.

Pour the water into the tray from the side, not touching the meat (this helps keep the pork moist by steaming it very gently).

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Me now. And here the fun started. It went into the oven, and I tended it lovingly for two hours. Okay, I stared at it every so often. It looked lovely, smelled utterly delicious, and I even set an alarm so that I knew when to switch the oven to grill and crisp up the crackling.

At the end of the 2 hours, I went to turn the grill on, and up, for the crackling. This is when I noticed that it had been on the grill setting all the time. I had, essentially, slow grilled the pork belly. Hmm. After an initial panic of OMG what if it isn't done enough, I turned the grill up anyway until the crackling was burnished like it had shellac on it but it wasn't crispy.

It was very late, and so I took it out of the oven and let it stand overnight. By the next morning, the crackling was crispy. Hurrah!

I stripped off the crackling, and put the belly back into the oven to grill the soft fat on the top. Husband ate some of the crackling. I ate some of the crackling. It was very lovely crackling indeed. Next time I may use a touch more sugar and more Ras el Hanout. Indonesian katjup manis (a thick, dark, sweet soy sauce) may also feature.

Once the fat had crisped, I cut the belly into slices, removed the bones, cubed it, photographed it, and then ate it in big, juicy, slippy chunks in front of the computer, posting photos of it to make people hungry. My keyboard is fine and I felt much, much happier afterwards.

Here, for your delight, are some of the photos. Thank you, MiMi, this was all your fault. :D

08/05/2011

The Forge

On a bit of a whim, Col and decided to forgo our usual Tuesday night gaming evening, and have an Us Night Out instead. This entailed a last minute Travelodge booking, of which more later, maybe, and a booking at The Forge in Covent Garden.

I will say, here and now, that they scored so very highly on every bit of our experience that I could quite happily adopt the entire place, take it home, give it a cuddle and call it mine.

I booked through TopTable, and chose the set special offer of £29.50 each for three courses and a Kir Royale. “You can have my Kir Royale,” I said, magnanimous to the last - nothing at all to do with my allergy/intolerance to alcohol - “but I’d like to just see what it tastes like.”

I got my wish.

When we arrived we were shown in promptly, our coats taken and neatly tucked away for us. It is a medium sized restaurant, but they have made it feel very cosy and inviting, though it does tend towards the dark, so my photo taking ability was challenged somewhat and the shots here are really bot very good.

There is a table display of cheeses right in the front of the entrance to the dining area. Cheese! Lovely cheese. I do wish I had asked to take a photo of them, it’s such a nice sight to be greeted by, plus I wanted to just dive straight in with a pile of crackers and a knife.

The staff are all so very pleasant, and helpful, a joy to be served by. It is very French in feel, but with not a hint of the snobbery or the ‘we know better than you’ that can sometimes accompany a very French restaurant. No, that isn’t a stereotype and yes, sadly, it does still exist.

But anyway. We perused, in the true sense of the word, the menu that applies to the special offer. When I called, they had said it was a reduced menu and indeed it is, but though the quantity has been cut down, the quality certainly hasn’t. It took us a long time to choose, because there are still many dishes on the pared down menu and we kept noticing something that sounded just as gorgeous as the last gorgeous thing we had spotted.

While we were having such difficulty with deciding what to pick, I tried the Kir Royale. I cannot usually drink more than a sip of alcohol without feeling very peculiar indeed, but I really wanted to know what it tasted like, so I tried a sip, and settled in to wait and see what would happen. What happened is that I very much enjoyed the taste. I do not like champagne at all as a rule, I never could see what all the fuss was about even before the allergy set in, but this was so much nicer, lacking the mouth-puckering dryness that I have encountered before. Having established that I liked it, I waited for the usual hot/cold flushes to hit. Nothing. I tried another, bigger sip. Still nothing. At this point I confess to feeling very grown up indeed because oh my, I was having a glass of wine with my dinner and that never happens. I dared to have a mouthful in between courses, just because I could.

Finally, we had at last managed to choose.

Starters:
Slow braised wild boar with quince, fennel and orange £7.50
Truffled duck egg and smoked ham hock £7.50

Mains
Confit of duck leg with puy lentils and bacon - £16.50
Roasted pork fillet with Judian beans and white onion sauce - £16.50

Sides
Gratin Dauphinois £3.75
New potatoes £3.75
Garlic mushrooms £3.50

Desserts
Key Lime Cheesecake with Salted Butterscotch Sauce
Sticky Toffee Pudding with Banana Ice cream and Caramelised Bananas

Out of all of that food, there was only one thing that I could fault, and even that was minor. The new potatoes were a touch overcooked and under seasoned, but that was it.



The Wild Boar came in two pieces, each with superbly crisped fat, and crunchy exterior. The meat was meltingly good, and fell apart as you tried to cut it. Rich, yes, but not overwhelmingly so. I discovered that I still don’t like fennel eaten on its own but eaten together with the boar, that worked very well indeed. The quince puree, well, I’m not sure what that added, to be honest, but there it was so I tried it. Oddly it tasted like a cross between a pear and a sweet potato, but it wasn’t unpleasant at all, just not really needed.


The Truffled Duck Egg was so very pretty! It had a golden crumb coating, and was perched happily on top of a frisée salad with chunks of pink ham hock dotted about. The scent of truffle was drifting across the table, so should I have been in any doubt at all (I wasn’t) that it was a truffled egg, then my mind was eased.

I tasted the egg and it was perfect. The truffle flavour was there, but very delicate, in contrast to the strong aroma, and the yolk was soft boiled to perfection. A silky, firm white and a golden, softly luscious yolk. There were many exhortations of delight from my dining companion.


I had some more Kir Royale. Gently, gently does it.

The mains. Oh my goodness. My duck was wonderful. The skin was as crisp and as light as could be, but with a serious burnished finish. The meat had stayed juicy and tender, though I did start to feel that I had been given possibly the biggest duck leg in the world after a while. It was placed onto a mound of tender, smoky Puy lentils cooked down with bacon, and that was just the perfect accompaniment. Earthy contrasting beautifully with the sweet richness of the duck.



A word about the garlic mushrooms. The menu has these named as just plain old garlic mushrooms, but that is doing them a grave disservice. They were flat, dark gilled field mushrooms, bathed in garlic butter but not overpowered by it, and dotted with tiny flecks of sea salt. One large piece of fleur de sel sat on top, just waiting for me to eat it, so I did. Not overly salty, which was surprising, but intensely savoury. I had to interrupt Col’s dinner so he could try some while they were still hot. He was certainly not unhappy that I did so.

Very dark, so apologies but you can at least see the sea salt crystal!

The pork fillet arrived on a bed of creamy looking Judion beans surrounded by a deliciously caramel coloured sauce. The beans are, I am reliably informed by Google, a type of Spanish butter bean. They were certainly not as large as the bean you find in the gigantes plaki recipes of Greece http://greekfood.about.com/od/maindishes/r/gigantesplaki.htm which I am more used to, so I may have to do some exploration to find out more about them. They looked delicious.

This was no mean little strip of pork fillet. It was presented in two large pieces, cut on the diagonal to show off just how juicy and tender the inside was. There was a hint of pinkness which, these days, is not a problem anymore with pork, and smelled richly savoury. Accompanied with a side of creamy Dauphinois potatoes, it was a dish to fair warm the heart, and certainly one I would like to try the next time I get the chance to go back, and I do hope that I will.


Now. How we managed to have room for dessert I am not rightly sure, but find room we did. Col chose Sticky Toffee Pudding, which I think is going to turn into the benchmark for rating restaurants and I went for the Key Lime Cheesecake with Salted Butterscotch Sauce, as I am a fool for anything with limes.

The toffee pudding deserves a moment of awed silence and respect. I cannot work out how a pudding managed to be springy and bouncy to the point where it resisted the spoon, and yet also be both light and rich. It was a triumph. The Forge’s chef, I salute you. The caramelised bananas were a lovely touch, and added such a nice hit of deliciously gooey texture. The noises of sheer joy from Col carried on for a while. I am very happy to say that I was allowed to taste some of the pudding, and found it utterly addictive. However, a fork in the back of the hand often offends, so I behaved.



My cheesecake was incredibly good. Excellent solid texture, with a pronounced citrus flavour, almost akin to marmalade, and the slightly grainy cheese filling was encased in a dense, dark chocolate cookie crumb. It tasted of proper curd cheese, with serious body. It was not a particularly sweet cheesecake, and as such it worked very well indeed with the salted butterscotch sauce. Definitely a dessert I would order again. I refrained from licking the sauce from the plate. Barely. I did actually drop the corner of my camera phone in it by accident at one point, and had no qualms at all about licking the sauce off that, much to Col and the waiter’s amusement. Waste not want not! Plus I wasn’t putting a toffee covered phone back into my bag. That would have been a very bad idea.



I would be very happy to wholeheartedly endorse The Forge as a fantastic place to eat and spend a gentle evening - and one which I would love to be able to visit more often.

The Forge
14 Garrick Street
London
WC2E 9BJ
Tel: 020 7379 1432
www.theforgerestaurant.co.uk

Winning ways with Cinnamon

This household has a love affair going on. It's not illicit, but many just don't understand it.

"How can you do that?" is a comment I often get. "We just don't get how that would work."

But work it does.

Our many times requited love is for cinnamon. That dusky brown powder, those curls of perfumed bark so often associated with the sweeter things in life and while I am not one to go against tradition too much, I do have a theory about this much beloved ingredient. It is neither sweet, nor savoury. It is a wonderful, neutral spice and that very neutrality means that it lends itself to many dishes and takes on the nature that is present.

In an apple pie it adds a sweet brown undertone, in a Bolognese sauce there's a subtle depth and added to the coffee in my stove top coffee pot, well, that's just lovely.

Tonight the guest that was to be bathed in all that understated glory was a fine, plump breasted chicken, purchased from our local butcher this morning. A roast chicken is always something of an adventure for me, and I like to try and do something different every now and again. There is nothing at all wrong with a chicken roasted simply, a sheen of olive oil on the skin and a touch of sea salt for added crispness but there are times when I want something slightly more spiced and fragrant.

No-one here likes much heat, so that rules out anything fiery but I wanted to get some spice under the skin of the bird, so I went for a mixture of garlic and cinnamon.

The smell of this whilst it cooked drove me nuts. I couldn't wait for it to be ready, and suddenly, it was. The flesh came away from the bones beautifully and I got to lick all the sticky juices off my fingers. Cook's perks, along with the 'oysters' that you find underneath the bird. And yes, I did wash my hands before serving the dinner up to anyone else.

The new season's asparagus, some plain rice with sweetcorn and that was it. I made husband a bowl of mixed salad as he doesn't like asparagus at all.

1 fresh chicken, approximately 5lb.
1 nice fat clove of garlic
2 tablespoons of salted butter
1/2 teaspoon of ground cinnamon

Loosen the skin on the breast of the chicken by working your fingers under it so that you have a gap between the meat and the skin.

Crush the garlic with a little coarse sea salt in a pestle and mortar until it is a paste. Mix in the tablespoon of butter and the cinnamon.

Take half of the butter mixture and place it under the skin of the chicken. I used a butter knife but generally I will use my fingers. Then smooth it out by pressing the surface of the skin down, making sure the butter goes as far as it can.

The remainder of the butter is spread over the surface of the skin, making sure not to miss out the legs and the wings.

Half a lemon gets put inside the cavity to create lemon scented steam and add extra moisture.

Drizzle a tiny bit of olive oil over the skin as well, as that stops the butter burning.

Roast for 20 minutes per pound but don't add that extra 20 that most instructions on shop packaging say to. It just dries out the bird. It's not needed.





Why such a large chicken for just the two of us? You see, tomorrow, oh yes, tomorrow there are leftovers.